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So one of your players is INSANE...

So we have had two insane players in two of the teams I have been coaching. I wish there was another way of putting it, but there is not.  This went beyond the typical ‘enabled’ child or the ‘everyone wins’ player or even the ‘the world revolves around me’ child. This was total “Wow, really???” behavior.

Player One is a total drama queen who collapses in tears when absolutely anything does not go her way. And I mean anything. If something major happens (and issues follow this girl), then total, absolute melt down is the only way you can describe it. Note that this child is 11 years old. Her parents originally signed her up 3 seasons ago because they couldn’t figure our how to get the drama queen out of her and they hoped a dose of sports would help. Once she accidentally hit herself with her bat at practice and she stayed on the ground for 10 minutes despite there being no injury. She once played an entire inning in tears and sobbing between pitches – still not sure what set her off that day.

The other is a total sulker and worse is MEAN to coaches, teammates and her parents. Combine this with the enabling mother (you can see where the insanity comes from) and there is no joy all around. Anything would set this child off. Once she refused to warm up between innings with the right fielder because “she is mean to me and always gets her way”.  Once she sat out some of the game so she intentionally made sure she was 55 minutes late for the next game and then melted down when we went ahead and sat her down to start that game. This player is aged 9.

Now the kicker – in no way does this insanity seem to effect their play at all. The first player was our best first base and also pitched well when called on. The second played center field in that team and when there was a play to be made ALWAYS made the right play. When in a real sulk, she hits the ball harder than when she isn’t.

The good news… because we had the support of player one’s parents and also because she really wanted to pitch, through the season we slowly worked the worse of the insane out of her – at least to the point where it was manageable.  When she sulked we sat her out. When she misbehaved we sat her out. When she cried we ignored her and then sat her out. When she complained about an injury, we sat her out. When she complained to her parents, they turned her back to our authority. The time she spent ‘sitting out’ became shorter and shorter through the season until by playoff time they were almost non-existent.  We hope there is some hope beyond sports and her parents indicated they felt there was progress off the field as well.

The bad news… we did not have player two’s parental support. In fact -  just the opposite.  The “Why are you being mean to my daughter” conversations were a world of fun (NOT!).We used basically the same methodology – whenever the player became disruptive we removed her from whatever the team was doing at the time and wouldn’t let her back until we felt she was actually ready to participate. We managed her hard to see if we could improve her, but every step forward was sabotaged by her parents so this ended up going nowhere. We finally put her on a ‘behavior plan’ which we had her and her parents agree to. In the middle of the next tournament during an elimination game,  she declared that she should move to shortstop next inning because her mother had told her she was the best player on the team and that is where she should now play.  After a short conversation which went as follows “Now is not the time to discuss this. Let’s talk after the tournament is over.” everything continued.

After the tournament we set up a meeting with her family for the next day based on our 24 hour rule which also gave us a little extra time to prepare. The meeting started as follows “Our daughter is the best player you have and we don’t understand why she isn’t batting first and playing short stop.” We once again pulled out our performance records which showed  her performance started out as about average for the team and had either fallen lower or had a “didn’t participate” status. We then stated that we were clearly not the team for their daughter, supplied her parents with a list of teams we knew were looking for players and cut her from the team. The father then said “But everyone says you are the best coaches around”. One of our assistant coaches said “I agree. Most other coaches would not have given you a list of other teams who might need your daughter.”

In the end as a coaching staff we felt we handled everything reasonably well. We made sure that when the players behavior threatened to effect the team we stepped in and made sure we made it clear that it was not acceptable. We were upfront with the parents and established how we were going to handle bad behavior and continued to update the parents regularly. We had success with one player and we successfully gave the second player ample opportunity to work with us and made a good decision for the team in cutting her before it became a real issue.

How have you handled these players?

Teaching Catching to Those That Can't (yet) - Fly Ball / High Catching

I am separating learning catching into two main articles – this article and then one on catching high or fly balls. Fly balls are to be learned only after regular catching skills and techniques are totally mastered. Please read Teaching Catching to Those That Can’t (yet) – Normal Catching to ensure your athletes have proper technique before trying out these drills and methods.

