Friday, February 15, 2008

Non-Parent Coaching Sets Ruffnecks Apart

RT Staff Note: The New England Ruffnecks are a very competitive club in the Northeast and they recently posted an article on thier web site about their philosophy on travel ball coaching. Steve August founded and directs the New England Baseball Club. Steve was with the Boston Red Sox from 1990 to 1998. He served as Traveling Secretary from 1990 to 1995 and became the Assistant General Manager and Director of Baseball Operations in 1996 where he worked on player contracts and managed all of the major league operations of the Sox. Following his tenure with Boston, Steve served as an associate scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2000. He directed the former Hit Dog AAU programs in 2001 and 2002 before founding the New England Baseball Club. So, we respect his opinion on this subject.

...Since actual team "news" is relatively quiet at this time of year, it seems like a good opportunity to speak to our constituents in this column about coaching and the role of parents in the Ruffnecks program. We are firmly committed to only using coaches in the non-parent model for our teams. Our goal is to attract talented coaches who have played, coached, and worked in the game of baseball at significantly accomplished levels. This does not mean that experience at a high level is a prerequisite to coaching success. However, it does mean that in baseball, where there are more "arm chair quarterbacks" (to mix metaphors) than in any other game, it is important that folks with real baseball experience coach our players. This may offend some earnest dads who have done wonderful work coaching in local town programs at relatively young ages. Often these parents (moms too) are the real reason some town programs churn out more talented and fundamentally sound players than other towns. In many cases, the parent-coaches are the reason their own kids become so talented. After all, baseball skills are developed through a relentless commitment to repetition, and these volunteers are spending their time in crouching positions, throwing BP, and hitting fungos. Surely, there is no substitute for parental involvement at the individual level... it is critical. At the high level of travel teams, it is a different story.

In a serious travel program, the dynamic must, by definition, be different. A top travel program is not about the kids in a single neighborhood, or in a given town. In fact, most legitimate travel teams will not have more than two or three players from any given town. There have been years in which our program was heavily weighted with players from a single community, and it complicates the intent of a travel program and compromises that integrity of the competitive edge a team needs. The parent-coach dynamic complicates matters exponentially. In fact parent coaching in a highly competitive travel team is a recipe for poison. While there are success stories out there, there are far more disasters.

We hope we posess enough humility and common sense to set our own policy aside if someone with the credentials of a Cal Ripken wants to coach if his son joins the program. Of course, it would be our privilege. However, it is a fair assumption that most men who have played at the level of a Ripken would rather stay in the background or work as an advisor to the program. Such men know the perils, and most would prefer a subordinate role.

Few of us, as parents, expect to be with our sons in the dugouts of their high school or college teams. We might as well get used to it. In our program we ask parents to accept an "arms length" relationship with their sons on our teams. The expectations are clear: Do not coach from the sidelines. Let the coaches do their job. Of course our coaches are not perfect. They misread situations and play the wrong players in the wrong situations... just listen to the second guessing during games. That's Baseball! After all, even the loyal Boston fans have been apoplectic about some of Terry Francona's moves in the past four years, and he has two World Series rings! Our families have taken the most important first step in distancing themselves. They signed on to trust our coaches. And while none of our coaches are the same, they share one common denominator: They are non-parents. Their decisions are not influenced by DNA similarities with any of the players.

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