15 Essential Qualities of a Successful Baseball or Softball Team Coach
January 25, 2024
52 min read
Being a successful baseball or softball coach these days isn’t easy.
Depending on the level, running a team can require a teacher, motivator, counselor, operations manager, spokesperson, recruiter, fundraiser, accountant, and many other roles.
If you’ve ever coached a baseball or softball team before, you’ve likely worn many hats while dedicating more time than you’d planned to make it succeed.
But what does it take to be a great coach in these rapidly changing modern games?
Classic leadership and instruction skills are on the list, but with today’s digital landscape, so are things like social media management and sports technology.
Let’s hook-hand-slide into it all.
#1. Set a Good Example as a Baseball or Softball Coach
The best coaches in any sport lead by example.
Your players will watch you and learn from what you do – on the field and off.
Of course, you should be knowledgeable about the game and able to demonstrate the proper techniques to your players.
But this proficiency should also extend to strategy, showing your understanding of how to employ advanced tools and tactics in baseball and softball.
Finally, your players should be able to look to you as a model when it comes to soft skills, like good communication, integrity, enthusiasm, patience, respect, and hard work. Many of these key qualities will be explored in greater detail below.
Setting the right example at all times might seem like a tall order.
But it’s easy to put into practice.
If you ask your athletes to always hustle at games and practices, then hustle between the lines yourself. If you expect your players to listen to you respectfully while you’re talking, show them the same respect when they speak.
Players are always more likely to do as you do, not as you say.
Now, as you read through the rest of these essential coaching qualities on this list, keep in mind that these skills are useless unless you can consistently demonstrate them to your athletes.
Your team will never learn anything lasting from you if they don’t see how committed you are to being a good leader, teacher, and motivator.
#2. Successful Coaches Have an Educational Mission
Another important coaching attribute is being an educator – one with a mission to inform the next generation of ballplayers.
The best coaches understand that they’re responsible for their players’ instruction in the sport.
The purest test of your deep baseball or softball knowledge is in how well you can pass this knowledge on to up-and-coming athletes.
When players get old enough to practice on their own, they need to know how to train and drill properly. Good coaching instruction will ensure that they do.
Remember, though, that having a profound knowledge of the game or having played it at a high level before doesn’t guarantee you can automatically teach it to others.
Unfortunately, the old maxim that the best players don’t always make the best coaches became an old maxim for a reason.
But great former players often already have all the tools they need to coach: knowledge of and passion for the game, along with heaps of perseverance and grit.
They’ve already earned excellence in one extremely-related field.
They just need to quickly repurpose these same tools towards tackling a new mission – becoming a great coach.
🔑 Key Insight: What is also true of great coaches from all backgrounds is that they have a knack for making the knowledge and experiences already inside of their heads digestible and memorable for their players.
But coaches also shouldn’t be afraid of obtaining new knowledge.
Putting on a beginner’s hat and being open to new learnings will help deepen a coach’s repertoire while positively impacting their personal brain health and longevity.
In fact, being a lifelong learner can be fundamental to successfully implementing an educational mission.
Those dedicated to their sport will always be on the lookout for new ideas, training methods, and approaches to research and experiment with.
All coaches encourage their players to be adaptable, push themselves, and constantly improve.
As a coach, you must do the same.
If you’re still not convinced about this lifelong learner business, it may be worth checking out all of the comprehensive research that’s been done on the topic.
By seeking out new and different opinions on baseball and softball, you’re showing that you don’t have all the answers and that you’re willing to expand your horizons to provide the best instruction possible to your team.
Closely related to being a lifelong learner is another characteristic of a successful team-sports coach – thinking outside convention’s narrow box.
What does it mean to be a visionary thinker as a coach?
It means pursuing new training and development methods in baseball or softball as they emerge.
It means expanding your knowledge outside your comfort zone and being open to embracing different ideas and perspectives on our sport that you hadn’t considered before.
You can continually improve your competencies by attending coaching clinics, conferences, camps and seeking genuine advice from your coaching colleagues.
There are also courses and certifications that are directly or indirectly related to your job as a coach.
One stellar example is OnBase University’s certification, which gives baseball and softball coaches the tools necessary to quickly screen their players for any physical limitations and deep knowledge of how those limitations can affect their in-game performance – as well as actionable tactics to increase both the mobility and mechanical efficiency of ballplayers.
In addition to clinics and courses, you can also read resources about coaching best practices like this one, watch videos, read books, and participate in online communities.
Finally, visionary thinkers also seek to educate themselves holistically.
