Inside Pitch Magazine, January/February 2021

Intentional Walk: Viewing the Coaching Profession Through the Rear View Mirror

By Keith Madison, Publisher of Inside Pitch Magazine and Chairman of the ABCA Board of Directors
Baseball Coach talking to assistant while pointing to field in background“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” – John Gardner

Thousands of baseball coaches around the world are gearing up for a new season. It’s an exciting time! After 28 years of coaching, my excitement now comes from being a fan and observing how other coaches prepare, teach and manage their teams. It’s widely known that “experience is the best teacher,” but during my postcoaching observations, I’ve continued to learn. It’s sometimes painful to think about some of the mistakes I made as a coach, and sometimes it’s almost as painful to see coaches make the same mistakes I made “back in the day.” I’ve made a partial list of what I have learned through both experience and observation. If you, as a coach, can benefit from even one of these points, my time will have been well spent.

  • There’s no substitute for knowledge and there is no excuse for lack of knowledge in the 21st century.
  • Be progressive and tweak your philosophy...but if you make drastic changes in your core philosophy too often, it can be confusing and you may lose the respect of your players.
  • Attend as many coaching clinics as possible. Learn from the best. Ask a few coaches you respect if you may observe their practice from the stands.
  • Learn from others but be yourself. Augie Garrido, Mike Martin, Mark Marquess, Skip Bertman, Ron Polk, Ray Tanner and Hal Baird all were great coaches, but none of them were even remotely similar in personality or coaching style. What they had in common is that they all had exceptional knowledge, they were good communicators and they were very competitive.
  • Don’t go over game notes with the team after a loss. Correcting game mistakes are much more effective the following day when the players are not tired and hungry.
  • Never blame a poor season on lack of leadership within the team. As a coach, you are the ultimate leader. One of your responsibilities as a coach is developing leadership within the team.
  • Be the coach that you would want to play for.
  • Every player is important. Everything you say and do around your players is important.
  • If you respect players as they are, you can be more effective in helping them become better than they are.
  • Plan your practices in detail and keep them relatively short, informative, energetic and competitive. Coaches win games in practice.
  • Spend as much quality one-on one time with players as possible. You can do this before practice or after practice. Your players will never forget the gift of time that you give.
  • Never speak negatively about your players to other players, coaches or the media. Trust is an incredibly valuable piece of a winning culture.
  • Be honest with each player but do your best to never destroy a player’s dream.
  • Never underestimate the influence you have on your players. Players are constantly listening to what you say and watching what you do. None of us are perfect, but a coach should be relentless in personal character development. Coaches as positive role models can have a positive impact on a player, team, school, community and, collectively, on a nation.
  • Strive for excellence as a coach and demand excellence from your team. Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.
  • Coaches make many, many decisions. Pray for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” –  James 1:5
  • Pray for your players and your players’ parents. You cannot change someone’s heart, but God can. He also helps us to see people differently, more like He sees them.
  • Develop within yourself and your team an attitude of gratitude.

Coaching is a process. It’s a journey. We learn, we grow and we develop. I am amazed when I hear the players on my early teams talk about the great experiences they had. My gaze in the rear view mirror reflects mistakes in teaching and the way I handled challenges with players, parents, opponents and umpires.

Most of my players choose not to remind me of the inexperienced, overly confident young coach. Instead, they extend grace. They remember the bus trips and the comebacks. They recall the laughter in the locker room and the thrill of victory. They remember the big plays and the big wins and choose to not recall (or at least not mention) the painful losses and my over reactions. Grace. For that I am thankful.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.