Ask the Coach
Joe in Jacksonville, FL asks:
How can I get my team to stay motivated? After two innings we seem to lose complete focus, especially if we’re behind. We start to make error after error. These are 10 and 11-year olds. We have been in every game until my players make an error or two and then the team falls apart.
Coach Swift answers:
If I was able to answer this question definitively and tell you how to keep your team focused at all times I would be the smartest coach in the world!
Every coach on every team has this problem at one time or another. I would first ask you to look at the last 10 games you’ve played and look for any trends. What is the pattern that occurs after the second inning or after an error has occurred?
My best suggestion is to do what most coaches usually try to do and that is to change the players’ focus by giving them something else to think about, both as individual players and as a team.
In baseball you often have to get the individual mindset to change in order to benefit the team. As an example, after a bad inning in the field a player is scheduled to bat the following half inning. You need to ask the batter what he is going to do and give him a chance to verbalize what he’s thinking about. What you’re really trying to do is get his mind off what happened in the field and get him to change his thought patterns to something positive that he can accomplish during his turn at bat.
As a coach it’s important to stay very positive and remind your team that each inning is a new inning and your goal is to win that inning.
Think about having goals for each inning and remind the players of them. Defensive goals can include team goals such as no errors in an inning, while individual goals can be a particular player fielding a ground ball cleanly or catching a fly ball. On offense, have your players focus on drawing a walk, getting a hit, or at least making contact and not striking out.
These goals are all things that you can remind your players about to help them regain their focus. There doesn’t have to be any tangible reward for accomplishing each goal, but at the youth level rewarding players for accomplishing goals often enhances motivation.
In that case, remember the goals that you set and keep track of them. Be sure to congratulate your players/team when one is accomplished and figure out an appropriate reward for after the game. It can be anything from ice cream or pizza to letting your team choose their favorite drill at the next practice. You know the personality of your team best, so tailor the reward to something they really want. This will work as an extra incentive to motivate your players to accomplish the goals you set.
If all else fails then remember the saying that “practice makes perfect.” But in this instance, what you need to practice is the imperfect problem that’s occurring in games. Therefore you need to practice making a couple of errors with runners on base and get your team to focus on working their way out of the situation. Most importantly, when you let your players hit after those errors help them get into a positive mindset by giving them goals to focus on, such as hitting to the opposite field.
By working on the same problems you are experiencing in games during practice your team will be better equipped to handle those situations during games. Presented in a positive way, this can be a constructive part of your practice sessions that will prepare your team for game situations.
These solutions seem to work very well for younger players. They aren’t bad ideas for older players, but at the younger levels small things seem to make a bigger difference.