BOOSTERS, NOT ROOSTERS: Parental Support During Games

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”

-Herm Albright

 foghorn-3Parents can work with you or against you.  Do not forget when you play at home they’re there, and when you go on the road they follow.  I’m not knocking fan support, because I adore it.  Although, I am knocking fan detriment.  I want as many parents at our games as possible.  I want them to come to our games and enjoy seeing their young man or young lady represent his school and town to the best of his or her ability.  I also want them to support the other players on the team and the program as a whole.  No one needs a college of coaches in the stands that criticize players, coaches, and officials. Talk about bush league, that’s the worst.

            At the beginning of a season I host a parent meeting.  I require players to have someone to represent them at this meeting.  A mom or dad may not be able to attend in some cases. So I tell my player to get an alternate, like a sibling or a grandparent.  I’ve never had a parent meeting last longer than a half an hour.  The discussion topics are the team rules for players, the schedule, travel procedure for road contests, and parent expectations.  That’s right, parent expectations. I expect them to be part of the team.  My rules for them are:

1)   Be positive at home.

2)   Don’t address officials.

3)   Be a booster, not a rooster.

            Be positive at home.  Parents need to cultivate the team concept at home when their son or daughter is not around me.  If his or her child comes home after striking out 3 times, he/she doesn’t need someone talking down to them.  Nobody feels worse than the player. As well, maybe someone’s child didn’t play that day.  Of course, that kid feels bad about it. I’d be disappointed in a player of mine that didn’t. A parent that tears down the coach or another player to give their son some false pride isn’t sending a very good message.  Parents at home need to encourage their boys when times are good and bad.  Encouraging their children to work harder at practice and be more involved in off-season activities is the best thing a parent can do. 

            Don’t address officials.  If something needs to be said to an umpire, I will say it.  I have only seen rude and obnoxious comments from the stands work to the advantage of the other team.  You think the strike zone was tight before, just wait.  Umpires are human. There is no instant replay.  We must live with their calls.  99% of them are trying their hardest to be impartial.  If an umpire is hustling and calling the game consistently for both teams, no one can complain.  I feel there are good and bad times for a coach to talk to the umpire about calls.  There are no good times for parents to do so. 

            Be a booster, not a rooster.  I make mistakes. We all do. Hopefully, we learn from them.   No coach needs some know-it-all former little league coach critiquing his every move. Those type of parents are like pussy cats waiting to pounce on a mouse.  They view the game with negative glasses.  And like a rooster at 5 AM, begin cackling their head off with some foolish coaching advice.  No one in the crowd is impressed.  In fact most of the other parents separate themselves from that type of fan.  These roosters always like to crow at the worst possible time. For example, during a regional game, after a lead-off double, I had a player wander too far off 2nd base on a ball hit in front of him and get caught in rundown.  Prior to the miscue, I said all of the right things to him to remind him of the situation, and of course he acknowledged me. We all know the teenage mind is one of mystery, and he did the wrong thing.  In the rooster’s head, I’m sure he was elated.  He began to ruffle his feathers, stick out his chest, and crow sarcastically, “Nice goin’ coach, way to teach base-running.”  He was right. It was a poor base running play.  I was sure excited that he pointed it out and so was the player and his parents, I’m sure.  We went on to get 5 hits, 2 stolen bases, and score 3 runs that inning.  He shouted no compliments for our team. We went on to win the game 5-1 an advance to the regional championship.  The rooster had magically turned into a hen. Encourage your parents to disagree with you in private.  Shouting disapproval during a game helps no one.rooster

            A parent meeting is really an attempt to preempt any miscommunications between the parents and the coach.  Your expectations for your players are made clear on an in person basis.  A coach that hosts a parent meeting will find that he has a more positive relationship with the parents than the coach that neglects to do so.  The parents will be more likely to give you help when you need it.  As well, they will support you on disciplinary issues with players, because the rules were explained clearly ahead of time.

DIRTY LAUNDRY: How a Coach Should Deal with Player and Parent Problems

“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

 Yogi Berra


            At some point, unfortunately, all coaches run into problems with players and/or their parents.  Some problems are major issues and some minor ones.  A well-prepared coach has a set procedure to deal with these occurrences head-on.  If problems are not dealt with quickly, assertively, and tactfully, they will boil over onto the field.  When this happens, the exact cause isn’t always apparent to the objective eye.  Although, the bush league atmosphere will be apparent.

