In 11th grade, I went on a field trip to New York City in December, which is doubly sweet because all that cool Christmas-y decoration stuff was all over downtown Manhattan. The only bad thing about the field trip is I got benched for my next high school basketball game because —OMG! this is soooooo terrible—the field trip went all day and I missed basketball practice (of course my coach, also my math teacher, didn’t care that I missed math class). My coach was not a lone jerk, though. His overblown seriousness is symptomatic of many (not all) high school sports coaches. As someone who played three high school sports, one college sport, and zero pro sports, I’d like to offer some advice to high school (and college!) coaches around the country that might help them loosen up and have a little bit more fun. After all, isn’t fun what sports is supposed to be about?
Look around you. Do you see media people hanging around practice? Do you see an ESPN camera crew setting up for the game? No? That’s right. It means you’re not a pro, and neither are your 16 year old players. Your point guard still hasn’t figured out what he wants for dinner, let alone where he wants to go to college or what he wants to be when he grows up. This sport is one of many things he’s involved with as he’s trying to discover himself. If he wants to go on a field trip and gain a cultural experience, let him, even if it means missing practice. If your first baseman is in the band too, and he gets the chance to go marching in the Boston Saint Paddy’s Day Parade, let him, even if it means he might miss a game.
Yes, I know players need to be dedicated if they want to win a championship. But you can’t force it on your players. It has to come organically. It has to happen because they choose to be dedicated. Some years, you may have a group of guys who just want to be play football for fun, in addition to maybe being in the drama club. That’s okay. It’s only high school. Why can’t a varsity sport be a hobby?
Yes, Mr. Coach, I know; you want to win. Great. We all do. But know this. Your team will sometimes lose. Please don’t yell at them in the locker room. Believe me; they are sad they lost too. They don’t need to hear a barrage of four letter words you’d never get away with saying in the classroom. And if the concession stand people are nice enough to bring the leftover pizza and hot dogs into the locker room for the players after the game, don’t knock the food to the floor in an angry fit after a tough loss (maybe that was just my high school basketball coach). Cold pizza tastes good after defeats as well as victories.
Sometimes you may lose a road game, too. In fact, you should lose many road games. Statistically, home teams tend to win more than 50% of the time. That’s life. A road loss does not mean your players need to sulk in silence for an hour on those uncomfortable bus seats. They lost. They know it. They’re upset. But life goes on. Let them talk. Let them listen to the radio. And who knows? Maybe you travel together with the jayvee team. If the jayvee team won, why should they be stuck in silence just because the varsity didn’t do their job?
And my final two pieces of advice go out specifically to high school and college baseball coaches. First, please, for the love of all that is holy, get rid of the baseball chatter. I get it. Nobody goes to watch your games. You want there to be some semblance of noise. But baseball chatter is annoying. It grates worse on the ears than fingers on a chalk board. Other than your annoying “scrappy” second baseman who’s barely good enough to start and thinks he’s the heart and soul of the team, no one else likes doing the chatter thing. Your players only do it because they think it will help them get playing time or are afraid they will get benched for not showing contrived enthusiasm. Yes, coach, your players can still be involved in the game without constantly yelling out meaningless gibberish like “hey, niner! A little bingo here!” Watch a major league game on TV. Do you see the pros doing baseball chatter in the dugout? And, no, David Eckstein doesn’t count.
And, finally, high school and college coaches, I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I do, because you’re worse than pro managers. Stop bunting! Really, stop it. A sacrifice bunt is a stupid, stupid, stupid play. It’s a waste of an out. You are over coaching. The “little things” are great, but, no, they don’t win games, big things like three-run homers do.