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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Coach's Box Newsletter > 2012 > Coach's Box - February/March > Dr. Burnett Feature

Dr. Burnett Feature

Volume 7, No. 2 - Feb./March 2012

Positive Coaching: Be Proactive, Not Reactive

By Darrell J. Burnett, Ph.D.

We’re e all aware that most kids are not one-trial learners. That’s why they need lots of practice, repetition and “dress rehearsals” before a game. We talk about and role-play scenes, walking them through different scenarios (cut off throws, base running, hitting, etc.). When they get in a game, we want them to have a sense of “been there, done that” so they’re more likely to have an organized game plan and less likely to be “winging it, with a gut reaction.” I think the same thing applies to us as managers and coaches. When it comes to responding to parent and player issues, we would do well to be proactive, not reactive. We need to anticipate possible “issues” connected with parents and players, and “rehearse” how we will respond. The goal is to have a “game plan” rather than an emotional “gut reaction” when an issue arises.  Obviously, it’s not possible to anticipate every issue, but the scenarios listed below should give you an opportunity to ask yourself how you would respond. There are no answers in this article. It is meant to stimulate managers and coaches to think about and discuss possible responses.


A dad says his 9 yr. old son played 3rd base last year, and he wants to know why you’re playing him in the outfield.

You’re coaching 3rd. You tell a player to tag up on a fly ball. The kid gets thrown out at home. The kid’s dad yells out, “It wasn’t your fault, Sam. Your coach never should have sent you!”

At practice a player says, “My dad says you’re teaching me the wrong batting stance!”

A dad continues to publicly criticize his kid during a game.

A single mom says her 10 yr. old son, one of your best players, won’t be able to make your Wednesday practices because it conflicts with his piano lessons. She says he may also miss some games because of scheduled Saturday recitals.

At the end of a game a dad publicly challenges your decision to play his kid for the minimum number of innings, while your son played the whole game!

A single mom calls half way through the baseball season. She says her son, one of your best players, is getting behind in school, and she wants to take him off the team so he can concentrate on grades.


An 8 yr. old hasn’t had a hit after 5 games. He tells you he wants to quit baseball because he can’t hit like the other kids on the team.

At your first practice, a 9 yr. old says, “Baseball’s stupid! I’m only here because my mom signed me up.”

You’re best player shows up late for practice, refuses to do warm-up exercises, and won’t rotate to the outfield because he says in games he only pitches and plays infield.

Your right fielder drops a routine fly ball that would have ended the game. The other team scores 2 runs. Your team loses 5-4.

One of your t-ballers cries because he gets thrown out at first.

Your weakest batter is at the plate. The opposing coach yells out, “This kid can’t hit. Just throw it down the middle.” The kid hears it, hangs his head, strikes out, and goes to the dugout in tears.

One of your best players is always putting down and making fun of two or your less talented players.

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice in Laguna Niguel, California for more than 20 years. He was listed among the "Top 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America" by the Institute for International Sport. His book, It's Just A Game! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), and his Sportsmanship Card Game, Good Sport! are described at his website, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets, and CDs on youth sports and family life.

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