Putting in the Time

I was 15 years old and just really starting to find myself in baseball.  I began lifting weights, doing agilities, and learning from playing with some great players.  Baseball was starting to become a lot of fun for me.

But one of the biggest factors in my progression had to do with the fact that I got to play with my older brother Mike, who was primarily a pitcher.  Mike was ultra-competitive; never backed down to anyone; and worked harder than anyone I have ever known (besides my parents).  Every day I had the luxury of learning from him.

There were countless lessons I can remember learning from Mike; but one sticks with me more than the others.  And I can recount it with such clarity that I have to believe it could arguably be the single most influential point in my life.

Once or twice a week, Mike would grab a bucket of balls, load them into his car, and drive up to the local high school.  He always told me that he was going to throw; and when I asked him if he needed me to go with him, he abruptly would say no.  One day I decided to walk to the field to see who he was throwing with.  When I arrived, I saw that Mike was by himself, throwing balls into a large padded target, hanging on the batting cage.  I watched him for a good hour (out of sight of course) and was amazed at what I saw.  Mike had about 30 balls in his bucket.  He would stand about 60 feet from the pad, and throw ball after ball.  Then, when done, would pick up the balls, and start all over, but back at about 100 feet.  Then at 150 feet…200 feet…250 feet…then 300 feet.  He then threw a final bucket from about 60 feet away, going through his windup and stretch.

I don’t quite know what impressed me most.  Was it the fact that he was working this hard when no one was watching?  Was it that he was doing this when no one told him to do it?  Was it that he was doing this on a hot summer afternoon when most kids were in their air conditioned homes or at the pool?  I guess it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is how it affected me.  I remember walking home thinking that I need to be doing these things.  I need to be working harder if I want to make it.

I did end up talking to Mike about seeing him throw, and he did allow me to come with him when possible.  Probably b/c it meant less balls for him to pick up.  I also began putting in my time.  I spent a lot of time throwing a tennis ball against a wall to practice my fielding.  I made a tee and set it up in my basement; and hit into the mattress in the bed of our pull-out sofa.  And when Mike wasn’t around, I would get my own bucket of balls and head to the high school to throw.

Fast forward to today…With every lesson I give or practice I have; I always try to give ‘homework’ to kids to help them improve on their issues.  And I always try to make it so that the homework can be done with little to no equipment, and with no help needed from others.  I try to eliminate excuses as to why the homework cannot be done.  Players need to learn to be more independent, and to work at their game when it’s just them and no one is around.  Ted Williams used to flip pebbles or acorns in the air and practice his hitting.  I think players have gotten away from doing things like this.  Maybe b/c it’s that they don’t enjoy the game.  Or because they are just lazy.  Or because they don’t like working by themselves.  Or because they just don’t know what to do.  Whatever the reason, this needs to change.  Without the discipline to work on your own (or being proactive to learn what you need to do to improve), it will be really difficult for you later in life to achieve what you want to achieve.

The decision to follow Mike that day to the field was one of the greatest decisions I ever made.  It helped shape me to be the person I am today.  Those lessons learned that day are lessons I am still practicing, and lessons I am still teaching.

Thanks Mike!

What Time Does a 1:00 Practice Start?

Starting a practice or a meeting late is disrespectful; will cost your team valuable learning time; and sets an example for all attendees that “we don’t have to be on time.”  Admittedly, I have been guilty of this; but in every instance, it bothered me to do so.  I felt guilty that I robbed people of their time.

There are a number of reasons that may cause us to not start on time; but I want to focus on a few of the more common reasons.

  1. We ourselves are late.
  2. A number of attendees or players are late and we don’t want to start without everyone present.
  3. Our meeting/practice is scheduled in a room/field that is being used; and those in front of us are running over their allotted time.
  4. We get caught up in small talk that causes us to delay.

We ourselves are late

Hopefully this reason accounts for the fewest of the four listed above.  The moment you know that you will be late, you need to reach out to your attendees and let them know that you are running late and when you will arrive.  With today’s technology, there is no reason why you cannot call, text or message someone (or everyone) as to the fact that you will be late.  Arriving late to your own practice or meeting without giving people notice is a sign of disrespect and you run the risk that attendees will be late to your next meeting.  They may develop the mindset of “he will be late so no reason for us to show on time.”

A number of attendees or players are late and we don’t want to start without everyone present.