            If a player has broken a training rule, has poor grades, has a poor attitude, or has done anything that clashes with team rules or my coaching philosophy, I feel compelled to say something.  Sweeping a problem under the rug only allows the problem to fester and become worse.  Too often, coaches try to ignore things.  I understand that as coaches of young people we must pick our battles, but you know how it goes, “give an inch, they’ll take a mile”. For example, I am a stickler about players being on time.  If I ignore the lateness of one player, the message is then sent throughout the program that it’s OK to be a couple minutes late. Pretty soon another player is late. Then, players start coming 10 or 15 minutes late.  Talk about “bush”. 

           I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t handle the situation on the spot.  The best way to handle most problems with players is in PRIVATE. Private can be behind closed doors or at practice 20 feet away from the rest of the team. Berating players with a loud, foul tone in front of the rest of the team may work once, but it will soon create an air of hostility.  Handling things one on one tells the player that you’re focused on his issues and his correction for the sake of the team, not embarrassment.  I have a friend that was also a high school baseball coach.  He was a great first half of the season coach. I know this because we used to play his teams twice each season, once at the very beginning of the season and once at the end.  When we saw his team the first time they looked sharp.  They were focused.  When this coach said jump they’d say, “How high?” Then during the progression of the season, his supposedly constructive criticisms became louder and more public.  When we’d play them at the end of the season, the players seemed skittish during pre-game warm-ups, as though they were walking on glass.  The moment one player would make a mistake this coach would verbally jump all over the guilty party.  This continued throughout the game.  His players lacked enthusiasm and were having no fun.  Rarely did he pull a player off to the side and “talk” to the player.  I’m not saying that he had to be a teddy bear, but people run from grizzly bears.

          The next scenario is when someone has a problem with you and your coaching.  Typically, the problems that I’m referring to are in relationship to playing time. Usually the problem is related to playing time.  Hell, I’d be disappointed in a player if he/she didn’t want to play more.  My first step is to address the players and parents at the parent meeting at the beginning of the season.  I feel that it is much easier to anticipate potential problems and not have any, than is it to not prepare for problems and then have to deal with them.  Our team’s procedure has 3 steps:


1)   I want to hear it from the player 1st, not the parent.  I want the player to approach me one on one, before or after practice.  If something is bothering a player enough, he or she should be mentally tough enough to address it with the coach. I will not discuss an issue on the phone.  On the phone, people say things they don’t mean.  As well, words are misinterpreted via lack of visible body language.  If the parent approaches me about a pressing issue, and it is the first time that I’m being made aware of it, I politely tell the parent that their son or daughter has not brought that to my attention. I then add that I would like their son or daughter to see me in private prior to the next practice. Until then, it is not a discussion point.


2)   After the player has addressed the problem with me, if he is not satisfied, I will make an appointment to meet with the player and the parent(s).   95% of the time it will not come to this.  Most players accept what you tell them during the one to one meeting if you give them honest reasons.  But keep in mind that that not everyone shares your perspective, honest or not.  The biggest and most important rule in this situation is to not discuss other players on the team during this meeting.  If you allow this to happen, the parent will quickly compare his kid to every player in the line-up.  As opposed to being a supporter of the team, the parent will tear down the skill and ability of any given player ahead of his/her child own on the depth chart.  The proper way to conduct the meeting is to focus in on what his/her child can do to improve.


3)   If there is no resolution to the problem at this point, I advise the parent to make an appointment with the athletic director or principal of the school.  In a school situation this option exists.  It really should only be used for emergency situations.  School administrators should have more important things to do than worry about who’s playing 3rd base and hitting 5th for the baseball or softball team.  You want to maintain the support of the administration.  Only involve them in very difficult situations.  They will appreciate it.


            By following this procedure, the number of peripheral issues that can distract a team will be filtered.  A player will think twice before going home after practice and griping, because parents’ initial reaction will become, “Did you talk to your coach about it?” If the player answers, “No,” then reflection upon the validity of the problem goes on in the player’s head.  Upon reflection, if it is still a problem to one of my players I want to help them figure it out. That’s part of building a cohesive “non-bush league” team.

