The Ultimate Guide to Effective Communication for Baseball and Softball Coaches | Addressing Body Language, Metacognition, Cues, and More

March 14, 2024

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In this guide to effective communication for baseball and softball coaches, I’ll detail the advanced tactics you need to get through to your ballplayers.

We’ll not only explore speaking to and reaching athletes more efficiently, but also how your own body language can affect their in-game performance, and so much more.

But before we dive into all things communication, I find it helpful to first ask what it means to you to be called “Coach?” 

I ask because the definitions and framings that we carry into our real-world actions tend to matter quite a bit.

What is a Baseball or Softball Coach, Really?

Some would say that a coach is a person who teaches athletes a sport or skill. Which is undeniable.

But being a coach is even more than effectively passing on the requisite knowledge of a given sport or skill set. A coach has many hats to wear other than their instructor one.  

Coaches are also mentors, inspirational speakers, motivators, listeners, and trusted confidants. 

And, depending on the level you coach, all this may be on top of things like communicating and negotiating with college recruiters, handling complicated team and travel logistics, dealing with unruly parents, regularly updating your team’s social media or website, and learning how to use the newest tech that our games keeps coming out with.

Historically, many have referred to coaching as being an “art.” And there’s certainly an art to coaching. 

The art comes in the delicate alchemy of balancing the physical, mental, and strategic for your team, individual lessons, or group clinic clients, and how you come to effectively communicate with these ballplayers and their families. 

Coaching’s not simply going out and mindlessly regurgitating to your athletes everything you know about the sport. 

Just to be clear.

Even codifying and relaying everything you’ve learned about baseball or softball over a lifetime spent in the game would, in and of itself, be a herculean endeavor – but, again, this isn’t what coaching is.

🔑 Key Insight: Every player presents a unique challenge made up of hundreds of physical, mental, behavioral, and genetic factors that they bring with them to each team practice or private lesson with you. 

Baseball and softball coaches have to decipher in real-time the puzzle that is each individual athletes’ strengths and weaknesses. 

And tangled up in this decoding process is also how players respond to different kinds of feedback or cues – which we’ll cover in detail later in this guide.    

Okay, now that we’re clear on how daunting a challenge coaching ballplayers is, let’s dive into how to improve communication – one of the artform’s most important attributes.  

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How Should Baseball and Softball Coaches Deal with Failure and Success

A lot of coach communication comes down to responding to various positive and negative player outcomes amidst different contexts and with different level stakes. 

But there's a lot to unpack there. 

Ballplayers perceive personal triumphs and disappointments large and small with you in batting cages, bullpens, team practice sessions, and, of course, live games. 

The emotional, and, sometimes, even career stakes, for the ballplayer are going to be different depending on where their wins and losses take place and who's there (like scouts, for example).

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But there's no need for us to be too theoretical. 

Imagine back to a time when you were an athlete and you had to talk to your coach about something. 

For example, an error you made that cost the team big. 

Already feeling anxious?

As a coach now, you should strive for such a ballplayer to feel comfortable enough to talk to you about the error and what they might be able to do better next time – or discuss if it was even in their control in the first place. 

Similarly, If your athlete just pitched a complete game shutout, you want them to come over and talk about how excited they are or how much they’ve improved in their skills. 

Ballplayers will know either the sting or elevation of such negative or positive moments in practice after practice, game after game. 

Ours are not neutral games – they don’t end in ties. 

And each meaningfully-charged moment, positive or negative, that your player faces is another opportunity for you as a coach. 

And a season, whether you’re a team coach or private instructor, is nothing but a long series of such opportunities.

And these coaching opportunities sum together to make up the macro athletic trends toward either growth or stagnation for your players’ careers.  

If the athlete has had a so-called negative performance outcome, you, as their coach, must first assess where that specific player is psychologically and physically at that very moment. 

No matter what, remember that the moment such a player approaches you standing there in the dugout or behind an L-net – regardless of any internal frustration you might feel – is an opportunity. 

Depending on the player and where they’re at mentally and physically development-wise, it can be a chance for you to build their confidence back up with reminders of past or future successes. 

Or, alternatively, it’s a chance to diagnose exactly why they didn’t live up to their or your expectations in that specific situation, and use that diagnosis to make a clear plan together for how they might avoid that in the future. 

This is an effective communication strategy against perceived failure in our games. 

Just keep seeing those learning opportunities, coach. And keep both your ballplayers and yourself in check in terms of what the real relative stakes of a given moment are. 

🚨 Important Note: The relative stakes of a given moment on the diamond are never life and death and almost never make-or-break in any way whatsoever.
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Addressing the Long Game

For the entire section above, I sought to hedge hard against the words “failure” and “success” by adding caveats like “perceived.” 

