While great players are busy training and preparing for this coming spring, great coaches have their noses buried in books and other resources in preparation as well. The winter is a big chunk of time for coaches to soak up information, refine their training methods from previous seasons, and formulate a plan to gain an edge on their opponents.
Below are some great resources all coaches should check out before this spring. I’ve divided them into three categories: Human Behavior, Mental Game, and Training. Coaches cannot just lean on their tactical knowledge of the sport. They must learn how to manage themselves and other people in order to maximize their effectiveness on the field. These resources will help you do just that.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Carnegie was well ahead of his time when he wrote this one over 80 years ago. Throughout the book, Carnegie shares the basics of human motivation and provides practical strategies on how to appeal to other people’s interests, gain their attention, and ultimately increase your ability to influence them. These strategies are applicable for all fields that are highly dependent on interactions with other human beings. Regardless of your tactical knowledge in sport, this is a great book to start with for any coach. Read it, reread it, and take feverish notes.
Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew
Brett’s book is incredibly unique as it breaks down the relational component of coaching like no other - and from the perspective of a strength coach. Brett unpacks the art of coaching and explains why it is so important for coaches to understand themselves before attempting to influence others. He then goes into the archetypes part of the book where he provides examples of different types of athletes and practical solutions to deal with them. Brett’s authenticity and willingness to share his story creates a compelling read that will leave you with a greater understanding of yourself, your athletes, and various patterns of behavior.
Heads Up Baseball 2.0 by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza
If you’re just starting out and need a place to start when it comes to the mental game, look no further than this one. Hanson and Ravizza deliver an easy-to-read book that is loaded with information that coaches can implement immediately with their players. Quotes from some of the game’s best coaches and players litter the pages and make for great teaching points when building early engagement for the mental game (why listen to me when Mike Trout can tell you why the mental game is so important?). The book also has interactive sections where athletes are encouraged to journal and answer questions that help build awareness for their process. This book can be utilized in the team setting and is a must read for any baseball coach or player.
The Mental ABCs of Pitching by Harvey Dorfman
Dorfman has written numerous books on the mental game and was one of the early pioneers that helped bring the mental game into big league clubhouses. I chose this one out of all of his texts for similar reasons to Heads Up Baseball - it’s a very easy read with invaluable information. The chapters in this book follow the theme of the alphabet and cover concepts in the mental game from A all the way through Z. Chapters aren’t more than 5-6 pages and can serve as great refreshers for athletes in and out of season. This one is tailored towards the player but coaches need to read it as well. It is also not just specific to pitchers - the same concepts also apply in the batter’s box. You’re making a big mistake if Dorfman isn’t on your reading list this winter.
Old School vs. New School by Eugene Bleeker
If you are a baseball coach, you need to read this one. Bleeker does a masterful job as a middle ground between conflicting views on player development. He shows how technology and other “new school” concepts can enhance the “old school” concepts that have made the game what it is today. Bleeker emphasizes that the two cannot exist in vacuums - they must complement each other. He includes concepts, tips, and drills that coaches can implement immediately with their players to help create certain movement solutions. He also brings an interesting points of view to controversial subjects in baseball such as the “recoil” of the arm in the pitching delivery. Bleeker and his team are doing some impressive work at 108 Performance. You would be very wise to pick this one up and read it this winter if you haven’t already.
Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
In search of the source for the world’s hotbeds of talent, Daniel Coyle goes all in to find how the greatest athletes in the world became so good at what they do. This search explores how both nature and nurture both play a role in the development of world class athletes. Coyle dives into deliberate practice, myelin sheathing, and other techniques that help accelerate the skill acquisition curve. These concepts build the framework for how you can introduce new skills, refine them with practice, and master them so you can transfer them to the playing field. As a coach, you must place a premium on the quality of your practice. Coyle’s work helps you make every second count.
Hitting a baseball is arguably the hardest feat to do in all of sports - and teaching it is even tougher. At our most recent baseball roundtable discussion, we tackled the subject of hitting and dissected it from several different angles. With everything we have to offer, there is still quite a lot we don’t know and having conversations with players and coaches from the area is a great way to create a collaborative learning environment. These discussions really push our organization forward and it is a great joy to be able to share our experiences with others while also learning from theirs.
