Sometimes ignorance is just…ignorance

Saw this one at a high school game today. It makes me wonder sometimes how people get hired to coach kids.

These two teams — call them team A and team B — had played on Tuesday. Team A had the better record but wound up losing to team B. From what I heard they had a tough practice on Wednesday that consisted primarily of running every time they made a mistake. Keep in mind that they had lost primarily because they didn’t hit very well and team B did.

Tonight team A lost again. They made a couple of fielding errors, but the primary reason was again a lack of offense. So what does the coach do? She decides to have them run a bunch of foul poles. I’m not sure how many since I didn’t bother to count but it was probably close to a dozen.

I have to ask: how does this make sense? I highly doubt that any of those kids went to the plate thinking “What I’d really like to do is ground out weakly to the second baseman” or “Boy, a pop-up would sure feel good right now.” I watched them. They were energetic, kept their spirits up and battled to the end. But they came up short. So the coach, apparently in a fit of pique, decided to punish them for something, I don’t know, I guess for not being good enough.

Personally I think all she accomplished was getting them to hate playing for her. Kids aren’t stupid. They recognize bad coaching when they see it. Now, if she would’ve told them tomorrow cancel your plans, we’re going to hit until your hands bleed it would’ve made sense. She would’ve been addresing the problem. Instead she makes them run. Not for conditioning. Not to improve their technique. Apparently just because she was mad at them — or didn’t know what else to do.

Running shouldn’t be a punishment. It shouldn’t be used to embarrass your players (this little display was done at team B’s field while team B was working the field after the game). It should have a purpose. If your team doesn’t field, hit, get the bunt down or run the bases well enough, have them practice fielding, hitting, bunting or running the bases. As far as I’m considered the person this coach embarrassed the most was herself.

In a little postscript, one of the players who was made to run had an asthma attack in the middle of it. Out of fear of the coach she kept going until she got to the point where she couldn’t breathe at all. It took her at least four hits on her puffer to stop wheezing so loudly that it could be heard across the field. I was getting ready to call 9-1-1 it sounded so bad. She got to stop, but the rest of the girls were made to keep running.

I ask again how does this make sense? Who is it good for?

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on May 9, 2008, in Coaching, General Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. As a rule, no coach should ever get mad at their players. It is, afterall, a game. Situations can be upsetting, bad calls too. Lack of effort would be a coach’s failure; get mad at yourself. It is important to remember that these are athletes who, as a coach, it is your job to get them playing at the top of their ability.

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  2. Greg, that’s a great point. A lack of effort is a coaching problem to be sure. Now, it could mean you’ve selected the wrong players. But it could also mean you’re not sending them the right messages, or they don’t trust your leadership, or any of a hundred other things. As coaches we’re there to serve our players, not be served by them. There’s a rule I picked up from a couple of college coaches at a coaching clinic that I really try to follow: Don’t analyze a loss or say anything about it to your team right after game. More often than not you wind up saying things you wish you hadn’t. I know I used to do that. I now limit post-loss comments to thanks for the effort, here’s what’s happening with our next game, and other non-related topics. It’s hard, because you really want to vent sometimes, but it works. I think the same would apply to the sorts of activities mentioned in the original post. Ultimately, the captain is responsible for everything that happens on the ship. If it runs aground while he’s in his cabin asleep, he’s still responsible for putting the wrong crew in place, and it’s him that has to answer for it. The same goes for coaches. It’s good to remember that when you point your finger, three fingers point back at you.

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  3. Ouch, that hurts. So if I have a girl or two on my team who doesn’t give me their all, it is my (the coach’s) fault? Please tell me the secret to getting them to give me their all. In my limited years of coaching I have come across one or two who just refused to work hard. I challenged them, I took them to the side and encouraged them, told them they could get better, I’ve pushed them and still nothing. I’ve done everything except call them out publicly and telling the parents. I’ve thought about the latter but never pulled the trigger. I figure telling the parents will only make it worse because if they aren’t working hard, they probably don’t want to be there to begin with. Maybe it is because I don’t want it to be my fault, but I don’t want to agree that it is the coach’s fault.One thing about running – I do use it as a punishment during a practice if the girls decide it is more important to talk about school or whatever than listen to the coaches, or if I have to keep repeating myself, or if they don’t step up next in line because they didn’t realize it is their turn, or if they decide that they are free to take their time getting from one drill to another. I don’t like them taking too much time even when I’m telling them to get going and hurry it up. I guess I use it as a way to get them to realize I mean business and remind them they are losing focus. I don’t do it often, but every now and then to remind them.

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  4. Mike, keep in mind the first thing I said is you may have the wrong players. I’m also talking about older players. By the time they’re 14U, or especially high school age, they shouldn’t be there unless they choose to be. You coached 10U the last couple of years, and now 12U. Unless you’re really, really lucky you’re not going to have a team of highly motivated players at that age. It’s different at the older ages. Most of the kids who aren’t that interested have dropped out. What’s left, theoretically, are kids who have a desire to play softball. If they come out with no self-motivation, you have to start asking yourself why. If you think you’ve chosen well, you then have to look in the mirror and see if maybe it’s something you’re doing. This is especially true when coaching girls. If they’re unhappy it’s going to be reflected in their play.As for running in practice, sometimes you do have to use it for punishment. I’ve done it when I’ve had to. Nearly every coach has. The situations you’re addressing certainly rate it. But you have to use it intelligently. If you just automatically have your players run every time they make a mistake you’re going to waste a lot of time. You could also demotivate them from going all-out, because going easier usually means fewer chances for mistakes. This is also separate from assigning consequences to things in order to simulate game conditions. Setting a condition where a player has to run a sprint, or do sit-ups, if she doesn’t make a particular play gives her practice in dealing with pressure. It gives her skin in the game too.But none of that is what I was talking about. If you’re just mad at your players because they’re not better, running them to death won’t help. Improve their skills and you’ll be a lot less mad. You’ll also likely improve their motivation — if they’re the right players to begin with.

