It was just another routine game for the Highland (Ill.) youth team, but once it ended, it wasn’t easy to forget.
Jeremiah Knackstedt made sure of that.
After clearing out the dugout, the Highland coach gathered his players for a well-known ritual called the post-game wrap up.
“It can be an important learning tool,” says Knackstedt, a former Greenville College player who also coaches the Gateway Grizzlies of the Independent League.
Like most coaches, Knackstedt uses the wrap-up session to review plays, provide further instruction and serve as an upbeat lead-in for the following week.
He offers the following tips:
• Focus on what the team did right, singling out players for praise. “With the young kids focus on the really positive stuff,” Knackstedt said. “‘Hey, you did a really good job of hitting the ball; hey, you did a good job of making that play in the third inning. You threw it to the right base, way to go.’ Spread around the praise. One ‘star’ shouldn’t always get the compliments.”
• Point out problem areas without singling out players for criticism, using mistakes as a jumping off point for instruction. For example, if the left fielder fails to back up third base on an extra-base hit, review the play while it’s still fresh in players’ minds.
“I don’t think players always get an adequate amount of time to practice,” Knackstedt said. “So take a minute or two and go through the scenario. You don’t have to go back onto the field. Set up a few guys in a small area — 10 feet by 10 feet — and simulate the play. Or diagram it, then say: ‘If this play takes place next game, we need this guy to be here, this guy to be there, and we need to go about the play this way.’
“Teach without degrading. Talk in terms of ‘we’ and ‘us’ — not ‘you.’ When there are things you need to work on, you need to talk about them. But you don’t necessarily have to point out individuals.”
• Keep it brief. “I like to be as quick as possible,” Knackstedt said. “Kids 10-11-12 don’t have long attention spans. They’re thinking about going to get some ice cream or who’s going to be spending the night. Keep it brief, too, for high school kids. If they win, they’re going to be happy and don’t want to hear all the negative stuff. If they lose, well ... Kids of all ages will be zoned out if you go on for 15 minutes. The next practice is the time to work on things in detail.”
• Keep it upbeat, even after a tough loss. “Let ‘em know that losses happen,” Knackstedt said. “That you take ‘em in stride and keep rolling. You have to stay positive. You’re the leader out there.”