By Ken Reed

For some reason, most Americans seem to believe that coaches have to be from the ‘kick ’em in the butt” authoritarian school of coaching in order to be successful. You know, the Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight types. This despite a ton of evidence that says that simply isn’t the case. Think John Wooden, Dean Smith, Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Joe Torre. Great coaches who didn’t have to resort to degrading and dehumanizing tactics to get the best out of their players.

Watching baseball the last couple weeks, two managers have stood out, both for their teams’ successes and for their coaching styles. The Chicago Cubs’ Joe Maddon and Pearland, Texas Little League coach Andrew Solomon, are both humanistic, relationship-based coaches. And their players love them for it and play hard because of it.

He’s so personable,” says the Cubs’ young star, Kris Bryant of Maddon.

“He’s really laid back, and he’s the type of manager that’s not hard on you. He’s not a drill sergeant. That brings out the best of you as a player. You’re not scared to make a mistake or scared to do something wrong, you’re not walking on eggshells. If you’ve got a problem, you can talk to him. He’s taught me so much already, I’m looking forward to the relationship that we have to come. In spring training, when I got sent down, he was great, and that springboarded us into talking a lot when I’m struggling and when I’m doing great. He’s really easy-going.”

Maddon has two rules: Respect 90 (play hard, epitomized by running the 90 feet to first base as hard as you can) and Have Fun.

“He keeps us loose,” says Cubs’ center fielder Dexter Fowler. “That’s basically it. He has fun. He’s the man.”

Solomon, known more for his dreadlocks than his coaching style, appears to be the perfect youth league coach. He has fun and encourages the players to have fun. He keeps his team laughing with his humor but he also is a strong motivator and is a good teacher of the fundamentals so his players can have more fun playing the game.

The Little League World Series is a pressure-packed event for 11, 12 and 13 year-olds. While it’s a great experience for the kids, the negatives sometimes outweigh the positives. But Solomon has done a nice job keeping it all in perspective for his players.

“I’m a little bit worried about the guys, but they seem to be handling it pretty well,” says Solomon. “Obviously it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. This is not reality. In about a week or so, they’re going to have to return to reality.”

Playing for coaches who get it, like Maddon and Solomon, is a reality I wish more athletes — from Little Leaguers to big leaguers — could experience.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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