Can't we all just get along? On any given day, on any of the countless social media platforms, you can find baseball coaches ferociously attacking one another from behind their keyboards over a multitude of subjects in and around our game. The vast “I’m right, you’re wrong” arguments range from the swing mechanics of hitters, to weighted balls versus long toss for pitchers, to offenses that believe in bunting against those who vilify the mere thought of laying one down.
There is one argument prevalent today above all others that shouldn’t be an argument at all: developing players versus winning games. These are in no way two ideals that should be pinned up against one another, but rather two that should work together, one coexisting to be mutually beneficial for the other. But for some reason, many have come to view the argument as “either/or,” and are unable to connect them in the productive relationship that they should be found in.
When did these two become mutually exclusive?
When did winning become a bad thing? When did making players better become a bad thing?
Since when did these two ideals become all or nothing, one or the other?
This is the age we live in.
Coaches are responsible for everything that happens on the field; both the individualized aspects of each player and the overall fundamentals of the team. At many spots, coaches are not getting paid to spend all hours of the day to improve one part of one player's game, but rather to help teach an entire roster of players how to play the game, and eventually, how to win. There are many of those coaches out there who we would all enthusiastically send our own children to play for.
On the other end of the spectrum are coaches who are more specialized. They are not getting paid to teach the little nuances of the game; their purpose is to increase a pitcher’s arm strength or perfect the mechanics of a hitter’s swing. And there are many out there who are outstanding in doing so.
Last time I checked, when players became better individually, their teams had a better chance of winning. And in a very similar manner, when players learn all of the things that it takes to win games, they are becoming better individual players.
At the minor league level, job security in our player development department is not one bit dependent on winning games. While our focus is consistently on helping our players get better day in and day out, you can rest assured that the Boston Red Sox minor leaguers are learning how to win along the way. Winning is not just a byproduct of developing players, it is a significant piece of developing players.
The job my staff and I have in A-ball is to build a foundation that will enable our players to be successful in the Big Leagues, not necessarily for the Greenville Drive. That foundation includes everything from teaching our players how to work individually in a manner where they can get something productive out of every single rep on the field, in the cage, or in the bullpen; to learning from their successes and failures in games that contributed to a win or a loss; to approaching every single part of the job – even those that they might dread – with the same focus and effort as they would the parts that they cannot get enough of.
We are working, day in and day out, to develop championship players. And few championships have ever been won with rosters full of players who didn’t understand what it takes to win.
Without acknowledging winning, players can become numb to the game’s result, caring only about themselves and their own development. Ask any coach – that guy, no matter how good, is a tough pill to swallow.
Without considering development, players will be challenged to find a way to get better when the only thing that matters is the ‘W’ at the end of the day.
When you work to develop players, the result is often winning games. When you place an awareness on what it takes to win games, you are undoubtedly making players better. The two ideals can coexist. They HAVE TO coexist. Better players make for more wins, and players who know how to win make better players.