This is the next step for players catching. These drills are also for players who naturally catch the ball as experience has shown that natural regular catchers will not naturally develop the proper fly ball technique to consistently catch the ball.

–> SAFETY FIRST – SPEND LOTS OF TIME OF THIS DRILL. TAKE YOUR TIME. PERFECT TECHNIQUE BEFORE PROGRESSION <–

Fly ball catching should only be taught after regular catching technique is mastered. This allows the players to come into these drills with solid catching mechanics, but more importantly by this stage their fear of the ball should be greatly diminished. This does not mean the fear is gone for all players but if they are confident catching normally it should be very manageable and confidence will quickly be built.

Items you will need:
- A wiffle ball
- A tennis ball
- game ball or a baseball/softball
- water balloons

Catching Technique:
- Every catch will be with TWO hands.
- Catches will be with FINGERS UP TO THE SKY and BOTH THUMBS TOUCHING.
- To learn – the traditional ‘glove’ or non-throwing hand will be above the shoulder.
- It is OK to catch with a dominant hand and cover with the other hand as long as both hands are involved in every catch
- THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS DURING THE LEARNING PROCESS

The Drill:
- Wiffle ball first. Stand about 3-4 feet away from the player and have the player position their hands in the correct catching position and held just below their chin or slightly over one shoulder. Most kids will naturally put their hands in a reasonable catching position.
- Throw the ball approximately 2-3 feet above the players head aiming to hit the player in the hands.
- Continue until the player is comfortable at this height, then start throwing the ball another 2–3 feet higher while the player remains the same distance away.
- Continuing adding height as the player gets comfortable. I find wiffle balls are good to a maximum of about 10 feet high – so once they are comfortable at this height,  it now time to move the player back a little bit.
- Now is time to start to explain the concept of moving under the ball and moving the players to slightly to the left and right – you will find wiffle balls do this naturally anyway. Again, we want the player to catch the ball above their non-throwing shoulder for this drill – NOT ABOVE THEIR HEAD.
- Once you get to about 10′ high at a distance of about 6′, it is time to switch to the next ball.
- It is now time to switch to a tennis ball – back at 3-4′ distance and 2′  above their heads. Tennis balls are good for this drill to about 20′ high and a distance of about 20′
- It is now time to switch to a game ball – back again at 3′ distance.
- By this stage, most players will be running all over the place catching balls. Awesome!
- DO NOT MOVE DISTANCE OR CHANGE BALLS UNTIL THE PLAYER IS TOTALLY COMFORTABLE AND IS USING PROPER TECHNIQUE ON EVERY CATCH
- When starting the drill on a new day always start at a distance that is shorter and lower than the last time the player did the drill.

Parent Commitment:
- 4 times a week for 10-15 minutes (more if the player wants to continue).

Remember every player will be different in the time it takes to get through these drills to ‘game skill level’.  If the players come in with the required regular catching skills most of them will not take long to get this skill down.

This technique will teach the player the absolutely safest way to catch high fly balls. Basket catches and diving for catches and all the other catching skills will come almost naturally once they have these basic catching mechanics and skills down. And most importantly, you will avoid the player being hit in the face by the ball.

For baseball and softball players it is important that they do not do these drills with a glove on until they have mastered the ‘game ball’ at least 20′. Players need to learn that the glove is not meant to catch the ball for you – it is simply a hand extension and hand protector for balls that are hard thrown. Catching with a glove is still a two hand catching technique as well.

Teaching Catching to Those That Can't (yet) - Normal Catching

I am separating learning catching into two main articles – this article and then one on catching high or fly balls. Fly balls are to be learned only after regular catching skills and techniques are totally mastered.

Catching for some kids comes naturally. You will find that they will go through these drills very quickly but that doesn’t excuse them from these drills. These drills also will teach proper technique which is very important to the natural player who have a tendency to get lazy which in game situations leads to dropped catches.

