I recently ran a poll on Facebook asking this question: I received an email this week from a RI youth baseball parent who had some concerns about his child’s recreation baseball league coach. His rec coach is also an AAU coach and “his game face is a bit intense for rec ball,” according to this parent. Do you think travel/AAU coaches should also coach their son/daughter in recreation league play? A lot of AAU/Travel coaches have HS, Collegiate, even professional experience and are great resources for youth baseball players. Or, should these more advanced coaches focus on their more competitive AAU/Travel team and just be spectators for their child’s recreational team. After all, most recreational leagues have a wide range of player abilities – all who want to compete, have fun, get better, and ultimately have a positive experience. Please share your thoughts and opinions. And please respect others by not naming names or leagues or coaches specifically, should you choose to comment. This is a poll that hits home with a lot of people on both sides of this discussion. I’m not looking to out any coaches here. Thanks and I look forward to the results.”
The results of the poll were 78% said “Yes to AAU Coaches Can and Should Coach Recreation Baseball” and 22% said “No, AAU Coaches Should Not Be Coaching Recreation Baseball.” A few local RI coaches commented on the post as well. Here are their thoughts:
“Good coaches are hard to come by…not saying that all AAU coaches are good. I’ve said it time and time again, if there is a good coach out there that wants to volunteer their time, let them. We’re doing more than coaching baseball out there, we’re helping to build our future generations, and that “village” contains a variety of different people.“
“I agree… I would add that as a coach of both I adjust my style between the two. My approach to rec ball is more of teaching and encouragement. My travel ball approach adds preparing the player for future coaches as well. “
The AAU vs Recreation Baseball debate is ever present at our community ball parks throughout Rhode Island. AAU travel teams are typically comprised of District level players, All-Star players who consistently play other teams in New England at that same District and All Star level. To get to that level of play and be competitive, you need quality instruction and coaching. AAU players typically have someone or a group of coaches who have played in High School, College, Amateur Leagues, maybe even at the professional level. This isn’t a baseball specific statement. Take any travel team in basketball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and check the resume of the coaching staff. An All-Star Tournament coach for each recreation league is typically the best coach/manager in your divisional play. You want the best facing the best on the field and in the dugout making decisions. These All-Star Coaches are also, for the most part, involved in AAU programs.
So how does the AAU Coach, who maybe participating in this weekend’s New England AAU Memorial Blast Tournament against the top 9U to 12U talent in the Northeast, come back on Tuesday night and coach a recreation game with local recreation players who love riding their bikes, going to birthday parties, play tons of video games every chance they can get, and oh by the way kinda like baseball??? This is the biggest issue that non-AAU parents have with AAU coaches. The issue is the recreational player wants to play baseball but cannot possibly have the same skill set as the AAU player simply due to the fact that baseball is number 10 on their daily priority list. Their parents want to encourage recreational play and signed their child up to play, participate, run around, and learn the game of baseball. These recreational players may make it to 10U levels, some all the way to 12U. They won’t make Middle School teams, they don’t make district teams, they don’t have the physical skills in baseball to be an All-Star. But they show up for most practices and all of the games and do the very best that their baseball talent has to offer. They miss ground balls, they strike out at the plate, they run into outs on the base paths. They make baseball errors that most AAU level players, on average, do not. So there is the AAU Coach, fresh off the Memorial Day Blast Tournament, coaching a recreational game and then comes the decisions.
As a coach, do I take a deep breath and realize where this player is at talent wise? Do I yell out and ask “what the heck were you thinking?” Do I throw my scorebook down, call a team huddle in the middle of the field, scream at the players for not playing the game the right way? Do I take the player who made the error aside and calmly discuss why the play happened and make some suggestions of what to do next time? Do I take the recreational player off second base and put him on the bench/right field? Do I send the recreational player back to second with a pep talk and encouragement? The answer is as personal as it gets. It depends on who you are as a person. There are no rule books on coaching ethics for recreational coaches who also coach AAU. You are a coach, you are also a parent and member of your local community. If you choose to be boisterous and loudmouthed and aggressive towards a player of lesser talent, what are you saying about yourself? If you choose to take that recreational player under your supervision and strive to encourage and engage that player to get better at baseball, what are others going to see and say about you?
Ultimately, the coach has the power to make a recreation player stay in the game for a long time, or exit at an early age. Sorry but that is a fact. The ripple effect of a bad experience on the field of play at 8, 9, 10 maybe 12 years old works like this. A player of lesser talent gets yelled out for missing a relay cut to an infielder, simply because he/she doesn’t have the arm strength, speed, or athletic ability to reach the cut off player from the fence. The tying run scores on the play. The coach yells out to left field a bunch of negative comments, some of which the player of lesser talent does not comprehend, and that player feels like he/she let his/her team down. The player reluctantly strolls into the dugout, where he/she is greeted again by an aggressive coach who relives the cut off incident in even more detail. The player feels even worse. No attempt is made to help the player understand why those plays are important and/or what they can do better next time it happens. To make matters worse, the player is due up third in the batting order and is carrying this massive weight of doing a bad thing in the field to the plate. The player strikes out looking on three pitches, and is once again yelled at by the coach for not swinging. All of this is going on in front of the player’s parents, who are watching their child’s body language and demeanor go deeper and deeper into negative emotions. The player is then told that he/she is sitting the last inning on the bench, so the entire events of the past 15 minutes will now marinate with the player on the bench. The game ends, the player leaves the field with a frown, the parents try to console, etc. etc. Nothing positive happens from the coaching staff, the player thinks he/she stinks, and the prospect of playing up to the coach’s expectations comes into question. Multiply this by 12 games a season and there is no doubt in my mind why players simply have no motivation to come back the next season. And why their parents support their decision and do not sign them up for baseball.
I know a hundred awesome AAU and recreation coaches. Some coach both AAU and Recreation baseball and do a phenomenal job balancing their emotions and coaching styles. Others need a lot of work and clearly should not be coaching recreation players, because they act like every player on the field should be at their AAU program level. It is the responsibility of the coach to mentor, teach, encourage, manage these youth baseball players – talented or lesser talented. The best coaches find ways to make baseball players better, no matter what talent level they are at.