Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Heart of an Athlete

The biggest intangible in sports is knowing an athletes heart. Their heart is what drives them, what provides their "makeup". This is the invisible quality that comprises the soul, strength and mind of a team. Although we cannot see it or measure it, we know it is difficult to win without it.

While every coach knows that the team must have heart, it is often very difficult to cultivate it. Heart is the most elusive factor to quantify when recruiting or evaluating an athlete.

Scouts call it the athletes "makeup"....who they are as a person inside and the type of competitor they are. It is difficult to look past the physical attributes to get at the mental, spiritual, emotional and relational aspects of an athlete. However most bad recruiting decisions are rooted in this part of the player.

This holds true even when selecting players for youth baseball and softball teams. How many times have you seen a promising athlete who possesses all of the desired physical skills end up giving the most problems to a coach because they didn't have what it took inside to be a competitor.

We can look to the bible to see a perfect example of this principle. In 1 Samuel 16:7 the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart."

God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse, who had eight sons, to anoint one of these sons as the next king. Jesse lined up his players (sons) to pass in front of Samuel. The first was Eliab who had impressive physical features and whom Samuel thought would be Gods choice. However as the verse above states God did not want Eliab. Six more of Jesse's sons passed in front of Samuel but none were Gods choice. Samuel asked Jesse's if he had any other sons. Jesse told him about David his youngest, who was a unimpressive shepherd boy. This was Gods choice.

David was so far from making the team that he wasn't even on the sideline. His own father didn't recommend him for the job. However God knew Davids heart and chose him.

Coaches need players who possess not only the right physical and mental abilities, but also the commitment and dedication of heart.

As we evaluate players for our team, whether as a professional scout, college recruiter, or youth team coach, let's pray for Gods wisdom to see the players heart and consider their makeup as well.

A lot of kids get passed up merely because they didn't have the physical attributes. One only needs to look at players like David Eckstein to understand that it isn't always about physical appearance that makes a leader and champion.

Come to think of it, I guess God has a liking for guys named David with big hearts and a desire to make an impact!

Become a Student of the Game

What does it mean? It means if you're going to coach baseball become a student rather than a fan. Put aside any fan fanaticism and take into consideration the importance of coaching.

You are coaching and teaching young people and like it or not you are a role model for them. Give them your best. A fervent fan does not make a good coach. Learning the complexities of baseball presents a formidable task for any novice coach.

I believe a teacher (Coach) should become the most ardent student of all, much more than his players. Becoming a student. It takes time and patience. You will not be successful overnight. Read! Use the Internet! . You can never have too much knowledge.

Baseball is very deceiving because of the simplicity of the game. But behind that simplicity are numerous complexities. Don’t let your ego get in the way and allow a few youth baseball successes mesmerize you into thinking you know it all.

There’s an old saying, “When you’re green you grow; when you’re ripe you rot.”

Here are some suggestions for you to consider.

*Baseball is the most difficult game to teach and play. Give the teaching of skills your highest priority.

*Place development over winning. Strive to win every game, but take into account the importance of HOW you win. Don’t overuse a dominant pitcher, show favoritism to more talented players or lose your control over player miscues and flaws.

*Learn something about baseball everyday. (The kind of information that is not in the box scores.) Most effective coaches eagerly soak up every scrap of information they can get their hands on.

*Whether at practices or games develop the ability to see the entire field at once. This is a learned skill and must be acquired. It will bring your coaching ability to the next level.

*Remain in control at all times, including umpires’ questionable calls. This may not seem to you as if it belongs in the “student of the game” category but by controlling your temper (and realizing that the umpires are just part of the game) you will find that you are more open to learn from negative situations. Don’t take bad calls personally.

*The more you learn the better your team will be. Teams seem to play at a higher level of competence when they believe their coach is superior to the opposition’s. They will play with more confidence because they will feel their coach can handle any situation.

