When a Kid Won’t Give 100%

Coaches, welcome to the club

James Lowe

| 6 min read


As a father of two, I’ve learned I can capture the attention of 50 kids, meanwhile the one person interrupting a team meeting or “mailing it in” is my daughter. My kids will gladly run through walls for their dance teacher (who is amazing) yet complain when I ask them to clean their room. As Seinfeld said, “It is what it is.” I’ve accepted that. I love my babies, and I will always be there for them, but this predicament does give me great perspective into the important job I have as a coach for these other 50 sets of parents.

So, Coaches! With that as your driving force, here’s what I’ve learned about the kids I coach. They are all different. They each have their own personality, and they each react way differently to a given command.

You must read the room. Otherwise you will drive yourself crazy. 

Most parents are a little surprised when they show up to one of my in-person camps or Sandlots. I’m known as “Mr. Fun.” But I have to earn that title by first setting clear expectations for the group and being firm when need be. Otherwise it’s a straight up dumpster fire.

That word “firm” has a balancing act, and I’m not perfect. I actually don’t think perfection is possible here. But I can grow. I’m continuously learning how to read my room and react accordingly to my given stimuli.

First things first, put your lens on — that lens of, “Am I making each kid want to come back tomorrow, while simultaneously making them a better person?”

When you put that lens on, you automatically become more patient, and positive. It helps you see the big picture.. For me personally, it helps relieve the pressure of the job.

With my awesome shades on, now I express my expectations to the group in a team meeting format. These expectations have nothing to do with performance, and everything to do with effort. “We award good choices” is a common quote at the Sandlot. Home Runs are great, but hustling is better. Kindness is better. Paying attention is way better. (Sidebar: As I’ve spoken of in great length, prioritizing wins and performance over character is toxic and pushes kids away. Coaches and parents that lead this way are a major detriment to our game. Please stop.)

As I share these expectations to my team, I’m reading my room.

I see the kid with his back turned to me.

I see the two rambunctious kids climbing the fence.

I see the happy kid laughing at everything I say.

I see the shy kid who wants to go home.

I see the three kids giving me quiet, uncomfortable eye contact.

I see that I have my hands full.

And that is the life of a youth coach.

With my lens on, I’m reminded I don’t have to fix this entire situation today. It’s a stairwell, and I’ll take one step towards the goal today.

I lean on my energy. I simply won’t let a bad choice slide. Not on my watch. This may seem surprising, but children want structure. They really want it. Sometimes that manifests itself in the form of rebelling, crying, or floating off into space.

Take a child not hustling to their position for example.

I buckle up my tool pouch around my waist and go to work.

Tool #1: Encourage them to hustle, because that’s what a ballplayer does.
Didn’t work.

Tool #2: Challenge them to a race to their position.
Didn’t work.

Tool #3: Award the players that are hustling by giving them a baseball card.
Didn’t work.

Tool #4: Ignore them for an inning. (Impossible for me to do, but I make it seem that way to the child).
Didn’t work.

Tool #5: Have a quiet chat with them, asking why they are choosing not to hustle.
It still didn’t work.

But, progress was made.

I’ve fully read my room. My tool pouch is empty. I’ve officially taken one step up the stairwell. 

For me personally, If I get to Tool #5 and it still isn’t sinking into the child, I get irritated. I feel like a failure.

What brings me back? My lens. Above all else, I will make this kid want to come back tomorrow, and sometimes that means apologizing to them for being too firm.

I can’t bury them. I can’t put them away. That’s way worse than me failing to get them to put in 100% effort.

It’s a marathon. Treat it as such.

Because when that kid puts their head down to sleep that night, one thing is certain to them.

They have a Coach that cares.

James Lowe, a.k.a. Coach Ballgame, writes relatable stories for coaches and parents to support them in raising up young ballplayers who love the game, are quality players, and who don’t burn out early. For the love of baseball! Let’s show them the way. This post originally appeared on his site, coachballgame.com

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