Cure for the Forgettful? : Positive Discipline

This is really a fun post. I’m a stickler for team rules and discipline, but I want to give credit to a coaching friend for this one.  After a varsity baseball practice our sophomores were taking the field and the coach, Mr. Ryan Pierce, found the glove of one of my players. My first reaction was to make that player run the next day, but Coach Pierce had a better remedy. 

“I’ve got the cure for this,” he said.

I thought, ‘I’ll see what he’s got in mind.’

The next day he showed up to practice with that glove, covered in the most interesting array of pre-pubescent stickers in the history of Nickelodeon.  When that player saw his glove, he laughed. His teammates laughed. The coaches laughed.  Coach Pierce turned a negative into a positive. Needless to say, that player has not forgotten his glove to this day.

I have since adopted this policy. Below are some recent victims….. I mean players that were in need of discipline.

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It’s become a family event at my house. As you will see, my 4 year old daughter really enjoys artistic expression on varsity gloves.

I guess the point is, to be disciplined, yet find ways to have fun with it.  There are ways to make your point with out blowing your stack.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that every so often, the bear needs to growl, but if the bear growls too often, it loses meaning.

DON’T PACK UP EARLY

 “Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow, because something may occur may occur to make to make you regret your premature action.”

-Aaron Burr

This one is part respect for your opponent and part superstition.  I guess the old saying about not counting your chickens comes to mind.  With only one inning left in the game, sometimes players get the bug to start packing up the equipment bags as though they are in some sort of hurry to leave.  Maybe they’ve got a hot date or something.  This is never a good idea whether a team is either winning or losing. 

In the lead, it is extremely disrespectful to your opponent to start packing up in anticipation of a victory.  And who wants to give the other team added motivation to come back and beat you? Not me.  When behind, a player that packs up gear is showing disrespect to his own team.  This type of player sends a “we suck, we can’t come back” message  to his teammates.  This should never be tolerated.  Hopefully, another player will see this poor display in action and convey the proper message to the not-so-sharp player.  Otherwise, it will be up to the coach to explain the situation.  I have found that a little extra cardiovascular activity will typically remedy this type of behavior.

Some people are more superstitious about baseball than others.  “Early gear packing” seems to be a big one.  I can remember coaches and players saying that this habit was taboo for years.  I suppose the fear is that some innocent bench player that is just trying to be tidy will upset the baseball gods.  In turn, the gods will strike that team down with horrible luck.  Though, we all know teams make their own luck.  Besides, there are no baseball gods.  Right?

DRESS FOR SUCCESS: How Baseball Players & Coaches Need to Dress

“Clothes make a statement. Costumes tell a story.”

Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms

 

Like it or not, we live in a very appearance oriented society.  We are always being judged on our appearance. The world of sports is no different.  Therefore, it is extremely important for players and coaches to present themselves appropriately at all times.  Expectations for game and practice attire should be established and maintained throughout the season.  Now I’m not exactly a fashion plate, just ask my wife, but I do think that appropriate dress around the diamond does send a business-like atmosphere to the ball field.

 I’m a very big advocate of uniformity of uniforms.  As redundant as that may sound, if you pay attention to some teams, they may have the same jerseys and pants on, but they are dressed as differently as they could possibly be.  They may have 6 different colors of undershirts and 3 different colors of cleats.  That is so bush, I can’t stand it.   When I took over at my school, the first thing I attacked was the shoe color.  Timing was everything.  I did not feel comfortable with telling the team about this on the first day of practice, because many of them would’ve already paid a good chunk of change for shoes at that point.  I wanted to give every prospective player and their parents plenty of warning about this situation.  The perfect time to announce this change was during our fall off-season meeting.  Now each player had almost 5 months warning.  As well, about 6 weeks prior to our first game, I invited a representative from an area sporting goods store to come to our school and sell the shoes to our players.  This concept worked out very well, because typically the store will give schools a discount if they know they will sell a good amount of shoes. To make sure it was going to be a good-sized order, I invited our girls’ softball team in on the sale. As well, I could tell the store to only sell red shoes (our school color).  This created an absolute, win-win-win situation.  I’m happy with the color, the players are happy with the fancy styles, and the store is happy with a big sale. 

