Darren Fenster Resources

 The Devil is in the Details
(3/20/2020)
 
 
   

The Devil is in the Details


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


In June 2013, I made my managerial debut, skippering our rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Prior to that point in my coaching career, managing wasn’t something that was truly on my radar; I had just completed my first year with the organization as an A-ball hitting coach, a job that I really enjoyed in an area of the game that I fully expected to progress in. When the opportunity to manage was presented to me, it was a chance to have more of a leadership role and one that offered me a great way to grow both personally and professionally with the responsibility of coaching more players, and in a bigger picture.

Hindsight 20/20, when it came to actually being prepared to do the job I had just been promoted to do, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. While I am sure there is a handbook on how to manage a baseball team, much of learning how to best navigate through a season comes from trial and error more than anything else. Like most, I did the job the only way I knew how at the time and did it to the best of my ability. At various points of the season, I mishandled everything from game strategy, to discipline, to communication, to schedule logistics, and probably a lot in between.

But there was one thing I didn’t mess up: a very detailed approach to teach the game where EVERYTHING mattered. At one point during that summer, a player lamented to a coach on our staff his frustration. “Fenster is on us about every little thing,” he said. “Why can’t he just let us play?” Looking back, that may be one of the best compliments I have ever received as a coach.

For the last two and a half years, the following tweet has been pinned to my profile on Twitter: “Hate that coach who works you too hard, always on your case? Wait until you play for a coach who doesn’t care. You’ll realize how lucky you were.”

Those 140 characters are at the core of who I am as a coach, thanks entirely to the influence that Fred Hill, the coach I played for and coached with at Rutgers, had on me; it was the foundation of who he was as a coach. I have always held my players to a higher standard than they hold themselves to because that’s exactly what Coach Hill did for me .

As a player, I learned the hard way how valuable this approach was for my own personal development. About ten games into my freshman season, we were getting crushed by UCF, in large part because of what seemed like 15 pull-side hits down the left-field line. While playing shortstop, Coach Hill put the responsibility on me to tell our third baseman when off-speed pitches were coming. I didn’t relay one all game. And got completely ripped for it after the game in front of half the team. I was literally in tears, ready to transfer.

When we got back to the hotel, he called me into his room. It was there where he said this: “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but the reason I am riding you so hard is because I think you have a chance to be a great player for us. You shouldn’t be upset when I get on you; you should get worried, when I’m not.” From that day forward, I was completely transformed in my ability to handle criticism, no matter how loud that message was communicated.

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with my own players similar to that one Coach Hill had with me back in the spring of 1997.

Thanks to the many coaches that I’ve have the privilege of playing for or coaching with, I’ve come to realize that a team will always, in some way, shape, or form, take on the personality of its coaching staff. That goes not only for the positive elements but also just as much for the negative aspects as well. Our teams have always had a good sense of being aware of the countless little things that take place over the course of a game because we make them a consistent part of what we teach. There is no doubt that many players don’t necessarily like a coaching staff that consistently gets on them about not doing some of these little things right. The devil may very well be in the details, but that devil wins a ton of games.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 The Many Opening Days of the Season
(2/21/2020)
 
   

The Many Opening Days of the Season


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


February is finally upon us which means only one thing: BASEBALL IS BACK! The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, and the thud of the glove fill our senses with excitement as our favorite Major League clubs open Spring Training , while the college programs that we follow begin their competitive seasons. Every player, coach, and fan on the diamond lives by the optimistic mantra that hope truly does spring eternal. With everything in front of us, there is no better time of year on the baseball calendar.

For the many different levels of the game, seasons vary both in length and focus. Tee-ballers and Little Leaguers are just learning the basics of the game and are hopefully having a blast in the process. For high school players, most have taken their game up the ranks and play on a more serious note with aspirations of playing in college or professionally , while competing with friends for local supremacy. In college, student-athletes are balancing academics and baseball in an environment where players are expected to work to get better in order to help their school win.

On the professional level, over the course of the long, seven-month season, we have found value in breaking the year up into different segments that allow our individual players and collective teams to take stake in where they are, how they’ve gotten there, and what the plan will be moving forward.

