Why 12?

Since when did the standard for a travel team’s roster become 12? I’ve been talking to people about this for quite some time. Whenever I bring the topic up, I always lead with, “Why is it that every travel team only carries 12 guys?” I know the answer, but I just want to make sure my assumption is on point. And every person I asked came back with a response that validated my assumption, “If we carry more kids then we’ll have to deal with parents complaining about playing time.”

I’ll tackle the parents issue, but first want to list out a few reasons why carrying 12 players is detrimental to a team.

Need time to watch the game – I’m a big believer in “learning by watching.” When I moved from 2nd base to Catcher, my batting average climbed from being a career .280 hitter to .330. I firmly believe that the increase was due to the fact that I started watching and studying hitters more. I watched video and the opposing team’s batting practice. The more I watched, the more I learned about my own hitting. Young players need to learn the game. They need to sit on the bench, next to a coach, and talk about the game. And no, sitting on the bench while their team is hitting is not enough. They’ll be thinking about their next at-bat; or about a play they didn’t make the previous inning. You’ll have a hard time getting them to focus on watching and learning. Players need to take a few innings off during a game. It doesn’t have to be a whole game. You can put the players on a rotation. But, players need to study the game. They need to know how to play the game mentally. And the best way for them to do this is to get them to watch the game.

Less taxing on pitcher – It’s basic math. The more pitchers you have, the less innings one pitcher has to throw. In speaking with a few teams, apparently most kids on the team can pitch. This is great, but when do these kids get a rest. If you’re done pitching, and go to play a position, you’re not giving your arm a rest. Teams should carry enough players so that a kid that just threw 70 pitches can come out of the game, and give his arm the rest it needs. Which means, he should take 5 days off from pitching. Arm problems seem to be cropping up left and right. You don’t have to look hard to find a player that has had Tommy John surgery. These kids need to pitch less. And when you have 12 kids on a team, it’s hard to give anyone on the team a rest.

Learn how to compete for a job – Carrying 12 kids essentially is handing the majority of the kids a starting spot on the team. You’re giving the kids a free ride. And some of these kids should not be starting. But since their parents laid down a check, they now have the opportunity to call themselves starters. Buying a starting spot robs the kids of learning a very important life lesson; how to earn their position. There’s basically no competition for a job when you have a limited roster. When there’s no competition, kids don’t have to worry about losing their spot. Not hitting well? No problem, there’s no one that is backing you up. Not fielding well? No problem, there’s no one that is backing you up. Why put your kid in a position where they don’t have to work for their spot? Let’s think about this for a minute. Your kid is 13 years old and starts their travel ball career. Let’s say they play travel ball for four years. That’s four years of not having to work for their position. This WILL have negative consequences for them in subsequent years. They’ll have a hard time figuring out what it takes to earn their way because everything’s been handed to them.

Hopefully by now, you’re at least understanding the argument for a ‘fuller’ roster. Now let’s address the parent issue. I can say with confidence that you will reduce, if not eliminate, any parental conflict if you take the following steps:

1. Before your team tryouts (or when you’re picking your team) set the expectation on how you will handle playing time. The best players will get the majority of playing time, but everyone will get some amount of playing time. You cannot say how much but since everyone will sit at some point, it’s pretty safe to say that everyone will get some playing time. Make sure the parents understand your philosophy going in.

2. Pitchers that throw ‘X’ number of pitches in a game will not play the next game (unless the next game is several days away).

3. If a parent wishes to address playing time, the first question they will be asked is whether they feel their son is better than the kid playing in front of him. I recommend asking this question because it will, hopefully, force the parent(s) to do an honest assessment of their child’s abilities.

4. As a coach, your job is to make sure you are teaching the game to everyone. You will not neglect or show favoritism to any one player or group of players only because they are getting the most playing time. Your job is to improve everyone’s talents, not just a select few.

If you set the expectations up front, you greatly reduced the chances of having to deal with disgruntled parents. In the end, the parents of players not getting much playing time should have enough sense to know that their child should not be starting.