This is unfair to those that are already present.  You are essentially telling those that are present that the individual(s) that are late are too important for us to begin on time.  This is the wrong message to send.  You’re telling everyone that it’s okay to be late because we won’t start until everyone is here.  Hopefully, those that are late gave advanced warning, either by text, phone or email.  There are many valid reasons to be late; but again, those that are late should give you notice.  You have an agenda, and you cannot afford to lose time.  If people are late, it’s their responsibility to ask what was missed.  If they arrive and the practice has yet to start, they won’t feel as though they are late.  They will only feel late if the practice has started when they arrive.

Our meeting/practice is scheduled in a room/field that is being used; and those in front of us are running over their allotted time.

This happens quite often, and you need to be prepared to deal with this issue.  You should never stand around waiting for the team/group in front of you to finish.  Find an area off to the side of the field and begin your practice, usually warming up or stretching.  Have one of your coaches kindly tell the other group that their time is up and you need the space.  But, get started with your practice plan.  It’s fairly simple to run through your warm-ups and stretching in a smaller space or space off to the side.  If you know there is a chance that getting on the field at your scheduled time may be an issue, plan your practice accordingly.  Plan drills for your first 15-20 minutes in a way that they can be executed in a space that will be accessible.

We get caught up in small talk that causes us to delay.

There’s no excuse good enough for allowing ‘chit chat’ to cause a delay in getting started.  Be aware of the time and get started.  Yes, people will arrive early and you will find yourself engaged in small talk; but be aware of the time.  Politely excuse yourself at the proper time.  The person you’re speaking with will understand…YOU’RE the coach…they should understand you want to start on time.

A lot can be done in a short amount of time.  Practices do not have to be several hours long. But, it’s quite easy to turn a 90 minute practice into a 70 minute practice if you’re not prepared and you do not start on time.  First, have a plan.  Know what you’re going to do with every minute.  Second, arrive early so you can set everything up.  Do not lose time between drills b/c you need to set up cones, screens, etc for the next drill.  Third, start on time, regardless of who is present.  If you have to start with only one player, so be it.  Hopefully those that are late will get the message.  Fourth, communicate with your team at the beginning of practice what you want to achieve today.  Don’t leave them guessing as to what’s next.  Lastly, end on time.  People have schedules and you don’t want to intrude on their time.  If you need to extend a few extra minutes, inform your players and parents, and let them know its ok if they need to leave for another commitment.

Execute your plan every day.  And it begins with a very simple concept…START ON TIME!

 

Why Are Boys Quitting Baseball? It’s About “Fun”!

The main goal for us at The School of Baseball is to see kids playing baseball for many years, hopefully into College and beyond.  Why?  Because we feel that the lessons they learn playing the game will greatly benefit them beyond their playing days.

In July 2013, ESPN published an article, “Hey, data data — swing!” (Click here to read the article).  The article went into great detail on the drop-out rates of youth sports and how our youth are dropping out of sports at a much quicker rate.  I’ve read many other articles since on the same topic; but ESPN presented some great data.  I won’t go into too much detail; but they state that the #1 reason that boys quit playing team sports is b/c they are not having fun.  So, if we want to improve upon this number, I guess we have to make it fun for the kids.

I’ve been coaching now for 16 years and I can honestly say I believe I know what fun is.  Let me first say what I believe fun is NOT.  Fun is not playing games.  I cringe when I see coaches at camps or at practices taking their kids through “wasting time” drills.  Here’s what tends to happen at camps and practice for young kids.  The coach (or coaches) lose control (usually about 5 minutes in) and decide that they are going to have the kids play a game; because that’s what kids like to do…play games.  I mostly see the same games being played…get in a line and see who can throw a ball and hit a hanging target.  Oh, and let’s make sure we go one at a time because that will waste a LOT of time.  Or, who can hit the ball off the tee and into a ball sitting on another tee.  Will kids have fun?  DEFINITELY!!  You’ll see them jumping up and down screaming and hollering.  BUT, these games will not keep the kids playing the game.  Because guess what?  I can do everything wrong mechanically and still hit a target; or still hit a ball off one tee and into a ball on another tee.  Who cares though…because the kids are having FUN!