First thing: Many young players are frightened of the ball and no amount of coaxing, pleading, bribery or other action is going to change that especially if you are clearly lying to them. Many times I have seen coaches telling their players that the ball isn’t going to hurt when clearly if it smacks you upside the head when you miss catching it, it will. Only their personal experience with catching will change this.

Second Thing: You – as a coach – will have limited effect directly on teaching an individual player to catch. If you want a player on your team to learn, then there is going to need to be parent involvement away from scheduled practice. Your job will be to educate the parents as much as the player.

Items you will need:
- A wiffle ball
- A tennis ball
- game ball or a baseball/softball

Catching Technique:
- Every catch will be with TWO hands.
- Catches will be with FINGERS UP TO THE SKY and BOTH THUMBS TOUCHING.
- It is OK to catch with a dominant hand and cover with the other hand as long as both hands are involved in every catch
- THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS DURING THE LEARNING PROCESS

The Drill:
- Wiffle ball first. Stand about 2 feet away from the player and have the player position their hands in the correct catching position and held just below their chin or slightly over one shoulder. Most kids will naturally put their hands in a reasonable catching position.
- Throw the ball directly to their hands and let them catch with two hands.
- Continue until the player is comfortable at this distance, then move them back 2 extra feet and repeat.
- Now start to move the ball around a little on the throw, making the player move their hands to the ball for the catch. Do this very slowly – we are building confidence here!
- Wiffle balls are good to a maximum of about 6 feet – so once they are comfortable at 4′, move the player back again.
- It is now time to switch to a tennis ball – back at 2′ distance. Tennis balls are good for this drill to about 20′
- It is now time to switch to a game ball – back again at 2′ distance.
- DO NOT MOVE DISTANCE OR CHANGE BALLS UNTIL THE PLAYER IS TOTALLY COMFORTABLE AND IS USING PROPER TECHNIQUE ON EVERY CATCH
- When starting the drill on a new day always start at a distance that is shorter than the last time the player did the drill.

Parent Commitment:
- 4 times a week for 10-15 minutes (more if the player wants to continue).

Remember every player will be different in the time it takes to get through these drills to ‘game skill level’. I had a natural player who went through the whole thing in 20 minutes at a practice. More normally, a player starting with no catching skills and a normal level of ‘fear of the ball’ take2-3 weeks to gain the skills and confidence to get to the game ball level.

This technique will teach the player the absolutely safest way to catch. Learning with the fingers up is important because it will stop the player being hit in the face when the ball is above waist height. With fingers down, the player is at risk of having the ball bounce of the base of their hand and bouncing into their body and our experience has shown that this skill is quickly picked up once the fingers up technique has been mastered.

For baseball and softball players it is important that they do not do these drills with a glove on until they have mastered the ‘game ball’ at least 20′. Players need to learn that the glove is not meant to catch the ball for you – it is simply a hand extension and hand protector for balls that are hard thrown. Catching with a glove is still a two hand catching technique as well.

School is back in! What sports are your kids playing????

School started again yesterday.

My daughter is playing softball, basketball and gymnastics!

My son is playing golf and gymnastics!
What sports are your kids starting now school has started again?

Trying not to Coach in the Stands

One of the reasons I ended up coaching was because I am a control freak of a certain kind.  I also know I have a reasonable coaching philosophy and that I am an excellent organizer/communicator. I also know when to remove my ego when needed.

Sitting Away from Everyone Else

But I also only have so many hours in the day, can only be in one place at a time  and I have a lot of other commitments. I can’t coach EVERY team I would like to.

So I often find myself in the stands watching my children play with some other coach playing the role I would much rather be playing. I sit there very, very quiet because I worry about being the ‘bad parent’. I cheer and clap good plays. I make encouraging noises when my kid plays. I generally don’t sit next to anyone else. I try very, very hard not to do any coaching of my own kids during the game unless it is a simple reminder of some skill we had been working on.

It is hard, but it the right thing to do.