At the start of Spring Training, all of our players and staff meet together prior to getting going on the field to go over a lot of the basics that will rule the next month and a half of our days in camp. Things like getting treatment in the training room, working out in the weight room, keeping the clubhouse clean, and a multitude of other quick topics are discussed to get everyone on the same page. But the underlying theme when we begin to talk about the upcoming season is opportunity. Every single day is a chance to get better; a chance to make a club; a chance to be that much more prepared for the beginning of the season come April. With that constant message to our players, year in and year out, our Spring Trainings are incredibly productive and we feel like we are in a great position to start the year off on a very positive note because of how well they took advantage of their own individual opportunities.

Come the start of the regular season, everyone is chomping at the bit to be off and running. But before that official Opening Day hits, each team will gather as a group to refocus on the new job at hand. The theme now turns to the standard that we will challenge our players to live up to each and every day of the season. Players will be expected to go about their business in a professional manner regardless of the results from the night before. They will learn how to control what they can control and work like the professionals they are with the goal of getting something out of every practice repetition. When they do those things on a daily basis, the reward of the game each night will become that much more satisfying knowing that they are getting better each day, while developing into productive team players along the way.

The Major League season is 162 games. For our Minor Leaguers, a full schedule includes 140 contests. Both seasons offer a halfway point that gives us another break to introduce a new point of emphasis: to press the reset button. Time and time again, we see players sprint out of the gate like gangbusters and perform at an impressive level for the first couple months of the season. But by the end of the year, the total body of work has fallen back to an average year at best. They tried to ride the wave all the way to the finish, and unfortunately failed to do so. On the flipside, we also often see players who struggle early on, but find a way to finish the year on an upswing because they were able to move on from a tough start to the year. Mentally resetting the year gives players a clean slate, and teams a re-centered focus on what they need to do to be successful. Good or bad, the reset opens up the window for them to keep things going in the right direction, or to start anew and get that bad taste out of their mouths.

There are few things more exciting than playing meaningful games down the stretch with a chance to win a ring in the postseason. And with the start of the playoffs comes another new Opening Day of sorts where only one thing matters: winning. Still to this day, the majority of my favorite memories over the course of my 35-plus years in the game revolve around winning championships. There is something to be said about investing so much time with a group of people to go after something bigger than ourselves. And when everything comes together from everyone pulling the rope in the same direction, there is such a lasting impression that very few things in life can compare.

In the marathon that is the baseball season, it is very easy to hit a wall at various mile-markers along the way. But when players and teams create their own Opening Days throughout the year, a newfound energy and focus can take over when otherwise there might be a lull going through the grind. Regardless of how you divide up your months on the diamond, challenge yourself to approach every day like Opening Day.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 The Best Coaches in the Country
(1/17/2020)
 
   

The Best Coaches in the Country


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Soon after the ball drops on Time’s Square and the New Year is rung in, an event for baseball coaches takes place. During first week of every January, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) holds their national convention where baseball personnel descend upon rotating cities to learn more about the game so they can help make the game we all know and love even better. 

While all under the same one roof, you’ll find coaches from every single level of the game who combine to create a brotherhood of likeminded people who can’t get enough time talking baseball. It is an environment unlike any other that not only creates a feeling of excitement for the upcoming season but also a great sense of appreciation to be a part of such an incredibly special group.

For most in attendance, myself included, the highlight of every ABCA Convention is the clinic speakers. In a massive room seats are perfectly lined up and big screens hang from the ceiling, all eyes lock in on coach after coach who take the main stage to discuss various aspects of the game. From something as specific to how to turn a double play or script the perfect bullpen routine to topics as broad as developing culture within a program or learning how to coach different individual personalities on a team, there is literally something for everyone in attendance. 

The ABCA prides itself by having “some of the best coaches in our game” present to its members. I’ve been fortunate to have been a speaker twice and can honestly say that presenting in this environment to my peers in the game is one of the coolest things I’ve done over the course of my career.

But something dawned on me a few weeks ago as I sat in the crowd taking notes, blown away by this year’s lineup of speakers.  With every introduction for each coach, no matter the role and no matter the level, it seemed like each guy was “one of the best teachers of the game” or “one of the best pitching coaches in the country” or “one of the best experts on hitting.” And in the industry, on the surface, those descriptions were most deservedly stated.  

