(Photo via Rowan Athletics, YouTube, seen here)

The differences in coaching the game of baseball at the high school level compared to the college level are immense. We’ve discussed adjusting to the added duties as a college coach and adjusting to the much longer schedule. In part three of our three-part series, we are going to take a look at how coaches who jump from high school to college must adjust to coaching the college baseball player.

Coaching Isn’t Easy

No one ever said that coaching is easy.

Coaching teenagers makes the job even more difficult. When you are coaching high school-aged kids you are dealing with quite a bit all at once.

From teen angst to frustration to parents and everything in between, coaching at the high school level is a challenge for even the most experienced of coaches.

One of the quickest adjustments I experienced when jumping into college coaching was the lack of involvement of the parents. This was a blessing in disguise. At the college level, you are technically dealing with adults (almost every player was 18). It was rare to have someone younger than 18 on the roster.

This meant that the players had to fight their own battles when it came to issues with playing time, teammates, or academic problems.

Adjusting to College

At the same time that I was adjusting to coaching college baseball, we had freshmen on the team who were adjusting to college life. 

So, I was in the same boat as four or so players on the roster along with three of our other assistants at Rowan. My first year in the dugout for Rowan we had a very young coaching staff.

I was the only coach with high school coaching experience and the other three coaches joined the staff after their eligibility ended.

We were a solid staff though. We all brought something different to the table. So, not only was it an adjustment jumping from high school to college to coach, but we also had to help the players make an adjustment to college life.

The Personalities

As with any team, you are going to have very different personalities in the dugout. You have players who were four-year varsity starters in high school who are bench players in college.

You have guys who transferred and earned a starting role following a hot fall season.

You’ve got guys competing for spots in the rotation, specifically to pitch on conference days and then guys competing for the back-end roles in the bullpen.

Every team is going to have the guy who likes to keep things loose in the dugout, even in the tensest situations. At Rowan, we had a few, and they were the heart and soul of our club. These guys were also the most vocal and most supportive teammates you could ask for.

It can be daunting to mesh all of these personalities into a team, hoping that the guys get along for the length of a 40-game season.

There will be tiffs and arguments, especially during a losing streak. That’s where adjusting to coaching college baseball was the hardest.

No matter how young or old these guys were they still didn’t like to lose. That’s a great quality to have. As a coach, you don’t want to lose either. Expressing that sentiment to the players must be done in a way that helps you get your message across without overwhelming them with pressure to win.

Handling Adversity

Adversity is going to creep into every season at any level of baseball. How your team responds shows it’s true colors.

In my first year at Rowan, we visited Widener on a rainy, foggy April day. Our offense was stagnate. After three of our hitters went down in order one inning on a total of five pitches I had a bit of an outburst in the dugout.

I went up to every player I could find and spoke my mind about the way we were playing. Now, we lost that game 4-1. We looked listless. We could’ve easily packed it in right there.

Instead, we went on to win five of our next seven games, including one tie in extra innings due to darkness as we prepared for the conference tournament.

We got to see Widener again that season, in the first round of the Mid-Atlantic Regional at Waterfront Park in Trenton. We were seeded sixth and Widener was third.

Our offense exploded for seven runs in the first three innings en route to an 11-5 victory to open the tournament.

Not that I had to remind them of how we played the first time against Widener, I still made a point to mention to our players how we felt walking off their field back in April.

Now, this kind of outburst in the dugout isn’t necessarily the right way to handle things but a message needed to be sent that our performance wasn’t acceptable.

This was something that if it happened when coaching high school baseball the parents would’ve been all over me for it.

There’s a bit of a different mindset from high school to college. The players are older, more mature, and have gone through more adversity by the time they’ve reached this level.

They know how to handle something like this and they responded by turning their play around to win five games to finish out the regular season, which helped us earn the one-seed in the conference tournament.

The Disappointment

We had some really good teams during my time at Rowan. We won 26 and 31 games in my two seasons as an assistant, earning the one-seed in the conference tournament my first year and the two-seed my second year.

We went to regionals both years.

But, both of those seasons ended in disappointment. We failed to win the conference tournament and failed to secure a bid to the College World Series.

Being on the short end of the stick at the season’s end is never easy. You have to say goodbye to seniors who’ve help shape your program. You have to talk to players who you know might not be on next year’s team for other reasons.

Consoling these guys, who just spent thousands of hours dedicated to their teammates is difficult. What do you say? How do you show your support while hurting inside at the same time?

It’s tough. It’s very tough. There’s a big difference here compared to high school. These seniors are likely done playing competitive baseball. When you say goodbye to seniors in high school it’s still difficult to do but 99 percent of the time they still have four years of baseball ahead of them.

You need to find a different message in this setting. They might not be thinking about it yet but leave the door open for them to return as a coach, even if it’s only for the fall season.

Let them know how much of an impact they’ve had on the program. Acknowledge their frustration, anger, and disappointment while thanking them for their contributions.

For those coaches thinking about making the jump from the high school level to the college level in baseball, there’s plenty to consider. The schedule is much longer and more involved. The duties are exponentially greater. And, the adjustment to coaching a different age group will take a bit of time to get used to.

All told, both experiences were incredible and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I met some incredible people at both stops, some of whom I still call friends today.

Jim Vassallo

Staff writer with CBBSN.

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