Working with the young ‘uns

Had an interesting bit of feedback yesterday regarding coaching younger/less accomplished players which got me to thinking. But before I get into the thoughts, first a little background.

One of my co-workers at my day job (yes, that’s right, this coaching thing is just a sideline for me) had asked me if I would work with his daughter on hitting. She is 13, I believe, and next year will be entering high school. Since she wants to play on her high school team he thought it was time to get her some lessons. She is a rec ball player currently, by the way.

So last Saturday we got together for the first time. I looked at a couple of swings and then started working with her on a major overhaul of what she’s doing. She’s a good kid and very smart, so as I explained what to do and why we were doing it I could see her processing it. By the end of the lesson she showed some good improvement re: taking her bat to the ball.

Yesterday my friend stopped me in the hall and mentioned the lesson. He also told me that when he had signed up at the facility he had signed his daughter up for one lesson with one of the regular coaches at that facility. (I don’t happen to teach out of that one, but it’s convenient to where he lives and not far from me so I do the traveling coach thing.) Sounded like an impulse thing, but I was fine with that. You should sample.

In any case, he said he really liked the way I related to his daughter and explained things to her. Then he told me something that surprised me: the other coach seemed very disinterested throughout the lesson. She wasn’t mean or anything, but he said it just seemed like it was more of a bother than anything.

That kind of surprised me at first. But then as I thought about it I realized I’ve seen and heard about this before. Some private coaches don’t really like working with beginners or kids they don’t perceive as having great gifts. They only want the cream of the crop. I’m not sure why that is, though.

I’d guess a lot of it has to do with building a reputation or being perceived as a great coach. It’s a lot easier to do that if all the players you’re working with are already talented, and you cut out any who don’t measure up to your standards. It also takes more energy and patience to work with kids who aren’t dripping with talent.

But in my mind, those are the kids who need a good coach the most. Talented players will tend to succeed no matter who is doing the coaching. Does having a better coach help them too? Absolutely. But talent will out, as they say, and a great player can rise above mediocre or poor coaching.

It’s the ones who don’t have the native ability, though, who can be the most rewarding. Seeing a kid who might’ve otherwise had difficulty and probably wind up hating softball become a contributing player to her team is exciting to me. Seeing her rise above the crowd based on hard work and dedication is a thrill for me as well. But I guess that’s not for everyone.

One other kicker in this particular situation, of course, is the age-old debate on whether female athletes do better with female coaches. The other coach has great credentials as a former player. She played fastpitch softball in college, was all-conference one year, even played a year in one of the pro leagues.

In short, she was everything you’d think you’d want. Yet at least in this case she lacked that all-important enthusiasm and ability to relate to the kid she was working with. Which once again supports my believe that it’s not the gender that’s most important. It’s the approach that makes the difference.

So what have you seen? Have you ever had your daughter (or son) somewhere for lessons and seen that “I only work with top-level players” mindset? Or are you aware of any private coaches who take that approach? And what do you think?

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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 February 2, 2010, in Coaching. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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