2019 was an interesting year jam-packed with learning. Biggest take-away for me: I can’t pull it off again 🙂 Actually, I have no desire to pull it off again! I dove “back” into baseball as a profession, committed to taking the path towards coaching in college as a full-time gig. Thus, I said yes to anything baseball-related that paid while on the field. My time was literally PACKED with baseball and especially so on nights and weekends (huge thanks to my wife!):
- Coaching Clinics
- Athlete Training (clinics & lessons)
- Team Coaching (Community College)
In addition, I ran Dugout Captain, consulted for two (non-baseball) companies, and helped coach my son’s 6U team. For that, I used Dugout Captain to plan, save, and share every practice, improving upon plans I created for Spring 2018 (see 5U DC Plans). I’m thrilled to share that I missed only one practice all year, and left-early or arrived-late at three games only. Super important to me to be a family-man first, and focus on being there for my son. And not as a baseball coach… rather, to be there AS A DAD!!
In no particular order, here are the top lessons learned from Spring 2019:
- My Son’s Indifference – He remained a middle-of-the-pack player. He hit the ball most at-bats (we play “machine-pitch”) and caught a couple of grounds balls. Don’t think he caught a pop-up and definitely didn’t field a ball and throw anyone out all season. However, he enjoyed hanging with the fellas and had fun. I don’t think I got overly frustrated at any lack of performance by him. Most importantly, I expect he’ll be excited to play next year.
- My Most Frustrating Father Moment – This is an easy one: FOCUS (not paying attention). Focus is the most challenging thing to coach. When I have to “encourage” my own kid to watch the very play that could result in a laser beam being rocketed towards his chest… and do so every pitch of the game… that drives me bonkers. I WANT him to WANT the ball so very bad – and I also don’t want him to get smoked by said line drive. But I can’t be mad that at times he really is indifferent to the whole thing! Heck, he ran hard on and off the field for all the innings I can remember and that’s what I ask him to do. I’ll have to circle back and ask my wife if I handled it well – I think I did.
- When I Yell the Most as a Coach – Defensive responsibility. Ball gets hit on the ground… and the first baseman is standing and watching the play. GET TO FIRST BASE! Ball gets past the second baseman and now rolls towards the outfielder… and the short stop is chewing on his glove enjoying the show. COVER SECOND BASE!! Pitcher watches a slowly hit dribbler bounce in front of the plate. GO GET THE BALL DUDE!!! Ball reaches an outfielder, any outfielder. BAG-MAN and RELAY-MAN!!!! Come on fellas, we gotta think. And I know I’m asking a lot when I say that, but true development happens upstairs.
- My Son’s Favorite Position Remains… Snack – No matter how I phrase the question, I can’t trick him into saying pitcher, shortstop, or center field… the dude’s favorite part of baseball is snack time. Hard to compete with the drug of 2019 – sugar!
- Head Coach Gig is SO IMPORTANT – I wasn’t able to take a team this year, so I partnered up with a fantastic dude that could. He is a father of four and a pastor. Can you say jackpot! I’m going to piggyback on Josh’s shoulders as long as his big ol’ beard will let me.
- Head Coach Gig is Thankless – Even though we thank the head coach, they really DO do so much. Arrive early at practice to snag field space. Cart equipment to/from practice and games. Arrive early for every game and prep the field. Set and print lineups. Keep track of who got game balls and on and on and on. I can tell you this much: I was an assistant coach this season and it was WAY WAY easier than being the head dude.
- Head Coach Time Commitment – Let’s keep the head coach praise going. With at least 30 minutes extra spent between pre and post practice… as well as 30 minutes extra before and after games, the volunteer time commitment is huge:
- 15 practices x 90 minutes = 1350 minutes / 22.5 hours
- 15 games x 105 minutes = 900 minutes / 26.25 hours
- That’s roughly 50 donated hours at the fields for our kids. NOT including other time spent doing admin / prep work. That end of the year head coach gift card should be a paycheck.
- Baserunning Drama (Almost) Started – My blood boiled at opposition coaches… twice. One was when a first-base coached rolled every one of his hitters to second base after we threw the ball away. At 6U, the ball gets past the first baseman roughly 91% of the time. The other time was a third base coach that aggressively turned his kids loose. I know it’s coming next year, as we’ll be going to kid pitch, and coaches will be able to steal runs because defense’s can’t play catch. Frankly, I’m not excited about going through that at all. There are just so many seemingly good people that don’t have the discipline to play the game the right way. Actually, I’d love your feedback as to how you have handled this situation in the past? Do you address baserunning aggression during pre-game home plate meeting with the other coach, make in-game adjustments, or just go straight to fist-fights? 🙂
- Competitive Juices Started – We had one team stack the deck, choosing to keep 13 players. In comparison, we had only 10 players – which was great for us! I think those coaches provided an amazing learning environment, I just fear that the game became work and at such a young age. We also had all star drama, resulting in two separate all star teams… for the 6U division… of which there were only 5 total teams in total. Classic.
- Positions Played – We pulled off rotating EVERYONE all season. I know the other teams did not. And I do think there is a reasonable safety-argument that says certain kids shouldn’t play corner infield or pitcher. Regardless, we continued to rotate kids through a pre-set lineup without exception. That meant we were on our coaching toes and reminding certain third basemen to turn and face the batter 73 times per inning (can you say exhausting?!). I’d imagine next year (7U for us), we’ll have to tighten the strings a bit and program the defensive lineup for safety.
- Swing Hard – Keep this rule and repeat it often! Under the greater philosophical umbrella of “process vs. results”, it’s so so hard for athletes to stick with the process. No matter what, they hear the groans (“ahhhhh” or “ohhhh”, take your pick) from the parents. They feel the eyes on them during the slow walk back to the dugout. And they hear their teammates talking about who struck out. Screw that!!!! We have to continually praise aggression and get the athletes’ focus off of results as quickly as possible. My own kid slowed his swing down NOT to strike out a lot. And I have only one batting rule for him – SWING AS HARD AS YOU CAN.
- Practice Works – How do you improve at anything? Practice! Those kids that love the game play more catch. Thus, they throw better and catch more baseballs. Those kids that love the game hit more balls on their own. Thus, they hit better. Because I coached college ball this year, Kobe and I didn’t hit in the open yard by our house more than twice all year. Last year, when I was NOT in a college uniform, we worked out 8-10 times outside of practice and games. I think he was more comfortable catching balls as a 5-year old than this year as a 6-year old. And I know this was true on our team: Our best kids either (1) were naturally gifted or (2) practiced more than the other players. It is my goal to nurture, foster, and support a developing love for baseball. With that, they will practice more… which will result in improvement… which will make everything more fun.
- Practice Planning Works – Our team improved. Big time. Again! It was great to test the Dugout Captain practice-planning principles, and to continue tweaking our athlete development path (DC Athlete Dev Plan available bottom of Resources page). Coaching is so much more fun and fulfilling when you take time to plan. Use the Clipboard people!
One of the things I enjoy most about Dugout Captain is calling our league partners. When someone fills out the league interest form, I pick up the phone and say hello, answer questions, and ultimately state the following fact: “Yes, free. There is no catch.” But whats interesting is how similar the conversation goes, regardless of what state they are from. The rec league board member in rural Arkansas is experiencing the same challenges as the urban crew from Philadelphia. Five people from the league do 99% of the work required. All stars turn otherwise rational humans into monsters. Parents are nuts. We’re in this together folks, let’s try to see the big picture, have fun, and play hard!