Adapting as a Coach

It’s mid summer, and like a lot of us, I’ve spent a lot of time at the park recently (14 of the last 16 days on the diamond). I want to believe that I’ve been growing, and learning over the course of this busy summer season, and I’ve been all over the place coaching, meeting new people, exploring a new city, and as as usual, every time you go somewhere new, or work with new players, you should be able to add to your portfolio of skills and styles. The one thing I keep seeing though, around the sport is that we, as coaches, are reluctant to adapt. Everyone keeps saying these kids are different now, and if they are, so what, they are. That means that we also need to be different, and serve them in the best way to make them better.

Us coaches constantly preach this very philosophy to our athletes, but from what I keep seeing that we are not adapting ourselves nearly as often. As coaches, I know we teach our players to think, analyze, and adapt as much as possible. With all the new tracking data out there, we are all reading the metrics, and trying to improve our weaknesses. That data though is harder to come by as a coach than an athlete. To assess yourself as a coach, you’ve gotta be willing to dig deep into your scorebook, your signal calling (offence and defence), and even your mindset, and how you deliver your motivational tactics.

These things mentioned above are so much harder to track, and analyze. The thing is, I don’t think coaches are personally analyzing themselves enough. Our “criticisms” come from parents, players, and other coaches, but so infrequently from within. We take those “criticisms” and say we know better, we’re the coach, they aren’t. Often though, those outside voices are trying to help us, and the best way to help ourselves is to look inside, with a truly open mind. A lot of us have been coaching for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we have all the answers. In fact, none of us do. We all know that we each make mistakes, but they can’t be dismissed as a simple mistake if they keep happening. That is more of a systematic failure, and those need to be addressed, and swiftly. I’m hoping that by writing this piece, I can try to help other coaches (as well as myself), remind each other that we can look inside, and how to do it.

In terms of analyzing yourself from a game plan perspective, it should be fairly simple. You should be able to track which plays are effective with your current squad of athletes, and which are not effective. If we are talking about stealing bases, or bunting, there are break even, mathematically proven numbers for each situation, and honestly, they’re easy to find (please reach out for more information craig.sarson@gmail.com), and adapt your play calling to be a more efficient, and productive team in terms of how you call pitches, and set your offence in motion.

The bigger issues often lie in how you attempt to motivate and push your players. The longer we coach, the more into a routine we get, and obviously we get better at that particular routine. That however, does not mean that it is effective in each situation. I would like to challenge all of us to think about each player individually more often, and yes, this is more work. You cannot expect a power hitter to always be fast, or bunt well, why would we expect a quiet player to lead vocally just because the we think situation calls for it. Every player, and more importantly person, reacts differently to stimulus. I continue to believe that while we are teaching softball, every player can be unlocked in a different way. Sure, some need you to be firm, demanding, and loud, but so many don’t. While some players might never respond to a loose, free flowing kind of atmosphere, others need structure and discipline to factor more prevalently. It is our job as a coach to figure out how to best deliver our message to each individual, not to each team.

As a coach, a teacher, and mentor, you can be more than one of these types of leaders at one time. Just because a person doesn’t respond well to discipline doesn’t mean it isn’t required sometimes. Just because a person doesn’t perform well all the time with a joke in their warmup doesn’t mean a smile can’t make them better. Again, I challenge us all to continue to adapt, and modify how we work when the status quo or our preferred style isn’t as effective as we hope. It will almost certainly be more work to attempt to adapt yourself to 15 separate people who play for you, but you will definitely see greater results, both on the diamond, but especially off the diamond in a non softball, human perspective.

Good luck out there friends.

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