Story of a Streak – What are the Non-Negotiables in Your Program?
How important is winning in your program? What are you willing to do to stay competitive? Do your players know the non-negotiables within your program and what will happen if they do not follow them?
In 2011 after our first un-defeated season we had continued our winning ways throughout the first weeks of the season. So much so that we were able to break the Iowa state record of high school consecutive baseball wins with our 60th. It was quite an accomplishment for our program. Much notoriety came with the win on TV stations and in newspapers. It was a great moment for our program. Many of them were speculating on how far we could take this and if we could get close to national record.
We stretched the streak to 61 after winning against a conference opponent before having 2 games on Saturday in a tournament we always played in. Since this tournament was a yearly thing for us the players were aware of the near-by community pool and had asked if they could bring their suits so between games they could go swimming. My answer was clear and most definitely a no.
We proceeded to win the first game in the tournament 6-0. We talked quickly as a team before our layover for the consolation game of the tournament was underway and we would have the chance to play for the championship. Afterwards we usually had parents with food and drinks so that the players can relax and also re-energize for the next game. I set some things down and got organized ready to watch the next game before ours.
Only a few minutes later I started looking around at the players with their parents or those sitting together in the stands with their lunch. The numbers were not adding up. I could clearly see that I was missing some players. I knew exactly were they were. I headed straight to the pool. It was a far enough walk away that I couldn’t tell if they were there but in my gut I knew they were. As I got closer I could see that four of my players, a senior and three juniors had decided to take a dip and cool off despite my previous answer about no one going to the swimming pool. They were jumping off the diving board as I walked right up to the fence and told them to get their stuff and get back to the field. That is all I said. It was all I needed to say. They knew I was not happy.
Once I had walked back to the field I talked with my two assistants coaches (one of which was the father of one of the players at the pool) and told them what I had discovered. I told them that they would not be playing and they agreed. These were four of our best players (an all-stater and all-district players). Not to mention one of them was slated to be the starting pitcher for the next game, my two middle-infielders, and centerfielder. The entire middle would be gone. Another streak that was on the line was one of the juniors had started in every game since his 8th grade year. Of course I wondered how we would do without the players but I knew they had gone completely against what I said and put themselves ahead of the team. The swimming in and of-itself was not the issue. The issue was they did not listen. Winning streaks and personal streaks, come 2nd when decisions are made that are not in the best interest of the team or go against our non-negotiables.
They did what they wanted to do, put their interests first, and didn’t listen to what I had said. I could have let them play knowing we may have had a better chance to win the game and keep the streak in tack. But I didn’t and this was one of my most proud moments as a coach. Knowing that there were certain things I held so important to our program and to me as a coach that nothing would make me change my mind not even the chance to have a national record or extend our state record.
I addressed the team before the game and let them know the players would be sitting the entire game because they put themselves first and did not listen when I said no one would be going to the pool. I told them we will not compromise being a program of excellence on and off the field regardless of what is at stake.
We started 3 freshman (none of which had started a varsity game before, I DH’d for my second basemen), 1 sophomore (never started), and 1 junior started on the mound who had pitched very little that season and had not started a game for us before. A much different look than what I had anticipated for the second game but I am in a way glad it happened for many reasons. The main one being that it challenged me to my core about what I hold most important. Ultimately that winning is not as important as helping players learn from their mistakes and being a respectable program that does things the right way regardless of circumstance.
We did go on to win the game 7-0. Our starting pitcher threw 6 shutout innings and also hit his first and only homerun of his career. The others played great defense for and played as if they had been out there the entire year. It was great to see.
The main thing I want to reinforce here is that with winning/notoriety/success never came a different way to approach the things we felt were most important to our program. In other words: Keep the main thing the main thing. I hope this story helps you really make sure you know what the non-negotiables are within your program and may help you make the tough decisions when they need to be made even though as coaches we want to win. If I would have let them play and we won the game, in my opinion we would have lost much more.
This was an article that was run in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. If you do not already subscribe to it, you need to. It is the best publication out there for coaches looking to gain insight into great programs and for those who want to continue to learn more. Their is no ceiling on your knowledge of the game.