And it’s not just wonky writing. Nor does it have anything to do with sparing feelings. 

I’ve done this because, especially in youth baseball and softball competitions, it’s just not the right mental framing for good coaches to begin with. 

Of course, each completed game and entire tournament played out there does and should have winners and losers. 

And coaches, parents, and ballplayers should feel the weight of each win and loss – because both winning and losing can either inspire or sharpen character and resolve. 

It’s literally the whole point of competition.

You might be sensing a "but" is coming, and there is one.

🔑 Key Insight: To think of individual moments within those games that a ballplayer – especially a youth athlete – experiences as failures and successes makes it all too easy for coaches, players, and parents to miss the real developmental opportunities that such moments provide across a baseball or softball career and, more importantly, after an athlete’s time in the game has ended. 
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The science of good and bad coach-to-player communication

A 2012 study looked at communication between coaches and athletes specifically at moments when a player had lost or made an error, and here’s an excerpt of the researchers’ conclusion:

Coaches can create an optimal learning environment for their athletes by enacting a democratic leadership style that offers supportive forms of messages and feedback, and prosocial communication, when their athletes lose competitions and make mistakes in training. 

This strategy allows the player to grow in trust and respect for you, which, in the long run of a season or career, will foster better overall performances that are less hindered or fully paralyzed by a player’s fear of failure.

Oh, and if the athlete has had a positive performance outcome, you as the coach should conduct the same type of player assessment detailed above. 

This is, of course, a chance to reinforce the fact that all of their grinding is paying off. 

But, depending on what stage the player is in their development and after allowing some room for everyone’s initial celebration, it may also be a fantastic opportunity to constructively challenge that athlete to be even better, by highlighting areas of further improvement.  

🔑 Key Insight: All strong coach communication involves being consistent and clear about our high expectations – after having clearly established them beforehand, of course – in order to foster continued growth from our athletes. 

Ultimately, holding ballplayers accountable to elevated standards is about challenging them to be better each day and supporting them along the way. 

And this isn’t just anecdotal advice, studies bear this out.

In practice, this can look like setting up literal challenges and mini-competitions that put productive stress on them or replicate game conditions. 

But, again, it can also just mean upholding your established standards of excellence or behavior in ways both large and small throughout a season.  

Stressful challenges and constructive, improvement-minded feedback are good and inexplicably tied to effective coach communication. 

Such communication strategies make a player feel that you have faith in them and their abilities.

Studies show that players are likely to internalize this perceived confidence initiated by you and then express it with successful performance outcomes – which quickly generates a positive feedback loop of ballplayer development. 

And when a coach succeeds in creating such an environment of mutual respect and shared, but challenging goal pursuance, researchers in the field of coach-player interactions call it “mastery oriented.”

We should all strive to have our teams or lesson clients become mastery oriented. 

But when coaches instead cultivate an environment of disrespect, unclear expectations, petty neglect, unfocused or unhelpful criticism, or fear the opposite results have been found.   

And, in general, fear is not a great motivator for many modern athletes. In fact, it can inhibit getting the best performances out of much of your team. 

Not only does poor coach communication and relationship management lead to less player growth long term, but it may also hurt day-to-day in-game decision-making and ballplayer stamina.

A 2018 study, looked at how the quality of a coach’s relationship with each player affected that player’s cognitive performance and their real and perceived exhaustion level in training through various methods, including collecting stress levels in their saliva. 

And its authors concluded:

Specifically, [high] coach-athlete relationship quality may enhance cognitive functioning as well as reduce levels of acute stress responses and exhaustion.

It’s pretty easy to see the sheer depth and importance of good coach to player communication and relationships when framed in this way.

Baseball and softball success often hinges on making rapid and correct decisions – things like whether to swing at a given pitch or not at the plate or micro adjustments between pitches made by the pitcher to their grip or mechanics. So cognitive functioning is essential. 

And fatigue on the field – depending on its severity – can lead to either mistakes or injuries for ballplayers.

Now that the general communication strategies and meaningful stakes for baseball and softball coaches have been established, let’s look at some tactical and specific best practices.

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An integrated research model of coach–athlete relationships from Jowett, Sophia & Poczwardowski, Artur. (2007).   “Understanding the Coach-Athlete Relationship.

The Importance of Body Language in Baseball and Softball Coach Communication

Let’s return to that previous memory of being a ballplayer yourself and having just made a big error in an important game. 

Now, as you’re walking towards your coach into the dugout, you notice one of two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Your coach is standing with their arms folded in front and a deep frown on their face. 

Scenario 2: You see your coach with their arms by their side with a knowing half-smile. 

The first of the two scenarios is telling you, the ballplayer, that “I’m frustrated with you. Now is not a good time – stay away.” 

