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The Coach's Off-Season Checklist

If you’re a high school or youth coach, the word off-season may sound like an oxymoron. Between clinics, fall ball, and conditioning programs, many coaches barely have time to catch their breath before a new spring season starts.

No matter how active you are during the fall and winter, it’s important to make sure both you and your team are prepared for the upcoming season. Use this checklist to stay on track.

Review and Reflect

According to David Jacobson of Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit devoted to creating better athletes and better people, a coach’s willingness to use last season as a springboard for the next one says a lot about his or her commitment and dedication. Examine yourself and your team. How can you improve? Are you simply concentrating on game fundamentals, or do you take the time to build good character in your players?

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“We want coaches to be focused not just on skills and drills, but on opportunities for life lessons and character development in kids through sports,” explained Jacobson, who has coached youth baseball, softball, and other sports in California. “One of my favorite sayings is, 'either I win or I learn.' If you adopt that mentality, you start to view everything as a learning experience.”

Plan for Tryouts

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Many travel teams and some high schools carry only 12 to 15 players on their roster. If 30 kids try out, you’ll need to establish specific criteria of the type of players you want on your team. Tim Saunders, baseball coach at Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High School the past 30 years, advises having as many private conversations with players as possible. Let each candidate know what you expect up front, since most are already apprehensive about trying out. If you know a particular kid probably won’t make the team due to lack of conditioning, not maintaining adequate weight, or some other factor, don’t be afraid to discuss it with him before tryouts. You’ll probably get more value out of a kid who is faithful in coming to the weight room every day and show a real passion for the sport than one who doesn’t seem as interested or prefers another sport.

“I try to reward kids who feel like that, versus kids who can take it or leave it,” Saunders said.

Order Equipment

Many teams require their players to buy their own gear. Saunders encourages coaches to offer guidance on the best deals when they’re in a position to do so.

If your school or team is responsible for providing most of the equipment your players need, give yourself enough time to have everything in and ready at least a month before the season. “There’s nothing worse than ordering a bunch of stuff and you don’t get it until the middle or end of the season,” Saunders said.

Keep a Journal

Jacobson recommends all coaches keep a journal during the season to review details, memories and situations you might need to refer to in the future. It doesn’t have to be complicated; a pen and small notebook will do. Take notes on how you handle a player’s performance during a practice, or what strategies worked and didn’t work in a game. The off-season isn’t too late to begin journaling, particularly if you coach in a fall or instructional league.

Update Team Materials

It’s a good idea to go over practice schedules, team rules, contact information, and other documents, and update as needed. Consider organizing all materials in a team handbook that can be distributed to players, parents, and other team personnel. USA Baseball has an easy template to use for handbooks, lineup cards and other important documents you’ll need during the season.

Take a Break

Just as players need down time to play another sport or allow their bodies and minds to rejuvenate, coaches should also recharge their batteries. “Take some time to remember how much you love the game, how much you love the youth you serve,” Jacobson said. “Congratulate yourself on making such a wonderful contribution to the community in which you live and work.”

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

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Baseball, Softball

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