by Tim Covey
My first year as a head 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.
When players play scared the results are usually not good…especially with high school and middle-school aged 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:
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.
In 99% of instances, use your “raised” voice to instruct from the dugout 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 she may need to spend some time on the bench.
For example, if a player gets on her heels on a ground ball and makes an error as a result, the “teaching coach” might remind her 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, she knows she needs to field the ball, so telling her that isn’t very helpful.
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 her 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 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.
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 1 adult hears the conversation.
Pulling players to the side is a great way to deal with physical mistakes during games. If the correction can wait until after the inning is over, then speak to her after the team has returned to the dugout. At that point in time, pull the player(s) that need correction to the side and speak with them calmly.
While immediate correction from the dugout is sometimes necessary, most of the time it can wait. And waiting helps minimize the embarrassment factor for your players…which in turn makes them less likely to play scared.
As in all of life, there are always exceptions. But following these four guidelines will help your players play more free, have more fun, be more coachable…and help you take one step towards a more unified group of players and greater impact on your players.
by Covey Sports