Coaching is a lot like doing improv
I have to admit I’m not real big on the whole comedy club improv thing. I tend to like my comedy a little more fully baked. Guess that’s the writer in me. Still, there is a parallel between improv and coaching.
One of the highlights of improv comedy shows is when the performers ask the audience to shout out a bunch of random stuff, or at least semi-random stuff, and then the performers act out the scene the audience has “put together.” It’s really living on the edge, because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it does require quick thinking and an open mind either way.
What made me think of this was working with a student last night on pitching. Although she is 15 and has pitched for a few years, this is the first time she’s ever had lessons. She had a few habits that we had to break her of, one of which was a balance issue. I’ve tried a few different things that have worked in the past and there has been some improvement, but the issue was still there. So like the comics doing improv, I had to come up with something else, which turned out to be the magic formula.
The cue I gave her — drive your back hip toward your front hip as you come forward — wasn’t substantially different than others I’d given her in the past. But this one worked, where the others didn’t, or only did to a limited extent.
With the balance issue addressed, this girl started throwing harder than she ever has before. She was able to put more of herself into her pitches with the confidence that they would go where they were supposed to (more or less). She walked out of there feeling pretty good last night.
That’s the beauty and the challenge of coaching. You always have to be prepared to come up with a new explanation, or a new drill, or a new approach right there on the spot. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. What’s worked 100 times before is useless if it doesn’t work this time, for this player. You have to be able to figure out what the problem is, then find an explanation that makes sense to the player. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at time. But the reward is definitely worth it.