Robley Corsi, who I am fortunate to call a friend, took Pacific Little League (suburban Seattle) to the Little League Northwest Regional twice and advanced to the Little League World Series in 2014. This VIDEO sheds some light on his approach to coaching kids and building a championship culture with the teams he coaches.
It Starts By Recognizing These Are Just Kids
Robley and I first met a couple of years before he took his team to Williamsport. As we shared philosophies and our approach to teaching, I sensed immediately his unique combination of solid baseball knowledge, an understanding of how to connect with kids and his enthusiasm for helping kids learn and grow, and doing so in a fun and positive atmosphere.
Our discussions over the ensuing years usually centered around ideas such as creating a positive team culture and injecting encouragement into all aspects of teaching and interacting with young ballplayers. We talked a lot about keeping instruction simple, while emphasizing the value of repetition and not investing too time on ‘advanced’ instruction. My experience, at all levels of baseball, had been that the game is often over-coached. Hearing Robley’s perspective was refreshing.
A point that Robley tied in with almost everything he shared with me was that these are kids who, primarily, want to go to the park and have fun playing baseball with their buddies.
The Williamsport Experience
When I spoke to Robley after he and the Pacific Little League kids returned from Williamsport, I asked him about the interaction between the competing coaching staffs…..I was shocked by what I heard…and pleasantly surprised.
We constantly hear about overly competitive parents and coaches in youth sports. Given that these were the top eight programs in the country, I assumed many found their way to Williamsport under the guidance of drill sergeant coaches pushing the kids to their limits. I thought Robley would tell me his positive and encouraging approach was an anomaly.
It turns out that when the coaches compared notes on their journey to Williamsport the formula was pretty much the same for everyone. The coaches recognized that these were just kids, and just because they may have better than average ability, they still had doubts, fragile emotions and needed to be constantly reassured they could work through the challenges they faced.
When the discussions got around to how they taught baseball skills and how to play the game, the consistent theme was a belief in focusing on the basics, getting the kids a lot of reps and keeping the instruction simple. And all the coaches emphasized how ‘keeping the game fun’, was a key component in their success.
Characteristics of a Little League World Series Coach
The VIDEO profiling Robley Corsi and Pacific Little League illustrates how a positive and encouraging environment, where the kids truly are the priority, can be the recipe for championship level success.
The defining moment in the video, in my opinion, is at 1:23. Robley is in the third base coaching box. One of the kids on the team he is coaching smokes a ball down the third base line; a sure double. The other team’s third baseman makes a beautiful backhand play, robbing the batter from Robley’s team, and throws him out at first.
What is Robley’s reaction? Pure joy and excitement! Without hesitation, he’s pumping up the third baseman for making the play. Robley’s first instinct is to acknowledge the great play, it doesn’t matter that the kid is on the other team. He is taking joy in a kid experiencing and enjoying a big moment. The chance to make a play like that doesn’t come up often…..to complete the play is a big deal to a young ballplayer.
What about the batter from the team Robley was coaching who was robbed of the double? Robley’s comments to that batter aren’t shown in the video. However, I suspect the conversation went pretty much like this…
“Hey, you Smoked that ball!!! You picked a good pitch and made a great swing. The third baseman made the play of the year on you. That’s baseball. You can only control so much. That was a great at-bat. Grab your glove, set your mind on playing defense and before long you’ll have another shot at the plate.”
Takeaways From The Video
Coaching kids starts with being genuine. Kids don’t expect their Little League Coach to be a baseball guru. They understand that, in most cases, coaches are just the dad or mom of one of their friends on the team. (I recall when Cody Webster and Kirkland National Little League -another suburban Seattle league- won the Little League World Series in 1982. When their coach was asked about his baseball background, his response was ‘I learned from reading a book on coaching baseball’. Yes, he was just a dad from the neighborhood.)
Players want a coach who maintains some level of communication with them as individuals, shows they care and does their best to help them get better at baseball. We can best accomplish these things by going about our business being ourselves and not thinking that being a coach means ‘knowing it all’ or putting on some other persona.
Other points to take note of:
Keep Instruction Simple - these players are still just kids; they are far from mastering the skills of the game. We can easily overwhelm them by constantly teaching more and more new stuff. Often, we feel that, as coaches, if we aren’t giving them new and deeper instruction we aren’t doing our job. Coaching is less about jamming kids with a lot of information and more about guiding them in their development by reinforcing the things we have already taught them. Kids can attain a pretty good level of success with just the ‘A, B, and C’ of a skill and doing those basic aspects well. Well-intentioned coaches often give too much information, which can result in player’s development stalling or even regressing.
Repetitions - when we keep instruction simple and organize practices that keep all the kids moving and ‘doing’, they develop and improve faster. Talk to a coach in higher levels of any sport and a common theme is that repetitions has a greater impact on improvement then feeding an athlete a bunch of information.
Encouragement - baseball (and softball) is a difficult game to play. Catching, throwing, and fielding a little ball and trying to hit that little round ball with a round bat is not easy. Mistakes are made each time these young players take the field. Frustration and discouragement are common emotions during the process of learning to play the game. Constant encouragement and positive reinforcement is vitally important to help kids through the many rough moments they experience on the ball field.
Perspective - give some thought to the idea that the game is about the kids. Why did we choose to coach what I like to refer to as ‘Neighborhood Baseball’? This isn’t travel ball or select ball; it’s a bunch of kids who share the same parks, schools and whose parents shop at the same grocery stores. Our role is to teach them, not just about the game, but about working through struggles and adversity. When we go into coaching Neighborhood Baseball with the perspective that it’s all about the kids, and doing all we can to make it a positive experience, we set ourselves up to gain the greatest satisfaction from coaching.
Fun - the results of study after study on why kids play sports, ‘having fun’ and ‘being with their friends’ are consistently at the top of the list (maybe do a quick Google search on the subject). When asked why they quit sports, ‘not having fun’ is at or near the top of the list. In all that we do, we want to keep in mind why kids chose to play in the first place. They come out to play because they look forward to it being fun.
Each year only eight US teams and eight international teams make it to Williamsport. Three million kids play the game. In this VIDEO, we get an inside look at a coach who has taken a team to the Little League World Series. Who knows, it just may help you get the kids you coach to Williamsport next year. Most of us however, will not make it to Williamsport, but each of us can take something from this video, apply it to our coaching, and make a positive, life-long impact on the kids we work with.