By Darren Fenster
You know what makes great coaches? Great players. It’s easy to coach great players. It’s also a whole lot of fun. Working with players who can do the things we want them to do, getting closer and closer to reaching that unlimited potential, makes us feel like we are pretty good at our jobs as coaches. There is an incredible amount of satisfaction when we can have a hand in our players’ successes. It’s a large part of why we do what we do.
But here’s the thing: we also have to coach those who are far from great. The players who are a challenge to work with for whatever reason are also our responsibility because they are every bit a part of our team just as much as the superstar is. The outfielder who may struggle to make contact and may never actually play in a game; he’s on your team, and you have to coach him. That pitcher with the awful attitude who takes the air out of the dugout the second he arrives; he’s wearing the same uniform as you. It’s your responsibility as his coach to actually coach him.
As a Minor Leaguer coming up with the Royals, I never held any legitimate prospect status, and my $5,000 signing bonus hardly qualified me as a bonus baby. I was simply a player who helped fill out an affiliate’s roster. During that time with Kansas City, some coaches didn’t even bother to get to know my name, let alone spend any time helping me get better. To them, I wasn’t good enough. Conversely, some coaches treated me no differently than they did the first-rounder or top prospect. In their eyes, I was someone with a uniform, and I deserved to get their best. Both ends of that spectrum left an incredible impact on me and unquestionably shaped my approach to working with players… All players.
Former coaches of mine shaped me as a player. They shaped me as a coach. And they undoubtedly shaped me as a man. That’s what coaches do; we shape those around us, and in many cases, far more than we can ever imagine. The reason our players- every single one of them- deserve to be coached is that you never know the impact you may have on someone’s life, even if that someone can’t necessarily help you win.
No coach shaped me more than my coach at Rutgers, Fred Hill. I had the privilege of playing for him and was on staff with him to begin my own coaching journey. In March of 2019, he passed away. In the days and weeks following his death, the stories of his influence were fascinating. Those anecdotes weren’t just from his former players who felt similar to me; they came from players who barely played, players he cut. They came from players he didn’t even recruit. His impact came because he gave his genuine time to people who, in the scope of Rutgers Baseball’s success, didn’t matter, and he changed their lives because of it.
In the softball world, Sue Enquist is a legend. The former UCLA coach was a part of nine national championships with the Bruins. One of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, she credits John Springman, her brother’s little league coach, for her developing a love for baseball (that eventually opened doors in softball) when he simply decided to include her as ‘forever shagger’ in practices that she had just been coming to watch. At the end of the season banquet, that coach gave Enquist the team’s most improved player award. She fully admits if that didn’t happen- when she was seven or eight years old, mind you- she wouldn’t have lived the life she led in softball.
Think of the superstars of coaching, and what is always alongside their name is winning, a natural measure for evaluating a coach. However, we often go wrong when looking at what exactly those coaches are winning. We shouldn’t judge a coach by how many baseball or softball games they have won. Instead, the true barometer of a coach’s success should be found in how many wins their players have notched in the game of life. Those life wins are entirely independent of talent and require nothing more from the coach than their title: to coach every player on your team… and then some. You never know whose life you may change tomorrow because you decided to coach that kid today.
Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.