Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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Youth Sports

Five Simple Guidelines for Positive Coaching

By Alan Goldberg, Ph. D.

In an attempt to better serve the coaches, players and parents involved in youth and high school baseball, the PBSCCS periodically publishes information on factors that can affect conditioning and performance at these levels. Topics are selected from questions submitted by participants, coaches and parents involved in youth and high school sports. The question for this posting was from a dad who said – “I have been asked to be an assistant coach on my son’s 12U team. Can you please direct me to resources on how to be a good coach?”

The following guidelines were provided by Dr. Alan Goldberg, a prominent sports performance consultant who has worked with athletes at every level from youth athletes to Olympians.

If a coach really wants to be successful, if he/she really wants to motivate and inspire players to take their game to the next level, build mental toughness in athletes, and have them perform under pressure, then he/she would be wise to follow these very simple, but critically important coaching guidelines. Far too many coaches mistakenly believe that the best way to build mental toughness in players is by being hard on them, by continually yelling, withholding praise when they do well and jumping all over them whenever they mess up. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The following five guidelines should help coaches be more successful:

  1. Continually catch athletes doing things right. When a player does something well, coaches need to make a BIG deal of it! Coaches want to clearly acknowledge that athlete and let the other players hear it too! When a coach does this, he/she builds a player’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and fires up their motivation. A coach will NEVER weaken a player by praising them, unless the praise is unwarranted. Simple things like “Good Job!”, “Nice effort!” “Good hit, Great catch!”, etc. will often do the trick and go a long way in helping athletes learn faster and perform better.
  2. When kids mess up, help them understand not just what they did wrong, but also how to correct the mistake. Often coaches expend too much energy focusing on the mistake and not enough on the correction. In the learning process, it’s the correction that’s MOST important! We learn BEST from our mistakes and what players REALLY need to hear is what they need to do differently next time. If a coach has not given a player the opportunity in practice to perfect the task that he/she is being criticized for, the coach should not expect them to perform the task under pressure in a game. Likewise, if a coach does not know how to calmly and effectively communicate how to correct the mistake, he/she should not point it out.
  3. Create a safe environment for players to learn and excel. A coach’s attitude towards player mistakes and failures is absolutely critical in determining whether he/she gets the very best from them or shuts them down completely. This means that coaches have to understand that kids learn best from failing and messing up. When an athlete makes a mistake, coaches must remain calm, supportive and positive. Every athlete on the team shares the “experience” when a coach calls a player out for something they have done wrong, regardless of whether they are talking directly to them or a teammate. Successful teams are cohesive units and players share in the success and failure of their teammates. When coaches are kind, patient and supportive in their response to one player’s mistakes, then everyone on the team senses that, relaxes and feels safer as a consequence. However, when coaches are impatient, angry and demeaning to one player when they mess up, then all of the players experience that and feel less safe! Kids who feel unsafe around a coach or coaching staff will NEVER perform to their potential!
  4. Make practices and games fun. There is a myth that in order to build a mentally tough player, the coach must be serious and demand that seriousness in all of his/her players. However, when athletes are having fun, they learn and perform better. Having FUN is the secret to playing your best when it counts the most. When athletes have fun, they stay loose and relaxed, critical keys to peak performance! Effective and respected coaches smile, chill out and enjoy the journey so they can help their kids do the same!
  5. Remember, the coach is the adult and he/she is working with kids. Kids understand that coaches hold ALL of the power. A coach should never underestimate the tremendous influence that he/she has on players, regardless of their ages. A certain look, off-handed comment or gesture can make or break a player’s day, game, week or season! Coaches need to be aware of this power and wield it responsibly, understanding that they working with highly sensitive, impressionable, developing children. Just because they have gear on and act tough doesn’t change their vulnerability. The coach is the educator and it’s his/he job to understand that. Effective and respected coaches understand that there is a lot more at stake than just winning and losing games. Most of today’s successful high school, college and professional coaches adhere to the quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt – “Kids don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

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Dr. Alan Goldberg, has been a sports performance consultant and internationally known expert in peak performance for over three decades. He has worked with athletes and teams across all sports and at every level from youth to Olympians. He was the consultant for all athletic teams at the University of Connecticut for 10 years including the NCAA National Championship Teams in men’s basketball (1999) and soccer (2000). He is currently the founder of https://www.competitivedge.com/ and a sought-after consultant in peak performance by college, professional and international teams.

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