I have a big league client who was one of the top producers on his team, but he still found himself in a platoon situation this past year. He was happy with his season, but he got distracted trying to build enough of a resume to become an everyday player.
I have a friend who is one of the top high school coaches in the country and he has asked me how to get his players to accept their roles on the team without becoming complacent or resigning themselves to the roles. You may be thinking the same thing…how do I get my players to do the jobs I’m asking them to do, continue to push for a greater role, yet not get frustrated and lose their loyalty and commitment to the team and their teammates?
It’s a complicated topic, for sure. But ultimately, all these conversations come down to two things: What does the coach want? And what does the player want? If you, as the coach, can find enough overlap between what you want and what your players want, you can create a trusting, loyal environment where your players can still have their own individual goals and dreams. I know that seems like a tall order. But here are some starting points:
Let’s start with what players want. They want playing time, of course, but why? If you are a high school coach, most of your players want to play at the next level, be it collegiately or pro ball. If you’re a college coach, most of your players have dreams of being drafted. That’s not always true, but mostly, the reason they want to play more is so they can produce more and prove that they are good enough to play beyond your program. Yes, they want to win; yes, they are proud of their programs, but those are not the primary drivers for their reasons to want to hit in the middle of your lineup or be your Saturday starter.
The overlap between what you want and what they want is where you get your buy-in from the players. So be honest and open with them and communicate clearly about where there are differences and overlap. Tell your players you want them all to be successful and you want to help them get what they want, whether that’s to be a big leaguer or to be a successful coach themselves or to have a great college experience and take the life lessons they have learned on the field and have meaningful careers in their chosen fields.
You can’t promise them playing time, but you can promise to listen to what they want and to help them get what they want out of their time in your program and to achieve their goals when they leave your team. Maybe that means networking to help a player find a D-III program that’s right for him. Maybe it means helping a role player work on his swing so he can compete to walk on somewhere, even though he couldn’t consistently crack your lineup. Maybe it means helping a college senior find a place to be a grad assistant the next year.
The disconnect in these situations is often the player getting upset with a lack of playing time, disagreeing with the assessments his coaches have of his abilities and performances, being a poor self-evaluator in general, and losing faith and trust in the coaches. This is one reason I believe that teaching self-evaluation is one of the most foundational skills necessary to produce elite talent in any sport or performance environment. You want to be honest and accurate with your own self-evaluation and you want to teach your players to do the same. As that happens, you can tell them the truth with fewer disagreements.
Key points for players and coaches
From the player perspective:
• Be a team player
• If you don’t like your coaches’ assessments of your abilities or your potential, set your focus on proving them wrong!
• Be clear about why you want what you want and then think about whether or not a lack of playing time blocks you from achieving that goal.
From the coach perspective:
• Communicate clearly and often. Pre- and post-school year meetings are important for both player and coach to discuss roles and expectations.
• Stay true to your word and don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.
• Think about and ask what your players want and then help them get it. If it’s possible for them to get what they want regardless of innings pitched or number of ABs, then convince them of that. IP
Geoff Miller has spent the better part of two decades working in Major League Baseball for multiple organizations. His ongoing mental skills training series and commentary are available through Optimize Mind Performance, an app that links athletes with some of the most renowned mental skills coaches from around the world through the content they create. The materials available in the app cover all the foundations of sports psychology and sports-specific mental skills. For more information, visit www.optimizemindperformance.com.