Addressing the “Coach vs. Instructor” Dilemma

I get this question a lot from players and parents;

“My coach has me doing things that are very different than what you have been working with me on, what should I do?” 

This is a somewhat loaded question with answers that are given in many different ways by many different instructors.  I’m convinced that understanding the proper way to handle situations like these can be the difference between having great experiences as a player, and continuing to improve in all settings, or showing up to the ballpark everyday with discontent and playing on five different teams in five years.  When I have this conversation with players and their parents, I break my answer down to two key points.

Be Coachable!

Being coachable is the absolute number one key in my book, and here’s why.  While many “gurus” may have the tendency to denounce the player’s coach and fill them and their parents heads up with reasons why “that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, it’s important not to lose sight of the coach’s intentions.  99.9% of coaches, regardless of the level of their expertise, are instructing players with the desire to help make them better.  This is important to keep in mind when being coached or seeing your son be coached. 

At the youth level, coaches are volunteers the vast majority of the time which means that there’s a day job mixed in there requiring large amounts of time and energy, and coaching youth baseball is an addition onto that.  While many baseball instructors are lucky enough to be able to spend their days studying their craft and perfecting it working with many players, this is not a luxury most youth coaches have.  The same goes for high school coaches, who are often teaching classes all day or working elsewhere. 

My dad coached youth baseball extremely successfully for 16 years as my brothers and myself grew up, and he’ll be the first to admit that he didn’t get to spend a bunch of time researching the latest and greatest in baseball training, and relied on coaching us how he was coached as a college player.  Between his job (or two jobs) and often times helping coach all three of our teams at once, there was no time!  He was however an incredible youth baseball coach because he cared about every single kid on every team he ever coached, and allowed them to be themselves while imparting what he had learned through his experiences.  He advocated that kids spend time on their own working on their game whether organically or with an instructor, and always was open to hear about what they may have learned elsewhere in order to help them get better.  While many players that he coached have gone on to play the game at it’s highest levels, his effect on them as people has made a far larger and more important impact.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I am NOT advocating for uninformed coaches, as a matter of fact I think the education of youth and high school coaches is maybe the most important piece of baseball instruction, and there are tons who are incredible teachers of the game at these levels already.  Instead I’m advocating for thoughtful perspective from players and parents.  If you have a coach that meets the criteria that my dad met, that deserves the highest levels of respect, regardless of what’s being taught.  Coaches, it’s your responsibility to meet that criteria and be open to bettering your understanding of the game as much as possible, as well as do your best to give them the “why” in what you’re teaching.  This apporach will greatest impact on your kids, as players and more importantly as young people!

Have a Solid Understanding of Your Own Process.

Transitioning from the macro to the micro, here is what I try and tell players the first day we work together.

I will not be there every rep you take, your coach will not be there every rep you take, and your parents will not be there every rep you take.  You however, will be there every rep you take so it’s extremely important that you understand what it is you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. 

With this principle in mind, a well-educated player with a strong understanding of what makes him tick is extremely important.  The reality is that not all coaches meet the criteria above, and ego sometimes rears its ugly head.  The “you’ll do it my way” thought process is unfortunately prevalent in coaches, and when a player counters with the “well my instructor says so” line, it usually only adds to the issue.  A player’s best bet against a coach like this is to be well informed about the principles and processes that he has been working on, and speak from his own knowledge rather than just being a pawn of his instructor.  When players can intelligently speak about a given subject and communicate well with their coach, there tends to be far fewer issues and coaches are more likely to allow players to work through their own processes. 

Finally there’s this that speaks to both points; your volunteer coach may say one thing that helps you to click that your expert instructor never said, so not only do you owe it to your coach to take in his coaching, but you owe it to yourself.  If players can listen, be willing to try what their coach is telling them, and thoughtfully decide if it matches their principles and process, there is always opportunity to get better.  Remember, it’s the message and it’s application that’s most important, regardless of the messenger.

This blog’s header picture is a painting of my dad working with a young player.  It continually reminds me of how important it is for us as instructors to value what youth coaches do, and celebrating that value to our players and their parents.

Ryan Serena
Rogue Baseball

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