One of the reasons I was able to stick around in this game for so long was because I had a sense of what coaches expected out of their players. A lot of my teammates surprisingly didn't have the same eye for what was and was not acceptable behavior for a student athlete.
My freshman year of junior college I spent most of the first half of the season on the bench, and it wasn't until 6 guys got suspended for the rest of the season for plagiarizing a homework assignment that I was thrust into a starting role at third base. Sometimes, doing less stupid stuff than the guy next to you will earn you opportunities.
In a game where everybody has talent, coaches will look for any detail to figure out who to put in their starting lineup. These minute details play a more significant role than you think...
1. Taking care of school work
When you're an athlete, school isn't usually the highlight of your day. You don't want to do homework, but you do it anyway because you understand it's the path that leads to baseball.
In high school and college, you must have a 2.0 gpa or higher in order to be eligible to play school sports. You have to maintain a 2.5 gpa or higher in order to be eligible to receive athletic scholarship from a division I university.
I played with a shortstop in junior college who learned this the hard way. He was a baller. Halfway through our sophomore year, he had accepted a scholarship to play at Old Dominion while receiving countless looks from professional scouts. He finished the season hitting above .380 while playing lights-out defense. His performance in the classroom, however, wasn't as impressive.
He had to pass 5 summer classes just to maintain his athletic scholarship. Do you want to guess if he did?
That's right, he failed everyone of them. He ended up attending a division II university with a subpar baseball program. I was told he left after about a week, and I never heard his name and baseball in the same sentence again.
2. Work Ethic
This is an obvious one. There is not enough practice time in the day for a coach to ensure you become the best version of yourself on the field. The coach can only teach you the information. He can't practice it for you.
I took pride in being the first one to the field and the last one to leave. It was a game to me, one that I could use to challenge myself to see how hard I could work. I wasn't good enough to catch the coach's eye with my talent alone, so I had to do something to set me apart. It worked, as I received more face time and more attention from the coach, and used that time to learn more about the game and about myself as a ball player.
I must admit, I'm picky about who I chose to spend my time coaching. Not every kid is willing to listen. As a post-graduate adult, I have responsibilities. I don't have the time to spend hours forcing kids to listen to me.
There are upwards of 27 athletes in any given collegiate baseball program. The coaching staff has to worry about every one of those young men's grades, health, and athletic performance, as well as simultaneously preparing for the upcoming year by recruiting, scheduling, and working with the school to fundraise and upgrade facilities. Needless to say coaches have a lot on their plate.
That being said, if you're the type of player who thinks they know everything, chances are you'll be dropped down to the bottom of the priority list. No coach wants to fight for your attention.
4. The Ability to be Low Maintenance
What is a "low-maintenance" player?
I'm glad you asked.
Much like a high quality product you buy from a store and trust that it will be long-lasting, a low-maintenance player is somebody that can take care of themselves. They can be independent and don't require a lot of attention from the coaching staff. As we've established, coaches have a lot of responsibilities. When players can take care of their own responsibilities without trouble, they ease the coaches' burden of having to care for more than 25 individuals.
Low-maintenance players don't ask unnecessary questions, they complete their responsibilities without complaining, and they come to the field everyday ready to play.
Be a low-maintenance player. It'll bode well for your career.
5. Willingness to Embrace your Role
Embracing your role can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow. Not everybody can be the star of the offense and swing for the fences. Too many slow power hitters and the base paths get clogged. Too many speedy contact guys and the game can't be changed in one swing.
Every good offense has balance. Your role in that offense is in large part determined by your skillset compared to others on the team. What players fail to acknowledge is that assets such as speed, bunting ability, and consistency are just as important as raw power. It's easy to focus only on the flashy skills and overlook the small parts of an offense that make it great.
There is more than one way to advance your career, and it largely depends on the strengths you already have. Players get drafted because they have a few plus tools, regardless of what they are. Find how you can best help the team win and maximize those strengths.
At the end of the day, when your team is getting destroyed in the late innings and the easiest thing in the world is to give up, what do you do?
You have two options: you can give in and just wait it out until the end of the game, or you can fight until the last out.
Nothing infuriates a coach more than to see their team give up. Having a team accept defeat is a sign that a coach hasn't done his or her job. After all, it's the coach's duty to establish a winning, competitive culture in the clubhouse, and recruiting lazy, selfish players with no drive to win can ruin it for the entire team. The last thing you want to be called is a "cancer," a person who's negative attitude infects those around him, creating a destructive environment.
Most of what coaches look for can be summarized by one cliche´: effort and attitude. Controlling what you can control is enough. Coaches understand that failure is inevitable. You will always strike out again and make another error. What they can't tolerate is a failure to leave everything out on the field. Play your heart out and every coach will want you on their team.