BUT, if you are doing your job as an educator, parents of children not playing much will want their children in your program, because they will not learn as much from any other coach.

Pay Attention to your Kids

Parents…PUT YOUR PHONES AWAY!

It’s a given.  You go to a youth practice, sporting event, school play, you name it; at least one parent will be head’s down in an electronic device.  They have no idea what’s going on around them, only the email they are reading; or the text they are sending; or what’s going on in Facebook or Twitter.  And here’s the worst part.  Their son or daughter sees them NOT PAYING ATTENTION!

I recently attended my son’s karate class.  My son is 6, and his class is full of kids ages 4-6.  So, you have a lot of young kids that are always looking for their parents’ reactions after they perform a kick, or a punch, or some other technique.  During this one class, I noticed this boy (seems to be 6) constantly looking towards his mother after performing a technique.  Each time he looked over, he had a huge smile on his face.  A smile that quickly disappeared because his mother was too focused on what her iPad was showing her.

What is intriguing about this young child is that he consistently shows a lack of discipline.  He usually does what he wants to do, when he wants to do it, and sometimes seems disinterested in the class.  But, he’s not a trouble-maker and never pulls other kids into his antics.  It’s hard not to be surprised by his behavior based on observing how his mother seems completely disinterested in what he is doing during class.

I am in the habit of watching parents during practices.  It always shocks me to see parents not paying attention, or leave practices altogether.  When I run my lessons and camps, I make it a habit to encourage the parents to stick around and watch.  When I explain techniques to kids, I try to do so near the parent, and loud enough so they can hear it.  The odds of the kid working at home on what I am teaching increases if the parents can understand what I am teaching.  If parents do pay attention, they can reinforce what their child is learning during the camp or lesson.  Kids will forget most of what we teach them; so having the parents around is only a plus.  If parents don’t stick around, the chances of the kids not working on what you taught them will greatly increase.

I understand that there are times when parents do need to jump on a call; or run an errand, and cannot be completely engaged with their child’s practice or game.  But, every attempt should be made to be completely focused on their child’s performance, and for several reasons.

  1. It allows the parent the opportunity to learn what their child is being taught so that they can reinforce the techniques and drills at home.
  2. The parent can share in the excitement of their child when they make a good play, score a run, or get a big hit.
  3. The parent can see how their child is acting at practice and encourage/discourage behaviors they see.  If their child is non-attentive when the coach is speaking, the parent can discuss this during the car ride home.  Or, if a child is working hard; the parent can emphasize how great it was to see them working that hard.  A child that receives recognition for doing things a certain way is likely to repeat that behavior in other areas of their life.

I know that we, as parents, want to give our children space and don’t want to hover over them.  But, there is a difference between hovering and being engaged.  No, you do not have to be yelling and screaming instructions at them.  Yes, you do need to be watching their performance.  No, you do not have to walk up to them during their practice giving them encouragement or discipline.  Yes, you should speak with them afterwards on what you saw.

If you do go to your child’s practice or game; make it a point to eliminate any distractions, unless urgent.  Having your child see you not watching them may just send them the wrong message…that you are not interested in what they are doing.

 

 

 

 

Make it a Habit

I am currently winding down my six-week Catcher’s camp, and something is bothering me. For the last five weeks, I have had the pleasure of working with two dozen young men that have a sincere interest in making themselves better at a position that demands grit, mental toughness and constant focus. I have poured onto them every ounce of knowledge that I have on Catching. And they, in return, have given me their time, their focus, and a work ethic that I believe will lead them to become better catchers. However, I am concerned. I am concerned that the effort they have put into their 60 minutes with me each week will die out. I am concerned that the work they put in during the week (working on the new techniques they have learned) will die out. I am concerned that they will not continue to make the improvements moving forward that we have seen them make over the past five weeks. Why? Because working the way they need to work…doing the drills they need to do…these things are not yet habits for them.

