You know what makes great coaches? Great players. It’s easy to coach great players. It’s also a whole lot of fun. To work with players who can do the things we want them to do, getting closer and closer to reaching that unlimited potential, it makes us feel like we are pretty good at our jobs as coaches. There is an incredible amount of satisfaction when we are able to have a hand in our players’ successes. It’s a large part of why we do what we do.
But here’s the thing: we also have to coach those who are far from great. The players who are a challenge to work with (for whatever reason) are also our responsibility because they are every bit a part of our team, just as much as the superstar is. The outfielder who struggles to make contact and may never actually play in a game? He’s on your team––you have to coach him. That pitcher with the awful attitude who takes the air out of the dugout the second he arrives? He’s wearing the same uniform as you––it’s your responsibility as his coach, to actually coach him.
As a Minor Leaguer coming up with the Royals, I never held any legitimate prospect status and my $5,000 signing bonus hardly qualified me as a bonus baby. I was simply a player who helped fill out an affiliate’s roster. During my time with Kansas City, some coaches didn’t even bother to get to know my name, let alone spend any time helping me get better. To them, I wasn’t good enough to be coached by them. Conversely, there were coaches who treated me no different than they did the first rounder or top prospect. In their eyes, I was someone with a uniform and I deserved to get their best. Both ends of that spectrum left such an incredible impact on me and unquestionably shaped my approach to working with players…all
Former coaches of mine shaped me as a player. They shaped me as a coach. And they surely shaped me as a man. That’s what coaches do; we shape those around us, and in many cases, far more than we can ever imagine. The reason our players––every single one of them––deserve to be coached is because you never know the impact you may have on someone’s life, even if that someone can’t necessarily help you win.
No one shaped me more than Fred Hill, my college coach. I had the privilege of playing for him at Rutgers, and was on his staff when I began my own coaching journey. In March of 2019, he passed away. In the days and weeks that followed his death, the stories of his influence were fascinating. The anecdotes weren’t just from his former players who felt a similar affinity for him as I did; they came from players who he cut; they came from players he didn’t even recruit. His impact came because he gave his genuine time to people who, in the scope of Rutgers Baseball’s success, didn’t matter, and he changed their lives because of it. He made them feel like they matter because to him, they did.
In the softball world, Sue Enquist is a legend. The former UCLA coach was a part of nine National Championships with the Bruins. One of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, she credits John Springman, her brother’s Little League coach, for her developing a love for baseball (that eventually opened doors in softball) when he simply decided to include Sue as his “forever shagger” in practices. At the end of the season banquet, Springman gave Enquist the team’s most improved player award. She fully admits nowadays that if that didn’t happen––when she was seven or eight years old, mind you––she wouldn’t have lived the life she led in softball.
Think of the superstars of coaching you’re familiar with. What is always alongside their name is winning, a natural measure for evaluating a coach. But we shouldn’t be judging a coach by how many games they’ve won. The true barometer of a coach’s success should be found in how many wins their players have notched in the game of life. Those “life wins” are completely independent of talent and require nothing more from the coach beyond their title: to coach every single player on the team…and then some. You never know whose life you may change tomorrow because you decided to truly coach that kid today.