It’s That Time of Year

The first time I remember setting goals was back in my Junior year of High School.  I can’t remember why I set them, or what prompted me to set goals; but I do remember some great advice from my High School coach.  Set your team goals ahead of your personal goals.  If the team does well, you will likely hit your numbers.  That year, and for the following five years (one in High School and four in College), I followed that advice.  One key piece of information he left out was that it is more fun to achieve your team goals.  The emotion experienced from winning a Championship far exceeded any feeling I ever had from achieving a personal goal.  When you achieve a team goal, you celebrate with others.  When achieving a personal goal, the party of one gets quite lonely. 

It’s a New Year, so that means its time for people to set their New Years Resolutions!  Forbes estimates that roughly 45% of Americans set New Years Resolutions (I was surprised it was that low!).  But, only 8% actually achieve their Resolutions (and I was surprised it was that high!).  There are many reasons why people don’t achieve their goals; but I’d like to focus on two areas. 

First, I believe individuals simply lose focus of their goals.  This was an issue for me for many years, and not just for my New Years Resolutions.  I would lose sight of goals I set in Athletics, for Business, and in my personal life.  I’d spend time thinking about my goals and why they were important to me; but a month or so later, I stopped thinking about them.  One concept that I picked up while reading Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits is to set ‘alarms’ for yourself as reminders to stay focused on important tasks.  I began setting alarms on my phone that would repeat at designated times on designated days.  Each alarm has its own label; so, when the alarm goes off, I am reminded of a goal I set.  It keeps the goal fresh in your mind.

The second reason why I believe 92% of people fail to achieve their goals is because they simply lose passion for what they set out to achieve.  Tony Robbins once said, “People are not lazy, they simply have impotent goals – that is, they have goals that do not inspire them.”  I will respectfully disagree with Robbins in that I do think people are lazy.  Admittedly, I am quite lazy; but I do not succumb to laziness because I am passionate about what I want to achieve.  But I think Robbins nailed it when he said “they have goals that do not inspire them.”  A common goal for people is to lose weight.  Bodybuilding.com states that 73% of individuals who set fitness goals “gave up before meeting their goal.”  Getting into good physical shape should NOT be a goal we miss.  The consequences for being overweight and unhealthy are not only bad for us; but they are bad for everyone else around us.  Not meeting our fitness goals affects our family, our friends, and even our co-workers.  But, unfortunately for many, they simply aren’t passionate about achieving their fitness goals.  Giving up the food that they so much enjoy is too hard.  They may not have yet been diagnosed with a condition or disease.  They simply find too many reasons why they should abandon their goal.  Unfortunately, they haven’t developed the passion for getting into shape.  When you develop a passion for something; and constantly ‘feed’ that passion, you will be surprised what you can achieve.

Whatever the goal is that you set for yourself in 2019, keep the fire burning inside of you to achieve the goal and never lose sight of it until it has been achieved.  For you young baseball players out there, tape your goals next to your bedroom door.  Put it somewhere you can see it every day.  Tell your goals to your coach, your parents, and your friends so they can constantly remind you of what you said you wanted.  If you set a goal to hit .350 this Spring, set a reminder on your phone each week that has a label of “WHAT WILL YOU DO THIS WEEK TO HIT .350”.  This should prompt you to set times aside to hit or study video.  Or, set a label of “IMAGINE HOW YOU WILL FEEL WHEN YOU HIT .350.”  The thought of having success will surely keep that fire burning inside of you.

So, go ahead, set those goals; but take action to make sure you see them through.

It’s Your Decision

It has been said that grown adults make roughly 35,000 decisions every day.  That equates to about 1 decision every 2 seconds, assuming a seven hour sleep schedule.  Children, on the other hand, make roughly 3,000 decisions each day.  Our lives are consumed with making decisions.  What do I wear today?  What will I have for breakfast?  Should I check my email now?  Should I continue reading this article?  We make so many decisions that we likely fail to realize that we are even making decisions. This likely occurs because the decisions we are making are usually engrained in our minds as habits.  We have food around our mouth, we grab a napkin. We get a notification on our phone, we read it.  We get in the car, we put on our seat belt.  Without realizing it, we are constantly decided on something!

Youth Baseball players will soon be making an important decision; a decision that they face each and every year around this time.  And that is the decision to improve their game.  The life of a baseball instructor is quite chaotic in January and February as schedules are filled with giving private lessons and working at camps/clinics. There are many reasons why parents sign their kids up for lessons and/or camps.  But regardless the reason, the lessons and camps are only as effective as what the player does with the information they are given.  They are only as effective as the player’s decision to act upon the information given at these sessions.  The decision to improve one’s skill is ultimately up to the player.

When players are attending lessons or camps, the goal of that player should not be to see instant improvements.  They should not expect to master the technique that the instructor is having them perform.  Rather, the goal should be for the player to 1) understand what is being taught; and 2) understand what they need to do to improve.  At Angels Baseball, we strongly encourage note-taking.  The most critical time for grasping information that was just thrown upon you is in the initial moments after the lesson.  It is during this time that the player should be writing down what they learned.  Parents should be close by during the lessons so that they can help remember things that the player may have forgotten.  If you are not writing down what you learned, you will forget most of the lesson (take a look at our article from April on the Forgetting Curve).  A player’s notes should consist of what they learned and drills they can do to work on their skills.  Now, this is all assuming that the coach did their job properly, which is to explain what they are teaching and why they are teaching it; and what the player can do at home to improve their skills.  If you are unclear on these things, you need to press the coach for this information.  Simply put, if they don’t give it to you, or fail to explain their teachings, then you have the wrong coach.

