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The Challenge of Relating to Your Players

Relating to Dani

Earlier this week I saw an interesting article in Cindy Bristow’s SE Insider newsletter. The article talked about how players have changed since “back in the day” (whenever that day was) and how coaches need to learn knew ways to communicate with them that matches their experiences.

All valid thoughts, and things I’ve seen (and experienced) before. But I think there’s another factor that is often ignored that plays into it as well – especially for more “experienced” coaches.

When coaches start out, we are usually not that much older than the players we coach. Some, such as former high school or college players, are fresh off their playing days. Which means if they are coaching in college they’re maybe no more than 4 or 5 years older than their youngest players, and a year or two older than the oldest.

Even if they are coaching high school or younger players, it’s still pretty much the same world. Their fashion sense and musical tastes are probably not quite considered “uncool” yet (although they are trending that way), so it’s easy for them to relate to players where they are in their lives.

Parent coaches are a little more removed personally, but they are very much involved in their kids’ lives. Maybe too much according to some, but they are living what their kids are living every day. That also makes it a little easier for them to relate to what is happening in their players’ lives.

Now fast forward just a few years. Coaches are now further away from their youth perspective, and have had time to lock into a more adult way of thinking. They’ve added several years of life experience that colors the way they look at things, and have had ample time to start believing “life was better back when…”

I certainly saw this coaching my two daughters, who are seven years apart in age. You can fit a lot of life into seven years, so the person I was when I started coaching my oldest daughter wasn’t quite the same person I was when I started coaching my younger one.

I was certainly more knowledgeable, not just about softball but about a lot of things. I had made many mistakes and learned many valuable lessons. I’d like to think I’d grown as a human being, and I had certainly experienced a lot more things generally than I had when I started.

All of that impacted my coaching, and my point-of-view as I would talk to and work with players. I was also seven years older than I’d been, so seven years more removed from the way I looked at the world when I was participating in competitive sports.

The point is it’s not just the players who change. Coaches change too. And as we all know, as we age there is a tendency to become more stubborn and set in our ways, less open to new ideas and experiences, and less tolerant of things that don’t align with our world view.

As a coach at any level, it’s important to be aware of it and to do all you can to battle that tendency. Your players aren’t going to learn about your youth culture, except maybe in a history class and even then they’re only going to get an abbreviated, sanitized view, so it’s up to you to learn about theirs if you want to relate to them more effectively.

Get an idea of what the music they listen to sounds like (even if it makes your eyes roll). See what TV shows and movies are popular. Understand how they use technology, and how that influences their perspective. Look into what they need to help them learn and grow, and use it.

Here’s a quick example. If you want to tell a pitcher she looks stiff, you probably don’t want to mention “Frankenstein” as an example. She may not know who that is. But if you tell her she looks like one of the Walking Dead, and then imitate a zombie, she’ll be much more likely to understand what you’re trying to tell her.

Yes, kids today are different than they used to be. And it’s not like there is a hard line that says they’re all “like this” now. It’s a gradual shift that you may not even notice until what you’re saying isn’t working anymore.

But keep in mind each of us different than we used to be, and will continue to change as we get older and more experienced. Techniques or explanations that once worked great may elicit nothing but blank stares now. In fact, the coach you used to be might still have been able to easily relate to your current players. But you’re not that coach anymore.

Making sure you can continue to communicate effectively with your players is critical to success. And it starts with recognizing that it’s not just them that’s changing. It’s you too.

Evaluate yourself where you are now. Then start figuring out how to meet your players where they are. You may find it’s not quite as tough as everyone makes it out to be.

Great article from Cindy Bristow on pitch calling

Just had to share this article from Cindy Bristow at Softball Excellence. It’s about the four biggest mistakes you can make when calling pitches.

Cindy really hits the nail on the head! No surprise there – she’s brilliant. And very realistic when it comes to the subtleties of coaching fastpitch softball.

I have certainly seen all of the mistakes she mentions made at one time or another. The first two in particular – not knowing your pitcher’s capabilities overall and THAT DAY, and calling YOUR favorite pitches instead of the pitcher’s best ones.

One major example was what happened to a former student of mine when she went to pitch in college. The team’s pitching coach (who was maybe a second-year coach) didn’t seem too interested in helping the pitcher become the best she could be. Instead, it was almost like she went out of her way to make her look bad.

The two biggest mistakes were 1) not calling the girl’s best pitch (a dynamite curveball) because the coach preferred screwballs and 2) calling almost nothing but screwballs, thereby making the pitches predictable. This pitcher had a great screwball too, and could survive on it for a couple of inning. But after a steady diet of them college hitters figured out if they backed off the plate a little bit they could feast on them.

And even then the PC wouldn’t call a curve, or a rise, or change, or a drop. Instead she’d let her get pounded, then have the coach take her out because “she wasn’t effective.”

I don’t know of any pitcher anywhere who can throw the same pitch time after time and be effective. Even the greats mix it up. But when you insist on making a pitcher one-dimensional it doesn’t take long for good hitters to make them look bad.

Absolutely check out this article, if for no other reason than to make sure you (or your PC) isn’t falling into one of these traps. And be sure to sign up for Cindy’s newsletter while you’re there. Tons of great information lands right in your email every couple of weeks.

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