Being in the private sector has given us the opportunity to see different swings, work with different kinds of players, absorb different ideas, and experiment with various tools, cues, and drills. Through this, we have ultimately learned that there is no “cookie cutter” model when teaching hitting. As a coach, it is crucial that you learn how to work with different athletes by building a large toolbox. Certain athletes are going to respond to different cues, drills, or implements you use with them. Your effectiveness as a coach is going to be minimal if you don’t have the ability to find something that works for several different athletes. Speak multiple languages with your hitters. Know how they think, what they feel, and what they need to be successful in the box.
From a player’s perspective, it is imperative you understand one language - your own. Know what helps you feel good in the box and what you need to do to create those feelings. Understand your strengths and use them to compensate for what you don’t do so well. Know your routines, mindset, and approach down to a tee. Know the bad habits we tend to fall into and how we can make adjustments from game to game. You’re going to experience different coaches, training environments, and situations throughout your playing career. If you want to be able to navigate these with consistent success, start to take ownership of your training. With all the information out today, there is no excuse for you to become a victim of your circumstances. Do your homework, know thyself.
A quote Carmen always comes back to is: “You either like it, love it, or live it.” You as a player are the only one that can answer that question for yourself. To play this game at a high level requires discipline, sacrifice, and an uncommon commitment to greatness. For you to get to the levels you want to go, you need to be honest with yourself. You need to know exactly where you are as a player, where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there. This is why it is crucial you have the right coaches around you. Don’t seek a coach that tells you how good you are - find someone who can be honest with you and tell you things you don’t want to hear. If we lie to kids because we want them to feel good, we are doing them a disservice. Be honest with your kids and be willing to have difficult conversations. It’s only going to help them in the long run.
As talked about before, one thing we always come back to when training hitters is putting a premium on your practice. An idea Carmen brought up from Bobby Valentine to reinforce this was Bobby’s 6 P’s: “Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” The success - or lack of - that you have on the field is going to reflect the quality and consistency of your training. If you aren’t having the success you think you should be in games, it’s worth revisiting how you’re preparing for competition. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharping the ax.”
With the conclusion of the World Series happening this week, we decided to tie in the Nationals impressive series victory by bringing up a recent article talking about Juan Soto’s unique approach in the box. The thing that really stuck out to us was how his father Juan Sr. trained him to become a big league caliber player. Check out this excerpt from Juan Sr. in the article below:
It's like I always told him -- when you get into the batter's box to hit, you own that space. Nobody can intimidate you. On the contrary, those guys [the pitchers] are the ones who should be afraid of you. And you have to show them why.
We love this approach because it emphasizes the importance of competing with confidence. If you don’t have a strong belief in yourself and your abilities as a hitter, you will crumble when faced with adversity. Confidence is something Soto never lacked growing up - and it’s a big reason why he’s been able to have success at the MLB level in some of the game’s biggest stages.
Another theme that drove our conversation was the idea of “mechanics cure all.” If players aren’t having success on the field, most coaches jump right to the mechanics part and try to make tricky mechanical adjustments in the middle of the competitive season. While most of these coaches are well intentioned, we don’t agree with this approach at all. We believe there is a checklist of boxes you need to go through before you try to change a player’s movement patterns. We do this because:
- It is very hard to make meaningful mechanical changes.
- Our thoughts are going to have a direct correlation to our physical movement patterns. Think about how your swing is going to look like when swinging for the fences vs. trying to hit a ground ball.
- Everyone is different. How do you know the changes you’re trying to create are optimal for that athlete?
- Research consistently shows players with an external focus of attention (over an internal focus of attention) perform better in game situations. Making mechanical changes creates a tendency to focus internally as opposed to externally.
