“First impressions are often the truest, as we find (not infrequently) to our cost,”
-William Hazlitt, On the Knowledge of Character
As a freshman in high school I vividly remember playing on a team that was pretty bush league on occasion. On one such occasion, we were on a big yellow school bus headed to play St. Bede Academy, a catholic school 30 miles from Streator, IL. I distinctly remember half of my teammates drawing tattoos of skulls, daggers, and heavy metal logos on their arms. I’m sure it was an attempt to bring an intimidating sight to the ball field that day. Because everybody knows that there is nothing scarier than a skull tattoo drawn with Crayola markers on a puny 15-year-old arm. The other half of the team, which I fell into, would be ready to get of the bus in an array of heavy metal t-shirts. If you can name the band we had the shirt. The reason we didn’t indulge in the pre-game body artwork was probably due to a lack of markers. Our coach was a pretty relaxed character, in case you couldn’t tell. He was a bit of a local legend and a really nice guy, sometimes to a fault. What a sight we must have been when we came of that bus. We thought we were tough looking. In reality, we looked like idiots. We got hammered that day. As well, I think a few of our players were ejected. That’s alright though, the umpired sent the ejected players to the school bus, where they had time to finish putting the latest Iron Maiden album cover on their chest.
Now as a coach, it’s very important to me to look at the other team and see how they present themselves visually. You only get one opportunity to make a first impression. When another team comes to our diamond half dressed with their shirts untucked, caps or visors cocked sideways and backwards, or wearing Metallica t-shirts for undershirts, I’m pretty darn excited. I typically feel that we will have the edge that day. A team that presents itself in that manner will usually be undisciplined on the field. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. The players also know when a bunch of jokers just rolled into town. In turn, a team that presents itself with a business-like vibe sends an intimidating message across the field. When an opposing player gets off the bus and walks to the dugout looking like a ballplayer, and not a circus act, he non-verbally tells my players “You better be ready, because I am.” That player may be the last player on the bench, but if the last player on the bench carries himself this way, this must be a stud team we’re facing. In reality, they may be no better or worse physically, but mentally they keep things sharp.
The mental edge will win more high school and junior high games than not. It all carries over into other aspects of the game. If your players are disciplined enough to dress and present themselves well, then they will want to present their bunting technique or pitching mechanics well. The concept is no different than basketball and football teams wearing nice slacks, collared shirts, and ties on road trips. The only difference is that they have time to change prior to their contests. Your players’ uniform should be presented like a church suit on Easter Sunday.
Which team would you, as a coach, rather see get off the bus?
The pictures above were taken on team picture day. I actually stole the goofy team picture idea from a biography of Vince Lombardi called “When Pride Still Mattered”. He was such a stickler on discipline that this was one way to allow his players to loosen up. While, I don’t dare to place myself or anyone in Lombardi’s class. I really enjoy doing the goofy picture, because I am strict when it comes to uniforms. It gave them one opportunity to wear their uniform in an inappropriate way and to get it out of their systems. Also, I think the goofy picture allows each of the players’ personalities to shine through the camera. You can tell who the introverts and extroverts are. It gives you insight as to the different characters that make up your team. If you decide to try this on picture day, I have some advice. Set rules! Yes, unfortunately I was forced to set rules for the goofy picture after the class of 2002 pushed the limits of goofy.