“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.