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Feb, 2019

Tips for starting off your PONY League season on the right foot

So, the local league registration process has finished and your League President has asked you to coach a team. Maybe you’re feeling apprehensive, or maybe you’re feeling inspired to finally put your talents to good use to serve youth and your community at-large. Undoubtedly, coaching a PONY League team is a commitment, but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you will do in life, and PONY thanks you for making such a commitment. Here are some recommendations, as you begin your journey as a new PONY League coach, to set the right tone for the season.

The Player Draft

Once you are approved to coach, you will most likely participate in a draft in which you will select the players for your team. Maybe you participated in the pre-season player evaluations or already have some knowledge of the players’ athletic abilities. Either way, you will be provided a list of all of the participating players in your age division that notes each player’s evaluation grade or ranking. There are multiple types of drafts with different stipulations, which should all be recorded in your league’s by-laws and provided to you in advance by your league’s Player Agent or similar board member.

PONY would recommend that you have an open mind when you draft. Of course, everyone wants to win and it won’t be much fun for the kids and you if the team isn’t competitive. However, do your best to balance your team as evenly as possible with high and low-skill players. Low-skill players will only improve and enjoy the game more if they are learning and playing alongside higher-skilled players. For the higher-skilled players, this may provide an opportunity to play a different or multiple positions. Plus, this is an opportunity for kids to make new friends and memories and learn life lessons in the process like teamwork, leadership, accountability and discipline, to name a few.

Simply put, don’t make your goal to stack your team. For League Presidents, Vice Presidents and Player Agents, work toward not allowing this to happen either.

Coaching Education and Practice Planning

At this point, if you haven’t already, PONY would encourage you to take its Coaching Education course. Not only will you receive PONY certification after completion, but you will also improve your skills and overall knowledge of how to coach the game. PONY also offers online education resources through USA Baseball and Positive Coaching Alliance. Then, PONY would recommend you access our free practice planning tool through Dugout Captain, especially if you are a Foal, Shetland, Pinto or Mustang coach. Dugout Captain’s Dan Keller will not only walk you through how to build your own practices and the drills you can do, but also the psychology behind why you’re doing what you’re doing and when during a practice. Your two top priorities during a practice should be for players to see improvement and have fun. Keller will teach you how to achieve both so your players will be excited about coming to practice and wanting to play again next season.

First Phone Calls

Once you have your roster of players and you’ve studied up through PONY’s coaching resources, it’s time for you to make your first phone calls to all of your players’ parents. First impressions mean the world, so if you come off exuberant, your parents will be more interested in listening and willing to contribute on their end to making it a successful season. Tell the parent(s) about yourself and the motivation behind you coaching, but also ask them what their motivation was for signing up their child(ren) for PONY Baseball, what their goals are for their child(ren) this season and what they are expecting from you, the coach. Take in this feedback, as this will allow you to create your season goals and expectations. Without making these phone calls, your team’s parents are left in the dark and you are too.

First Meeting with Players and Parents

Your first meeting with your team, like a first day at work or school, should be mostly made up of housekeeping duties. Once again, come in excited, because your passion will radiate and pump up the kids to be a part of this new team. Yet, be assertive and set the standards for the season. Keep it simple, because kids can only pay attention for so long, but make sure your message gets across and enforce these standards from the get go. You have now become these children’s authority figure for their time away from home. Hold every kid accountable, but beam positivity. Practice shouldn’t be boot camp, but it’s not a free-for-all either.

Go over these standards with your team parents, and you may even have standards for parents as well, most notably regarding conduct during games. Since you’ve already established goodwill during the initial phone call, your parent is prepared to make this commitment. Having your children on-time or even early for practice and games, volunteering your time at the concession stand, fundraising and potentially participating in tournaments are all a part of this commitment.

Give your players homework to do with their parents like researching one Major League Baseball historical record prior to the next practice. Watch an inning of baseball together on television and do light exercise before bed, like push-ups and sit-ups. You want your players and their parents engaged with baseball or softball as much as possible during the season, because, before you know it, the season’s over.

Try out these tips this season and if you have any recommendations to share with other PONY coaches around the world, we’d encourage you to email them to [email protected] for PONY to include in its archives.

PONY Baseball and Softball

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