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.

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”.


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?

TIMELY TRAVEL: Getting to Away Games on Time

 “Better never than late.”

-George Bernard Shaw

 school_busNo one likes to start a game late.  When a team arrives late, it’s has a tremendous ripple effect.  Players, coaches, umpires, parents, field maintenance personnel, and athletic directors, and local media are all affected.  Remember your game is an event. People make arrangements far in advance to be there. For example, let’s say a game is to start at 4:30 PM.  What is the proper time to arrive?  For my team, I would like to arrive at 3:30 and at the latest 3:45.   If you show up any later than that, everyone is making accommodations for your team and its lateness, which is resented by entire list of people previously mentioned.  Your team may be as polished as World Series champions, but if you show up late, the first impression your team will give is of Bush League champions.

Our conference may be the most spread out in the state of Illinois. Our shortest drive is 20 minutes.  On the flip-side, many of our opponents are 1 hour or better. Still 3 of those are very close to 2 hours.  Keep in mind that these trips are usually taken on “big yellows,” which is what we affectionately call our busses.  The drivers of these busses are instructed to drive at the exact speed limit, as they should. You can see how planning of road trips can be a nightmare.  To give our entire conference credit, the schools are all very good about handling the great distances.  On a given day that we have one of our longer trips scheduled, with the cooperation of our principal, we are able to get our players dismissed at 1:30.  The bus will leave at 1:45, and barring any extenuating circumstances we will arrive at the field at about 3:35 or 3:40.  If we make good time, and show up earlier, GREAT! 

Another way to be on top of this situation is to have some back up. The directions that bus companies give their drivers are usually good.  Although, on occasion they can be incorrect or out-dated.  With websites like it is easy for you as the coach to have some back up directions, just in case.  In turn, it’s always a good idea for the opposing coach to have your cell phone number and vice-versa.  This can come in handy for any one of a million variables that may come into play during the time in which your team leaves town and when it arrives to the destination.

Some coaches may be reading this and thinking, “Why do you need to be an hour early?”  Well, my answer is if you want to prepare your team to play that day, it takes time to do so.  Players will need to change shoes, stretch, run, throw, and perform their pre-game routine. Oh, I almost forgot, after 2 hours on a school bus, typically the closest restroom is in order. Nothing should be changed from what you do at home.  Good coaches allow time for good pre-game preparation.  If the coach is hurried, the players are hurried.  When people feel hurried, they get confused.  Isn’t it also possible that this confusion could carry over into the game?

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.

POLISH PRE-GAME: Ideas on How to Design a Great Pre-game Routine

No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes a whole orchestra to play it. 

~H.E. Luccock

Your pre-game infield/outfield routine is extremely important. First impressions are important, aren’t they? Well here’s your chance. A fungo routine should be organized, positive, and keep everyone involved. If it is well structured your team can gain an edge in the “intimidation” factor.

For the routine to be effective, it has to be organized and practiced. That’s right, you need to practice your pre-game practice. You should run your pre-game routine around 30 times prior to the first game. If you have a youngner group of players, often times the amount of practices that you are allowed is less.  My advice its to practice it as much as you can, but maybe add levels of difficulty to it as the season progresses.

You and your players should shift from drill to drill in unison, quickly and efficiently. This tells your opponent that your team means business that day. If I have to tell my players where to go and what drill to start during pre-game, that says that my team is undisciplined and not well-practiced. I love showing up and seeing opposing players stumble around their supposed routine. As well, I doubly enjoy seeing their coach getting frustrated when it is going smoothly. My players and I can smell the blood in the water.

Keep in mind that being organized doesn’t mean flawless. Keep in mind that it is a pre-game practice. If a player makes a physical mistake, that’s a great time to make one. Better then than after the first pitch. The only time a reprimand should occur is when a player or players show a lack of hustle, not a lack of physical skill. Do not verbally reprimand your players for physical errors during this time. If a ball is misplayed come right back to that player and allow him to shore up his technique and boost his confidence. A positive vibe during this time is essential. Praise players all during this session. Also encourage the other players to encourage each other verbally. “Chatter” during this time keeps your guys loose and focused on the task at hand at the same time. To encourage positive talk during our pre-game infield sessions we’ve incorporated a specific point at which the chatter is to begin. We perform a “silent round” of fungoed ground balls. During this section the players simply focus on proper fielding and throwing technique for ground balls. When the round is done I say, “Hey Dogs! Ready to go?” I then announced the name of the next round, “5-4-3” which is a double play round. As well, the announcement of “5-4-3” serves as our players cue to begin chatter. The atmospheric contrast between the silent round and the chatter is a great attention grabber. The focus of our players is increased, and the other team knows who’s in town. I like to finish our full pre-game session with a loud team led “break”. For example, we use “1, 2, 3, TEAM!!!”

