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