Baseball programs at the high school level function in varied ways. Some programs operate at the minimum, and others may parallel college and professional programs. The attitudes of the coach and the community will probably determine the level at which the program will function.
Before setting out to develop a program, a coach should ask himself the following questions:
• What type of a coach do I want to be and what kind of coach am I capable of being?
• How much time am I willing to put forth in developing a program?
• How much latitude will my school administration and community allow me in building up a program?
Developing a program can be difficult but fun. In the development stages, results can usually be seen on a regular basis, thereby motivating the coaching staff and team members to continue their progress. When a program has reached a certain plateau of accomplishment, results may become less visible and past results may become expectations. Such expectations are not always realistic or fair and could possibly take some of the fun out of being successful.
If maintaining a program becomes a hardship, or some of the fun escapes, the coach may have to develop strategies to recapture some of the zeal previously experienced in conducting the program. These strategies may have to cope with meeting expectations, fair or not, maintaining what has been developed, or continuing to progress.
Establishing a successful program can be accomplished by several different methods, using different philosophies. As I mentioned previously, the coach’s personality and the school system’s attitude affect the decision about which method the coach will pursue, but most successful programs will incorporate certain common principles. This chapter will highlight some of the principles, as well as some of the policies, that we employed in establishing our program at La Porte High School.
At La Porte we have divided our total program into three stages. We conduct the first stage during summer. It begins immediately after the conclusion of regular-season and tournament play and runs through July. This part of the program is equivalent to college fall practice. We drop the seniors from the regular season and use the players with future eligibility who we expect will contribute the following season.
We put together a summer schedule that runs through July. Although we emphasize winning, this part of the program is mostly for observation, instruction, and experimentation. The coaching staff can work toward detecting strong and weak areas and attempt to put the pieces together for the following year. The players get an opportunity to gain additional game experience and, in some cases, adjust to a new position.
At the end of the summer season, each player will meet with the coach to discuss his strengths and weaknesses and his projected role in the program for the following season. At this meeting we give the player a written critique outlining what he can do to improve himself between this time and the beginning of stage two.
The second part of the program is conducted during winter, in January and February. This eight-week program is important because we pick up where we left off last summer. Because we live in a cold-weather state, we conduct this phase of the program indoors. Regardless of how big our indoor facilities are in Indiana, a sport like baseball will be restricted. We find these limitations to be pluses as it forces us to break down the game. It gives us the opportunity to work on a lot of one-on-one, individual-position instruction. We also stress conditioning during this period so that when we move outdoors the players are less likely to become injured.
Stage three is the beginning of the regular season, what we had been preparing for in the two previous stages. As we are making the move outdoors and determining the team members for the regular season, we begin to focus on the team concept. We emphasize team drills, fundamentals, and strategies. Two weeks before the season opener, we devote additional attention to the pitching staff. We put them into a schedule that we expect them to follow during the regular season.
The three parts of the program complement each other and help develop continuity in preparing players for this year’s team.
PROGRAM FIRST, INDIVIDUAL SECOND
We subscribe strongly to the principle that the total program should be stressed more than the individuals who make up the program. Does this attitude seem to come across as authoritarian or antisocial? In society today we hear so much about individual rights that we tend to lose sight of the responsibilities of the individual.
The principle of program first and individual second is based on the premise that the individual, though important to the program, will move on in a short time. The program will remain for other individuals to benefit from. Therefore the overall program receives top priority when establishing policies and making decisions.
We run a no-nonsense program. When we establish rules and regulations, we maintain that attitude. We give each player a copy of the policies before he tries out. After reading these policies, the player and his parents must sign a statement indicating that they have read the rules and agree that the player will uphold them while a member of the program. The responsibility belongs to the athlete and his parents.
Our athletic department has established a code of conduct that all athletes in our school must follow. This code explains policies and penalties concerning alcohol, drugs, tobacco, misdemeanors, and felonies. Each individual sports program has the option of adding to this code with policies of their own. These addenda must be in print and approved by the administration.
It is in this addendum that our program addresses such items as academics, absences, tardiness, appearance, attitude, promptness, locker room behavior, care of equipment, and respect toward opponents and umpires.
Any player who we cut when trying out is welcome to try out again in future years. A player who makes the program and then quits is not welcome to try out in future years.
Coaches, as well as players, have responsibilities. Job descriptions that detail the responsibilities of each coach are made up for every coach in the system. Job performance of each assistant coach is evaluated annually by the head coach, and the head coach is evaluated by the athletic director.
We deal with violation of rules immediately and without concern about the value of the player or the success of the team. We enforce the rules on a consistent, fair, and firm basis.
SETTING REALISTIC GOALS
The ability to recognize the facts and then establish goals based on those facts is invaluable in directing a successful program. The coach of a successful program should have the aptitude to evaluate players’ abilities accurately. The more exact he is in defining those abilities, the more precise he can be in establishing individual and team goals.
It is fine to be optimistic and show hope for the best when dealing with team members, but the coach must be realistic when setting goals. If the coach sets goals so high that they are unreachable, the players will have difficulty developing confidence in themselves and the program. On the other hand, if the coach sets goals that are too easily accomplished, the players and the program could be functioning under false pretenses. The progress of the players and the program will be impeded.
A coach must be honest with himself, as well as with the players, when it comes to evaluating personnel and the challenges that lie ahead.
This is an excerpt from The Baseball Coaching Bible.