The reality is that coaches coach and players play, so naturally our focus is primarily on our players.
In the spirit of helping coaches take care of themselves and better themselves, read on for my list of 10 things we can do to improve our own coaching.
Parents do this all the time – they’re so busy dealing with their kids that they don’t spend much time thinking about or taking care of themselves. And while this sounds noble, unhealthy parents can’t care for their kids just like unhealthy coaches can’t coach their players.
I think it’s easy for coaches to focus solely on making their players better. From learning new drills, to discovering new teaching methods, to understanding defensive or offensive strategies – all of these are usually learned as they pertain to your players, or your team – not to you.
But what about you – what about the skills that you need as a coach? Coaches have skills just like players have skills. Some of the Coaching skills we all need to have include the following:
- Communication Skills
- Knowledge of Softball Skills
- Organization Skills
- Strategic Skills:
- Offensive Strategies & Signals
- Defensive Strategies & Signals
- Pitching Calling Strategies & Signals
- Decision-Making Skills
- Clarity Under Pressure
- Disciplinarian Skills
Since we have skills as coaches, we need to have ways to improve these skills. We work constantly with our players to improve their skills so imagine how much more we could help our players if we improved our own skills!
So let’s take a look at my list of 10 Things we can do to Improve Our Own Coaching:
1. Talk to Other Coaches
- The best coaches I know are always trying to improve themselves by talking and listening to other coaches. Quality coaches are willing to share the things they know and the ways they do things since knowledge doesn’t win games – execution does. So start talking to other coaches. If you’re having a problem with a certain skill ask some of your coaching friends or opponents how they teach that same skill.
- Make an effort to ask 2 coaches something every month. I’m not talking about your own assistant coaches – you guys all know the same things from the same perspective. Open it up, go outside of your bubble and ask 2 totally different coaches something every single month. Imagine how much better you’ll be at the end of a year when you’ve spoken to 24 different coaches!
2. Go to Clinics
- I’m constantly amazed at how few coaches really go to coaching clinics! I speak at clinics all the time and while there are always coaches in attendance, it’s a drop- in-the-bucket compared to the total number of coaches in the area that could be there, but aren’t. If you only learn one thing then the clinic was worth it – and I’ve NEVER gone to a coaching clinic where I only learned one thing! Out of all the clinics I do each year I come home with tons of notes and drills and things I’ve learned – and yet I’m being paid to speak at those same clinics!
- There are a TON of great coaches out there, and many of them you haven’t heard of. Avoid the natural tendency to only go to those clinics where the “famous” coaches are speaking. Learn from anyone you can since it’s their experience you’re learning from and not their legend.
- Whenever you pass up a chance to learn you pass up a chance to improve your players and your team – and that’s a choice a coach should NEVER make!
3. Learn From Other Sports
- Right now I have at least 5 different football books on my desk since I’m fascinated with how they do things. I love learning how other people do things in other sports since so many of our issues are the same; we’re trying to get players to perform skills repeatedly and successfully under pressure.
- Learning from other sports gives us a fresh perspective since we often see the problem from the same angle. Soccer can teach us a lot about teamwork, basketball can teach our players a lot about zone defense (the same coverage we play in softball), and football can teach us that a 16 year old mind is capable of knowing a lot of different formations so maybe that same mind can figure out when to run from 2nd to 3rd.
- You might have an interest or even a playing background in a sport other than softball so use that interest to read up on that sport and see if there are some coaching answers in there that could apply to softball.
- So many of our athletes play other sports in addition to softball so the more we can relate their softball skills to those other sports the more we connect with that player – and possibly unleash her skills.
4. Get a Different Pair of Eyes
- The same eyes tend to see the same things in the same way. That’s why it’s so incredibly helpful to get a different pair of eyes to take a look. I’ve sat with lots of great college coaches watching video of their players just to see if I notice something that they didn’t see. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, or not a good coach for missing something. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It takes confidence to ask someone to watch your players and see what they see. Remember, it’s all about helping your players, not about getting the credit.
5. Change Your View
- Always standing in the same place results in always seeing the same thing so try looking at your struggling hitter from behind or moving out in front of her (behind a net) if you’re used to watching her from the side.
- Change your view. Stand someplace different, watch from a different angle, look for something new – anything to try and find what you’ve been missing by changing your view.
6. Get Smaller
- If something isn’t working, ask why? Then get smaller or more specific. If your slapper can’t hit, that’s entirely different than getting smaller and realizing that she hits good against everybody expect this one certain pitcher. Once you realize that, then try to get as specific as possible about what that pitcher is doing that makes it harder for your slapper to hit her. Maybe that pitcher has a screwball that moves down unlike anybody else, or that pitcher is lefthanded while all the ones she hits good against are righties. If you get small enough you’re going to find what’s causing the problem which means you’re that much closer to fixing it.
7. Talk Less, Listen More
- Ask your players questions.
- Discover how your knowledge can help the player by discovering what the player needs to know instead of what you want to teach them.
8. Slow It Down
- Skills happen at a very fast speed and seeing every little detail inside that speed isn’t something that most of us are good or accurate at. I think I see the pitching motion in slow motion but then when I actually do video it and go frame-by-frame I’m always amazed at what I miss.
- Find ways to slow things down. There are lots of video analysis programs out there and some more affordable than others.
- Smartphones are great tools for coaches to use during practice to film a player and let her see herself.
- Ask your players to do whatever skill they’re doing as SLOW as they possibly can. Going SLOW requires a ton of body control and is amazingly difficult. Your players will complain a lot but if they keep trying it they will eventually master whatever that skill is much sooner than had they only gone fast!
9. Talk in Pictures
- Our brains take the words we hear and turn them into pictures, so help prevent confusion or miscommunication by talking in pictures. Instead of saying “keep your eye on the ball” try saying “hit the back of the ball”, or “blow up the potato”. This picture makes more sense if you’ve already tossed them potatoes for batting practice! Make your words exciting, and powerful and clear instead of boring, confusing and LOUDER!
10. Find a Way to Ignite Change
- Successful coaches are always trying to find a way to ignite change. To help an athlete get over that hump, or get through that slump good coaches are always trying to discover anything that allows the player to improve.
- Nobody wakes up in the morning to be horrible and successful coaches know this. They don’t assume the player isn’t trying simply because she’s struggling. In fact, they know the struggle is no doubt that player’s best effort so the coach is working as hard as the player to ignite change.
- The blame game doesn’t work and neither does higher volume. Understanding something and doing it are two different things so work with your players to find a new way to improve or to change the problem.
There’s no question that coaching is a huge challenge, but in all your efforts to improve your players don’t forget to improve yourself. The time you take to do so is worth it – trust me!
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