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How One Coach Created a Mentorship Program for Other Coaches

Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs baseball coach Paul Blanchard was attending the American Baseball Coaches Association annual convention when a thought occurred to him: players have mentors they can turn to as role models. Coaches, especially those just breaking into the profession, don’t always have someone who can guide them through the ups and downs of being a coach. Blanchard envisioned a program that went beyond the normal X’s and O’s to teach the finer points of coaching, and encourage veteran coaches to advise their younger colleagues through the tough times.

It took nearly 15 years for Blanchard to approach the ABCA with his vision. But once he got the go-ahead, the idea took off. The first Rookie Coaches Mentorship meeting was held at the 2015 convention. About 30 coaches viewed a PowerPoint presentation, Q&A, and breakout sessions on how to get better and survive in the business. Attendance for the 2016 meeting soared to 150, and Blanchard expects as many as 500 coaches will sign up at the 2017 convention, held January 5-8 in Anaheim, California.

The program has no website or dues. Blanchard’s objective is simple: bring coaches of all experience levels together to share ideas and develop relationships they can cultivate year round.

“If you are a head coach, you have an obligation to mentor the younger coaches, the assistants,” Blanchard said. “Don’t just use them as fungo hitters and batting practice throwers.”

Blanchard’s father, Johnny, was a major influence on his son’s early baseball development. As a utility player for the New York Yankees during their run of five consecutive World Series appearances from 1960-64, Johnny never allowed his own success to take priority over his family.

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“He went out of his way to make sure that it was about us kids and not about him being a former Yankee,” Blanchard recalled. “He didn’t like the spotlight, especially with his family around.”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1985, Blanchard served as a graduate assistant for the school before spending one season as head coach at a community college. He returned to the Golden Gophers as an assistant for three seasons under legendary coach John Anderson, and coached high school baseball for two seasons.

During his 20 years at Division II Southwest Minnesota State, Blanchard has led the Mustangs to one Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title, three NSIC tournament championships and one NCAA tournament appearance. His teams have recorded 486 wins, making him the school’s all-time leader in victories. In 2003, he joined the USA Baseball staff to help develop the 16U national team that captured gold at the world championships in Taiwan.

Whether you’re established or just getting started, Blanchard has three principles to take your coaching experience to a higher level.

Earn Credibility

Building reputation with a team or organization takes time. If you continue to increase your value, the more likely they’ll want to keep you. Good credibility also can lead to recommendations for future opportunities.

Learn To Teach

It doesn’t matter whether you were a great player, or how much you know as a coach; it’s how you communicate that knowledge to your players. “The thing that’s going to make a difference for you, whether you move on with (coaching) or not, is your ability to instruct the game,” Blanchard explained. “If you can relate to the players enough where you can take what you know and have them accomplish it, that’s about as valuable an asset as you can have.”

Be a Good Listener

Every coach should be approachable and receptive to feedback. Never tell a kid something unless you explain why. If he doesn’t have a firm understanding of what you’re after, he’s not going to buy in. Once you’ve given an explanation, make sure he is receiving the skill or technique you’re teaching. You can do this by asking questions. How does the new swing feel? Did you notice a difference? This two-way communication can create positive unity between players and coaches.

If you’d like more information about the mentorship program, contact Blanchard by email at: paul.blanchard@smsu.edu.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

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