How to Re-Imagine the Player-Coach Dynamic
A Little League® graduate, father of a Little Leaguer®, and Minor Division softball coach in Virginia’s Spotsylvania Little League (SLL), Jimmy Hensel, Jr., has made a profound impression on his players and their parents by re-imagining the player-coach dynamic.
As a young player, Mr. Hensel, 31, admitted being taught the “old school way.” Coaches were bombastic, practices were not designed for the players’ enjoyment, and surviving the drudgery of daily workouts was all part of the learning process. Such personal experience taught him that nothing positive can come from being made to feel inferior for making a mistake, or enduring persecution by a coach.
During Mr. Hensel’s final Little League season he met Dan Horn. The player and coach made a connection that, over the past 18 years, has evolved beyond student and teacher to mentor and friend.
“Dan has played such a huge role in my life,” said Mr. Hensel. “He showed me you can push and sweat, and still laugh and learn something.”
Building on Mr. Horn’s teachings, Mr. Hensel believes it is vitally important to establish a healthy rapport and trust with his team. He makes a point of asking his players a lot of questions and encourages them to express what they think.
“Sometimes as coaches we tell players things, but we fail to explain ‘the why’ to them,” said Mr. Hensel. “If the goal is for a player to improve by understanding what is going on, coaches need to ask a lot of questions and give the players the chance to offer feedback so they can find out the correct answer for themselves.”
Mr. Hensel and team manager Catrina Scanlan were paired up this season, coaching the SLL’s Alabama Crimson Tide team.
IT’S MY FIRM BELIEF THAT KIDS ARE MUCH SMARTER THAN WE GIVE THEM CREDIT FOR. OFFER A CHILD A LITTLE BIT OF KNOWLEDGE EVERY DAY, CHALLENGE THEM TO GIVE THEIR BEST EFFORT, AND LET THEM GROW FROM IT.
– JIMMY HENSEL, JR., SOFTBALL COACH, SPOTSYLVANIA (VA.) LITTLE LEAGUE
Both Mr. Hensel and Mrs. Scanlan have 10-year-old daughters on the team, but the duo also shares a refreshing coaching philosophy.
“We strive to give the girls a different perspective,” said Mr. Hensel. “We agree that the game is about heart and passion. It’s our belief that an inspired soul is more valuable than any three talented gloves, and to reach the soul of a player, you need to be more devoted than the child.”
Each day at practice, the 11 players on the Tide roster get to see high energy and respect from their coaches. Mr. Hensel is determined to be honest with each player, and in return, asks the team to, “persevere, give its best effort, and apply the lessons learned to real life.”
“Too often players are given many pieces of the puzzle, but they are not able put the puzzle together to see the whole picture,” said Mr. Hensel. “We emphasize and explain the skills, rules, and roles, so that the players know the ‘what, why and how.’ I love seeing when a kid gets it, and does something in a game that they weren’t able to do yesterday… That’s beautiful, and truly rewarding.”
The Tide’s approach has produced plenty of fun, personal improvement, prideful smiles, and wins. Just as significant, the parents have noticed. Recently, a parent of one of the Tide players wrote a letter to the Spotsylvania Little League’s Board of Directors, praising her child’s Little League experience.
I would like to take the opportunity to express my sincerest admiration for this extremely passionate, genuine coach.
Coach Jimmy (Mr. Hensel) was our coach last season and I could not have been more pleased when I found out we were on his team again this season.
I truly appreciate his encouraging words and his profound knowledge of the game. His motivation and drive is infectious. He gets out on the field and works, runs and sweats right alongside each and every one of the girls on his team.
Jimmy devotes his free time to providing additional coaching to any girl that is willing to put in the work. He has taught my daughter so much and I honestly commend the coach that he has been to her.
We have been a part of the Spotsylvania Little League family for years and by far, he is the best coach we have had.
Mother of Madisen Newcomer
Tide third baseman
Mr. Hensel played Tee Ball through Senior League in East Orange County (Va.) Little League. The Little League ties also extended to his parents. His father, Jim, Sr., served as League President East Orange County Little League; and his mother, Linda was league secretary.
“Integrity is what Little League is all about,” said Mr. Hensel.