Keep it positive, Coach.
| 4 min read
Kids love to compete. But game day often comes with a side of anxiety and nerves. What’s the best approach for coaches to take?
Two former collegiate ball players-turned-coaches — Sarah Garcia, director of the Miami Marlins Youth Academy, and Cress Bell, coach of the Dirtbags Camo 11u team in Wilmington, North Carolina — offer some solid advice.
Grab your gear bag, but also take a moment to chart field positions and outline your player rotation. “During the game you can lose track of who has sat out or who has played what position,” says Bell. Especially for younger kids, wins or losses aren’t as important as giving kids opportunities. “You want to make sure that they see different positions on the field,” he adds. A solid game plan will help manage parent expectations, too.
Setting a lineup depends on the strategy of the coach, says Garcia. But most coaches follow a general structure. The best hitter gets the number one spot, followed by “consistent hitters that get on every time with singles, or your speed demons,” says Garcia. The goal is to stack the bases. Power hitters come up fourth in the lineup to clean up.
Players love to be together in the dugout, but rowdiness can ensue. Make sure your players know they have a job to do even when they’re sitting out.
Both Garcia and Bell agree that watching the game is the most important thing a player can do off the diamond. “There’s a strategy to the game,” says Garcia. Encourage your players to watch the pitcher so when they’re up to bat, they know what to expect.
And then, there’s cheering. “My rule in the dugout is to cheer on your teammates,” says Garcia. It’s a job that never ends.
There are few things worse than walking up to the plate with two outs hanging over your head — except maybe being at bat with two outs and a full count. Hitting is stressful. But coaches can help make it manageable.
“I’ve told my kids, when you get up there and feel pressure, just smile,” says Bell. “It’s amazing what that little physical thing does to your body.” Deep breaths — in through the nose and out through the mouth — can also help, as well as having an established on-deck routine.
In one game during high school, Garcia struck out three times. Her dad reminded her to focus on the moment. “He said one pitch can change your entire game,” says Garcia — and he was right. “I ended up in my last at bat hitting a walk-off home run and we won.”
Players need to know that striking out is part of the game. “We use examples of guys in the Hall of Fame,” says Bell. “If you look at their batting averages, they only succeeded three out of 10 times.”
Striking out is also an opportunity to learn. Garcia tells her players to “figure out what you did in the first at bat and then to adjust it to the second at bat, then to the third.”
What they say is true: Baseball is a game of failure. And it’s not just at the plate. “Kids have to understand and expect that they are going to fail,” says Bell. “It’s really important how they react when they do and focus on the next play.”
Your reaction as a coach will have a lot to do with how kids move on, too.
Set the tone of the game from the minute you arrive. Warmups can be organized and energizing. Incorporate games, play music, even try something different like playing hacky sack.
“Keeping it fun helps with the nerves,” says Garcia.
Once the game starts, know that your attitude can directly affect your players. “You’ve got to live the example of what you’re preaching,” says Bell — including showing support and focusing on the moment. Keep your sights on what kids can control — focus and effort — not the win.