Daily Archives: February 10, 2008

Confidence game

Coaching 101 dictates that a coach’s job is to help his/her players build their confidence. This is true in any sport, but it’s especially true in softball. The game is built on failure — as the saying goes, a hitter who fails 7 out of 10 times is an all-star — which means there is already a huge potential for negative feelings to brew. Coaches are supposed to build their players’ confidence to help them get through the tough times, and perhaps even avoid some of them. As they say, whether you think you can or your think you can’t, you are correct.

Not every coach seems to get that, however. Some seem not to know better, some have their own personal agenda, and some, well, I have no idea why they do what they do, but they seem to go out of their way to undermine their players’ confidence.

Bobby Knight is a good example of a coach who didn’t seem to know any better. From the outside it seemed like he thought that by constantly railing on his players he could drive better performance out of them. It worked to some extent, no doubt. But you have to wonder if maybe some of those players would’ve been even better if they had been built up instead of torn down. Even the Navy SEALs have abandoned the “tear them down and build them up” training for one that is based on confidence.

Then there are those with their own personal agenda. They will put down players not with a goal of trying to get more out of them or because they think it will be good for the team long-term, but because of some personal need or grudge they hold.

A good example is something that happened to one of my pitching students with her travel team last summer. This is a girl who is both very talented and very dedicated, by the way. She had joined the previous Fall, with promises of the opportunities this “higher level” team would provide. She did the training and conditioning with them, traveling roughly two hours each way a couple of nights a week plus weekends. She also came for lessons one a week and made great improvements there too. It looked like she was all set for a great summer. Then came the other shoe.

Turns out the team’s “pitching coach” was also the father of another pitcher. The other kid didn’t throw quite as hard as my student, nor was she able to throw anything other than a fastball as I understand it. So the “pitching coach” started setting up a situation where his daughter could succeed and my student would fail.

He made hitting spots with the fastball the main criteria for success. Not whether the pitcher could strike people out, get people out, keep them off the bases, or win ballgames. It was about hitting the exact location he called.

Now, hitting your spots is important to be sure. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of pitching. Just as their are no style points for hitting, throwing to a specific location in and of itself doesn’t guarantee success. Speed, movement, and cleverness all play into it too.

In any case, my student would have what most would consider a successful outing — 1 to 2 strikeouts per inning, few runs allowed. But instead of being congratulated for doing well she was being put down for not hitting the locations the pitching coach had called. (The fact that she was successful without hitting the locations probably indicates the pitch calls weren’t necessarily great ones, but that’s a story for another day.)

After a while, the pitcher lost confidence. She became very discouraged and by the end of May was ready to quit. The end of May, not even the summer! Her dad told her to hang in there, and did his best to bolster her confidence. He’d bring her to me for an occasional lesson too, not so much for the physical side but so I could help her rebuild her confidence too. The upshot is, when they got to Nationals, the team found that the pitchers they’d been using no longer could get the job done, they called upon my student, and she wound up doing very well. If she was good enough to win at Nationals, why not the rest of the season?

Today she is playing for a different team where they know how to handle players. By the way, she was 13 at the time all the negative stuff was going on. Hope that “pitching coach” felt like a big man, lording it over a 13 year old. 
 
It is difficult to fathom why some coaches feel the need to destroy confidence but they do. Maybe they weren’t hugged enough as children. Maybe they’re unhappy and feel the need to let that unhappiness trickle down. Maybe putting others down builds their own egos. Who knows?

Whatever it is, it’s detrimental to their teams, and against the basic mission of being a coach — especially a coach of teens and younger players. A smart coach will do all he/she can to build player confidence and help them become the best they can be. He/she will look for the good in each player and build on it, rather than always looking for what’s wrong and putting them down. That’s the way you win games. And championships.

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