The other scenario is telling you “Come on over. A mistake is not the end of the world. But I want to hear what you have to say.” 

Your body language is key in every situation. You want your athletes to feel as if they can come to you with whatever the issue may be. 

How you position your body also helps you to engage and fully listen to what your athlete is saying during your actual discussions. 

If you stand in front of your athlete, sunglasses on, arms folded and face dour, you are closing yourself off to what your athlete is saying and not fully listening. 

But if you stand in front of your athlete with your sunglasses off, arms neutral by your side and donning an inviting face, you are opening yourself up to receiving what he or she has to say. 

Here’s a quick anecdote.

When I was playing travel ball, I had a coach that would not let us fold our arms in team huddles or when one of the coaches was talking to us. He always told us “if you have your arms folded, then you are not open to receiving what I am trying to teach.” 

If one of us had our arms folded, he would call us out on it immediately, and soon this concept had been internalized by everyone. 

He wanted to make sure that we were fully engaged and paying attention instead of sunken into ourselves.

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And body language, whether you like it or not, is often a pretty good manifestation of what’s happening internally. Ask any hostage negotiator or FBI interrogation expert. 

But this internal to external communication actually works both ways. 

By consciously adjusting your body language, you can not only send new instantly discernible external signals to your players, but also internally to your own mind. 

Yes, you read that right. 

And, no, this isn’t some woo-woo, new age concept either. But don’t just take my word for it. 

Your posture and body position has been shown with a wealth of different scientific research to affect your mood, negative thoughts, memory recall, physical strength, and cognitive performance.

And I’m sure you’d agree that all these affected things are kinda important for different aspects of coaching baseball and softball. 

As a coach you have to always be aware of your body language. 

The way you stand or sit in front of your athlete tells a lot about how you are perceiving the information that the athlete is relaying to you. 

It also tells the athlete nearly as much about how you are feeling as your actual words do – so strive to choose both intentionally. 

How you are standing or sitting as your ballplayer approaches you may determine the outcome of many future performance outcomes for that athlete. 

It’s strange to think something so small as crossing your arms, keeping your sunglasses on, or fiddling around with whatever is in your hand can have such a huge impact on how the athlete feels leaving the in-between inning, post-game, or lesson update meeting. 

But it does. 

Intentionality is a very important concept for all successful coach communication. 

🔑 Key Insight:  If you understand that each little moment compounds into the overall success of you and your ballplayer, then you want to try to be aware of each communication opportunity and be very intentional about how you choose to address each athlete – with your body language, word choices, and with your tone. 
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Peper, E., Lin, I., Harvey, R., & Perez, J. (2017). How Posture Affects Memory Recall and Mood.

Effective Verbal Communication for Baseball and Softball Coaches

Not only is body language incredibly important, but so is the way you say things to your athlete. Every ballplayer is different and the way he or she receives information is going to be different as well. 

Even the tone of your voice can be critical for the player to be able to effectively understand what you are trying to tell him or her. 

When I’m coaching young athletes and I’ve repeated the same concept over and over again, I think to myself “Why are they not understanding? What about the concept is so confusing?” 

But then, I remind myself that I have to first take a breath and evaluate exactly how I’m saying the words, before consciously trying out a different tone. 

This is just one example of the patient intentionality in approach that is key to any coaching situation we find ourselves in. 

As long as you remain open to everything your client or player is giving you in their movements, postures, words, and tone, you’ll stay communicating. 

Because it’s really not only about your tone, your requested adjustments, and your depth of knowledge. 

The absolute best way to teach and transfer said knowledge is not through lectures or "fix this, this, and this" instructions – it's by having teacher to student dialogues. 

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Coaching as Dialogue

You want to talk "with" and not "to" your ballplayers. 

Socrates and Plato knew this 2,500 years ago and research into their active learning style methods shows that it still holds true for the best teachers in literally every field imaginable.

📚 Definition: Active learning refers to methods wherein students are asked both probing and totally open-ended questions, told illustrative stories, and subjected to real interpersonal discussions with instructors and each other.

Active learning approaches have now been shown effective in cases ranging from computer scientists training AI to doctors training the next generation of physiology students to, of course, coaches with their athletes. 

Some quick examples of how baseball and softball coaches can apple this active learning methodology include:

  • Pausing everything during practice to ask your clients or team players questions about what they just did or didn’t physically execute on.
  • Asking athletes to share everything they can remember from earlier in the practice, or from a previous session working together.
  • Asking players to actively hypothesize upon the outcome of two different mechanics – hitting, pitching, or fielding, for example – that you yourself demo for them or share with them via example video footage of college or pro players.
  • Putting ballplayers into verbal pitch counts and other sample situations, and asking them to think about what possibilities and consequences present themselves.
  • Having your lesson clients or team players teach concepts to each other during designated periods, and then reviewing the learnings with them afterwards. This last one works due to what’s called the The Protégé Effect.