When your child joins a team you have released them into the care and control of another – instructor, coach, adviser, whatever. Much as you wouldn’t interrupt your child’s teacher at school directly but would set up a parent-teacher meeting, you should wait to an appropriate time to talk to a coach.

It is hard enough to coach without extra opinions being added – normally contradicting what you are looking to achieve. Also it only ends up confusing the poor player which leads to absolutely no  chance of success.

The natural paternal instinct is to protect your child and not to see them make mistakes. But sports is a learning activity, and there are things to learn from these mistakes. These including learning to listen, learning to follow instructions, self-reliance, personal responsibility and so on. Yes that is a little deep, but considering that sports taught me all this it is not a stretch.

And remember if you feel the need to coach, then go coach. Otherwise stop coaching from the stands – you are not the coach.

Product Review: Louisville Slugger Ultimate Pitching Machine

Louisville Slugger Ultimate Pitching Machine UPM45

If you coach softball or baseball for 12U and below and you don’t currently have a pitching machine, I am about to change everything about your batting practice for not very much money.

There are major issues with you, as the coach, pitching to your players for practice. From the mound it is almost impossible to provide any sort of relevant hitting coaching – it is the worse place to see how your player is hitting and trying to correct their technique. You can’t be watching their feet, their stance, their swing, their eyes and everything else that goes on when a player takes a swing at a pitch, especially when you are trying to pitch the ball properly yourself. Even if you do notice something you still have to walk all the way up to the player to help them. It just doesn’t work.

Secondly – and more importantly – you are probably not a good pitcher. Even if you are a good pitcher to other adults, you probably are pretty horrible when it comes to actually throwing good pitches to your younger players. I know I am not very good and I feel I am one of the better “coach pitchers” I have seen. We don’t throw very consistent pitches for the player to hit – we are up and down in the zone (if we are in the zone) as well as left and right, and while this is what they may face in a game, we are talking about practice and working on batting technique – not game pitching. Also as an adult throwing to young players we also tend to throw slower than we should which is not helping the player either.

You could have one of your pitchers do the pitching, but there is problems with that as well. At this age their accuracy is still suspect. Also if they are VERY good, your batters confidence may suffer. Conversely, if your pitcher is not so good or emotionally fragile or just having a bad day, you can ruin your pitchers confidence by having them slapped around the field by your batters. Not something you will want with a game probably coming up.

There is a solution – a pitching machine! And specifically – this one…

Louisville Slugger Ultimate Pitching Machine Louisville Slugger Ultimate Pitching Machine

No electricity required – all mechanical! The Ultimate Pitching Machine is capable of throwing many types of balls – we have thrown softballs, baseballs, tennis balls, footballs, apples, well everything actually.It will throw up to 50mph at the strongest setting all the way down to 20mph at the lowest. You can even throw flyballs!

The Ultimate Pitching Machine is accurate and consistent and literally anyone can operate it. Stop worrying about throwing pitches your players can hit and start actually coaching.

Last price check: $169.99


That is right, for much less than $200 you can have a pitching machine specifically designed to throw to the younger teams while still having enough power to throw to older teams. If you don’t want to buy it yourself, have each player chip in $15.00 and buy it for the team.

It is the perfect tool for batting practice – it absolutely revolutionized my practices the first time I used it. It is spring loaded so you can use it anywhere. It is light so it is easy to transport. And you can set it up in about 2 minutes – which was one of my concerns when I first bought it.

What will it do for you? By throwing consistent balls over the plate I guarantee your players will get at least 3-4X as many swings in the same amount of time as someone pitching to them. No wild pitches which could either hit the player or require chasing down – all strikes. Your hitters will be hitting and with more live balls, if you have fielders shagging balls, they will have more to do as well so they are going to be more engaged as well. Also as ANYONE else can operate it, you as the coach will be right there with the player at the plate actually coaching! How great is that!

That is worth saying again.

Your hitters will take 3-4x as many swings, the fielders will have more live balls to field and you, the coach, can actually spend ALL YOUR TIME coaching and instructing your players

Over time, I have has several very good questions on the use of this tool at practice.

