Friday, May 20, 2011

Qualities Of a Great Coach

RT Staff Note: We posted this last year at this time and as we have done in the past, we have seasonal articles that we re-run from time to time. When we posted this article, it was published in over 3 dozen message boards and on-line baseball web sites. One thing to ask yourself...does your coach have these qualities?

Qualities Of a Great Coach

This is the time of the year when college baseball coaches get their extensions or walking papers. It seems that walking papers for a coach or two and their staff will hit a few notable programs this year. That bit of gossip prompted a discussion on the virtues of a good baseball coach with a group of friends and, as always, the topic got a little heated. But as with all mature men with a passion for one common interest, we came up with what we feel is a solid and attainable definition of what a great college coach should be:

Baseball is a game that really can challenge a player and coach mentally. It's a game of failure. A Hall of Fame player will have failed 7 out of 10 times at the plate over his career. One bad pitch by a pitcher that throws over 90 pitches a game can mean the difference between a win or a loss. It's a grueling game. A good coach needs to be mentally tough himself and teach his players that Tom Hanks was right..."There's No Crying In Baseball". Figuratively, that phrase is the mantra of many top players and coaches alike. They just can't let this game get them down. It will eat them up if they do. Players need a leader as tough as a drill sergeant that they can look up to and lean on for some tough love.

And of all the words to describe the qualities of a coach..."tough love" really hits home to us. A great coach has to unconditionally love the game and it's players first and foremost. And he needs to wear that emotion on his sleeve from time to time to show that his passion is real. Yet, he needs to flash some real fear inducing toughness during basic drills and times of player mental mistakes to show not only who's in charge, but to rub a little of his toughness each day into the psyche of his players. We feel that a tough coach is the best coach and is paramount to a players success. Baseball is a game of mental toughness and players will be better served to have a coach that is hard as nails to the extent and for the purpose of making his players even tougher.

A good coach should always teach and never assume that his players know the game. No matter how many years a players has played, there's always something new to learn. A great coach has to be a student and a teacher at the same time. He must keep in touch with new practice techniques and better ways to hone his players skills. And what that head coach does not know, he needs to hire assistants in specialized areas that do know. It's not all about control...It's about the development and betterment of a student athlete. If a top pitching coach is needed, then one needs to be hired. If a head coach, despite the fact that he may have had a great career batting average as a player, doesn't feel he has time to work with his players for one on one consultation due to his administrative duties as a head coach, then a top notch hitting coach needs to be on board, period. The game is not just about a cohesive team of players...but a unified and productive team of coaches as well, not just one jack of all trades, master of none coach.

There's a difference between teacher and mentor. A teacher shows players the fundamentals...A mentor shows a player how to process that information and become a mature and mentally sound baseball player and person, for the advancement of his place on that teams depth chart. A good mentor inspires players, preaches a can do attitude and will show a player how a great, positive work ethic can result into a great player and team mate. To be a good mentor involves unprecedented communication skills...a topic we will discuss later.

Organizer and Time Management Expert
After being under the control of their parents, many young freshman and JC transfers may have a tough time juggling their new found freedom with their school work and baseball. To become a great student athlete, they need to have a plan and stick to that plan. Good coaches will give players a pre-game, post game and off-season schedule to help make each player the best that he can be both in school and on the field. I know many coaches that keep a daily log to make sure their players are sticking to those schedules. These guys know that they have brought in a lot of diverse talent at different levels of maturation. Good coaches want to make sure that they stay on top of that talent and never let the student athlete get complacent in school or between the lines. If a team has the goal to maintain its winning ways, then the coach has to manage the time of all of its players. It's not considered a control's just good common sense, because the school invested scholarship money to those players and each coach (and player) needs to be responsible for that schools investment.

And it varies by region and school...some schools tilt towards being lifestyle temptations like Miami and San Diego St. Others are academic based like Stanford, Vanderbilt and Rice...and some fall in between...but each are challenges for a coach to manage.Young players are just months removed from being their parents dependents and a great coach must hold these very young adults accountable for their actions and teach them the consequences of not staying on track.

