I have been umpiring baseball at all levels of amateur play for years now — and have seen enough of coaching to suggest: How do you know if your kid has a good coach or a bad coach?
It isn’t about yelling vs. not yelling. Good parents yell at times. Good coaches do, too.
Here’s the difference: A bad coach yells when kids make physical mistakes — dropping a fly ball, striking out without swinging , letting a grounder go through their legs…
The coach yells the obvious: “Catch the ball!” “Swing the bat!” “Throw strikes!”
This is a sure sign that the coach is clueless.
Compare with a good coach. When a good coach sees a player making a mistake, the coach gives specific, detailed instructions. The coach can show the youngster the physical technique to play well.
At the level of 9-11-year-olds, most coaches coach because their kids are playing — not because they know anything about teaching baseball, let alone knowing anything about teaching youngsters.
A bad coach can be spotted easily, because he gives advice that is downright silly:
“Throw strikes.” “Swing earlier.”
If only pitching and hitting were that easy!
A good coach knows that kids need to learn technique:
To a pitcher who is throwing pitches too high: “Take a longer stride. Turn your shoulder until you see the catcher’s mitt over your shoulder. Don’t let your arm do all of the work. You pitch with your entire body.”
To a fielder who lets a grounder through one’s legs: Good coaches do NOT say, “Get your glove down.” The kids respond by bending over with their gloves an inch above the ground. Their butts are high in the air, they’re standing flat-footed, and their gloves are down on the ground — a very awkward position!
A good coach tells the infielders, widen your feet, get up on the balls of your feet — ready to spring into action — get your glove not just down but in front of you.
With the glove in front of the player, he or she can see the ball more clearly — without having to move one’s head, which is what a player has to do whose butt is way up in the air and whose glove is way down on the ground. Moving one’s head is the surest way to miss a grounder.
To a batter who is swinging too early or too late or not at all — a good coach will offer specific technique:
Swinging too early? Hit the ball to right field. (Intending to hit the ball to right field causes the batter to wait on the pitch, seeing it more clearly. Often the player THINKING of hitting to right field will clobber the ball to center field because of waiting longer to see the pitch).
A player swinging too late? As primitive as this sounds, nothing beats this advice: SEE the ball before you swing. “See the ball — hit the ball.” I was watching a high school playoff game yesterday. One team’s power hitter struck out three times in a row. He was not seeing the pitches. He was swinging at what he HOPED the pitcher would throw — hoping for fastballs. The pitcher kept throwing low curve balls. The batter was missing them by a foot. “See the ball — hit the ball.”
Afraid of the ball? In practice, purposely hit the batter with a tennis ball. The kid discovers — it’s not that big a deal. A baseball is harder, but that’s why the game itself is hard to play. It takes courage to stand up there at the plate. Let kids know — football is over-rated as far as requiring toughness. It’s baseball that requires the most courage. When I coached a girls’ softball team, I would give any player an extra treat who got hit by a pitch.
Having said all of this, we come to the point where you can REALLY tell how bad a coach is.
A coach gets frustrated that the players aren’t doing well (no wonder — the coach hasn’t equipped them to do well !). Being frustrated, the coach takes it out on the umpires.
I have formed a maxim about umpiring (or refereeing soccer):
” The lower the age level of the players, the worse will be the conduct of the coaches (and parents).”
It’s because the players do not know how to play well. The coaches get frustrated; they look to the umpires or referees to gain advantage. When things don’t go their way, the coaches whine. Great example for the kids.
A good coach knows the nature of baseball:
Baseball is the most difficult of all sports for a kid to learn. It requires paying attention at all times, even when action does not occur. Kids lose focus easily.
Baseball requires strong and dexterous hands — which physically kids don’t develop until they are young teens. Thus, patience and understanding of kids’ limitations is needed.
Baseball requires hustling when NOTHING is going on. But very, very few teams that I have seen RUN onto the field before an inning, and RUN off after the inning. Kids saunter out onto the field. Coaches let them.
These days, youth baseball has gotten to the point where nobody sits the bench. All players get into the game. So, there is no such thing as a player worrying, “If I don’t hustle, I won’t get into the game.”
Still, a good coach makes hustling on & off the field important. It’s baseball. It’s what good teams do. It’s one thing that every player can do well. They show their enthusiasm for the game — they show respect for their coach and parents.
A good coach gets this. A bad coach doesn’t.