There is a time and place to focus on movement patterns, but this cannot be your only tool as a coach. Kids need to learn and practice tools that help them compete in the batter’s box. If a player is struggling in the batter’s box, we suggest you go through this checklist before even thinking about touching their mechanics:
- How is the player seeing the ball? Visual misreads can account for a large array of physical mistakes which include timing, pitch recognition, premature weight shift, wrist roll, poor direction, and knowledge of the strike zone. If you have kids struggling with vision, make sure they’re getting two eyes on the pitcher in their stance. Kids who really close off their front shoulder will have a difficult time doing this. There are seven muscles in each eye - use them to your advantage. Sandy Koufax illustrated this idea best when he said the best hitters he ever saw all picked him up with two eyes.
- Do they have a plan/approach at the plate? How are they managing the strike zone? In the article from above, Juan Soto talked about hunting one pitch in one location. If hitters are looking for everything, they’re not ready for anything. A lot of the “funks” we get ourselves into are because we’re lost our ability to manage the strike zone. The strike zone is to baseball is what the line of scrimmage is to football - teams that win both win games. See our previous blog post for more information about how to build an approach in the box.
- How are they breathing? The belly breath does a multitude of things to help get us in a state of mind where we can relax and trust in our training. If you have an athlete who can’t control their nerves, teaching them how to breathe is a great place to start.
- What are their thought patterns when playing? The best athletes in the world think very little in competition. Considering the reactionary nature of sports, players simply don’t have time to think. Confident players play with their eyes. Players who lack confidence become victim of their negative thought patterns. If you have an athlete struggling with this, it’s worth developing some positive self-talk.
- What do they see/feel when they’re having success? Some simple awareness can provide players with a strong foundation for how to get back on track. If you can reconnect with times where the player was at their best through visuals (pictures/film), helpful cues, or drills, you can get them back on their feet much quicker without any mechanical interventions.
- Are they feeling any external pressure from coaches, parents, teammates, or scouts? The last thing you want to do is turn games into a three-hour timeout. Games should be exciting for kids - it’s their opportunity to show the hard work they’ve put in to refine their skills. Give them the freedom to compete, make mistakes, ultimately be themselves on the field. Players will never be able to let their abilities shine if they’re constantly worried about screwing up.
When looking at movement patterns in athletes, it’s important to understand principles vs. styles. Principles are key movements that all high level hitters share while styles are slight variations in swings that help different hitters be successful. For example, a principle for hitters would be the front leg firming and bracing after landing while a style would be a leg kick vs. toe tap timing mechanism. As a coach, you want to be able to teach the principles of the swing while allowing for room for individualization. You don’t want to try to teach styles as if they’re principles - you’re more likely to coach athletes out of beneficial patterns. We all have a unique fingerprint as to how we move - don’t coach kids out of these movements.
Two positions we try to put a premium on with hitters are the stance and foot plant. In a hitter’s stance, the athlete should be in a position of balance where their head is over their belly button and they have a slight bend in their knees. They should have two eyes on the pitcher and be in a position where they can get a clear visual of the ball coming in. Athletes should also have some sort of movement/rhythm in their stance whether it be their barrel or feet. We don’t want to stand still like a statue in the box - we want to match the movement the pitcher is creating.
Stances allow for quite a bit of variation between athletes. Some examples include the width of your base, standing taller/lower, starting open or closed, the position of your hands/bat, and the angle of your back foot. Give kids the freedom to experiment with different things, but always make sure the big rocks are in play when trying new moves. As for common faults, we see a lot of athletes who are very still in the box, start with their weight heavily on their backside, and close off their front shoulder quite a bit. A helpful cue we like to use to help create good head/eye positions is “try to watch your favorite TV show in centerfield.”
At foot plant, athletes should again land in balance with their head over their center of mass (belly button). They should be in a hinge position where their glutes are behind their heels and their chest is over the plate. Both heels hold the ground and knees stay between the athlete’s feet. Visual field for the athlete is in front of the ball. Hands are inside elbows with the top hand angled slightly in front of the bottom hand. The hands remain down the line of the pitch and do not get lost far behind the athlete’s torso. The barrel is angled over the athlete’s center of mass and roughly shares a vertical relationship to the ground.
