Coaches: Harsh Conditions Do Not a Great Garden Make
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the way too many fastpitch softball coaches choose to treat their players. Whether I am walking by a field when a team is practicing or just talking to some of my students, the “tough guy” (or “tough gal”) stereotype seems to be alive and well.
Now understand, I am all for discipline and accountability. There is nothing wrong with demanding the very best from your players on a daily basis.
But that doesn’t mean you have to berate and belittle them on a constant basis. It’s like the only tool in some coaches’ toolbox is a hammer – a big one – and they feel they have to use it all the time in order to draw the best performance out of their players.
I don’t get where they think that will work. If an adult had a job where they were receiving nothing but negative feedback or outright abuse, you can bet they’d be posting a negative review on Glassdoor at the very least and looking for a new job as soon as they could.
It’s like the old saying – people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Yet coaches are still surprised when their players don’t return the next year.
It might help to think of your players as seeds that need to be nurtured. Yes, some plants can grow in the concrete under harsh conditions, getting trampled all the time.
But they rarely turn into beautiful gardens. Instead, they look small and sad – not the types of plants anyone is going to stop and admire.
The same is true of fastpitch softball players. Especially the younger ones – those under the age of 14 who tend to take everything adults say at face value.
If all they ever hear is how bad they are, or how stupid they are for missing a play or making an error, they will tend to believe it.
Sure, an occasional player might break through that difficult environment and survive, but most will not. They will find another outlet that helps them feel better about themselves.
Which means if the goal is to grow the game, taking an approach that drives them out makes little sense.
Coaches who want to be tough also have to remember that what they view as “normal” may not seem so normal to their players. As I have said many times, kids are not short adults. They often lack the experience and background to put certain things in perspective.
Harsh criticism doesn’t just roll off their backs. They aren’t yet able to “take it with a grain of salt.”
Kids in many cases are very literal. And females in general are more prone to believing whatever negative things are said about them.
So what winds up happening is that performance under these conditions goes down instead of up, which leads to even more berating and abuse, which hurts performance even more, and the results take a familiar path.
Taking this type of approach may make you feel good as a coach, or like you’re doing your job. But it’s really lazy coaching.
Rather than yelling at or otherwise berating your players for poor performance, why not help them get better? Teach them the game, and understand everyone learns in different ways and at different paces.
Hold them accountable when needed, but understand the difference between a lack of ability (at this time) and a lack of effort. Only the latter should bring out your ire. The former should drive you to find new and better ways to help your players learn and improve.
Provide a little sunshine, a little water, and a good overall environment and your players will grow faster and much healthier in the game.