“It is easy for players to hit a ball pitched straight down the middle each time. Is it really good for the batter?”
Well for the youngest players – absolutely!!! At the 8U level we are much more interested in developing hand-eye coordination and good technique than we are worrying about a coach-pitch change up. It also doesn’t hurt their confidence to be able to make good contact more and more often as they learn. Just make sure you position the ball about the same way each time when you place it on the machine for real consistency.
For the older age divisions, you can also position the ball on the machine differently which will move it around as well – just rotate the seams left, right, backwards and forwards differently and you will get some desired movement on the ball. Plenty in fact to avoid any ‘grooved down the middle’ pitches. There is also a small micro screw on the throwing arm that you can use to move the ball slightly higher and lower in the strike zone with a quick turn.

“It really isn’t a pitching motion is it?”
True, but then no pitching machine is. But also true is that as a batter, you don’t normally see the ball until the pitchers release point anyway, so as long as you are getting ‘release point on’, then you are OK. Which brings me to what is probable more important – the release point. The release point for young players is excellent on this machine – and you even have a full foot of adjustment on the machine for release height which is excellent.

“Doesn’t the spring wear out?”
Yes, the spring does wear out but only after about a year of solid use. Replacement springs are plentiful and easily obtainable and cost only $20.

“What age range is this machine good for”
I have used this machine to pitch practice up to the 12U level in softball and baseball – after that then it is time to upgrade especially if the players are serious (see other pitching machine reviews on this site). Above 12U, the release angle and speed start becoming an issue even for batting practice and you will need to invest in some heavier hardware. So if you purchased this for a 8U team or player, you can easily get 5 years of use out of this machine for just one team.

P.S. I will not confirm or deny using this device to launch various fireworks into the air during the July 4th weekend. Wasn’t me.

Parents: The After Game Ride Home

A great ride home.. I suppos

The ride home…

I include a discussion about handling the ride home in my initial discussions with players parents and reinforce it through out the season. A bad ride home can be extremely damaging for the players confidence, enjoyment of the game and just general morale.

Good experiences are easy. Whether it is your child playing their best game in a win or there first point in a game ever,  you are probably every bit as excited about it as they are. The only advice I can give you here is enjoy the moment. It is what playing sports is all about. I wouldn’t even talk about the negatives or things to work on – that is what the next practice will be for. You hear it every week on TV during after game interviews with coaches and players  – “We’ll enjoy this tonight and start working on the next opponent tomorrow.”

Good experiences are not the issue.

Bad experiences  be handled no matter what happened by following some easy guidelines.

  • Recognize that you will want to say something. Recognize that you want to be very careful about what you actually say even if something very different is running through your head.
    • Use the same technique used for all coaching situations – positive statement first, teaching statement/encouragement  second.
      • “We are proud you had the courage to take the last shot. We’ll work on running that play the next practice.”
      • “You did a great job getting into position to field the ball. Next time remember to get your glove on the ground.”
      • “I know you didn’t get to play much, but you are making progress in practice which will be rewarded.”
  • Once you have made your comment it is time to let the child control the conversation.
  • This is not a ‘coaching moment’. This is a ‘support moment’

At this point, everyone child acts differently. I was a brooder – I didn’t want to talk about it and needed to be left alone. My daughter likes to dwell on it by talking about it constantly. I have players who were criers. Others that get caught up in blaming themselves and need your support to talk about how experiences make the next situation better.  All these are reasonable reactions that you can support. And that is what you need to be doing – read and react in the most supportive way you can.

Important Note

Great Player - NOT acceptable behavior

There are two player reactions that are not acceptable.

  • Violent reactions of any kind (hitting objects, breaking equipment, confronting other people, etc, etc…)
  • Blaming someone else (team mates, officials, coaches, playing conditions, equipment, supporters, weather, etc, etc…)

Both of these reactions are never acceptable and should be stopped as  inappropriate immediately. The worst thing you can do is provide support for either of these reactions. There is a fine line between supporting the players confidence and also letting them know that they are in-the-end responsible for their actions.

