Baseball Magazine

Games Are for the Players

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
Games are for the playersThe past couple years I have noticed something new in college baseball.  It involves players wearing wristbands that apparently have all the offensive and defensive plays written on them along with some kind of a numeric code system.  A coach calls out a sequence of numbers and the player(s) look at their wristbands to figure out what pitch to call, what play is on, or where to position themselves.  I have never tried them so it may in fact be the greatest baseball invention to date.  Of course, this is nothing new to football because quarterbacks have used them for some time now.  I had a conversation with a college baseball coach whose team uses them and he told me they work great and the players love them.  I hate them.  Let me rephrase that.  I don't dislike the wristbands.  I've never used them or the system as a player or coach so I cannot speak to how good or bad they are.  What I hate is the trend that is behind them.  Every coaching style has merit so I don't want to give the impression that the way I coach is the "right" way and that if a coach uses this system he is "wrong" to do so.  Leadership of any kind takes many forms and each style has plusses and minuses.
I am not sure who originally coined this phrase or where I heard it but it goes a long way in describing my coaching style and how I interact with players.
"Practices are for the coaches and games are for the players."
I have always felt that if I have to bark orders all game to my players about what to do and where to be, it is an indication that I did not prepare them well enough in practice.  As I've stated numerous times on this blog, baseball players must be calm and in the right mind frame to succeed in the very difficult game of baseball.  A coach who is constantly in his players ears all game is not helping in my opinion.  At the high school level, I want my players to learn the game and think for themselves instead of relying on the coaches to do all the thinking for them.  It seems hypocritical to me that a coach would control every aspect of a player's thinking and then complain that his players cannot think for themselves.
In 2009, our team won the Pennsylvania 4A State Championship.  The championship game was televised.  Our pitcher that day, now a pitcher at Winthrop University, threw very hard.  Early in the game a right handed batter on the other team smoked a line drive straight down the right field line.  A sure double and maybe a triple.  Instead, it was right at the right fielder who was literally playing 15 feet off the right field line before the pitch.  One out.  When I watched the replay of the game on TV, I laughed out loud.  The announcers were shocked and couldn't believe where the right fielder was playing as they watched the replay.  They glowingly praised the coaching staff on our "scouting report" and knowledge of the opposing hitters.  I laughed because, ironically, we did no scouting prior to the game.  We also didn't tell the outfielders to play the hitter that far the other way.  We said nothing.  What we did tell the outfielders many times in practice was to know who is pitching, to read the batters' swings, and to adjust their position accordingly.  All three outfielders communicated amongst themselves and shifted far to the opposite field completely on their own based on what they noticed during the season and during this particular game.  They knew that we trusted them enough to make that decision on the fly.  If they had relied on the coaches, they may not have shifted and a double or triple would have been the result.  A close win for the championship may have turned into a disappointing loss because of that one play alone.
Even the most knowledgeable coaches cannot possibly see everything that happens in a game.  The coach has one set of eyes and sees the game from the dugout.  The players have nine sets of eyes and see the game from all areas of the field.  Collectively, they will see more real-time things than the coach.  I say tap into that.  Show that you trust the players enough to take what they see and act on it.  Of course, the risk in all of this is that players will act incorrectly and make mistakes.  It is true.  This will happen occasionally.  But not always.
I read where a high school basketball coach got so fed up with his players lack of court awareness and failure to do what they were told that he tried something different as a way of sending a strong message to his players.  Right before the next game, he told his team that he wasn't going to say a single word during the game.  Not one word.  He was going to sit on the bench and stay completely silent from start to finish.  They had to make all the decisions from play calling to timeouts.  He thought since they were playing the best team in the league and had little chance of winning he could teach his team a lesson by allowing them to get beaten badly.  "See what happens when you try to do things on your own and don't listen?" was what he planned on saying after the game.  You can probably guess what happened.  His team played the best they had all season and won the game.  They also seemed to have a great time in the process.  What started as a lesson for the players turned into one for the coach.  Following the game, he was more than a little uncomfortable when reporters asked about "his" masterful game plan.
In my opinion, the short-term gain of having every pitch, play, and position coded on a wristband and determined by a coach is offset by the long-term problem of players not learning how to think for themselves and to react accordingly.  
A lot of coaching involves knowing what to say and how to say it.  Is also involves knowing when to just be quiet.

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