Inside Pitch Magazine, November/December 2019

@CoachYourKids: Disciplining a Player is not Dissing a Player

By Darren Fenster, Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator, Boston Red Sox & Founder/CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC
BatterPlayers are human, even the ones with super-human talent.  And just like a parent would when their own child screws up, it is a coach’s responsibility to address his players’ mishaps. Oftentimes, in a practice or game environment, a coach steps in with instruction when the player physically doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do on the field.  It is that type of instance why we became coaches in the first place- to teach the game we all know and love.

In other times, the gaffe has nothing to do with the game. In those moments, our players need our help in a very similar manner they do in order to get better on the diamond. But instead of helping with a skill by teaching, we help by providing discipline and holding them accountable for not doing the things they are supposed to do.

The concept of discipline is one that comes with controversy. Some believe that punishing a kid for his transgressions potentially limits future opportunities. To me, disciplining those who don’t live up to a team’s standards isn’t hurting their future one bit; it is helping. Discipline is not an old-school versus new-school discussion. It is a straight-forward, right versus wrong TEAM concept. 

A very unique thing happened in a Major League game last season – a player was removed from a game for not running a ball out of the box.

Why this was unique was because you don’t see it often in this day and age of athletics, and rarely do you ever see it at the highest level of sport, with one of its best players.

Ronald Acuna is one of the game’s most exciting players, the second youngest player in Major League Baseball history to be a part of the 30 home run, 30 stolen base club.  In the third inning of a game against the Dodgers, he drove a ball deep to right field, and started his slow, home run trot shortly after contact.  The only problem was that this ball did not go out of the ballpark; it hit the wall just short of the seats with the right fielder playing the carom perfectly, setting up a throw to second base. But there was no play; Acuna had barely reached first.  His manager, Brian Snitker, then reached for reserve outfielder Adam Duvall to go into the game for Acuna.

When asked about his rationale for benching arguably his best player, Snitker spoke matter-of-factly.  “He didn’t run,” he started. “It’s not gonna be acceptable here.  As a teammate, you’re responsible for 24 other guys, and that name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back.  We’re trying to accomplish something special here, and personal things gotta be put on the back burner. You can’t let your team down like that.”

With what was likely an unpopular decision to Braves fans everywhere, Snitker gave coaches everywhere a lesson of leadership when players don’t live up to the standard that has helped build a successful culture. In pulling Acuna from that game, he didn’t lose the respect of the other 24 players in that clubhouse; instead, he gained it even more. The Braves as a team will be better for it, and Acuna, as a player, will be better for it as well.

Despite the parent you’ll likely anger or the player you are sure to temporarily upset, there is nothing wrong with disciplining your players when they mess up. On the contrary, there is something very wrong when you don’t. Because what you allow, you actually encourage. A message to one is actually a message to all, good and bad.

So tell your players: the next time your coach benches you, he’s not being mean. It also doesn’t mean that he hates you when he pulls you from a game or sits you for the next. When your coach puts you on the bench, he is simply being your coach, holding you accountable for not doing what you are supposed to be doing.

You may be mad now, but you’ll be better for it, later.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.