The shoulders are going to be in an attacking position where the back shoulder is slightly higher than the front shoulder and the back elbow is up (some guys slot a little sooner than others). The shoulders are also going to remain closed while the hips slightly open - creating hip/shoulder separation. This gives the athlete the ability to store energy just the way you would when pulling a rubber band back. The anchor point to pull back from would be the lower half and the rubber band pulling back would be the upper half.
While these are some general rules of thumb, there are plenty of athletes that do things differently (see below). While we wouldn’t necessarily teach some of these positions, we definitely wouldn’t coach them out of kids if they had a lot of success with them. Some moves are going to be easier to get away with when the velocity isn’t as demanding, so keep an eye on how patterns fair against better competition. Adjust accordingly, but don’t jump to make changes if they don’t look aesthetically pleasing. Mechanics don’t win baseball games - competitors do.
Kyle Tucker "keeping his knob to the catcher"
As for some common flaws, we see kids over rotate their shoulders, lose balance and get stuck on their backside, dive into the plate and lose their hinge, land with their torso vertical to the ground, and lose angles with their upper half. As for teaching points, we like to start with the lower half and see how everything organizes itself from there. Teach kids how to hinge, create a positive move forward, get a bigger base, and work the hip line into the ground while keeping weight distribution in the middle of both feet. Kids will seek to create tension in bad places (ex: counter-rotating the shoulders) if they can’t create it with the lower half.
As for the upper half, give kids a general rule of thumb and let them experiment by picking up different bats and getting a feel for how the hands and barrel want to work. For example, long bats can help guys who lose angles over the plate and short bats can help kids who lose their hands behind their torso. Take note of what works and be as creative as you’d like. The less verbal cueing the better.
Below are some other thoughts about the swing that were brought up throughout our discussion:
- Get kids to work on creating a slightly uphill swing plane. A lot of kids that we see come in with really steep attack angle (hands directly to ball) that makes it very difficult to square up pitches in the air. A lot of this can be cleaned up in kids with good cueing (ex: hit it high and hard).
From The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams
- Be careful when teaching kids to “keep their weight back.” Our intention is to move forward. The load is not going to be a move where the athlete shifts their weight towards the catcher. Get kids to gain ground and create a positive move towards the pitcher. See our past blog post for more information about this.
- Where your head goes, your body will follow. If the head cannot stabilize after foot plant, the athlete’s body will continue to drift forward and out of contact. After foot plant, you want athletes to rotate around an imaginary steel rod that runs from their midsection out through the top of their head. If the torso rotates above this line, athletes will have the tendency to “pull off” the ball.
- Contact should come out in front off of the lead leg. When working on the tee, make sure it is set up in front of the athlete so they can catch the ball out in front. If you have an athlete that can’t get the ball off the ground, give them a visual in front of the plate where contact should happen.
- The back knee should create an inside move after foot plant where it works down and in as the rear hip starts to rotate forward and the front hip firms/braces. The ground is your best friend as a hitter - use it to your advantage.
- Beware of “one plane swings.” Athletes are going to have to make adjustments to a multitude of pitches in games. Don’t just let them tee off on a pitch middle-middle belt down - get them to learn how to drive a variety of pitches.
Posture varies based on the location of the pitch
If you want the itinerary or full sheet of visuals from the event, reach out and we can send those to you!
Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning, growing, and doing damage in the box.
We live in an age where there is an abundance of information that is more accessible than ever before. This is a great asset when it comes to making quality information more available to larger crowds. Great information drives better engagement, development, and results as it empowers coaches and athletes to take on more effective training methods. Instead of guessing what is good or bad, we now have a large network of people in constant pursuit of awesome information - and they are more than willing to share it.
On the flip side, having more information at the tip of your fingers makes it more likely that you’ll run into bad information. All information is not created equal. People have different opinions, viewpoints, and interpret things differently than others. Information changes with time and old training regimes can become outdated with new and improved research. Some of the best coaches out there have published things that they no longer agree with. Others aren’t as well-intentioned and publish thoughts claiming their “expertise” as the reason why you should trust them. Either way, you are always going to run into conflicting information.