Hopefully you were picking up on my sarcasm in most of the last paragraph.  Now let’s get serious.  You know what is fun?  Fun IS getting better at what you do.  Did you ever see a kid try something over and over, getting it wrong time and time again; then they finally get it right?  Then they do it right again and again.  The smile on their face when they finally get it is priceless!  THAT is what we should strive for as coaches.  When kids get better, they will begin to have fun.  And when kids see that we as coaches are excited about them getting better makes it even more enjoyable for them.  So we have to show energy and excitement.  When you’re good at something, chances are you will want to do it again and again.  And when they see that their coaches and parents are enjoying them getting better…well, they won’t want to stop.

In two weeks I will be working a youth camp (ages 6-9).  Anyone that knows me or has read older posts know that this is my favorite group to teach b/c you have the greatest impact on them at this age.  They are new to the game so they are impressionable.  Their skills are raw; so you can properly shape them without needing to break years of bad habits.  But, this is also the age where coaches (not all of them) feel as though “games” are needed.  Coaches feel that the kids can’t focus too long on baseball drills and will be better off if they mix in some “games”.  I cannot disagree more with this mentality.  These kids WANT to be taught the game.  They hunger for learning how to do things right.  But, of course they will want to play games if given the choice.  But, DO NOT GIVE THEM THE CHOICE!  Come into the camp (or practice) with a plan and stick with the plan.  Your goal should be that each kid is better at the end of the hour than they were at the beginning of the hour.  And, when you’re done, explain to the kids why they are better now than they were an hour ago.

It’s January and the deluge of lessons, camps and clinics has begun.  I love this time of year because it’s a sign that Spring is close.  But I love this time of year more because it’s an opportunity to help kids improve their game…which leads to them developing more passion for the game we love.

All the best!

 

Forming Your Team: Think Beyond Talent

I recently signed my 6 year-old son up for Little League.  He played this past Fall (with me as his coach of course); so registering him for the Spring season was a formality.  The real question regarding the Spring is who I will draft for the team.

This past Fall, I was blessed with having 11 of the best kids I could have asked for.  And, even better, the parents that came along with the 11 kids were incredible.  The kids were not the most talented; and in fact, I had the youngest team in the league, by far.  We started our season with two 5-year-olds and six 6-year-olds (one just turned 6).  Most kids in the league were eight years old.  Our kids could not throw the ball across the diamond; most could not catch the ball when thrown to them; none of them could catch a pop-up (granted one did catch one in a game!); and we hardly hit a ball out of the infield.

What made them so great was their attitudes.  They worked incredibly hard; cheered for each other; gave the coaches everything they had; and never quit.  Practices were a blast.  I could throw any drill at them and they attacked it with a focus and an effort that would impress most college coaches.  Not one of them acted out during a practice, which allowed me to get through every drill I had planned for practice.  By the end of the season, each one of them had improved significantly.  Why?  Because they went into each practice with a sincere focus on getting better…something that amazes me today, two months after the season ended.  What is truly exciting is that these kids will be very good…just as long as they continue to put forth the effort they showed in the Fall.

Much of the credit has to be directed to their parents.  They bought into the way I like to teach and supported their kids at all times, good or bad.  They are remarkable people and the work they put into their kids for the past 5-8 years made my job as a coach incredibly easy…and fun!  The kids were incredibly disciplined and showed a great amount of respect for their parents and coaches.  We didn’t win a game but we sure did have a lot of fun.  And again, there is not one kid on the team that cannot say they didn’t get exponentially better in the 2+ months that we played.

We’ll likely need to pick up a few players for the Spring to round out our roster.  What’s on my wish list?  As much as our kids have improved (and will continue to improve), I would like to find a few players that can catch the ball and hit the ball hard.  Having fun and seeing the kids improve is great, but I want them all to experience some wins this year.  HOWEVER, I will NOT pick a player that doesn’t FIT with the current group we have.  During tryouts, you can be sure I will be watching kids as much for what they do outside the lines than what they do between the lines.  Are they being respectful to their parents and others?  Are they working hard?  Are they listening with their ears and their eyes?  Kids will be kids and you can’t expect them to be perfect.  But, I know that having “good kids” and “good parents” make my job much easier; and make playing more fun for the kids on the team.  And if the parents and kids allow me to do what I do, they will get better.

So, for all you coaches out there; do yourself a favor during try-outs and make sure you’re grading the kids as much for what they are doing off the field than what they are doing on the field.  It’s easy to pick the most talented.  BUT, what good is having a very talented player on your team if that player is a disruption to the other players.  That player may help you win a game or two; but that player may also hinder the growth and development of other players.

Happy New Year to Everyone!

Jason