Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Making the Adjustment: Coaching College vs. HS Players

This summer, after ten years of coaching high school baseball, I got a chance to coach a college baseball team in the summer. The squad consisted of players from multiple colleges migrating back to Nebraska for the summer. There ages varied with the oldest being a college senior. Much different from the 15 and 16 year olds I was use to dealing with.

To be honest, I was a little worried. Coming from the high school level, I didn’t know how my “act” would play. On the high school front, I was pretty regimented in the way my teams approached practice and pre-game. I was concerned some players would think my drills were childish or immature. They had never been used on older players; I was concerned about their effectiveness.

In the end, I was issued an excellent group of young men. So my initial worries fell by the wayside. These guys would have followed any instruction given to them, no matter how stupid. They did not challenge anything I offered about mechanics or instruction. In fact, they seemed far more interested than my high school kids.

More importantly, I got a chance to observe how other coaches did things. It was interesting to see how they interacted with their players, especially the more veteran coaches. The following are a list of C’s that I observed these coaches demonstrating while they were working with players:

• Confidence

The effective coaches displayed a lot of confidence working with players and implementing strategy on the field. By their body language, you could tell, they didn’t second guess game decisions like unexecuted bunts, runners getting thrown out, or missed scoring opportunities. Their disposition seemed to say,” We will get it next time.” You do not always see that type of coaching style at the younger levels.

• Communication

Talking to players was a major area of difference between the HS and college level. During the high school season, I was use to talking at players. During the summer, I noticed effective coaches talking “with” players. Also, in my observation, the older players did not respond well to coaches using a “talking at” style. That could be a result of not being their actual college coach. Nevertheless, the more mature level of communication the coach outputted; the better players responded to their message.

• Command

There is no concrete way to describe this attribute; it is totally subjective. I guess the best way to put it is that most veteran coaches have a “presence”. It is the way they carry themselves around the team, opposing coaches, umpires, and fans. No one matter happens, nothing can take them off their rhythm.

This was my biggest struggle when switching over to older players. A lot of it had to do with confrontation. It is a big difference jumping a 15 year old over running out a ground ball compared to a 21 year old. It takes some time to get use to. I feel like I got better at it; but still have a long ways to go to be comfortable.

Also, confrontation extended between other teams. As you know, baseball is a sport etched in respect. People get spiked, thrown at, and run over during a game. The coach has a split second to decide how to handle those situations. Was it on purpose? How should it be responded to? This part of the game is not tolerated at the high school level, but is a common occurrence at higher level. Coaches have to know what to do and be comfortable with these confrontations.

• Common-Sense

When emotion is used, a person’s ability to use logical thinking is compromised. You hear about people making stupid decisions out of anger all the time. Veteran coaches know how to separate emotion from their decisions. Also, they know how to communicate that to their players.

With so many one on one battles, baseball can present players with a lot of frustration. College players have a lot time and effort invested into each at-bat, fielding attempt, and pitch. Their reaction to failure in a one on one battle may be the difference between their successes next time.

I noticed the successful veteran coaches know when to approach a player after one of these incidents.  They let the player "cool" down and are not confrontational about helmet throwing (when it's their own).  These coaches understand players have real emotions when it comes to their performance.  At the high school level, I understand why this cannot happen.  Kids take things to far and are not able to contain frustration from becoming stupidity.  Veteran coaches know their is a fine line and are successful because their kids don't cross it.   

• Commitment

College players are very interested in baseball especially if they are willing to give up their summer. With that expectation, coaches need to be aware that baseball is their priority. Keeping that in mind, coaches need to match their energy level and dedication. At the high school level, this is not allows the case.

To successful veteran guys, being committed is second nature. It’s like putting on pants. These guys are comparable to basketball’s “gym rats”. They are always around… showing, discussing, and drills. It seemed to me, they always went the extra step to help players in the game. These guys never seemed to tire of baseball even in the summer’s intense heat.

Just a few things I noticed..................

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