The Role of the Coach

It’s “World Series” time! For those reading this post who are not residents of either of the Americas or Japan, don’t be alarmed, I’ll get around to making this “curlingcentric” (let the spell checker deal with that one) in due course.

In last night’s “game two” of the 2012 World Series between the Giants of San Francisco and the Tigers of Detroit, the game was tied at zero with but two innings remaing to be played. It seemed clear to all observers that this was going to be a “one run game”.

Earlier in the contest, Prince Fielder (yes, that’s his real name and no, he is not a rock star) was called “out” at home plate on a wonderful fielding play from the Giant left fielder who threw to the cutoff man and finally to the catcher to get the aforementioned Prince Fielder by the proverbial whisker at home plate to keep the game score knotted at zero.At the time, one of the on air commentators mentioned that the decision by the Tiger third base coach to “send the runner” was suspect even before the play unfolded at home plate. For those not familiar with Mr. Fielder, well, he’s not exactly Usain Bolt in speed afoot nor body type (I’ll be kind here). At the time, there were “none out”, so to have a runner on third base, many would argue that the attempt to score was a risk not worth the potential reward and as it turned out, the decision was a game breaker.

There’s an adage in baseball that every Little Leaguer learns before he/she is 10 years old, “Never make the first out of an inning at third base or home plate.” I guess third base coach Gene Lamont never played Little League baseball!

But coaching errors were not the exclusive domain of that third base coach. Team head coach (in baseball he/she is called the “manager”) made a coaching error in the situation referred to in the second paragraph. Allow me to recap. The score was tied 0-0. A great likelihood that one run by either team would win the game. None were out with the bases “loaded” with Giants. Manager Jim Leyland of the Tigers decided to play his infielders at “normal depth” and on an infield ground ball hit by the Giant batter, to “trade a run for a double play”. That’s exactly what happned. The Giant batter hit a routine grounder to the second baseman who threw to the short stop covering 2nd base and on to 1st base for the easy double play all the while the Giant runner on 3rd based trotted home with what 99.9% of the observers of the game were sure was the game winning run to put the Giants up two games to zero in the best of seven series.

Had the Tiger infielders been “drawn in” (on the direction of Manager Leyland), the ball hit to the Tiger second baseman would easily have fielded the ball and thrown home (no tag of the runner necessary as it was a “forced play”) and on to 1st base for the anticipated double play with no runs scored. Instead the run scored and the Tigers could not push the equalizer across the plate resulting in a 2-0 Giant victory. Yikes, two glaring coaching errors by professional coaches!

Perhaps the baseball manager for whim I had the most respect was the late “Sparky Anderson” who I believe is still the only manager to have won World Series Championships in both of the major leagues of professional baseball. Sparky was the Will Rogers of baseball managers and one of his sayings that I always remameber is, “It’s really hard to win a major league baseball game!”. The hidden meaning I always took from that was this. “Don’t make it any more difficult than it already is!”. In other words, mental mistakes at the elite level simply cannot be tolerated, not by a team that wishes to perform well enough to win.

Those of you who have followed my scribblings (thank you, I hope you enjoy them) know that my late father brought his son up with the same credo, no mental mistakes because you are in control of the decisions you make, make only good ones! Bill Sr. was heard to exclaim on numerous occasions within earshot of Bill Jr., “Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Dumber” and Dad rarely if ever referred to anyone as “dumb”. And, as usual, Dad know what he was taling about.

I wonder if in that game ending scenario I described above, had one of  infielders been “empowered” with the decision to have his teammates play “in” rather than at “normal” depth, what his decision might have been. Sparky also was heard to say, “As a manger, I can’t win any game, but I sure can lose one!” We cartainly saw that last night in the city by the bay!

My point here is this, your principle role as a coach is to empower your athletes. Utopia for a coach is to have the team so well perpared, especially in the decison making department that they don’t need you any longer. Which is why when my teams take to the ice the last thing I say to them is, “Let me know how you do!”. Don’t take that sentence literally. It’s simply my way of saying to the team that I know they will make good desisions. What happens after that, well, that’s why it’s a game. And their reply to me is, “Heh Coach, we just can’t wait to play!”

Game on!