Situational Master
This is part of the teacher grouping, but great coaches grill and pound into the minds of their players how to react to the multitude of situations a player will encounter during games. This includes drills upon drills...handouts upon handouts and tests upon tests to make sure his players don't get that occasional brain freeze during a crucial inning. I have attended many minor league rookie league camps. This is the first step for players that were recently drafted by a MLB club. I have seen 21-23 year old rookie pitchers and infielders spending 4-5 hour practices on just bunt coverage. There are 3 hours a day, 7 days a week drills working on turning double plays, hitting a cut-off, scooping a hurried up throw to first and how to scoop a throw and tag a stealing runner at second and third. Yet, just like a body builder relying on multiple repetitions and sets to make him stronger, certain situations have to be ingrained in the memories of the players. Baseball is a game of thousands of situations, and split second timing. When a player reaches the next level, a tenth of second mental or physical delay by a fielder will advance a runner that can run a 6.5 second 60 yard dash, an extra 2.8 feet. That is the difference between being safe and out. A player must know the game, the situation and have the muscle memory to perform these tasks at will.

Mechanical Genius
Proper mechanics are the bread and butter of a great baseball player. A great coach will identify a players mechanics as a hitter, infielder, pitcher, catcher, outfielder etc. Every position has it's unique mechanical criteria. Every hitter has a different approach to every pitch in the count. Every infielder has a spot to cover and a stance to emulate based on outs, pitch count and situation. Every outfielder has to have perfect catch and throw mechanics to be able to make those plays to a base or the cut-off.

Some, but thankfully not all coaches assume that when a player reaches college, that he is already mechanically adjusted...that's why they recruited him in the first place. That could not be further from the truth. While there are some players that have had the advantage of working with private instructors on their hitting, fielding and pitching mechanics when mom and dad were footing the bill during their formative years in high school, as we stated earlier, baseball is a game of repetition. Those skills sets and mechanics need to be re-woven into the synapses of their brain everyday during college. A great coach needs to recognize a hole in the swing of a struggling hitter or a whether or not a pitcher is staying tall or balanced in the balance position, gliding outward, directly toward the catcher...etc. Doing so, will advance that player into the type of contributor they expected when he was recruited.

A coach that is tough may not get the respect of the players at the outset of the player/coach relationship, but over time and after the fruits of all of that coaching are seen in the stats and win-loss column, that respect will be recognized. We know of several old school coaches that were hated by parents and young players at the beginning...but over time, the good players always realized the sacrifices and the end game that the coach was trying to mold out of his players. Sometimes it is during the season and sometimes it's after the end of a season...but players that take this game seriously will always have respect for that coach that pushed and pushed to get the most out of his players. A coach that takes his job seriously, will be seriously respected by all that walk through his clubhouse.

Great head coaches should always hire future great head coaches. A head coach can't do it all. He has to know how to identify other talented coaches that can execute his overall mission and plans to be a winning organization. That head coach has to be as tough to his assistants as he is to his players. Jobs and school revenue are on the line...especially in this economy. Everyone has to be held accountable and the head coach has to know when and who to delegate those tasks to and get the desired results from his players. That means sometimes hiring an assistant that has the same qualities and goals as the head coach.

There are some assistants that are just good at what they do and have no aspirations of advancement. They just love the game, love the players and love to teach. Then, there are those assistants that are great for the program as a whole...They also love the game, love the players and love to teach, but they also want more for the program and eventually more for their career advancement. I know of many great coaches that were not hired or were let go because of their ambitions. They were perceived by the head coach as being a threat to their own existence. Well, if a head coach feels threatened by another great coach, then that coach has his own confidence issues, and that has an affect on team unity and morale.

Winston Churchill has some of the greatest quotes in history and said, "One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!" Coaches need to stand tall, embrace a challenge and realize that every top quality coach should have ambition...and the more ambitious coaches that are on a team, the more those qualities are passed down to the players. It's about the players first and foremost...they are the benefactors and by embracing another great embracing his ambition...strengthens the team and the head coach's status as well. Great head coaches were usually under the tutelage of other great coaches at another school.

Along with delegating...a great coach and his staff must be the ultimate communicators. No player should ever doubt their standing on the team or their role. Lack of ones standing on the team leads to low morale. If a player is just not living up to his expectation, a good coach will be in his grill to tell that player exactly what he is doing wrong, what he needs to do to fix it to get back on track, and what his present standing on the team is as a result. It's then, up to that player to take that information and process it. He can either sulk or improve his status on the team...but at least the player or players were told the score...and the players that choose to listen and react positively to a coach's comment will become the mentally tough players (the type the coach wants on his team) that will step it up and give the coach what he wants. As long as everyone knows his role on the team and understands and accepts that role, then team unity flourishes. The bench, for those players doesn't become a sentence, it transforms into a unilateral mission to win. And...that kind of positive vibe on the bench wins championships my friends.

