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It's About the Player

By Darren Fenster / USA Baseball Sports Development

WE ARE IMPACTING PEOPLE, NOT PLAYERS.

In life, all anyone wants is to be heard by others. Coaching is a platform that gives us a voice. A voice that people listen to. Our goal should be to get our players to WANT to listen, as opposed to making them feel like they HAVE to listen. Sports teach so many life lessons that players will take with them long after their playing careers are over, and it’s our responsibility as coaches to embrace our impact on others, as others have embraced their impact on us.

BUILD THE RELATIONSHIP IN ORDER TO BUILD THE PLAYER.

Everyone has heard the saying, “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Well, that statement isn’t entirely true, because players do tend to listen that first day of practice before we’ve even gotten the chance to even know our players’ names. But a funny thing happens once we do show that we do care about each individual: individually, they’ll care more!

Jim Leyland managed in the Major Leagues for a long time, and lasted through many different eras of player personalities because of his ability to connect with every guy who wore his uniform. Every single day, from the start of spring training through the end of the season, he made a point to have a conversation with every single guy on his team. Sometimes those conversations revolved around baseball, while other times they had nothing to do with the game. The end result was a player being cared for by his coach, which enabled that coach to impact his player.

When working to accomplish something, it is far easier to achieve the goal with others pulling the rope in the same direction. The words “we,” “us,” and “our” create a sense of unity that makes a challenging goal just a bit easier to accomplish. The words “I,” “you,” and “your” create a sense of isolation which makes a challenging goal that much harder to accomplish. Choose your words wisely, and make your players feel like you are standing in the batter’s box or on the pitching mound right there with them!

A GAME OF ADJUSTMENTS.

One of the biggest misconceptions in the coaching profession is that it’s the player’s responsibility to adjust to the coach. If we truly want to make an impact on our players, then it’s OUR responsibility to adjust to our players. To do that, it’s important to get to know how each player learns and responds individually. Some players can pick things up just by listening, while others need to see demonstrations in order to be able to grasp a skill. There are some players who will respond with an encouraging pat on the back, while others need more structured discipline. There is no such thing as a one size fits all approach to coaching. If we can get to know each individual, individually, then we are giving ourselves the best chance to reach the player, and that should be the goal each and every day.

YOUR TEAM. YOUR PERSONALITY.

We are a product of the sum of all of the coaches who have been around us. The ones we couldn’t stand playing for or coaching under help shape us as much as those we couldn’t get enough of. But it’s important for us to be who we are, without trying to be someone we are not.

It is way easier to express yourself when you are yourself. Players are incredibly perceptive and can pick up when you aren’t being true to who you are. When you are being you, players will see that, and while they may not always agree with the way you do things, they will never be surprised by the way you do things. That fact alone is a huge part of getting the most out of your team.

Stay in the profession long enough and questions will constantly arise as to what to do, and how to do it.

A simple answer is all you need: it’s always about the player.  

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Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Boston Red Sox Class A Affiliate Greenville Drive. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.

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