THE PERFECT SHADE OF BLUE: Getting Great Umpires

coons ump portland “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”

-Luke, 10:7

The umpires that you hire are a reflection of your town. They should be the best quality umpires that can be found. I want to emphasize, “can be found,” because I know that there is a shortage of umpires for high school and junior high school baseball/softball.

As a new coach in an area, there will be a “getting acquainted” period. During this time you will find out which umpires are worth hiring back and which umpires are not. The existing umpires may have been hired by someone other than you, like an athletic director (AD) or athletic secretary. Those people don’t have to deal with the umpires on a regular basis, you do. Your AD is concerned about doing his/her job, and that is hiring enough umpires to fill all of the scheduled dates. Many times AD’s have 15-25 athletic programs to hire officials for annually. Quantity, not quality unfortunately will often become the priority. What AD’s sometimes fail to realize is that choosing officials correctly has a positive impact on your entire program. Without input from you, the coach, the AD can’t do his/her job better.

A good umpire calls the game “right down the middle”. He doesn’t give you the breaks, because you hired him. You would show your “bush-ness” if you expected him to be less than fair. By only hiring umpires that give you the calls, the reputation of your team and town will suffer. Soon you will have trouble scheduling games. No one wants to take his team to a neighboring town to get a taste of the local “home cookin”.

I have a very good friend who was an umpire at the Triple A level. He like many others started by working junior high and high school contests. I recall him telling me about a local high school in which he refused to work. Upon receiving his state patches for umpiring baseball and softball, he was placing calls to school AD’s trying to get on their list. The AD dangled a ton of dates in front of him with the stipulation that they get all of the close calls if he wanted to continue to work at that school. He, of course, refused. During that spring, he heard the same horror story from other area umpires. Eventually, all of the good umpires refused to work for that school. In turn, that school was only able to hire the rejected umps that other school wouldn’t. That was truly a double edged sword for that school. Also, quality schools with quality programs refused to schedule that school. Eventually, that school hired a new AD, but that reputation still lives on years after the fact. spiewak

Find good umpires by paying attention. When you’re on the road, write down the names of the good umps that you see. Often times these umps will have a business card. Transfer that information to your AD. Your AD will be thankful. A good umpire is often willing to travel a few miles to work at good school that treats him right. Treat umpires right by not chewing their ears off on every call. Remember, an umpire can decide not to come back next year. Next, convey this to your team parents. This can be done via a parent meeting or by sending home a code of conduct for games. I have always had my parents sign a contract. The one I’ve used is provided by the state athletic association on their website. Most parents, about 95%, will appreciate this. The remaining 5% are the ones that don’t know how to handle themselves at an athletic event. Signing the contract pre-warns those 5% and gives you ammunition of an understood expectation if an unfortunate parent/umpire clash should take place. Lastly, pay the umpires competitively. Nobody wants to work for peanuts. These umpires are family men, college students, and guys with bills to pay. They know what schools pay better than others. As the coach you should know what the going rates for umpires are and express the need to pay them fairly to your school.

Baseball & Softball Hitting: The Finish

tedwilliams2 - CopyThe previous three posts related to hitting dealt with:

  1. Stance or Rest Position
  2. Negative Movement or Launch Position
  3. Contact Position

The fourth installment of this series of posts deals with the end of the swing or “The Finish”.   Basically, I want to describe what a hitter’s body should look like after contact is made. The focus of this description will be related to balance and direction of of bat path. Here are 4 questions to ask your hitters at the end of the swing:

  1. Are you hitting off a firm front side with your front knee still locked?
  2. Are you still balanced with your head centered between both legs so as not to be lunging forward? Could you take a steel rod and insert it through the top of the skull, go down through the spine, and come out the bottom of the femur?
  3. Is your head still and steady? Does the neck look and feel relaxed? Did the head remain at a consistent altitude?
  4. Is the bat completely wrapped around your back? This may vary, based on whether you are a top hand release hitter (ex. Mark MacGwire) or a no release hitter (ex. Mike Schmidt).

