When I asked my old boss how I should grade myself as a youth baseball coach, he said, “That’s easy. How many kid play next year? If they all play, you were great. If none play, you were terrible.”
Best answer ever.
The way to get kids to play the following season is to make baseball fun.
I watched a travel baseball game last night and was not pleased with the coaches for either team. Both sets of coaches for these 13 year-olds micromanaged play. As a result, the kids wandered passionless through the game. One set of coaches were demonstrably negative and critical immediately after plays – as though the kids don’t understand when they screw up.
The losing coaches hosted a 15-minute postgame meeting to explain to their players what led to the defeat. Good grief. Nothing like being harangued by a coach as a cherry on top of a loss to make baseball a lot more enjoyable, right?
So how can coaches make the game fun, and how can parents evaluate coaches?
Here are some very easy guidelines to help coaches improve:
- Being aggressive is fun. Empowered kids have fun. Encourage aggression. Empower playmaking.
- Praise the intent of the play rather than critiquing the result.
- The strike zone is irrelevant. The point of batting is to hit the ball HARD. If a kid feels he or she can hit a pitch hard, swing! If not, take. There is nothing sadder in youth baseball than a kid working a walk. Making contact is not fun. Making HARD contact is a blast. Walking might help a team win, but it will not make a hitter better – or happier.
- Unless you really know hitting, let your kids grip it and rip it. See the ball – hit the ball is pretty damn good hitting instruction.
- The goal of pitching should always be “hit the mitt.” A kid hitting a pitch is not a failure for the pitcher – it’s baseball.
- The game itself is a better teacher than coaches are. Youth baseball coaches should encourage mistakes. That’s how kids learn. Baseball is a creative game, and creation comes from taking chances – some of which fail. That failure is a key part of the process of learning the game.
- If you don’t know what the hell you are talking about, stop talking.
- Telling kids, “Stop throwing the ball around” discourages learning. Let them learn how to create outs by making the extra throw. If it gets away and runners advance, there is no better way to learn when to throw and when not to throw.
- After the game, tell kids when the next event is and dismiss them. Postgame meetings are for self-important coaches. And parents shouldn’t re-hash every moment in the car on the way home. Buy the kid a sandwich or popsicle and decompress a little.
- Practice is for teaching. Games are for the kids to enjoy.
- The result of the game should be meaningless to you. If you are in it for trophies, resign immediately and let another coach take over.
- Umpires do their best. Get off their backs. Bitching about calls shows a coach’s prioritizes are totally out of sync with what is truly important.
- Allow the players to position themselves. Explain during practice what drives a positioning decision and then let the kids put those lessons to work during games.
If you’re a coach, those principles will bring smiles. If you’re a parent and your kid is smiling before during and after games, thank your coach.
If your kid needs a role model in Major League Baseball, there is none better than Javy Baez of the Chicago Cubs. His sense of fun is one of the big reasons the Cubs have been so successful since 2015. Baez’s aggression not only creates runs and outs, it’s also contagious for teammates.
Baseball is supposed to be fun. Help your players and kids enjoy it.
Michigan Basketball is broken, and only Juwan Howard can fix it.
Forget the two trips to the NCAA National Championship Game, Big 10 Championships, and Big Ten Tournament titles. John Beilein’s 12 seasons as the head coach at Michigan were clearly a disappointment.
The time has come to reclaim the brand value of the Fab Five – a group who came to Michigan to win championships, but left with none in two seasons. Those Wolverines failed to win a Big Ten title, and two runs to the NCAA Finals were vacated because of rules violations.
By the way, the Fab Five last played in Ann Arbor more than a quarter century ago. Today’s college players were years from being born when their long shorts (or short longs) dominated the game’s fashion in a way their play couldn’t on the floor.
