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Motivate different types of baseball players

By Mike Curran, Ross Newhan


Every team is made up of diverse personalities. No two people are the same or react the same way to a given stimulant. A coach needs to recognize what he has and how to deal with it. Influencing the self-motivated players is easy, but what about the inconsistent or passive players? Here the experienced coach can rely on the numerous tools that he has used in the past. But the inexperienced coach has to keep trying things until he learns what gets his team going. He gives motivational speeches, relates success stories from throughout history, talks about people who have overcome difficult odds. He shows his players what they can win—pictures of the championship trophy or championship rings. These are just a few ideas that a coach can use to see whether his players respond.

The Competitive Player
Coaches want all their players to be competitive. Baseball is a failure-oriented game that elicits negative emotions and beats down confidence. To learn how his players will hold up, a coach can use competitive games and competitive drills that put pressure on performance and the ability to succeed. These drills and games provide measuring rods for a coach who is attempting to gauge his motivational needs. In this failure-oriented environment, the competitive player always wants another chance to succeed. If a player doesn’t have that drive, you need to try to instill it. You can incorporate competitiveness into your practice drills in many ways. One way to do this is to turn batting practice into a competitive game. Divide the players into teams to practice a certain skill so that they are competing against each other. Offer rewards for the team that does best or require extra work for the team that fails. Incorporate a competitive drill (more will be discussed in the practice plan phase of the book) two or three times a week to maintain an edge and foster the influence of the passionate competitive players.

The Passive Player
The opposite of the competitive player is the passive player, but coaches must recognize the difference between a passive player and a quiet player. I’ve had a number of players who were quiet from a personality standpoint but extremely competitive otherwise. I let them know that in certain game situations they had to be more vocal. The passive player is more of a problem because playing any sport without an aggressive nature is difficult. Here, too, drills can create a sense of aggressiveness. We use a dive drill, which is just what its name implies. The drill forces the player to dive, to lay out, to get dirty. There is no substitute for aggressiveness, and we use videotapes and anecdotes to help the passive player see that. Instilling aggressiveness requires communication, motivation, sensing what a player needs, and providing it.

The Overly Aggressive Player
The flip side of the passive player is the overly aggressive player who always goes full speed in every aspect of the game. We like the aggressive player unless it goes to the extreme, leading to mistakes or an inability to relax, which will restrict the natural flow of talent. The aggressive player needs to be motivated in a way so that he understands the need to play smart and under control. You don’t want to restrict his aggressiveness or instincts, but he needs to perform in the context of the team.

This player needs to have a plan. He usually reacts on impulse (reaction without thought). His impulses are out of control. Continue to give this player a plan so that he is under control but maintains his aggressive attitude. For in-stance, work with an overaggressive hitter to look for a pitch in a specific area. He will hit a pitch only waist high or above. When he sees that pitch, he will be aggressive, but he lays off those low pitches and the pitches in the dirt that he used to chase as a result of his undisciplined impulses.

The Smart Player
This takes us to the next type of player—the smart player. Although this player may not be the most talented on the team, he can excel with his brains and knowledge of the game. Most important, he understands instinctively what the coach is thinking and can stay ahead of game situations. To motivate the smart player, we tend to make him part of our brain trust, let him participate in planning for an opponent, go deeper with our philosophy and reasons for doing things. As a result, the smart player becomes a liaison between the coaches and his teammates, another instrument for helping motivate and communicate.

The smart player does subtle things. Your clever shortstop, for example, may move two steps to his left after seeing a hitter hit two foul balls down the right-field line. The hitter then hits a ball up the middle that the shortstop can get to only because he made the adjustment according to the hitter’s foul balls and tendency to swing late.

Then we take some of our smart players on the bench and have them watch the opposing coaches to pick up their signs. We have often picked the pitching coach’s signs and were able to call every pitch for the hitter. After the game, we bring this code breaking to the attention of the entire team. We make a big deal of this—as if this player had produced the game-winning hit. We make him proud of his contribution.

We have players who have natural skills and intelligence that classify them as smart players, but many times we teach them to be smart. A shortstop and second baseman who fake turning a double play when the oppos-ing team runs a hit-and-run can turn a fly ball to right field into a double play. We have to teach them how to do this. When they fake the double play, they are trying to get the runner to slide, which can lead to an easy double play.

The Negative Player
By contrast, some players dwell on the negative. These players represent a motivational problem for the coach in a sport made up of negatives. This kind of player beats himself up over failure, finding fault in any situation. He may throw equipment, use foul language, create disruptive behavior, and generate real problems, particularly if he is one of the team’s best players. This behavior can’t be tolerated, and the coach has to work with the player to make him understand that failure is a part of the game and that he has to accept mistakes and move on—for the benefit of both himself and the team. I once had an exceptionally negative player and told my coaching staff to put him under a microscope. We told him that we would not tolerate his behavior and that we would pull him from games if it continued—or he would simply not play. In time, through communication and motivation, he came to grips with his negativism and became one of our most positive players.

A coach should always remember that the power of the lineup can be his strongest weapon. If a player is good enough to play but his negative personality and performance make him a problem, sit him on the bench. If sitting does not influence or change his behavior, then you do not want him on your team. I have found that sitting the player usually produces a swift change in behavior.

The Selfish Player
In the same mode as the negative player, and even more destructive, is the selfish player. This player has a difficult time buying into the team concept. He has an “all about me” attitude, and strong motivational methods are required to turn him into a team player. Of course, the strongest motivational tool that a coach has is the power of the lineup. The coach needs to make it clear that if his attitude prevails, he will receive no playing time. If his selfishness persists in practice, the player has to go. No matter how good a player is, the team suffers by selfish behavior—on or away from the field.

Another way to put pressure on the selfish player is to make your best players aware of his negative characteristics. Ask them to talk to their teammate when he acts selfishly. Give them suggestions about what to say to him. Feedback from peers can generally change behavior faster than anything.

The Team Player
The last type of player I’ll mention is the team player. This is the player you love and appreciate, the one who puts himself last and the team first, a throwback to another era. Just being part of the team is enough for him, and he’ll look for ways to help the team whether he’s in the lineup or on the bench. Seldom these days is this type of player the star of the team. Our star players tend to be coddled, and their personality seems to lean more toward the selfish type because of this coddling. Much like the smart player, the team player will benefit from your making him feel that he is an important part of the process no matter what his playing level. You want him to keep expressing his team-oriented approach, helping the team stay positive and picking up teammates when they’re down, and you hope that his attitude proves contagious. A team player like this is a tremendous asset.

This is an excerpt from Coaching Baseball Successfully.




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