Saturday, April 28, 2007

Nice Coach, Mean Coach

Saturday is softball day. All four of my girls play on four different teams, so each Saturday I am on the field from morning until late afternoon.

Today first game was 10-11:30AM, then 12-1PM, another 1-2:30PM and the final game 3-4:30PM. A mighty long day indeed. In the past I have head-coached one of my girls team while assisting on the other one or two. This is the first year I have all four playing so I had to step out of the head coaching slot and am assisting on all four teams.

Not having the pressure of being a head coach has allowed me to observe more and what I see is very interesting to me. I think there are 3 kinds of coaches.

The first is the kindly super-nice coach that never yells, is always encouraging, but doesn’t really step up and push the girls or help develop core skills. To them, it’s all about having fun.

The second kind of coach is more focused on the basic skills and pushes the girls to learn and develop, for the most part is soft spoken but can belt out a yell when necessary to get a girls attention.

The third kind? Old fashioned yelling spit-fire, kick-in-the-ass, we-gotta-win, do your best or you’re sitting the bench kind of coach. These kinds drill the girls, blast them loud and clear when they make a mistake, praise them loudly when they get it right, and REFUSE to accept anything but the best the girls have in them.

While that third kind of coach can at times cause some of the girls to have hurt feelings, sometimes even cry, the consistent application of harsh critique (based on a belief the girl can do SO much better if they try harder) and lavish praise when something is executed exceptionally well has an amazing effect on the girls over time.

Half-way through the season the differences between how the teams play and act starts to become evident, and by the end of the regular season and the start of the tournaments it is out there for everyone to clearly see.

Girls with a Type 1 coach still struggle with basic rules of the game. They don’t really know what to do in complex situations and they often freeze or make irrational moves (like playing first base, getting a grounder and throwing it to home when there’s no one on base). They don’t have much team spirit, they don’t talk much or encourage their teammates, and they seem to not mind losing a game in the slightest. They don’t seem to have much fun after all, and they don’t appear to feel one way or the other about their coach.

Girls with a Type 2 coach are great teams. They work hard, play hard, learn the game and have a bunch of fun playing. They are starting to exhibit some good skills and can often make exceptional plays. They are engaged throughout the game, and are really looking for the win.

Girls with a Type 3 coach are a wonder to watch. They have a blast. They are totally engaged in the game. They are constantly talking to their teammates, encouraging them when they make a mistake, praising them when the make a good play. They move to a rhythm and give everything they’ve got all the time. They no longer cry when the coach yells at them for a bone-headed play. They nod in agreement, recognize their mistake and promise themselves they won’t make the same mistake again. The fear they had for their coach in the first weeks of the season is long gone. Now they love him/her deeply and want to do an excellent job all the time to secure the win- for themselves, for their coach, and for their team.

Interesting to think about how softball coaching and parenting intersect. In either one I am not advocating constant yelling and screaming- by no means. What I love is the focus on learning, getting the basics down pat, focusing on consistency and excellence, and demanding the BEST out of the kids.

It was a good day.

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