Let’s just assume the player now has notes.  They now have the information they need to improve.  It is now their decision to act upon that information.  They have two decisions.  First, they can decide to use that information and work on their skills. Or second, they can decide to not take action on that information and not get better.  It’s that simple.  They either decide to give themselves a chance to get better or they decide not to get better.  Let’s be clear on something before we move on.  Simply putting in the work doesn’t mean you WILL get better.  It only means you are giving yourself a CHANCE to get better. This is a big reason why we believe people (not just kids) don’t put in the effort.  There is no guarantee of a reward that they can see and feel.

Back to decision-making. The frustrating part about being a coach, or a teacher, is seeing our kids making, what we feel, is the wrong decision.  And by now, we can predict the decisions that these kids will make.  I will likely work with over 100 kids in January and February. I can say, with confidence, that I can predict the percentage of kids that will make the decision to TRY and improve their game with the knowledge they are given in lessons or camps within the first few minutes of working with them.

Many people ask why I am so adamant about making sure kids are staying focused during practices. It’s simple.  If they are not focused.  If they are not paying attention, they won’t have the information they need to get better.  Then their decision becomes easier.  How can they decide to try and get better if they can’t remember what was taught?  It doesn’t matter how much I know or what I teach; if the kids aren’t paying attention, my lessons are useless!

If you are a player reading this article, do yourself a favor and make the right decision this winter. Be more concerned about what you know coming out of a lesson or a camp than how you performed.  Then, make another great decision and begin to act on that information, ON YOUR OWN.  If you are a parent reading this article, do your child a favor and make sure they understand the importance of paying attention versus their performance. Performance will improve if their focus is there.

We make thousands of decisions every day…let’s OWN THEM!

The Power of YET

There is a word that we try to get our youth players saying at an early age as they focus on their skill development.  And that is the word “YET”.  We live in a world that constantly strives for instant gratification or instant success.  We want to lose weight quickly.  We want to get a job promotion soon after we are hired.  We don’t want to put in time or a sustained period of effort to achieve a goal.  We want it NOW!  But, we need our youth players to understand that learning the proper skills and making them stick takes time.  It’s not something that happens overnight.  They may not be that good now; but with the proper coaching and dedicated time set to working on improvement, they can create for themselves an opportunity to get better.  They need to understand that they are not that good…YET.

There is so much power in the word ‘Yet’.  Think about these two statements:

  • “I can’t hit a curve ball well.”
  • “I can’t hit a curve ball well, yet.”

These two sentences are separated by just one three letter word; but the effects that word has on the individual saying it is so drastically different than the individual that does not say it.  The individual stating “I can’t hit a curve ball well” has a fixed belief about their current situation.  They are letting a current situation dictate who they are, which will have a lasting impact on them.  This individual is likely to approach an at-bat against a pitcher with a great curve ball with a defeatist mindset.  They are likely walking to their at-bat believing they will strike out because this pitcher throws a great curve ball.  The individual stating “I can’t hit a curve ball well, yet” has a belief that they will soon learn how to hit the curve ball well, even though they cannot do so now.  They are not letting their current situation define their skill set.  This individual may lack confidence at this time in their ability; but, they know that their next at-bat may be different.  They likely walk to their at-bat with the belief that this next at-bat could be their turning point.  Again, one word separates the sentence; but there is a huge gap in these individuals’ beliefs.

The first step for us as coaches or parents is to get our players believing in the power of this word.  We need to get kids believing that their current skill set (whether good or bad) is just that; its their CURRENT skill set.  They have the opportunity to change it.  We need kids to understand how they play today could be drastically different from how they play a year from now.  Once we have them believing in that mindset, we then need to go to work on the more difficult task.  We need them to work to improve their current situation.  The power of the word “YET” is only as good and as meaningful as the individual’s willingness to take the steps needed to turn “YET” into a reality.

Once we have players believing their current situation is simply their current situation, we must provide them with an avenue for improvement.  We need to make sure we give them the knowledge and tools they need to gain ground on their improvement.  We simply cannot encourage them; we must guide them.  Encouragement without guidance to improvement are simply words.  And words alone can’t help them.  Your guidance doesn’t have to be actual instruction.  If you cannot provide the knowledge they need to improve, find someone who can do it.  But, you must find someone who is willing to take the journey with them.  Find someone that is as committed as your player in seeing that improvement become a reality.  Once you find that someone that can provide the knowledge, the belief behind the “YET” becomes much more realistic.

Everyone can improve to some degree.  How much they improve is really up to the individual and how much they are willing to work.  But, it all starts with that simple three letter word.  It all starts with the individual knowing that they are not that good at something…YET.

Are Young Players Losing Their Drive

In our last article we discussed the impact that the narrative of “sports cost too much” can have on our kids.  We strongly believe that parents and kids from poorer families will migrate to sports that don’t have the reputation of being costly simply because of what they read or hear.  The fear we have is that these kids will never know whether they could have exceled in that sport.  In this post, we want to discuss a key element that kids will need if they do decide to pursue their dreams in a particular sport, regardless of what they read or hear.  And that is DRIVE.

