By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
Coaching youth sports means that you’re going to see your share of mistakes – and some might even be made by you! How you deal with mistakes is the key to success. Here are four easy tips to help you be a better coach, teacher and role-model.
1. Never say anything critical about a player’s ability
If a player is not hustling, it’s OK to point that out. If he’s goofing around or not trying, by all means you should mention that and correct it. But never criticize a player who is hustling and trying, for failing to perform. And sometimes it isn’t even what you say, but how you react. You may not have screamed out, “You should have caught that ball!” or, "You should have made that shot!", but when you threw your hands up in the air and turned your back on him, you essentially shouted those same words loud and clear.
2. When a player makes a mistake, try to find something positive to say
Obviously it doesn’t take much effort to say, “Good try!” or “You’ll get the next one.” But comments like these do more good than you might imagine. It is simple really. If every mistake leads to a negative reaction from the coach, your players are going to live in fear of being involved in the next play. And if youngsters are playing with fear, it is unlikely they will perform when you need them to. On the other hand, if each mistake a player makes is met with encouragement and instruction, he is much more apt to come through at the next opportunity.
3. You’ve got to be tough once in a while
With all of this said, don’t forget why you are there, which is, to teach baseball. Sometimes, to get your message across, you must be stern. While it is true that some players don’t have the physical skills to enable them to perform at a superior level, every player can pay attention, try to improve, work hard and hustle. Coaches who do nothing but praise and say, “Good try!” will get very little out of their players, just as parents who never discipline will get nothing but disobedience. I understand that some coaches are uneasy about talking sternly to someone else’s child. But your job is to get the most out of your players, and as long as you are not mean-spirited, and try to point out more things they do right than wrong, your players will improve and be excited about being on your team.
4. Don’t cover for your mistakes at the players’ expense
Its incredible how often I see coaches do this, so afraid are they of looking bad in front of parents and fans. I’ve watched coaches at third base say nothing to a player as he decides to run home from third on an easy ground ball to the pitcher. But after the pitcher threw it home and got him out, the coach said, loudly enough for all to hear, “You didn’t have to run!” I wondered to myself, Then why didn’t you tell him to stay at third? Better yet, before the pitch, why didn’t you tell him, “If the ball is hit to the pitcher, stay here”? It wasn’t the young player’s fault he was thrown out, but he was made to take the blame.
When I make a mistake on the field I have no problem telling players, in front of everyone, including the parents, “That was my fault.” This not only takes pressure off the players, but shows the parents that I put the interests of the kids over my own image. Maybe more importantly, this teaches my team to accept responsibility for their mistakes rather than blame others. I never allow my players to get on teammates for errors. It would be difficult to demand this if every time I messed up I was blaming someone else. I can’t imagine too many players want to play for a coach who won’t admit mistakes, just like not many employees like working for a boss who is never wrong. Admitting you are wrong now and then actually makes you appear stronger, not weaker, because you’re not blatantly masking insecurities.
Though it’s not always easy, do your best to empathize with your players. Be firm, but gentle; communicate with an upbeat, positive attitude, and you’ll soon have the respect and admiration of both your players and their parents.
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org