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Upper Hand

Sports Management Blog

What College Philosophy Taught Me about being a Great Youth Sports Coach

Posted by Upper Hand | Jul 20, 2012 9:04:34 PM

TRAINlete is excited to share another entry from one of our GREAT contributors, a GREAT Youth Sports Coach, Ira Blumenthal. Socrates and Youth Sports...very interesting thoughts! Enjoy.   The
re’s an old expression, “When you’re through learning, you’re through!” In short, that means we’re never too old…never too smart…and never too savvy to learn something new. As a former college coach and longtime youth coach, I was always looking for a new way to educate, train, motivate and inspire my players. I read books. I went to coaching clinics. I observed coaches I thought were competent. But I never thought that one of my best coaching techniques I ever found and used came directly from my Philosophy 101 Class at the University of Maryland. In Philosophy we learned about great, wise and sage philosophers, teachers, mentors and visionary thinkers. Obviously the entire class was designed for us to perhaps model our thinking and behavior after great minds of philosophical thinking. In my reading, I came across a famous philosopher who I thought had an amazingly important coaching style I could adapt. His name was “
Socrates,” clearly one of the great thinkers and teachers of all time. You see, Socrates never lectured to make his point…to educate…nor inspire. He used the fine art of “questioning” to spread his knowledge and teach his disciples. If ‘Coach Socrates’ wanted to make a point to his team (students), he would ask question after question designed to get them to understand his point…gain cognition…and ultimately learn. I was fasciniated by this methodology and so, I decided to use the philosopher’s model with a 12-year old elite travel baseball team I was coaching at the highly respected
East Cobb Baseball Complex. Let me set the stage, Anyone who has ever coached youth baseball will attest to the fact that even the smartest young baseball player will make simple mistakes. For instance, thousands of youth shortstops have made the following mistake…let’s say there’s a runner on first base and there are no outs. The batter drills a hard hit ground ball to the Shortstop. In a split second, the shortstop reacts to the ball, fields it perfectly and fires the ball to the First Baseman who steps on the bag and gets the batter out. Great play, right? No. Wrong play. You see one of the most basic plays in the infield is to get the “lead runner” out. The correct play was for the Shortstop to flip the ball to the Second Baseman who would catch the ball, kick the base to get the lead runner out…and maybe have enough time to pivot and try for a “double play” by throwing the ball to first base. On one hand, the Shortstop did get an out. He did get something positinve accomplished, but it was the wrong play. What most coaches would have done is call out to the Shortstop and remind him to get the lead runner at second base. Some coaches wouldn’t just remind the Shortstop he made the wrong play, they may even bellow loudly and scream one of those lovely sayings like “Get your head into the game!” Before becoming reacquainted with Socrates, I might have acted the way I just described…yelling to my Shortstop to make the right play. However, moving my coaching style over to what has been called the “Socratic Method,” here’s how I would have handled this
teachable moment. I would have asked, in the true Coach Socrates style, the following question –
“Son, if you had the chance to do that play over, what would you do?” The reality is that my Shortstop knew what he did…and knew it was the wrong play. Reminding him of it over and over again or reprimanding him accomplishes nothing. However, asking him a question that he knew the correct answer to was a better way to have him reinforce the behavior himself, in a non-threatening manner! And so, thank you Philosophy 101 and Coach Socrates…you helped me become a more effective coach and a better teacher! Written By:  Eric Blumenthal

Topics: Baseball, Coaching & Training Tips, Youth Athletics

Written by Upper Hand

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