James Clear, a writer that I follow (and strongly recommend everyone else follow) recently wrote an article on his website titled, “The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick.” In his article, he provides a framework that makes it easier for an individual to stick to their habits. The 3 R’s that Clear outlines are:

  • Reminder: The Trigger that initiates the behavior
  • Routine: The Behavior itself; the action you take
  • Reward: The benefit you gain from doing the behavior

I strongly recommend that you read Clear’s article in full as he dives into each one of these areas in greater detail. However, I’d like to apply these three 3 R’s to the Catchers I reference above; outlining a way in which they can begin creating a habit of excellence.

Reminder: What is their trigger? In Clear’s article, he stresses that we must select a trigger that we do every day, whether it’s willingly or subconsciously. What can be the trigger for our catchers? Simple. Its their baseball practice that they go to for their teams. These players will have practices and games throughout the Spring, and for some, into the summer. These practices and games will act as their trigger to remind them that they need to spend 20-30 minutes working on their catching skills. At each practice or game, they should lay their equipment out on top of their bags each time they arrive at the field. Seeing their equipment out of their bags will be a further reminder to them that they need to get their work in.

Routine: What is the action they need to take? Many young players, when challenged on why they didn’t get their work in, usually respond by saying that they didn’t know the drills they should do; or they didn’t have anyone to work with. Well, unfortunately for these guys, they can’t use that excuse. I have given them drills that require little to no equipment; and drills they can perform by themselves, or with one other person. And if they forget. Well, they can always go to theschoolofbaseball.com to get access to a library full of the drills. There should be no excuse as to why they can’t get them done.

Before I move on to Reward, I do want to reiterate a point Clear makes in his article on Routine. START SMALL! Then work big. Start with a 10 minute workout. Ten minutes is a long time. If managed correctly, someone can get in a LOT of QUALITY reps in 10 minutes. Once you get used to 10 minutes, bump it up to 15 or 20 minutes. Pretty soon, they’ll be spending an hour at the field.

Reward: What is the benefit to them? In an age where people look for instant gratification, this one may be a challenge. This is the one ‘R’ that has me worried. A catcher may spend a week working on proper blocking technique in practice, only to see it not come to fruition in a game. Result? They stop putting in the time to practice because “What’s the point? It didn’t work in the game.” When finished with a workout, look yourself in the mirror and say “Hey, great job today. Keep it up.” After a game where things may not have gone your way, “No problem. You’ll get it. Keep working.” Parents or Coaches, keep encouraging your players. Remind them that success comes after a consistent and dedicated push towards achieving a goal. Encourage them to keep working because the ultimate goal is not too far off.

What’s the ultimate goal/reward? That they perform these techniques without thinking about them. They become a reaction. They become a HABIT!

Why We Want to Keep the Kids Playing

A parent, after watching me give a lesson, approached me when I was done and offered me one of the best compliments I have ever received. He said to me “Whether the kid you were just working with ever improves; what you teach, and how you teach, will benefit that kid long after he finishes playing baseball.”

That is exactly why I started The School of Baseball. An individual’s playing days will ultimately come to an end. But we want that “end date” to occur as late in their lives as possible. In order to extend that end date, the player needs to possess certain physical and mental skills. Our job is to provide them with resources that allow them the opportunity to obtain those skills. These “skills”, we feel, will prepare them for life better than any other education they may receive.

Amber Wanner, CEO at CandiDate, recently published a post on LinkedIn titled, “Get off your A$% :)”. In her post Amber focuses on key attributes an individual must have in today’s competitive job market if one is going to both land a job, and then succeed at it. As I read through the post, I couldn’t help but think about how many of these qualities can actually be learned, and strengthened through years of playing baseball. I’ve listed a few of the qualities Amber mentions in her post below. And for each one listed, I will make the case for how this great game of ours best prepares our youth for what lies ahead.

