Standing in the aisle on the team bus, Louisiana State University head men’s baseball coach Paul Mainieri addressed his players just prior to game one of the College World Series final against the University of Texas on Monday night and said, "When you play to the best of your ability nobody can beat you. Let’s go out there and have some fun...enjoy the experience and let ’er rip."
This month marked the close of a long winter season for professional basketball and hockey as well as the intercollegiate spring sports season. With extensive television coverage we were able to witness great competition which included the Lakers closing out the Magic in five games, the Penguins over the Red Wings in seven, the University of Washington defeating Florida in the women’s College World Series, and LSU beating the University of Texas in the men’s College World Series, among others.
So, what can a youth or scholastic sport coach learn from successful professional and collegiate coaches? Commitment to preparation, attention to detail, and effective communication are three traits displayed by successful professional and collegiate coaches that I think have relevance to youth and scholastic sport coaches. Coaches at this high level who demonstrate character while exhibiting respect for their players, the competition and fellow competitors also serve as quality examples for youth and scholastic sport coaches. Among the many coaching examples witnessed this month, two stand out for me in demonstrating these qualities: Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and LSU coach Mainieri.
After an exhausting regular season, it was amazing to watch the Penguins and the Red Wings play with such intensity during the seven-game series. Both teams were reflections of their coaches’ personalities and talents. Both coaches exhibited calm and intelligence in the final game’s closing frenzy: Mike Babcock called timeout to set up a faceoff to the right of the Pittsburgh goaltender, then succinctly diagrammed and calmly communicated a play to hopefully send the game into overtime. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s coach, Dan Bylsma, discussed the faceoff’s two possible outcomes: winning the draw and possessing the puck or defending the net over the final seconds. By any measure both coaches under the most challenging conditions reacted in a way worth modeling by youth and scholastic sport coaches. They were prepared, paid close attention to critical details, and effectively communicated with their players.
When the game ended, I was impressed by Coach Babcock’s character as he first waited patiently to congratulate Sidney Crosby as part of the post-game celebration and the last Penguins’ player in the traditional team handshake. He then complimented the Penguins in his post-game comments before sharing how he addressed his team, "I just thanked them." He continued, "But I think when guys are giving you everything they’ve got, that’s all you can ask from them." The coach and his Red Wings team represented themselves well in the face of an emotionally difficult loss, a great example of respect that personifies true competition that can be employed by youth and scholastic sport coaches.
Game one of the men’s College World Series was decided by Mikie Mahtook of LSU who said of his game-winning hit, "My first three at-bats, it wasn’t like I just struck out. It was three terrible at-bats. When I got into the dugout, guys were telling me to make sure I keep my head straight. Jared Mitchell told me I was going to come back up again with a big at-bat, and you’re going to come through for us. That helped me out a lot."
Coach Mainieri can be credited with setting the positive tone prior to the game as a continuation of the positive environment created at every practice and every game throughout the season. He instilled in the entire team the importance of pulling together and playing hard to the last out.
Youth and scholastic sport coaches can learn from Coach Mainieri’s utilization of his players for positive reinforcement and his own effective communication skills to create an environment that enables players to play to the best of their ability in the most pressure-packed situations.
Clearly in any game in any sport, the objective is to win. But competition performed at its highest level offers so much more for both teams than just the "W." "Let’s go out there and have some fun" and "thank you" are simple phrases that should be used in abundance by youth and scholastic sport coaches as lessons learned from successful coaches like Paul Mainieri and Mike Babcock.
You can help continue the conversation by contacting me directly at JamesS@hkusa.com or by sharing your thoughts below.
ASEP Executive Director