Monday, April 27, 2015

A Coach's Quandary....

How does a coach get aggressive play out of players who, by nature, are not aggressive individuals?  As a youth sports coach I find myself asking this question all the time.

But lately I have been thinking that maybe I have been asking the wrong question.

I mean, seriously, how often do you come across a kid with that killer instinct that every coach craves?  That hard nosed, gritty, take no prisoners mentality that can inspire those around them to pick up their games? A vocal leader willing to put the team on his or her back?

Honestly, at any age before high school, I have yet to coach that type of player.  This is leading me to believe that perhaps I should be asking "how do I get the most out of my players?" instead.  Or at least something to that effect.

(I will say that I have seen those aggressive types in wrestling.  But I don't coach wrestling.  Those athletes are a whole different breed entirely.)

I've been convinced for years that to be a good youth coach you damn near need a degree in psychology.  These are the buttons you push to get Player A motivated and these are the buttons you have to push to get Player B motivated --- and here is the rather complex combination required to get both Player A and Player B to work together. (working together harmoniously costs extra)

Another thing that I have learned about coaching is that you simply cannot treat every kid the same.  There are those kids that need a good ass chewing on occasion; my daughter being one of them. Not only does she have a bit of a temper that she struggles to control at times, but she has this incredible, almost super power, ability to blow off subtle hints. Every once in a while you can see the "I think your full of shit" look on her face as your try to coach her.

Tera:  "Hmm, I don't like what I'm hearing.  Ignore powers ON......"

(Yeah....I acted just like her when I was a kid.  And, actually, she's in a good place.  A little bit of a temper is not a bad thing in sports if you can work it to your advantage --- if you can mold it into a controlled rage.  I have no doubt that she is going to turn out just fine.)

So, I have to occasionally raise my voice and get on her to get her going/keep her in line.....

Then there are those kids that if you raise your voice too much.......

Man, I can't handle it when a little girl cries. That just tears me up.

Crying little girls is my kryptonite, and God forbid if any of the girls on the team figure that out and start using that knowledge against me.

Which, from a coaching standpoint, kind of complicates things.  I know there are going to be times that I have to be stern, times when I have to call them out and let them know that I need more out of them than what they are giving.  But in the back of my mind, I'm always worrying as I'm giving them an earful.  If half the kids respond to my rant by playing harder that's great.....But if the other half are  partially paralyzed and indecisive ---- then overall I have done the team absolutely no good.

 I do worry, when I get on kids, if I come out sounding harsher then I should.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a yeller. I played for a yeller and to this very day I still hate him.  But I do call it like I see it, occasionally wishing that I used a little softer approach, that I had chosen my words a little more carefully. 

Because what is most important to remember at the youth level is that if you're not having fun then you've kind of missed the point in playing the game. There has to be that balance between teaching about the values of good discipline and hard work ---- and taking the time to have a good laugh.......  I don't EVER want to be so rigid in my approach that I end up being responsible for a kid not wanting to play.

So, every now and then, I will make a point to talk to the girls about something other than softball.  I will give in to the occasional fit of goofiness to help keep things loose.......(Belching works great in this situation.....Yes, I'm a barbarian, but it makes the girls laugh)

On a side note, coaching girls has made me much better when it comes to restraint. I don't cuss near like a used to -- in fact, for anyone familiar with the cartoon Chowder, I have taken to using what I call the Schnitzel approach to obscenity.  Radda, radda, radda......

(I come from a long line of potty mouths....I don't have to be angry to burn someone's ears)

Still, it would be nice to have some kind of little soundproof room in the dugout where I can escape, scream, slam my head repeatedly against a soft pillow, have a beer and listen to the relaxing sounds of the rain forest or ocean waves to help me decompress.........Yeah, I'm totally kidding.  But since the thought popped into my head I may as well use it.

Anyway, back to the original question.  It came about after a particularly rough tournament last weekend.  Game one started off with rain and a biting cold wind. To be completely honest, the girls didn't want to there and I didn't either. When you can look into the stands and see your wife bundled up in a sleeping bag you know it's freaking cold.   The girls were miserable, not mentally prepared, and played flat ---- and that unfortunately seemed to set the tone for the rest of the weekend.  Simple things, like covering your bag, that they were executing well in practice suddenly became a lost art.  The winning run in the last game we lost happened when our catcher (my kid) forgot to check the runner at third, who then stole home as Tera tossed a lollipop back to the pitcher. 

It's this kind of stuff --- stuff that coaches work so hard to teach in practice --- that just drives you up a wall.

Now, I say it all the time.  These are little girls that will have a lot of ups and downs as they go about learning how to play the game; there is no such thing as a well oiled machine at this level.  Even the best teams falter from time to time.

But despite being aware of that knowledge all coaches. after a rough tournament, will stay up late on a Sunday night trying to figure out what he/she needs to do to fix the broken machine.  Coaches, whether they will admit it or not, take rough tournament outings personally.  We obsess over our current approach and wonder if we need to try a different one.  We wonder if we aren't using the right motivational tactics.  We worry that perhaps, when we got on the kids, we were being too negative.

Which honestly, in a strange and somewhat neurotic sort of way, is great.......If your coach is a slightly obsessed worry wort that means that his/her heart is in the right place.  These kind of coaches do not abide by the "It's my way or the highway" philosophy because they, generally speaking, find that coaching style too over bearing and lacking in flexibility.  That's not saying that we aren't control freaks ---- we absolutely are.  But we are control freaks that aren't so set in our ways that we are unwilling to recognize and make changes for the good of our players. 

After all, at the end of the day, we realize that what we are teaching is about a lot more than just softball.  We know that the lessons kids learn on the field can be carried over and applied in life.  Which is why we constantly preach about hard work, strong communication, and being mentally tough ---- all skills necessary to achieve success in life --- the toughest game they will ever play.

I have said it before and I will say it again.  If I've made you a better player, but I haven't made you a better person ---- then I have failed you as a coach. 

Perhaps that is an extreme way of thinking but that's honestly how I feel.

In closing -- I have come to the realization that I have indeed been asking the wrong question all this time.  I think that I have skipped a vital step on the way to creating an aggressive player.  If you look at all the really good players out there you will find that they all have a certain air about them; they walk with a little bit of a swagger.  They aren't nervous, don't worry about the crowds, and relish being put in a pressure situation.  In short, they are confident, bordering on cocky.

I realize, that the question "how do I get aggressive play out of my players?" should be put on the back burner until I answer the question that I should have been asking all this time ---

"How do I build a confident player?"

I believe that I have always had the basic blueprint to build confident players......I just need to update the blue print and make a few tweeks to the machine.......

Practice can't get here soon enough.....