Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
I have to say that my favorite compliment to receive as a coach isn’t about how much better a kid hits, pitches, plays third base, etc. It’s when a parent says, “You’ve given my daughter so much confidence.”
I know this is going to sound all sunshine and puppy dogs, but what better contribution could you make as a coach than to help a kid go from shy and uncertain to bold and capable? After all, even for top-level players careers are short; they’re only going to need those skills for a little while, relatively speaking. But confidence in themselves is an attribute that spills over into their daily lives today and will serve them well throughout their lives.
Yet there’s a dark side to that compliment: why is it the player needs her confidence boosted in the first place? Lately I’ve been hearing it because someone else (read: some other coach) destroyed the player’s confidence first. That’s just sad.
Yet it happens all the time. Why is it that some alleged adults feel it’s okay to say anything they want to a kid, as long as the end result is winning a game or league or tournament? Why is it they feel it’s okay to put down a kid who won’t help them get there? Or (as in the story about the coach telling the 10U player she’ll never be a pitcher) why do some coaches feel it’s necessary to destroy a kid’s dreams before they’ve even had a chance to take flight?
I have my own theories. I’m sure the reason in some cases is that the coach thinks his/her only job is to win games. He/she doesn’t know very much about the game, and so by browbeating the players – especially the ones whose skills haven’t developed yet – he/she can cover up the fact that he/she is unable to help anyone get better.
In some cases, the coach just isn’t very mature, and thus will react like a middle school student to players that don’t fit his/her idea of what a ballplayer should be. And in some cases, perhaps the coach has been doing it a little too long and has lost his/her way.
What’s odd about all this, of course, is that it’s tough to win if you don’t get the best out of your players, and it’s tough to get the best out of your players when they’re nervous, unsure of themselves, and/or looking over their shoulders all the time. So, in fact, these coaches are actually sabotaging themselves.
It’s really not that tough to help a kid build confidence in herself. One of the big keys is for you as the coach to demonstrate confidence in her. Encourage her to try, and make success dependent on the effort or the process instead of the outcome. If she believes you believe she can do something, she’ll start believing it herself.
Another you can do is look for reasons to praise her – also known as catch her doing good. As coaches we are often looking to correct mistakes. But instead of always doing that, try making a point of looking for things to compliment. You’d be surprised how far a kind word can go in helping a player improve her performance.
In practice, try giving your players permission to fail, especially when trying something new. That doesn’t mean slacking on skills they already have, but instead pushing themselves beyond their current comfort zone.
For example, if you have one of those outfielders who’s always pulling up just short of the ball because she’s afraid of missing it, encourage/cajole/force her to run through the next ball like that. She may not catch it the first time out, or even the second time. But eventually she may find if she accelerates a bit more at the end instead of pulling up she’ll make a play she couldn’t make before. You want to see a smile? Watch when that happens.
In games, look for opportunities to throw out a compliment or a “way to go.” It doesn’t have to be for a big thing, either.