Hi everyone, it’s been some time since I last wrote, but there’s been a topic I’ve been casually discussing with other coaches, parents, and athletes over the past few months. If you’ve done any traveling for softball (or any sport for that matter), you can get onboard with this. How do you adapt and perform when you coach in different environments, at different levels, and perhaps, in different places? It’s a tough question, and for many of us coaches, this is reality.
We all know what it’s like to work with different levels of skill. You adjust the level of the drills, go back to the beginning of a progression, and see how far the athletes can get into it. You wouldn’t start a hitting drill at a national team kinda level with a house league twelve year old, so you go back to the basics. I think we all know how to do that (I hope haha). The bigger adjustment I want to talk about it much more subtle, and so much harder to see. If some of you are following along with my rollercoaster of a life, you know I travel. This presents so many awesome opportunities for softball, and personal adventures with and without the sport. The hurdle with the travel though is that if I want to present my coaching skills the same way, I know I’m perceived differently in different places by the athletes. For example, some groups in Canada see Coach Sarson as a “tough” coach, with high standards, but in America, it’s so much different. In some instances, that exact same approach is seen as softer, more adaptable, and when it’s perceived that way by an athlete, they view your style, and perhaps even your standards as lower sometimes. It’s important to remember that you have to outline your expectations, and your standards in each environment, to ensure that both sets of cultures recognize where you stand. I have so many experiences that start out this way, and I try to identify it quickly, and remember in both instances that some groups are capable of handling more intensity, volume, critique, or less, which should help the athletes perform better.
Now the tricky bit for us coaches in my opinion is how do you know how you are being perceived by your athletes, their families, other coaches, etc? You have to be willing to ask your fellow coaches, athletes, and parents. You absolutely have to be open minded, try to analyze each experience, even sometimes while it’s happening. That can be difficult, but truly, you must be willing to do this. I know we’ve all banged our heads against the wall wondering why our message isn’t getting through sometimes, it’s especially relevant in these cases, in game, that you have to look inward and ask, “Am I doing enough on my end to ensure the message is getting through, and the right adjustment is being made by the athlete?” So often it’s not that the player isn’t willing, it’s that we aren’t delivering the message correctly, for them. So the adjustment is often yours as a coach, prior to the one to be made by the player.
It’s really interesting to start to assess what messages are effective when you bring in a local culture, or an upbringing into the equation. You’ve gotta start digging into background, the types of competition the player is used to, the coaching they’ve gotten, and so much more. Even when the skill level is equal, a player from small town Canada may not be able to handle the same type of bombardment from an intense American coach that a girl who was brought up in that environment could. Some of my Canadian friends may take offence to that, and frankly, you should, but maybe not for the reason you think. You should be offended because maybe us Canadian coaches aren’t holding our kids accountable, working them hard enough, pushing them to their limits, and asking them to be all they can be. We do it in hockey, why not other sports? We expect gold medals and elite performance in hockey, but why not softball? We can do better, and maybe it starts with how we work with our players here at home. On the flip side though, our athletes, and their families have to be willing too. Could a group of elite young Canadian players handle a Japanese all day style practice? Ten hours of routine fielding, over and over, until you can’t do it wrong. Make the routine, extremely routine, be disciplined, and do it again, and again. Could they handle all day, drills upon drills, not necessarily “fun.” I don’t know how many western countries could handle this, is it crazy? Maybe haha. The point is though, that the culture, and expectations are different there, they’re different everywhere.
In each environment that you work in, you must be willing to assess their physical skills, and how much they can handle there. We’ve also really got to be willing to understand how they are going to perceive you as a coach. What can your athletes handle, but truly so much more than physically, how much can they handle from you, their coach? How much can you push, and have them improve before they shut you out? These are all questions you need to be able to answer, and in each league, lesson, town, city, and country these answers change, which is so hard.
So today I ask, how are you perceived? Can you adapt?
Happy softballing friends!