Blog

 What's the Call? How the Runs are Scored
(8/4/2022)
 
 
   

What's the Call? How the Runs are Scored


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


There are two outs and the bases are loaded. The batter hits a homerun, but misses first base on the way around the bases and is declared out on the field. This is a four-base award, so do you have to score all these runs. How many runs score? What's the Call?

For more What's the Call videos, click here.  

Umpires Media is a leading provider of video-based sports rules explanations, maker of the world’s first digital baseball rulebook and the Baseball Rules Explorer.


 Coach’s Mental Health: How to Set Healthy Boundaries as a Coach
(7/28/2022)
 
   

Coach’s Mental Health: How to Set Healthy Boundaries as a Coach


Helping coaches understand how to set—and stick to—boundaries with athletes, parents, administrators, and even with themselves.


Creating strong boundaries is an important and often overlooked piece of the coaching dynamic. A lack of boundaries can not only impact a team’s success, but also lead a coach to experience burnout and negative mental health effects. Here, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, is helping coaches understand how to set—and stick to—boundaries with athletes, parents, administrators, and even with themselves.

Why does a coach need to think about their boundaries?
As a coach, a lot is expected of you. But of course, you aren’t only a coach...you likely have many other responsibilities in your life. “Ultimately, coaches have lives, they have families, they have spouses, they have their own spiritual lives, and they often even have other full-time jobs outside of the sport,” says Chapman. “Like athletes need to be able to leave a bad practice or game on the field and move on, coaches need to be able to step away from the team as well. When coaches don't set healthy boundaries, that can create emotional dysregulation as well as strife within the team. And in many ways, it can create a negative relationship that affects performance.”

How to set boundaries with your team
A healthy coach-athlete relationship is one that is well-defined and has specific boundaries. Many student athletes unfortunately put their coaches in an almost parent-like role in their lives, but that can be problematic for many reasons. “Oftentimes, we have unrealistic expectations for coaches, because in many ways, people expect coaches to parent their kids. But coaches aren't responsible for that. Coaches are responsible for enhancing the development of the student athlete by teaching them discipline, camaraderie, teamwork, and communication, which are those skills that they won't learn necessarily in other settings. And that's why being an athlete is so incredibly rewarding: If you have the right coaches, you learn those things.”

However, that doesn’t mean responding to emails from athletes at 3 a.m. or talking to teachers about getting athletes extensions on papers they haven’t done. Make sure athletes know what they can expect from you, and keep those expectations the same for the entire team. No one athlete should get special treatment or extra allowances from you.

How to set boundaries with parents
This can be really hard to navigate, Chapman admits. Some parents want to be involved with a team for good reasons and with the best intentions, but it’s better to set a blanket boundary for parents rather than allowing some to participate and not others. “Draw a line in the sand about the boundaries that you will maintain throughout the season with parents as it relates to interacting with you as the coach on an individual level, as well as their interactions with players, parents, and officials,” says Chapman. Start each season by informing parents of your boundaries for them: Can they be at practice? What do you expect them to do on competition days? Should they email you about their athlete?

How to set boundaries with administration
“Coaches have a really delicate interplay with school administration, since the administration is responsible for their livelihood, but the coach might also be the mediator between the administration and a student, or administration and a parent,” says Chapman. To create boundaries and consistency, consider having all the coaches at your school or within your club get together to create a set of ideal boundaries between yourselves and the administration and present them as a united front.

For school coaches, this could include establishing your ability to bench or suspend any athlete for misconduct. This might help if, for example, you have to bench your star player for skipping too many practices, but he gets reinstated by the school administrator who wants the team to win the statewide championship. “Things like that undermine a coach’s authority and can lead to burnout or worse,” says Chapman.

How to set boundaries with your own goals
It might sound strange to set boundaries around yourself, but when it comes to goal-setting, you do need to set some healthy expectations around performance and outcomes. If you don’t create a boundary between how the team performs and your personal goals for coaching, you’ll often end up frustrated and/or putting too much pressure on yourself or the team.

“As a coach, your goals shouldn’t be focused on the team’s outcomes in competition,” Chapman says. “Instead, coaches need to set goals that show that their coaching is working and improving. This might include practical process goals like boosting percentages of shots made in a game, but it can also include things like communicating your emotions effectively as a coach and helping your players do the same. A process goal for that could be deciding that at least once in every single team meeting, you ask athletes, ‘What is an emotion you experienced today at practice? How did you respond?’” Make sure that your goals enhance team culture and help your athletes develop as both athletes and humans. It’s also beneficial to communicate these goals to others, especially administration, to ensure that your values are aligned.

Owning your mistakes

As a coach, ensuring that your athletes don’t view you as an infallible, always-perfect person is important for both their wellbeing and your own. It’s tempting to set up a boundary that blocks athletes from seeing any part of you that’s imperfect, but that kind of boundary isn’t healthy for anyone. “Know when you need to show your athletes that you’ve messed up, since that lets them see it’s okay to make mistakes and that it’s important to own those mistakes,” Chapman says. “It’s also important to know when to apologize, and when to let athletes know you’re struggling.”

