Inside Pitch Magazine, January/February 2022

Intentional Walk: What Matters

By Keith Madison, Chairman of the ABCA Board of Directors & National Baseball Director for SCORE International
Ron Polk holding clipboard has hand on his player's shoulder who is crouched down with a bat just outside the dugout. Two other coaches are also around them.There have been profound improvements in the coaching profession during the last 20 years. Clinics, videos and the internet have created an enormous amount of information so that coaches can hone their skills. As a matter of fact, you can get lost in a plethora of information. Since I have either played or coached the national pastime for several decades, I sometimes get amused when someone thinks he has the coaching philosophy or the hitting or pitching technique that is far superior to that of other successful coaches.

Apart from specific coaching techniques (we all have opinions here) there are some particular strategies that may help a coach have success on an off the field. In this article, I identify What Matters. There are certainly more blocks that can be added to your foundation of success as a coach, but these are the ones that stand out to me at this stage of my life.

Details: Most successful coaches are detail-oriented people. Some come by this naturally, while others must develop this skill. Details matter, especially with practice plans, scheduling, travel, evaluating your players and (if you’re a head coach) evaluating your staff. Ron Polk is the most detail-oriented coach I know. Spending one year on his staff helped me tremendously.

Knowledge: Coaches have more access to knowledge than ever before. If you aren’t taking advantage of clinics (especially the ABCA Convention), ABCA videos, Inside Pitch Magazine, YouTube videos, podcasts and books, you may want to evaluate your level of passion for the sport, There is no substitute for knowledge.

The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of the fool feeds on folly. (Proverbs 15:14)

Balance: It’s well known that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Coaching can be a stressful profession. I’ve seen great coaches lose their balance and with it lose their families, never have quality relationships off the field and finish life with a great deal of emptiness. I’ve also witnessed many successful coaches have a healthy family life, enjoy deep and lasting friendships and finish life truly fulfilled. Adolph Rupp was one of the most successful college basketball coaches in the history of the game. He won four national championships and more SEC championships than all the other conference schools combined. His practices never lasted more than two hours! Being organized and demanding excellence were two of his traits.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? –– Jesus (Mark 8:36)

Experience: Just as there is no substitute for knowledge, there’s also no substitute for experience. Many great coaches (including the legendary John Wooden) experienced mediocrity prior to gaining experience. Don’t give up. Keep pursuing your passion. Several great high school and college coaches coached summer baseball to gain much needed experience. We learn much from our mistakes, but we learn nothing from quitting.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. – Helen Keller

Passion: If you are reading this article, you most likely are passionate about coaching baseball. Most people with passion exude it. It’s contagious. When coaches lose their passion, they lose their players. As a coach, the more I was around others who were passionate about coaching and competing, the more it rubbed off on me. Avoid negative people. Seek those who are positive and passionate. Spend time with them.

Find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. (Unknown)

Family: What matters more than family? You may spend more waking hours at work than with your family. That’s normal for working people. But when you are with your family, be all in. This is easier said than done, but it’s worth everything to do it. At the end of your life, faith and family will matter much more than championships

When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. – Barbara Bush

Faith: There are times in most coaches’ lives when they are all alone. No one else understands. There are even times when you think your athletic director, staff and players don’t believe in you. Very few coaches admit these dark feelings because, for the most part, coaches and leaders in general feel that transparency is a sign of weakness. During those times, sharing your innermost thoughts with God is what you need and exactly what God wants. For over twenty years I kept this quote by St. Augustine within view on my desk:

Work as if everything depends upon you; pray as if everything depends upon God. It served me well.

There are several other “What Matters” foundational blocks you can add to your team culture and coaching philosophy, such as competitiveness, character, pride or desire. It’s important to put on paper what matters to you and then review it often.

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 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.