Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tips for Coach, Parents, and Player

Multiple avenues of easy and immediate communication between coaches and parents have spurred some unhealthy banter both on and off the baseball and softball fields in recent years.  This conflict leads to frustrating seasons for young players.  Having made substantial financial and time commitments to a traveling team or a city league squad, a parent is invested.  Like all shareholders, parents want their voices heard.  Understandably that voice often booms when that person’s own child is involved.   As anyone can imagine, a dozen booming voices hitting one pair of ears (the coach’s) at the same time can be a mess.  The simplest way to end the headaches seems for the coach to just hit the mute button.  This solution, however, breeds resentment, and in a world of texting, email, and facebook, opinions always find the light of day.  Youth league coaches and parents need to understand that multiple voices hitting different notes can indeed come together and harmonize. 
Youth coaches, often a parent of a player on the team, need to be honest about their priorities for their team and share these with the parents before the first practice.  Is winning the ultimate goal?  Will the coach sacrifice a couple of wins to make sure every player gets equal time on the field?  Does he believe that every player should get game experience in both the infield and outfield?  How often will the team practice and play?
If parents do not know the answer to these questions, a long frustrating season could be ahead of them.  If the coach hasn’t considered his answers, half the families on his team will be upset by season’s end.   Approaching a youth coach with these questions before the season is perfectly appropriate.   
For the parents and players choosing to play for a win-first team, contacting a coach about playing time, batting order and other strategic decisions will be seen as criticism and should be avoided.  Even an innocent inquiry as to what skills your child should practice might be taken as an indirect slight on the coach’s ability to evaluate talent.  “Just get better,” is what coaches want to say.  
         Hitting at the bottom of the order and sitting the bench half the games can be discouraging for a young player, especially if his or her placement in these roles is unjustified.  A parent’s first instinct is to fight for one’s child.  However, the energy required to bicker with a coach, decode his cryptic emails, and convince him said kid deserves to be batting higher in the order would be better spent building a stronger relationship with the child. 
            Sports give parents opportunities to teach life lessons.   After you tell your child that you love watching them play ball regardless of where they play on the field or hit in the line-up, challenge them to succeed where almost everybody else would fail.  “Give your best effort regardless of where you play and give support to the teammates in front of you.” 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Case for Private Coaching

All parents are eager to find activities that their kids enjoy.  Sports have a way of captivating our attention, parents and kids alike.  So when our children show an interest in a particular sport, we want to do our best to help them succeed and play for as many years as they desire.  This longevity can be dependent on surviving try-outs or finding competitive teams to invite our child onto their roster.  So one day, passion alone will not be enough.  Talent, skill, and knowledge are essential for our young athletes to play longer and get the most out of the athletic experience.
For decades young musicians that have gone on to play their instruments through college, on scholarships, and even play professionally have been the recipient of weekly lessons from expert instructors from a very young age.  When it came to sports, golfers and tennis players from affluent families benefitted from on-going private instruction.  These kids led school squads and received offers to play in college.   In recent years however, regardless of the sport, opportunities for young players to train with professionals in small groups or privately have become available in even small communities and in some cases are very affordable.  Parents should take advantage! (warning! Writer bias!)
The thinking that “a kid either has it or he doesn’t, and all the instruction in the world won’t change things” is a bit pessimistic.   Why does the high school basketball coach’s son grow up to have the best jump-shot in the state?  Because he’s had unlimited access to the gym, proper technique consistently demonstrated to him, and older role models to motivate him.  A good personal instructor gives a young athlete similar advantages.  When a kid gets to train with people who have played at an elite level, he or she should be energized and motivated.  Similar fundamental instruction that fell on deaf ears when delivered from mom or dad might be suddenly be welcomed and applied.   The pros can also identify weaknesses in a young player’s game that might not affect today’s success but would prohibit him from playing at higher levels in the future.  Early intervention into these areas can translate into one day being able to letter in a high school sport.
                Quality youth and school coaches can also have a huge impact on young players’ development.  A few of these coaches actually discourage parents seeking private instruction for their kid.  Really?  Of course their frustrated to hear, “my other coach has me do it this way,” but the players getting the most practice with the best guidance will always get the most from their natural gifts.   Is this coach going to forbid parents from working with their own kids?  If the player’s school coach wants things a certain way, the private instructors can actually assist the player in making it happen.  One state-championship winning coach once said, “I’ve got 20 players.  I love when my players work with a pro outside of practice.  Only makes my teams better.”