Talent Scout and Salesman
Above all, a good coach has to identify the athletes from the role players. College coaches have to know their future needs and what holes to fill. They need to manage that talent search...and develop a pitch, scheduled plan and proper follow through to land that talent. Good coaches know all of the high tech social networking sites to communicate that level of interest and sell the program as if it was the only logical choice for that prospect. When a prospect sits in that office for that coach, he needs to have that feeling that this is the perfect scenario for him as a player. That coach should communicate to the player and his parents on that official visit that his team is going places and that the player fills specific needs for his team. That player needs to know at that time, the expectations and work ethic required to be a productive student athlete and how that school will help him achieve his ultimate goal. A great coach needs to be able to look in the eye of a player and tell him and his parents that he will be better man, a more skilled player in the three to four years at that university and say that with truth, passion and conviction. Developing this type of integrity, relationship and trust up front is a good sign that the recruit will get the same treatment as a player.

A great coach's salesmanship shouldn't stop at the recruiting visit. Coaches need to sell their program to benefactors and alumni as well. We are in an economy that requires athletic programs to pay for themselves in so many different ways. Winning increases gate receipts for sure, but it also can increase advertising, outside support from businesses, team and school alumni, and community fan interest. A great coach has to be the ambassador for the school, respected by the baseball loving community and a motivational figure that is sought out for off-season hot stove meetings, radio and TV talk shows, camps and fund raisers. He is not only a leader of young men, but a strong, respected leader of an entire community...willing to work as hard in the off-season as he does between the lines in the spring.

Universities Need to Strive For the Best of the Best
These are the qualities of a coach that each university should strive to hire and develop. Anything less is a terrible reflection on the the school and undermines the trust and commitment that a player made to that school when he chose to sign a letter of intent to play there. These are young men's futures...these are the children of hard working parents that have sacrificed countless hours and dollars for travel ball, private instructors and showcases, just for the opportunity for their sons to get a chance to continue to play at a higher level. And, since collegiate baseball only rewards 11.7 scholarships to be divided among 27 rostered players, parents are still footing a big portion of that bill. If a coach does not have many, if not all of the aforementioned qualities at the school a player will be attending, and the history of that coach is clouded with mediocre results, then more thought must be given on whether or not this school is for those recruits.

For existing players that do not have a coach with these qualities...the players need to rise above it all and don't let it at all affect them...These players need to be the best they can harder, be more focused, be their own team leaders, win because they all are winners, not whiners...It's OK to lose, as long as the thought process defaults to a burning desire that "you'll get them next time". Remember that players under these conditions were recruited because they had talent...Players need to access that time in their lives that got them to this level in the first place and never let go.

Or...someone other than the player can send this article to that Universities Athletic Director. It will at least give the AD food for thought and may be the difference for prospective players and the future of that program.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Long Rest from Rounding Third

I have been away a long time from writing any new posts...It's a combination of my real job and just needing a break. But... a lot has happened while I took a break and going forward I will continue to write about things that have changed the game of High School and College Ball this season.

The most glaring change has been the bats...In the power conferences, power numbers are down considerably. Consider last years (2010) player of the year, Anthony Rendon. He finished last year with a .394 BA and 26 Home Runs, 89 hits and 85 RBI's... 8 players on the Rice team finished with averages above .300, with 4 above .340.

This's much different...With 5 games to play, Rendon is batting .326, with 5 Home Runs, 57 hits and 33 RBI's. 4 players on the Rice team are hitting above .300, with zero above Rendon's team high of .326.

Go from team to team in the big power conferences and you will see the same. Yes, there are players in the Northeast and smaller teams like James Madison putting up power numbers, but the pitching talent in those conferences is week and a decent hitter can hit mediocre pitching any day of the week.

It is the bats folks...and good location pitchers taking advantage of those decreased exit speeds. Pitchers are challenging inside more and winning that battle without the fear of a metal bat bloop single over the 1st basemans head. That pitch is now resulting into a routine infield pop fly or grounder.

I like the change...I see more strategic baseball...more small ball and more emphasis on speed. This is baseball the way it ought to be....more later.