The next order of business was the undershirts.  I understand that only a small portion of the shirt shows outside of the jersey.  And very often they are unnoticeable.  I notice, so I know other coaches notice.  That bothers me.  Unfortunately, with my miniscule budget, I could not afford to purchase the undershirts for our players.  So, I was forced to find a way for the players to cooperate.  The first thing I did was to tell them that they will not be on our field or even get on the bus without a red undershirt.  That went along way, as you could imagine. Although, I wanted our players to be able to get an affordable undershirt since it would have to come from their pocket.  So we started ordering, “spirit packs”.  A spirit pack is something that many teams do for their players.  It is simply and order form for school logo apparel like sweatshirts, t-shirts, stocking caps, and etc. Many schools use these as fundraisers.  I used ours for functional clothing items. So, I sold the items to our players at cost.  Our players could get a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and sweatpants for under $50.  They were not required to buy any of it. But it gave them easy, affordable access to proper game underclothes and functional practice gear.  The really cool thing was the feeling that I’d get when I’d see a player walking down the street wearing a piece of this clothing that had our program’s name on it.  Even better than that is seeing the players’ little 9 and 10 year old brothers wearing these items.  You know that they can’t wait to be part of the program.

The last piece of bush I need to trim from the players’ apparel was our caps.  Yes, we all had identical caps, at the beginning of the season.  The end of the season was a different story.  I guess it was cool to write on them and fray the edges of the caps.  It may have been cool to them, but I couldn’t stand it.  Again, I was in a financial pickle. Our players had to purchase their own caps.  They shelled out the money for the caps, and I couldn’t afford to purchase too many extra caps.  I despise my weak budget with a passion.  During some off-season contemplation on this dilemma, I thought of a compromise.  While cutting the grass in my yard, I took of my cap.  I looked at the area under my bill where every season I wrote my jersey number with permanent marker.  Of course, the reason for doing that is so I didn’t lose my hat.  I decided to allow my players to write what ever they wanted on their hat, as long as it was under the bill.  This idea is similar to how some restaurants and bars have graffiti boards in their restrooms, thus discouraging someone from defacing the entire area.  This was perfect for our team.  They could write their girlfriends’ names or their favorite band logo on this portion of their hat and it didn’t really show.  Some of them actually wrote their number there too.

Practice apparel just as important as game apparel.  In the ideal situation, each player would be issued a practice jersey and pants.  I know of one school in our conference that does that, and it is so non-bush.  Budgets ultimately prevail though.  There are the 3 requirements for our players’ practice clothes:

1)   Long, athletic pants.  The old saying, “Practice how you play,” comes to mind. This means no shorts.  Occasionally, as a reward, I will allow shorts during a hot portion of the season. Sweatpants, jogging pants, or a spare pair of baseball pants are all acceptable.  Although, this is the only way to really get in a quality base running practice.  Players simply will not slide in shorts and if they do they will do so half-heartedly.  Players usually get hurt when they don’t go full speed.

2)   No music oriented or inappropriate t-shirts.  By inappropriate, I mean foul language or alcohol related.  That is very easy to enforce, because it is usually against most school dress codes anyway. If it is against school rules, it has to be against team rules.  The shirts that they wear to practice must be athletic in nature.  It may have their favorite football or basketball team on it. A plain white t-shirt from K-mart would be great.  As far as the music shirts go, they can where those at a party on Saturday night. When they’re at my practice, they need to look like athletes.  By the way, I am huge music nut.  I’ve seen Metallica 9 times, Van Halen three times, and even Willie Nelson at the Illinois State Fair when I was 5 years old, but I don’t wear their t-shirts to practice.

3)   Caps. I don’t care if we are inside during rain or cold weather, or if it’s 90 degrees in the shade.  BASEBALL PLAYERS WEAR CAPS!!!  In fact, I keep one or two extremely ugly caps in our equipment shed in case someone forgot their own cap.  They rarely forget after noticing my choice of extra caps.  I especially like the pink furry one.  Seriously though, I do allow the players to wear stocking caps over the top of their ball caps on particularly cold, early spring practices. 