Don’t limit yourself to reading and talking only about baseball or softball. Go further by learning about sports psychology, nutrition, exercise physiology, or educational theory.
The more extensive your background is, the better coach you’ll be.
#4. Have Respect for The Coach-Athlete Relationship
As a coach, you should have the utmost respect for your players at all times.
This seems obvious, but coaches treating their players poorly still happens all too often out there.
Firstly, respecting your players means not talking down to them or belittling them and not yelling or becoming emotional when it’s inappropriate.
These aspects of respect are easy to visualize.
But respect also means being radically honest with your players.
And respect is not wasting their time at practice, just as you wouldn’t expect them to waste yours – something detailed practice plans can really help with.
Finally, respect is having the courage to rise above any player or parent politics and act in the best, fairest interest of the entire team.
That said, baseball and softball coaches should also respect their players individually.
Coaches have a responsibility to know the strengths and weaknesses of each of their athletes and make decisions accordingly.
Not every player prefers to learn the same way; not every player is motivated the same way.
Coaches must understand this and apply it intelligently when deciding on strategies for the team.
#5. Baseball and Softball Team Coaches Need To Be Motivators
A good team coach is often energetic and enthusiastic, but inspiring and motivating change is the most important thing.
Coaches must understand that inspiring athletes to believe in themselves is indispensable for player development.
Without proper encouragement and drive, players won’t try to achieve their goals – they may not even set them in the first place.
🧢 Pro Tip: When helping athletes formulate their goals, you should almost always emphasize a series of smaller goals over the macro outcomes (like a college scholarship or getting drafted) they hope to achieve.
Smaller goals are more mentally manageable, but they also compound together to help your athlete achieve their larger goals over time.
Also, while team wins are important and a good motivation for trying your best, it won’t be the only accomplishment most players have on their minds.
Be sure to encourage players to set personal training or skill goals, too.
If multiple ballplayers on your team are able to up-skill themselves, your entire squad gets a competitive lift.
These individual player goals can be general, like becoming a better hitter or strengthening their throwing arm, but more specific goals will yield much better results.
There’s an entire theory behind this advice, called goal setting theory, and rather than just saying, “studies have shown…,” here’s a quote from the book Performance Management: Putting Research into Action:
“The primary axiom of goal setting theory is that specific difficult goals lead to higher performance...It is well documented in scholarly (Locke & Latham, 2004) and practitioner (Latham 2004) literature…”
So instead of “becoming a better hitter,” the goal should ideally sound something like:
I want to more consistently drive the ball the other way this upcoming season. I’ll achieve this goal by doing ____, ____, ____ this off-season and ____, ____, ____ while in-season. And I’ll track this goal’s progress using my in-game spray charts, and correlating these with my slugging percentage and isolated power stats.
And instead of “strengthening their throwing arm,” it can be:
I will increase my throwing velocity by 5 miles per hour within the next six months by doing ____, ____, ____.
Goals can be big or small, just like the time periods for their attainment can be long or short.
Ultimately, the goal should rest on the fine line between being very challenging but still physically possible.
#The Four Rules of Baseball or Softball Goal Setting
According to the experts, the specific goals you set for your players should adhere to four rules:
First, the person must have the ability to attain the goal. The relationship between goal difficulty and performance levels off when individuals reach the limit of their ability.
Second, the person must have the situational resources (e.g., financial, time, gear, technological) to attain the goal. Aside from affording and making time for specialized trainers and equipment, this also refers to establishing the infrastructure necessary to track a goal’s progress over time.
Third, the person must be committed to achieving the goal.
Finally, an individual must receive objective feedback on progress toward goal attainment. One of the major reasons video games can be so addictive and easy to learn is that players receive objective, unambiguous feedback immediately after each move or choice. Without objective feedback, a person will not know what to start, continue, or stop doing to ensure that the goal is attained.
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From a coach’s perspective, the type of goals you set for a player are integral, as is the ability to communicate with clear feedback.
But, equally important is how well you or your ballplayer is tracking a goal’s progress.
Returning to our “better hitter” example from earlier.
Technical adjustments, new drill progressions to help make these adjustments happen organically, or a new, daily hitting regime that places attaining power the other way as a priority may be required for the player looking to drive the ball to the opposite field consistently.
Achieving such a goal might also mean thoughtful programming adjustments or more overall time spent in the weight room.
🚨 Important Note: These systematic training changes that this example player is undertaking must also coincide with equipping either the player, your scorekeeper, or a fellow coach with everything they need to log and track that player’s extra-base hits to right-field throughout the entire season.