To better understand the value of arriving together at insights and breakthroughs with your baseball and softball team players or clientele – as opposed to just engaging in one-way lecturing – we can employ a nifty communication model.

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The Transaction Model of Communication

An interpersonal communication model put forth by communication researchers may be helpful for coaches to become aware of at this point in our guide.

It’s called, you guessed it, the “The Transaction Model of Communication.”

And it thinks about communication as a process wherein communicators work together to generate new realities among different contexts. 

This sounds way more vague and esoteric than it really is. 

Here’s a practical example of what I mean:

You work with your client to create a new reality – one in which they can consistently square-up an outside pitch instead of hitting dribblers back to the pitcher. And you create this new reality over time during the context of your private hitting lessons together at a local batting cage.  

See, you're already doing it. Simple. 

This transactional model also posits that both coach and player are constantly sending and receiving information. 

And if you’ve ever coached before, you’ll also know this to be true intuitively. 

How many times have you stopped speaking mid-sentence to a player because you noticed their body language sent the message that they weren't really paying attention or that they were getting overwhelmed?

Okay, this model will now help us examine the coaching style that employs it the least – to the detriment of young ballplayers.

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Effective communication for coaches requires us to be highly adaptable. 

The cookie-cutter approach of throwing the same coaching language, techniques, attitude, and tone at every athlete we work with is often not what’s best for the athlete. 

This approach basically seeks to throw the transactional model of communication out the window in favor of more one-way, my-way-or-the-highway, coach-to-player monologues. 

This approach is easier work for us as coaches and can be made to seem effective due to a long enough coaching career and selection bias in our client or team samples. 

Here’s what I mean.

A long coaching career normally means a higher number of players or clients overall for the coach, so that statistically there will be more successful players who succeed in spite of a coach’s cookie-cutter approach, due to the ballplayers’ own superior athletic prowess or self-will. 

Over time, these outliers who succeed in spite of this coaching approach, add up to what seems like a successful career. 

However, this is a spray and pray style of coaching that is sustained by name dropping the few successes in a huge pool of stagnant performers who could not adapt to an unbudgeable teaching style.

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This lazy and less efficient style of coaching is usually helped by another major factor: selection bias. 

📚 Definition: Selection bias is introduced by the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed. 

What this means to us here in plain English is that some coaches, by merit of their few success stories or successful teams, get a higher number of tier-one athletes than is normal in the general population of baseball or softball players. 

Despite utilizing the inefficient cookie-cutter coaching style, the weaknesses of such coaches may be masked by the fact that they regularly get more elite athletes. 

This means there are even more athletes on their teams or in their weekly lesson client pools that have the talent and athleticism to succeed in the sport in spite of the coach’s own teaching and communication flaws. 

These two factors – often combined – can hide the fact that all coaches need to adapt to their individual athletes and not the other way around, in order to best foster the overall development of everyone they come across.

And if you aren’t willing to consistently learn, adapt, and grow your knowledge base in our games, then it’s time to rack your fungo and take up something else – I think Putt-Putt hasn’t changed much since it was first invented in 1953.

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The Truth About Learning Styles and What’s Really Best For Ballplayer Development

Anytime coach communication comes up, many of us will say that every athlete is a bit different. I’ve said it here myself and in many demonstrable ways this is true.

But, when this is said in conversations between us coaches, the very next breath usually contains something about different “learning styles.” 

Some of the learning styles touted are: visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, solitary. 

Here’s the thing, learning styles are actually a longstanding and pervasive myth borrowed from shoddy interpretations of old educational research data. 

Of all the preponderance of other – aside from the link above – scientific research debunking this widespread misconception that I’m going to spare you from parsing, an article in The Atlantic sums up the reality pretty well on what having no learning styles really means:

This doesn’t mean everyone is equally good at every skill, of course. Really, people have different abilities, not learning styles. Some people read better than others; some people hear worse than others. But most of the tasks that we encounter are really suited to only one type of learning. You can’t visualize a perfect French accent, for example.

Fair enough.

But then we as coaches must ask ourselves, what do the tasks of learning how to hit, field, or pitch a baseball or softball require?

Answer: visual perceptions and physical bodily awareness.

If you have more natural or cultivated abilities in these two areas, then you’re likely to be more effective on the ball field. 

This is so important in practice that many MLB players have significantly better visual skills than the average person. 

And professional organizations and their experts are starting to seriously at least consider an athlete’s vision as part of their draft eligibility criteria. 

