Organizing A High School Team
From the ABCA’s Coaching Digest; reprinted in Collegiate Baseball on October 3, 2003
By GUY ANDERSON
Head Coach/Cordova HS
RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. — The following is my plan of action for making a successful baseball program on the high school level.
Vision:To be the most successful high school baseball program.
Individual player responsibilities:
Opening Talk With Team
This is a "golden hour" for the coach. During this period, the coach is "on stage" for new players to view, and returnees to review.
I address the players while dressed in a complete, new, clean baseball uniform with starter jacket. I get a haircut the day before, wear no jewelry (including ear-nose-bellybutton fixtures), and I am cleanly shaven. This suits my personality and approach, and conveys to the ballplayers my expectation about appearance.
I believe a well-dressed, cleanly groomed team that takes the field to perform meticulously orchestrated calisthenics, warm-ups and infield practice is, in a word, intimidating.
Of course, one can intimidate all he wants, but if he lacks talent, or conditioning, or practice – well, you draw your conclusions.
At this meeting, I pass out my rules of behavior, (Appendix A) the practice schedule, and the game schedule – two copies of each document!
Both the ballplayer and parent sign and return the second copy to me.
This signed copy removes the potential defense for missed assignments, which pleads, "Coach, I did not know about that."
The consequences of broaching these rules and assignments are listed on the documents. These consequences are enforced to the letter with all players. Lest one protest that these actions appear draconian let me remind you that adolescents crave order and direction, even when they test the system! Furthermore, we do not coach in a vacuum.
We are teachers and role models preparing youth for the expectations demanded by society and future employers. Rare is the coach who does not receive letters of appreciation from former ballplayers who praise the example and discipline provided by their role-model coach.
Babe Ruth was eternally grateful for the guidance given him by the Xaverian Brothers at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore.
The need for commitment to the job of learning baseball in a team environment is raised during this opening talk. This concept is reiterated nearly on a daily basis in a manner calculated to be anything but nagging. Teenagers hate a nag!
During the opening talk, I pass out three-by-five inch file cards. Upon these cards players jot down their "life’s dream" (identity role-the place in society they see themselves occupying their lifetime job).
It amazes me how many athletes want to use athletics as a stepping-stone, not to a professional sports career, but to a profession or trade. In any case, the coach is one of many counselors a boy will encounter, and if the coach understands the athlete’s goals, he can better guide him.
Remember: Bobby Brown attended medical school while he played third base for the New York Yankees (1946-1954). He became a practicing cardiologist, and later served as president of the American League.
William Curran, a distinguished baseball historian, played excellent ball through high school and American Legion levels. He authored the classic baseball works: Mitts, Big Sticks, and Strikeout, among other literary creations.
George E. Will is a syndicated political commentator and author of several books on American politics. He obviously acquired a great love for the game of baseball during his youth, so much so, that he took time off from composing political commentary to write a magnificent book on baseball, Men at Work.
Two wise youth psychologists have astutely observed "[adults] are caretakers of [youth], with the responsibility of leading them toward an independent life, one in which they can think and act on their own...[This] is best achieved as a gradual process throughout the high school years…"
Success in baseball depends on a player’s talents, self-esteem and confidence. Reduce any of the variables in the equation, and the chances of success diminish exponentially. Positive discipline conveys an attitude of respect and enhances self-esteem.
Organization Of Conditioning/Practice Curriculum
A corollary to positive discipline is the creation and publication of a meticulously organized conditioning/practice curriculum.
The performance of baseball conditioning and practice calls for self-discipline on the part of both coach and ballplayer. The publication of this curriculum must be accompanied by a thorough explanation to the team of the importance and goals of conditioning and practice.
Glib remarks such as "This is the way it has always been done," or, "If it is good enough for the pros, it is good enough for us," or, "I want to see if you guys have what it takes" are uninspiring, and perhaps, unproductive.
The Schedule Must Be Realistic
The coach is aware that time is limited, and high school players have other responsibilities, e.g., homework, exam preps, home or farm chores. The schedule must be both firm and flexible. Firm in so far as departures from its outline are only for reasonable cause, e.g., weather, and flexible to address unforeseen areas of player weakness.