What gets measured get managed.
So tracking improvements is key to maintaining a player's positive growth momentum or discovering that a particular training program isn't delivering the intended results.
We’re not going to lie, and we’re sure you’ve realized by now anyway – it takes real-time and energy to create and plan the implementation of specific goals with your ballplayers.
A final recommendation for successful coach motivation: give actionable and, whenever applicable, metrics-driven motivation.
Just like how vague goals don’t lead to the best performances for players, neither does vague motivation.
Instead, spend time on regimented plans for success because in athletics (and elsewhere), commitments that are written down and shared work better than general, spray-and-pray positivity and affirmations any day.
No matter if they’re baseball coaches or software project managers, all good leaders know how to listen.
A coach should be able to communicate aptly, which involves both the speaking with and hearing of others.
Athletes need to feel confident coming to their coaches for advice or input. And coaches who show compassion by listening attentively will inevitably earn greater trust from their players.
In addition to coming to the coach for advice, baseball and softball players should always be able to present new ideas or suggestions to their coach.
Even if you don’t implement most of your players’ ideas, it’s always worthwhile to hear them out.
Mature athletes will understand that not every new approach they pitch is the right one, and as long as they feel listened to, you’ll have their respect.
🧢 Pro Tip: Keep in mind that good listening doesn’t just mean making eye contact and nodding your head as someone speaks. It means paying close attention to what the speaker has to say, noting important points, and asking follow-up questions.
Good listeners enhance a conversation, making the speaker’s input more valuable. As a coach, you should always strive to make your players feel and understand their value.
Of course, leadership is an integral coaching quality.
Defining a good leader isn’t always easy, though. The other qualities on this list are a good start, but how do you put good leadership skills into real-world practice?
Leadership requires you to step up and take responsibility for your team. You’re the one that has to keep things running smoothly, keep everyone organized, and take care of external problems so the team can focus on execution.
As a leader, you also represent your team.
When trying to fundraise, signing up for tournaments, or talking to college recruiters, you have to be an advocate for your team and ballplayers’ best interests.
Sometimes, you have to stop and ask yourself what their best interest really is at a given moment and what you’re doing to make it happen.
A good leader is willing to be flexible and realign their goals should the need arise.
When you’re a good leader, your team will trust you and look to you for both guidance and inspiration.
If you want your team to work hard, you need to show them how.
Although the large umbrella term “coaching” can sometimes require more behind-the-scenes work, like contacting sponsors or speaking with parents, there are still plenty of opportunities to demonstrate your strong worth ethic to your players.
If you ask your athletes to be on time, then show up early yourself and set practice up, so it’s ready to go when they get there.
If you ask your players to keep chatter to a minimum during training sessions, don’t let yourself chit-chat about irrelevant things with your assistant coaches during practice, either.
🔑 Key Insight: One of the principal rules of coaching is always to demonstrate the behavior you expect from your team.
Working hard is no different.
When your players see your commitment to the team, it’ll inspire them to be just as committed.
If you want them to put in extra hours in the batting cages or complete more conditioning drills, you also have to demonstrate to them the benefits of this hard work.
This could mean sharing anecdotes from your life, putting together or curating inspiring media for them to consume, or regularly tracking and reviewing progress reports on their goals.
#10. Team Management for Baseball and Softball Leaders
As the head coach of a youth baseball or softball team, you’ll often have to act as the team manager as well.
Team management responsibilities can range from relatively straightforward to very complex.
Like everything, there are levels to this thing.
Elite travel ball team coaches will inevitably face greater and more complex duties when compared to recreational league team coaches.
For such coaches, instruction and team strategy are just the start. They must also handle the team’s finances and diverse administrative tasks.
The team’s finance bucket includes:
Setting and depositing team dues.
Paying for uniforms, tournaments, and motels.
Handling money from fundraising efforts.
And under administrative duties, are all the back and forth communication and challenging logistics that goes into these things, like:
Collecting team dues from parents
Sourcing a uniform company and ordering from them
Securing team equipment
Everything involved in the of travel of 12-20 players and families
Tournament selection, registration, and networking with tourney directors
Team fundraiser ideation and execution
Building and executing on college recruiting relationships
Strategic partnerships with brands in the space or other baseball or softball organizations
Creating, manging, and updating your team or organization's website
Running and creating content for your team or organization's social media presence
All sorts of communications large and small with your team’s parents, players, and assistant coaches
Each of these bullet-pointed tasks could warrant its own in-depth guide.
But for our purposes here, they are just meant to showcase how overwhelming team management can be.