As a result, it is more important than ever to have a strong filter when sifting through information. The amount of information published is not going to slow down and the quality of that information cannot be guaranteed. You’re always going to have to work through some bad stuff in order to find something that can really help you. Quite honestly, it’s a good idea to collect some bad information early on. You can’t decipher what’s good or bad if you haven’t collected anything that contradicts what you currently think - and what you think is “bad” might actually be exactly what you need to hear.
Below are some tips on how you can learn where to get great information from, who to trust, and how to determine what is useful or detrimental.
- Collect as much information as you can early on. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Understand a variety of perspectives and learn both sides of the conflicts that you find. When it comes down to it, people are going to generally agree on roughly 90 percent of what you see. The other 10 percent is where you start to see differences in training philosophies. Odds are, you can probably learn something from almost all of the people you come into contact with. Only by interacting with a wide variety of ideas do you really start to build your own opinions and formulate what you believe is true.
- Don’t just look to confirm what you already believe (confirmation bias). Michael Boyle, strength trainer in Massachusetts, made a great point of this saying, “People don’t call for advice, they call for agreement.” Most people are going to search for things that they already believe to be so. It’s uncomfortable to face the facts and objectively look at the validity of what you think is true. If you can put your biases to the side and seek information that contradicts what you believe, you’ll have a large competitive advantage over your peers. You’ll either find a new perspective you never thought of or you’ll only strengthen your argument for what you already know. One of the best ways to build a strong argument is to thoroughly understand the other side of it.
- Beware of self-proclaimed “experts.” Expertise is built through years of experience, skin in the game, and positive impacts on other people. If anyone should call you on expert, it should be the clients and colleagues you work with. If you’re taking the time and energy to validate yourself as an expert online, you probably aren’t one. You’re most likely masking an insecurity where you feel people will only respect you if you have some sort of title next to your name.
- There are no “secrets.” In fact, some of the smartest people/organizations out there share the most amount of free content. If you find someone who claims that have the secret sauce that you can access for $19.99, it probably isn’t worth your time. Don’t waste your time or money with someone who isn’t willing to share their work without a price tag on a public platform.
- There are no free lunches. Don’t be the guy who is always asking for a free-bee. You’re not being thrifty - you’re being a cheapass that no one wants to deal with. Respect other people’s time and put money into resources from people you get a lot from. The free content they put together for you comes at an expense to them. Begging them for more free stuff is another way to tell them you don’t respect their time. Don’t be afraid to spend the dollar - think of it as an investment into your future.
- Beware of jargon. Fluffing up your vocabulary to make yourself seem smarter may fool some, but it doesn’t actually make you smarter. The best in the world are able to take really complex material and break it down to the point where they could teach it to the dumbest person in the room. Using advanced terminology won’t help you do that. As Einstein says it best, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
- Context is key. As Eugene Bleeker says best in his book Old School vs. New School, “Everything is great and everything sucks.” Don’t just jump to conclusions when looking at research, experiments, or other outcome-based methodologies. Try to understand the method, who was involved, and how it was used before forming an opinion about it. A poorly executed weighted baseball program should not be rationale to demonize weighted baseballs.
- Seek transparency. Basic marketing concepts will make you believe everything is good and everyone always gets better with training. This just isn’t reality. While many will not go out of their way to publicize failures, the best in the business have no problem admitting them. If you’re thinking of training with someone who claims they’ve never made an athlete worse, don’t walk - run away. Get information from people who are willing to share their failures and shortcomings. Those who aren’t willing to do so are people you shouldn’t trust.
- There are no guarantees. There is no such thing as a weighted baseball program that guarantees 5-10 mph in x amount of weeks. Training with a certain guru will not guarantee you a Division I scholarship. If anything holds true, you are owed nothing from your training. If you find something that promises you an outcome-based goal, don’t trust it. There are steps you can take to improve your odds at doing something, but your training will never replicate an algebra equation. If anything, your progress is going to look a lot messier than you originally thought.
- Beware of those who spend the majority of their time attacking their competition. If you put together a quality product or service, your success should show for itself. You shouldn’t need to spend your time bashing others to make yourself seem like a better option. People who are secure about their value are going to refrain from going out of their way to stir up a storm. Steer clear of those who always find themselves in the middle of a Twitter controversy. Odds are, it’s the only way people will talk about them.