As a society we are still focused on the fact that most kids quit sports when they reach the age of 13.  And the main driver of kids quitting is that they are not having fun.  So, organizations around the country are focused on making sports fun for kids.  In previous articles, we have focused on player development as a means to enhancing the ‘fun’ that kids have when playing baseball.  Our belief is that the better a kid is at the game, the more fun they will have playing.  But, you can throw as much coaching at a kid as you’d like; but if they don’t have the drive to get better, they will not improve.  And that is where we see a major problem.

Drive is defined as “an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need.”  Ask each kid on an 8U youth baseball team what they want to be when they grow up and many of them will tell you a professional baseball player.  Fast forward a few years and the number that still say professional baseball player will drop considerably.  Why?  Simple, they lost the ‘urge to attain’ the goal of playing professionally.  And when that drive is lost, the desire to work at one’s game to improve becomes more of a chore and less fun.  The result is that the child becomes more likely to quit.  The kids that do maintain that drive are likely to look for kids of similar makeup, which is why we believe you have seen a significant uptick in the number of kids playing on travel teams.  These kids want to be surrounded by other kids that have the same desire, or same goals as them.

Kids lose their Drive for any number of reasons.  They may begin to realize that they are just not that interested in the game like they once were.  Maybe they are more interested in something else that takes up their time.  Maybe they realize there is too much work into getting good enough to play professionally and they don’t want to put in the effort.  Maybe they begin to believe what they read and hear that playing professional is nearly impossible, and they decide to focus on a more ‘attainable’ goal.  And kids know they have choices.  They know they can change their “what I want to be when I grow up” whenever they’d like.  They can become doctors, engineers, teachers, etc.  They know there is always something else.  Put a plate of broccoli in front of someone that hasn’t eaten in days and I’m sure that plate will be wiped clean pretty quickly.  Put a plate of broccoli in front of a twelve-year-old and I am sure they will push it to the side.  Why?  They know they have options.  Yes, mom and dad will give them the “you need to eat your vegetables” speech; but they also know that mom and dad will put something else in front of them as mom and dad don’t want them to go hungry.  I believe kids here in the United States have lost their hunger to make it professionally because there will always be something else.  Why put in a significant amount of time doing this when I can put in less time doing that?  Why suffer through failure in learning this when I find it easier to learn that?

The number of Latin American baseball players in Major League Baseball has nearly doubled since 1990.  The number of White and African American players has decreased.  This may have to do with drive.  Kids in poor Latin American countries don’t have options.  Jose Bautista, an outfielder with the New York Mets, wrote a great piece in the Players tribune back in 2015 on his experience growing up in the Dominican Republic.  Most kids, in the Dominican, jump at the chance to enroll in one of the many baseball academies around the country, even though there is only a 3% chance they will ever reach the majors.  Why?  Because going to college and getting a good job that allows them to retire is simply not a reality for them.  They simply don’t have the options like kids in the US.  Kids in the Dominican are determined to achieve that goal of playing professionally.  They are HUNGRY!  That hunger begins at a very young age and stays with them for many years.

Kids may also lose their drive because of what society tells them is possible or isn’t possible.  Reflecting back on our last article, kids in poorer communities may lose their drive to play a particular sport because society is saying that a sport is only for rich kids.  Kids may see this once and forget about it; but they are not seeing it once.  They are seeing it over and over again.  So again, we need to put stories in front of kids that give them a reason to maintain their drive.  Kids need to hear more of the “rags to riches” stories.  And it may be hard to find a better one than that of Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie, who grew to be one of the wealthiest men of the late 19th century, once said “We all live in the richest and freest country in the world, where no man is limited except by his own mentality and attitude and his own desires.”  Carnegie may have ended his life as one of the richest men in the world; but his life sure did not begin that way.  At the age of 13, Andrew and his family left their homeland of Scotland for the United States with “barely a penny to their name” (Forbes, April 2013).  Carnegie elected to bypass school, and instead, decided to take a job in a cotton mill, working 12 hours a day making $1.20/week…yes, a whole $0.02/hour!  Over the next several decades, Carnegie maintained his extraordinary work ethic in both his job and his education, which consisted solely of reading as many books as possible.  It didn’t take long for Carnegie to seize opportunities and build businesses in the Oil Fields, Steel industry, and rail.  Over his lifetime, Carnegie amassed a fortune of over $309 billion, an amount that is over $100 billion more than what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have amassed, combined!  After selling his Steel company in 1901, Carnegie set out to distribute his wealth through a number of philanthropic ventures.  Public Libraries were a major benefactor of Carnegie’s wealth.  Over $55 million of his wealth was directed towards libraries.  Carnegie believed “that in America, anyone with access to books and the desire to learn could educate him- or herself and be successful, as he had been.” (Carnegie Corporation of New York).

There is nothing wrong with kids changing their “what I want to be when I grow up”.  But, where we do see an issue is that we believe kids are doing it too early in their lives.  They are doing it when they hit their first roadblock.  And when they do pick a new path, they change their minds again when they come to another roadblock.  They are not looking for ways around the obstacle.  They are not looking for ways to get through the roadblock.  They don’t want the challenge or the difficulties that come with pushing forward.  They are instead opting for something they believe will be easier, never realizing what they could have found if they maintained their drive towards the original goal.