These essential abilities aren’t really the topic of this communication guide, but if you’re interested in learning much more about the things that do matter to coaches and ballplayers –  along with science-backed ways to supercharge their cultivation – here’s some resources worth checking out:

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Cultivating Metacognition in Baseball and Softball Athletes Makes Communication Better for Everyone

Okay, stepping down from my learning styles soapbox now. 

There is a concept I’d like to introduce to the baseball and softball coaching world that’s bound up in great two-way communication.

And it’s called metacognition. 

📚 Definition: Metacognition refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s own understanding and performance. 

Metacognition includes an acute mindfulness of one’s thinking and learning, and the ability to consider oneself as a thinker and learner among a population of other thinkers and learners. 

Here’s why it matters: 

Poor metacognition = poor player development. 

Ballplayers without it might lack the skills to produce correct responses, and they may also be cursed with an inability to know when their responses, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong. 

Here’s 5 actionable ways that you can cultivate metacognition in your ballplayers today:

  1. Try Pre-assessments:
    Have ballplayers ask themselves: “What do I already know about this topic that could guide my new learnings right now?”
  2. Find the Muddiest Point:
    Have your players identify uncertainties head-on after each lesson or practice by asking themselves: “What was most confusing to me about the techniques or tactics explored today?” 
  3. Introduce Retrospective Post-assessments:
    Push players to regularly recognize conceptual change or growth in themselves by asking: “How has my thinking changed over time since I started getting lessons with you or being on your team?” 
  4. Require Reflective Journals:
    Have players keep their learnings logged in one place, either paper or digital, and use what you've taught to ask themselves things like: "I'm 0 for 2 against this pitcher so far, what adjustment do I need to make at the plate against this guy next game?" 
  5. Practice What You Preach:
    Simply model outloud for your players the thinking processes involved in successful hitting, pitching, etc. 

    Be explicit about walking players through exactly what you'd be thinking or not thinking about leading up to and during live at-bats or in tough in-game situations. 

Hopefully you can see by now that when you equip your ballplayers with the tools of metacognition, you’re also providing them with the ability to better work and communicate with you during their entire developmental journey.

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What Are Baseball and Softball Coaching Cues – And Which Kind is Best for Instructors to Use

Another way that coaches communicate with their ballplayers is by employing various cues. 

Say you just finished working A to Z on a new skill with one of your athletes, and you think they’ve finally internalized both the movement pattern and its underlying concept. 

You might now use a specific cue moving forward to help remind them of the insight they’ve gained – instead of running through the same learning process all over again each time they don’t apply the learning in practice. 

So one way of using a cue is as a physic shortcut that means the same thing as the longer explanation or physical demoing that you did initially when introducing the change or idea with your player. 

But that’s just one way to use cues. And what is a cue, again, anyway? 

📚 Definition: A cue is a mutually understood way to remind an athlete how they need to perform a certain skill or movement pattern. Cues can also help draw the athlete back to focus. 

According to the article Coaching Cues Science for Sport and many others referenced below, there are three main types of cues:

  • Internal
  • External
  • Normal

Note: I’ll try to reserve most of my true judgment on which one is best based on the science and my personal experiences until I’ve explained each.

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Internal Cues

Internal cues seek to help athletes pay attention to what their body is doing. 

When I have very young athletes that are just starting to learn how to pitch or hit, they are not always aware of what their body is even doing in space and time – I’m sure you can relate. 

Especially when I first started coaching, I’d constantly remind such new players to “stand tall” or “bend your knees.” After a while of me saying the same thing I’d ask them “Can you feel what your body is doing during the movement?” 

They’d almost always respond “No.” 

They are not focusing on what their body is doing, they are trying to figure out what the outcome is supposed to be without building a proprioceptive – basically, a fancy word for body awareness – foundation. 

Once they build that foundation, they can then feel what their bodies are doing. And, in theory, now if I were to give internal cues, they’d make the necessary corrections on the next rep. 

But, beware coach, internal cues can also be an unhelpful distraction for many ballplayers. 

Here’s an example of why:

If I give one of my athletes an internal cue such as, “Bend your knees” they sometimes only focus on the cue given at the time and forget about what the rest of their body needs to do in order to coordinate itself toward a successful outcome. 

Then, if I were to give them another cue such as “keep your arm straight”, they're likely to focus on this new cue and not the one given just a few pitches before. 

External Cues

External cues entail reminding the athlete of the larger movement they are currently performing.

Once my athletes understand the basics of the movement pattern – hitting or pitching in my case – I can then help remind them of the motor movements they are doing and what the result of that movement will achieve. 

Some softball pitching examples of external cues are “drag your toe” or “push off of the mound.” These cues allow the athlete to think of what the overall movement is and how they need to correct it. 

