To Be a Great Coach, Be Curious
Since this is a fastpitch softball blog I will be writing about this in fastpitch softball terms. But the reality is it applies to any type of coach, instructor, teacher, etc. in any line of work where the goal is to help others learn new things or do things better.
There are many characteristics that combine to make a good coach. But if there is one that the truly great coaches share it is that they are curious.
I don’t mean they stick their noses into other people’s business or go rummaging through their garbage cans late at night. No, I’m referring to the kind of curiosity about why things work the way they work – and how they can work better.
You might think that would be an automatic, but you’d be wrong. It’s very easy for coaches to get stuck in their ways.
Certainly that applies to older coaches. I hear all the time, “I’ve been doing it this way for X number of years and it’s worked great for me so why should I change?”
The answer, of course, is that new research and new discoveries are being made all the time. If you had a choice of teaching something that is adequate or teaching something that is life-changing, wouldn’t you want to go with life-changing?
You’ll never know if something new is life-changing, however, if you aren’t curious enough to check it out.
But even young coaches can be stuck in their ways and un-curious. Take all the players who, when they transition to becoming coaches, don’t bother expanding their horizons and seeing what the latest thinking is in techniques or strategies.
Instead, they simply repeat what THEIR coaches told them.
A good example is pitchers who were taught “hello elbow” (HE) methods of pitching. They dutifully did all the drills (wrist snaps up-close, T drills, big finishes, etc.) their coaches told them to do. Never mind that when they pitched they actually used internal rotation (IR) mechanics.
Now that they’re starting to teach other pitchers do they go to clinics, or look at videos of high-level pitchers, or high speed videos of themselves pitching for that matter, or invest the time to take an online course such as the Pauly Girl Fastpitch High Performance Pitching certification?
Nope. They just keep repeating what their coaches told them. Who probably repeated what their coaches told them. And the cycle continues.
There is an amazing treasure trove of information out there from highly respected experts and highly accomplished and innovative coaches. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there too.
But if you’re curious you can sort the great from the garbage pretty quickly to ensure that what you’re spending your time learning will actually be helpful.
This idea of being curious applies to more than just softball-specific training. The best coaches I know are looking to other sports to see how they train and how that information can be applied to their players.
They’re learning more about nutrition, stretching, exercise, rest and recovery, mental game strategies and other areas that can impact a player’s performance. They are using technologies they couldn’t even have dreamed of having when they started their careers.
In short, they are in constant search of new and better information and techniques that will allow them to serve their players better – and help those players learn how to achieve success off the field as well as on.
Look, I know it’s easy to get stuck in a particular way of doing things, especially if you’ve had success with it as a player or a coach. But why limit yourself only to what you know now?
Think of it this way: someone offers to give you a new car for free. You can choose between one built in the 90s (still brand new and in perfect working condition) or one that was built this year.
Which would you choose?
I’m pretty sure you’d take the one built this year because it will have a lot more capabilities and be more suitable for today’s world.
It’s the same with knowledge. Why remain stuck in the 90s, or the 2000s, or whatever previous decade you want to name, when there is so much more available to you today?
In our fast-paced world you’re either moving forward or falling behind. If you want to keep moving forward and become (or continue to be) a great coach, don’t just settle for what you’ve always done.
Be curious. You might just be amazed at how valuable (and thrilling) it can be.
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Do’s and Don’ts for the Car Ride Home
Once again today’s topic is the result of a reader suggestion – this time from my friend and pitching coach extraordinaire Jamison (James Clark). James is a PaulyGirl Fastpitch Elite Level certified pitching coach in the Southeastern Indiana area – Richmond, specifically – so if you’re a pitcher in search of a great coach check his United Fastpitch Academy Facebook page.
James was going to do a presentation on how to handle the car ride home and asked me if I had ever covered this topic. I checked and surprisingly I had not, so here we are today.
Ah yes, the car ride home after a game. Few things in sports generate such a wide range of emotions in such a cramped space.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken one (my kids are all long grown and done with their sports careers) but I do remember those days. The time in the car before as well as after the games was some of the best time my kids and I spent (don’t worry, I checked with them).
Now, at this point you’re probably thinking my advice is going to amount to “don’t replay the whole game in the car” or something like that. While you may not to go over the whole game, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it at all.
