Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Stay Positive in a Negative World

I am writing my blog tonight not only to help you, my audience in dealing with the battle before us every day, but also to help me work through my own battle with negativity.  Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.  Many people who know me know that I am one of the most positive people around.  But even I, Coach Mike, can be subject to a Negativity Attack from time to time.

Travel/Club coaches and High School coaches, while oft times seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum actually share the same battles albeit in slightly different terms.  Usually the negative issues of injuries, grades, attitudes, fundraising, and “other” tend to pick away at you in small bites.  But at those times when it seems that all of these gang up on a team, it can wear a coach down real quick.  And don’t kid yourself; it surely has a negative affect on the players too.

Lets take a look at some negative examples and consider how we may turn them into a positive takeaway so that there is hope after a loss, especially when it’s an ugly loss.  While you may say that I’m starting out from a negative position, let’s remember a total truism of sports:  it’s much easier to deal with a certain amount of negativity when you are winning.  But when you are losing games, especially games you feel you could have won, then it’s much more difficult to keep the other issues from gaining power.

Today was a good example.  My high school team had its first league game against a close rival.  It was a game we felt that we could win but we also knew we would have to play well to win the game.  We had been struggling at the plate recently with even some of our biggest hitters failing to connect.  So was our opponent.  Let’s just say that our opponent solved their hitting problems.  We actually managed to score some runs later in the game but we still fell way short of our goal.

So what do you do when your team gives up a slew of runs in the first inning of a game?  And furthermore, what do you do when you are down by, say, 8 runs after a few innings?

This can be a real bummer of a situation.  While the best teams are able to shake off such ugly starts, many teams struggle.  Especially when you were upbeat and hoping for a strong performance, the wind goes out of the sails real quick in such a situation.

When I’m in this situation, I try to remind my team that this is only one game.  Second, I want to have them mentally start the game over from that point and take something positive away from the game, win or lose.  Today we were looking at being subject to the mercy rule (10 runs after 5 innings).  However, we finally were able to hold our opponent scoreless for an inning and then we actually got our bats going and did a little scoring ourselves.  We managed to go into the seventh inning and ended up losing 5-12.  5-12, as ugly as it may seem is a lot better than 0-10.

Next week, I’ll discuss the daily grind we have to battle as coaches in dealing with players’ grades and injuries.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

High School Tryouts Part III - How I Run My Program

Well, that week went by pretty fast…..LOL.

I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and write my last blog in my series on high school tryouts.  As I had posted, our whole house was under the weather for a week or so and now that I’m in season I have seen time fly by way too fast.  But for those of you who are still with me, I present a synopsis of how I run my program and what I look for in tryouts.  Please remember, every program has differences and whether across the board or within one school’s programs, every tryout is different.

I’ve coached at a small private high school and at two larger public schools, counting my current position.  I’ve also coached one year of a JV program at a public school.  In my experience at my three varsity programs we often found ourselves needing bodies.  We would have anywhere from four to fourteen players tryout for the team.  These are new players, not the returning players.  And while I have cut a few players, I generally keep most of those coming out because of the low numbers. 

I am quite sure there is probably not a coach alive that would not want to have skilled travel or club players on their team in any sport.  It not only leads to having a stronger team, but it is also easier on the coach in developing practice plans.  A coach can work on more advanced issues because he or she does not have to spend as much time teaching basic skills.  These players almost always have the basic skills down pat.  That doesn’t mean the coach can skip teaching basic skills.  It just means you do not have to spend as much time. 

I remember after I had left the private school I coached at and was hired at Newport Harbor, a division one high school in the Sea View League, which at that time was arguably one of the toughest leagues in the U.S. as far as softball goes.  At one of the tournaments we were playing in, I ran into a coach that my teams had played against previously.  He asked me “So Mike, isn’t it nice to just be able to roll the ball out and let them play?”

Of course the answer is yes, if it were just that easy. 

So what do I look for in tryouts and why did I cut the few players that I have cut?

