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Hot Questions coaching Dave Anderson Basil Tarasko

Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson managed the Aptos, CA Little League All-Stars to the Little League World Series in 2002. In his real life, he's a semi-conductor salesman. Dave lives in Aptos with his wife Kit and their kids Kirsten and Kyle.

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What do you think?
Questions
1.   What are the biggest challenges a coach faces?  
2.   How do you deal with parents who feel their child is not getting his fair of share of playing time?  
3.   How do you deal with parents who are too intrusive at game time?  
4.   What about a parent who gives his child advice that contradicts your own coaching?  
5.   How do you try to inspire a kid who's not living up to his potential?  
6.   How do you keep yourself from getting too caught up in the game and forgetting your role as coach?  
7.   A parent has volunteered to coach, but they've never done it before. How can they get up to speed? What's the most important early lesson you learned?  
8.   How important is winning? What do you think an ideal season would look like? (wins, losses etc.)  
9.   Are there any benefits to losing?  

Answers

Q: What are the biggest challenges a coach faces?

I think the answer to this question depends on the level of play, i.e. age of players or team, and the resulting expectations placed on it. At the earlier levels, say 7-9 year-olds, I found the challenge to be in getting the kids to understand the value of practice, focus, and team play. At that age they pretty much want to have fun, be seen by the "crowd", and show-off if possible. As they change during the ages of 10-12, the challenges change as well. At this level Little League incorporates a draft for team placement. This draft means that only the best players within the pool advance to the Majors level. It is at this level that the expectations of the parents…and players…transition from fun and games to winning and playing time. The kids take the game much more seriously. They talk about it at school, and challenges occur about whose team can and will beat another. Because their child has made it to the top level of Little League the parents generally begin to feel (and sometimes express) that their child should be either starting, or playing more innings, or batting in a certain position within the lineup, or pitching more often, or….. etc. All of those factors end up with the manager and/or coaches.

Although these challenges are at times a little trying when you consider what's really at stake, they are not unlike many challenges that face a businessman in his daily job functions. Teaching, motivating, cajoling, encouraging, coordinating, and politicking all come into play. If you pay attention to those factors, remain fair to all players, and provide an atmosphere of development and fun, it is truly one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable.
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Q. How do you deal with parents who feel their child is not getting his fair of share of playing time

Each of the kids on a team develops (in terms of baseball development) at a different pace. Some mature more quickly in terms of physical development, some in terms of mental development, some both. Some can't make the throw from deep shortstop to first while others can't understand the intricacies of a common 1st and 3rd play. It's generally those kids whose playing time is limited as it relates to other players. When the parents call for a better understanding or to express their displeasure at playing time, I explain to them that their child is developing a certain aspect of the game a little more slowly than the others and that I'm trying to bring them along at a more moderate pace. I really don't ever want to put a kid into a situation where he obviously can't be successful. If the parent pushes the issue or expresses an opposing opinion relative to my assessment of their child, I usually explain, in more technical details, exactly what my development plan is for their child. If possible, I ask the parent to come to any of the upcoming practices so that they can see what I see. It also helps in that they can then see first hand the drills we use to work with their child and underline the expectations of the particular fundamental weakness we are addressing. I then ask the parent to work offline with their child in the hopes of increasing the pace of their development. This generally results in a more focused team approach.
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Q. How do you deal with parents who are too intrusive at game time?

I can honestly tell you that I've never had this happen to me. As odd as that sounds, it might be explained in this way. At the beginning of every season I pull the kids together (and invite the parents to listen) to outline my expectations for the year. During this speech I tell them that I expect respect, hard work, focused effort, and a never-give-up attitude. I tell them that it's their responsibility to be at practice and games on-time…not their parents; and that it's their responsibility to call me (or any other coach) when they have schedule conflicts; and that to not perform up to expectations only affects the team…not me. Peer pressure is a very motivating factor in their efforts. This approach generally results in a more focused team approach and generally keeps the game amongst the kids
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Q. What about a parent who gives his child advice that contradicts your own coaching?

I've only experienced this a few times. In those instances I didn't approach the parent formally but, when given the chance in conversation, have subtlely discussed why I believe a certain fundamental to be true or why I teach a certain play in a certain way. I then go on to outline the success I've seen when doing it my way and accentuate the benefits derived from such a strategy. If a parent is directly contradicting a fundamental drill or skill that I propose, I would certainly discuss the benefits and weaknesses of both approaches and come to some sort of agreement as to how to go forward.

