Gillespie Explains How To Handle Discipline

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

JOLIET, Ill. — Discipline is a crucial component of a successful baseball team.

Without this important element, teams turn into individuals with little direction.

Perhaps the greatest college baseball coach in history at motivation was the late Gordie Gillespie who passed away in 2015 at the age of 88.

He retired following the 2011 college baseball season after 59 years and a college baseball-best 1,893 coaching victories at the time after coaching baseball teams at Lewis, St. Francis and Ripon Colleges. The coaching legend amassed 2,402 victories in four sports. 

Gillespie was inducted into 15 halls of fame and went 55 consecutive years (3,371 contests) without missing a game.

It was undoubtedly the greatest streak in athletics’ history before the flu sidelined him for the first 11 games of the 2008 season.

In 27 years at Joliet Catholic H.S., he led the football team to five state championships.

Coaches today can learn from this master teacher at how discipline can be accomplished the right way with this special question and answer session I had with him years ago.

CB: You are one of the best coaches in the business at motivating players to achieve their potential. One of the forgotten elements in that success is tight discipline but in a caring or loving environment. Can you explain your philosophy on discipline?

GILLESPIE: Everybody today says kids are different. Thank God the kids are different today because they have to be different. Fifty years ago we were doing things a lot differently than we are today. We were just learning to fly airplanes in 1927 or thereabouts. The television world we knew nothing about when I was playing ball is a powerful attractant today. In my day baseball was the only game in town. Well today, baseball is not the only game in town.

There are a lot of games in town. It’s an entirely new world and a new sports scene. I have coached a long time in college baseball and 30 years of high school football. So I do know what the high school kids are like too. The bottom line is that if you treat the kids decently, the kids will respond decently. I don’t think you talk down to the kids. I think you try to speak to the kids as gentlemen, and they will act like gentlemen.

CB: What do you do as a coach when you run into the athlete who challenges you and may attempt to undermine your authority?

GILLESPIE: If you run into a kid like this, a lot of coaches say get rid of the cancer. That’s the easiest way to handle such a situation. Let’s say you come to my program and you don’t act as a gentleman should act. Rather than fire you, I’m going to try to work with you in an attempt to straighten you out by reaching you. I’m going to work with you for a good portion of time until I give up on you. The reason I do this is because I have felt the Lord has placed me in this position as a coach not just to deal with “good kids”. I am going to be dealt a kid who is different.

The different kid is the challenge in coaching. I want to bring him around to the correct way of living. We want to make this kid into some kind of gentleman so he can lead a fruitful life and be a good husband. My role is to work with the cancer. If I can’t cure the cancer, I’ll get rid of the kid ― but only as a last resort. That’s been my way of doing things in my career.

I’ve failed sometimes. But this has happened very few times in my career. I feel if I give up on a kid, this person may be a lost soul.

Others have undoubtedly given up on this kid also. So I take my responsibility to help this individual out very seriously. He may never respond to society. But I will try to straighten him out. I don’t want it to sound corny. But I feel this is what God wants us in the coaching profession to do. Again, the easy way is to cut the boy.

CB: Some players may ask why a coach needs any rules to govern a team. Can you explain?

GILLESPIE: These rules are not only good for baseball. They are good for your body. Your body is your castle. If chewing tobacco will make a hole in your face, we will not chew tobacco. If you chew, you will not be on our ball club. As far as team discipline, whether it be running out a ball or conduct in the dugout, I think you must run a tight ship. The tail will not wag the dog.

That’s the way I coach. I am the boss, and I will run the team in a responsible and fair manner. But it will be my way. I do feel in coaching the more you can trust your kids to handle the game, whether it be catchers calling the game, pitchers thinking, leadership off the field by captains and things like this are important.

The more responsibility we can place on these kids, the more we will have them grow up. We’re running a tight ship, but we also are placing as much responsibility on the kids as we can. That’s another way we make people grow. When they make mistakes, I don’t think you should beat them over the head with the problem. I like to handle the situation by telling the kid maybe we should have done it this way or that way.

I realize players will fall down. But we help them, guide them and pick them up. I try not to stand for a lot of nonsense. I don’t have a lot of problems.

To read more of this article, purchase the May 3, 2019 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. Gillespie delves into many different problems coaches face and how he handled them through the years which solved problems.