WHAT IS YOUR DEMEANOR LIKE IN THE DUGOUT?
By Coach Alex Shapiro
After coaching at the high school level for four seasons, the ultimate conclusion I have made is that I have learned more as a coach than I ever did as a player. I make it a personal responsibility to teach and coach in a way that allows my players to learn the things I did not, or perhaps just did not grasp, because I played on great teams with great coaches. One thing I have asked myself is, if I was not on the field as a part of the starting nine, what was my demeanor like in the dugout and on the bench? Did I wish for others to fail in hopes for an opportunity to step up and succeed in their place? Was I engaged in what was happening in the game, or on the bench pouting? While I would like to say the completely honest answer to those questions is “no”, the reality is, I am completely sure I was guilty of doing some of these things throughout my playing career.
The most recent #PitchingChat covered a variety of “little things” coaches look for in players on their teams. Hustle, commitment, how players respond to feedback when it is given, just to name a few. Many chimed in about how players are on the bench and what the climate is like in the dugout. It is imperative that players assume responsibility for their demeanor in the dugout and on the bench. All coaches want their players to experience success and players need to comprehend that how they conduct themselves can directly contribute to what opportunities they may or may not receive. We can also come to the consensus that some players will receive more playing time than others, but if you are a player who wants more of it, you must first ask yourself what “little things” you can do to improve those chances.
When a game starts, there are two situations: a player who is starting, and a player who is not. Players who read the starting lineup and learn that they are not in it have two choices they can make. The first one is to find a spot on the bench, slouch down in it, wait for the last out to be made and go home. Before pointing fingers at other players for the mistakes they are making and thinking, “Oh, I would have made that play…”, or criticizing the coach for playing favorites, you might want to ask if you would put yourself out there with your teammates based on your actions, not just playing ability. The answer to that question should be obvious. Your coaches, teammates, and hopefully your parents, will pick up on it. If that is the choice a player makes, it just confirms the coach’s decision not to play him!
The second choice is to be engaged, energetic, enthusiastic and ready to play at any moment. As a coach, when I pull out my lineup card to contemplate making substitutions, I analyze the demeanor of bench players throughout that particular game. If I see a guy who has been active throughout the game, picking his teammates up, warming up an outfielder and chasing down foul balls, then I am more inclined to throw him some innings in the field or some at-bats when the opportunity presents itself as opposed to a player who has not got up off the bench at all. To help get bench players active, I encourage all of them to “go get” teammates — get up off the bench, pick a new teammate every time, and give him a high five, pat on the back, compliment a play he made, etc.—in between innings as they are coming off of the field. As a result, their teammates will want them to succeed when they get their chances to contribute!
Let’s flip the script: say you are a player who does indeed have a spot in the starting nine. You may have received this spot based on your playing ability, but your character, not talent alone, will keep you there. If you are a player who hangs your head after making a mistake, does not hustle on and off of the field, throws equipment, does not run out ground balls or pop ups, then you cannot be surprised when you have found yourself getting comfortable on the bench in favor of perhaps a less talented player who does not put these types of actions on display for everyone In attendance to witness. Maybe you are a player who receives a lot of playing time and is not necessarily having the best game out on the diamond that day. Guess what? You can still help your team compete and win by staying energetic and engaged in the dugout, and encouraging your teammates to do the same, when not on the field or up to bat. Coaches love this type of player because it shows that they put the success of the team over their personal performance.
Once again, another benefit of #PitchingChat has become more than clear to me: coaches sharing ideas with one another in effort to improve their abilities to do their jobs effectively and make their teams and programs better as a result. I am certain that many topics discussed in this article are “little things” that we, as coaches, recognize as integral parts of any team. What we can do from here is make it known, assure and reinforce that every member of the team, whether it is the starting shortstop or the foul ball chaser, has a role that it is important and can take it a step further by doing these “little things”, which as we all know, can add up to VERY BIG THINGS, for both the players and the team!