It’s necessary, however, and you must manage a team properly if you want to be successful.
Regardless of how complex your own coaching responsibilities are, there are many team management apps and software that can help run the administrative and communication sides of your team.
Just google “sports team management software” if you’re curious.
These tools can help you stay organized and on track so that you never miss a practice or get your wires crossed with your players.
But, as the above responsibilities hint at, to have the best team management possible, you usually have to assign some of these tasks to others.
Having an assistant coach or volunteer parents to help with these things can lift a huge burden off of you.
Effective delegation is yet another part of team management.
To do it right, you must recruit and select the right parents or coaches for the right responsibilities.
But let’s back up a second.
To even have a chance at alignment between your delegation candidate and the responsibility at hand, you must first know yourself precisely what executing a successful bingo night fundraiser, or choosing the correct uniforms to wear for a weekend tournament, or collecting, logging, and allocating team dues really requires in practice.
The old axiom, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” is actually step one in the process of great delegation.
🔑 Key Insight: If you don’t know what correct looks like for a specific task that you want to delegate, you can’t expect even to find the right person to delegate to, let alone give them the right tools or directions once they’re found.
Once you know what correct looks like, you’ll want to find out exactly what skills your current coaches and parents bring to the table from their professional occupations or prior team experiences.
Team management is essential to successful coaching, so put your best resources behind it.
Just make sure that you stay informed about what your helpers are up to by establishing your preferred communication channels and exact expectations right off the bat.
Which takes us to number 11.
#11. Communication is How You Teach and Lead Baseball and Softball Teams
You can’t expect to be a good coach if you don’t know how to communicate properly.
Most of your tasks as a coach center on communication with others.
You speak with your players, assistant coaches, parents, sponsors, college coaches, tournament organizers, and other people involved with and around your team.
Not only should you be proficient in speaking clearly and articulately, but you should also master the different communication styles and channels – phone call, text, email, social media DM’s, team management software – required by these different groups.
You won’t communicate in the same way with your athletes as you do with your potential team sponsors.
Good communicators know the best, most effective way to get their point across to their specific audience.
Lastly, your athletes should always feel comfortable communicating with you, but that confidence should extend to their other teammates as well.
You want your players to be able to speak and listen to each other respectfully, so it’s up to you to create a culture of honesty and trustworthiness while weeding out manipulative or clicky behaviors.
How do you foster good team communication?
You can hold team-building exercises, like small competitions within your hitting, bullpen, or fielding routines.
You could also hold social events outside of training and games, like team dinners, watch parties, or bonding outings.
When provided with diverse opportunities to work together and get to know each other, your team will form bonds that improve their overall communication skills.
Travel ball coaches, if you ever hold local tryouts for your team, both organic and paid efforts on Facebook and Instagram can be the best ways to connect with potential players and their parents.
Having a presence on Facebook and Instagram are also a must if your team doesn’t have its own website. You can post updates and announcements through these social accounts that current parents and players will see.
But you should also try to think about everything you post from the eyes of potential players and parents who will often check out your team’s social accounts before they even consider trying out.
Unfortunately, gone are days when throwing up a player needed or tryout posting on the usual message boards was enough to be flooded with inquiries.
These days you have to differentiate your team as much as possible and meet potential players and parents where they are.
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As other teams and organizations get better and better at using social media, generating inbound content that brings organic visitors to their websites and collecting the email addresses of potential parents through smart marketing tactics, you don’t want to be left behind.
Relying exclusively on calling around your old contacts all day to see who they might know, while posting across of the couple message boards – which newer parents are much less likely to even know about – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Player acquisition, AKA recruiting, must become an actual marketing strategy, especially for high-level travel teams.
Most competitive programs have already mastered the sales portion of recruiting that happens on phone calls, special tryouts, and face-to-face conversations.
But even just basic branding and other marketing table-stakes can drive your player acquisition efforts to new heights.
For example, you should be active on at least Facebook and Instagram because that is where the new crop of parents and athletes happen to hang out most online.
We’d call these parents or players that coaches want to reach their target audience in marketing.
They likely live in the local area that your team is out of, are mostly within a specific age based on the age group you coach – and we mean both the ballplayers and their parents – and have an interest in baseball or softball.
Depending on how much your team’s monthly or yearly dues are, you may also have a certain tax bracket you’re targeting.
And these details above are all just what are called demographic data points.
This doesn’t include psychographic things like the player’s dream of playing college ball.
Such details should inform your team’s brand identity and the content that you post online.
