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How to Deal with Closed-Minded or Contradictory High School Coaches

I’ve had a number of parents come to me in the past month or so with the following conundrum: their daughter has worked extremely hard with a private coach to get her pitching or hitting mechanics to a particular place. Then when her high school season starts, the coach tries to change her mechanics to something completely different. This is an extremely difficult and delicate situation that must be handled with care—no matter how much frustration it may cause you. Not every instance of this problem will be identical, and there’s no way to pin down a solution that will work every time. The following advice, however, may help you get through it as smoothly as possible.

I’m limiting this to high school ball because, presumably, if you’re having this serious a problem with your tournament team coach you have the option to leave and find another team. Middle school ball is very erratic with its rules, and you certainly won’t be missing much if you decide to skip it—unless your school district has a very cohesive and organized program from the ground up.

FIRST: Be Open Minded Yourself

I have personally been on ALL sides of this dilemma: I’ve been a well developed player with an under-qualified coach; I’ve been a player with a lot to learn from a particular coach; I’ve been a pitching instructor sending my precious pitchers off to all kinds of different school and travel coaches; and I’ve been a high school coach dealing with players of all backgrounds. After all my experience, I can say this with certainty: for every parent/player who thinks their high school coach doesn’t have a clue, there is a high school coach who thinks a player or her parent doesn’t have a clue. And both have been wrong, and both have been right.

At the very least, make an effort to completely understand what the high school coach is trying to teach and why. You may be surprised to find that he/she is more knowledgeable than you thought and might have something very useful to offer you/your child, especially if she is struggling.


What to Do When The Coach is Legitimately Teaching Harmful Mechanics

This situation may very well come up, and then it’s not just a matter of stylistic differences, but a matter of time and money invested in a player’s learning and, most importantly, her physical health and safety. There are plenty of inexperienced high school coaches out there who could very well be ignorantly teaching pitching/hitting mechanics that are likely to have negative effects on the body as well as performance.

In this situation, it is absolutely critical that the parent does not fight the player’s battles for her. Doing so will just create animosity between the coach and the parent that will ultimately be taken out on the player, consciously or unconsciously. Any questioning of the coach should be done respectfully by the player herself

This is how she should proceed:

  • ASK QUESTIONS. It’s the coach’s JOB to teach, and he/she should not object to answering questions asked in a respectful manner. Respectful is not “But my mom/dad/travel coach told me to do it this way!” Respectful is “coach, would you please explain to me why you want me to do it this way? I understand what you’re asking me to do but I’m not sure I understand what effect that will have on my pitch/swing.” Asking questions is also the only way to find out if, as I mentioned above, the coach might actually be providing some useful information.
  • If you (the player) are certain, after asking and hearing the coach’s explanation, that his/her instruction is detrimental, politely explain WHY you were taught a certain way (this is why it’s important to UNDERSTAND what your pitching/hitting coach is telling you, as opposed to just doing what they say for the heck of it). Explain—without disrespecting the coach’s method—that you are comfortable that way and that you would like to be given a chance to prove that you can be effective. Results will speak for themselves; if you’re the best pitcher on the team, you’re crushing the ball at the plate, and most importantly you’re RESPECTFUL, your coach won’t have much choice but to give you playing time.
  • If your pitching/hitting coach is a reasonable person who won’t let his/her ego get in the way, politely ask your high school coach if he/she would be willing to get together with your private coach to compare notes. Make sure to convey that the purpose of the meeting would be to enhance your understanding. Again, this must come from the player. The private coach should not approach the high school coach out of the blue.
  • If that doesn’t work, learn how to nod and smile. Listen to the coach’s instruction without argument and simply continue doing what you were taught.

You may very well run into situations that won’t be remedied by any of the above suggestions. Here is the #1 thing to remember: high school softball is supposed to be fun. It’s an opportunity to represent your school, play with your friends, and grow as a person. If you are an extremely serious softball player with ambitions to play in college, remember that college coaches won’t come to watch your high school games; your summer tournament team is the vehicle that should take you to your final destination. Relax and enjoy your high school season to the best of your ability and use it as an opportunity to make an impression on your peers and younger players. If your high school team environment is so toxic that you absolutely cannot enjoy yourself, don’t put yourself in that situation. It’s not worth the frustration. Just play for your tournament team and focus all of your energy on that.

As a parent, obviously you’re going to have your child’s best interests at heart. Just remember to make fully informed and educated decisions rather than reacting rashly.

About the author

Carly

Carly is a windmill pitching specialist and co-founder of Fastpitch Power. She has coached teams at every level from 10U to NCAA. She also designed and built fastpitchpower.com. Please feel free to leave questions and site feedback in the comments or via our contact page!

2 comments

  1. HS Coach

    Your article is a complete slap in the face to high school coaches, myself included. Travel ball/private instruction is watered down the players because anyone who has a check book can play. What about all bad private hitting/pitching coaches. High School Ball is about fun, but winning is also important as well as team and character development. Putting yourself above the team/coach does not promote that.

    1. Carly

      Your comments are completely valid; I’m a high school coach myself, and in my experience I have dealt with plenty of the reverse—girls suffering from the negative effects of poor travel and private coaching. It absolutely happens.

      I think you’re missing the point of my article, however. I never said that every high school program is bad; many of them are FABULOUS, and many of the best coaches I’ve met have been high school varsity coaches. I also do not want to promote self over team at all, and I think playing high school ball is extremely important for character development, which in my opinion is more important than skill development. I’m simply trying to offer some advice to the extreme minority of people who happen to find themselves in the unfortunate situation where advice they’re receiving from their high school coach could be potentially harmful. I only singled out high school because typically, short of moving or entering private school, athletes do not get to choose their high school team; they must adapt to it somehow or simply not play. Athletes who find themselves in negative travel/private coaching situations, as you described, have the freedom to leave.

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