IMG_0234 - Copy

The Test- Repeatedly, look to see if  the hitter is in a steady, controlled position upon finishing the swing. If not, continuously look to improve until he/she is in that position. Depending on core strength, age, and amount of built up muscle memory the amount of time to correct improper balance will vary.  For some hitters it may take 1,000 repetitions to get to “comfortable” 🙂

Please feel free to comment.

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Baseball & Softball Hitting: The Contact Position

Lefty hitting an inside pitch.

Lefty hitting an inside pitch.

The previous post was related to the negative movement or “launch” position.  That negative movement should be performed on every pitch.  The idea is to be ready to hit every pitch.  Making the assumption that the next pitch will be the one to drive.  Hitters should only be laying off pitches that  they decide aren’t giving them an optimum chance of making good contact. This post is about what a hitter’s body should look like when he or she sees that pitch, you know…. “the one”.

Here is a list of questions or checkpoints, if you will.  Some questions to ask your hitters as you review videotape of them hitting. Or simply some things to watch as your hitters take BP.

  1. Is the hitter’s rear foot and kneecap turned facing the pitcher?
  2. Did the back hip and back shoulder coincide movement?
  3. Is the hitter up on the toes of his or her back foot?
  4. Is the hitter’s front foot slightly open at a 45° angle?
  5. Is the knee braced and locked?
  6. Are the hands in a palm up-palm down position?
  7. Is the hitter’s head still an centered between both legs?
  8. Is the posture still tall and not leaning forward or back?
  9. Are the hitter’s eyes fixed on the point of contact? You can’t hit what you can’t see.
  10. Is the hitter hitting strikes at different parts of the zone at the correct area over the plate?  The inside pitch should be struck in front of the hitters front hip, the outside pitch near the front of the back hip, and the pitch right down the middle should be struck somewhere in between.
Albert Pujols hitting an outside pitch. Notice the eyes, hands, and feet. Awesome!!!

Albert Pujols hitting an outside pitch. Notice the eyes, hands, and feet. Awesome!!!

As always, feel free to comment. 
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Base Running Drill: Runner at Second Base “Decision Drill”

runner at 2nd drill

This drill was developed due to a fatal mistake that I had made.  The mistake was using the most ridiculous 6 word sentence that any coach in any sport  ever uses, which is, “THEY SHOULD KNOW THAT BY NOW!”  Never assume that your players know the right things to do, especially in situational aspects of the game.  Just because you might be a good teacher of the game doesn’t mean that any other coach that your players have had are good teachers. What I was running into was, that when runners were on second base with less than 2 outs they were getting greedy on ground balls hit to 3rd base and shortstop.  They would wait for the infielder to throw the ball and then attempt to take third base.  Or, they would increase their secondary lead so much that they were too far from 2nd base. Some of you are reading this and are thinking, that’s what  they should do.  I will admit that in little league and against some of your poorer junior high and high school competition, that getting to 3rd base in this situation is very easy, but I don’t think that is the correct way to prepare young baseball and softball players for real competitive situations.  In reality, a good team will look the runner back, fake a throw to first and pick the runner off at 2nd base, or throw over to 1st base and the 1st baseman will throw the runner out at third. I just don’t think that kids are consistently given a set of rules for how to react when they are a runner at 2nd base with less than 2 outs.

Needed for this drill:

  • 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, SS, & third baseman
  • Line of base runnersin short CF. Don’t be afraid to have 2 base runners go during each repetition. Have one runner stand deeper than the other runner. This is a good way to increase reps.
  • Coach and catch-in person at home plate

Here are the rules for the base runners that they are given before we run this drill:

  1. Ball hit in front of you (3rd base side of the runner) take two steps back towards 2nd base.  Find 2nd baseman in order make sure the throw from 3rd or SS isn’t coming to 2nd base. Basically, it a no go.
  2. Ball hit at you, break for 3rd base.
  3. Ball hit behind you (2nd base side of the runner), break for 3rd base.
  4. Make sure line drives get through. There is nothing worse than losing a runner at 2nd base on a line drive to SS, especially to end and inning. What a momentum killer!