Youth Athletes Need to Understand They Don’t Need a lot of Money to Improve Their Game

“Words can inspire.  And words can destroy.  Choose yours well.” – Robin Sharma

The World Cup has come and gone but I think many people, especially Americans, will continue to think about it.  Not in a sense of France capturing the crown, but because shockingly, the United States did not qualify.  Many have offered various reasons for why the US did not qualify but one reason seems to be a common point: that the talent at the youth level has declined due to the rising costs of the sport.  Forbes posted an article on July 16 titled, “What’s Killing Youth Soccer in America Is Also Hurting Most Every Other Sport.”  The article cited a New York Times piece that raised the issue of a decline in participation at the youth level, specifically targeting the poorer communities, “The exodus of players in youth leagues has drawn recriminations over clubs and leagues that have pushed and profited from a pay-for-play model that has turned off parents and kept out talent from poorer, underserved communities.”  The Forbes article also goes on to reference recent comments by Hope Solo, the goaltender for the reigning US women’s World Cup team.  Solo has been very outspoken recently in her views that her family “would never be able to afford” the costs of playing soccer today if she had started playing today.  Essentially, people are saying that the cost of the sport is driving kids away.  And quite possibly, the kids being driven away could have been part of the future of the sport.

These comments, and these views, are not only reserved for Soccer; but for other sports as well, including Baseball.  In an August 2017 Time Magazine piece titled, “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry”, they reference that “families can spend more than 10% of their income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment.”  And in an ABC News piece in September 2017, they stated that “Some parents have even turned to crowdfunding, using sites like GoFundMe, to support the sports-related costs incurred by their children.”  The youth sports market is expected to reach $41.2 billion by 2023 (WinterGreen Research – September 2017); so, these likely won’t be the last articles that reference the rising costs of youth sports.

My fear is not that the youth sports market is growing at a rapid pace.  My fear is that these articles, and the words within them, can be seen as a deterrent to many kids that may be interested in sports (or a particular sport).  Parents may be less likely to push their kids into sports when they believe it’s too expensive.  A separate Times piece was titled “The Astronomical Cost of Kids’ Sports”.  How does Webster define “Astronomical”?  They define it as “enormously or inconceivably large or great”.  Why would parents want to introduce their sons or daughters to something where the costs are “inconceivably large or great”?  They may not have any knowledge on the cost of the sport in their area; but they see this headline and they are influenced by it.

Ben Franklin once said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”  A parent or a child that is of a low-income household may see these words, and hear people talk about the high cost of a sport and be immediately influenced by what they hear.  The result may have them searching for another sport, never knowing whether they would excel at the sport they just steered away from.

We need to adjust our narrative.  Yes, it’s ok to state the fact that youth sports are expensive; but you do NOT need to go the expensive route.  And this is where many make a mistake at the youth level.  As a youth baseball player, you do not need a lot of money to work on your game.  You need a baseball, a tennis ball, an inexpensive glove, a whiffle ball bat and internet access.  You have these items and you can practice all day long.  Do you need a $200 glove?  DEFINITELY NOT.  Buy a used glove and you’ll be fine.  Why internet access?  Well, that’s where you will find the drills you will need to do to get better.  You do not need access to a state-of-the-art facility.  Find a park and begin working.  Find a brick wall and throw the tennis ball against the wall all day long to practice your throwing and fielding.  But, let me be clear.  One has to be willing to WORK to get better.  And I think that is where the current youth lose it in today’s world.  They fail at ‘working’.

Now, about teams.  Expensive ‘travel’ teams at the youth level are simply over-rated.  Paying for out of state trips, or all-day tournaments is not needed.  If you want to do that because you enjoy it, great.  Have at it.  But, the narrative is that you need to play for these travel teams if you want to get better.   That is simply not true.  You need a good coach to get better.  And I know plenty…PLENTY of bad coaches at the travel ball level.  Parents also believe that their kids need to play for travel teams if they want to advance their son’s chances at the next level.  They believe that paying a steep fee for a travel team will somehow help them down the road when it comes time to secure a college scholarship.  Being a former college baseball coach; and knowing many that are still in the field; I can say that you will NOT find a college baseball coach scouting a youth baseball game.  Tiffanie Wen (BBC October 2017) wrote an article titled “The Psychology Behind Spending Big” and stated “Research into how cost affects our perceptions shows that price matters so much to our understanding of value that we sometimes rate pricey things as superior or more effective, even if they are the same quality as the expensive option.”  We need to stop insinuating that kids should play travel baseball if they want to get better or advance their careers.  A parent that ‘buys into’ this narrative will NEVER have their son play baseball if they cannot afford it.

It’s ok to enroll your son in Little League or a local Recreation league.  Yes, you may find that there are more less talented players in Rec leagues than in Travel teams; but your son is doing something that is needed; he is playing the game.  Sometimes it is hard for more talented players to continue playing in Rec leagues because the competition may be watered down.  They may not feel as challenged.  They may become more frustrated that kids on their team don’t care as much.  But, this actually presents a great opportunity for your son.  It’s an opportunity for them to work on being a leader and a great teammate.  Your son can help these players learn the game by helping them understand the value of hard work and better focus.

Parents and their kids are generally looking to play youth sports for one of three reasons: to stay active, they love the game, or to play at a higher level.  I think most start out playing to stay active or they love the game; but as years pass, some will look to play at a higher level as they begin to see their skills develop.  I believe that it’s at the point where kids have a desire to play the game longer where parents begin looking into ‘better’ options for their kids.  And this is when parents begin to look into travel teams, thinking that travel teams are the answer.  I’ll say it again, kids do NOT need to play travel before the age of 13.  What they need to do is to learn the game.  And learning the game requires work and discipline.  It doesn’t require spending thousands of dollars to play on a team where the instruction provided by the coach is something you could get on the internet.

