Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Don’t punish an honest player

May 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Coaching

A few years ago I read a very good book called The Carolina Way:  Leadership lessons from a life in coaching by legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith.  There are many great lessons for coaches of all sports in the book but I was reminded of one he talked about when I wrote a post the other day called How to know if your pitcher is hurting.   I mentioned in the post that pitchers are generally not too honest when it comes to telling a coach if they are tired or hurt.  Of course, this makes it tough to monitor the health of our pitchers and also can hurt the team if a less than 100% player

If you want the truth, don't punish him for it.

is one the field.

Although this is something all coaches struggle with, sometimes coaches are their own worst enemy when it comes to why players are less than truthful.  On the one hand, all coaches tell their players of the importance of letting them know if they are hurting or tired.  We focus on the “you have to do what’s best for the team” speech to pass this message on before the start of every season.  But let’s be honest here.  Close game, last inning.  What would you think if one of your players said “Coach, I’m really tired/sore.  Maybe you should put someone else in.”  Chances are that “tough,” “gamer,” “team player,” and “winner”  are NOT going to be in your thoughts at that moment.  I have been around coaches that may not let that kid see the field in a very long time.  The point is, we sometimes punish kids for the very honesty we expect from them.  Clearly, if players get this message, we can guarantee that they will never tell us the truth.

Now back to Dean Smith.  Coach Smith talked about this as it relates to basketball.  To combat this, Coach Smith had a personal rule that if a player wanted to come out of the game to get a rest, he would ALWAYS put the kid back into the game as soon as possible no matter who the player was.  He felt the trust that was gained between the players and the coach far outweighed putting a kid in the game that he might feel is not completely there physically or mentally. 

Although the logistics of doing the same thing in baseball are obviously different, the policy of not punishing kids for honesty can be molded to apply to any baseball team.  If a coach feels there may be some issues related to an injury, anxiety, and/or fear on the part of the player, the coach can address that in other ways without jeopardizing the trust between the players and the coach.

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