First, I remember back to a philosophy I learned from the UCLA program originally although I’ve heard it repeated many times elsewhere.  There are only two things you can control in life, your attitude and your effort.  That is what I look for in my new players.  If there attitude is right and they are willing to give the effort, I am reluctant to cut those players, even when they are very raw and have a lot to learn.  That’s what coaching is about and that’s also what JV is for.  I have an excellent JV coach that is good about working with young players and teaching basic skills.  Obviously, if I had forty or fifty players trying out the young inexperienced players who have played little or no softball would probably not have a chance to make the team.  So far that hasn’t been the case.  What I have been blessed with are some remarkable young ladies who are willing to work hard and learn.  Sometimes these players only play one season.  Other times they have developed into pretty decent players, even if they were not super players that would go on to play in college.

I am willing to carry a slightly larger roster, say 15 or 16.  I am even willing to carry the limit of 20 players if I had that many while still leaving enough players for JV.  The reason I feel this way is that to me, playing high school sports is different than playing for a club or travel team for one big reason:  PRIDE!

Sure there is pride in winning a national title with your club or travel team.  But it is not the same as winning a league, city, or state championship with your high school team.  Most players will stay with a travel team for one or two years.  But you are at your high school for four years.  And there is something special about wearing your school colors, receiving your varsity letter, and representing your school before your friends.  I like to see as many players as possible have that opportunity as long as they are willing to work together and contribute as a team.  Talent is secondary to making the team.  Of course, I will put the best nine players on the field as the starting unit. 

Most schools have students that through no fault of their own did not have the chance to play sports.  Kids are at the mercy of their parents.  Maybe they played at a middle school but just did not receive strong coaching.  And if the parents could not afford private lessons or club ball, is that the player’s fault?  It is easy to say that such a situation is not my problem.  My job is to put a competitive team on the field.  But especially if you don’t have large numbers trying out, if you want to build your program sometimes you have to be willing to take on a player who needs a lot of work but who has a great attitude and is willing to learn. 

I am willing to teach first so I can win later.

I had asked for other coaches to share their philosophy with us so that you can see more examples.  I had a few tell me they would send something in but only one did.  Below is that coach’s story.

(I’ve received the following response from a JV coach, Patti Mascone)


In response to request for coaching philosophies, I am a JV softball coach at Atholton High School in Maryland, a medium-sized school in the suburbs known for academics.

The JV level offers a great opportunity for 9th and 10th graders who may not make the Varsity team (some don't want to play Varsity because they may ride the bench). If we did not have JV, we would have to cut too many girls every year. I have to thank our county, Howard, and the high school, for instilling a lot of the fairness and communication into how our programs handle tryouts.

Of course, my tryout portion is based on those who have been "cut," for lack of a better term, from Varsity, so that puts limits on what I am looking for. I can't really pick kids to "pieces" of the puzzle, as that is more for the Varsity level. A JV coach needs kids who can play multiple positions and are overall players.

We have very few travel players in our district, so I spend a lot of time at JV level teaching the game to athletes who may not have had much softball experience. We are also instilling educational experiences to help the players in their future adult lives. So first, we have to look for athletes at JV level. For travel players that do come our way, we look for players who are good leaders, mentors, and teammates because of the variance in skill level. We have strict academic/homework requirements during the season, so we also want and have to take kids with good grades. I definitely read the honor rolls and ask the kids at tryouts to describe on paper their school activities and honors and what they would contribute to the team. I had one player who wrote such a great essay on her tryout sheet, I read it to the team as motivation.

I like to keep anywhere from 15-18 players, because at JV, we keep track of playing time and get everyone in. There are also injuries and other school activities to account for--we play three games a week once we get going (20 total). We have priority system so that kids can do both an activity (e.g., ROTC, band) and a sport to the satisfaction of all involved. However, academics and tutoring take precedence over softball in all cases.

