10 Things You Never Knew About Coaching Youth Baseball (and Whether You Should be Called “Coach”)

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Are You Patient?

This really goes hand in hand with the point above. Patience and truly loving what you’re doing are, to me anyway, two sides of the same coin. If you’re enjoying yourself, and realize these aren’t major leaguers you’re coaching — and neither are you, by the way! — you tend to find patience where otherwise you might not be so forgiving.

Coaching Little League BaseballLittle League is still a time when every kid gets to play. There are no tryouts. Well, there are, but it’s really just to divvy up players. No one gets “cut.” And everyone is expected to be allowed to play and given a chance to have fun. This isn’t High School or college and it’s certainly not the majors. (I’m leaving out travel teams here, which tend to be more competitive, but it’s still the same story there. If kids make it, they play.)

That means that you’ll come across a wide variety of players. Some with amazing skills and some who are just there to have fun because they love the game, it’s an activity their friends are doing and they like hanging out with their friends, their parents maybe pushed them a little bit, or some combination of all of the above.

You can tell pretty quickly who’s really taking the game seriously and who’s just there to kill a couple hours. But it doesn’t matter. If you can’t be patient with the kids who maybe don’t pick things up as quickly as the “all stars,” you’re not going to have a great time and your performance as a coach is going to suffer.

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The only thing I ever ask of my players is to pay attention, play hard, be a great teammate, hustle everywhere/never mope, have fun and try to win. That can all be summed up as play to the best of your ability.

The kids know who the better players are, just like the coaches do. But just because it may take a little longer to teach a certain skill, everyone deserves your attention. You can’t quit on a kid. They’ll notice it. And they’ll quit on you. And once you’ve lost the confidence of your players, you might as well pack it in and give the position to someone who’s more suited to it.

Not everyone is. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you can’t get through games and practices without losing your cool over an umpire’s call, an error, a mental mistake…you name it…find another way to spend your free time.

Bottom line, if you’re going to lose your patience and let frustration get the better of you, don’t coach.

Don’t be these guys below. Ever.

Real Story from the Trenches

This is a story from before I started coaching. In our league, we don’t pay umpires as a general rule. The position is usually filled by coaches who aren’t playing that day, parents, other volunteers, high school players, etc. On rare occasions, when all else fails, we might throw an older kid 20 bucks to call a game.

So there was one game in particular. I took up my normal spot behind the backstop on my folding chair and settled in for the game. About five minutes before it was supposed to start, my son’s coach walked by and let the fathers who were assembled back there know that the umpire hadn’t shown up. If one of us didn’t volunteer to do it, they’d have to cancel the game.

Now I’m no hero. Not by a long shot. But every single other father besides me suddenly got a very important text message or phone call. I was the stupid one to acknowledge that I had heard him and volunteer. I remember distinctly telling him, “I won’t make any friends, but if you absolutely need someone, I’ll do it.”

I may as well have signed a blood oath because once I said that, the search was called off, I was handed a face mask and chest protector, along with a pitch counter, and boom, I’m Blue.

I think in all my years being involved at various levels of the game, I’ve NEVER umpired behind the plate. I worked the bases a couple times, but never called balls and strikes. I can’t say it was enjoyable, but it really wasn’t a big deal.

Or so I thought.

Around about the 2nd or 3rd inning, in between innings, I had my mask off and was taking a long drink from my water bottle and chatting with my wife, who found it highly amusing that I was the idiot who had volunteered, when out of the corner of my ear (is that an expression?) I hear…”Call it both ways!” It was kind of whispered, but in that enraged snarling kind of whisper. The way a dog lets out a low, rolling rumble before erupting in a full-throated bark.

I heard it but for some reason, for maybe 15 or 20 seconds, it didn’t occur to me that the comment was directed towards me. I turned around and the coach of the other team was kneeling in front of home plate getting gear ready for his catcher. I STILL didn’t really think he was talking to me (I don’t know WHO I thought he might be talking to, but I just really didn’t think it was me), so I kind of just walked over and asked pleasantly, “Sorry, are you talking to me?”

At that he whipped his head up to look at me and again hissed, “Who the f*%$ else would I be talking to?”

Whoa.

Now I definitely have a temper, but I was still polite after that and just basically calmly asked him what specifically he meant. If he had a problem with how I was calling the game, what was it exactly? I made it very clear that this was my first time, that I was volunteering to do this to allow not only my son’s team, but his team, to play, and what would he like me to do differently.

But there was no talking to this guy. Like, at all. He proceeded to go on a tirade about how I knew nothing about baseball, I sucked in every way imaginable, I was somehow taking this awesome job away from other parents who were not only better umpires than me, but better human beings, and who were all just clamoring to step into my shoes, and on and on.

Throughout it all I just remained calm, took his abuse and let him walk back to his dugout when he was done. Parent after parent came up to me and told me I should have thrown him out of the game (and I would have…had I known I could at the time!), but I just basically said, nah, I’m a big boy and he has problems. And I let it go.

Point is, I think that coach embarrassed himself that day. I had just rung up my own son on a called strike three the half inning before. And yet here he was accusing me of favoring one side over the other.

It happens. With some people, whatever is going on in their head, in just happens. Be bigger than that. Let it go. It’s not worth stooping to that level simply to make a point.

These kids were eight and nine years old. Unbelievable. And he never did win his plastic trophy that year. 🙂

Next…#5 of 10: Who Do You Love?

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