Measures of Success


Liam Carroll

“One of the problems that coaches tell you all the time, you don’t enjoy the wins like you suffer the losses, and there’s a lot of truth to that.”

That quote is attributed to World Series champion and now retired skipper Tony LaRussa and I completely agree.  I like winning but I hate to lose.  From a coaching perspective it becomes a question not only of which team played better during a particular contest but also who was better prepared.  The feeling of being "out coached" during a game is one thing but I’ve always felt worse if I thought that I had not done as good of a job preparing my team as the opposing coach had.  That’s because I think coaches have far greater influence on their players during practise than during a game.  Another great baseball coach, Andy Lopez, author of the book Coaching Baseball Successfully, believed that practise was his time to prepare his players as well as possible, while the games were for the players to go out and have fun playing and showcasing their ability.   Absolutely, coaches can influence a game by giving signs and so on but ultimately the players are the ones who must execute - and their success circles back to their preparation.

I think though that in the MLB setting that LaRussa worked in it’s relatively easy to get over a loss simply because the next game is the next day.  The same applies to college baseball – at UNLV we’d play three to five games a week.  It was at a European tournament during one of my first seasons on the Junior National Team that one of the coaches taught us the lesson that while it sucks to lose, at least it’s not like football where we have to wait a week for the next game: we get to play again tomorrow.  I’ve heard and relayed that message many times since with GB national teams and in the U.S.

Other than those intense, week-long European tournaments however, the type of setting that British teams are in is more similar to the one-game-a-week football schedule.  So it can be difficult to let go of the losses.  That is of course unless we can give a different order to what we’re doing, a different measure of success.

During his stint with the University of Southern California's (American) football team, head coach Pete Carroll became known for the mantra “Always Compete.”  Now with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Carroll brings massive energy to his practises and has gone so far as to include Will Ferrell in his motivational tactics.  He believed that while his team couldn’t always win, they could always compete.  By measuring their success against controllable factors – their effort, attitude and desire to compete – they can have a sense of achievement after every practice and game. 

As well as dealing with losing games, baseball players have to be able to deal with smaller failures within each game, win or lose.  Coaches often have to deal with the type of player who is caught up more in their own success than that of the team – the player who despite a team win will sulk at having an “oh-for” day at the plate.  At the Level 1 coaching course I recently tutored in Hackney, we discussed how, particularly at the youth level, favourable scoring can result in inflated batting averages due to just about every batted ball being recorded as a hit.  While this type of scoring might give players instant gratification, in the long term I think it hinders one of the most important aspects of player development – dealing with failure. 

With the measure of hitting excellence at higher levels being a .300 batting average, it’s the coach’s responsibility to help their players deal with “failing” 70% of the time.  To help with this, coaches can come back to how they measure success.  Staying with the offensive theme, players need to learn that getting out 70% (or more) of their At Bats doesn’t mean that 70% of their At Bats are failures.  Moving runners over, driving runs in, grinding out long At Bats and simply hitting the ball hard should be considered “Quality At Bats.”

Explain to your players what can constitute a Quality At Bat and how they help the team.  Make what can ordinarily pass as a non-event, such as moving a runner over, into a big deal.  If you watch high level games closely you’ll notice that just like they do after a big home run, teammates greet the executor of sacrifice fly at the top step of the dugout, ready for high-fives.  Keep track of Quality At-Bats on a chart and make "QAB Percentage" a statistic with just as much importance as batting average.

Finding measures of success in addition to wins and losses will give more of your players a sense of achievement and create new roles to delegate to assistant coaches.  It enables you to quantify, recognise and reward the development of your players.  And it might mean that it becomes easier to let go of a loss and prepare for the next game.

tagged under: baseball, coaching, mlb, softball, andy lopez, college baseball, nfl, tony larussa, pete carroll

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About Liam Carroll

Liam Carroll

Liam was a Regional Coach and then Development Coordinator for BaseballSoftballUK until May 2014. He returned to his hometown of London to work for BSUK in 2010 after stops in Somerset, Bristol, Cornwall, California and Nevada. Growing up playing in Britain, Liam made the move to America to study and play university baseball. After figuring out that his future would be brighter as a coach rather than player, he moved to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to finish his degree and coach college baseball. Since then he’s coached youth and adult teams on both sides of the atlantic and with the Great Britain Baseball National Teams.

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