External cues can help the athlete to think of the entire movement pattern together and what they need to do to achieve the desired outcome. 

External cues can be further broken down into three main categories:

  • Distance
  • Direction
  • Description
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External Cue Distance

This refers to directing attention to an object that is “close” or “far” from the athlete. 

For example, most of my fastpitch players, when learning how to pitch for the first time, have a hard time not flailing or bowing their pitching arm during their windmill motion. 

In such a case, I might remind them to “keep your arm close to your body for control,” and the athlete will know from previous explanations that if their arm is away from their body, they are more likely to throw a wild pitch instead of a strike. 

External Cue Direction

This is referring to using words like “away" and “towards” in your external cues. 

When a pitcher is ahead in the count, you’ll often want her or him to get the batter to chase a pitch off the plate. 

So you’d instruct the pitcher to throw “away” from the plate. 

Another example is when my athletes forget to get a good push off of the mound, I’ll often place a cone that is an aspirational distance away from their current stride length. 

I tell them to “stride to the cone,” and this directional external cue can encompass a lot of small, coordinated movements that lead to a more successful pitch. 

The external goal of reaching towards the cone helps facilitate the desired outcome of more effective and efficient mechanics.

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External Cue Description

This type of external cue is simply how you describe what it is you are trying to have your athlete perform. 

Such descriptions can then be broken down further into two categories: action verbs and analogies. 

Some athletes understand when you tell them action verbs, like “push,” “step,” or “explode.” 

Other athletes understand it better when you give them an analogy like “explode like a rocket”, or “open the door.” 

When my dad coached my sisters and I as kids, his favorite term when teaching hitting was “take the barrel through the ball” as a way to remind us to not pull off-plane too early. 

Descriptions can allow the athlete to picture and then internalize the skill or movement pattern in a different, more accessible way – which often helps them retain the concept for much longer.

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Normal Cues

Normal cues are no coach-given cues at all. 

Seriously. These refer to the normal focus baseline of the given athlete. 

This allows the athletes to act on their own and figure out where they went wrong based on their proprioceptive feeling or the actual outcome of the movement – like a ball shanked into the bottom left of the net instead of the top corners during tee-work, for instance. 

Especially after I’ve worked with an athlete for a time, leaving them space within practice sessions to fail and self-correct is never a bad idea. 

But just because you’re employing a normal cue strategy at times, doesn’t mean you’re just passively tossing bp or hitting ground balls forever during an entire lesson or practice.  

Returning to our active learning tactics from earlier in the guide.

You can always stop and quiz your ballplayers anytime you want in the session and ask them to explain to you what happened that was wrong on that previous rep, or, alternatively, what went right. 

These patient lines of questioning can help athletes learn to think consciously about what they’re doing, problem-solve in real-time – which is needed in real games – and become empowered to own their overall process.

And after each practice I also give my athletes homework. This homework almost always entails some manner of practicing on their own.

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Giving homework assignments to your players yields powerful results

When players are at home, they control the time they spend ingraining a new movement pattern.

And they are forced to stop and self-reflect on what it is that needs to be corrected between reps and, thinking more long-term, before their next game or lesson with you.

Some powerful psychological phenomena are being kicked into gear by the player practicing like this on their own and anticipating their next lesson or team practice. 

Unfortunately, they’re outside the scope of this guide, but if you’re interested in learning about such unlocks of the athlete psyche, don’t miss our writings on the spacing effect and delayed learning and harnessing the Zeigarnik effect for baseball and softball.

But, returning to our ballplayer doing their homework. This is also where both coaching cues and interruptive quizzing really come into play. 

For example, when my players go home and throw a wild pitch, like they did in practice, they can then ask themselves “Was my arm close to my body or was it away?” “Did I push off the mound or did I step off the mound?”

This is a transfer from my external cueing into the player’s internal thought process that’s as important as it is powerful. 

When they come to the next practice, I can tell, just like all of you can, who took the time to do their homework, and which ones took the time to really figure their homework out – to make the assignment their own. 

Pitching coaches can’t call timeout after each and every pitch that has inefficient energy transfer, for example, so these “normal cues,” when employed intelligently, can empower our athletes to make the necessary adjustments themselves. 

Homework Assignments Yields Powerful Results B P059

Which Cue is Best for Baseball and Softball Coaches to Use?

How do you know what cue to use and how do you know when to use those cues? 

As I mentioned before, each athlete is different in the way they respond. That said, external cues should be the default, as will be discussed more below. 

I think I’ve also made a case for incorporating normal cues once in a while as a strategy for athletes to become more conscious of their movements and choices, and begin to own their process. 

