Lessons Learned From Other Sports
Some lessons learned in coaching youth football have really helped me in coaching other sports I know very little about.
In 2002 the Screaming Eagles Youth Football Program decided we would start a baseball program. The problem was I had not coached baseball before and over 90% of our kids had never put a glove on, as baseball popularity has declined dramatically in the inner-city.
Since we had been able to completely turn around our football program from the bottom of the league to the top via intensive coach training and developing a system with heavy research, I decided to do the same for baseball:
My experience with baseball was non-existent as a coach. I had played only up to my Junior year of High School and was just average on a very good day. I felt my little expertise on the subject was minimal and I had no authority or credibility to impose a new system on the entire Screaming Eagle program. The baseball “program” I was putting in place was for my personal team only.
Started the project like any other, doing research on the videos and books available to teach youth baseball coaches. I bought a tape by Marty Shupack on baseball practice organization. I went to the local indoor baseball practice facility and bought a few books and tapes that were all specifically targeted to youth coaches. I asked around and found out who the best coaches were that won consistelntly. Many of them practice at an indoor practice facility, so I went and watched a few of the top youth teams teams getting their year round instruction inside.
I then sought out advice from the best youth baseball coaches in the area. If you are going to learn from someone, why not go right to the guy that has had the most success? Here in Omaha that is a guy by the name of Bill Olsen. Coach Olsen has coached National Championship teams at the Youth Level. He is an accomplished High School coach and he was also an assistant coach on one of the USA Pan American Games and Olympic teams. Coach Olsen knows his stuff and has a passion for developing youth baseball players and he loves teaching coaches how to teach players.
I was fortunate enough to attend 4 large clinics Coach Olsen put on, and while I had played 9 years of organized competitive baseball, I found out:
1) I knew nothing about coaching baseball
2) My previous baseball coaches didn’t know anything either, I had been shortchanged as a player.
I was committed not to let the same thing happen to these kids.
Coach Olsen showed us proper fundamentals, but more importantly how to break down and teach each movement. He gave us many detailed progressions to teach proper hitting, fielding, throwing and even pitching. I was amazed to see how his methods paralleled how we taught our kids how to play youth football.
I then observed several of the best “select” and rec level coaches while they were running their practices. I learned how to teach the movements and how to shave tons of time off my practices. Back in the days that I played, batting practice consisted of 1 player hitting while 11 players shagged balls in the field, how boring. Rarely were any coaching points imparted, we were supposed to be getting better by “practicing. I learned how to get much more done in far less time. I also got a chance to observe Mike Evans running some practices of his own, Mike has taken several Pacesetter “Select” teams to Youth National Championships and now coaches a Junior College team. I learned some real neat games from him that keep the kids interest, just like the fun team building and evaluation drills we do for our youth football teams.
To make a long story short, I developed a plan and implemented it based on the expertise of these men, not what I had known from my own experiences. My first team could have been described as the “Land Of Misfit Toys” from the “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” movie. Our first few practices most of the kids had to be shown how to put a glove on and about 1/3 of the kids didn’t even have gloves, they were HORRIBLE. I went down to the Salvation Army Store and bought some used gloves, oiled them up and had them ready for the second practice. The kids kept coming and we got better each practice as we very slowly made progress to our goal. Just as in youth football, we worked on the critical success factors, nothing else, no wasted time or movement. We used many of the tricks we use in football like progressions, “ready focus”, group instruction,fit and freeze, limited live scrimmaging, player contracts, discipline model etc etc Using Coach Olsens ideas and what I saw on the videos, we were able to get each player 16 minutes of batting practice in every 2 hour practice we had. We didn’t even hit “live” until week 3 as we did lots of “hitting” instruction and drills with no bats and no balls, then going to Tees, then to soft-toss and then to hitting the ball attached to the stiff 5′ pole apparatus that hurts my wrists so much.
We didn’t “scrimmage” or do lots of live infield and outfield, we did lots of drills without balls and ball to bucket drills. We didn’t play catch, it would have been a total waste of time ( playing fetch,not catch) we worked on frozen throwing mechanic (yes, fit and freeze) drills. I just did everything 100% as Bill Olsen suggested.
We went into our first game not knowing how to play the game terribly well but we were making real good progress on the fundamentals. We ended up winning that game and all 14 games we played that year, to EVERYONES surprise. Every single one of my kids was hitting the ball, even the very overweight 190 pound defensive tackle that in the first practice missed about every ball hitting from a tee! We would consistently have 1-2-3 innings etc on defense. In the next two years I stayed at this age level as this original group moved up on on to other teams. The next year my team won all 12 of our games and the following year we won all 14 again, three years as the dominant team in the league without a loss at this age group and we switched leagues one year to a Little League that consistently produced State Champions. We never played in any big tournaments as we did not have the funds unfortunately to do so and we generally took a much lower key approach to baseball as we did football. Baseball to us was just “filler” until football season came around.
The moral of the story is; priorities are important, progression teaching of the most minute fundamental detail is important for every sport, “scrimmaging” is overrated and great practice organization using time saving tricks is critical. Taking some time to learn from the experts allowed me to teach the kids properly so they could have more fun. Just like in football, the kids have more fun if they don’t lose every game, in baseball they aren’t having much fun either if they never get a hit or lose every game too. The sad thing was we were so much better than the other teams each of the three years I coached that we could have actually played up an age group and competed. Many of the coaches that I coached against went to the same Bill Olsen clinic I did, but I could tell during warm ups that they were not doing what Coach Olsen suggested they do in warmups, or how they held their gloves, or how their infielders got in their stance or how their hitters got into their stance. Either these coaches were asleep while Coach Olsen was speaking, or they just decided to do it their own “better” way. I decided to do it Coach Olsens way and if it didn’t work then I would do more research and make changes. In my opinion these youth coaches really shortchanged their players, ours were so more fundamentally sound, it looked like we were practicing 5 days a week when in reality we were practicing far less than any team in the league and most of the other teams had kids with experience on their teams.
Go watch other teams practice in your sport, go to clinics that teach youth topics, ask a very successful coach to be your mentor, most are thrilled that someone cares enough to want to learn and thinks highly enough of them to want to learn from them. Your kids will benefit in the end, coaching is coaching no matter the sport.