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The Criticism Sandwich: How To Find Teachable Moments

teachable moments - The Season - GameChanger

Every youth baseball coach has encountered this situation: A player makes an error and is upset.

This in turn creates an opportunity for the coach to intervene — it becomes a teachable moment that all young players need. 

Jay Fossier has coached baseball players of all ages, teaching teenage kids in San Francisco before moving to Chicago and most recently working with 8-year-olds. Fossier prefers addressing players using the criticism sandwich technique.

Rather than rubbing the mistake into the player, sandwich the negative between two positives.

“If you want them to continue enjoying and loving the sport, you have to build them up and hit them with the thing they need to make an adjustment on, and then hit them again with a positive,” said Fossier, who coaches for Oak Grove (Ill.) Youth Baseball.

So, for example, if a player makes a mistake, Fossier might say: "Hey, I really like your hustle. But maybe next time get your butt down a little lower and the ball won’t go between your legs. Your effort was awesome and I really see you trying out there.”

Throughout every game or practice, there are teachable moments happening constantly.

Fossier offers three situations in which a coach can express some positive words of advice to a player.

After Committing an Error

Fossier believes the most critical time to talk with a player is following an error.

The kid is upset, but mistakes are a part of the game.

“And they made the error where they did this thing that all kids do where they just assume a hop and it’s not there and they don’t get their glove down — that’s extremely common for kids,” Fossier said. “That’s when you say, ‘Hey, I like how you shuffled your feet and got over there. Next time, get your butt down so you can get your glove all the way on the ground.’”

Another common occurrence is a player turning his head on a ground ball to look at first base and the glove hand also moves. Kids at a young age have a tough time comprehending the correlation.

“They don’t realize when you turn your head, your hand turns, too,” Fossier said.

Making a Mound Visit

If a pitcher is getting hit pretty hard, Fossier will try to let the player work his way out of a jam.

“Unless they’re in 40 or 50 pitches and they’re not getting any outs and at that point they’re just damaging their arm,” Fossier said. “I try and get out there before it gets way out of hand and use the criticism sandwich.”

Fossier doesn’t think it makes sense for a pitcher to get shelled without as much as a conversation on the mound. Giving the kid a breather could be all the player needs to turn it around.

If the pitcher is giving up hits, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fossier will reassure his hurler.

“'Look, I know you’re having a tough time out here, but you’re throwing strikes and that’s really a positive,’” Fossier said. “‘At least you’re not out here walking a bunch of guys, you’re throwing strikes. The more you pitch, the stronger your arm is going to get.’”

Fossier likes to teach a pitcher that some days his stuff is going to be on and others he might not be able to record an out.

Pitchers' Fielding Practice - Read It Now

Getting Out at the Plate

From Fossier’s experiences, kids handle strikeouts a lot worse than committing an error. Even making an out can cause a disappointed kid.

If a player hits the ball, Fossier tries to let the kid know he hit the ball in play and the other team made the play they were supposed to.

Fossier’s players are taught to forget the negative and look ahead to the positive.

“Any play, you have to have that ‘flush it’ moment,” Fossier said. “‘I know that didn’t go well, but just skip it.’ That’s something you’ve got to establish early in the season.”

From GameChanger and Greg Bates, a freelance reporter for Red Line Editorial, Inc.