And when first learning a completely new skill, even internal cues might be beneficial – but only when coupled with drills and exercises that help foster greater overall body awareness. 

That way the aspiring athlete can build the basic physical foundations of a skill set. 

However, as alluded to, it is recommended that external cues become the most common norm as the athlete progresses. 

In fact, research has shown that athletes who were taught using external cues were able to retain the skill longer and were able to perform the skill better compared to those who were taught using only internal or normal cues.

Most baseball, softball, and exercise science experts who have reviewed the literature on cueing have come to this same conclusion about external cues being the most ideal for improving physical performance outcomes. 

Motor Learning Internal External Focus B P059
From Wulf, G., Höß, M., & Prinz, W. (1998). “Instructions for motor learning: differential effects of internal versus external focus of attention.”

Remote Coach Communication Through Online Baseball and Softball Lessons

I would be remiss in this ultimate guide if I didn’t cover the newest frontier in coach communication – online coaching.

Coaches now have the tools to positively affect the development of ballplayers all across the world – without ever leaving their living room or local batting cage.

But, like almost everything, remote coaching communication is a full spectrum and you must think through where you’re comfortable along it and what your unique life and business goals are.

Here’s places 1-5 that coaches roughly fall into along this spectrum, going from left to right: 

  1. At one end of the spectrum is the team coach who’s using group texts with their phone, or dedicated software like TeamsSnap, just to communicate team updates and info –  like which uniforms to wear tomorrow – with their players or parents. 

    This is still remote coach communication. But they just aren’t wearing their teacher or instructor coaching hat when engaging remotely – only their team management and logistical ones. 
  2. Then, there’s the team coach or private lesson instructor who current or former youth players and their parents send text messages of game or practice video footage to get analysis and feedback. 

    Such a coach might want some sort of video analysis tool to help them break down and better illustrate what they see in mechanics or timing. But they’re still using their phone’s text messages to send the written or video feedback of the player’s footage. 

    And, hopefully, for the sake of the coach's time, only a handful of players are sending them such unpaid footage analysis requests. 

    Because these scattered text messages tend to mix into the coach’s personal life on their phone and it can get messy and hard to keep track of fast.
  3. Next there’s the coach who offers exclusively in-person private lessons to ballplayers in things like hitting, pitching, fielding, or sports performance. 

    This coach often still communicates in some way with their athletes or their parents via text messages or phone calls – including updates of how the ballplayer did in their weekend games.

    Such coaches often allow – or encourage – parents to send them a player’s game or practice footage to check out. 

    Of these, a portion of coaches may give out this professional remote feedback for free. For example, maybe they're newer to private instruction and just happy to have such an invested client willing to get better.

    But other, more business-savvy, coaches tend to create monthly lesson packages that bundle the in-person sessions with some agreed upon amount of this remote video help for parents and their players.

    Especially for instructors getting paid by clients to do these video analyses and feedback, it’s recommended to use a professional analysis tool that’ll up the quality of the end product you’re delivering.

    Their entire coaching business could be made easier and more optimized through a lesson platform that would automatically handle acquiring new in-person lesson clients, organize their client information in one place, and handle and track payments.

    But maybe they just aren’t quite ready to take their coaching business there, yet.
  4. The second to last place on the remote coaching communication spectrum is the coach who offers both in-person and one or multiple types of paid online lessons.

    This coach has diversified their lesson offerings to maximize how much revenue they can get for their coaching expertise, while usually growing their personal brand in our industry.

    They’ll want free tools and a platform to help keep track of and better execute on everything they’re offering clients. Especially, because this kind of coach is often stretched pretty thin for time.

    They may also be doing weekly or seasonal clinics; still be playing minor league or collegiate ball; working a full-time job in another industry; or working as paid team coaches for travel, high school, college, or professional teams.
  5. On the opposite end of the spectrum from where we started with rec or travel team coaches using remote communication tools to manage their teams are coaches who have built a big enough brand or audience to only offer online lesson services to the public.

    These may be former MLB players or coaches, olympians, high-level collegiate coaches or top prospects, or various professionals and consultants who have earned a large online following in the baseball or softball community.

    They want to share their amassed knowledge and personal insights on the game with the largest audience of ballplayers and fans possible.

    So they communicate with a dedicated platform made to give them everything they need to get their message out, while continuing to grow their brand to even greater heights. 
Remote Coaching Spectrum Seamsup B P059

Hopefully this full spectrum of remote coaching communication shows you how ubiquitous and unavoidable some form of this practice is in our modern games. 

It wouldn’t be uncommon for a coach to occupy multiple places along that 1-5 spectrum throughout their coaching career – or even at the same time, depending on how many commitments they’ve taken on. 

