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Little League baseball coaching

Being a great kid’s baseball coach

Dear Mr. Morton,

I volunteered to coach my son’s Little League baseball team with his fifth-grade classmates. I really want to have a positive impact on them. Any tips? — Anxious Dad

Dear Anxious Dad,

Thanks to parents like you, the number of kids participating in adult-organized sports programs is growing at an unbelievable rate: 28 million boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 18 participate in community sports programs. As a coach, you can create a constructive and upbeat baseball season for your son and his classmates — one that they will always remember.

Researchers examined the impact of coaching behaviors on 152 boys (ages 10 to 12) participating in Little League baseball programs. They uncovered major results with far-reaching implications.

Half the coaches attended a Coaching Effectiveness Training Program two weeks before the season began – the other half did not. The trained coaches learned ways to relate more effectively with child athletes.

Throughout the season, the trained coaches readily praised kids for their efforts and good performances. The other coaches did not. When a Little Leaguer made an error, the trained coaches gave corrective instruction in a supportive and encouraging way. The other coaches did not.

The trained coaches noticed kids being good and rarely overlooked improving performances, using praises such as: “Johnny, I like your stance while at bat.”

Kids with trained coaches heard encouraging words and reassurances when they made a mistake, such as: “That’s OK, Tommy, you’ll get it next time!” The other kids did not.

Kids heard more criticizing remarks and punitive responses from untrained coaches when they made mistakes on the baseball field, such as: “How many times do I have to tell you to use both hand, stupid!”

Preseason and postseason interviews with the 152 Little League boys uncovered major findings: the boys enjoyed playing for the trained coaches better and their worship for the game of baseball outshined the others. They also ended up liking not only their coaches better but their teammates as well. Friendships were forged.

And here’s the kicker: all 152 boys completed a measure of general self-esteem before and after the baseball season. Boys with low self-esteem playing under the trained coaches showed dramatic rises in their feelings of self-worth; boys with low self-esteem playing under the untrained coaches did not.

After reviewing the training program and listening to the wishes of parents who have had children in summer baseball leagues, my idea of a great kid’s baseball coach is one who:

• Is aware of the growing number of kids with low self-esteem and those who come from single-parent and dysfunctional families, and who believes his most important job is to build confidence and feelings of self-worth.

• Believes winning is important, but that kids always come first. Poor and skilled batters bat equally.

• Focuses on what went right, preaches maximum effort, and if the team loses, watches blooper videos of pro baseball teams.

• Builds team spirit and has parents form a cheering section. All kids are cheered for effort and no kid is booed.

• Passes out sponge balls to parents to throw at adults who yell discouraging remarks from the bleachers.

Here’s the bottom-line: the win-loss records between trained coaches and those with a “take no prisoners” approach to Little League baseball were identical.

Robert Morton, MED, EDS, is a retired school psychologist and former adjunct professor in the School of Leadership and Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University. Concerns about family, parenting, educational, or those of a personal matter? Contact him at robertmorton359@gmail.com.

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