Each deviation in schedule is accompanied by the coach’s positive explanation of the reasons for changes. The coach alone must construct, and/or change, the schedule.
A well-constructed, carefully explained, realistic, firm schedule provides direction to the team, and conveys a sense of coaching predictability and expectations. Adolescent players generally relate very well to this approach. In fact, many adolescents find that a schedule of expectations and events brings an order into their lives not otherwise available.
It can be stated with confidence that kids seek positive discipline. Positive discipline brings order out of chaos, provides direction for the adolescent, and reduces confusion.
What is positive discipline? Positive discipline is a system of control in which published reasonable rules and standards are consistently and fairly enforced, so that individual and team goals are achieved. The written purpose for each rule and standard is published and explained; remedies for deviations are clearly stated. The key element that makes such discipline positive is the fact that each rule and standard pertains directly to major team goals.
Positive discipline is both corrective and elevating, because it is delivered with the objective of improving individual and team performances, attitudes, or behaviors in a specific area. It is not simply a list of dictates and punishments, which reflect the whims and idiosyncrasies of the coach and his staff.
For example, consult Rule 20 in Appendix A: "Pitchers run to and from the mound." The purposes for this rule are manifold:
From the start, the coach publishes his rules of personal conduct. The reasonableness of these rules – as viewed by the ballplayer – depends on the times in which the team lives, and the sound judgment of the coach. The wearing of boy’s earrings is currently fashionable.
Should the coach forbid such adornments, he must provide a reasonable explanation, e.g., an accidental pull on the ring could lead to a torn ear lobe.
The publication of rules is best accompanied by a list of consequences for violations (see Positive Discipline above). If the consequences are known in advance, and applied evenly, the coach avoids allegations of unfairness – one player treated differently from another – and enhances the coach’s aura of predictability.
It is the nature of youth (and even some adults) to "test the system" (see Independence below). The "test" is a healthy adolescent act of independence, and its purpose is to see whether the rule stands or bends – at the coach’s whim. Prompt evenhanded enforcement is mandatory to remove any hint of capriciousness (See Appendix A for my own rules).
Adolescent Striving For Independence
Once a child passes age 12 or 13, he/she learns to reason in an abstract manner. Following this, adolescents begin to think for themselves.
Their logic leads them to believe that they do certain things for themselves, without constant adult supervision or help. In general, this is an expected and healthy attitude.
Because adolescence is a period of extreme physiological, emotional, mental, and physical change, extreme strivings for independence can be expected.
The adolescent will often (on a daily basis) test his "keepers" to see how much independence these adults will allow – to discover the "cutting point."
The typical adolescent demands to stay up later, have a separate phone, come home later, choose clothes (makeup for girls, and the "supreme"), own a car. These are all part of the adolescent striving for independence – an expected, and quit normal, phenomenon.
What the coach must demonstrate – and insist upon – is the concept that each adolescent surrenders some measure of his own independence for the well being of the team.
This compromise is really a preamble to adulthood in which the citizen gives up some of his independence so that the state survives, e.g., he answers the draft, pays taxes, and obeys traffic laws, etc.
The team conditioning/practice schedule, code of conduct, and school academic policies are the athlete’s constitution to be obeyed unflinchingly. In return, this constitution also protects the athlete and enables him to achieve goals and garner wins.
Adolescents will challenge this constitution from time to time by arriving late for practice, "dogging it" at practice, and "popping off" at coaches and teammates.
The coach’s corrective actions must be immediate, predictable, and consistent.
The correction must be positive, not denigration, and must accompany an explanation of why the behavior cannot be tolerated. The coach’s judgment must be impeccable.
Some remarks are best directed in front of a boy’s peers (especially if his peers witnessed or encouraged the behavior); other remarks are best delivered in private either out of earshot of others, or in an office.
Short/Long Team and Individual Goals
These goals follow upon the schedule discussed above. The schedule maker (coach) had in mind – and must now announce – the goals his schedule seeks.
An example of a long-term goal is to bring the team’s overall fielding average up from .870 to .950 within a month. To achieve this long-term goal, specific drills for infielders, outfielders, pitchers, and catchers are woven into the daily (or weekly) defensive sessions.