What I would love to see are more stories of how kids make it to the Pros where they spend time in their backyard hitting by themselves for hours.  Or how they go to the park with their mom or dad and field groundballs for hours.  We need this to be the narrative.  We need to talk more about success stories where kids didn’t pay thousands of dollars to gain success.  We all know that many travel teams are way over-priced.  Why do we need to harp on it?  We need kids and parents to hear that they can make it without spending so much money.

We have to get away from thinking we need to pay for success.  We need to go back to the narrative of success favors those that work hard and are determined to make it.  Our words have to change because I feel the narrative we are presenting is pushing kids away from the game before they even know if they will ever excel at it.

Coaches Clinics Need a Makeover

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

I had just turned 24 and was in my second year coaching at The College of William & Mary when I received a call from a gentleman running the VA State High School Baseball Coaches Convention.  He mentioned to me that they had a speaker cancel at the last minute and needed a replacement.  The Convention was in a few days, so they were in a bind.  Of course, I obliged.  I’d be speaking alongside some well known individuals in the Baseball world.  The main speakers for the event were the staff of LSU.  I saw it as a great opportunity for me to network with some great individuals.  Before we hung up, I asked, “Who will I be replacing?”  His response, “Tommy John.”  My response, “Huh?”  I remember my immediate thought, “They want me to stand in for Tommy John?  Are they nuts?”

During the convention, I would be responsible for speaking on two topics: the proper way to throw a change-up and conditioning for a pitcher.  I consulted with Jim Farr, an ex-MLB pitcher and at the time was the Head Coach at William & Mary.  He provided me with some great bullet points to address for each topic.  Of course I was nervous heading into the event; but felt I was pretty well-prepared.  My sessions came and went, and I feel like I held my own.  I’m not sure how valuable I was; but not sure I cared too much about that at the time.  I was more interested in getting through the sessions without embarrassing myself.  I saw plenty of coaches taking notes so I think some attendees got something out of it.  It was either that or they were playing hangman.

Reflecting back to that time gets me to thinking.  I’m sure glad no one asked me to work with a player throwing a change-up during the session.  I would have had no idea what to do or say to the player as he worked on his throwing mechanics.  Sure, it was easy for me to talk about a change-up; but actually working with someone would have been a different story.  Finishing my career as a catcher, I could tell you if I thought a player had a good change-up; but discussing what makes that change-up any good is a different skill all in itself.

As I think more about Coaches Clinics, I think more and more about why they are needed.  Is it really the best way for coaches to learn more about how to throw change-ups; or how to lead pitchers through a conditioning program?  I’m not so sure.  In today’s world where everything is a click away, a coach could go online and get insight from many coaches on how skills should be taught.  Do I really need to spend money to go hear someone talk about bunting technique when I can sit in the comfort of my home and watch hours of video online and likely learn more?  Probably not.  So let’s call Coaches Clinics for what they really are…A Coaches Networking Event.  For me, the true value of current Coaches Clinics is actually in the Vendor showcases; or in the networking opportunities.  Walking from table to table looking at the various innovations in uniforms and equipment provide more value than listening to coaches speak.

So, should we do away with Coaches Clinics?  Definitely not; but we need to change their structure.

In today’s world, anyone can get up and speak about anything and come across as an expert.  As mentioned earlier, knowledge is just a few clicks away.  Research a topic enough and you can convince anyone that you know what you are talking about (as I did!).  The real value is not in what we know as coaches.  The real value we provide is in how we transfer that knowledge to our players.  Anyone can stand on a stage and show a group of coaches a series of base running drills they can use.  BUT, what I want to see is how the drills are communicated to a group of players.  I want to see how the Coach manages the drill.  I want to see how the coach responds to the players when one or more don’t get it right.  I want to see how the coach responds to players that may not be paying attention while the coach is explaining the drill; or how they respond to a player (or players) that are clowning around.  These are all things that happen during the practice that could jeopardize the effectiveness of the drill.  So, how does a coach respond?  Drills are only as good as the coaches that run them.  Would I have rather seen Kevin O’Sullivan speak at this past ABCA Coaches Convention; or would I have rather seen him work with a hitter on his hitting skills.  I can’t imagine someone preferring the former.

Angels Baseball will be offering a new model of Coaches Clinics this coming Winter.  Attending coaches will watch the Angels staff run a team through a practice for 90 minutes.  Coaches will get to see how the Angels staff manages time, the drills, and most importantly, the players performing the drills.  The drills the coaches will see will be the same drills they likely see coaches speak about at any Coaches Convention across the country.  But again, that is not the point.  The purpose of the clinic is for the attending Coaches to see how the Angels Staff runs the practice so that those drills become effective.

Before signing up for another Coaches Clinic/Convention, think about why you are doing it.  If you are going to network, or meet up with a Vendor; go for it.  If you are going to hear a coach talk about their philosophy on hitting or see them demonstrate a drill; do yourself a favor and save your money and spend a few minutes on the computer.  Chances are you will find what you need.

 

 

Summer Camps – Sorting Through the Weeds

Two years ago, I wrote an article on the various options available to kids for the summer.  I felt as though I’d revisit that topic, but specifically focus on Camps.  In my previous article, which you can read here, I focused on additional options like Games, Showcases, etc.  But, I feel that I need to help parents, and players, get a better understanding of how camps work.

