Conduct and Accountability Starts with the Coach

Recently Sean Woods, the men's basketball coach at Morehead State University, was suspended one game for verbally and physically abusing his point guard for fouling out when the game's outcome against Kentucky was still in doubt. As a coach where do the lines start to blur between accountability and confrontation? Why do coaches feel they have to be abusive to get their coaching points across? Whether the coach was upset that he fouled out, or that he was out of position, playing the wrong defense or not in a correct defensive stance is irrelevant.

Coaches should be the role models. They must exhibit self-control and be the leader in the most positive sense. Not only did Woods push the player toward the bench while screaming at him, he continued his tirade when the player sat down.

How can a coach like Woods ask his players to be accountable when he acts so irresponsibly? After watching this nationally televised game, how many impressionable young coaches will imitate that behavior?

And regarding accountability, it took Woods two days to apologize. It should have been done immediately after the game. Instead he talked about himself and his coaching style. Just a one game suspension from his university? More examples of poor sportsmanship and leadership.

Diversified Coaches Help Players Self-Correct Technique

One of the most rewarding results as a baseball coach is when players are able to self-correct during games, whether on the mound or in the course of an at-bat. This can only happen with hands-on teaching and constant reminders on what can make the player have success. When players do execute, it tells the coach that the players have listened and have tried to incorporate the techniques that the coach believes will maximize their talent.

Not every coach follows that modus operandi. There are a multitude of system or philosophy-driven coaches. If players don't fit in to a system they will usually underperform or be eliminated from the program. Only teaching one philosophy is a disservice to players, who might not fit in depending on skill and size. With coaches who know how to teach only one system, it is their way or no way.

Coaches who have taught and understand multiple methods to improve player skills are more preferred and appreciated within the coaching profession. It expands their teams' talent base and, as a byproduct, improves their team's chances of winning.

Generally coaches with the most expertise are the most successful. They have other options when some strategies don't work. On the other hand, system coaches get beat when opposing coaches figure out how to attack their system, leaving system coaches without any alternatives.

Coaches who work with each player on their team form relationships and can get players to self-correct if the coach has excelled as a communicator. For example, a pitcher has thrown two balls up and in to a hitter. The coach signals to the pitcher what he is doing incorrectly or yells to him a key from what they have been doing in bullpen sessions to get him back on track, and immediately the pitcher makes a correction. Or after a hitter fouls balls off to the opposite field. If that was perceived to be a problem and the hitter has reverted back to his previous form, one keyword or signal can activate the correct technique within the hitter. The hitter steps out, gets his head together, and executes his right swing.

Watching players adjust during games is one of the most gratifying aspects of coaching. It feels like you are getting your message across and doing your job, making players play at the best of their abilities.

Good Coaches Don't Win by Running Up the Score

On Tuesday December 12th in Indianapolis, the Bloomington South High School girls' basketball team beat Arlington High School by a score of 107-2. Bloomington South coach Larry Winters insisted that there was no effort to embarrass Arlington or run up the score. Really Coach? Do you know how hard it is to score 100 points in a 32 minute high school basketball game? While I didn’t see the tape of the game, those that truly understand basketball can appreciate the need to play an extremely up-tempo offense fueled by an attacking, opportunistic, and highly aggressive defense to score that many points in a game while limiting your opponent to a measly 2 points. Great sportsmanship coach – your school community and principal must be proud of your decision to beat an inferior opponent into submission.

There is no other way to explain such a lopsided outcome other than Coach Winters using this game as an opportunity to boost his own ego and the egos of his players, which is certainly not needed nor warranted.

Naturally, good coaches should recognize a potential blowout game long before the game becomes a blowout and play kids who normally don’t play or call up younger kids of lesser ability to get a more challenging experience. If that puts the team in a competitive disadvantage, so much the better for the starters to come into the game behind, having to work hard to catch up. If the blowout is a blowout even with the subs starting, at least the subs know they played when the game was still at stake.