If you’d like to see a diagram of our routine click the link below:

Organization is key. For the “teacher slash coaches” reading this, it’s all classroom management. Keep them moving with a purpose. A great way to do this is to have 2 or even 3 fungoes going simultaneously. We use 2. Standing between 2nd base and the mound, I start working cuts to the outfielders. Meanwhile, an assistant coach works ground balls and bunt fielding technique to the idle infielders. Later we add a second 1st baseman, or “short 1st” and work double plays and single put outs. I stand in foul territory on the 1st base side or home plate and my assistant stands opposite to me on the 3rd base side. Later still, we work our catchers’ throws to bases and pitchers covering first base during the same session. We try to get as a many important skills covered during a short period of time (usually 12-15 min.) as we can. In the same vein we try to get each individual player as many “touches” or times active with the baseball as we can. It really is a thing of beauty when the routine becomes etched in players’ minds. They move form session to session like clockwork and much more gets done. It will take time and practice though. Lastly, remember 2 or more fungoes going at once is a great idea, but this also means that 2 or more baseballs are flying around too. Baseballs will get loose. Keep this in mind when designing yours. Finally, when designing something for junior high players, modify for ability level. Arms are simply not as strong at that age. Modify, but don’t dumb it down.

Here are some cool Youtube clips that I found.  They are good examples of a teams maximizing their time and touching upon many skills during pre-game. The first two clips are baseball and the third is a softball example.  Fastpitch softball teams, often times, have very quick and efficient pre-game routines. There are a ton of things to be learned by watching  good softball teams do their pre-game routines. Although, these are not the only examples. My advice is to watch what other teams do and ultimately create something that is yours. 

Please feel free to comment. Especially, if you have any ideas to share 🙂


“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

-Thomas Jefferson

    bud-light-can_01          The ultimate judge of a “bush league” program is you.  This is the most important way to trim the bushes around your program, yet it is the least outwardly visible.  This is about not compromising what you know is right for selfish reasons.  This is about raising your players as though they were your own sons.  This is about sleeping at night knowing that you didn’t cut a corner in order to get results now. It’s about doing the right thing, thus making the future brighter for the whole program.

            During my third season of coaching, our team won the regional championship.  We weren’t the most talented group, but we had grit.  Just like many teams in this situation our depth was not fantastic.  If one key player were to go down, we were sunk.  The next day after winning the regional we had our first practice in preparation for the sectional.  We were very excited.  We were going to be playing at Northern Illinois University’s field.  We were set to play a very good Galesburg team.  After that practice, my shortstop pulled me aside and admitted to getting picked up for drinking the night before.  What a shot in the gut!  I was very impressed in this player for his honesty, but I wanted to wring his neck, as any coach would.  The truth of the matter is that no one felt worse than this player.  I loved this kid, he practiced hard, he was mentally tough, and had a fantastic sense of humor.  He was the last player that should get himself caught up in something like this, but he did.  At this point, my honesty would now be in check.  I was faced with 2 choices.  I could go tell our athletic director and have this player suspended immediately, meaning he would miss the biggest baseball game played by our high school in 14 years.  Due to our thinness at shortstop, this would be extremely detrimental to our chances.  On the other hand, I could sweep it under the rug and tell the player to keep it quiet.  Surely he would play in the sectional game and increase our chances of winning.  If news of his arrest spread to the ears of the athletic director, it would probably happen after our game had taken place anyway.  The player would then be suspended for a portion of his senior football season in the fall. 

            I chose the high road.  We went straight up to the school.  The athletic director administered the suspension, and our team moved forward without its starting shortstop.  I hated the fact that we would be so shorthanded after fighting so hard through a tough season. Albeit, later that evening, a certain peace came over me. I knew that the right thing was done.  Of course, a thousand strategies on how to deal with this dilemma ran through my head, but after those all cleared I thought about the future of the program.  There would be a very positive message sent to the rest of the players in our program.  This type of behavior would have consequences, and it could cost your team dearly.  Maybe there would be a ripple effect that would make these teenagers think twice before drinking alcohol and jeopardizing so many things.

           We lost the game to Galesburg 10-4.  They beat us handily.  Our shifting of positions in order to compensate for our missing shortstop did come into play, but it was not the overall difference in the game. They were a better team and probably would’ve beaten us at full strength.

           Let’s say I had not chosen the high road.  Let’s say I’d have kept it quiet so he could’ve played in the game.  Word about the arrest would’ve eventually gotten out.  The player would have then missed 2 football games in the fall.  The fact that the arrest happened prior to our big game would’ve tarnished our program’s image and great season.  Most importantly, is the way I would’ve felt about myself.  I would then have to live knowing that I cut a corner.  How would I talk to my players the following season about team rules? How much sleep would I lose knowing how I treated that situation? 

          Unfortunately, there are many coaches that in the same situation or similar ones choose the low road.  That is as “bush league” as it gets. I don’t care how many games a coach wins.  If you cut corners, it is not worth it.  The reality is that most of the time the only person who really knows how “bush league” you are is the one in the mirror.

