Scot Thomas: Fall Ball Doesn't Drive Spring Expectations
The time has come again where we transition to the beginning of the regular season. Fall ball is behind us and it is an interesting time for players and coaches alike.
As coaches, we use fall ball for experience and to determine some of the early season answers while players joust for exposure and playing time.
Ultimately, it is not a fair climate to drive the expectations of success for the spring season due to a player’s performance in the fall. Many role players got playing time and will never get it with regularity in the spring.
This issue makes it the coach’s priority to communicate effectively to each player what is expected of them individually. Honestly, that doesn't matter in many cases, many players will have a "I will show you" mentality or be driven by the opinions of friends, former coaches and parents of how much playing time they should get. Unrealistic expectations from fall ball usually work themselves out by spring break, but it is a challenge for most coaches.
The ability to come out of fall ball with a solid understanding of individual and team fundamentals is critical. Combining new players that are freshmen, transfers or walk-ons with the savvy veterans is coaching skill, in and of itself. The sooner a coach can analyze the behavioral traits of players, the easier it will be to navigate the success of the process.
Great players don't look over their shoulders at who is behind them and just focus on being the best they can be, this is not the norm. Unfortunately, players measure themselves against each other at the plate or position by position. The great coaches pay attention to this dynamic and create communication avenues that keep everyone on target to be the best they can be for the team.
Defining roles for players in the fall is tricky, because you want each player to strive to be the best they can be no matter what the path was for them to get to the next level. If you define a kid as a pinch runner in the fall, you will probably only get a pinch runner out of her in the spring. Certainly this is realistic for some kids, especially if you can get the player and her parents to buy in takes a buy in from everyone involved.
Hey the fact is, many of the walk-ons were first-team or all-state. They aren't used to being a role player and watching from the dugout. Success cures many ills though and some players accept their importance to the program. Losing creates the equal and opposite effect and requires communication to work through issues that arise.
The spring season is an ongoing process and body of work under construction with challenges around every corner.
On a personal note, the one thing that I always enjoyed was that first road trip. For 23 years, I sat in the front of the bus and was proud of the university I was representing. After all, I grew up in Blacksburg and went to Virginia Tech games my whole life. It gave me goosebumps and an extreme sense of pride to start that program and represent Virginia Tech.
I challenge coaches at every level to prep themselves for the same experience and if you have been at a school for a long time don't take the opportunity for granted, because one day it won't be there anymore.
Good luck to everyone and I hope everyone stays healthy and grows this year in a special way!