Are You a Coach, a Friend, a Social Worker, or All Three?


#1

Are you a coach, a friend, a social worker, or all three?

Recently I had a visit from a man who started coaching job not far from where I live. One of his responsibilities involved working with pitchers, in addition to other things. I’m not sure how he got my name, but, nevertheless as a practical matter we had a short meeting and traded subjects.

As we talked about pitching specific coaching, the meeting occupied more and more time about dealing with personnel matters - you know, dealing with people, especially the player’s pool.

Some of the topics that took up a lot of our time were:

  • How do you deal with a player who looks to you as a father figure?
  • How do you deal with a player that has no home environment whatsoever?
  • How do you deal with a player that doesn’t have money to eat?
  • How do you deal with a player that wears the same clothes all the time?
  • How do you deal with a player that can’t handle rejection?
  • How do you deal with a player that’s a loner, won’t mix?
  • How do you deal with a homeless player?
  • How do you deal with a player with a drug problem, drinking problem, a gambling problem?
  • How do you deal with a player that bucks you every inch of the way?

I don’t have the space here to elaborate on everything that we covered, nor am I an expert on offering advice on such matters. But, I offered some suggestions that this man found helpful, hence my offering those suggestions here.

First off, we as coaches have priorities. The first being, knowing our field (vocation) in the sport that we’re making a living in. Second, knowing how to utilized the human resources at our command is next. And third, combining the first and second given the level of competition to maximize the efforts of number one and two… Now mixed in with these priorities, are a host of agendas, formal and not, that govern our work - and that governs us, all the same time. It’s no easy matter itemizing when and where, even, how and how much.

But one thing is for sure, we have limitations to our specialty. We have limitations do to our professional competency, training, education, playing environment, dictated or assumed responsibilities, governing policies and mandates, and a lot of other things that can change in a heartbeat because of legal and social concerns.

Now I know the last paragraph was a mouthful, but it is necessary to understand the limitations of a coach - as a person with just as many feelings, being sensitive to the human experience, and naturally wanting to reach out and help those that seem to need it. But, therein is a minefield of problems that can unload on you without even realizing it. Without the right kind of backing, without the right kind of specialized training and education - not to mention experience, in the specific area of social and human behavior, your just asking for trouble.

Look at it this way, the personnel that cross your path will come from all walks of life - some good, some not so good. Now unless your very intimate with this population pool in general, some of this personnel will confront you with life styles, their personalities and other things that’ll tug at your heart strings big time and without any advanced warning. And if the coaching job wasn’t hard enough, you’ll see a constant stream of these people and their problems day in and day out. If the following is part of your job description - Social Worker, Human Needs Specialist, Adolescent Counselor, Parole Officer, then I assume your well aware of what I’m referring to.

I should mention that those of us in the coaching profession have made it our life’s work because we have a certain sense of humanity, and we care about those that we interact with - but there are professional as well as realistic boundaries that we must adhere to. Step outside of those boundaries and we can become immersed in a quagmire of conflicts and upheavals that seem to have no end.

So, be concerned and proactive to the human frailties around you. Use the policies in place to guide your ethical and professional obligations as a coach in the sport that you’ve chosen as a life’s work. Don’t be all things to all people - that’s not what you’re qualified for. No policies in place to guide you? There must be a reason, long before you got to that place in time - and at that location. Itemize those reasons if you can, then govern yourself. Just be very careful of being a torch carrier for things outside your realm of influence and control.

There’s so much more to this topic than I have space and time for. Just be very careful of taking on too much in the compassion department.

Coach B.


