By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
We’ve all heard complaints about coaches who don’t do enough. (“He barely said a word all season! The kids didn’t learn anything!”) But is there a down side to coaches who coach too much? Is it possible that at the youth level we can do so much coaching we actually create an environment where players are not taught to think for themselves?
My daughter spent four years playing soccer for a particular coach. During those four years, their team was State Cup champion one season, runner-up another, and always in the top three or four in the state. This coach had a tremendous knack for seeing play on the field develop before the players did. Consequently as a pass was coming to a girl he might yell, “Maddie’s on!” or “Service!” or “Shot!”, essentially making decisions for the girls before they could. I was concerned that once they got a new coach they might be paralyzed with indecision if no one was moving them around like puppets.
However, now that they do have a new coach, (who also directs play from the sideline, though to a lesser degree), it is apparent they can make their own decisions. When the new coach gives a “suggestion,” such as “Find Sarah,” while the players usually follow the instruction, I’ve noticed that many times they choose to do something else, (to which the coach will typically say, “Good decision.”).
When I coached Little League, because of my experience on the field, I also could see plays developing a split-second faster than the players. So, many times as soon as the ball left the bat, I might be telling the fielder to whom it was hit, “Four! Four!” so he knew to field the ball and throw home. Because one split-second indecision could be the difference between safe or out, I didn’t want to chance the player not knowing what to do when the ball arrived.
However, I often wondered if I was doing that because it was in the best interests of the player’s long-term development, or if it was done more so we had a better chance of winning.
I’m sure there are many who would say, “If you prepare them well at practice, you shouldn’t have to direct them on the field.” The thought is that if you’re a good enough coach during practice, it is unnecessary to say a word during the game. The team knows what to do and you can sit back in your chair and watch them effortlessly execute the plan.
And while that may work at some of the most elite levels of sports, I doubt anyone coaching nine, ten, eleven and twelve year-olds, with a couple hours of practice per week, can accomplish this.
So, when that ground ball is hit to the shortstop and the runner on third surprises everyone by breaking for home, would it be better to wait the extra second for the players to see it and let them all yell, “Four!” even if that means the runner will be safe? Some may think so. They may believe this is the only way the kids will truly learn to think for themselves so that they can function later on in their careers when they don’t have you there to direct them.
I’m not convinced. Just as the girls on my daughter’s soccer team seem very capable of independent thought even with a new coach, I’ve been told some of the kids I coached who are now in high school and college have a very high “Baseball IQ.” I don’t know if I can take credit for that. But it seems my coaching didn’t stunt their development on the mental side either. In fact, when the ball is hit to them now, I wonder if they still hear the old coach telling them what to do, even though we haven’t been on the field together in years.
Brian Gotta is a former professional recreational youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.