Before diving into this any further; if you are the parent of a young player (age 6-12), and you are only interested in registering your son for a camp to keep them busy, then stop reading now!  This article is not for you.  I think, as a parent, we are always looking to keep our kids busy during the summer.  And if a camp serves that purpose, then have at it.  This article is for helping those parents or players that are looking for Baseball camps with the purpose to improve a player’s skills.

There are several key elements that I want to address regarding camps, which I outline below.  Please keep in mind that I have run, or been a part of Baseball Camps for the past 16 years.  So, these recommendations come with a vast experience from the other side, the Coach’s side.

Who are the Coaches

This one is HUGE!  You don’t need someone that has a great background in playing the game.  You need someone that has a great background in TEACHING the game.  A great player doesn’t always translate into a great teacher.  Unfortunately, you’ll see camp brochures tout a Coach’s playing background.  Look for a camp that has a coach, or coaches that have a successful resume in coaching.  If the brochure is speaking too much about the coach’s playing background, they simply haven’t done much on the coaching side.

Kid Coaches

Many Camps will employ High School, or College age kids as coaches.  I am not opposed to this; but don’t expect any great words of wisdom from these coaches.  They are typically there to fill out a supervisory role; maintain a respectable player to coach ratio; and are a cheaper alternative than hiring an adult coach.  Hopefully these “kid coaches” do their job, which is to keep players organized and actually working on their skills.  Unfortunately, you find MANY “kid coaches” that don’t know how to keep campers in line; so they decide to play around with the kids and forget about what they were brought into do, which is to keep the kids on task.  However, you don’t have this problem if your Camp Organizer, or senior level coaches do a good job of bouncing back and forth between stations.  And if the main coach is serious about their job, then they will make sure the “kid coaches” stay in line and enforce the rules of the camp.

Camp Agenda

One of the biggest challenges for Summer Camps, if not the biggest, is to fill 6-7 hours a day for 5 days.  The agenda of the camp really says a lot about the true meaning behind the camp.  A camp filled with competitions and games are camps that aren’t truly geared towards improving the skills of the players.  They are simply looking to get through the 6-7 hours as quickly as possible.  Having a competition of who can throw a ball into a bucket provides no real value.  I can have the worst throwing form but still get lucky and hit a target.  I’ve seen this happen and I’ve seen coaches reward the player.  They are then reinforcing bad habits.  Competitions aren’t all bad; just as long as they are done in a way to promote good technique.  Playing games each day is also another “go-to” for Camp Organizers that are trying to pass the time.  And kids usually love playing games.  So, it helps both sides.  I’m not completely against games; but games should be organized in a way that teaches the players.  Start with runners on particular bases.  Stop the game when a teachable moment comes up.  There are plenty of ways to play games while incorporating proper training.

The Eye Test

I’ve seen a LOT of lessons, camps, clinics, etc over the past 16 years.  And it has become quite easy to see when coaches truly care and when they are simply there to collect registration fees.  Let’s not beat around the bush, coaches/organizations make a LOT of money off camps.  For colleges, it is the main source of income for most Assistant Coaches around the country (and for many Head Coaches as well).  I’m always looking at a Coach’s energy.  Are they jogging from station to station?  Are they moving quickly to make sure equipment is set up?  Are they spending time making small talk with the players?  Does a 9:30 camp start at 9:30, or does it start at 9:45?  The truly great coaches stand out.  You look at them, and you know they care.  They want so badly for kids to learn the technique that you see the excitement from them when a kid finally executes a skill.  You see them helping the kids pick up balls to make sure everything gets picked up so they can move on to another drill.  You see them make a point to start on time because they have a plan; and starting even 5 minutes later will throw them off.  You can simply see that they care.

There are so many options out there for parents that it is too difficult to do your research prior to enrolling in a camp.  My recommendation is to simply reach out to your friends or even your son’s current coach to find out what they recommend, and why.    Ask plenty of questions and be sure to ask the most important question, “Do the coaches at the camp have a genuine interest in improving every player?”  Don’t be surprised if the person you ask gets stumped because its a question not enough people ask.  But, think about it, why would you ever sign your kid up for a camp if the coach doesn’t have a genuine interest in improving the skills of your son?

Best of luck to you all in your search this summer; and we’re always interested in hearing about player experiences at camps, both good and bad.

The Effects of the Forgetting Curve on Your Team

A few years back, I was in the middle of “lesson season”, the period of time between New Years and Opening Day.  I was probably doing 15 hours each week of individual and group lessons, working with kids of all ages as they tried to cram in as much training as they could in hopes of making their Spring teams.  I distinctly remember preparing for a lesson with a player that I had worked with the previous year.  However, I was having a difficult time remembering what we covered and the issues we targeted.  I sat for several minutes trying to pry from my brain the content from the prior year’s lessons.  Unfortunately nothing came to mind.  The next feeling that rushed over me was one of guilt.  Instead of hitting the ground running with a solid plan in place, I would have to start all over again with him.  I would need to spend 15-20 minutes watching him off the tee, front toss, and BP to determine where we needed to focus.  And for a lesson that cost his parents $110, I was costing them $37 because of a simple mistake…I didn’t take notes.