#2

In the major leagues, a pitching coach very often has to be something of a psychologist as well. You’ll find that a pitcher’s problem may well have nothing to do with mechanics, but with what’s going on between the ears, and a pitching coach needs to have an arsenal of techniques to deal with such problems. Ed Lopat was one such, and I’d like to share a story with you about what happened with me when I ran into such a problem.
You hear stories—nightmarish, terrifying stories—from all levels of pitchers, ranging from Little League all the way up to the majors, and they all seem to center on one big issue: “MY STUFF ISN’T WORKING!” It could be anything—the fast ball has lost its hippity-hop, the curve ball hangs, the slider is flat, the knuckleball refuses to knuckle, the pitcher can’t find the strike zone to save himself, you name it. And none of these might have anything to do with mechanics. It’s the kind of thing that often has a coach or manager tearing his hair out my the roots, and it sometimes takes a committee to resolve it. And here’s where my story begins.
It was the winter of 1952-53. I had had a successful season, 4-0 and a whole batch of rescued games (that was what we called them before they were designated “saves”). I had heard many such stories, and I hadn’t given them a thought, but during the winter I started thinking about them. I was thinking, how would I handle such a situation if it came up? It may have bothered me more than I could admit to myself, because suddenly one day the “how would I handle it” suddenly morphed into “Can I handle it?” And then one night I had a horrendous nightmare. In this nightmare I was warming up prior to starting a game, and suddenly my two best pitches, the slider and the knuckle-curve, went into hiding and refused to come out. I couldn’t seem to find the strike zone. And when I heard the call “You’re in there” and went out to take the mound I discovered that the batters had all grown to twelve feet high and the bats were six feet long! I awoke with a start, and I couldn’t get back to sleep for a couple of hours—I just sat there in bed and stared into the darkness.
I knew I was going to have to talk to someone about this. Then one day in the spring of 1953 I had just a couple of classes at music conservatory in the morning, so I was free the rest of the day, and I went to Yankee Stadium. I arrived in the middle of the afternoon, and I had just gotten to Gate 4 where I always went to get a ticket for the game when Ed Lopat pulled up in his car. He had come early, as he usually did when he wanted to get into the Stadium to work on something on the mound, and when he saw me he came over to the gate and wanted to know how things were going. We talked for a bit about some of my rescued games, and then I brought up the subject of nightmarish situations on the mound. I tried to be casual and offhand about it, but apparently I was not doing a good job of it, because his face suddenly took on a look of intent concentration, almost as if he were trying to read my mind. And suddenly I found myself telling him about the nightmare I had had; I couldn’t help it. He listened for a moment, and then he quietly interrupted me with "We’ll start there."
He proceeded to introduce me to a psychological strategy I had had no idea he knew anything about. He guided me into a state of deep relaxation, and in the course of exploring some of the games I had pitched we hit the problem head-on. What it was, was an uncertainty and anxiety I was feeling about pitching in tight spots with less than my best stuff—I had no idea where that came from, but Steady Eddie went right after it, and in little more than an hour he knocked the whole thing out of commission. He gave me more reassurance, support and reinforcement than I had ever thought possible—now, most of this was good common sense, but when delivered to a person in a state of deep hypnotic relaxation, as I was, it was a powerful psychological shot in the arm; he restored my confidence and demolished any anxieties I might have had about the situation. At the end, just as I returned to full alertness, he said quietly: "You can handle it."
I felt as if a terrific load had been taken off me. And the next day I went out and pitched a two-hit shutout, no walks, twelve strikeouts. I never had that problem again.
There’s no telling just what a good pitching coach can do to help. :slight_smile: :baseballpitcher:


#3

This is an excellent topic for coaches. In fact, Tom House and the NPA discuss this very topic at their coaches certifications. They point out that some youth pitchers look up to their coaches almost as much, if not more, than their own parents depending on what’s going on at home. Coaches are in a position to make a positive different in the lives of all of the players they touch. They should step up to the plate and not waste that opportunity.

[quote]Some of the topics that took up a lot of our time were:

  • How do you deal with a player who looks to you as a father figure?
  • How do you deal with a player that has no home environment whatsoever?
  • How do you deal with a player that doesn’t have money to eat?
  • How do you deal with a player that wears the same clothes all the time?
  • How do you deal with a player that can’t handle rejection?
  • How do you deal with a player that’s a loner, won’t mix?
  • How do you deal with a homeless player?
  • How do you deal with a player with a drug problem, drinking problem, a gambling problem?
  • How do you deal with a player that bucks you every inch of the way?[/quote]
    The answer is simple - deal with the person and the player will take care of himself.

#4

My original post was not designed to inhabit the people skills that are so necessary in the coaching process, nor did I phrase my post to imply such. The mentoring aspect for example is a coaching skill that takes years of grooming and when done right, for all the right reasons, it’s one of the greatest gifts one human being can give to another. My orginial post was suggesting a " go easy" with getting “too” involved in the personal aspects of a player. And here’s why:

Over the years I’ve seen good people, for all their sincerity and good intentions, get blindsided by stuff that just seemed to come out of the woodwork and do no justice by them. And since the amateur game is loaded with a cross section of all kinds of people and the bagged that they bring onto the field - and, the interaction of those around them, now during the start of the preseason I though the post was timely.