One of the worst case scenario is the blown call from an official that ends up effecting the end result of the game.  Unfortunately this is very, very visible and can cause a very, very emotional situation. I have been on both sides of the situation. Once again the winning side is easy as you can give the ‘We are lucky and we deserve some luck considering how hard we worked’  speech.

The losing side is a little harder. I have used the following topics in my after game discussion with the team (and parents/supporters)

  • We were unlucky. That is sport. Maybe next time it will be our time.
  • We had the whole game to put ourselves in a better position so there wasn’t the chance that one play or call was going to effect the result
  • Sometimes the umpire has a bad game as well. We have to put ourselves above that.
    • Quick note – I officiated basketball for over 15 years at all levels up to Div I college basketball. In all that time covering thousands of games I have only ONCE seen a referee intentionally ‘cheat’ for one team. Unintentional bias yes. Horrible calls and games yes. No idea how to referee yes. No understanding of the rules yes. But outright cheating - just once.

Understanding Your League

One thing many coaches fail to recognize is the goals of the league you are playing in.

Instructional League Game with Coaches on Court

This is a real shame because it should be part of the beginning of the season expectation setting with parents as well as partially determine who you coach your team.

Most leagues fall into one of several categories based on the level of competitiveness expected.

  • Instructional

In general, instructional leagues are for younger ages – generally 8U and lower. I have also seen this at several YMCA leagues, where the goal is to provide a place for older kids to play a sport they have never played before. While players will want to know whether the team won or lost, they are much more interested in what ‘they did’ during the game.

Read more about instructional league coaching here

  • Transitional

At the 10U local league, often you will have a mix of players how are new and some that have played before. By this age, players understand the concept of winning and losing better and have a more developed sense of team. Players are more likely to be OK with your best players ‘winning’ the game at the end as long as they had ample opportunity to actively participate and be part of the game earlier.

Read more about Transitional League coaching here

  • Competitive

Players in competitive leagues understand winning, losing, best players and exactly why they are here. Players are actively competing for spots and while they will be happy the team is winning, they want to be out there playing. While you are going for the win every game, that doesn’t excuse you from developing players in practice and finding way to give players game time when the opportunities present themselves. Over a long season you can’t put yourself in a situation where an injury or other circumstance means you have to go to a (probably angry or disinterested) player you haven’t used for several weeks.

Read more about Competitive coaching here

  • Totally Cut-Throat

Winning is everything. This is actually rarer than you might think and is generally situation such as going all out to win an important tournament or a specific game which gets you into the playoffs. If you coach this way for a complete season you generally end up with very limited depth, some very unhappy players and a generally unpleasant situation.

Too many coaches coach competitive teams this way and they end of suffering in the long run for it – often in situations where they needed to be Cut-Throat but circumstances conspire against them.

Read more about Totally Cut-Throat coaching here

DO:

  • Understand what kind of league or team you are involved with before the season starts – the league determines what philosophy you use
  • Coach based on this understanding and do not compromise
  • Remember your responsibility as a coach – both short and long term

DONT:

  • Lose sight of the long term goals – all of the sake of a single win
  • Decide to coach based on a more “competitive” philosophy in a league that is instructional.
  • Do not Cut Throat coach when the situation does not call for it.

Totally Cut-Throat Coaching

AAU - College Exposutre for Elite Athletes

Winning is everything when you decide to bring out everything your team has.

This is actually rarer than you might think and is generally situation such as going all out to win an important tournament or a specific game which gets you into the playoffs. Ideally you have built up through a season for an opportunity to need to coach and play this way. You often hear about coaches ‘shortening their bench’ for the playoffs as individual games become more and more important. That makes sense of course, but more importantly is that the coach was in a situation where he HAD TO SHORTEN HIS BENCH. That means that during the games or season leading up to the playoffs he was developing the depth of the team.

