The baseball coaching community’s wisdom is growing at a quickened pace. In large part, because the overall conversation is expanding. Coaches are able to more easily connect and share ideas now more than ever. However, I’m seeing a trend emerging within the dialogue of the baseball coaching community, and unfortunately, if this trend continues, it will slow our momentum.
In this article, I’ll discuss how coaches, via podcasts, online videos, coaching conferences, blogs, etc., need to work harder to give context with their advice so that when the listeners receive the information, it can be correctly transferred to their players.
Many coaches are already doing a great job of sharing contextualized answers and advice, but having listened to thousands of hours of coaching content over just the past 3 to 4 years, it’s hard not to notice the common occurrence of nonspecific or inaccurate statements. As I discuss the problematic statements, please understand that I feel good about quickly nipping this problem in the bud because the statements are all very similar.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
I am going to dive right into some examples to clarify what I am talking about. These statements should never be unaccompanied, and they must always be attached to related evidence, pertinent data, deductive reasoning, or logic. They must always be placed in context. So without further ado, here are some specific examples of these loosey-goosey statements I speak of:
“I don’t use a cookie-cutter approach.”
“Every player is different.”
“No two players are alike.”
“There is more than one way to skin a cat.”
“A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.” “Everyone has a way that works for them.”
These statements are clearly very similar, and at first glance, these statements sound reasonable and satisfactory, and in some cases, I have heard them used correctly. However, in this article, I will do my best to articulate the specific problem often associated with these comments.
EXAMINING THE EXAMPLES
EXAMPLE 1: “I don’t use a cookie-cutter approach.”
Explanation of the Flaw: This statement has permeated the baseball coaching world, and it has some truth, but when it lacks context and clarity, it can be very misleading. This statement cannot be just thrown out there; it must always be clear as to what it’s referring.
If the statement is being used to discuss player learning styles, then it is correct. However, if the speaker is using the statement to discuss something tied to the laws of physics, then the statement is way off base.
Human minds have inherent variability, but the laws of physics are absolutes. Our teaching methods may vary, but the laws of physics cannot vary. Optimal balance and momentum for ‘Hitter A’ will be the same for ‘Hitter B,’ but it is true that 'Hitter A' and "Hitter B" may learn how to get there in a different way. This is what I'm seeing get convoluted. We are just throwing the cookie-cutter comment out there without first understanding if the topic is based on absolutes or if indeed the topic has variability.
Optimal human movement is more of an absolute, and how we teach it should be the malleable part.
The good news is when I hear this cookie-cutter comment, often I believe the person saying it is on the right track. What worries me, though, is the amount at which I’m hearing it used to discuss things that are more inherently absolute, such as the physics of baseball or optimal human movement.
As a coaching community, we must not be willy-nilly with how we use the ‘cookie-cutter’ statement. We must ask ourselves when we hear this statement: Is the cookie-cutter comment referring to ”What to teach” or ‘How to teach it’? ‘What to teach’ typically involves universal absolutes. ‘How to teach it’ will have more variance.
A better rephrasing: “I don’t use a cookie-cutter approach in regards to _____________.”
Saying it this way forces the speaker to put the statement into context, and from there, the audience can deduce its accuracy.
EXAMPLE 2: “Each player learns differently.”
Explanation of Flaw: The flaw with the statement “Everyone learns differently” is it's not true. Yes, it is true that if one player learns best by, say, visual learning, that doesn’t necessarily mean the next player in line should also be treated as a visual learner. Likewise, the second player in line may prefer a different teaching style than the first player, but that doesn't mean the third player in line won’t prefer the same teaching style used with one of the first two players.
As an extreme point, the example statement “everyone learns differently” could logically be interpreted as, “I have 15 players on my team, and they learn 15 different ways.” In reality, we all know this won't be the case.
Let me ask you this: if everyone did learn differently, why do we have so many whole-team meetings? If everyone learns differently, and you have 12 players on your team, every whole team meeting would inherently waste the time of 11 players. But it doesn’t, because a well-articulated coaching point will hit most of your players right on the forehead. Therefore, while there is some variation as to how to best teach a skill, every player doesn't necessarily learn differently, and as a coach, we should strive to communicate well enough so that as many players grasp it the first time around, and from there we can branch out.
