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Using Respect and Positivity to Get the Most out of Players

Tim Griffith has coached enough softball to know the kind of coach he wants to be. Griffith, 51, grew up playing ball under autocratic and authoritarian coaching styles of the 1970s. As a younger coach, he followed those examples — and it didn’t always work out.

“You can only get away with that when you’re winning,” Griffith said. “When you’re losing, you come under fire from all directions. I’ve lost players, lost teams.”

The addition of a master’s degree in sports and business administration with a minor in coaching and 30 years of experience on the diamond has convinced Griffith there’s a better way. As he enters his second year as head coach at El Cerrito High in the San Francisco Bay area, Griffith is focused on creating a positive atmosphere for his team.

This coaching philosophy, built over the past several years when Griffith was working on his master’s and coaching at California’s Los Medanos College and Solano Community College, is about developing leadership, teamwork, and solid student-athletes through respectful and positive coaching.

“I have won so many games and lost so many games, I don’t care anymore (about my record),” Griffith said. “What I want to see is my players get better and enjoy themselves and hopefully stay active throughout their lifetimes.

“I’m not their friend. I’m not their confidant.”

Griffith puts this plan in motion from the beginning of the year. It starts with a preseason meeting with his players and parents, where he sets expectations for both.

Parents, for example, aren’t involved in decision making.

“All parent communications go through my manager,” Griffith said. “I maintain a separation from the parents.

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“If one parent or two parents have your ear the whole time, there’s a perception of favoritism, influence, or politics. I just don’t do it.”

Parents will have to take a step back when their student-athlete gets to college, Griffith added, so this is a way to practice that step.

Players, meanwhile, are challenged to use positive talk — not only to others but to themselves. Griffith asks them what they would say to a teammate who just made an error or gave up a big play.

“You shouldn’t talk to yourself any rougher than you would talk to your best friend,” he tells them. “Players will carry that because they don’t let themselves off the hook very easily. (As a coach) you have to make sure they’re not carrying their mistakes and you’re not pounding their mistakes into them.”

Griffith also holds a team bonding event early in the season to help break up any cliques. For example, he’s sent randomly picked teams of players on a scavenger hunt around their school with the clues pointing to hidden objects. The objects — such as the pieces needed to build a tent — then must be put together by the team without instructions.

Griffith continues to foster an atmosphere of leadership and responsibility throughout the season. He does not have team captains so any player feels like she has the opportunity to step up and lead.

“I believe captains build a hierarchy and are destructive to a team atmosphere,” Griffith said. “(Having team captains) silences someone who could be in a role to stand up and take the leadership because they don’t feel that’s their job. You’d be surprised where leadership comes from when it’s not delegated or limited.”

Griffith said one quiet, introverted player rallied his team a few years ago in a playoff game after a disastrous start.

“We gave up a grand slam in the first inning (and) you could see the air deflate out of the team,” Griffith said. “This young lady stood up and said, ‘Guys, we’ve been here’ and gave examples of us coming from behind. She pointed at players and gave specific examples of how they had succeeded (in the past). It changed the entire atmosphere and we ended up winning that game. That inspiration came from an unlikely source.”

Griffith also builds that team mentality by making sure all his players get to play. His goal is to have all of his players proficient in two positions and ready to contribute at any time.

“My best nine start, but my goal as a coach is to make substitutions seamlessly — each player I can move in and out during the game,” he said.

Griffith also keeps his players engaged by giving them some ownership without giving up his leadership role. He will, for example, tell his players what areas they will be working on in practice but allows them to decide which are most important to the team.

“They feel part (of the planning process) and take ownership in it,” Griffith said. “I get great feedback and the players feel included in that decision making.”

In practices and in games, Griffith is careful how he speaks to his players. Griffith checks his words and tone to keep an atmosphere of respect and positive attitude.

“I ask myself the question, if one of my daughters’ husbands or boyfriends spoke to my daughter that way in front of me, would I accept that or would I tolerate that?” Griffith said. “And if I wouldn’t tolerate anyone talking to my daughter that way, I would never talk to anybody else’s daughter that way.”

For that reason, Griffith tries to always call his players in to speak to them rather than shouting orders across the field.

Griffith credited his postgraduate work — which covered biomechanics, psychology, business, and law — for helping him develop his philosophy.

“It did not come from me,” he said. “It’s something I had to learn and change.”

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

Softball, Softball Features