In my first year of coaching in the Majors division of Little League I was running a drill for the infielders on how to turn on a pop fly hit behind them. I actually had a helper instruct the kids to throw their gloves in the air in an attempt to stop the ball. I think the idea was to try and hit the ball with the tossed glove in hopes of stopping it in midair so that it would fall harmlessly to the ground. Needless to say, I took over that group of kids before any further instruction could be imposed. After a few more similar episodes I simply called for other helpers and he caught the message loud and clear.
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Q. How do you try to inspire a kid who's not living up to his potential?

You continually work with him on fundamentals. During these workouts I use the one-on-one time to provide examples of situations where other players have been in the exact same situation (or at least a very similar one) and have come to work their way through them. I have found that kids relate well to stories about how others (usually within their same age group) have persevered through some sort of difficulty or challenge. Generally speaking I simply spend additional time with the child on the aspect of his game that seems to be deficient and keeping him from realizing his potential.
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Q. How do you keep yourself from getting too caught up in the game and forgetting your role as coach?

This is a difficult thing to answer because your role is to be both coach and strategist. In many instances I've found myself thinking ahead about player substitutions or pitching strategies for example and would expect my coaches to help with coaching the kids. In most instances however once a kid presents you with a situation that calls for some attention I found that the strategist in me disappeared quickly and the coach emerged. I expect that to change as the kids grow older and the importance of being a strategist grows. The kids will require less hand-holding and will look to the coach for situational direction.
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Q. A parent has volunteered to coach, but they've never done it before. How can they get up to speed? What's the most important early lesson you learned?

I always encouraged parents to help out a practice…always. Novices can certainly help out in drills and can ask questions if they don't understand the importance of a drill or its targeted result. By explaining the purpose of a drill to them (and the kids) before we begin, they can better understand what fundamental skill we're trying to enhance. From there we can develop a better feel for other drills that might add value to the practices. More often than not I try to break the kids into smaller groups so that everyone stays busy and nobody gets bored. Doing so also allows these novice coaches an opportunity to get involved by taking one of the groups. If possible it allows me the chance to offer them instruction at the same time I'm doing so for the kids. Over the course of a year these novices develop a better understanding of the fundamentals of the game and come to appreciate some of the instructional drills we utilize to develop the players.
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Q. How important is winning? What's do you think an ideal season would look like? (wins, losses etc.)

Winning becomes much more important as the level of play escalates and the associated expectations of the players do too. I have heard from many pundits about how keeping score might be a bad thing…especially for the younger ages. Personally, I disagree. There are simply too many instances in life where winning is important. Promotion to the next grade in school, acceptance to college, and job promotions are just a few that come to mind. I absolutely guarantee you that even at the 7-9 year-old levels of Little League, the players know who won and who lost. Even if we don't post the score publicly, they keep track among themselves. Obviously an ideal season at the 12 year-old level would be 23-0 (including playoffs). Coincidentally that was our regular season record in 2002. Before that we were something like 10-6 and, because we thought we should have done better we considered it a less than stellar season. However, the previous season we were 9-7 and thought we had done extremely well because our expectations were so much lower. I don't think the actual win/loss record is as important as the standings. The real goal is to finish first.

During our winning season in 2002, we found that the pressure to win was evident in each and every kid on our team. And although we did our very best to keep the atmosphere loose and relaxed, the kids felt the pressure because it comes at them from so many other sources besides the coaches. Additionally, the kids possess a tremendous amount of pride from within. Believe me when I tell you, they absolutely do not want to let their teammates down. I almost think that is as big a motivator as any other factor might be.
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Q. Are there any benefits to losing?

Certainly. Most of the kids (including my son) tell me that losing makes you much more determined to do better the next time. Losing (and fear of failure) are clearly great motivators. If you, as a coach, can channel that determination in a positive way, the result can be unbelievable. I used it during our 2002 season when in Petaluma. After losing to San Carlos, I asked the kids to re-focus on some specific fundamentals we needed to execute in order to win. As you know they did so in glorious fashion.
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