The recent passing of Hall of Fame coach, Ed Cheff, reminded me of some great advice he gave me many years ago. Coach Cheff said that one of the most neglected aspects of coaching is that coaches do not practice baseball skills enough themselves. He observed that while coaches hit buckets and buckets of ground balls and fly balls to their players and throw hours and hours of BP, most are not very good at these skills.
The word “coach” is a verb, an action word. Good coaches know, “Telling is not teaching.” Particularly to this generation who are mostly visual and kinesthetic learners, if you are to be successful teaching it, you must be able to demonstrate it. One of the many keys to Coach Cheff’s success was the number of fielding and throwing reps his players received every day. The difference was that Coach Cheff not only required that he and his assistant coaches throw and hit thousands of balls, but he also required them to be thrown and hit perfectly – varying the placement, spin, velocity, depth, etc. on every rep.
How many youth coaches do you see that can do this? How many youth batting practice pitchers do you see that throw various pitches in various zones consistently for strikes? Is it any wonder that hitters chase the high pitch with two strikes in games when that is what they see most in batting practice?
If I have one regret in my own coaching career it is that I did not change places with my players more often in practice––that I did not play a position more often, not just in drills, but in the end of practice scrimmages and game simulations.
Not long ago, at the end of a training session of one of my high school players, I said, “Seth, how would you like to give me an early Christmas present?” He said, “Sure Coach, anything, you name it.” “How would you like to hit an old centerfielder some fly balls?”
For the next half hour, as he hit me ball after ball, while Seth received some very valuable self-toss batting practice, I was transported back to my youth when I could not wait to get home from school, have my snack, and ride my bike back to the school yard to play baseball with my friends. Most importantly, we both could not stop smiling. I had not experienced such spontaneous joy in my coaching in a long, long time. Seth could see it; I could feel it.
I have a saying that, “A day in coaching without you seeing your players smile and them seeing you do the same, is a day wasted in coaching.” So, in honor of Coach Cheff, do yourself and your players a huge favor. Tomorrow, and from now on, stand in and take a turn.
Adam Sarancik is the owner of Elevate Sports Academy which trains youth in sport skills, athleticism, nutrition, and career and college counseling. He is the author of Coaching Champions for Life – The Process of Mentoring the Person, Athlete and Player and its companion book, Takeaway Quotes for Coaching Champions for Life.