If you coach this way for a complete season you generally end up with very limited depth, some very unhappy players and a generally unpleasant situation. Too many coaches coach competitive teams this way and they end of suffering in the long run for it – often in situations where they needed to be Cut-Throat but circumstances conspire against them.

Here are some scenarios to think  about it:

  • Example One:  One game district championship playoff. Last game of the season and all on the line.
  • Example Two: Game 3 of a 30 game  season. We are up 4 about 1/2 way through the game.
  • Example Thee: Game 15 of a 30 game season. We are playing our traditional rival. We are down 2 with little time left in the game.
  • Example Four:  Four game tournament.

And the answers are:

  • Example One – Easy one – Cut throat coaching all the way. Next season will take care of it self…
  • Example Two – Competitive coaching strategy. Everything you can do to win, without sacrificing the whole season.
  • Example Three – Depends. Again you do everything can do to win, but you still can’t sacrifice the whole season.
  • Example Four – Depends on the tournament. In general the further into the tournament, the more cut throat you get. Sometimes not. You have to be able to read the situation.

Softball College Exposure Tournament

Here is a perfect example. I was scouting another team when I was coaching high school basketball. It was basically a Example Three scenario, and team #1′s best player had twisted his ankle with a couple of minutes to go. Clearly in some pain, they had rapidly re-taped his ankle and despite being in some pain he reentered the game. With three seconds to go he came off a screen, caught the ball and won the game… all while landing on an opponents foot and further injuring his ankle. He ended up missing 8 games  during which his team went 2-6 and ended up missing the District Playoffs.

If this had been a situation similar to Example One, then bringing the player back in is probably the  correct move – but half way through a season it is extremely unlikely that the move is correct even if it works out.

Just make sure your risk is worth the reward.

Competitive Leagues and Teams

Coach and HS Football Team

Players in competitive leagues understand winning, losing, best players and exactly why they are here. Players are actively competing for spots and while they will be happy the team is winning, they want to be out there playing. Players become specialized – point guards are point guards, short stops and short stops and goalies are goalies.

Your goal is to win every game that you can while not hurting your teams long term success. Winning any individual game in a long season is not justification enough for you to damage your long term season and goals. My first year coaching high school basketball I found it difficult to make my first substitution when we were not leading in a game. My starters got worn out as the season went on, my backups never had any clue when they might get into the game and the end of the season is something I would rather forget. In the end I sacrificed important wins at the end of the season for a what ended up being a couple of wins at the beginning of the season.

Nothing excuses you from developing players in practice and finding way to give players game time or other rewards when the opportunities present themselves. Over a long season you can’t put yourself in a situation where an injury or other circumstance means you have to go to a (probably angry or disinterested) player you haven’t used for several weeks. Don’t fall into a Cut-Throat coaching situation when you do not need to.

My college basketball coach told me once that they will fire him for going 10-20 but not for going 20-10 or better.  So in his mind he could afford to lose 10 games per year at the Division 1 NCAA college level.

For your lesser players you must be setting goals for your other players in practice  to earn playing time or opportunities. And when they earn it – you MUST reward them. That means you have to be very careful on the goals and targets  you are setting. In particular you must remember that while your lesser player is getting better by working at practice, so is the player he is competing with.

I made this mistake on a High School boys basketball team I was coaching. My backup point guard was pressing for more court time and we discussed areas he needed to improve -  in this case his left hand ball control, his free throw shooting and his general conditioning. We set up a program for him to work through and he spent the next 2 months working intensely on these skills and made progress in all three areas. But so had his competition – the starting point guard who of course we also working with. At the end of 2 months, the gap between the players was basically still the same and the starting player really didn’t deserve to see his playing time cut.

It was a constant struggle for me to find the first player the court time he had earned and it was MY FAILURE AS A COACH for not setting the right goals. I should have set goals which included closing the gap in ability with the starting guard. This was a mistake I did learn from and while I am in no way mistake free in this area, I have not made quite this level of mistake again.

The older the players, the more personnel management becomes a bigger part of the coaching staffs responsibilities.