Friday, June 22, 2018

Coaches Tip: During Game Instruction

Years ago a friend of mine was telling me something that he heard after a game one day.  My friend was a former college coach but moved into scouting for the San Diego Padre's. He was scouting a game in Iowa and just happened to hear the losing coach talk to the team after the tough loss.  Instead of "getting on" his team he simply said something like, "we just need to work on these things in practice".

This made an impact on me early in my coaching career.  I was, probably like most, a lecturer after the game.  Especially after a loss.  I would get mad and tell the team what they did wrong.  This story I heard made me realize that simply telling them after a game is really just a waste of time and can be a bit damaging to your team.  I adopted the philosophy to only confront things like a lack of effort or some behavior issue that CAN be solved in a "lecture".  I would probably say some things like, "beginning this Monday we really need to work harder on fly ball communication...for example.  

This made a big difference in my coaching.  I will give you another example.  I was a head college coach for a total of 19 years and I was blessed to have outstanding catchers in most of those 19 years.  To me, your catcher is the most important single player on your team other than the pitcher, of course.  In those early years, I bet I yelled at my catchers every day to block the ball.  Then the light went on.  I knew they wanted to block so it wasn't a matter of desire so yelling at them was not going to help at all.  

I realized that day that it wasn't a matter of effort but a matter of habit.  So, I stopped yelling at them and, instead, designed a routine for my catchers to work on blocking every day.  They just had to spend about 5-10 minutes working on blocking by throwing each other balls "in the dirt".  Soon, our catchers became much better at blocking balls in the dirt.

These are just a few examples.  I think this approach can work on almost every single aspect of the game.  Our job as coaches is to teach our athletes good habits and good habits are rarely developed by just saying some words.    

In fact, talking to your athletes during competition can even be harmful to their success.  Let's take the hitter.  Giving advice to the hitter during her or his at-bat that involves a mechanical change is usually not going to work out very well.  To succeed in a game as a hitter we must be able to focus on the ball 100% and, unless the pitcher isn't very good, we can't think about where our hands are or what we are doing with our stride AND focus on the ball.  

Giving instruction while the hitter is hitting is usually best when giving encouragement and, at most, saying "see the ball".  If your hitter needs to make some changes, make a note and work on that with your hitter at practice or ask your hitter to work on it on her own.  

The teaching aspect of our coaching is best when we approach teaching as developing good habits instead of just telling them.  I don't know how many times I have heard a coach say, "I have told her over and over again and she still ___________ (fill in the blank)".  Telling or yelling or lecturing isn't going to get the job done.  They need repetition on a regular basis to create good habits so they will just automatically do it "right" in the game.

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