 As a coach, I feel responsible for setting an appropriate example during games and at practices.  The clothes that coaches wear should be athletic and baseball specific.  High school and junior high age players need to be shown how to dress for practice.  At practice, I try to dress the way that I expect the players to, following the same rules listed above.  If a coach dresses inappropriately, he shouldn’t expect much more from his players.  I also realize that many coaches come straight from a blue-collar job site in order to coach.  To the greatest extent possible, they should try to change clothes.  Wearing blue jeans to a practice, or even worse, a game, is bush league squared.   At games, a coach should wear the team uniform.  There are some instances, like summer league games, where it is totally acceptable for the coach to wear shorts.  It is fine if they are presentable, like nice khakis.  Basketball shorts or cutoffs would definitely fall into the realm of bush.  Finally, being overweight is not an excuse to not wear the uniform. If Tommy Lasorda could do it, so can you.

One last pet peeve of mine is coaches that wear a wristwatch during games.  A coach that is constantly looking at his watch during a game sends a poor body language message to everyone around him.  It is as though he has something better to do.  I take my watch off before the first pitch of every game.  During pre-game the watch is useful.  Most of the time teams receive a time limit on their pre-game routine.  You want to stay on time, because umpires despise coaches that don’t allow the game to get started on time.  But once the game is on the watch is unnecessary. At practices though, a watch is an absolute necessity.  Good coaches follow a practice plan that is time oriented and get their players out at a respectable time.

Mountains: Setting Player Expectations

Below is a handout that I gave to prospective players during an off-season meeting. I drew it up about 6 years ago. Simply, it describes the types of players needed to have a successful program.  I also like to share this at the pre-season parent meeting. I guess it would be similar to the classic, John Wooden “Pyramid of Success”.  The link below has a great printable version of Wooden’s “Pyramid”.

http://www.coachwooden.com/

 

Bulldog Baseball Player Types

Mountain- a champion, dedicated student, serious about weights, encourages others, involved in other sports, + leader, goes to camps, always relaxed & focused, wants to do extra, bottom line is “will help the team”

Rock- good student, does lift weights, occasional detention for tardy, sometimes satisfied with performance, plays summer ball, could be a leader but sometimes chooses not to be, bottom line is “won’t hurt the team”

Gravel- up & down student, very seldom in the weightroom, In School Suspension, frequent detentions for preventable reasons, leadership is limited to weekend party locations, plays summer ball, bottom line is “if things are going well he’s fine; if things get rough he may jump ship and point fingers”

Dust- MUST BE ELIMINATED, poor student, no weights,  In School Suspension, Out of School Suspension, constant detentions, KO of classes, talks a good game, may be very athletically gifted (not willing to be coached), party scene is central focus, nothing extra beyond the season, bottom line is “he will destroy team concept”

 Where do you fit?

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.

PUT YOUR PRACTICE PURPOSE IN PRINT: The Importance of a Practice Plan

By creating a practice plan you give your practice a framework. Putting it on paper gives a coach a few advantages over other coaches that just “keep it upstairs”. Ultimately, the guys that go off the top of their head might as well be dumped on their head because one look at their unorganized practice would make even a bush league team cringe. Some may say, “Big deal, you’re making a list.” Yes, but the list is as detailed as you want it to be. A good practice plan allows a coach to group his players more effectively, manage practice time better, and motivate his/her players more easily.

Baseball and softball are very skill specific sports. Breaking your team up into small groups based on position is essential. For example, if a coach really wants to work on double play pivots with his middle infielders, does the whole team have to be working on this skill? No! The outfielders could be working on their footwork. The catchers, pitchers, and corner infielders could be working on bunt coverage. By separating into groups an hour worth of drill time could be condensed into 20 minutes, thus, leaving more time for other coaching points. The coach without this sort of plan on paper might have the whole team working on pivots. What a waste for the 10 players that may never play 2nd base or shortstop. Even worse, this same coach may have those 10 non-middle infielders just watching.