With all due respect to Vanderbilt’s Head Coach Tim Corbin, who I admire as much as any coach in the game and would have loved to have played for or coached alongside; with all due respect to JT McGuire, a Minor League coach with the Cleveland Indians, who shared more drills in 35 minutes than I ever thought even existed for outfield play; with all due respect to Kerrick Jackson who worked a miracle at Southern University; Buck Showalter who has probably forgotten more about the game than most will ever know; Rick Heller and Matt Hobbs who can use today’s technologies and analytics with hitters and pitchers as well as anybody; and with all due respect to the ABCA who spends months lining up each presenter to make every convention an impactful one; these were NOT the best coaches in our game. 

The best coaches in our game were the ones sitting in the crowd. They, collectively, represent the future of our game far better than any one of us who has the privilege of taking the main stage. Without these grass-roots coaches, there are no college All-Americans or MLB All-Stars.

The majority of the coaches in the audience at every ABCA convention don’t have anywhere close to the same resources of those presenting. They have less man-power on their coaching staffs; a smaller budget for developmental tools; fields that are literally just fields, not facilities. All of those limitations force those coaches to be more creative in order to make their players and teams better.

Most of the coaches sitting in those seats also don’t have nearly the same talent as those speaking on stage. It’s easy to coach when you have great players. It’s easy to coach when you get to pick your own roster. But most don’t have either luxury, let alone both. Their roster is what it is, and they have to figure out how to develop every single player. And year after year, that’s exactly what they do.

Contrary to popular belief, the mark of a successful coach is not found in a won-loss record. In fact, some of the very best coaches may very well be found on some of the worst teams. Years ago, a wise man once told me that the way a coach should be judged has nothing to do with a season’s outcome, but rather everything to do with the players’ excitement to simply come back to play again the following year. Let that sink in.

Today’s player is tomorrow’s coach. As coaches today, we have the incredible opportunity to give our players such an experience on the diamond so rewarding that they not only want to play year after year, but later, make the decision to join us in the coaching ranks to share their knowledge of and passion for the game with the next generation of players, as we did with them. If we do it right, those players that make up our teams will at some point down the road be sitting alongside of us at future ABCA conventions, not realizing that they are sitting amongst the those who are truly the very best coaches in our game.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Iron Sharpens Iron...Especially in the Winter
(12/20/2019)
 
   

Iron Sharpens Iron...Especially in the Winter


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The baseball off-season is always a time of year that comes with some concern for us coaches. Yes, we love the down time which allows us to recharge our batteries to once again be energized come spring. Yes, players need time away from the game so that they, too, can get both a physical and mental break that will allow their bodies and minds to make a strong return to the diamond. 

But there is an aspect of our absence off the field that brings us anxiety. It doesn’t come from the time off; it comes from the unknown. 

When professional players disperse every September for all corners of the world, they do so with clear expectations of what they are to work on. As college programs wind their semesters down, the student-athletes that make up their rosters will all go their separate ways for the holidays with an understanding of where they should be athletically when they come back. For an extended period of time of weeks and months, these players will be on their own, relatively removed from the coaches who have invested countless hours into their individual development.  

Come the start of the 2020 baseball season, all coaches will generally have two simple expectations for their players: 1) report to spring training or pre-season practice in good physical shape, and 2) return a better player than when they left. Both of these reasonable asks require players to do a lot on their own.  For many, we know that won’t be an issue at all.  For others, we have absolutely no idea what we’ll be getting upon reuniting as a group. 

The players we don’t have to worry about are the ones who understand and master the power of self. They know that the best type of discipline is self-discipline; they do what they are supposed to do and don’t do what they’re not. They realize the best type of coaching is self-coaching; they don’t need to be under constant watch by someone else to get better. They recognize the best type of motivation is self-motivation; they don’t need a tweet or a video or a quote to push themselves. Additionally, they carry two very distinct character traits on top of their natural athletic ability: 1) they take initiative and don’t have to always be told what to do, and 2) they go above and beyond the status quo and do more than what’s expected of them. In all these ways, they are just different from the rest.

It’s those exact type of players who we don’t worry about who we want to surround those we do. With the extreme limitations that high schools and colleges put on their coaches when it comes to actively coaching their players, members of the team would often organize captain’s practices, where everyone would get their work in without any supervision or direction from the staff. 

But it’s more than just gathering a group together to play catch and take some swings.

When those players who we don’t have to worry about are intentional about the time spent with the ones that concern us, a slow transformation takes place. Little by little, all of that good stuff that we want in all of our players- the initiative, the work ethic, the self-awareness, the discipline- starts to seep into the players we question. And before we know it, our players return to campus and report to spring training not just as better players, but also as better people. Because of the positive influence of a teammate.