Since that day a few years back, I have compiled several small notebooks filled with notes from lessons, camps and games.  The notes consisted of simple bullet points on what we covered; where we need to focus our time for next session; what went well; and what went wrong.  I even took notes on the player’s personality; as well as notes on the parents.  Why do I take notes?  Simple, there is a good chance that I will work with the player again, and it’s important for me to gauge where they were when I last saw them and where they are today.  It helps me determine whether they have worked on the drills I left them with; or simply ignored my lesson soon after they left.  The notes serve as a blueprint for how I want to build the next session.

I am a strong believer that all coaches should be taking notes after their lessons and during their games.  And especially those coaches that are classified as “Professional” (meaning, they are paid to coach your kids).  A coach’s job is to improve the overall skill of your child.  Their job is not to win!  Every coach should carry around a pen and paper (or small notebook).  During the game, when a teachable moment pops up, the coach should be seen writing in their notebook.  They should be jotting down a brief note on what just happened so they can discuss after the game or at the next practice.  Yes, they can address the situation at that moment; but its always best to write down some notes and address it in a practice as a player’s “game emotions” won’t be interfering with processing what you are telling them.

Taking notes during a game is difficult.  I will be the first to admit that I get caught up in the emotions of the game and forget to take pen to paper.  It takes a while to develop the discipline of separating yourself from the game to do what is truly important, which is to teach the kids.  We get hung up on trying to win the game when we really should be trying to improve our players.

Games are there for us coaches to get an understanding of what is working, and not working, for our players.  It’s a tremendous learning opportunity for us.  Are the drills we are putting kids through during practice starting to have an effect on the players in the games?  Are players struggling to understand baseball situations?  Are they struggling mentally because the flow of the game is too fast and they simply panic?  These are all questions we need to be looking to answer during the game.  And the answers to these questions should be written down; and then later used to build our practice plans for the following week.

Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, pioneered the experimental study of memory back in the late 1800s.  Ebbinghaus is credited with the discovery of the “forgetting curve”, which shows how information is lost over time.  The first 24 hours is where we lose most information according to the forgetting curve.  This is dependent though on how much other information we are trying to process.  Unfortunately for us coaches, our neurons are constantly firing during a game, trying to process a LOT of information.  A 2017 study at the University of Melbourne focused on the effects that binge-watching TV shows had on memory.  The results showed that those that binge-watched, over time, forgot more of what they saw than those that simply watched the TV show once each week.  The fact that we lose much of what we saw in the first 24 hours should be enough of a reason why we should take notes during a game.  But, as coaches, we also likely watch a lot of baseball; whether it’s from coaching or as a fan at home on the television.  And as the study last year in Melbourne has shown us; binge-watching does have a negative effect on what we retain.

Do yourself a favor…actually, do your players a favor.  Take a pen and paper with you the next time you step out the door for a practice, a lesson, a camp, or a game.  When you get out of the car for the event, leave the pen and paper on your car seat.  That will be your trigger to take notes once you get back in your car.  That’s right, no need to take notes during the session.  If you put the pen and paper in your pocket, you will forget, TRUST ME!  Start with leaving it in your car.  Once you build the habit of taking notes, it’ll be much easier for you to transition to doing it during the session as you will see the benefit it has on your players.

The Power of Reading

“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty.  It should be offered as a gift.” – Charles Scribner Jr.

I spent a lot of time at the library as a kid, especially during the summers.  It was a great resource for my mother as she tried to keep her five kids busy.  It was within walking distance from our house, and had two ballfields behind it.  So, in the event that one or more of us got bored reading, we could simply shuffle out the back and play ball.  My mom could keep all her kids within shouting distance.

I read all sorts of books; but my preference was always biographies.  And it wasn’t just on athletes.  Yes, I did read books on Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb.  But I also spent time reading biographies on Ben Franklin, Napoleon, and John Adams.  Biographies drew me in because I was fascinated about how ‘normal’ people grew into ‘extraordinary’ people.

Many times, without knowing an individual’s journey, we tend to label someone as being born with a gift; or having been ‘blessed’ with talent.  We see where they are today and not what they went through.  But, when you read their stories, you realize the amount of work they put themselves through to achieve what they achieved.  You learn about the pain and suffering they endured along their journey.  Without hearing, or reading their stories, we fail to see that they weren’t born with super-human talent.  They persevered through what causes many people to quit.

The journey that these individuals endured is something that I feel is lost on today’s youth players.  Many kids that I work with seem to be looking for a quick fix.  If they don’t see improvements after a season, they believe they don’t have the skills needed to be successful.  They are looking for instant results.  They are not willing to stay on the path to get them to their goal.  What they don’t understand is that the path is long.  And it may be winding.  And it may require that they find a new way.  They lose sight of their goal and become too focused on the difficulty of the path.  They see how easy some people make it look but don’t see that these individuals make it look easy because they were willing to endure the path.

Biographies can provide the inspiration that kids need to stay on their path, regardless of the number of obstacles they encounter.  It helps them understand that these super-humans started their journey from a point very similar to where they are starting.  And in some cases, they started from further behind.  But these individuals pushed through the obstacles; or found a new way.

As a coach, I feel obligated to find any and all angles that can help improve the player.  Some times it may be putting them through a new drill to improve a skill.  Some times it may be showing them video to help them understand their weaknesses.  And some times it may be handing them a book.  A book that can help inspire them to push through the difficult times they may be experiencing.

 

 

A Passion for the Game

“If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.”

