by Darin Souza, Vice President, CYBSA
Thanks to Bryan Dunkelberger for a great kick-off post. This post will focus on coaching better teammates.
Being a great teammate is something we all believe in, but unfortunately this aspect of the game gets mostly lip service from us coaches.
Coaching great teammates is more than offering parting wisdom at the end of the season, or even approaching the topic like a cheerleader.
A Great Teammate Culture is built with the same care as a great lineup. It is a fundamental of the game and should be established even before the first infield/outfield is attempted. Without it, playing good baseball is next to impossible. Even the most talented players will not reach their potential if they are solely focused on what they’re “getting out of” each game or practice.
While most of us agree with this, just how do we get there with something better than constant lectures? Teach it as a fundamental, with tangibles. Talk about the “how”. Then, decide how you want to encourage or reward the behavior, as a coach. There’s no wrong answer as long as you’re positive and you stick with it to the final game.
For one, you can have a conversation titled “How many ways can you help the team from the bench?” Some examples include:
- call out how many outs, and where the play is to
- keep the on deck area neat
- chase down foul balls
- coach a base
- be vocal, get some dugout chatter going
- pump up any teammates that are down in the dumps or a bit fearful
- call out to the team where the other team’s batter hit the ball last time, etc.
How to reinforce? One suggestion: acknowledge and reward the Best Teammate first and foremost, before any star performances. Don’t use it as a consolation prize for kids with less playing time. Rather, consider rewarding the Great Teammates (GTs) with additional innings or a preferred position as appropriate.
Need a firmer approach? You can still be positive with some structure. Consider setting a formal rotation for some of the duties above. Spell it out on the back of the lineup card in writing. And don’t designate tasks to just bench players. You don’t need to cover them all…just the ones you feel are enough to give your dugout a good team vibe.
Quick example: chasing foul balls using players in the lineup, not just the bench kids. Designate the Leadoff, #4, #7 hitters as chasers for the first game. Pick the #2, #5, #8 hitters the next. Space them out so you always have a guy out of the action. Be creative!
To that point, demand GT behavior of your best players. Communicate to them and their parents (early and often) that their value to the team goes beyond their talent level, to how much better they can make the team. Remind them how the best teams do the above things, without hesitation or prompting. And don’t be afraid to award them “Best Teammate” even when they have also been the game’s MVP. Think about the example that sets!
You get the picture. Will a Great Team Culture happen overnight? Of course not. But it may happen before you get that bunt defense right!