If you want a list of quality resources to get started, reach out and we can send something your way!
Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning, growing, and finding the best information out there.
by Victoria Yother
Victoria is a long-time trainee in the middle of her freshman year at Wilkes University. She plays on the varsity softball team and is studying communications. She graduated from Mechanicsburg High School this past spring and was named to the 2019 All-Sentinel Softball team as an Honorable Mention.
A small glimpse back in time: A high school freshmen attempting to hit. She has probably one of the weirdest swings you’ve ever seen. She is so early her body doesn’t understand how to organize itself. Her bat is at least ten years old. Her short red hair is stuffed under a camo hat.
Now imagine this: The same girl is now going into her freshman year of college. She still has a weird swing but a significantly better path to the ball. Her mental approach to the plate has done an almost complete 180-degree turn. How does this happen? How does a player make so much undoubted progress in such a short amount of time?
The answer? Taking lessons seriously and listening to coach Carmen.
If I sat down and wrote out everything I’ve learned from Carmen, it would probably end up being about as thick as War and Peace. So, I’ve broken down all the information I’ve gathered throughout the years into ten key points.
- Know how your body organizes itself.
As an athlete, you must have an exceptional understanding of how your body moves. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses will give you an advantage over other athletes who only practice what they’re good at.
- Don't be afraid to experiment
Great athletes don’t just settle for how everyone else performs the same task. They transform the sport to their strengths. Being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. How will you ever know how far you can push yourself unless you try?
- Watch video of professional athletes in your position
You can learn a ton of things just from simply watching and observing Major League Players in the same positions. Learn their pre-pitch movement. Look at their ready position. Examine how they approach a hard ground ball versus a lightly hit forehand. Recognizing these little things and experimenting with them in practice will greatly increase your athleticism. Watching videos can take a small amount of effort but it will help you tremendously.
- Be so good that they can’t ignore you
Work hard in practice so that playing the game becomes easy compared to what you do during practice. Practice with a high level of concentration and effort and people will notice. Coaches will be more likely to remember your name and fellow players will have much more respect for you.
- Be where your feet are
Don’t let outside forces such as big tests, family problems, relationships with others, or even injuries affect how you play. If you let these things come onto the field with you then you're adding extra pressure for yourself and your concentration is going to drop drastically. This idea also helps bring you back into the present if you made a mistake.
- You’re a student before you’re an athlete
Schoolwork is more important than the game. By succeeding in the classroom you’ll be able to open more doors for yourself further down the road. Being diligent in the classroom as well as on the field will make you become a much more well-rounded person.
- No one paddles alone
Even though it may look and feel as if you’re alone, you never are. Surround yourself with people who are going to push you to become not only a better ballplayer but also a better person. You don’t need a ton of friends, just the right ones.
- Practice deliberately
Practice should be harder than game time. Take ground balls that are far to your left or right. Push yourself. Take the little things, like catch play, seriously. Too many athletes today practice lazy and it in turn translates to their game.
- Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. You’re not going to understand everything your coaches say. If you knew how to do everything already then there would be no need to practice. Coach Carmen has spent a lifetime dedicated to the sport. Asking people like him about his views on certain players or situations will give you a different perspective and understanding for the game.
- Not every day is going to be a good day
We’re all humans. Some days things just aren’t going to be synced up. If you fielded every ground ball cleanly and hit every pitch out of the bark then you would already be in the MLB. Even the best athletes in the world mess up and make mistakes. What's going to separate the great athletes from the good ones is their ability to learn from the bad days and how quickly they can turn the page.
It is more important than ever today to design attainable, team-oriented goals for your players in the team setting. These goals should involve a wide array of skills, plays, and opportunities to help your team win the game. Too often players get caught up in their individual stats and create a narrow perception of what their success as a ball player looks like. Everyone wants their base hits, but few realize the importance of beating out a double play, keeping the double play in order, or picking a teammate up after an error.
