Coaching Youth Baseball To Ability & Age
I didn’t see it, but I was only a few feet away when I heard it second-hand from a number of parents. One team that played before us lost and they were out of the playoffs.The coaches gathered the team together. Both the head coach and the assistant coach began to berate 10, 11, and 12 year old kids and tell them how worthless they were as baseball players. Some of the lines used that got back to me were: “Don’t even bother going out for baseball when you get to middle school.” And how about: “You guys play like a bunch of girls and should be a shamed of yourselves. Don’t think about playing baseball anymore. In fact you should all go out for cross country. Go play that wimpy sport.”
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As it turns out, one of the best players on that team decided to quit playing baseball and wanted to run cross country and track. I can assure you that this did not sit well with the parents. I have been involved in my local league for years and when things like this happen it tends to get back to me. I have had my own controversies and learned from them and hope I am a better coach now than fifteen years ago. What makes this incident so surprising is that the head coach and assistant coach of this team are coaches in our local school system. You would think that as educators they would know better than to put on the display that they did.
And instead of putting all the blame on the players, why aren’t they holding themselves accountable for the way the team played? I have found that many youth baseball coaches will coach their team the way they were last coached themselves when they played baseball in high school. This is probably the worst thing a youth baseball coach can do. If their high school coach made the team run or do pushups for making an error or striking out in a crucial moment in the game, is this really going to have a positive affect for 10, 11, and 12 year-old players? In my opinion, athletic coaches need to coach their team according to their age, ability, and type of league they are in. Should a 12 year-old highly competitive travel league be coached the same way as a youth recreational league? I think not. The problem lies with the fact that coaches will coach teams at different levels the same way. If coaches take on the task of coaching different levels, they must be flexible and adjust their style. This is hard for some coaches and I see it being even more difficult when a professional coach in high school decides to coach his son’s 12 year-old team. Many have the attitude that this is how they coach and they will never change, and if you don’t like it, then don’t play for me!
As a coach I am the first one to tell my team and parents that I expect my team to play older than they are. What I mean by this is I treat my 10, 11, and 12 year-old kids like 13, 14, and 15 year olds. I expect more out of them than other teams might. With that said, I do know that there are hard and fast limits of what some kids can do on the recreational level. You can be a tough coach but you can also be a coach who points out the positive things when your team loses 12-0 in a game. It is tough to do, but isn’t this our job as youth baseball coaches? In my mind, we have one goal, and one goal only, and that is to make sure each and every one of the kids on your team wants to come back and play baseball the following year. I have heard too often about kids who hung up their gloves and quit playing baseball because of a bad experience with a coach in the league. How many of these baseball players may have developed into above average ball players if they kept playing? It happens. I’ve seen kids at fourteen get a growth spurt or their body coordination comes together and they are like night and day from three years before. I am not saying that we should never yell at our players. In fact I am just the opposite and tell my team and their parents that I can yell a lot and call out names. The only time you and your son really have to worry is if I never yell or call your name because this means I might not care. So yelling can be a positive thing if it is not overdone. And I always tell my players that the yelling never comes from dropping a fly ball or striking out, but almost always on mental mistakes like not backing up a play. Coaches can also change for the better. The former great New York Giants football coach, Tom Coughlin, was about to get fired when he decided to change his whole demeanor and the way he went about his job. This was tough for a 60 year-old, but he did it, and as of writing this, he has two Super Bowl victories to his resume.
The point is for coaches not to change their complete style of coaching but coach according to the competition. I still say that there is a need for the tough, rugged type of coach in many levels of sports that encourage discipline. In youth baseball, we can accomplish the same thing if we take a more diplomatic approach. Youth sports is similar to school sports. Each and every kid will respond differently to various types of motivation. It is our job to find the right median to make youth baseball a positive experience and hope the players return the following year.
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