Roger is one of the most gifted men on the subject of coaching and passing the same onto those that visit this site. I admire his sensitivity and is professionalism. His post on this subject is well founded in fact as well as it is judgement.

I do however want to approach this topic from a slightly different angle, not meaning to reduce or take away any of Roger’s contribution. So please, what follow is in no way subordinates his contribution.

.

The answer is NOT that simple. Getting involved with personal matters of a player’s home environment, their emotional and social experiences can land a coach in some pretty hot water, not to mention potential legal problems. And the complexities with age, ethnic and religious persuasions makes the coaching process even more challenging.

Another thing to consider is the age group that your involved with. Adolescents have a point of interaction that you as a coach must tread very lightly with, when it comes to personal matters. Making judgements about these people and then trying to follow through with a - … may sound cut and dry, but it’s not. Oh by all means, be fair, reasonable, patient and instructional with all you deal with - but beyond that, the qualifications necessary to address other matters concerning the things that I listed above, sits in very deep water with currents that’ll pull you under if your not careful.
Here’s an example:
A very good friend of mine tried providing a simple bowl of cereal before every morning practice for his youngsters. One youngster in particular came from a family that really didn’t have much and the young man showed signs of fatigue shortly after the team practice began. The youngster was also the object of jokes from time to time at school and on the field - a situation that was on going long before he joined that club. When the parents of the youngster in question go wind of what the coach was doing, things turned into a nightmare. Now you’d think they’d be thankful - no, they were outraged and embarrassed. Why? Because of the mean spirited kids that took the situation beyond the field and made even more jokes, beyond the coaches control.

Look, I’m not saying to be hard-nose and insensitive to players under your charge - that’s just not realistic. However, the qualifications necessary to make assumptions, arrive at a judgement call, or anything close to it, requires some pretty savvy people skills - the kind of skills most of us don’t have without some serious training and internship in the humanities.
You can go out on a limb and help all the people that you want. Extend the hand of friendship and be compassionate. Just be mindful of who your dealing with, why, and the potential outcomes - both good and bad.

Again, I say from experience here - don’t be all things to all people. Your in the capacity of coaching, nothing more - nothing less. If you want to extend your boundaries outside of the norm of that role, I suggest you equip yourself with people that’ll support you 100% and a good attorney.

Coach B.


#5

I suspect that this is why high school coaches are so little understood. They have to remain above it, particularly in the early season. In my observations, wiley parents will try from as early as they can get away with, to influence the HS coach by becoming socially close (Team helper or sponser dollars) or trying to get little Johnnie in front of him every single way thinkable. I suspect also that the same thing has a propensity to occour in Travel. Parents (To a lesser extent the players…but they do this also) think that personal relationships can obligate a coach or at the very least get their kid an edge. It’s interesting to me to see the amount of parents going out on the net to try to get that mean old coach condemed when lil Johnnie gets cut, I think this is why personally getting involved is a very loaded weapon. Now that doesn’t mean that once boundries are established (The integrity of the cut is valid and the idea that talent and hustle win out over any relationship) you can’t personally develop a young man, but first that wall of impersonal unbiased “Team first” policy has to be set in stone and you can begin that development by giving an idea what discipline and integrity are all about :wink: leading by example is the best policy here.


#6

you have to keep a distance from parents on certain topics. our policy is no discussion of playing time, game strategy, other kids abilities, etc. on the field stuff. you dont have to have no relationship at all with parents. when we go out of town our coaches and parents will go out to eat together, etc. they know the boundaries.
with the players its all about family. we do everything we can to foster that. this profession is not about wins, losses, or even baseball really. its about relationships. hopefully life long relationships. we are more the parent to alot of these kids than their actual parents. we have to realize that and take that responsibility


#7

let me go onto say that being part of a family is putting family(team) ahead of self. thats part of the teaching that goes into creating family. family goals (team goals) are first. but then families care bout the other members as individuals. as coaches we got to care about the individual off the field but that doesnt get in the way of what we are trying to do on the field.
our team rules are this:

  1. be the best person you can possibly be
  2. be the best student you can possibly be
  3. be the best teammate you can possibly be
  4. be the best baseball player you can possibly be
  5. become the best competitor you can possibly be

in that order - the last 2 are interchageable - being a competitor in life skills is more important than being a better baseball player


#8

Coach B - Poor choice of words on my part. You are correct that things can certainly be anything BUT simple. And you certainly can cross the line and get yourself into hot water. But the better you are at judging what’s appropriate or not, the closer to that line you can get without getting burned.

