There’s a tendency to lend ‘leadership’ esteem to those who execute a “leader’s” duties. On the baseball diamond, it’s the coaches, or those who provide the instruction, delegate responsibility, and develop the strategies, that are held in high regard leadership-wise, simply based on their role with the team. However, not all coaches are leaders. While it may be the case with many teams – that the head coach or manager holds the most distinguished role, and is also the possessor of the most effective leadership qualities - leadership has much more to do with impact, than a hierarchal title or position.
Here are 7 leadership characteristics in coaches that, when abundant, will help catalyze a team towards excellence, or, when deficient, will be cancerous towards a team’s cohesiveness:
1. Compassion – Are we a bridge, or are we a roadblock for our players?
With many of us years, or even decades removed from our playing days, it’s easy to forget how difficult the game of baseball is to play. If you’ve never felt compelled to shout from the stands after a shortstop bobbles an ‘easy’ double-play ball, or scream at the television when a pitcher hangs a breaking ball to give up a game-winning home run, this portion is not for you. For the rest of us, let’s try to remember the cliché we’ve heard so often, it now causes our ears to ache: that baseball is a game where, “failing 7 out of 10 times makes you an all-star.” Remember the pressure we used to put on ourselves as a player. Remember how we wanted to be the hero for our teammates, and often, came up short. Remember how badly we wanted to perform well for our coaches, parents, friends, and the fans. Remember how any added pressure almost always ensured failure on our part, as a player, and let's try to keep it positive with our guys, as their coach - especially when they struggle.
2. Authenticity – Are our actions aligned with how our conscience is leading us, or are we behaving a certain way because we know somebody is watching?
It’s easy dole out ‘eye’ and ‘ear-candy’ when we know our target audience is watching & listening. How many of us continue to live it when nobody else is around? When our actions match our words, on and away from the field, we’re on the correct path. Inconsistencies with our character are easy for our players to spot, even at a young age. Let’s talk a big game, and then let’s show up with a big game. Not just some of the time, all of the time.
3. Integrity – Do we practice what we preach, or are we hypocrites? Do we value honesty, or deceit? Do we promote fairness, or injustice?
It’s unclear when the, “winning at all costs” mentality came about. I’m all for the guys that work their tails off in practice, and want to see their hard work translate into victories when the lights come on at game-time. However, the stunts that some coaches pull, in order to ensure victory, chop the legs out from underneath their players, and cheapen their hard work. Circumventing the rules, in any form, should be frowned upon. There’s a distinct difference between gamesmanship and classlessness. Coaches, let’s go about our business in the correct manner by adhering to the rules, and winning (or losing) the right way. Not only will it help our guys develop a hunger to improve their skills and techniques, but it will also help strengthen their character. When we do this, the wins will take care of themselves. Some of the wins won’t be reflected on the scoreboard at the end of a youth baseball game, but will likely turn up later in life - away from the field. That win might show up in a marriage, in child rearing, or in the workplace. That win will be much more meaningful.
Worth noting: the “everyone gets a trophy” train of thought is equally as destructive, in my opinion, but that’s another talk for another day.
4. Humility – Is it our desire to embolden our players to act autonomously (giving them the resources they need to effectively do their jobs themselves), or is our desire to micro-manage every aspect of every play in order to validate ourselves, once our players have pulled off our desired outcome? Will we pass the buck to our players when they’ve come up short?
See: Humility in Coaching: The Need for a Resurgence
5. Vision – Do we find value in immediate success, or in meeting long-term goals?
Yes, we can have this one both ways, thankfully. However, let’s never sacrifice long-term development for short-term success. We might be able to win the 12U invitational tourney by having our pitchers throw 90% curveballs, but will they be able to pitch effectively in high school, 2 years down the road, if we never bother to teach them fastball command? I’d rather lose today to keep my players in uniform longer. For our players to see the big picture, we, as coaches, need to see it first. We need to believe in our own vision before we can expect our guys to, and we need to be willing to make the immediate sacrifices that may be necessary in order to see it through.
6. Generosity – Do we act out of selflessness, or greed & self-indulgence?
Taking on the role of a coach is, in many cases, inherently selfless. Youth coaches volunteer their time, are seldom paid for their services, and too often, take heat from the parents of other players. There are, however, a few “perks” involved. It’s easy for a coach to puff out his chest when his/her team is playing well. Who doesn’t want their team to be successful? But, why are we in it? Is it to selflessly give of our time, talents, passion, energy, and expertise? Or, are we asking ourselves, “what’s in it for me?” There’s a fine line between generosity and self-aggrandizement.
7. Focus – Are justice, mercy, and faithfulness in our line of sight, or are we locked-in on only the minor, insignificant details?
It’s human nature to want to ride the “hot-hand,” and it's tempting to bench the guy who is slumping. Is our focus that short-sighted? We should be attentive to even the most minor details, absolutely. However, placing the process over the product yields a focus with a more lasting impact. Let's see what kind of impact we have when we begin focusing on trust (whether our guys are 0 for their last 10, or 8 for their last 10), and consistency of character (whether we’ve won 10 games in a row, or lost 10 in a row). Let's show up the same way each day, with the same level of trust, and with the same level of urgency. I'm confident our players will respond.
Ryan Speier is a professional pitching instructor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He played professionally for 12 seasons, was a member of the 2007 National League Champion, Colorado Rockies, and has coached at the NCAA Division-I level. Ryan is a dad, husband, and follower of Jesus Christ. Find Ryan on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SpeierBaseball/