To create enthusiasm for the little things that help win baseball games, we stole an idea from former MLB player/manager Bobby Valentine and have implemented “Check a Box” with our older team. Each player has a laminated sheet of 12 goals we have put together for practices and games. After every single team event, players are instructed to check off a box if they accomplished a specific goal for the day. Our goal is to check off at least 50 percent of the boxes for practices and games. The goals are as follows below:
- Learn something new
Practices are all about teaching. Players should be picking up new things every time you’re together on a ball field. Whether it helps them on the field or off the field, every bit they can pick up is important. If kids aren’t learning, they aren’t improving.
Every one of our players has a notebook that is used for journaling and notetaking at all of our practices and games. We pull them out at the beginning of practices when we share our message of the day with the kids. We constantly utilize them throughout the practice and have kids write things down that they were focusing on/helped them. We realize that we forget a lot of the things we don’t put down on paper, so using the notebook whenever we’re covering something new is a premium for us.
- Intentional Catch Play
Catch play is the most important part of practice - yet it’s the most butchered in most practice environments. Coaches must police it, but the biggest enforcers must be the players themselves. Get kids to own their catch play and do it the right way (hence, intentional).
- Focus/concentration throughout practice
In the words of former MLB manager Chuck Tanner, you can only teach instincts if you can teach players how to concentrate. A 3+ hour baseball game is played live just a few minutes. If you don’t have the ability to keep focus throughout the course of a 2 hour baseball practice, you don’t have a chance doing it for hundreds of pitches in a game. Be where your feet are.
- Did I have a goal?
In Daniel Coyle’s Talent Code, Coyle discovered a specific type of practice that all high performers share: deliberate practice. Being able to practice deliberately starts with having a goal. If kids don’t have a goal for the day, they don’t have anything to work towards. Don’t let kids get away with meaningless repetitions. Every kid needs a goal, a process to achieve that goal, and feedback to tell them how close they are to it.
- Teach someone something new
The best teams in the world are player-driven. Athletes are extensions of their coaches on the playing field. Teaching shouldn’t always come from you - empower your players to help others every chance they get. Your job as a coach is to eliminate your job. Besides, would you rather have two coaches or 22?
- Did I fail at something?
Don’t take this out of context: Failure is not what we’re trying to achieve. What we’re trying to do is push our athletes to the brink of their abilities. In these situations, failure is an indication of someone truly grappling a problem and making an effort to find a solution. This line is different for every athlete, but is a crucial element when refining skills. The environment must be hard enough to engage learning, but not hard enough to destroy enthusiasm.
- Ask a question
Asking questions is one of the greatest forms of engagement - and one of the easiest to teach. Encourage participation at all points throughout your practices and games. Praise kids when they bring up great thoughts and try to break down what you do in practice. Don’t shame kids when they ask “stupid questions.” You’re trying to build life-long learners - not kids who are scared of looking stupid in front of their peers.
- Did I have a growth mindset?
If it’s not growing, it’s dying. Putting a premium on developing a growth mindset helps kids avoid the pitfalls of a fixed mindset. Don’t allow statements such as “I can’t do this,” or “It’s not my fault,” or “I’m just not good at this.” Coaches and athletes should be in a constant state of growth. The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both usually right.
- Pick up a teammate after a mistake
We’re all going to make them - it’s about how we respond to them. We’re all in this struggle together. Don’t ostracize your teammates for not getting the job done. Let them know you appreciate their effort, you have their back, and they’re going to make the next play. A few genuine words can go a long way for someone who’s having a tough day - and it’s contagious with everyone else.
- Did I practice my routines, mental approach, or process?
If the mental game is really 90 percent of this game, we need to practice it accordingly. Our BP turns into wasted swings if we’re not actively practicing our breath, routines, or approach. Our bullpens are worthless if we’re not picking up a target, breathing, and executing with 100 conviction. Practice the way you play.
- Did I compete with confidence today?
If you were to ask athletes what they feel like when they’re at their best, there’s a really good chance you’ll hear them talk about being confident. Our belief in our abilities is going to fuel us throughout the ups and downs in our career - and is arguably the biggest barrier we face into becoming a great player. If we can’t compete with confidence in a controlled practice environment, we have no chance when it comes to an uncontrolled game setting.
