"He doesn't get it."
"He doesn't care."
"He doesn't listen."
Most coaches at one point or another have likely uttered at least one if not more of the aforementioned phrases when discussing one of their players. I am guilty of this on numerous occasions myself. It is a completely natural thing for coaches to get frustrated when our players don’t progress in the manner we envision. Coaching will continually test our patience, and sometimes that patience runs so thin to the point when we label the players that we are supposed to be developing as uncoachable. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
Over the course of this past season that just ended on Labor Day, my eyes were opened to something that, in the future, will undoubtedly help me avoid that trap.
The 2018 Minor League campaign represented a new challenge for me, having been promoted to manage the Portland Sea Dogs, our Double-A, Eastern League affiliate. This transition came after spending the previous four years in A-ball, skippering the Greenville Drive of the South Atlantic League. While I was incredibly excited about the opportunity to move up a couple rungs and coach at what is arguably the most enjoyable level of professional baseball, what I honestly couldn’t wait for was the opportunity to reconnect with the players who I had in the years prior in Greenville.
Generally speaking, when spending continuous time at one level, there is little opportunity to really watch a player develop over time beyond that year spent together. My previous experience of coaching players for more than one season wasn’t necessarily a positive one, as a guy repeating the level usually meant one of two things: 1) they had missed a significant amount of time due to injury, or 2) they struggled mightily when on the field. So, in essence, 2018 marked my first real opportunity to see with my own two eyes how much progress our players had made since their foundation had been set when our paths first crossed just a couple years back.
Back in April, our opening day roster had 20 of 25 players who had played for me before. One of the really cool things about managing in Greenville was how in many respects it marked the beginning of a player’s professional career where the foundation for what they hope to be a long life in the game is laid. The minor leagues are not just about present, but also about future; we are constantly evaluating our players and projecting out their overall potential down the road to predict what they might become as Major League players. Throughout the year, with a bunch of promotions and a handful of demotions, our roster was littered with guys who I spent time with before, many of which I viewed as future Major Leaguers… and a couple who I had deemed busts for one reason or another just a few years ago.
While many of those who I was high on had continued to develop at a steady pace, it was the guys who I had written off who truly opened my eyes. All of a sudden, they had grown up right in front of me. The immaturity they displayed on the field as players or off the field as people has seemed to disappear, and these boys, from what I remembered in Greenville, had become men in Portland. The stupidity that filled their days in A-ball had been replaced by accountable professionalism now in Double-A. The guys who I believed had no shot to even sniff the Big Leagues had now put themselves in the conversation.
Having just completed my 13th season as a coach and sixth as a Minor League manager, 2018 taught me one the more valuable lessons any leader could ever learn.
The next time you feel like you’re on the verge of writing off a player, remember this fact: he's still your player. And you're still his coach. Coach him. Progress is progress, even when their development isn't anywhere near where you want it to be, in the time frame you think it should be. Our players need us, yes. But what they also need from us is just a little more time and a lot more patience; their growth as players and people might just depend on them growing up.