A better rephrasing: “What may have worked with one athlete may or may not work with a different athlete.”
EXAMPLE 3: “No two players are alike.”
This statement is either incomplete or flat-out false. If the comment is referring to something like a player's DNA, then it is indeed correct, but if it's talking about how to maintain optimal dynamic balance, then it's unequivocally wrong.
EXAMPLE 4: “A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.”
Explanation of Flaw: This statement is either incomplete or inaccurate.
If the statement is referring to how we are explaining the information to our players, then it is likely correct, but it must be completed to ensure that the listener accurately understands the point.
If the statement is referring to something such as a team discipline policy, watch out. Having a different sized consequence for every player would be a terrible idea. Can you imagine Timmy’s reaction when you suspend him for 3 games while Jimmy only gets a warning for the same infraction?
A better rephrasing: “A one-size fits all approach doesn’t always work in regards to _________________.”
Again, this statement, in the correct context, has truth, but in the wrong context, it can be very detrimental to the success of your team.
I’m sure there are a lot of you reading this article saying to yourself, “Coaches simply won’t misunderstand these statements. They will be able to accurately infer what the speaker or writer is saying.” I wouldn’t have taken all this time to write this article, and I definitely wouldn’t have wasted your valuable time if I didn’t see a valid concern.
I’ve seen this problem in other areas of life, and I want to be out in front of it to ensure our coaching community continues to improve at an accelerated pace.
“There is more than one way to skin a cat.”
This unproductive cliché should be avoided, but if you are going to use it, shouldn’t it at least be changed to something like... “There is more than one way to field dress a deer."
“Everyone has a way that works for them”
“Each player responds differently.”
NO EGO, NO COMMENT
Now, I'd like to talk about what I think causes these vague statements to come out in the first place. Statements like those listed above are coming from well-intended coaches; however, we can alleviate this issue by simply qualifying our messages with context or, if that is not possible, we should simply abstain from commenting.
As mentioned earlier, the good news is the current baseball coaching community is headed in a very strong direction. To continue that strong growth, we must be ok, from time to time, saying the phrase, "I don't have an answer for that." We must restrain our egos from pushing us to comment on specific topics that we would be better off abstaining from until we better understand them. I believe the ego pushes coaches into commenting on topics they don't yet have a firm grasp on.
DON’T LET IT SLIDE
As an audience, we can surely learn from other coaches, as they share their knowledge, but we must be careful not to casually accept statements that lack context; we must ask for clarity. When you're done reading this article, and you have a second, go listen to the podcast called Mixergy. Pay close attention to the host Andrew as he relentlessly asks follow-up questions. We need more Andrews in our baseball community.
We must consistently and respectfully question any statements that lack context and clarification.
I, like many of you, have been heavily immersed in baseball for many years which makes it somewhat easier to connect the dots when a speaker goes vague. However, what about young coaches? What about new coaches?
BREAK THE CYCLE
We have a generation of coaches making a mistake that parallels a mistake made by older generations of coaches. Old-school coaches were allowed to defend their coaching strategies with vague statements such as, “We do it this way because this is how we’ve always done it here.” Or, "I teach it this way because this is how my coach taught me, and hey, he won a state title in '62.” Unfortunately, few questioned statements like these, and just sort of let them slide, and consequently, many older generation players received stagnant coaching. Thankfully, the baseball community has wisened up and is more reluctant to accept those kinds of statements.
Albeit slightly different, the current baseball community has shown its own pattern of failing to question a different group of vague statements, and the worms are crawling their way out of the can as we speak.
My message is this: we must carefully communicate our points so that the coaches listening, reading, and watching will clearly understand the point being made.
Secondly, we must request context when a coach is sharing advice without it. A community that goes along to get along will take a very long time to advance. Slow progress is definitely not something any of us want.
We need healthy, clear, and direct communication with the primary goal of getting to the truth as quickly as possible.
As leaders, we owe that to the young people we coach.
By: COACH BO
Audio version of the article: CLICK HERE
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