- Quality at-bat
This includes a base hit, hard hit ball, walk, hit by pitch, driving in a run, working a 9+ pitch at-bat, or reaching base via error. Batting average is a trap in baseball. Jonny can hit a ball on the screws right at the CF for an out, but bloop one his next at-bat and earn himself a hustle double. If you put a premium on quality at-bats and eliminate the need to get a base hit, the knocks will come (process over outcome). Don’t track batting average - track quality at-bat percentage.
- Cause havoc on the bases
Offense outside the batter’s box is a critical element to maximize run production. Get big leads, force errant pick off throws, get pitchers to balk, take infielders out of position, create a distraction, swipe a bag, get into scoring position, and find ways to create a distraction. If the pitcher is spending their effort thinking about you on the basepaths, their ability to execute quality pitches is significantly diminished. This helps put hitters into favorable counts and can steal them a few good pitches to do damage with.
- Dirt ball read
If the ball hits the ground, we’re running. It is incredibly tough for catchers to block/pick a ball out of the dirt and make a strong, accurate throw on the bag. This puts pressure on the pitcher to execute good pitches and can take certain pitches out of the mix (two strike chase breaking balls). Great counts to get dirt ball reads are when the pitcher is ahead (0-2, 1-2) when the hitter is expecting a breaking ball/offspeed.
- Break up or beat out a double play
Don’t sulk because you rolled over a cookie in a hitter’s count - bust your ass down the line and break up the double play. Run hard into second base and force the middle infielder to create a lane around you. You never know how a few more hard steps can impact the following throw. Taking pride in breaking up a double play can keep an inning going by stealing your team an out and potentially a run. Outs are a premium - don’t give any away.
- Take extra 90 feet
The name of the game is scoring runs. Any chance we have to take 90 feet helps us do that. Baserunners should force the defense to play at an uncomfortably fast pace. Take advantage of errant throws, go first to third and score from second on base hits, steal bags when the defense isn’t paying attention, advance on passed balls, and find any chance you can to take an extra base. If you hit a fly ball/pop up, run hard through second base in case it falls. Don’t expect the defense to make any play - but expect to take advantage of every mistake.
- Make a play
Great teams play great defense. They catch, they throw, and they eliminate free-bees in the field. If your team is making three or more errors per nine innings, you don’t have a chance to be a championship ball club. If your practices don’t place a premium on defense, you’re playing from behind. The bat will come and go - the glove won’t if you practice like it.
- Move a guy into scoring position
Another extension of a quality at-bat with the goal of maximizing run production. Get your runners to third with less than two outs. Get guys to second base with two outs. Create opportunities for the bulk of your lineup to drive in runs.
- Score/drive in a run
It doesn’t matter how - just find ways to get guys across home plate.
- Pick up a teammate after a mistake
Similar to above - the game does a great job of making you feel small at times. Offer a supporting hand to those who could really use it.
- Keep the double play in order, hit a cut
The number one job of the outfield is to keep the double play in order. In other words, don’t surrender an extra 90 feet. Hit cuts on base hits to keep runners at first base and keep them out of scoring position. Don’t lose the battle of 90 feet - fight for every inch.
- Routines, mental approach, process
Same as above - just because it’s a game doesn’t mean you can throw everything you’ve practiced out the window. Slow the game down.
- Did I compete with confidence?
One of the most important things you should evaluate at the end of every single performance. Each game experience should be used as a way to build confidence in our abilities. We either win or we learn. Build yourself up by checking off boxes and finding ways to help your team win. Don’t make it about you and your stats.
Feel free to adopt a similar strategy with your teams. Make sure the goals are attainable, fuel in-game success, and build a desirable culture. You’re not going to change the world with one practice or game, but you have a chance to if you take a consistent, long-term approach to the development of your athletes.
Build them up one box at a time.
Feel free to reach out with any questions, thoughts, or similar strategies. Keep learning and growing.
This article was written by Andrew Parks.