There are many ways to not run up the score against a team that is not as talented: running the offense multiple times, not fast-breaking when up more than 20 points, not pressing at the half-court line, staying in a soft zone, working on multiple defenses and offenses, or giving younger or less talented players the opportunity to play.

Coach Winters insisted that he got all of his nine players in the game that night. Are we to believe that Coach Winters was unaware of the inferior skill level of his opponent before the game started? Come on Coach – as a high school coach myself, I know the talent level of every team on our schedule. What a perfect opportunity to call up some players from the JV team and give them Varsity experience that night. But I guess that would have been the actions of a responsible, classy, and honorable coach.

Coach Winters is an embarrassment not only to himself and the school community who is short-sighted enough to employ him, but to the coaching profession itself. Here’s a newsflash for you Coach Winters: Winning games with kids who are physically more mature is more a success of enrollment than coaching. Winning games by developing the talents of weaker players is a better test of a coach’s true abilities.

Coaching Discipline Comes in Many Forms

Is discipline necessary or out of place for today's youth athletes? As we have stated before, discipline is absolutely necessary. When kids first start youth programs they are appropriately scared. Usually it is their first experience in organized activities and they don't know what to expect. Coaching discipline is found in many forms: direction, teaching, promoting team bonding, setting team and program goals, and doling out non-demeaning punishment for breaking the team code.

Kids crave direction and leadership from coaches. They look up to coaches immediately, so it is the coaches' responsibility to live up to that trust and show them the way, from the most efficient practice plans, to teaching them how to practice correctly and how to accomplish team and individual goals. Understanding skill techniques, applying them to each player, and making them repeat techniques until they succeed are absolutes for every coach. Kids want to improve and contribute to their team. It keeps them interested in continuing on in their designating sport or activity.

Team bonding is achieved by doing everything as a team—drills, warmups, water-breaks, etc—which helps players understand a “we” mentality. Off the field there should be organized group functions to demonstrate and emphasize togetherness.

Setting team goals should always be stressed. It is about developing the athletes physically and emotionally, not about winning youth games. Coaches must use their imagination and coaching talent to also make every player's personal goal within reach.

Lastly, punishment should be enforced if team rules are broken or ignored. It should be made clear by coaches what team and league rules are before practices begin, and express that any deviations will be dealt with. Youth punishments are usually in the form of running or calisthenics, but if there are serious infractions parents should be immediately notified.

Want To Be a Better Coach? Start By Observing Other Coaches and Teams

Players and coaches can improve their performance by paying close attention to game action from the dugout or bench. They can watch their own team and understand their direction and philosophy. They can watch players from both teams and see how they execute plays and skills and how they fail. Savvy players will pick up things they can use that will make them more successful, while trying not to make the physical and mental errors that they have seen from the bench. You could call it live visual evidence. As a coach, I have incorporated drills that I watched opposing teams use in warmups because they were better drills than what my team was doing. The drills encompassed everything that was necessary to get my players game-ready, so I switched. I also changed bunt coverages when another coach exposed the coverage flaws by fake bunting and stealing when we charged. You do what is necessary to put your team in the position to be successful.

I also used to have a poor temperament which distracted me from game action and set a bad example for my team. I watched several coaches who always coached with an even keel and never missed a play. If they disagreed with a call from an umpire or referee, they talked to them in a dignified and non-confrontational way while getting their point across. All those coaches were highly successful.

But the most impressive part of their behavior was their belief that the game wasn't about them, it was the players' stage. As a positive role model, this influences athletes in their attitude toward others and the success they attain in their careers. No one wants to deal with or hire a petulant hot-head. They want to know and work with people who understand team principles and are respectful, all lessons we can learn from coaches and sports.

Mental Toughness is Essential in Youth Baseball

Aside from innate baseball talent and pure baseball instincts enhanced by playing a lot, the best attribute a player can have is mental toughness or the ability to cope, adjust, and learn from tough situations and failure on the baseball field. Many professional baseball players have not lived up to their own or others' expectations because of their inability to handle stress and failure. They were stars or the game came easy to them and didn't encounter failure.

