Good Coach, Bad Coach

Good Coach vs. Bad Coach

By Nick Wingbermuehle

Most kids who play baseball will play for some good coaches and some poor ones. I was lucky to get to play for some very good coaches, like Coach Nicollerat, but I also played for some very poor ones as well. I believe that there are five dimensions of coaching that can separate a good coach from a poor one.

First, a good coach must have a solid knowledge of the game.

A good coach can articulate where he wants out of his players for baserunning, cuts and relays, bunt plays, run downs, etc. and have solid reasoning behind it. A coach without knowledge will cost his team games. Players will have a hard time respecting a coach who blunders though practices and games. While this knowledge can be very hard to acquire because there is so much bad information out there, it is very easy to acquire through Coach Nicollerat’s videos. Recently, I watched an hour-long Cal Ripken Jr. video on hitting. I am not exaggerating when I say that Coach Nicollerat explains more about hitting mechanics in one of his minute and a half preview videos on the homepage than Ripken did in the entire hour of his video, and Ripken is a Hall of Famer! There are many examples of great players and prestigious coaches talking about hitting or throwing mechanics in a way that is plain wrong. So, while knowledge of the game is the most essential part of being a good coach, it is also probably the easiest to acquire now that you have come to Baseball from the Ground Up.

Second, communication is extremely important in baseball and there are two kinds that a coach must understand.

The first is communication to the team as a whole. This communication is the type that transfers the coach’s knowledge to the players. To be effective in this realm, the coach must be clear and consistent with his message. A coach can lose credibility with his players very quickly if he keeps changing how he wants a drill or a play performed. A good coach will also be pro-active with his communication. For example, Coach Nicollerat would always explain exactly how he wanted the drills performed in practice. I had another coach who would give the team the basics of the drill, but only get specific when a player made a mistake. For example, when practicing first and third plays, Coach Nicollerat told the pitchers that after we picked off to first base, to follow our throw and run behind the first basemen in case of a rundown. Another coach gave the pitchers no instruction as to where he wanted us to go after we made the throw. Some pitchers ran behind first, some halfway between first and home, and some did not really even get off the mound. But, this coach did not tell the pitchers where he wanted us to go until a play was botched because the pitcher was out of position. He let us do it wrong numerous times before he told us what he wanted. A good coach will let his players know exactly what is expected from day one. A bad coach will only let his players know what is expected after a mistake happens. One of the bad coaches that I had actually waited until we were thirty games into our season to tell us that he expected us to run hard to first base on every ball hit in play. Our team only sporadically ran out groundballs all year, but in the thirtieth game it finally cost us.

The second kind of communication is to individual players.

Many coaches do not want to discourage their players so they lie to them. In high school, I had a coach tell me before the season that he thought I could see some good playing time in right field. Well, the season came and went I did not play a single inning in outfield. He set up the expectation of playing time for me, but it only led to frustration when I did not actually get to play. Sometimes it can be hard to be honest to your players, but they will appreciate it. Before my junior year, Coach Nicollerat sat me down and told me that I was not going to pitch much that season. Then he told me what he thought my strengths and weaknesses were and what I could work on to make sure that I would get some playing time during my senior season. I appreciated that talk so much. Even though initially I was disappointed, knowing my role for the season made it enjoyable instead of frustrating. Do not be afraid to be honest with your players. One time, during an individual meeting, I asked one of my bad coaches where he thought I fit in to the pitching staff. Instead of giving me a straightforward answer, he gave me a five-minute talk, which was about as clear as a Bill Belichek injury report. I know that he had an idea of where he thought I fit in, but he was worried that the news would discourage me. In actuality, I became frustrated with my coach for not giving me a straight answer. Ken Suarez said that enjoyed playing for Whitey Herzog because he was the only manager who never lied to him. Suarez played for Herzog in 1973 and he still remembers that.

Similar to honest communication, the third component of good coaching is reliability.

If a coach does not consistently follow through on what he tells his team, he will lose credibility. For example, if you tell your team to run out every groundball or consequence “x” will happen, you better make sure that consequence “x” happens every single time a player does not run out a groundball. The bad coaches will only enforce the consequence if ends up hurting the team that the player did not run out the groundball. Again, the team will notice these things and the coach will lose credibility if he does not enforce the consequences consistently and uniformly. Tony La Russa fails this component horribly. He preaches the importance of playing a “hard nine,” but how many times each game have you seen a Cardinal player jog to first on a groundout? He also says that he wants to give his team the best chance to win, but he has played inferior players who are his favorites like when Morris started over Suppan in the 2005 playoffs. Tony may have cost the Cardinals a pennant because he liked Morris more than Suppan. I am sure that his players saw that and it changed their perception of La Russa.

The final component of good coaching is to listen to your players.

Whether you are coaching T-ball or college, your players will appreciate that you listen to them. Every good coach, regardless of the sport, listens to his players and cares about them. I remember SLUH cross-country coach, Jim Linhares, telling us in cross-country practice that the guy who finished 90th on the team was equal to the guy who finished first. He said that and he followed through on it. Treating ninety runners equally and giving everyone attention could not have been easy for him, but he did it and created a great experience for everyone that ran SLUH cross-country. Although I really hate running, I ran cross-country all four years in high school, and it created some of my best memories. I owe a lot that to Coach Linhares for creating such a great team environment. I remember going into Coach Nicollerat’s office during my senior year to talk to him about pitching. He listened to what I had to say and then told me what he thought about it. Leaving his office, I felt like he respected me and cared about my opinion. Not all coaches are like that. I went to talk to another coach about baseball and some personal things that were affecting me. He never really listened. I think he was too concerned with telling me what he thought to take the time to listen to what I had to say. Leaving his office, I felt let that my coach did not really care about me, even after all the time I had put in on his team. I felt let down. Most players will look up to their coaches, even at the college level, and just listening to the players can make a big difference. Coach Nicollerat probably does not even remember that half hour that I spent in his office talking about pitching, but it is one of the most memorable moments of my high school baseball career. My other coach also probably does not remember talking to me that day, but it too is one of my most memorable moments.

In conclusion, there is a lot more to coaching effectively than just knowing baseball. Many people know baseball, but good coaches are rare. I was fortunate enough to get to play for Coach Nicollerat and if you are at this website, you are lucky enough to come across some of the best information on baseball and coaching that you will ever find.

By Nick Wingbermuehle

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Leave A Reply (3 comments So Far)

  1. jv baseball
    5 years ago

    good stuff

  2. jv baseball
    5 years ago

    looking forward to more tips, articles and drills.

  3. Fblikes-Markt.De
    3 years ago

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