An example of a short-term goal might be: The pitchers (as a group) are misplaying bunts and more than 20 percent of the lead runners/bunters are beating the throw.
Drills involving the pitchers and infielders on bunt management are spliced into the schedule with the idea that at the end of the week the pitchers are throwing out 95 percent of the lead runners/bunters.
The coach’s duties here are: (1) to explain the reasons for the appearances of these drills on the schedule; (2) to calmly and patiently correct miscues; and (3) to offer repetitive, positive reinforcement when plays are completed successfully. These coaching actions enhance the player’s self-esteem and confidence.
A coach who operates with an understanding of the adolescent boy’s critical need for self-esteem, confidence, and respect, who schedules carefully, publishes, and enforces his rules of conduct and sets out goals, creates an atmosphere for positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement means comments, gestures, and body language that are complimentary, approving, supportive, and understanding, which strengthen by addition the lessons taught in technique and character.
When a player miscues, or misplays, the positive reinforcement-minded coach will comment in a manner like this (to a second baseman):
"Bob, you have been turning double plays very well recently. But on that last play you forgot to touch the bag with your left foot, and then push off to your right foot for the throw to first.
"Consequently, you did not clear the bag. The runner took you out and broke up the double play.
"You could also be injured with that technique. I know you will do it correctly next time, as you usually do."
This technique is called a "correction Oreo": positive compliment (self-esteem), corrective advice (respect), and closing compliment (self-esteem).
By incorporating his instruction between the opening and closing complimentary remarks, the coach has positively affected his pupil. When the ballplayer later executes correctly the double-play footwork, the coach comments approvingly. The ballplayer’s self-esteem and confidence invariably expand. This is the essence of positive reinforcement.
Coordination with Parents qnd School Authorities
During the last decade, parents have come to mean a variety of adults who house and care for the teenage ballplayer: biological parents, foster parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and others.
Some of these familial relationships differ from the traditional family structure: mom, dad, and children. Both these newer family configurations and traditional family units can offer positive or stressful environments for youth.
With little discrete probing, the high school coach needs to ascertain and understand the home environment form which players emerge. After all, a major source of ballplayer attitude and behavior is located in the home.
A "problem attitude" that occasionally inserts itself into an otherwise positive family environment involves unreasonable parental expectations in regard to goals: academic, social, and athletic. Some parents try to live out an unfulfilled fantasy through the lives of their children.
A father, disappointed at "not making it into pro ball," may innocently (or even maliciously) push and goad his son(s) to accomplish what he failed to achieve. This scenario can unfold in the lives of both average and even star adolescent athletes.
Perceptive psychologists have observed, "Parents often fail to see how emphatically they attempt to mold their children into reincarnations of themselves, and how often this process creates pressures and conflicts for the adolescent."
The coach’s duty in this instance is to work patiently with the parent to demonstrate several factors:
Some families are dysfunctional, emotionally tattered, lacking healthy adult inputs, or burdened with adult indifference toward the children’s emotional and physical welfare.
No one expects the coach to be a board certified psychiatrist (although I knew a volunteer manager who was so blessed).
The stress laid on a youngster emerging from a dysfunctional household is often enormous. The coach must identify the problem early in spring training.
After identifying the problem, the coach tackles each situation as it arises, whether it is an attitude, behavior, or performance problem. However, the coach must not spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the problem player to the detriment of the team.
School policies on academic achievement are important. The athlete’s duty while in school is to maintain (at least) the minimum grade point average for participation, as published by the school. The coach’s duty is to assure that this standard is met without equivocation!
Some coaches even conduct special nighttime study halls to assist athletes with academic difficulties. Coaches are usually college graduates, and can either tutor or acquire tutors, to assist athletes.
Of course, cheating under any guise is unconscionable. The trust must be to show the athlete how to help himself.
When coaches perform in this manner, they become a character model (not another parent!) for the athlete. Coaching input of this type shows respect for the athlete and helps to build self-esteem – those two critical adolescent needs discussed above.
General Regulations For Cordova H.S. Baseball
Clean-cut haircuts throughout the season – no chin whiskers.