The Bob Knight school of coaching
The other day on the radio I heard a heated discussion about former Indiana University and Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby/Bob Knight. Much of it surrounded the validity of his coaching methods.
On the plus side, he produced three national champions and went to the NCAA tournament often. On the downside, not much of that happened in his last few years.
While it’s debatable whether that “break them down and get them to comply” approach was ever really a good one, it became pretty obvious that it was not working anymore. Today’s athlete is smarter and more independent, and is thus not as willing to take the grief in order to play on the team. They’d rather go somewhere else, or do something else if they can’t move, than sit there and be belittled all the time because a coach feels he/she needs to show who’s boss.
This is probably even more true in softball, where an even keel is far more important than getting “up” for a game. An excess of adreneline tends to degrade performance, not enhance it. The sports psychologists and their studies have shown that a calm approach is required for optimum play in a precision sport such as softball. The same can be said for golf and tennis, two other sports that require on timing and hand/eye coordination far more than brute force.
Softball coaches who stand in the third base coach’s box and scream at hitters, or stand behind players at practice and berate them to the point of tears for not fielding ground balls up to their standards are only hurting themselves. Well, that’s not true. They’re also hurting the players and the team.
This is not to say poor play should be tolerated or coddled. But there’s a difference between a lack of effort, a lack of ability, and a lack of execution. The first is more of a reason to yell. The other two are opportunities to teach, either physical (in the case of lack of ability) or mental (in the case of lack of execution) skills.
Setting up a positive atmosphere where players feel comfortable pushing their current limits helps build strong teams. Setting up a negative atmosphere where players feel they have to constantly look over their shoulders for fear of being belittled in front of their teammates creates a climate for failure.
And speaking of doing things in front of teammates, I once learned the hard way about singling out a player, especially a girl, in front of the team — even if she deserves it. I had a player (who was a team leader) lose her temper, throw her helmet, mouth off to an umpire, and generally conduct herself in a way that was unacceptable. After we lost the game, I sat the team down and tore into her for her behavior. It didn’t really help at all. If anything it made things worse, both with the rest of the team and that player. I eventually worked it out with her — I apologized not for what I said but where and how I said it — and she apologized for the behavior, which she came to realize was inappropriate. Since that time, if I’ve had anything like that to say again I’ve done it in private. It’s made a huge difference for me and my teams. That girl continued to play for me, and would run through a wall if I asked her to because we got past the problem and gave each other mutual respect.
That’s the point. Berating players in any sense may make a temporary adjustment, but it degrades trust. If you want more long-term success, take the time to build a relationship and a positive atmosphere and you’ll create a legacy that lasts long after the last pitch is thrown.