Networking – “Make a name for yourself…”
Young players need to be assertive and talk to coaches. Ask questions when you may be confused on skills or why you may be slumping. Seek out help when needed. High School players, when looking to play in college, be proactive and seek out schools that you may want to attend. YOU, not your parents, should be the one contacting coaches. Do NOT wait for them to contact you. Call them…email them. They may not be able to contact you back (depending on your academic year), but stay in their ear. Too many kids sit by the mailbox waiting for a letter; or they sit by the phone and wait for a call. You have to be proactive with getting your name out there.
Players that assert themselves will find great success in their professional careers. They will know that they can’t sit by and wait for a recruiter to call them. They’ll see a job opening that is attractive to them, and they will go for it, full steam ahead. They’ll be in a bar, or at the park, or at a ball game and they won’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with others. Those that just stand by and don’t have the experience of asserting themselves may just miss out on a golden opportunity.

Get off Your Ass – “You will not get anywhere in this life by sitting on your butt…”
To get to that next level, you need to put in your time. Whether it’s making the 13U team, or your high school varsity team, or receiving a college scholarship, you must work at improving your skills. Many young players dream of hitting a game-winning home run; or throwing a no-hitter. But very few actually put in the effort to see those dreams come to fruition. Without the effort, you can’t expect the results. Those that do put in the time greatly increase those odds of achieving their dreams. When results begin to happen, the cycle begins to repeat itself. Hard work yields results. Results encourages more hard work. And on and on we go. The repetition of the cycle then becomes a habit, and becomes ingrained in the young athlete.
This very same work ethic that has become a habit for them will provide them with the advantage they need later in life. When baseball ends, and they enter the professional world, they now know what it takes to get past their competition. They now know what it takes to climb the ladder.  They’ll encounter individuals that may be competing with them for a job or a client’s business, that may be smarter than them.  But, this former baseball player has developed an unmatched work ethic that will allow them to have the stamina and determination to outlast their competition.

Be Passionate – “When you exude passion about what you do, others will feel it and feed off it.”
You have to have energy. You have to want to be where you are. If not, coaches will not be inspired to coach you and your teammates will not gravitate to you. When you bring passion and energy to the field, you inspire people and they will want to follow you. No one wants to be around someone with low-energy. But, you can’t fake it because people will see through it. It has to be genuine. How do you make it genuine? One obvious way is to improve your skill set. Getting better at something will naturally make it more enjoyable. And when you enjoy doing something, you should share that enjoyment with others. As you progress through the age levels, and you demonstrate a genuine enthusiasm for the game, coaches take notice and begin to look at you more favorably.
As one’s playing career ends and it’s time to enter the professional world, don’t be so quick to jump into something that does not excite you. Find what you love doing and go for it. Each and every day that you get up to go to work, you want to be excited about where you are going. When you have a sincere passion for what you do, you increase your chances for success.  People will want to work for you and customers will want to do business with you.

Research – “Never go into a meeting or interview empty handed.”
One key attribute that players must have, and must learn at a young age, is to be a student of the game. Too many times, players will jump into a cage and hit…and hit…and hit. Or an infielder will take countless groundballs. Repetitions are great. But what’s really important is watching the game. Study hitters. Study position players. Watch film in slow motion. Players will learn more by watching than by doing. But, it’s critical that players know what to watch. We as coaches need to teach players how to break down hitters, pitchers and position players. Players that can break down swings or throwing mechanics give themselves an instant edge. Players that spend time breaking down opposing teams give their teams an edge.
Creating a habit of analyzing yourself, professional players, and your opposition will undoubtedly make an individual a strong asset for any organization when it comes time for the player to enter the professional world. When kids learn how to be analytical, they bring a talent to a team and organization that help carry them to the top.  Your patience, and ability to see “through the trees” will help your organization solve problems faster and with more accuracy.  “Paralysis by Analysis”?  That saying is for individuals that are too lazy to take the time to figure out the issue.

I can go on and on about the benefits of baseball to a young man’s adult life. And I’m sure coaches in other sports can do the same for their sport. But, simply playing the game won’t get the individual there. Simply going through the motions of a practice or a game won’t get them there. Coaches must teach the game properly. Teach leadership…demonstrate passion when you coach…show them how to analyze a swing…enforce a determined work ethic. These are the teachings that will guide them to where we ultimately want our kids to be when they grow into adulthood; which is to be a productive member of our society.  The world is getting more and more competitive.  Put your kids in a position where they have a chance to succeed.

Jason