Every summer, Peyton Manning would fly his receivers in from wherever they spent their off-seasons not just to run routes and get a feel for how the soon-to-be Hall of Fame quarterback threw the football, but as much to build a relationship that would be the backbone of a big part of their team’s success. Recently retired infielder Troy Tulowitzki would bring a number of Colorado’s prospects in to live with him at his house during the winter in Arizona not just to workout together but to be an example for what would be the future of the Rockies franchise. 

When your best players are investing in the rest of your players, a positive culture is being built at the core. Every coach has their game plan for a success season before Opening Day, but when you nail culture before strategy, your strategy has that much more of a chance to stick. 

Many view the off-season as a time of year when focus goes entirely to individual development. But it’s as much a team period as any other time of when teammates can push one another beyond their own limits, and truly show one another what means to be a part of a team. While a club’s stars will come out in the spring, its leaders are undoubtedly born in the winter.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 AAA Article Template Fenster
(1/1/2020)
 
   

All-Stars are Built, Not Born


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


As we move into the heat of July, we are surrounded by baseball in a variety of forms. Travel tournaments. Local leagues. Instructional camps. Exposure-filled showcases. And games upon games upon games. There have never been more opportunities for players of all ages to hone their skills over the course of the summer months than there are today. With that said, creating a well-rounded summer baseball curriculum of sorts can help turn someone from good to great.

But the summer should not be solely about one thing. One of the most common mistakes many players make, especially as they move into high school and put an unnecessary focus on exposure, is to only play games. Competing against other players and other teams is great, and a natural part of players learning how to play the game. But to spend the entire summer only playing games, and not putting the time in to practice, is wasting valuable development time that will undoubtedly be evident when games come along. Others make the decision to not play at all, and place their entire emphasis in June, July, and August on training. While practicing is a key element to getting better, what is the purpose of working on your game if you don’t ever actually play in any games?

Combining the many facets of player development can help reap the biggest rewards because we are attacking the game from a number of different angles. Here are some options that all players should consider at some point over the summer.

PLAY THE GAME

When a coach refers to someone simply as a “baseball player,” that’s often the highest of compliments because it usually refers to that player’s ability to simply play the game. No two players have identical skillsets; some are blessed with power, while others may have the gift of speed. It’s all about how each player is able to use their individual abilities in a game setting to be successful and help their teams win that will ultimately determine their potential value to baseball evaluators.

GO CAMPING

Back in the day, before there were year-round travel programs and training facilities, summer instructional camps were the norm for players looking to get better. Still very much alive today, whether it be at a local college, a major university, or with a reputable organization, these camps offer a variety of options to learn the game. A weeklong all-skills camp can be a one-stop shop for every aspect of the game, while also getting the opportunity to put everything together in a controlled game environment. Specialty camps have also grown in popularity in recent years, giving players skill-specific work to improve things like hitting, pitching, or defense.

PRACTICE THE FUNDAMENTALS

If camps have become an endangered species in player development, then practice has all but become extinct. With so many different options out there for players and teams to compete in games on a weekly basis throughout the summer months, very few teams or players spend much time at all practicing. Just one day during the week can pay huge dividends leading up to the weekend tournament to get sharp executing the game’s fundamentals or focusing on improving individual skills without the worry of a win or loss or who is watching.

SHOW-OFF AT SHOWCASES

With the direction the game has gone in recent years, the old credo, “if you are good, someone will find you,” rings truer than ever. So, in reality, players do not need showcases for college coaches or professional scouts to see them. That will happen naturally. Often times, when players get too caught up in being seen, they hit the showcase circuit without a fine-tuned skill set, and actually show all those watching that they CAN’T play at a particular level.

BE A FAN

The most underrated form of player development ironically comes from NOT playing at all, but by watching. Often times, the game itself is its best teacher. There are countless options all across the country for players to become observant fans. We discussed previously how much can be learned from watching. When players are in the game, they can be so locked in mentally to what exactly their job is on the field that they don’t get the chance to see the game in a broader scope. Sitting in the stands can help them view things in a different light and understand some of its little nuances by watching them instead of actually doing them.

For many players, the summer can be a significant turning point to their careers on the diamond. Many times, those strides are made when taking full advantage of the various options out there. From playing on the field, to practicing in the cage, to watching from the stands, the more ways players can experience the game, the sooner they may just build themselves into all-stars.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.