In my mind I have been reviewing the AA Braves season in the East County Little League. What started out with excitement and anticipation has nearly come to a close in frustration. Questions abound with no easy answer. Did I manage well? Why didn’t we win more games? What could I have changed? Why did the kids not improve? Did they really have fun? These and others continue to elude me as I look inside, in order to make myself a better coach. What sort of grade would I give myself in a manager evaluation?
Understand that years of playing experience and watching baseball don’t always make you a good coach, I attended the coaching clinic sponsored by ECLL and hosted by Al “Big Al” Price of Big Al Baseball. Going back to coaching last year in the Farm division (coach pitch), I realize we were teaching kids the basics, a simple how to when it comes to the fundamentals of baseball. While I still firmly believe this year’s clinic (coaching for 9-12 year olds) was excellent, I was not prepared for what AA baseball (competitive, as some call it) held in store.
I coach with the Big Al’s philosophy engrained in my head, “develop the person and the player” regardless of the win loss record as long as each individual improves the season is a success. Maybe it was that middle of the road attitude or a lack of competitiveness that saw my team go on to lose 16 games this season while only tallying a single victory (and a forfeit win). Going into each and every game without that desire to win, did I project that onto my players? Every game players would come up and ask me the score. I would respond, “I don’t care about the score, let’s just play baseball.” My focus was more on their fundamentals, are you making the routine plays? Running the bases as the coaches have taught? Making the correct decisions when the ball is hit to you?
Another aspect I promoted was fair play for all my players regardless of skill level. Parents paid $200+ to register and play baseball, probably spent more money on equipment for the upcoming season, then you realize a coach is only going to play you the minimum time required by the league (2 innings) in order to get you that single at bat. What sort of bullshit is that? What a way to damage a young player who is learning the game. All my players were within 8 innings of each other if they played every game this year. The only quicker way for that youth to lose interest is to provide negative feedback and criticism. It only takes a single comment to devastate a child’s confidence and find baseball no longer fun.
Unfortunately I know this too well. Using my son as an example, I told him I played two rolls, one as dad when we were at home and one as manager when we were at baseball. From the first day we took the field last year I made it clear to him I was not a baseball fan any longer. I never watch games, rarely do we attend any of the professional games, but I played from little league up through college. My understanding and experience lends itself favorably when it comes to coaching (or so I thought). My son took the “I don’t like baseball” personally and seeing as I didn’t doesn’t like it, he didn’t like. Getting him to understand my reasoning has been a challenge, especially this season where I struggled with him all season long. My single comment has probably ruined the enjoyment of little league for him.
With the exception of one game I have remained positive all season long regardless of the box score. It’s tough to continue to take losses, but I feel the players have learned the game and grown this season. Even at this late stage I wrestle with the basic question of why we continue to struggle with the fundamentals. During games kids are excitable and having fun on the bench and in the field, even if I banned sunflower seeds and food in the dugout, as they were causing a distraction. Maybe I don’t want to face the reality that I was not disciplined enough as a manager, at the first practice with the players and how we were going to practice. As the saying goes, “you play like you practice” and this rang true every time the umpire yells, “Play ball!”
Time and time again I needed to remind myself these are young boys, aged 7 through 9 and they are still learning and growing. There have been some players who put up impressive performances this year, not only on our team, but against us. I commend each one of those players, but at no time do I frown upon those players out on the field, standing in the batter’s box or sitting on the bench who struggled. The coaches have kept a positive attitude all season along, even amongst frustrations and setbacks. One positive play, one big hit was usually enough to swing the pendulum and gain momentum for our team.
Each player received positive feedback continuously, even if a mistake was made. While comments would be made, it was our intention to take a corrective action in order to not make the same mistake. Baseball is a thinking game, a game of strategy. While it’s a team sport, it’s played at an individual level. Pitcher against batter. Fielder against the ball. Having the knowledge and understanding what to do every time the ball was put into play, caused panic in players and stressed out the coaching staff. This comes full circle as players were not prepared for what AA little league offered. I take full responsibility on our 2-16 season.
As a manager it’s my responsibility to build the team, something we lacked this season because I didn’t attend the tryouts or the draft, accepting the position just days before we were to start practice. It made the situation a challenge, but I didn’t know that until now. Next year (if my son decides to play) I will have an opportunity to build a team from the ground up, which might carry a different result. Two coaches have already committed and we know have a better idea what to expect during the season, which would allow up to increase our expectations as coaches. Developing the person and the player, as well as having fun will still be philosophies I coach by but being involved from the start will work to our advantage in how we build our team.
Looking back, I am very proud of what the boys have accomplished this year. So our win/loss record doesn’t equate to much, but I do know the boys had fun, not only during practice but at games. Even if I am critical on how I managed this season, I know for a fact, if I asked each player to tell me what they learned this season, each one would be able to come up with a few items. That to me is a successful season. Hopefully we were able to also teach the kids about responsibility and practicing and playing as a team. While there is no “I” in team, there is “ME.” Each player was an integral part of my team this season. Thanks Braves for a wonderful season. I feel very lucky to have managed such a great group of boys.