JD - I agree 100% with you about leading by example.As the saying goes, your actions speak so loud I cannot hear what you say. So, lead by example. And remember to look inthe mirror once in a while. :wink:

RaiderBB - I agree with your list of priorities. As a coach, if we can help kids fulfill that list, then we should.

By the way, if any of you get to learn about the philosophies of the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, I strongly recommend it.


#9

[color=blue][i][b]let me go onto say that being part of a family is putting family(team) ahead of self. thats part of the teaching that goes into creating family. family goals (team goals) are first. but then families care bout the other members as individuals. as coaches we got to care about the individual off the field but that doesnt get in the way of what we are trying to do on the field.
our team rules are this:

  1. be the best person you can possibly be
  2. be the best student you can possibly be
  3. be the best teammate you can possibly be
  4. be the best baseball player you can possibly be
  5. become the best competitor you can possibly be

in that order - the last 2 are interchageable - being a competitor in life skills is more important than being a better baseball player[/b][/i][/color]

There’s a title in sports that only baseball has and holds an almost reverance for, and that title is Skipper. That one person that WE ALL look to with examples of stewardship, and most of all respect.

raiderbb right on the money … Skipper.

Roger… I e-mailed that coach I had a sit-down with, the following:
As the saying goes, your actions speak so loud I cannot hear what you say. So, lead by example. And remember to look inthe mirror once in a while.
He’s got a small locker at the school he’s coaching at, and this is posted on his loocker door. He likes the “look in the mirror” part … a lot.

Coach B.


#10

Thanks for sharing that, Coach B. You just made my day!


#11

Coach B wrote:

A coach’s ability to know his/her limitations is undoubtedly the most important key to survival. You must err on the side of caution when tempted to “improve” life for one of your players. Let me use an example:

A High School basketball coach was extremely optimistic about his chances for reaching the regional playoffs and perhaps making a run in the state tournament. One of his star players committed an armed robbery as a juvenile about mid-season. The coach spoke with an attorney friend who volunteered to see that all hearings in the matter including the filing of a juvenile petition, were delayed six months, long enough to allow the player to participate in regional playoffs after taking a game suspension.

When interviewed about his interference with due process the coach responded (paraphrased),“For years, I’ve picked this kid up and taken him to summer practice and made arrangements to pay for his entry fees in travel basketball when nobody in his own family cared. I made sure he passed his classes and stayed eligible for each weeks games even if I had to get certain teachers to hold back on reporting grades for awhile. This kid has the talent to help the team and he has nothing else in life but basketball. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

When you are totally immersed in a situation it is often times impossible to gain the perspective you need to make the right choices. It is important to always use “critical thinking” when evaluating what your role as a coach should be.


#12

A pitching coach that I was an assistant to had five guys that were real wild cards … every chance they got … they were into something.

I got a call from the one of them that they were in jail because of some altercation at a local dive, $ 50 bucks each for bail and they could be ready for the game the next day. “Just try and keep it under wrap so they could explain things later” the guy asked.

I did, sprang all three out of my own money, back to the motel.

During the game, a message was handed to me in the pen, one of the guys had a death in the family and they wanted him to call home. I asked the man to meet me over to the side and asked him to talk to our skipper in the visitor’s locker room office, he had to talk to him.

That night the man left to go home and attend to business - two days later I was trying to explain to a judge why one of the three men who were suppose to be in court wasn’t. See, by posting bail, I was responsible for those three. My sprint of kindness and posting bail personally turned out to come full circle by my signing some sort of paper at the police station that made me responsible for the trio. The judge was not amused so the decision was made that I forfeited all the bail posted, paid an additional $300 in lieu of contempt, then life went on.

I never got a thank you form either of three, I almost lost my spot due to my inexperience, and the Mrs. wasn’t too happy giving up that kind of money when we didn’t have it to give.

An extreme case - yes. But it’s tempered my involvement since. Not that I haven’t been there for others during my life … I wouldn’t be in this business if I was that cold and insensitive.

Great discussion on the subject.

Coach B.