It is imperative that a coach keep an objective grading sheet on each player at tryouts and that all prospects participate in the same drills. It is hugely beneficial to give the prospects a copy of a blank evaluation sheet or tell them what the categories of evaluation are prior to the start of tryouts. Of course, some things like "hitting form" will remain somewhat subjective, but by applying a number from a scale, the coach documents what the coach saw, which is better than writing "like her hitting form." I also allow some time at the end of tryouts to redo a key skill evaluation or add one so that the kids know they were seen by me. (I typically ask the group what they want to show off.)

At the end of tryouts, each cut player is told why she is cut, in private. The player or parent of a cut JV player may discuss my evaluation and ask about evaluation criteria. The parent or player is not allowed to inquire, discuss, or know anything about the assessment of another player. I don't and can't discuss other individuals. I find that a total score keeps the decision and discussion more objective by allowing both a "points cut-off" and "highest point total." Everyone is used to grading systems, so it works.

About 1/3 of the tryout score is based on sportsmanship, attitude, communication, and other teammate or team member qualities (such as the essay). This is so important. The coach also should NOT be fooled by first impressions. For example, I have timed how long it takes a fielder to make a play (and not just running), because some fielders who seem slow actually make quicker and more consistent defensive plays.

I also use the tryout sheet as a benchmark and go over this sheet with the player at the end of the season during individual evaluations; the player then knows what she needs to do to try and make Varsity the next year.

Because our system keeps all JV and V sports separate (they play at the exact same time), there is no concern about players going back and forth. You either play JV or Varsity. Of course, the Varsity coach can call you up, but once you go up, you stay up. This creates a lot more certainty for everyone involved.

(This is the coach’s personal philosophy and is not speaking as a representative of her school.)

I hope you can take something from our programs to help you in your own.  Or if you are a parent of a player trying to make a team, I hope these last three blogs have helped you understand the process a little better.  Next week I will talk about my policy for seniors.  Can a senior play on JV?  Or do you cut them if they’re not a varsity player?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

High School Tryouts - Comments of the Rejected

            This week in the second part of my series on High School Tryouts, I will focus on the comments often heard from parents or players when they have failed to make the team.  These comments vary widely.  Some are legitimate and some are rumor or perception.  Nonetheless, it is obviously the perception of the person offended that they should have made the team.  In our society today, it is much less common for a person to look at himself or herself first for a reason for failure.  It is much easier to blame someone else, in this case……the coach who cut them.      Let’s look at some of these comments.  Then we can see if there is a better path we can take.

            “The coach put his/her favorites on the team.”

            This comment is quite common and may often be true.  But that doesn’t always mean that the coach was wrong.  Every coach has to decide which players he or she wants on the team.  And while it is largely a talent issue there are other factors involved.  Your child’s personality may come into play.  Some players are loud and proud, others are quiet and timid, and there’s a whole range in between.  Just like anywhere else in society, the coach is more likely to notice the loud and proud.  My daughter was usually pretty quiet when trying out for a new travel team.  I’m sure that she was overlooked a few times because she would not come off as a potential impact player.  Once she was on a team she usually received positive comments from the coaches as to her effort and attitude.  And once she got to know the team and felt accepted, she usually wasn’t so quiet.  Even though I’m her Dad, I would say she would rarely be the first person to impress someone in a group tryout.
            At the same time, keep in mind an old saying “It’s not what you know but who you know.”  Some of the players trying out may have had a relationship with the coach previously.  Perhaps they attended a camp or clinic ran by the coach.  Maybe the coach knew a lower level or travel coach that the player played for.  Almost everyone feels more comfortable working with someone they know where there is a known quantity to deal with.  This can especially be true when a coach has to pick a limited number of players out of a large group.

            “They kept other players that were not as good as my kid.”

