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I’ve seen natural born coaches who garner respect as soon as they get on the playing field or arena. I’ve seen other coaches who’s knees turn into jelly when they are put in front of 12 kids five and six years old. The good news is if you fall into the latter category you can work on being an excellent t-ball or youth sports coach. When I was at Arizona State University in the 1970’s going for my Master’s in Physical Education I was fortunate to have a few great educators that I consider to this day to be mentors. Professor’s Clint Richardson and Bob Pangrazi were phenomenal teachers. It was the little tidbits and suggestions they would throw in to motivate young people and getting them to do certain things. It was amazing how both college professors maintained that it didn’t matter if the school was in the roughest inner city or in a beautiful suburb, with a little tweaking, the same teaching techniques for young students would work as long as you were also consistent and disciplined. Traveling the country do my baseball clinic, “T-Ball And Beyond” for youth coaches I always hear the same line:
“Well it is different in our community.”
I have seen the same parental and player issues in Newton Massachusetts as well as South Central Los Angeles. I have seen some teaching techniques that work most of the time and some that don’t. With that said let me share some of the teaching and coaching skills I have used over my coaching career. I am still learning! Here we go:
1) 10th Player award
Until my league stopped me, I used to give out what I called the 10th player award. I would go out and buy an extra large trophy at the beginning of the season. I’d get my team together and even show it at the parents meets. The trophy would be for the player who shows the most enthusiasm and helps the coaches with the equipment. The trophy would have nothing to do with ability, batting average etc. This worked great! In fact one year my team was so cooperative, I bought each player (twelve in all) a trophy. I’m still paying it off 20 years later.
2) I need a Volunteer I call this one "I need a Volunteer." If you want something done, ask for a volunteer. When a player steps forward, reward him with an extra swing at batting practice. Better then saying "If someone volunteers to help carry the equipment bag, they'll get an extra swing in batting practice." See the difference! The first case they do not know the reward. Eventually volunteers will be plentiful.
3) T-Ball Kneel Down
Simply put when you are addressing your t-ball team, try kneeling down so your are at eye level with your team. The team will focus more on what you are saying.
4) Face The Sun
When you addressing your team, always make sure you are the one facing the sun and not the team.
5) Short Pep Talks
Keep your pep talks short and to the point. Speak in a vernacular your team understands best and with t-ballers, assume the players know nothing about baseball.
6) T-Ball “Pep Run.”
When you are practicing with your team and you get one of those times when it seems everything is out of control, the kids are talking, throwing or kicking dirt etc. then it is time to have a “Pep Run” led by the coaches to the outfield fence. When you get back, do another one right away. Then have a short water break. This will calm your team down a bit and they’ll be ready to go afterwards.
7) The Whiner
You want to do a drill or a skill and one player comes to you and tells you they can’t do the drill because “my stomach hurts.” Go right to a popular drill and when the player says his stomach is better, tell him the team rule if you sit out one drill you have to sit out the next one also. This works.
8) Mini Batting Practice
I’ve gone over this before. Once in a while start practice with the team’s most popular drill. This will make sure players get to practice on time. But don’t be too predictable with this.
9) Have Alternate Drills
Plan your practices ahead of time but make sure you have one or two alternate drills in case some drills are not working.
10) Be Flexible
Probably the best advice I give parents and t-ball coaches at my clinic is to be flexible. Always look at ways to improve. Some of the best drills I have is when a player says “Hey coach Schupak why don’t we do the drill this way.”
There you go. Some small tips that may help your coaching career. You will learn over the course of a season what is working and what isn’t. Try to document everything on a computer. This is a little bit of work but if you are a “lifer” these notes will be invaluable.