Coaching Lessons from Opening Day


April 9, 2013

My Cleveland Indians lost their home opener to the New York Yankees yesterday. It got me thinking about coaching.

A lot of my best childhood memories are tied to the Cleveland Indians. Because the Tribe wasn’t a good team until well into my 30s (the 1990s), I can’t tell you that I have a lot of great memories ofwatching many winning games when I was a kid. Here’s the thing though: it was what my dad and I did together. He taught me to appreciate the game, especially the difference between the things that you can easily see and the parts of the game that you have to look for to enjoy.

baseball game

That distinction between what’s clear and obvious to the naked eye and what is running beneath the surface is an important one for coaches. The interaction between coach and client also has two levels: the actual communication and what’s said between the words. Taking our cues from the game of baseball, let’s dive into a bit of the unseen interaction inside a coaching relationship.

-It’s important to remember that the inner workings, the stuff beneath the surface, is just as important as the things that are easy to see. The signals that get passed from the coaching staff to the players on the field are often the thing that makes a difference in who wins and who loses. A base runner that misses a sign is out, causing his team to not score the winning run. It’s possible that he and his coach are the only two who know that a sign was missed. In your coaching, what information is being passed between you and your client that is crucial—but is also easy to miss? What could you do about this?

-Preparation makes a difference. It’s not a guarantee of results. But it does make the results you’re after easier to come by. Baseball teams don’t jump right into the season…there are weeks of spring training beforehand. Even on game day, the team doesn’t come straight from the hotel and begin their time at the ball park with the first pitch. There’s conditioning, visits to see the trainer, warm up tossing, even batting and fielding practice starting hours before the game. What are you doing to sharpen your coaching skills on game day? Or even what are you doing to be ready to coach at the moment your coaching call begins? There’s nothing more embarrassing than a player who doesn’t look ready to face a pitcher’s fastball right out of the gate!

-Starting is easy. Finishing is a lot harder. We make a big deal out of Opening Day for every team, but when it all comes down to it, we really only remember how the season ended. (A fact we Cleveland Indian fans know all too well.) I don’t know why we celebrate the beginning of something, other than it’s fun. The real differences in the world come when you finish something. How can you ask your coaching clients about how they could finish what they started well? How can you help them stay committed to what they start?

-Finishing something effectively often has to do with the people around you. Growing up, it always seemed to my adolescent brain that the Tribe was well managed (even though they probably weren’t) and that the other teams were just luckier. We had the horses, and the gameplan, but things didn’t go our way. Something was missing. The winning combination is really strategy plus talent. A little bit of each only gets you so far, the real victories come when you have both. (Again, we Indians fans got used to falling short in one or both areas.) Coaches are crucial for this balance. You can draw out the talent from your client, or help them see the talent in others around them…sometimes they don’t even know it’s there. One of a coach’s primary roles is to help clients circle their situation so that the best strategy decisions are being made. Either way, the coach makes a different.

-The game is different than practice. No matter how hard you go at it during practice, game conditions are just different. Everything is more intense. The fans are there, and they actually care about the outcome. We keep score, and measure all kinds of other statistics. Everything is multiplied. As a coach, your preparation can be great. You can go to all kinds of training. You can even work with a mentor coach to hone your craft. But if you can’t deliver when you get into the session, all your hard work will fall short ot the mark. What can you do to transfer your practice skills to your coaching sessions? I will often journal coaching questions as they come to me…and this preparation will give me confidence to ask a new question in a coaching session, but only because I have a little experience with it myself!

-Just because the season has started doesn’t mean you can stop practicing. Once your coaching roster starts to fill up, you have a choice. Do you continue to practice, or play your way into better shape? Developing and refining your coaching skills is an in-the-moment skill, but there are certain things (like detailed preparation and prayer time) that can’t be done during the session. How are you setting up your calendar so that you have the maximum preparation/practice for each coaching session?

-It’s great to be in the starting lineup, but a lot of times the best players around the field at the end of the game. Likewise, the best coaches know that the most meaningful results a coaching relationship will generate come after you and your client have had a few sessions. The deeper the relationship goes, the more impactful the results. How can you support the relationship you have with your client so that they are more likely to dig deep when you’re in your sessions?

Baseball is America’s pastime. It’s a part of who we are in this country. I think coaching has the potential for that kind of impact in the lives of coaches and the people we coach. How are you getting ready for the new season? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.

Jonathan ReitzJonathan Reitz has a number of impressive titles at CoachNet Global (Chairman/CEO/Guy with Coffee).  Jonathan has been coaching since 1996 and has worked with over 500 clients in the church, the non-profit sector and the business world. 

  “Coaching plays a part in the kind of leadership the world needs,” says Jonathan Reitz.  “I want to be a part of that.”

For a daily coaching question from Jonathan Reitz, follow him on Twitter @jonathanreitz  Or, you can email hime at or by phone at 440.550.4374.

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