Friday, April 2, 2010

How to be a Little League coach

Being a little league coach is a wonderful challenge, so here are a list of tips on how to be a first time coach:
  • Get to know the game - If you don’t know baseball well, and you don’t have to, read up on it and watch some games. I highly recommend anything by Cal Ripken, even though his business/brand competes with Little League’s. His books on coaching are very approachable, aren’t bloated with 4 billion drills, and actually talk about coaching.
  • Have a plan – I’m a bit of a planner (though my wife at times would disagree), but when it comes to work and coaching I think a plan is a must. A plan for what you ask? Nearly everything:
    • A plan for the season – As David Allen says “Start with the end in mind”
    • A plan for each practice – Also quoting Mr. Allen “First things first”. Know what you are going to do that day to get you one step closer to the season’s goal/s. The older your kids the more credibility you lose when you are stumbling and bumbling trying to figure out what to do next, especially if you draw a blank. So get out a post it note or index card (or your iPhone, whatever) and write down the 3-6 things you want to do in practice, set a time limit for each, and use a watch or timer to keep on track.
    • A plan for each kid – This is potentially the hardest and most time consuming thing I recommend for coaches, but I think this is what can take you from a good coach, to someone who really makes a difference in each athletes life.

  • Communicate with the parents - You will want to make sure they understand the team and requirements for what their child is required to do as a member of the team.
    • Like the old saying about voting in Chicago, "early and often". Obviously do an introductory email to the parents. This would be an opportune time to layout some groundrules and expectations. If the team is at an age where competition is a priority, let them know. If these are 7 year olds, make it clear that player development is most important. Provide links to to the league website (which they should have if they signed up!), the schedule, field locations, and maybe a few parent resources you may come across.
    • Make sure they know about the practice schedule, changes to practices times or locations, changes to game times and locations.
    • Solicit (demand politely) volunteers. On our team we have scorekeepers, pitch counters, snack providers, and the team parent organizer to keep everyone on track.
  • Make a connection with each player - Learn about what they did in a prior season, positions they like or dislike, have them set a goal or two for the season, figure out who their friends are on the team. Help provide them with a familiar touchpoint to the season, league and sport. You could be the person they look back on as that most important coach (don't expect anyone to thank you in 20 years if they win the World Series though).
  • The biggest cliche of them all, have fun - Which mostly means get out of their way. They're kids, they know how to have fun. Try to build some time into the schedule for a little goofing off. Intentionally plan some goofy drills. Learn how to make fun of yourself. Joke around with them, but not at their expense.Expect some hiccups - You won't know what they will be, and they'll be new every year. Kids will forget equipment, they'll show up an hour late for a game. They'll suddenly get sick or go on vacation.

An almost last note - you will inevitably encounter some "challenging" parents. I try to keep the perspective that they parent just wants the best for their child, but may have an odd way of showing it. I had a parent challenge me and my coaches one year on the equity of playing time. This was in an 11 and 12 year old league. The 12 year old's parents wanted us to play them more than the 11 year olds because this was their last year in fairly non-competitive play.

I understood their point, but made it explicitly clear how playing time works on my teams - I keep the time as equal as is possible given all the factors. So no, I was not going to play a 12 year old more than an 11 year old due to age. Just like I wasn't going to play the kids I liked the most. Or who were the best, etc. It was fair play, all the time.

To sum up: have fun, get the kids to play hard, and hopefully they'll learn to love the sport for a lifetime. 

Superb picture attribution in order of appearance
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