Thursday, November 20, 2008

Controlling Team Behavior: A Coach's Never Ending Challenge

Planning practices, game preparation, player motivation, and parent communication consume much of a coach’s schedule throughout the year. Feeling the pressure to win; coaches emphasize strategy and motivation because they are looked at as key ingredients to being successful.

Upon further examination, many find team behavior and attitude just as important as game prep and practice planning. Some argue that behavior and attitude may be the central factors in helping a team achieve their potential.

Detrimental player behaviors fall into two separate groups: aggressive and passive -aggressive. Aggressive players try to gain assertiveness by outwardly disagreeing with teammates or coaches. When these players do not agree with a new concept introduced, they verbally and visually express their frustration. These players use words and actions to get their way. By disagreeing openly, these players try to display their power over teammates and coaches. Many times, these players use profanity and physical confrontations to handle conflict situations.

Passive aggressive refers to the second group of negative behaviors. These types of players try to gain assertiveness through ignoring or undermining teammates and coaches. These players fail to confront others over disagreements and instead work behind the scenes to harm other’s ideas, reputations, and plans. Passive aggressive behaviors are difficult to identify because most take place in private.
Both types of behaviors are prevalent in players of all ages. If not dealt with appropriately, these behaviors can be extremely distracting to teams trying to reach the next level of achievement and performance.

One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch…….

A famous artist once said,” A masterpiece is created not by what someone chooses to put into a picture; instead it is created by what one chooses to leave out.” This quote is as relevant to sports as it is to art. Coaches must choose their teams carefully. Teams must have good talent to win games, but coaches must examine the big picture when evaluating who is going to make their final roster.

In education, there is the teacher created 10-80-10 Rule on classroom achievement. The rule states that 10% of your class will follow expectations given at the beginning of the year. Another 10% will not follow any direction given the entire year. The largest group, totaling 80%, will fall somewhere in the middle.

Even though these rules are not scientific, they generally turn out to be true. Coaches should consider this formula has they select a roster or starting line-up. If there are too many of one subgroup, the team will drastically be affected. Imagine increasing the roster’s worst attitudes from 10% to 20%. How would that affect the team? Remember as the middle group decreases, the more influence the top or bottom tier players gain. An entire team can be pulled down if coaches do not balance positive and negative forces inside their ball club.

While considering these options, coaches must knowledge the fact that talent impacts winning. That is why coaches cannot disregard all their talented players, even if they exhibit negative behaviors. By balancing a team’s attitude, not only do peers serve as examples for negative players, coaches can work more closely with high-risk players. By giving them individual attention, coaches have time to build relationships with these players

Does it have an affect game performance?

A coach is judged on whether their team wins or loses. Sadly, that is the bottom line in today’s athletic environment. Based on my perspective, I definitely stand behind the fact that a player’s mentality determines the majority of contest outcomes. For me, one personal example I could share occurred three years ago:

While coaching a 16 and under American Legion baseball team I encountered a player who displayed both aggressive and passive aggressive behavior. He was the team’s most talented player. After striking out, he would throw his bat and helmet. He would use profanity after failure and try to draw attention to himself through visible displays of frustration. Also, he struggled to accept coaching in proper pitching and hitting mechanics. He would not outwardly deny using suggested mechanics, but visually you could tell provided coaching suggestions were not taken seriously.

He, along with the rest of his team, struggled to execute consistently often making silly mistakes to lose close games. In a late season game, our team found itself beating one of the city’s finest programs. This was an exciting feeling since our squad operated 10-12 games under .500. As the home team, we batted in the bottom of the 7th inning with the game tied 7-7.

With a runner on third base and no outs, the above player approached the plate. I let him take a strike before I called for the squeeze play. The player took the sign and acknowledged it by tipping his helmet bill. His action meant he “received” the sign. As the pitch came, the third base runner broke to the plate. The hitter, instead of bunting swung away, fouling the pitch straight back.

I was completely stunned. Being a young coach, I thought it was an innocent mistake by the player. Nervously, I flashed the “squeeze” sign again. Our runner broke and the hitter swung through the pitch for the second time. Our runner was tagged out at home. The inning ended with our team scoring no runs and another opportunity lost to win an important game.”

How could a player be so selfish? How could they place their individual pride above the team’s success? Having only a few years of experience, I remember flying off the handle, yelling meaningless words that communicated none of situation’s real facts. Instead, my emotion got the best of me.

In retrospect, it should have never gotten that far. It was clear that this player’s definition of teamwork was completely opposite of what our coaching staff was trying to teach even at the season’s end. It was obvious that my anger was misdirected; I had only myself to blame for not having safe guards in place to gauge if players were taking on a more team-centered approach. It was a hard lesson to learn.

What’s going to happen in the “real world”……………

At some point during their lives, players must take responsibility for their actions. If young players do not learn to accept responsibility, it will adversely affect their life outside of sports. Too often the media glamorizes athletes who fail in the workplace, marriage, or family life.

Frequently, players who cannot follow the rules tend to develop the same problems off the field. These patterns don’t happen overnight. They are created by coaches who accommodated certain players due to their talent level. By not holding these players to the same rules as others, a dangerous cycle is created.

