Staying Positive as a Coach When Your Team Stinks

Competitive sports can be as brutal as they are rewarding. Even young kids understand when they may not be as athletically gifted as their teammates or their opponents. That’s life! And there is no reason to sugar coat reality, even for youth athletes. That being said, there are better and worse ways of coaching a team which may not have many (or any) future all-stars.

Today, we will be reviewing how to coach a struggling team, a struggling individual player, and what tools to keep in your toolkit to make the youth baseball experience both fun and productive for your squad.

Youth Baseball Coaching Through a Losing Season

Americans like to win. You probably like to win too. Who doesn’t? Unfortunately, half of the players who take the field for any given game will walk away without that coveted W. So what can youth baseball coaches do to remain positive and encourage their young players?

According to the Positive Coaching Alliance, coaches should strive to balance the following goals:

Winning - Obviously, all baseball players hope to win when they lace up their spikes. Great coaches push their players to want to win, and offer them the necessary resources and opportunities to do so.

Learning Life Lessons - More importantly, youth players should end the season having learned some valuable lessons along the way. These lasting lessons can cover topics like sportsmanship, mental toughness, teamwork, discipline, and much more.

The idea between focusing equally on both winning and life lessons is that one will always feed into the other. Failure is as valuable a lesson as success, if not more so. Youth athletes should be encouraged to play to win without feeling outside pressure that they must win.

Controlling Reactions to “Negative” Moments as a Youth Coach

Imagine the following scenario:

  • Your team is up by a run late in the game.

  • The team has not won many games throughout the season and your kids are excited about closing this one out.

  • The team shortstop has had a rough game so far - no hits and a throwing error. She is already getting down on herself.

  • Bases are loaded - two outs.

  • A softly hit ball rolls towards your shortstop...who airmails the throw over the first baseman and into foul territory.

  • Two runs score.

  • The shortstop, discouraged, looks over to her coach, ashamed.

What do you do?

Many coaches would be tempted to just tell the kid to ignore it and move on. Instead of that, take this moment as an opportunity to teach mental toughness (link toughness blog here) and resiliency. Acknowledge the mistake, and tell your shortstop that she will get them next time.

The P.C.A. uses a technique they call “flushing”, which entails purging the error from the player’s mind so she can move on to the next play quickly.

Another tactic which works well is the praise sandwich. This method consists of leading with praise, stating a criticism or acknowledging a mistake, and ending with praise. The sandwich method is a simple way of communicating with young players about tough situations.

Coaching Struggling Youth Athletes

Team woes are one thing, but a struggling player is an entirely different beast. There are so many factors which can get entangled in a young baseball player who is having a rough time on the field. Maybe he recently moved. Maybe her parents got divorced. Maybe he just flunked a huge science exam. Or maybe the kid is simply dipping their back shoulder.

The point is - no two situations are exactly alike. If you are trying to help a struggling player, consider the following:

Speak to the player and identify the problem. As a baseball coach, one of your jobs is to understand what is troubling your players and work with him or her to develop a solution. As mentioned above, the nature of such problems can vary dramatically, and so should your solution(s).

Control your frustrations. Human nature is to get frustrated when things don’t go as expected. Consider the scenario laid out in the previous section. It would be very natural to yell out to your squad after your shortstop’s second throwing error. This should be avoided, particularly with young kids.

Speak to the player and the parents if necessary. If a coach is frustrated, the player and his or her parents are likely to be even more frustrated. Again, this is not beneficial. Try to work with players and parents to control expectations and re-focus on teachable moments.

Offer concrete help. Finally, if there is anything solid you may be able to do as a struggling baseball player’s coach - offer that help. Kids may practice with fundamentals or just a sympathetic ear to get over the hump.

Youth Sports Content from Hustle Training

Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.