*Discuss the game with your players, immediately after the game. Take them away from everyone (Down the foul line in the outfield grass is good) and talk about the game; why you won, why you lost, stress great defensive plays and talk about the next practice. Listen to the feedback you get from your players. The students can often become the teachers.

*Become proficient in all areas of the game. Even though you need assistant coaches make it your business to learn all you can about pitching, hitting, base running, etc.

*Baseball skills all have various movements that are efficient and correct. Learn what they look like and correct them when you find flaws. With (just a few variations) there are correct ways to throw a baseball, pitch, hit, field and run. Don’t try to reinvent the game. Learn the correct way it is supposed to be played. Like the old scout said, “I don’t know how to describe it but I’ll know it when I see it”.

*Learn the basics of each skill and expand from there. For instance, an experienced coach looks at how quickly a hitter can get his bat from the back of his shoulder to the contact zone; a very short distance. Teach the correct path to the ball and other things fall into place.

Coaching young baseball players can be the most rewarding time of your life if you give it your best commitment of time and effort.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How is Your Attitude?

Attitude is everything! We have all heard this phrase on more than one occasion in our lifetime. Early on in life I heard it from my parents and my teachers. When I entered the business world many years ago I heard the phrase or some form of it at virtually every sales or motivational seminar that I attended (and there were many). I heard it so often that I became numb to the phrase and ignored the message.

As I have matured, I have come to realize the power of that message that we have heard time and again. Not only is our attitude something that will have a tremendous impact on the life that we live, it is one of the few things in life that we have full and complete control over. We have the ability to wake up every morning and decide what kind of attitude we will carry with us on any particular day. Good, bad or indifferent, the choice is all our own. It has been said that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.

As coaches, I feel that it is our duty and responsibility to teach strong character traits. Having a positive attitude toward things in life is one of the things that when instilled in a young person will make a lasting difference in their lives. Not only in their athletic performance, but more importantly down the road as life gets a little more difficult for them. As always, we must teach and lead by example. There are endless opportunities on the fields of play for us to take situations that do not turn out as we would have liked and then “turn lemons into lemonade”. In other words, show your athletes that sometimes, situations are only as bad as they want to make them. Their attitude is their choice.

I have a few “favorite sayings” and one of them is “positive things happen to positive people”. Another is "Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm." I believe that if these simple messages can be instilled in all of those you coach, your success as a coach and mentor will be off the charts.

The influence of a coach

Why do we coach? That answer will differ from coach to coach. Some coach to spend time with their children Some coach for recreation and their own enjoyment of it and some, sadly enough coach to regain the glory (or missed glory) of their past. What I have come to realize through my years of coaching is that many coaches fail to realize the importance and the enormity of the platform that they have been given as they carry the title of "coach". Think about this for a minute. A coach, in most cases is the only position of authority in a young persons life where that young person makes a CHOICE to be there. They can not choose who their parents are nor who their teachers are at school. However, THEY (in most cases) are the ones who make the choice to be there whenever they step on to the field under the leadership and authority of their coach. Those athletes are looking to their coach for instruction, direction and leadership. The influence that a coach has on their athletes is enormous. But....the coaches influence doesn't stop with those athletes. Lets take a look.

Depending on what level you coach (recreational, travel, high school or college) you will carry anywhere from 11 - 25 players. Let’s just take 11 players as a conservative number.

11 players = 11 people influenced...
Add to that the average family of four (including the player) brings us to...
44 people influenced so far...
plus all the different umpires that you would have during one season (10?)...
54 people influenced so far...
plus all of the other teams you play (11 players & 4 coaches on lets say 10 different teams)...
204 people influenced so far...
plus all of their families (150 players & coaches multiplied by 3 for average family size)
654 people so far.....

Now, add anyone randomly watching a game....
Now, add the whole world if you have a website.....

WOW! The influence of a coach is enormous! If you are a coach, remember how many sets of eyes are watching you next time that you step onto the field with your team and how many lives that you can affect by the example that you set.