Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Defines A Coach

This is my son's first year playing baseball, and he has the worst coach imaginable. To set up the scenario, on the first day of practice he is late. He is scatterbrained and unorganized. He has no plan of action for the practice and it shows. I realize this is little league baseball but you could pick up a book called Coaching Youth Baseball and read directly from it and be more effective. I probably should cut this guy a break. He volunteered to be his son's coach after all. He's doing this for his son, right?

I think back to all my years as a coach on the high school basketball and think back to my first year. I was nervous and unsure that what I was saying would carry any weight. I read up on coaching techniques, I asked lots of questions about how to run a good practice from the varsity coach, and I knew I had to be prepared or the kids would suffer. Without a plan, I would lose these kids in the first few practices. I pushed their limits and tried to teach them to have fun. Without the fun, it wasn't worth doing. A good coach makes it challenging AND fun.

My son has slowly picked up the fundamentals of the game despite this lack of coaching. I was worried that I had failed him, not teaching him baseball. We've been practicing after school and he's starting to hit it more and occasionally catching it. I can remember the look on his face when I whooped and cheered him from the stands when he played first base for the first time ever and calmly fielded a ground ball and stepped on the bag for his first unassisted out. He knows what he likes to play. Catcher. Watching him walk like he just got off a horse makes me laugh but proud that he is pursuing something he knows he likes. A good coach lets every kid play every position regardless of ability.

We only had two practices before the games began. Since then we have had none. Even though this is the case, he still yells at the kids things like "Don't you watch baseball? You need to know where to throw it!" While we play twice a week, once on a weekday and the other on a Saturday, this coach never actually coaches. He's there, sometimes late. He didn't even show up to the boys' picture day for the team picture. This was probably largely due to him and another parent who is assisting, getting into an argument.

It's a coach pitch league. The dads pitch to their team, trying to facilitate hits, runs, and feeling good about their play. Pitcher Dad, was telling the batter how to position himself at the plate but every time he would say something, Coach would have to have the last word and say something contrary. This went on for a few batters with Pitcher Dad making helpful suggestions and Coach walking all the way from 3rd to home each time he would say something. Pitcher Dad said "Can you just back off, I am trying to coach these kids!" A good coach gives constructive feedback.

After the game Coach said, in front of a kid, "Some kids just get it. Others, you can clearly see, never will". This made one of the players cry. The dad told me that later in the car,in tears, he told his dad "Coach thinks I am not a good player" I heard him say it. That is not the only gem of things Coach says. He likes to repeat "Outfield is important" which I am considering putting on a shirt for him at the end of the year. Most kids don't like to play out there but my son does. Last game my son told another kid that he liked the outfield and that kid called him a butthead for liking it. I said "Look at Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen. Those guys aren't buttheads, are they?" I say. A good coach shows that he genuinely cares.

He yells from third base "SLIDE, SLIDE!" YOU HAVE TO SLIDE! when kids advance from one base to the next. I haven't taught my son sliding because I am not sure how to do it without hurting myself in the process. His reasoning is that not sliding slows you down, when just being a smart base runner will get you more bases than sliding at every base even when there is not play at that base. There are times to slide, no doubt, but telling the kids to slide constantly is dumb. These kids are eight. Getting dirty is fine but have you ever seen a kid slide headfirst into first because they thought they needed to slide at "every" base? It's dangerous. A good coach is one that knows what is best for the players.
One day I pitched to the kids. Not easy to do when you are 6'7". I probably looked like Randy Johnson to them. We usually have a dad that catches which is behind the catcher. We were short on dads that day, and I asked Coach to do it. He was reluctant for whatever reason. Turns out he can't really throw. He barely made it back to me on the mound and I am only ten feet away. I had to laugh to myself and remember not to get so pissed at him for yelling at my son next time. It reminds me of that Volkswagen commercial where the dad is passing on his throwing style when he really shouldn't. A good coach imparts knowledge that makes players better.

Despite all these annoying things, I give him some credit for taking on this responsibility. It's a big deal to be a child's coach. Look at all the examples of good ones and you will see how challenging but caring they were about their players. Coach does a lot of things but what he is best at is videotaping every moment with his camera phone. I thought at first that he might be taping his own son and not every kid on the team, the other kids on other teams, and kids from all over the league, but this is not the case. A good coach inspires his players to always keep improving, to try your hardest, and never give up.

I saw him misplace his phone at a game once. He ran around asking all the kids where his phone was. When he couldn't find it, I thought he might just go ballistic. He seriously looked like he had lost a child in a crowd. I get it. I've lost my phone before, it is not a good feeling. What he was worried about wasn't the video of his son trying his best while his dad cheered him on. He was worried about all the footage.

While picking up my son from a friend's house after school last evening, my son's friend's mom casually tells me that my son, Adam, is on YouTube playing baseball. This is news to me. While searching for information on Summer Ball she came across the videos using key words from our league. I went to YouTube immediately and was amazed at all the footage this guy had of kids who are 8 and 9 years old posted publicly. A good coach protects his players.

Don't get my wrong, I have videotaped recorded my son playing baseball and have posted it on YouTube. I have shared it on my page even. But the difference here is that I only recorded MY son. What bothers me most about this issue is that he just never asked. He never came to any parents and said "I hope you don't mind me recording, but I would like to put them up at some point for the boys to see" It would have been easy to say that but he didn't. A good coach knows how to communicate effectively.

Most games he is behind the camera, yelling instructions. There are almost 20 videos on YouTube capturing his style of "coaching". Three games left in this season and he still calls my son Alex. When the kids are not batting, they are climbing the fence, wrestling, or playing catch,and certainly not paying attention to the game. If it were my team they would be on the bench cheering on their teammates and actually watching the game. If they are on the bench that inning it means they are learning by paying attention and not making a run to the snack bar. My son stays on the bench and starts the "Let's go...chant for each player" A good coach manages the team and maintains order.

He is disengaged because while he is recording the game, he isn't actually watching the game or coaching for that matter. That disconnect immediately prevents him from making connections with his players. He never high fives anyone because that would mean putting down his camera. I told my son early into the season to listen to the other dads and myself. That while technically he is his "coach" that he isn't actually a COACH. It takes more to be a coach than just actually being there. Hopefully one day he will get out from behind the camera because he is missing his son's baseball games.


  1. Your story reminds me of things Ive experienced with some teachers in regards to my older children. I have always believed you cant teach children anything after their 4th year. A desire to learn is what must be instilled into their minds by good ( for lack of better term ) teachers. One of the hardest things for me to ever get across to my kids is not to let your dislike of a teacher or in your case a coach stop you from being the best you can be. For certain he will learn what not to be form his coach in contrast to what his father is. As long as you speak to the coach in a decorous manner even when you tell him he is in the wrong then your son will learn civility at least. Something we seem to have little of these days.

  2. I think you should tell him:

    "Some coaches just get it. Others, you can clearly see, never will."