Benefits of the drill:

  • Runners get realistic look at an awkward baseball situation
  • Emphasizes the important of being in scoring position and how not to lose it
  • Infielders get to simulate a real situation too. 3b and SS get work looking runners back. 2b gets to react back to the base. All of them get fielding practice.
  • As a coach, you can have a runner make a mistake on purpose.  This will lead into more coaching points. For example, have a runner get off to far and get in a rundown.  Rundowns can never be practiced enough.
  • Players are forced to think!!! And they are given the tools to make it easier.

If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to comment. Your thoughts are welcome!!!

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Baseball & Softball Personel Decisions: “Cut Out The Cancer”


Making cuts isn't fun, but it's necessary.

Making cuts isn't fun, but it's necessary.

 “You’re a mouse studying to be a rat.”

 Wilson Mizner


            My first 4 years of teaching were with so-called “problem kids”.  The proper title for them at the time was Behavior Disordered, or BD.  I think the term today is ED or Emotionally Disabled.  I can’t tell which label is worse.  Anyway, in order for a student to qualify for services in my classroom their handicapping behavior had to be judged on three criteria, frequency, intensity, and duration.  This was in an effort to make sure that  any student being placed in my room was not placed incorrectly.  Otherwise, any student that looked the wrong way at a teacher could be thrown in there.  So, we had to have a big meeting and discuss a troubled student’s behavior.  If any one of the three criteria were met the student qualified and was essentially “cut” from the classes he was in for placement in my class.  

            So here I am in a classroom with 8-12 absolute terrors.   It was really like walking a tightrope during each class.  Trying to keep them focused on the job at hand, for 6 hours was very difficult.  The one rule that I had to follow was, if one of these kids was acting up enough to distract the whole group, he must be removed in order for that period’s lesson to move forward.  In other words, don’t let one bad apple spoil the lot, at least temporarily.  So, I would frequently move students to time out areas or set them in the hallway to work independently.    It wasn’t perfect, but the majority of the class did get their lessons done.  If a student in my classroom had behaviors that continued to happen more frequently, become more intense, or last even longer, then he would essential be “cut” again and sent to a more restrictive school. 

            How does any of this relate to baseball and softball?  The problem student and the problem player are the same thing.  They are both distraction away from the greater goal.  The only difference is that a problem player may be able to pitch like crazy, or hit a ton.  I don’t care if he’s Mickey Mantle.  We’ve all seen what problem players can do to the mental make-up of a team.  It isn’t pretty.  Ultimately, it will cost you ballgames, and your team will carry itself in a “bush league” manner.  One jerk can spread his cancer throughout the entire dugout. Cut the cancer out before it grows. Cutting a player sucks.  And most of us have had to cut some nice kids because they just didn’t have good enough skills. In this case, I try to offer those kids a manager or statistician position. For this reason, I view being part of a team as a privilege, not a right

        What constitutes a problem player? I know what I consider to be problems, but isn’t it really up to each individual coach?  The only things I can refer you to are the three criteria that we judged problem students with: frequency, intensity, and duration.  If a given player displays behavior that goes against the guidelines that you have set for your players frequently, with great intensity, or has done so for a long time, it may be time to sever ties with this player.  No one wants it to come to that decision, but for the good of the team, it must be done.  Isn’t it better to eliminate a problem and deal with it once, rather than deal with it everyday? Don’t get me wrong, I believe in giving kids “second chances” and “the benefit of the doubt”. Those chances must be earned.

         The most valuable word of advice that I can give you in order to prepare you and your program to make cuts is to communicate.  Continually restate your expectations for players’ behavior and performance at both player and parent meetings.  In turn, during try-outs you should have set criteria in order to grade players.  This criteria can include things other than hitting, speed, and arm strength.  I recommend including items, such as, attitude, effort, and off-season participation.  Document everything in order to better communicate with parents after a cut is made. That documentation will make it apparent that your simply not, picking on a kid. 

         In the case that your school or league has a “no cut” policy, playing time is the great equalizer.  As a coach you need to determine, how playing time is earned.  Then you must stick to that policy.  Explain your expectations to both players and parents very early on in the season.  Then continually revisit those points with players throughout the season. Although, it’s not the goal, but eventually those players that are not willing to put forth the commitment, nor the effort to do what it takes to be on the field, will cut themselves.


If you agree or disagree with my opinion, please feel free to comment.  Also, please vote in the following poll.

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