I routinely jot down coaching tips and insights that I find to be both inspirational and instructional when it comes to working with young athletes, and every so often, I like to post these thoughts on this website in the hope that one or two of these tips might be of some use to you. Here, in no particular order, are from my latest batch:
COACHING TIP #1: When I was the head baseball coach at Mercy College, in my first couple of years, I would of course watch every pitch of the game, shout out encouragement to my players, and in short, try very hard to be an upbeat, positive coach all the time.
But one day, I was chatting with one of my better players, and casually asked him if there were anything in my approach during the games that bothered or annoyed my players.
In truth, I honestly thought he would say, “No, Rick, the team is winning, and you’re doing great.”
But much to my amazement, he told me, “Well, now that you ask….during the course of a close or tight game, you tend to pace back and forth in the dugout, and the more you pace, the more nervous you make us on the field.”
“That is, you always tell us to play relaxed,…but clearly you’re extremely nervous…that’s why you pace.”
It was a tremendous observation, and one that I have never forgotten. My pacing was an unconscious nervous habit. So I just made it a point to stop walking back and forth like a caged animal during close games. And the more confident I seemed, the more confident my players became.
I would encourage you to watch how you physically behave during the games, lest you make the same mistake as I did. Remember, you may not be aware that your physical anxiety is actually making your players nervous as well.
COACHING TIP #2….I heard Coach K of Duke talk about how to install a real level of confidence in his players, and I think it’s great.
Talk to any kid playing competitive basketball, and he/she will always tell you that during the course of a game, they will secretly keep an eye on their coach, just in case the kid commits a turnover and makes a mistake. The player wants to see if the coach might take him/her out of the game for making that error.
So how does a great coach convince his players not to worry about that? Coach K instills his faith in his players by telling them over and over, “I believe in you.” Meaning I trust you, and don’t worry about making mistakes. Just play on.
As a coach, it’s a good thing to remind your players that they will, in fact, make mistakes and errors….that’s to be expected. But the more you can reassure your players that you believe in them, the more they will relax and the faster they will begin to play up to their potential.
Think about that….it’s a very simple but most powerful approach to coaching kids. I believe in you.
COACHING TIP #3…..I have talked a lot over the years about accountability….making your players think for themselves, both on and off the field.
I think that if you, as a coach, can succeed in getting your players to do this, then regardless of your season’s won-loss record, you have really make a major impact on their total lives.
Why? Because if a young person thinks twice before breaking a team rule, or doing something stupid, or posting something silly on Facebook or Twitter, then you have really made a major breakthrough in terms of their learning accountability.
I was talking about Joe Moglia of Coastal Carolina on the show last week – about how amazingly successful he has been in his three years at Coastal as their head coach. Joe preaches a very simple philosophy which is ALL about accountability…he simply calls it BE A MAN….that means that you have to step up and take responsibility for yourself in life and in sports. That’s the key to Joe’s success in life, and clearly his players are Coastal Carolina have bought into it.
(By the way, it was interesting to see how the Wall Street Journal jumped on the Coach Moglia bandwagon this past week, and basically endorsed him to become the next head coach of the Jets, in case Rex Ryan is asked to step down.)
COACHING TIP #4…I was playing in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League for Al Goldis, who went onto become one of the great baseball scouts of all time. In any event, when one of our players had done something that was clearly against team rules, Goldis came up with a terrific way to not only discipline the individual player, but also to drive the point home.
In short, Goldis gave the player an assignment to write a 3 page essay in which he had to explain not only what he had done wrong, but also had to explain why his actions were selfish and hurt the entire team.
Now, most college and HS kids hate having to write papers, and Goldis latched onto that, and sure enough, not only did the miscreant player write the essay and read it to the rest of the team, it clearly served its purpose: we didn’t have any more disciplinary issues the rest of the season.
I thought it was a brilliant way to coach and teach kids to become accountable and to learn their lesson.
COACHING TIP #5: ….the issue of appointing team captains. Now, I know a lot of coaches like to appoint team captains on their own. Or sometimes, they let the team elect captains at the start of the season.
My approach was always a little different. My sense is that captains are supposed to be team leaders….and if you let kids practice and scrimmage long enough in the preseason, eventually the REAL team leaders will begin to bubble up naturally.
The truth is…some kids are just innate leaders, and they don’t need to be elected or appointed. Besides, some kids don’t want the responsibility of being a team leader…they just don’t like that role – they feel it places too much pressure on them.
My point is…there’s no obligation to appoint or elect team captains.
COACHING TIP #6….I think Coach John Wooden is to be credited with this coaching tip….for every negative comment, be sure to give your player at least four positive comments.
It’s excellent advice. Kids today want and expect positive feedback all the time. And if you give them only negative comments, eventually they won’t respond to you. Nobody likes a steam of negative feedback.
Instead, feed them a steady diet of at least 4 positive comments for every negative comment….that way, when you do feel you have to step in and make a correction, they will pay a lot more attention to what you have to say.
Just be sure that you give them another pat on the back after they make that correction. Let your players know you’re rooting for them and supporting them.
COACHING TIP #7….always remember this.
You have ONE singular power as the coach. You control who gets into the game, and for how long.
At the end of the day, that’s what the players want – to get into the game. And you control that.
So if you aren’t pleased with a player’s attitude…or their lack of hustle…or their poor sportsmanship, you just say to them, “I want you to stay with me on the bench and you’ll sit here until you understand what I want to see from you. Do you understand?”
Yes, this might be tough to do when it’s your most talented player on the sidelines, but you know what? Do this once or twice early in the season, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly attitudes begin to turn around when you make your point.
Remember: you’re the coach. Make the kids respond to you!