Luckily, mostly all of the good communication strategies and tactics we’ve explored so far still apply to online coach communication. 

For example, coaches still need to clearly set up expectations and goals for their ballplayers. And they’ll often still need mutually understood cues to help remind athletes how to move or think about aspects of their game.     

One difference with online communication though, is that coaches should have the right gear and setup to ensure the quality of their instruction is as high as possible for their players and clients. 

Of course, I have you covered with the best video and sound tools and best practices for professional online coaching. 

Online Instruction Options for Coaches

Baseball and softball experts looking into giving online lessons during this new blue ocean opportunity have plenty of communication options. 

And remote learning is not only great for a coaching business. It also has a long history of science and research indicating the effectiveness of mobile learning for athlete development.

But returning to online options for coach to player dialogues. Some coaches will hold live video call sessions with their athletes. 

This first online lesson type allows you to still incorporate the two-way body language awareness that we went over earlier in real-time with clients in nearly the same way you would on the field or in the batting cages. 

Accepting Giving Live Call Lessons Seamsup B P074
Shows an example of how Live Call scheduling works for coaches on the left, and a Live Call video lesson in progress on the right. 

But, live call lessons are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to remote coaching options. 

Coaches can also receive those same types of requests to analyze and provide feedback on players’ sent footage from practices or games – except without any back and forth with parents, and while using advanced analysis tools and getting their payments automatically.

And, like just about everything I’m recommending in this guide, there’s a lot of real science behind the merits and capabilities of video analysis for athletes.  

SeamsUp calls this type “Analysis Lessons.” And like with all their online lesson types, coaches keep 100% of whatever your asking price is. There’s no profit-sharing on these lessons. 

Yes, you read that right.

But regardless of the platform you choose, a final remote lesson communication opportunity is so-called “Full Remote Lessons.” 

These still start with a player sending over video footage to be analyzed just like before. 

But this final lesson type – that I’m seeing more and more coaches offer – gives ballplayers a fully personalized lesson package.

Such packages can include analysis and feedback, recommended drills, pro player example videos, and homework assignments for players to do between lessons. 

And you already know how I feel about giving homework. 

One last huge, but often overlooked, difference between such online lessons and their in-person counterparts is that players and their parents can keep a coach’s professional video analysis, feedback and insights saved forever in their pockets – to re-watch anywhere, anytime.

Science Behind Power Video Analysis B P023
Shows what a coach will receive in each Full Remote Lesson request from their clients on the left. The middle screenshot shows how coaches can analyze the player's sent footage. And the final screenshot on the right shoes coaches can add additional resources for their clients on top go their footage analysis. 

The Science of Baseball & Softball Coaching

Ultimately, just as coaching is an art, it should also be a science. 

🔑 Key Insight: We have enough freely accessible knowledge from sport science, psychology, kinesiology, educational science, and elsewhere to make a 100% non-scientific approach to coaching or private instruction outdated and unadvised. 

For clarity, I don’t necessarily mean advances in technology here as much as I mean just using what we now know about how to be efficient with our bodies and how to be efficient with how we pass along our knowledge to the next generation.

Great coaches are great experimenters. 

They see an outcome, like a batted ball not squared up in 8 out of 10 bp tosses and create a hypothesis on what might be going wrong structurally, mentally, or both. 

And such coach hypotheses are based on their PhDs in baseball or softball, which they’ve earned over a lifetime. 

These same coaches then introduce new variables to the environment – like external cues or a short chat with the player between hitting rounds – and see what the next outcomes are. 

They run these experiments millions of times over a career in their field or batting cage laboratories, and we call it coaching. 

And great coaches get better and better – meaning more efficient – at hypothesizing towards positive in-game outcomes all the time. 

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A Communication Summary for My Fellow Coaches

Coaching is a big responsibility. 

Being a coach means you are a teacher, a mentor, a confidant, a motivator, artist, and scientist – and you're lucky if you get to focus on just these aspects of coaching. 

You work together with ballplayers through both verbal and body language dialogues and intelligently designed experiments to arrive together at solutions that improve their performance. 

But coaching still entails setting up clearly articulated and particularly high expectations for ballplayers to grow into. 

Exude supportiveness and consistency while providing informed feedback and novel challenges, and you’re more than on your way to cultivating a mastery oriented environment for your ballplayers.  

All the information above has personally helped me to become a better coach and communicator. It is my humble hope that it’ll do the same for you. 

Happy coaching. 

Additional Resources & References

About the Author

Dr. Hannah Whitney, DC

Doctor of Chiropractic at Uptown Whittier Center

Dr. Hannah Whitney is a practitioner at Sunny Hills Chiropractic Center and Uptown Wellness Center. She was also a 4-year college softball player at Alderson Broaddus University.

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