The truth is the car ride home offers ample learning as well as bonding opportunities. But it has to be handled carefully in order not to become contentious.
With that in mind, following are some carefully curated do’s and don’ts for the car ride home after a game or a long tournament weekend.
- Keep it positive. It’s easy to launch into a diatribe about everything that went wrong, or wasn’t as good as it could have been. Resist that temptation, especially if it’s going to be a long ride. No one will benefit from an hour of unhappy silence.
- Take emotion out of it. Anger, frustration, disappointment and similar emotions are counter-productive. They’re also reactions to the moment – reactions you may regret later. You can talk about what went right or wrong in a calm way, with more of a focus on the facts instead of letting emotions get in the way.
- Listen more than you talk. It’s easy to fall into the trap of dominating the conversation about the game, especially if you feel like you have a lot to say. But remember you were just watching the game. Your favorite player was in the middle of it. Give her a chance to talk about what she wants to talk about – even if it’s something other than the game. Remember that youths of playing age often have a lot of hormones and other issues to deal with outside of the game. Give them the opportunity to share them – and respect them when they don’t want to share them. They’ll come around. I promise.
- Use the opportunity to talk strategy. One of the ways to keep emotion out of the conversation is to talk strategy rather than performance. For example, a pitcher’s parent can talk about pitch sequences or what can be done to attack a particular type of a hitter such as a slapper – especially if it’s the first time the pitcher faced one. A fielder’s parent can talk about what to do with the ball in certain situations, e.g., the value of going after the lead runner in the infield rather than automatically throwing every ground ball to first. For hitting, parents can talk about being more selective when ahead in the count, or ways to keep calm and focused when the hitter gets behind. Fastpitch softball is a complex game, and it’s impossible to anticipate every situation in practices. The aftermath of a game provides a great opportunity to cover some of them.
- Take a long-term view. Next week there will be another game or tournament with its own new challenges, and the frustrations of this one will forgotten. But the memories of those car rides home – whether they are good or bad – will last forever. Think about the way you want your daughter(s) to remember what it was like to ride home with you when they are long past their playing days.
- Stop for ice cream or another treat now and then. It’s easy to treat your favorite player when her team wins or when she did something great. But sometimes it’s needed even more after a tough loss or a poor performance as this old Lifesavers commercial demonstrates. A little detour to a favorite place might be just the thing to celebrate life’s triumphs or lift the spirits after a defeat – and secure the bond between parents and players.
- Trash the coach. You may not agree with all (or any) of the coach’s decisions or his/her approach to the game, but the car ride home from a game or tournament is not the time to share those opinions. Even if you know your player agrees. Try to decompress without getting into such a volatile issue. If you need to talk about how a coach is managing the game or treating players (especially your own) save it for another day. And if you really feel you can coach the team better – volunteer and prove it.
- Trash her teammates. Yes, #25 may have made three errors in the field and the entire last half of the lineup couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. But it doesn’t do anyone any good for you to talk about it ad nauseum. Team chemistry is critical to high performance, yet it is also quite delicate. Don’t be the person who gets in the way of it. Besides, at least some of the girls you’re talking about may be her friends.
- Trash the umpires. As a group, umpires make easy targets for our anger and frustration. Yet the reality is (with very rare exceptions) the umpires aren’t out to “get” your player or your team. In 99% of the cases they couldn’t care less about who wins or what the outcome of a particular play is. Beyond that, no game outcome ever comes down to a single umpire’s call, because if your team had been up 11-0 no one would have cared about a blown call. They had ample opportunity to take the umpires out of it and didn’t. If you’re unhappy about the quality of officiating in your area don’t complain. Put in the work, get your certification, and DO something about it.
- Belittle or become hyper-critical of your player. It’s tough enough to be a young person these days, especially with all the expectations placed on them and all the pressures from coaches and outside factors such as social media. The last thing they need is one of the people they trust the most – you – adding to it when they are already feeling vulnerable and perhaps raw and exposed. This doesn’t just apply to the car ride home, by the way, it’s good advice for any time.
- Take it all too seriously. It may seem like life or death when you’re in the middle of it. But it’s really not. Fastpitch softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. Remember that and the car ride home will be a whole lot more enjoyable.
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