ESPN’s Jay Williams and Jalen Rose spent a good deal of time on ESPN this morning talking about how Juwan Howard is the only legitimate choice to bring greatness back to Ann Arbor as the replacement for John Beilein. I get it from Rose – a friend of Howard’s going back to summer basketball when both were in high school – but from Williams the arguments sound ridiculous.
Howard might be a wonderful coach. He’s making his bones on the Miami Heat staff, and by all accounts he’s a great guy, but does that justify unraveling what Beilein built over the last 12 years?
If being an NBA player, alum, and great person were the qualities a coach needed to run a program – Chris Mullin, Sidney Lowe, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, and many others would be wearing championship rings. They aren’t. In fact, all of the above but Ewing were fired within five years.
For a program that achieved at a very high level while being clean under Beilein, Michigan appears to be on the precipice of solving a problem that doesn’t exist.
Rose needs to take a step back and allow the AD to make the right choice. Let him go get someone who can build on what Beilein has already created without being pushed into a corner by logrolling for Howard. Williams can just keep yammering about things he knows nothing about because only fools listen.
[Another example of Williams blather came this morning as he said “the NCAA should be put on probation.” He was trying to be funny, but every time Williams blames the NCAA for college basketball’s woes, he reveals himself as ignorant to the sources of both causes and solutions for those problems.]
Beilein was hired by an AD who made the right choice instead of the popular one. There is nothing sexy about Beilein, but the guy can coach. Recruits weren’t awed by Beilein walking into their home, but were impressed by what he might help them achieve at Michigan. Beilein has never set a fashion trend – or has a program placed on probation. His two trips to the National Final weren’t vacated.
Michigan needs to repeat the process that brought Beilein to Ann Arbor.
Until Michigan does the right thing, let us marvel at the tweet of a guy who is paid a lot of money to share ridiculous and uninformed opinions:
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) May 13, 2019
Romeo Langford finished his only year at Indiana University as the third leading freshman scorer in program history. He’s a solid 6’5″ with a 6’11” wingspan, and a unique ability to get to the rim and finish.
His freshman year was seen by Indiana fans who believed IU was poised for a bounce back season as a disappointment. Romeo didn’t shoot it great from deep (27.2%) as he suffered with a right thumb injury that required postseason surgery.
I’m not saying the errant shooting was due solely to the damaged thumb. There are other issues with his shot, but there is a good chance they can be fixed.
Not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, pant leg, socks, or face, Romeo and Indiana fans never connected. They saw Romeo as being indifferent to competing for Indiana – as though he was in a holding pattern until he became eligible for the NBA Draft.
People who know Romeo well will tell you he is not indifferent to basketball. He’s a stoic. There is a difference. If you played poker with Romeo and he was dealt a royal flush, you might believe he was holding king high.
Romeo cares. He just doesn’t show it. That used to be a characteristic people respected. Today, as we evaluate people based upon how they behave during Sportscenter highlights, Romeo is seen as a noncommittal athlete – someone who plays for a reason other than a love for the game.
I spent a little time with Romeo during his senior year at New Albany High School. As a fellow New Albany graduate as well as radio student there, I wanted to help Romeo see the media through the correct light.
A lot of athletes view the media as a pain in the ass – a bunch of unkempt mopes with microphones who ask dopey questions. That stereotype isn’t entirely spurious, but the important thing to remember about those microphones is that they are the connect point to millions of potential fans. I wanted Romeo to see opportunity where others saw tedium.
As I told Romeo about the rare ability he would have to communicate and affect people, he stared at me for a full hour without expressing joy, boredom, interest, or humor. I asked Romeo a couple of specific questions at the end of my little presentation to make sure he hadn’t fallen asleep with his eyes open. His answers told me he was listening. He just never showed it.
Romeo is not a self-important branding machine. He loves basketball, and has always been most comfortable among his teammates – not with the media despite my pleas. As the Pacers build their culture as one that accommodates and encourages a family atmosphere, Romeo is exactly the kind of young man they should be searching for. Add the measurables and potential, and Romeo would be a perfect choice at #18.