– Mia Hamm

Youth baseball teams, specifically those in rec leagues, are comprised of kids that have varying levels of interest in the game.  You may have some kids that are truly passionate about baseball.  They can name all of the MLB teams; they know MLB players; they know the rules; and they are genuinely excited to play.  These are the kids that take no convincing when parents ask them if they want to play in the Spring.  They are eager to practice and love to play games.

But you also have kids that fall on the opposite end of the spectrum.  They may know a few MLB teams, but can’t rattle off all the teams; they rarely, if ever, watch games on TV; and may only play because their parents tell them they need to play a Spring sport.  They are indifferent about practice and won’t be upset if a game is rained out.  They mostly enjoy showing up to practices and games so they can hang out with their friends.

As parents, we love seeing our kids passionate about the game, or anything for that matter.  And we know that when our kids are passionate about the game, the chances they improve grow significantly because they are eager to learn new skills and can typically handle the failure that comes with the sport.  This is, however, assuming they are paired with a coach who shares their passion and can teach the game.  We also know that when our kids are engaged in an activity where they show little or no interest, the chances they grow in that activity are slim.

So, the question is whether we should continue signing our kids up for something that seems to be of little interest to them.  My response is yes; but we need to try and help them develop an interest, and hopefully a passion for the game.  If you’re not willing to help grow their passion, then another sport may be the option.  In the following paragraphs, I outline a few steps that parents can take that may help light a fire within their child.

First, find something that your child did well on the field and compliment them for it.  Maybe they did well fielding; or they hit the ball hard; or they were able to throw the ball across the diamond.  Or maybe it was their leadership skills that impressed you.  It may seem small to you, but a compliment goes a long way.  A child that knows an action they took impressed their parents will likely want to repeat that action to draw the same response.  But, kids are incredibly intelligent.  Don’t fake it or over-embellish it.  They’ll pick up on your ‘act’ real quick.  Make it genuine and keep it simple.  Find something they do well and make them know that you are proud of what they’re doing.  It may just trigger them to work harder next time to do something else to draw a similar response from you.

Second, show them online videos of great plays, or even bloopers.  When I was little, I loved watching ‘This Week in Baseball’.  The show no longer exists today, but there’s plenty of baseball content on TV and online.  But, kids that have little interest in the game are probably not likely going to enjoy watching an Analyst on TV breaking down a hitter’s swing.  They’re more likely going to enjoy watching highlights.  They’re likely going to enjoy watching players making diving catches; players falling into dugouts catching a pop-up; or players hitting 500 foot home runs.  They’ll definitely love watching bloopers, plays that will make them laugh.  I also recommend that you start small.  Show them a video or two at a time.  Don’t flood them with content.  The idea is to get them asking for more.  Show them a video or two here and there.  And hopefully, you’ll soon find them asking for more.

Third, take them to a game.  And it doesn’t have to be a MLB game.  Actually, some kids find that Minor League games are more enjoyable.  They are more kid-friendly with activities during the game, and you’re likely to have seats that are closer to the game action.  Also, look into College games. Outside of the major programs, they don’t offer activities for kids; but they are free (or cost very little) and you can get them up real close to the action.  Regardless of which game you attend, limit your time there to start.  Go into the trip telling your child that “listen, I have to be home for something later so we can only stay for a few innings.”  Baseball can be boring for kids that aren’t interested in the game.  If your child knows that you’ll be leaving soon, they’re less likely to ask you to leave.  And, if they do show interest while watching, leaving early will likely have them asking to come back at a later time.  When at the game, make it an event.  Buy them a hot dog, a pretzel and even cotton candy.  Laugh with them when something funny happens on the Jumbo-tron.  Don’t just make it about baseball.  Remember, the key is to keep them interested and away from asking you to leave.  And yes, gradually mix in a few facts about the game.  Tell them a story of how you used to go to games when you were a kid.  Or, tell them an interesting fact about one of the players.  Say things like “hey Mikey, watch the catcher run down to back up first when the hitter hits a roundball.”  Mix in some facts about the game without pummeling them (or boring them) with information.  If you do it right, your child will look at this as a bonding activity and will likely want to do it again.

Lastly, teach them fun baseball games.  As a kid, we used to play run-the-bases (pickle), wall ball, pepper or whiffle ball (don’t have more kids, no problem, use ghost runners and pitcher’s poison).  We were always doing something.  Kids simply don’t play enough today.  They’re like zombies.  They show up when practice starts; go through the motions of practice; then leave.  Rinse and Repeat.  Kids think that playing baseball requires them to be part of a team and have a coach.  Honestly, when I was a kid, I enjoyed more what we did after practice than what we did during practice.  My dad, who was my coach, would stay after with parents and other coaches to talk.  Meanwhile, the kids would play run-the-bases; or we’d play wall ball against a billboard that hung by the field.  And without even realizing it, we’re working on our throwing, catching, instincts, and other valuable skills we need to be good players.  Show them games that can help improve their skills that don’t require they show up to a practice with 11 other kids.  And if you get them playing these games, chances are they will improve.  And if they improve, you increase the chance that they will begin to develop a passion for the game.

As the cold weather begins to fade, baseball is starting to resurface.  It’s my favorite time of year and one I enjoy with my sons.  I’ve enjoyed this game for almost four decades and it’s got me hooked.  And there is no reason why you can’t teach your kids the same.  It may take a little bit of work; but that little bit of work may bring you a lot of enjoyment in the years to come.