4 min read

My first year as a head girls softball coach I thought it was my duty to yell at my players when they made a mistake, didn’t play up to their potential, etc.  I was not a “monster,” but I definitely handled some things in a way that was…well…less than impressive.

One of the moments that I have never forgotten during that season was when my first baseman dropped a routine pop-up. Of course it was a close game, and this dropped ball was with 2 outs. And of course…we ended up losing.

But the dropped ball is not what stands out in my mind. It’s what happened just prior to that. I don’t even remember the mistake that she made, but in my mind (at the time) it was awful. So I did what I was “supposed” to do as a coach, and I screamed at her for the entire crowd to hear. I clearly embarrassed her.

(I wish I could say I’ve never done anything like that again…but I’m human and have to relearn the hard way sometimes.)

As I should have expected, the very next play was the routine pop-up that fell out of her glove and like a slow-motion movie scene dropped to the ground with a thud. In a nutshell, I had embarrassed her by yelling at her, hurt her concentration, and made her play scared.

Whether it's boys or girls, when players play scared the results are usually not good. This is especially true with youth players.

This was one of the first times where I was slapped in the face with the harsh reality that coaching is a skill that requires much more than just teaching skills and drills.

So what do we do? We have to get our point across somehow, right?

Following are 4 guidelines that I recommend for coaches when correcting their players: 

1: Address Lack of Effort Immediately

There are times when we need to be “tough” on our players.  And if we want them to reach their potential we need to push them…which sometimes means giving them a “kick in the pants.”  Improvement requires hard work, intensity, and effort by our team.

The key factor is in how you handle these instances.   If a player is not giving effort or concentration in a game or practice, that is a “cardinal sin” and needs to be addressed immediately.

If a player REALLY messes up in the area of effort she may need to hear your voice immediately. The team needs to work hard and concentrate. This is step #1 towards improving.

If you need to have a serious conversation about lack of effort or a poor attitude, speaking to the player individually (without other players listening) is always best.  

Just be sure to always have another coach with you so that more than one adult hears the conversation.  

2: Be a Teacher After Mistakes are Made

Always be sure to use your “raised” voice to instruct rather than yell or reprimand out of anger or frustration. Players know the difference. And if they don’t like to be instructed (aka “coached”) then a conversation needs to be had with that player and they may need to spend some time on the bench.

For example, if a player gets on his or her heels on a ground ball and makes an error as a result, the “teaching coach” might remind them to charge the ball rather than waiting for it to come to her.  

The “angry coach,” on the other hand, may yell something along the lines of “YOU NEED TO COME UP WITH THAT BALL!”  The problem is, they know they need to field the ball, so telling them this isn’t very helpful.

3: During Practice, Be a Constant Teacher and Encourager

Practice is different in games in the sense that the game is not “on the line” and there is not a crowd watching.  This environment makes it much for conducive for teaching, encouraging, and correcting on the fly.

We can stop drills to make corrections, pull a player to the side and talk to them when necessary, or simply shout group instructions to the team.  And we can do this in a way where we do not need to be as worried about embarrassing a player (since a crowd is not watching).

However, demeaning and screaming at a player will embarrass them no matter what the environment might be. And every player is different in what they can handle so it’s important to get to know your players.  

Some players can take a lot of verbal “pushing” while some players cannot handle as much.  Getting to know each players “temperature” is important so that you can learn how to best motivate them individually.

And we do need to be aware of ages & gender differences depending on if you are coaching males or females, and younger or older athletes.  

4: During Games, Pull Players Aside and Have Individual Conversations as Much as Possible

Pulling players to the side is a great way to deal with physical mistakes (technique issues, etc) during games.  If the correction can wait until there is a break in the action, then speak to them at that point.  

While immediate correction from the dugout or sidelines is often necessary, there are other times it can wait.  And waiting helps minimize the embarrassment factor for your players…which in turn makes them less likely to play scared.  

Once again, the circumstances will dictate whether it's possible to have a sideline conversation or not. 

As in all of life, there are always exceptions. Gender, personalities, age, etc. can all play into how you approach correcting your players.

But following these four guidelines as much as possible will help your players play more free, have more fun, and be more coachable.

And it will also help you take one more step towards having a greater impact on your players.