I am also a big advocate of social grouping at practice. For instance, we break up into 3 to 4 small groups for batting practice. I am the one that determines what players are in which groups. If allow the players to group themselves, they would always end up with the same players based on the buddy system. Thus, they are never building bonds with their other teammates. As well, buddies are more likely to mess around when no one is looking. Of course, my players would never do that. Yeah, right. They sometimes don’t like the fact that I pick the groups, but this is not a democratic process.

Efficiency of time is of the utmost importance with the teenage mind. A practice plan gives your practice a steady flow and quick-moving feel. By placing a time limit on a portion of your practice, a coach can be sure not have that session run too long. It is imperative that the video game, ESPN highlight, music video trained minds in which we are dealing not be under-stimulated. When a session drags on it becomes uninteresting and ultimately counterproductive. The time limit will prevent that from happening. It’s OK to go a little over the set time limit, but most of the time you’re better off to move on to the next portion of practice and return to the dragging session another day. Next, it stops your practices from turning into 3-hour marathons. I feel that a complete practice with 12-18 year olds should rarely last longer than 1 hr. and  45 min. Anything longer than that becomes drudgery for players and coaches. Lastly, by saving the practice plan, a coach can make notes on it for use in developing the next day’s plan or for future seasons’ plans. I know a football coach that has 30 years of practice plans filed away. This may sound crazy, but it’s really not. He explained it to me like this, “Some years are better than others, I want to be able to go back and review what was working in practice during good seasons.”

A curriculum and instruction professor in college discussed “advanced organizers” with our class one day. He started the class by acknowledging the word “TEST” written on the chalkboard. Nothing more, nothing less was written on the board. Being 40 paranoid college students in the room, we were relieved when he did say something about it. Our anticipation of an upcoming exam or possibly a pop quiz had all of us on the edge of our seats. There was no test scheduled for a month. He went on to explain that our focus on him and class was at its height due to an advanced organizer. The word “TEST” was the advanced organizer. It gave a group advance notice of an upcoming event. This tool can be as specific or as vague as you want. In this case it was vague. If your practice plan is posted for your players to see, it can have the same effect. For example, many drills are used daily. If the specific drills are written on the plan, the players will know when to expect a drill change. The transition to the next session will go much smoother. Alternatively, a vague note will spark players’ interest about a portion of practice. For example, I like to include an occasional skill oriented game in my practice plan. Just by putting the word “game” as one session of your practice, your players will anticipate that session eagerly. They will also work harder in preceding sessions, not wanting to lose the opportunity to play the game.  

 Here’s an example practice plan:

practplan

No matter what age of players that you may be coaching, a written practice plan is essential. Another good friend of mine says it like this, “KTSB”. That means “Keep Them Suckers Busy”. The plan eliminates idle time. Idle time leads to unnecessary distractions. Plan everything even down to the water breaks and the length of that break. If you plan for a three-minute water break, it will last three minutes or less. We’ve all seen practices and that the short water break turns into a 10 or 12 minute bull session. Well, if may not seem like a big deal, but in reality that could turn out be 10 to 12% of your practice time. What a waste! By planning for the rest periods at practice, announcing the length of the rest periods when they come, and sticking to that time, you’ll be much happier when the team transitions back to work mode. You’ll find that your team leaders, knowing that the break lasts only lasts a predetermined amount of time, will be back on the field ready to go before they actually need to be.

Nothing is cooler than having a player tell you that they really enjoy your practices, because the time goes so fast. Pace is everything. The trick is to mix pace with purpose. Chocking a practice plan full of activities for the sake of filling time is not the point. As a coach, you are a teacher. Each practice (or class) has a goal. Is it introduction of a new skill? Review? Quiz?

Lastly, I love hearing horror stories about the bad behavior of players. “Wait ‘til you get this kid. She/he is a real handful.” Or “That kid never practices hard.” As coaches we need to thrive on that challenge. Providing a quickly paced, skill filled, purposeful practice on a daily basis will typically meet that challenge head on. If you decide to wing it, without writing out a plan, you asked for it. The problem kid will eat you up, just like all of the other chumps that tried to work with that kid and couldn’t get it done.

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.