Last evening, I participated in a coaching clinic hosted by the Little League organization in which my niece is playing (and I’m coaching). As a provider of coaching clinics myself, I bring a bit of skepticism and ego to attending someone else’s clinic. I wasn’t expecting to learn that much and had a decent sized chip on my shoulder regarding whether the clinic would be of any value to me at all. SHAME ON ME. Over just under two hours, I heard enough tips, tricks, and best practices that I took about a page of notes. It was certainly worth my time and I made sure both the instructor/presenter and the Little League organizer knew I appreciated them holding the clinic. All that said, I also realized that there seem to be two types of youth sports coaching clinics: the ‘here are some drills and practice tips’ clinic like I attended last night and the ‘here’s how you work with kids, set up and run practices, and manage games’ type clinic that I offer. I wonder if what’s needed is both.
The clinic last night was put on my Austin Byler, former professional baseball player and CEO of Major League University. Austin is knowledgeable and personable. He offered drills and tips for running them with our athletes and then demonstrated them. He often referred to the coaches he’s worked with and the sources of the drills or ideas, which I appreciated as it helped to understand how they worked for college and professional coaches. I mentioned that I took about a page of notes. Here are a couple of examples:
- He offered several short phrases that coaches can use with the athletes to get them to focus on execution: “Big glove, big target” to reinforce the active nature of the player receiving the ball while playing catch; “Catch the ball with your eyes” to remind players to keep their eyes behind their glove; and “Sink into your legs” for fielding grounders. I plan to use all of these in future practices.
- Austin emphasized “winning the Zero Period”; trying to get the players excited about warming up and playing catch
- I am intrigued by the idea of hitting grounders during infield practice off a tee, as he said he does – I might have to try that
- With respect to hitting, Austin offered several excellent drills around the tee and reinforced what a valuable training tool the tee is (something that youth baseball coaches often struggle in convincing their players as they might see the tee as only what they used years ago when they played T-ball)
All in all, I am glad I attended the clinic as I will put much of what I learned into practice this upcoming season. However, as a veteran youth sports coach and provider of clinics myself, I think what Austin provided in his clinic is necessary, but maybe not complete in what, particularly new, coaches need in order to have a successful season. While the sport-specific drills will be practically beneficial to all of us coaches who attended, I think Austin’s clinic was missing other practical advice that can help coaches. Specifically, things like
- Planning and running effective practices. As I say in my clinics, if you think you can set up some cones, roll the ball out there, and tell the players to ‘go get ’em’ and have a successful practice; well… Good practices involve preplanning to determine the goals of the practice, the drills to run to achieve those goals, and how to make the time with the athletes fun.
- Managing playing time. Another example of needed preplanning is in setting game line-ups so that, by the end of the season, all of the players have played an equal amount. This involves tracking playing time by quarter, inning, half, or whatever the appropriate measure is for the sport your coaching. In addition, H&A coaches try to get everyone time playing multiple positions…another data point to track and complication to making a good line-up.
- Working with the athletes. Many coaches only have experience working with their own children. My clinics provide practical tips for getting on the players’ level (both emotionally and physically) and dealing with really young players.
- Engaging the parents. Many of us have seen or experienced first-hand adults behaving badly at youth sports events. Much of this poor behavior – and a good deal of stress on the coach throughout the season – can be avoided if the coach sets expectations from the beginning.
Austin provided an excellent handout that had checklists of skills to master in game play, dugout etiquette, and teamwork. This provides a handy way to evaluate the players on my team…determine where they are at the beginning of the season and measure their progress at the end. My goal is that every player is better than they were at the beginning of the season. During my clinics, I provide a handout as well. My handouts include a few drills with the recommendation to find additional ones either at the league website or one of the various sites on the internet. I also provide other items related to the material in the clinic like an initial phone call script and welcome email template.
Maybe what’s needed for many leagues is a combination of the drills-heavy clinic Austin provided last night and the practical administrative tips type clinic I provide. Particularly new coaches would benefit from both. I wonder if there’s an opportunity to collaborate with Austin and Major League University?