Robert Wanek Jr. - Director, Breck Sports Talk
The beginning of each sports season presents many challenges, and I mean that in a positive sense. One of the most delicate processes is the “Earned Respect” dynamic of coaching. Simply put, your players do not care what you know, until they know you care. Experience, knowledge, accolades — are irrelevant to our adolescent athletes at the starting line of a season.
This part of the process has been especially important to me while coaching baseball at the junior high school level. Before perfecting execution and performance, even before the fundamentals, we must double-down on building a family atmosphere and culture for our team. We’ve all had a coach who labored in remembering names and details of his players. Do not be this coach. If you don’t have a special interest in every student athlete under your wing, you will lose the room, and lose the opportunity to build a cohesive group in a matter of days.
We have to remember that our athletes are still kids and with that comes a behavior curve. We meet that obstacle with a character curve, which starts with us coaches. When our younger players aren’t following directions or seem disinterested, they aren’t disrespecting us or acting out, they’re getting a feel for your level of care and gauging how invested you are in their time and effort. Yelling and shaming players at practice is the most archaic and unproductive method of all. I often choose to make our players run because it’s great for conditioning and is a team activity. If you are physically able, you should run with them! This shows that you truly care about your players and don’t put yourself above them on a human level. Stop in between running repetitions to deliver points on character, camaraderie, and behavior.
Remember that sports are about having fun. Incorporating innovative practice plans will protect your players from burnout. Film study is a group activity that can not only provide knowledge, but an increased interest of the sport. I use one practice a week to watch film on current and retro athletes at the top of their game (Mike Trout, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, etc.) — a day to learn and rest will help break the monotony of ground balls and bullpen sessions. One step further, using rain days to eliminate a practice and schedule a team meal will translate to the field and classroom in big ways.
These are some basic strategies I’ve found to be helpful in team building. As a coach, my main goal is character and player development, with a focus on keeping eligibility and retention rates high in our program. There is no bigger reward than watching our junior high players see abundant success at the varsity level and in their personal lives.
Robert has been coaching baseball at Breckenridge Schools since 2014. He started his career as a volunteer assistant for Post 53 Legion Baseball, following two all-conference seasons as a second baseman under coach Kevin Hiedeman. Robert has coached over 100 youth games during his tenure.