          A myriad of different scenarios will come up during a coaching career.  Players’ grades, discipline at school, drinking, smoking, etc. are just a few of the possibilities for problems.  Consistency and caring are the keys to successful treatment of these issues. Here are some guidelines for staying true to yourself:

1)   A rule is a rule. Each team has should have its own set of rules.  If a player does not follow them, the violations must be addressed or your rules are as worthless as the paper they are written on.  For example, if coach has a rule about facial hair on his players, he must be willing to police that rule.  I guarantee if one player starts growing a goatee and nothing is said, pretty soon a whole herd of goatees will appear.  If you’re not motivated to police the rule, then don’t make the stupid rule.  As well, if a player or parent doesn’t like how the rules of the team apply to him, advise them to start their own baseball team. Remember, your team is not a democracy, but rather a “very friendly” dictatorship.

2)   The rules apply to everybody. The last player on the bench must be treated like your starting center-fielder when the rules of the team are concerned.  I’ve seen plenty of coaches place their team on an uneven field.  When the rules are administered with bias, more turmoil within the framework of the team will arise.  I had a starting catcher that threw a bat into a fence after striking out.  He ran numerous foul poles after that game. As well, he was suspended for 1 game. The next game was against our conference rival.  A bush league coach would’ve skipped the suspension or moved it to game of lesser importance.  I will agree that by suspending that player for such a big game it cost us on that day.  But it was amazing how gentle our boys became with the equipment.

3)   Don’t bring others down with you. If you have a player that is in violation of the rules and you try to persuade others into letting that player slide, you’re a bush league coach.  Don’t pressure others into helping you cut corners.  For example, if a player is in violation of academic eligibility rules at your school.  When you talk to their teachers about it, don’t pressure them into giving the kid a break or changing the grade. School comes first!!! No questions.  Playing any sport for a school is a privilege, not a right.  The non-bush league coach asks the teachers of the ineligible player for a list of missing assignments that he needs to get caught up on, in order to eventually get himself eligible.

DUTY BY DESIGN: A Duty Roster for the Gear

 “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

       A term that coaches throw around loosely is “practice maximization”.  Ask any coach about his practices, and you’ll probably hear him describe his own strategies for running an “efficient practice”.  Then he will proceed to tell you about drills.  That’s great, but I feel that a truly maximized practice starts before actual “practice time”.

            Due to the climate in Illinois high school seasons typically start with about two-three weeks of indoor practices.  I really get a feel for my players’ attitudes and work ethic before we actually get outside.  Therefore, when I create my practice “duty roster” I know who to team up on certain jobs. For example, I will try to pair up a very responsible player with one or two who might still be a little rough around the edges.  As well, I may have a player that feels he stands alone.   We all know this guy.  He can do no wrong in his own mind.  He will usually draw a grittier type of job, like sweeping out dugouts and emptying garbage cans.  I think the politically correct term would be “Player in charge broom activities and sanitation supervision.”   Seriously, practice needs to actually start on time, not 5 or 10 minutes later than planned for because everyone is waiting for equipment. 

       During practice we shift gears frequently. We need to have quick access to necessary training tools and safety items.  By creating a duty roster and assigning roles, these things are always at your fingertips. No one wants to stop the flow of a good practice to wait for a screen to be assembled or a bag to be unpacked.  Next, the roster also is great on game days.  We have a 3-4 station batting practice before a game. The roster makes this go much more smoothly and timely.  Finally, at the end of practice, the duty roster kicks in again.  Those players responsible for a certain job at the beginning of practice are then responsible at the end. This is in addition to completely raking and leveling our infield.   If something gets left undone, all I need to do is reference the duty roster and take care of that accordingly (usually a dozen foul poles or 10- 60 yd sprints).  Here’s a copy of an old duty roster.  You can see how simple it is.


DUTY                                                         NAME                                                

FUNGOES SCREENS                                O’KRASKI, LIEBHART


OUTFIELD MACHINE                             BARICHELLO


BASES                                                           KUNTZ, BROWN

ALL CATCHER’S GEAR                           WASHKO

PITCHER’S SCREEN                                  DEVERA, LEPPER

RUBBER MAT                                             DEVERA

BATS & SCULLIES HUNG                        WARGO

SWEEPER                                                     SCUDDER



       The players need to take ownership in the program. This goes right down to the dirtiest; most beat up, smelliest ball in the bottom of the bucket.  If they can see the need for the gear to be out and ready before practice and tidy and put away after practice.  They will take more pride in their effort at practice that day and ultimately in each and every game.  In turn, the duty roster makes them accountable not only to the coach, but also to each other.  For example if one player notices that second base is not out. He will probably say something to the player that is responsible for that base.  The players know that the coach will not be pleased if practice has begun and the necessary equipment is not in place.   

            If you need motivation to do this, think of this. Pretend a major league scout is coming to see one of your players.  How do you want your program perceived?  I know I said the scout is coming to look at one of your players, but don’t you think he will make a judgment about the type of program your player comes from?  I don’t want someone to think that my boys are sloppy and “bush”.

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