Let Them Coach

It was the first game of a college double-header and our older daughter took the mound against the team that was one game ahead of them in the conference. She didn’t seem to have her usual fire,

just pitching well enough to keep them off balance, and only turning it up when she needed a strikeout to preserve the shutout and the win. “What the heck is she doing?”, I thought. After winning the first game my questions were answered. Our daughter trotted to the mound to pitch the second consecutive game, something she had never done before, but this time she was on fire after saving some energy in the first game.

I wished I had known she was going to pitch consecutive games so daddy could chill a bit. Oh, that’s right. I was just a fan. The coach had a plan and it worked perfectly.

Coaches are not perfect, but you have to give them room to try things. One of the funniest experiences came when I was coaching a travel team. We had designed a play that would “bait” over-anxious catchers and it scored every time we tried it. A new kid joined the team and we brought her up to speed on our plays. At a key time in the game, this girl appeared to do something really stupid to draw the catcher’s throw to first base so that a runner on third could score. As the kid played it to perfection, her dad also fell for the deception, pounding the chain link fence, screaming at her as loudly as possible…until the run scored…and he looked around to see our crowd unable to hide their laughter. He was quiet thereafter.

When my travel team was young, we practiced pickoff plays over and over, and I cannot tell you how many times we threw balls into the outfield in games. But I always told them that I would lose a game today, if necessary, to make them better players tomorrow. By the time we were 14U, we were picking off kids so regularly that teams who knew us would not let a runner even take a single step off the bag, and half of our pickoffs were at second base, which stunned teams who didn’t know us. That first year or two I could tell parents were a little uneasy about our pickoff attempts, but by the time we hit 14U and a runner got on base, you could see our crowd leaning forward in their seats because they knew the show was about to begin.

I was not a great coach, but was so blessed to have the greatest parents in the world and never felt the need to look over my shoulder. I wish all of my coaching friends were so fortunate. I watched one game where the pitcher looked like she was taking the signal from the catcher, but was actually looking into the stands behind her for dad’s signal. I have heard parents say, “I don’t care if the coach gives you the bunt signal, you are the best hitter on the team, so act like you don’t see the signal and swing the bat.”

And, there are the parents who spend the whole ride home telling the kid why she plays for an idiot. It is hard for her to be enthusiastic about her team when she knows you are behind the dugout fuming at every decision her coach makes.

Chill. Let her enjoy. If the coaching is not what you expected, be upset at yourself for not doing enough research before joining the team. If you are stuck with the team, like in high school or rec ball, let her enjoy her friends. Fulfill your need for higher level coaching with a great travel ball team.

If the coach is focused on development, he or she may not win every game. They might let kids make mistakes so they can grow and learn. They may ask kids to do things today that will help them be more valuable tomorrow, like asking the cleanup hitter to lay down a suicide squeeze. And, once in a while, coaches may do something that will make them look brilliant if it works, but if it fails they will look stupid. Believe me, nobody will lose more sleep over that decision than that coach, but if that person does not have the full confidence of each and every player, the most brilliant move can fail due to uncertainty and hesitancy that leads to poor execution.

There are good ones and bad ones, but sadly I have seen some of the best coaches leave the game because they just could not put up with parents anymore. Many former coaches, whom I admire, fit that category. As you watch once great travel organizations wither and die, more often than not, this was the biggest contributing factor. A wealth of coaching experience walked away to see if perhaps there are less stressful ways to spend their free time.

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