Finally, players find themselves more prepared to handle “real world” obstacles when they have experienced accountability throughout their athletic careers. Not only does this produce productive citizens, but former players may be able to mentor young athletes who need the same guidance as they did years before.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Preparing for the “BIG” Game: A Look Practice Preparation and Implementation

Every athletic team faces a game they must win. It is the game people have looked forward to since the beginning of the year. Some of these games might be traditional rivalries like college football’s famous Red River Shootout Oklahoma vs. Texas. While other games may decide if a team’s season continues like a game in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Winning these games excites fans and leaves them with a sense of accomplishment at the season’s end. These games are not just played in front of a large national audience, but throughout the country on high school and youth sporting fields in every city from Los Angles to New York. On every level, these games mean so much to everyone involved.

Keeping this is mind, coaches have an impossible job. Fans expect their team to win, but that doesn’t always happen. In the end, one team has to lose. What can coaches do to ensure that their team comes out on top? Obviously, there is no exact formula but what if a team’s season is on the line? The following is my perspective on how coaches can tackle these games head-on and help players perform better when the lights go on……

Practice, Practice, Practice……………………………
The first step in game preparation is to making practice situations more challenging than game situations. This concept requires much thought and examination by the coach trying to get their team ready to play. Many times, coaches think by making their practices longer they are giving players more time to prepare. While generally an accepted statement, often this can be fundamentally wrong.

It was been proved that young players only concentrate one minute per their year of age. That means at age twenty a person’s concentration rate should be at the 20 minute level. After eclipsing the time rate, people’s mind tends to focus on something different. Coaches must consider this principle as they create their practice schedule. If batting practice last 1 hour, what are players going to get out of it? How is it going to make them a better hitter? Coaches should contemplate these questions as the construct their plan.

Also, coaches must devise a practice with a mental component as well. Players, no matter what level they are playing on, face many psychological challenges during an athletic contest. Crowd noise, poor referring, or player confrontation are all adverse situations athletes face during competition. Failing to overcome these challenges directly effect how players perform during competition. Coaches need to develop player’s mental strength by putting pressure on them during practice.

Coaches can set up specific individual evaluation in a whole group setting, putting players on the spot and creating tremendous performance pressure. For instance, a coach can put their starting pitcher on the mound with three baseballs. Each baseball represents a mile run for the team. The pitcher is asked to throw three strikes. With each strike thrown a mile is deducted for the conditioning exercise. As the entire team watches, the pitcher will deliver three pitches.

Coaches receive valuable feedback from this drill. What pitcher has positive body language? Does anyone give up? What pitchers can perform under these conditions? Who fails? Pitchers that execute strikes during this practice drill can draw from that experience during the game. Pitching is not the only area where these principles can be used. Hitting, fielding, and baserunning are other areas that can be manipulated to force players to perform under pressure.

It Takes a Village……………..
Teamwork and togetherness are undervalued commodities in sports. They are invisible ingredients that are definitely part of a winning formula. Coaches know how important a sense of “team” can be to a program. To win tough games every squad must work to strengthen their internal attitudes and feelings.

Practice is a time where a team concept can be cultivated by coaches. There is a sense of bonding that a group experiences when they go through tough times together. A team bond leads to trust amongst coaches and players, knowing each have sacrificed a lot for one another.

These feelings don’t just stop at practice; they carry over onto the playing field. In a competitive situation, it is only normal for players to want to start on the field. But, coaches can only use nine players at once. Naturally, reserve players may wish a sense of failure on their competition, thus increasing their playing time.

Though natural, individualistic feelings kill a team centered environment. Forming bonds and trust with teammates allow players to look pass a feeling of “self”. Players start to create roles for themselves helping the team excel using their strengths rather than dwelling on individual wants. Playing in a supportive environment makes a difference when teams are playing opponents with comparable talent and an extra advantage is needed to put a team over the top.

Scouting the Competition……………………………..
Knowing how to attack an opponent is vital in helping coaches prepare their team. Does the opposition bunt a lot? Do they have a left-handed pitcher? How strong are their outfielder’s arms? These are central questions when coaches are evaluating an opponent. By gauging an opponent’s tendency, coaches can set up their practice to target certain skills that help to combat their advantage.

It is important for coaches to have ample knowledge of the opponent, however too much information might be detrimental to preparation. Although it is helpful to know opponent weaknesses, a coach cannot completely change the way their team plays to adapt with an opponent. Coaches must let their team showcase their strengths even if it is risky against a rival program. There is an old coaching saying,” You have to dance with the one that brought you here.”

Scouting can also help shape the role of pitch selection for both hitters and pitchers. Both of these aspects, though relatively small to outsiders, have a direct impact of the game’s final results. Coaches cannot measure the importance of knowing that an opposing pitcher struggles to throw breaking balls for strikes or their clean up hitter takes pitches on the outside corner. These situations can be duplicated in practice and repeatedly worked on before the competition.

Mixing it all Together……………………………………To win an important competition, teams must have a sprinkling of all these areas in their game plan. Of course, there are times when teams “luck” into wins or simply have more talent than their rival competition. Mostly, coaches look to maximize equivalent talent incorporating both a physical and mental approach to gain an advantage on their rivals or “big game” opponents.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2008-2009 Baseball Coaching Topics

The following is a list of topics that will be covered this off-season:

1. Preparing for the "BIG" Game
2. Team Behavior: A Direct Effect on Player Performance
3. Clutch Situations, Clutch Players
4. Multi-Sport Athletes: A Look at Today's Baseball Player

I apologize for the delay in articles. I hope the upcoming information will provide some coaching insight to anyone that is looking for off-season ideas and concepts to incorporate with their team for the 2009 season.

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