Again, this often may be true.  But it can also be your perspective, especially if you are new to the sport and may not understand the advanced skills and issues.  Again, personality may be involved.  Or it is possible that while your son or daughter is very talented they may have mechanical flaws in their game that a coach may choose not to deal with.  For example, I have heard some high school coaches say that they will not take a player who throws sidearm.  Throwing sidearm can cause more errors and also lead to injuries in the arm and shoulder.  There are some players who have thrown sidearm for many years and may be very good.  Some coaches just choose not to go there.  This is a habit that is difficult if not impossible to break.  You can try to change your player or you can perhaps consider another team.

            There are also times where you may be exactly right in your assessment of the situation.  The coach may be wrong.  He or she may have taken players on their team that are not as good of an athlete as your son or daughter.  You might have your child try to talk to the coach.  But there isn’t a lot you can do otherwise.  It is their team and they have a right to take the players they want on the team.  I suggest that you have your player try out again next year.  Maybe then the coach will see your child’s ability and perhaps realize he or she made a mistake in taking some players that didn’t pan out.  Or not.  But if you go around to other parents complaining about not making the team, you have probably just reinforced the coach’s decision not to take your son or daughter.

            “The coach only takes travel ball players, that’s not fair.”

            Perhaps not, but again that is there decision.  It is quite common to see this in high school sports such as softball, volleyball, basketball, and soccer.  There are a few different levels of this guideline.  Some coaches want to have travel or club players on their team.  Who wouldn’t?  These players have stated by their activity that they want to be a better player.  As a club or travel player they are playing mostly year round.  And in most cases are receiving better coaching, more advanced coaching to be more precise.  A high school coach only has a limited amount of time to practice with the team.  Travel and club teams tend to have three and four hour (and sometimes longer) practices at a more intense level.  A travel or club player is generally a better player.  It’s not a guarantee but it is the general rule.

            Some coaches will not only seek or require that you do travel or club ball, but will quietly require that you play on certain teams, or even their own team.  Is this wrong?  I think it may be extreme, especially if they won’t even consider a non-travel player who may be an excellent athlete.  But again….it is their team.  They get to set the guidelines.  Many times these guidelines might be what other parents or a booster club has placed on them.  This is especially true at high profile programs where they have a reputation for being a strong athletic school.  I have been turned down for positions at a high school because they have a favorite travel coach or someone connected to the administration or booster club.  See, it happens to coaches too.

            I could go on with several more comments but I would prefer to conclude this blog with some suggestions that may improve your child’s chances to make the team, perhaps even after they’ve been cut.

            Before you start whining to the whole world about how your son or daughter got a raw deal, consider these alternatives:

1.              Have your son or daughter ask the coach for a private conversation.  Then they can ask the coach (if the coach hasn’t explained it already) why they did not make the cut AND what can they do to improve their chances.  If there are a large number of players trying out coaches don’t always have time to talk to each one.  They will post cuts on the locker room wall.  If your son or daughter takes the initiative they may gain the coach’s respect and maybe even a second look.
2.              Plan ahead.  Don’t assume because your child was a star at the local rec league that they have the skills to make the team at your high school.  Just like looking for a job, do your homework.  Try to find out what the coach is looking for.  See if the coach offers summer camps and clinics.  If you can afford to, have your player take some private lessons from a respected coach and if possible try to join a travel or club team.
3.              Help educate your child (and perhaps yourself) about the differences between rec ball and travel ball.  Rec leagues vary.  Some may be very good but most by nature are not geared to be as competitive as travel or club ball. 
4.              Finally, teach your child to take responsibility for its own success.  It is up to them to get in better condition, increase strength or skills, and to learn more about their sport.  It is not the coach’s responsibility; their job is to coach the talent they have on their team.  It is not your responsibility to make your child a success.  You cannot do that.  Your responsibility is to provide the opportunity, guidance, and resources to help your child reach their goals.  If they are trying to reach your goals they will not do as well.  I can almost guarantee it.

That’s all for today.  I hope this helps.  Next week I will discuss coaching differences.  I will share how I coach my teams and share how some other coaches run their programs.

Teach first, and win later.

Coach Mike.

I love to get your feedback and share your experiences.  You can comment here or on my web site at  Also visit for more sport specific information and links.