When they became pros and everyone has the same skill sets, these baseball players failed because they could only express themselves physically. The mental side of baseball escaped them. They never learned that success is a result of outworking, outthinking and outtoughing the competition.

As a youth baseball coach, you must identify what players can handle failure and turn it into positive performance. Find the mentally strong players who can remain coachable and learn through game experience while keeping their heads in the game.

The players who are weak mentally must be taught errors and strikeouts happen. Help these players avoid internalizing a failure. Tell them anyone who has ever played baseball has never gone a complete season without making errors or striking out. Internalization will always hurt the team. That's why we say "the play is over, next."

Fragile players can go either way. You need to stress the positive while working with them to help their mental and physical performance.

Withdrawing, sulking, blaming and name-calling are all signs of weak mental players. As a youth baseball coach you need make these players accountable and accept responsibility. The result will be mentally stronger and better baseball players.

Real baseball players never quit and never give up. All baseball coaches love those players, no matter the talent level. They always find spots in the lineup because they make their team better.

Filling a Young Athlete’s Emotional Tank – A Coach’s Responsibility

Many athletes (especially really young athletes) who try but do not succeed will eventually lose motivation and quit the sport, or even worse, may refuse to try any other sport.

As a coach, it is your job to prepare your players for success by giving them the proper skills and knowledge to effectively execute what is demanded of them. Because many young athletes associate feelings of self-worth with winning and losing, it also the coach’s responsibility to put their players in positions where they can be successful. As a coach, do not ask your players to do something they are not physically or mentally prepared to do.

A loss in self-confidence and self-esteem leads to an athlete’s reluctance to take risks. Success in sports requires taking risks. Athletes who are accustomed to failure may have the tendency to not take as many risks as the athlete who expects to be successful. A confident athlete who expects to be successful will put themselves out there, risk everything, and try their hardest. An athlete with low self-confidence will be more reluctant to take risks and not try at all (this is especially true for the younger athletes).

Think about two gamblers sitting at a poker table. The gambler with the most poker chips is willing to take risks because he has a history of winning and being successful. The gambler with fewer poker chips may not take the same risks because he has a history of losing and being unsuccessful. Ultimately, an athlete’s emotional tank functions in a similar fashion as these poker chips.

Consider the following example: For Billy, one of the least talented players on the team, trying to field a ground ball during a low-key practice session can be a risk. “What happens if I miss it again?” “I really don’t think I am cut out to be a baseball player.” “If I miss this one, I might as well stop trying – it’s easier to not try and fail than it is to try and fail!” “I am tired – I want to go home.”

Billy has low self-confidence and is on the verge of losing all motivation. As a result, Billy is ready to stop taking the risk of trying. Maybe Billy is ready to give up athletics entirely. An effective coach recognizes this and intervenes long before an athlete gets to this point.

The problem is that Billy’s emotional tank is empty. It is not that he lacks motivation or he is lazy. While many coaches may fall back on the old cliché, “practice makes perfect,” Billy’s inability to field a ground ball in this particular case has nothing do to with the fact that he is not working hard enough.

What Billy needs is for one of his coaches to pull him aside and work with him one-on-one. Go over the fundamentals again and slowly roll ground balls to him instead of hitting them. Put Billy in an athletic situation where he can be successful. Give Billy positive reinforcement and praise his work habits in front of his teammates. Once Billy feels comfortable with fielding slow rollers, roll them a little harder, and eventually build him back up to taking ground balls on the field.

This is what motivation is all about – recognizing when the emotional tank is empty and giving an athlete the right opportunities to fill that tank back up. The same Billy who could not field a ground ball at age 8 may grow up to be a varsity team starter at age 16. If it was not for that coach who took the time to work with him and fill his emotional tank, none of this would have been possible.