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Coaching Management 23.2

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them improve on the field. That starts with taking the time to work with them in prac- tice. "I always tell my staff that we never know how good a player is until his final game," says Whitting. "So we need to be working with every one of them every day. "Not spending practice time with your backups is the quickest way to make them upset," he continues. "If you've given them a list of things they need to improve in order to start, it's your job to coach them up and let them know you're observing their progress." While holding his backups to the same standards as his starters during practice, McDonald is careful to account for their dif- fering skill levels. "I'm not going to throw batting practice to a top college prospect the same way I do to his backup," he says. "While I'll challenge the starter on his weak- nesses, with the backup, I may alternate between pitching to his strengths to keep his confidence high and working on areas he's struggling with." Archuleta regularly lets his backups know that the one thing they can control is their effort. "I'll constantly ask my bench guys if they've worked on their weaknesses during practice," he says. "If they haven't, I tell them that I'm not going to feel sorry for them when they complain about their play- ing time." Practice can also be a time for bench players to experiment with new skills that can help them find a larger role. "I remind players that if they learn to play another position, they're giving us more options to find them playing time," McDonald says. BE PREPARED When it's time to play ball, one of the biggest challenges with bench players is keeping them involved in the game. An engaged bench ensures team camaraderie and enthusiasm are high while also keeping 18 Coaching Management Preseason 2015 Coachesnetwork.com senior struggles A great group of seniors can provide the leadership needed for a team to succeed. But they also present challenges to coaches when they're posi- tioned behind younger players on the depth chart. "One year, I had a senior who wasn't playing much, and late in the sea- son, he broke down and got very emotional," says Mark Wiese, Head Coach at Puyallup (Wash.) High School. "He wasn't going to play in college, and he wanted to be on the field so badly during his final year that it was hard for him to accept his role. "I wound up starting him a few times, but I'm not sure that was the best way to handle the situation," he continues. "I was putting his needs ahead of the team's because I felt bad. It would have been better to tell the player I could see his passion, and even though he wasn't starting, that passion would serve him well in everything he would do in his life." Since that experience, Wiese has made a special effort before the season starts to spell out the unique situations non-starting seniors may find themselves in and make sure they'll accept that role. "I try to walk seniors through the implica- tions of being on the bench," he says. "Is he going to be okay with missing his senior prom to not play in a playoff game? If not, then maybe being on the team isn't the best idea for him." reserves attuned to the details of the contest. "Dugout energy is huge," says Whitting. "We have a dugout participation sheet that lists 10 to 15 things our bench guys are expected to do during a game. For example, we always yell 'back' on pickoff moves by the opposing pitcher, and if one of our fielders makes an error, the bench guys will yell out, 'So what?' in support. This keeps them engaged and helps the starters as well." Short pop quizzes during games can ensure bench players are paying attention. "I'll have my bullpen pitchers and backup catchers sit next to me as I call pitches," Bedics says. "I'll ask them why I called the particular pitch I did and why I wanted it located in that specific spot to help them focus their energy and improve as players. "I'll also remind my bench guys to let me know if they see something I miss—like a specific defensive alignment we should be in," he continues. "That way, the players feel ownership, and I have extra sets of eyes watching the field." Archuleta, on the other hand, doesn't give his bench players specific tasks, prefer- ring to let each focus in his own way. "Some guys want to talk to teammates about what's happening on the field, but others—espe- cially pitchers—want to be left alone," he says. "It's important for me to respect the unique processes guys have to help them succeed. If I don't, I'll have a robotic team, and the players won't reach their potential." Once you've decided to send a player into the game, advance notice provides him a chance to mentally prepare and increases his odds of succeeding. "If I know I'm going to be sending in my backup right fielder, I'll have him mimic an at-bat while the starter is at the plate," says Schlossnagle. "I'll have him put on his batting helmet and gloves, get into his stance, watch the pitches, and visu- alize swinging the bat. Studies have shown that visualizing tasks beforehand can help people accomplish them more successfully." A last-second reminder to stay calm can help keep the pressure off. "Pinch-hitters often try to do too much," says Wiese. "They're thinking, 'If I get a big hit today, I may start tomorrow.' But sometimes, all I want them to do is get a bunt down or move "We have a dugout participation sheet that lists 10 to 15 things our bench guys are expected to do during a game. For example, if one of our fielders makes an error, the bench guys will yell out, 'So what?' in support. This keeps them engaged and helps the starters as well." Todd WhiTTing, UniversiTy of hoUsTon Click Here to sign up for our free series of educational digital newsletters Click Here to sign up for our free series of educational digital newsletters

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