But this isn’t a lesson on marketing – we only included this bit to help coaches re-frame how they think about recruiting overall and get better at it.
Regardless of which platforms, you will want to be posting high-quality images, videos, and informational content on a regular basis.
And you strongly should also consider a paid ad strategy to get the word out about your biggest yearly tryout.
You are, after all, competing for the attention of both parents and ballplayers. Which means competing with everything on and off-line – Netflix, TikTok, podcasts, video games, etc.
Suppose you yourself are not already an expert and don’t have the time or motivation to learn the ropes of social media.
We see quite a few of you nodding at your screens right now.
In that case, it is wise to designate a parent on your current team who possesses the requisite skills to run your social media accounts and create content for them full-time.
The other options are to hire a part-time freelance social media manager or an entire marketing agency to handle these tasks.
But the budget of most travel teams is often prohibitive for these other options, not to mention how hard it is to find marketers who know enough about baseball or softball to speak to our niche effectively.
And using outside help will still require a team parent or coach to actually take and organize all the videos or pictures of games, practices, and team outings, so it might as well be done by the same person who’s posting these assets and engaging with your social community.
Therefore, some competitive teams have begun off-setting monthly or annual player dues for the parents who take on this time-consuming role.
This is smart for a few reasons.
Firstly, because social media management is a job that’s usually paid for, so some form of monetary compensation makes a lot of sense.
Secondly, given the reality of point one, if a team doesn’t compensate the parent for their work, then problems are bound to emerge.
What happens most often is the parent will expect to be compensated for their social media work via the preferential treatment of their son or daughter.
This can include pressure to give their kid more playing time or to put them in a desired position on the field.
Given how emotional we’ve seen a situation like this get, not to mention the fact that such a parent will likely have both passwords and admin status for your team’s social media, it’s much smarter to just off-set their monthly dues for this work and have a simple signed agreement in place detailing the terms of this arrangement.
We’ll repeat it one last time for good measure.
It's best to somehow compensate the parent that’s running your team’s social media accounts – regardless of what they say or think up front.
We know what some of you are thinking at this very moment.
And you can lament that all this social media talk dares to even have a place in our serious look at essential coaching qualities.
You can hate it all you want, in fact.
But competitive teams and coaches have been quietly taking this stuff seriously for years already, and it’s only getting more prevalent.
And we won’t sugar-coat the realities of the modern game just to protect your nostalgia for how things used to be.
#Learning Social Media Is Also a Way to Educate and Protect Your Players
Lastly, besides the major impact a social media presence can have on your team or organization’s player acquisition efforts, the other reason that this basic knowledge is important is that it can help you better understand and help your ballplayers.
Which is what great coaching is all about.
Today, your athletes’ lives, from school to athletics, extend in a very real way online.
Problems between players and even parents can have their roots in social media interactions.
If and when this happens, you will want to spend your time addressing the problem quickly.
But if you don’t even understand how the social media platform they used works, you’re going to have a much slower and more difficult time rooting out the issue and re-focusing everyone on the game.
Also, players may post inappropriate content that can hurt their chances of getting the scholarship that they, their family, and you, as their coach, have all worked so hard to secure.
If you don’t address and educate your players and parents on this very real problem, who will?
Part of mentoring players today is understanding the pressures they face on and off the field and giving them the knowledge they need to stay both mentally healthy and in good collegiate standing.
#14. Using Sports Technology is Now Part of Baseball and Softball Coaching
Social media isn’t the only digital proficiency you should have as a baseball or softball coach.
You should also have an understanding of the latest sports technology.
The sports tech in baseball and softball centers around both performance metrics and mechanical analysis.
With specialized software, apps, or equipment, you can track things like pitching velocity and spin rate and hitting launch angle, bat speed, and ball exit speed – even your players’ entire movement patterns.
And if you’re looking for free best-in-class technique analysis tools, you’re currently in the right place, of course.
Both coaches and players can use software to digitally track these various performance metrics and technical movement patterns, as well as each player’s in-game stats to have a more complete picture of where things might be going right or wrong, and where there’s room for improvement.
While some of these tools can be pricey, others are much more reasonable.
How you decide to implement metrics and analysis on your team is up to you, but just don’t brush sports tech off as unnecessary.
It’s here to stay in the modern game.
And if players are serious about playing college baseball or softball, then they need to gain every competitive edge they can.
In fact, all of the top schools these days will request to see things like a player’s verified TrackMan or Rapsodo metrics as a prerequisite for any serious recruiting considerations.
At the very least, familiarize yourself with sports tech so you can point your athletes in the right direction when they ask.