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  5. Mike, I can probably simplify my answer now that I think about it. If you have a couple of unmotivated players, it’s more likely it’s them, not you. You can try to get them going, but if they’re unwilling it’s going to be tough. If you have a team full of players who used to like playing but now don’t, that’s when you want to look at what you’re doing.

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  6. Harsh? How harsh is busting a team’s butt for failure to play hard? I believe that a coach’s primary goal is motivation. Skill development second. If a team or player isn’t motivated it is because they can’t see a vision of the future…whether its a celebratory ice cream for the 7 year old t-baller or starting on varsity for the U14.The secret for giving your all is simple. Have them answer this question, “What are we trying to accomplish and why?” That answered, your players will work towards that goal.

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  7. Well, coaching at the 10U and now 12U, the ‘we’ doesn’t come naturally to some girls. That is a very good question to ask them. But, when you ask your question of them, or even change it slightly to “What are you trying to accomplish and why” depending on the player, you sometimes get no answer at all or the answer you hate to hear, something like – ‘I’m out here because my parents want me to play a sport.” I have been strongly challenged for the first time in regards to motivating a player and I’m still looking for the keys to unlock her motivation.Like I said earlier, I do use running as a form of punishment or a way to wake up the team to let them know I’m not happy with their effort or focus or whatever. However, there is a limit to how much you can punish them before it begins turning them off from the coach, team and possibly even the sport. The younger they are, the less they undertand why they are being made to run. And sometimes busting a 10 yr old’s butt drives them to tears. In Ken’s original example, he states the coach was punishing them for not hitting well enough. Is that due to a lack of effort or because they aren’t good hitters? The coach may want to figure out why they ar enot good hitters before simply busting their butt – the players need to know how the punishment is related in order to understand the why.I like the thought of your primary goal, but my primary goal is more along the lines of doing what I can to put these girls in situations that give them good chances to succeed and therefore build confidence and teamwork so they can grow as people and ball players. I agree that getting them motivated is a large part of that equation as success doesn’t usually happen without motivation so maybe this is just a chicken and egg philosophical difference. I do as much as I can to keep these girls motivated, as well as the parents, who can help push the girls when it is needed.

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  8. Ken, Great post! I see this a lot and I’m glad I coach with a guy that doesn’t believe in running to “fix” problems. I also know of a young 8 year old who once questioned her coach about having to “run to the wall.” She asked the coach why they were running to the wall. She then said, “Wouldn’t it be better if we worked on what we were doing wrong?” She found herself running to the wall again. I think that 8 year old will probably make a great coach some day.

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  9. Wow, that’s one smart eight year old! It may not have paid off for her this time, but it sounds like she has a better idea of what to do than her coach does. I agree she’ll make a great coach someday.It’s amazing how many coaches do things with no idea why they’re doing them. And then they get mad when a player calls them on it. I always say if you ask me a question about why I want you to do something and I don’t have a good answer, you shouldn’t do it. You need to do stuff for a reason.

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  10. It doesn’t take any talent to hustle.

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  11. Sorry, not sure why you think that’s relevant. Talent was never a question. Neither was hustle. In every game in America half the teams lose. Sometimes they don’t work hard enough, but often they’re just outplayed by the other team on that particular day.In any case, treating your players badly is no way to get them to play better for you. If anything it demotivates them. Punishing them in front of their opponents doesn’t help either. You wouldn’t see Mike Candrea, Sue Enquist, Coach K, Pat Summit, or any other top coach do it. Even Bobby Knight, for all his faults, dealt with his players in private. There’s a right way and a wrong way to motivate players. This was the wrong way.

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  12. You’re right Ken. I have no idea why I dropped that comment there. I don’t know if I was going to comment on another article and commented on this one by mistake or had a complete brain fart. My apologies. I agree with your thoughts completely. Embarrassed. Sorry.

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  13. No problem, Phoenix. I do that sometimes too. I do agree that it doesn’t take talent to hustle. In fact, I’d rather have a team of hustlers than a team of talented but lazy kids. More fun to coach the first group.In any case, thanks for checking in. Even if it wasn’t what you meant to say I always appreciate the input!

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  14. Ken,I am very interested in these posts by other coaches. I too struggle to see the sense in running on game day. My punishment for not listening/paying attention/hustling is reduced play time. Period.The girls that hustle/listen/try hard get to play the most. Practice is where a coach builds fundamentals and corrects mental mistakes. Game day is the day to show me your stuff and have fun. If I haven’t taught or coached you enough in practice, game day is not the place for me to try and make up for it and lose my cool and take frustrations out on you or the team. I do, however, use games as tools to point out strategies and unusual game events. Always between innings or after games. These are great learning experiences. I NEVER berate a player in front of their teammates. I say, “Ride your team on game day and you go home early”. Happens every weekend.My goal is to get my players to love the sport or the team or me enough to give it their ALL and overachieve beyond their normal abilities. Useless running contradicts that goal.The only time we run is after a challenge. We have a throwing competition to start every practice. The winning pair gets to walk back to the dug out while the rest of the team runs a lap. They love the competition. It gets intense.By the way, my team is of the 9U variety. (Another full year of 10U ball!). I feel good coaching is universal whether its a 9U team or an 18U Gold team. Make it fun or what’s the point?

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