With fall upon us, here in the Midwest, we are getting ready to wrap up fall baseball and soon dive into winter training. This is the time for coaches to mold and prepare their teams to the best of their ability. Coaching is not always fun or easy. Having two boys in multiple sports, on multiple teams, and a husband that also coaches…I’ve seen quite a bit over 10 years. Coaches have the power to take a player who has lackluster ability and make them rise from the ashes to become a phoenix. They also have the power to take a phenomenal player and bring him down to a self-conscious - apprehensive player - all by the words they speak to them. Words are powerful!
I’m sure I’m pointing out the obvious, but kids grow! They are never going to be smaller height-wise than they are when you met them. However, they grow taller, bulk up or slim down, over the course of their baseball lives. That is a given! Are you looking at them each season or each game with fresh eyes? Are you doing your best to teach them as many positions when the opportunity comes? Coaches can set up scrimmages to shuffle players to give them chances to play other positions just to see if you find something special you didn’t see before anytime during your season. There are also opportunities to play scrimmages like players verses parents. This always brings out appreciation for those parents who are hard on their imperfect players. It’s not as easy as the players make it look. Try it if you haven’t! Sometimes it allows players to play with fun abandonment and you’ll spot something magical.
Another thing to keep in mind when you are training your teams, not all of your shortstops or centerfielders are going to play those positions in junior high or high school. You’d be surprised how many shortstops make a school team, but guess what?!?! They can’t have 6 shortstops! Their best bet is to not only play other positions, but to know the position. It gives them a better chance at being a starter than the kid that is lost when it comes to the nuances of playing 3rd base.
Most of the teams my kids have been on, will shuffle kids around to other positions or let them choose where they want to rotate during winter training just to test them and see how they’ve grown as a player. We have always encouraged our sons to pick the positions they don’t play the most to test their skills when given a chance.
I will throw one thing of caution to you coaches…don’t tell a player they “cannot” do something. If you don’t see them as a shortstop, centerfielder, 1st baseman, etc…maybe encourage them to work on it in their off time if it’s something they seem to want to achieve. It’s not really up to you to tell a growing boy he can’t do something, because I’ve seen kids grow into some phenomenal positional players because they worked at it. No, not all kids will achieve that goal, but you don’t know how that kid’s body and desire will push them or fail them. It’s not up to you to squash their goal is it?
My son Max had one goal besides being a superior middle infielder. He prided himself in the fact that he could play any position with knowledge of the position. At some point during training with Max’s travel team, he was told he couldn’t play 3rd. I’m not even sure how the comment was made because I didn’t know about it. What I do know is it stuck with him like a dagger. Coach’s words weigh heavy on most ball players I know. Their word is gold! They trust that you know what you’re talking about. He believed the coach knows best and he didn’t question it.
Max had decided to leave his travel team at the end of the season because he wasn’t enjoying baseball as much as he used to. He was invited to a private tryout with an elite team. That coach put him immediately at 3rd to start the tryout – the coach had him throwing from 3rd to 1st. He did great. Then he had him back up another 10 feet and did the same. He rotated him all around the infield and outfield, while he showcased his versatility. The tryout concluded and the coach said he always starts with throws from 3rd to see if a kid can make the throw and if he can make it accurately. He had asked Max situational questions and he was the only player that ever got them all right. He offered Max a position on the spot. As we were walking away, I said to Max that it looked like fun. That’s when Max said he was nervous when he put him at 3rd because he “can’t” play 3rd. I stopped dead in my tracks, what?!?!? Since when? For two years prior to this Max was playing 90ft bases when he was in 6th grade as a starter for the 7th grade team and he had played 3rd. That’s what a kid holds on to when coaches tell them they “can’t” do something. It means something to them to hear it from the men whose opinion they value.
Moving forward, Max was a starter for his junior high team, which also had a brand new coach heading up the school program. Everyone was on equal ground to prove themselves. Fresh eyes came to determine that Max was the ultimate versatile player. He played more positions than anyone else on the team and did it really well. Coach gave him an MVP for being the player that could play anywhere he was put with a true understanding of the position and did it well. Max’s school team played against his former coach’s son’s team and Max played the entire game at 3rd base. Making every play and doing what Max does. I guess you could say it was karma! Max felt a huge sense of validation as he proved to himself he could do what he’s always done.
My 2 cents…don’t be the coach to say your players can’t do something. Be the coach that encourages them to earn it – to learn it…but you have to watch with fresh eyes. Or you may miss magic!