When I was asked to provide content for this website my mind went to a number of different things that I can provide, the obvious being position specific content with drills (which will come). However, for my first contribution I decided to go with something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately... the well-being of new coaches. While I am referring to guys breaking into college coaching, I think that most of this info can be helpful to anyone. If you follow me on twitter you are aware that I have strong feelings about the current camp legislation and how it affects assistant coaches, primarily the young and/or underpaid assistants (or the majority!). They are often thrown to the wolves and learn through experience. What follows is a list of things that I have seen, experienced, deduced, or heard over the past eleven years. Some of it is advice. Some of it is for mental health. Some of it is for lifestyle. All of it is stuff that I wish I had known when I was starting out as a young, broke, and idealistic coach.
You know your stuff- I am not saying that you are the best coach in the world. I am not even saying you are a good coach. I am also not saying you know everything. However, I AM saying that you know what you’re doing from an x’s and o’s standpoint. The fact of the matter is that baseball is baseball. Occasionally something will come along that will “reinvent the wheel” but we are, for the most part, teaching and doing the same things that have been done for years at all levels of the game. Have faith in your knowledge and have faith that if you are a willing student of the game your knowledge with grow.
Sell the sizzle- The nature of your status as a coach to your players gives them a sort of confirmation bias toward your teachings. If you are sure of yourself, your players will see it and trust in you. Likewise, if you are unsure they will see right through it.
Live within your means- Very few of us get rich doing this. Still, fewer start out making nearly as much money as our friends that went into the “real world” after college. You will see your friends travel, buy cars, and do other “expensive things”. Sometimes it will get frustrating. Sometimes you will envy. Do not fall into that trap. Manage your finances and live within your budget, not theirs. This brings me to my next point…
Learn the hustle- You will need to “hustle” to make money occasionally. Be willing to work when given the opportunity. As long as you leave a camp or clinic with more in your pocket than when you started and a list of recruits you can contact, the trip was worth it. You will like the extra money. You will like the fact that you can recruit some of those players. You will eventually love the fact that you had a chance to grow your network. All of the first coaches that I met and some of my oldest friends in baseball are guys that I first met as a volunteer on the camp circuit.
Be able to say no- It sucks to miss a buddy’s wedding or skip out on going on a “guy’s trip”, but this will be part of your life for some time. Like anything else in life worth doing, coaching takes discipline. You have to prioritize your time and money. It’s never a bad idea to take stock and remind yourself that as much as those “no’s” may sometimes hurt (if you have the discipline to even say no), you are living a life that most of all of them are envious of at times.
Enjoy the “journey”- I may be a little bit tweaked in the head because I thoroughly enjoy hopping in the car and driving anywhere and everywhere, even if it is to an awful game. This country is truly beautiful as are the people in it. Take a minute to explore a little roadside town, squeeze in a quick nine (time permitting), or stop at a local restaurant… You and your sanity will thank me later.
Don’t be that guy- Young and spending a lot of time on the road is a life that lends itself to temptation. Have fun and “enjoy your journey” but realize that you have a job to do and dreams of where you want that job to take you. Showing up to an event looking like you just left the bar (or smelling like it too!) while wearing your school’s colors is not a good look for you to show the players, parents, and other coaches around you.
The logo on the polo does not matter- There are great coaches and resources at schools that are mainstays in Omaha, but would you believe that some of the greatest resources and baseball minds that I know are at schools I had never heard of until I met them? We all have our own journey. We get to and/or stay at schools under a variety of circumstances. Each and every person you meet and talk to is someone that can teach you something, someone that may know someone you want to know, or someone that you can have a mutually beneficial connection with. Which leads me to…
You see the same people on the way up that you do on the way down- This should be self-explanatory, but often is not. With as much movement as there is in coaching, we never know where we or those around us will be a year from today, let alone a decade from now. Don’t burn bridges. Keep relationships open. It will help you in exchanging scouting reports, in recruiting, and in your career among other things. We all make judgements and first impressions are hard to overcome. I know from my experience that there are guys that I still have a bad taste in my mouth about from when I was an athlete and guys that I tried to recruit and treated me as a second-class citizen that I will never fully trust. Life is too short and this profession is too difficult to burn bridges.
Never stop learning- Continue to pursue knowledge in baseball. That is a given. However, I mean to truly never stop learning. You are working in education. To sell that education, it helps to give off the impression that you are educated yourself. You will meet recruits’ parents who work in a number of fields. You will meet alumni, donors, and community members with varied interests. Be able to talk about more than baseball or sports in general. I don’t mean be an expert, but be able to take a genuine interest in these people’s other interests and you will reap rewards for it. You will also coach players with a variety of academic interests and learning styles. It will help you immensely to be able to relay information more scientifically to an engineering student, for example. For instance, I had a pitcher once who was having performance anxiety. I knew that his interests were in politics and he had talked to me about Thomas Jefferson before. We sat for ten minutes and discussed how Thomas Jefferson not only had the same problem (deathly afraid of public speaking) but was able to overcome that fear. His next outing saw great improvements. It is as much your job to get through to your players as it is theirs to listen to you. I have made it a goal of mine to be at least conversant in as many topics as possible.
Shane Davis (@SDavis12WIU) is the Assistant Baseball Coach and Recruiting Coordinator at Western Illinois University.