Fastpitch coaching: The yelling and screaming school

There is this belief in the fastpitch softball world, and youth sports in general, that coaches have to yell and scream to get the best out of their teams. It’s partially a function of the Hollywood mythology of sports — all those movies with the “tough but ultimately kind” coach who takes a ragtag group of players and wins a championship — and partially our obession with pro sports.

The reason I bring this up is the team I’m currently coaching has not gotten out of the gate quite as quickly as we had hoped, although we are showing improvement each day, and I suspect at least a couple of parents who buy into the mythology think it’s because I’m too soft, especially during games.

They think that because when a player makes an error or a mistake I don’t come screaming off the bench, or yank that player in the middle of an inning in favor of a replacement. I may bark a little (which can be difficult to hear at large, open complex), but I don’t go into the usual histrionics some may be used to. I also suspect a couple of players who come from that environment may be wondering about it as well.

With that in mind, I had a chat with the girls yesterday about playing big, overcoming fear of failure, that sort of thing. And then I addressed the yelling and screaming part.

I told them I am not that way as a conscious decision. I told them I used to be that guy, and they really don’t want to play for that guy. I had my assistant coach Hillary, who played for me from the ages of nine through 18, confirm it. And boy did she.

I used to get pretty angry at poor play. I don’t think I was ever totally over the top, but I would be a lot more vocal during games, yelling stuff out and holding people, um, accountable right then and there. I kicked over a few buckets of balls in my day, and threw some other stuff around.

But what I came to realize over the years through a combination of coaching education and my assistant coach Rich was that it was really counter-productive. Yes, we want to hold players accountable, and it’s ok to be tough. But there’s a way of doing it, and a time and place to do it. That is usually at practice.

One other thing I learned was the value of saving the post-game evaluation for a different day. I was known for some lengthy post-game speeches/analysis, especially when things didn’t go right. I doubt much was heard, but it made me feel better. Along the way, though, I realized it was best to keep it to a minimum because sometimes things don’t look as bad after 24 hours as they do right after the game.

So these days I’m actually pretty calm during games, at least on the outside. My insides still do churn when we drop a popup, throw away a ball on an easy play, or watch an obvious third strike go by. But that’s where it stays. Goosefraba for you Adam Sandler fans.

The easy way when you get mad is to let it all hang out. It’s definitely tougher to keep your cool. But in the long run they’re still just kids playing a game. Staying in control gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes rather than simply ducking and covering all the time.

Not to say I never get after them. I can still be tough when needed. But now it’s a decision that that’s what’s required to get them on track rather than an emotional reaction to negative stimuli. It makes a world of difference.

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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 July 1, 2011, in Coaching. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Coach, you are so right on with this one. I grew up with football coaches that seemed to think the louder and meaner they yelled, the more it got through to us. Well, it didn’t. It only made most of us mad and sometimes it would make us quit a little.I have been guilty of letting all out a few times too. But just as you say, it doesn’t do much good.Girls seem to respond better to male coaches that are more gentle. Guess they are less intimidated that way.As an assistant coach, I usually let the head coach do all the post game talking. She could certainly talk too. So when asked if I had anything to ask, I generally would politely say No, you covered it well. By then the girls eyes were glazed over and ready for a hotdog or candy bar anyway. Save it for practice.

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  2. Actually, I think they respond better generally to any coaches who are more gentle. I’ve had girls who played for me who had female coaches at their high schools. Most of them didn’t care for their approach, because it was that same type of stupid behavior. I doubt anyone likes being treated that way. There’s a time for a virtual kick in the pants but it can’t be constant. It should also be well thought out. As a head coach it’s up to me to offer post-game remarks. I’ve learned to keep them brief after a loss. My assistants also have the option of saying something but truth is when we lose most of the time they know why. Of course, it’s never just one thing. But that’s a post for another day.

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  3. Ken, you make some good points which seem obvious, but the converse is also true– coaches that say too little. We experienced that this season; a coach that says nothing and seems to ignore the girls.An even-temper engaged in the game is what is needed. Coaches that yell are probably more noticed, but passive-aggressive coaches are just as harmful.

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  4. Yes, but… I share your belief but the other way must work. We played a team 2 weeks ago in which their coach berated every single mistake. He did everything but identify their genetic flaws if the pitcher allowed a base runner. At one point, we had runners on 1 & 3. He came to the mound and proceeded to rip every member of the infield and battery. 2 runners and he ripped everyone like it was their personal fault. Yet, he had a successful team. They beat us and moved on in the tournament.Personally, if my daughter played for someone like that, I would be in jail. But he had parental support. probably because they were winning and sometimes I think that is all the parents care about.

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  5. Yes, that desire to win can be overwhelming. For some people it excuses any other behavior. I’ve seen those coaches as well, and lost to them from time to time. Still, I highly doubt it brings out the best in players. They may play a good game at the time, but is it as good as they can play? And if it takes that type of constant ranting for players to play hard, what does that say about them?

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