Of course, this is context dependent: You likely don’t need to apologize to your kindergarten soccer team for a call you made that caused them to lose the game. But you could explain a mistake you made in designing a play to your high school football team.

The importance of sticking to your boundaries
Boundaries only work when they’re clearly defined and respected—most importantly, when they’re respected by you. It’s tempting to allow for exceptions, such as a late night call with your star athlete who’s going through a tough time, but that doesn’t do you or your team any favors in the long run.

Takeaway
As a coach, it may feel like you struggle to find the right boundaries, and to maintain them. But by setting clear boundaries and expectations early, you’re not only helping yourself and your mental health, you’re helping your team members, parents, and school administration.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 The Play Before the Play
(7/22/2022)
 
   

The Play Before the Play


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


“Little roller up along first… behind the bag… IT GETS THROUGH BUCKNER! HERE COMES KNIGHT AND THE METS WIN IT!”

It’s one of the most iconic plays in World Series history. Vin Scully’s call of that final play of Game Six is one of baseball’s timeless soundbites. But without what happened just three pitches prior, the 1986 Fall Classic may have ended with a different winner and all that we remember today with such reverence just might have never been.

With the count 3-2 against Mookie Wilson and the Red Sox just one strike away from their first championship since 1918, Boston’s Bob Stanley uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score from third. Because of the way that the game ended, etching itself in baseball lure forever, very few remember the wild pitch that not only tied the game, but as things would turn out, as important, allowed Ray Knight- the eventual winning run- to advance to second.

That wild pitch is the ultimate example of the play before the play; something that happens within a game that, without it, the big play might not even have a chance to take place.

As a Minor League manager across three levels for six years, one of my responsibilities was to simply teach the game to our younger players coming up through the system. While the bulk of their development was found in physical work on the field, it was important to make sure they understood where their physical talents fit within the flow of the game and how their ability to play the game and do the little things directly affected the end result.

Just about every day prior to team stretch, we would gather as a group a review the previous night’s game. Rather than lecturing the club about what I saw myself, it was important to get the players to see those things for themselves, so I would often open things up with the simple question, “alright guys… what do we got from yesterday? What was the most important play of the game?”

In the beginning, the players who spoke up would recognize the big, obvious plays that everyone at the ballpark would notice; the plays that were the next day’s headline like a walk-off homerun or a key strikeout to escape the bases loaded jam in the 9th. With a little guided line of questioning, like “what happened right before that home run,” or “why did the bases stay loaded just prior to the strikeout,” they began to understand what I was getting at. Hitters could see how that two-out, twelve-pitch walk extended the inning to allow the next hitter to even have the opportunity to step up to the plate and send everyone home. Pitchers could grasp how the pitch up and in that went for ball two set up that huge strike three low and away.

Every single pitch and every single play in a game is its own experience. But the amazing thing about each one of those plays and pitches is how they can play a significant role in what happens next. Something as simple as an outfielder throwing to the correct base on a hit can be the reason a key double play is even possible against the very next batter. A great baserunning play to advance to third with less than two outs puts a team in a better position to score what may just be the game-winning run. A pitcher who backs up an errant throw and prevents a run from scoring in what ends as a one run victory. The many little plays that don’t show up in the box score but factored into the end score were the ones that our players needed to become aware of, in order for them to execute them better.

As they slowly caught on, they started to recognize those types of plays before the plays more and more. And the more they were recognized in those pre-game meetings, the more they were celebrated in the game when they happened, even if the ‘big’ play didn’t follow. The more they learned the game through that lens, the better they played it… and that’s what player development is all about.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously 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.


 6 Healthy Snacks to Keep in Your Sport Locker
(7/14/2022)
 
   

6 Healthy Snacks to Keep in Your Sport Locker


Here are six snacks options that are shelf-stable, energy-packed, and tastebud-approved.


As an athlete, it’s recommended that you eat every three hours throughout the day, so it’s important to find snacks that travel easily, offer the right nutrients, and actually taste good, too. When it comes to nutrition, the goal is to find snacks that fill you up and keep you energized through an optimal blend of mostly carbohydrates, plus some protein and fat to help you feel satisfied for longer.

Here are six snacks options that are shelf-stable, energy-packed, and tastebud-approved.

1. Trail Mix
Trail mix is the easiest shelf-stable snack that can hit all the right notes: sweet and salty, plus a great macro and micro-nutrient nutritional profile for a busy athlete. Even better, it can be easily stored, transported, and eaten anywhere.

Here are a few of our favorite ingredients to include to maximize satiety and taste:

● Protein/Fat: Nuts and seeds are your best friends for protein and fat, and will help you feel full for longer. Walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and almonds are all great options here. The more varieties you include, the better, since each nut and seed has a slightly different micronutrient profile.
● Carbohydrate: Depending on what you prefer, add carb-based options like raisins, dried goji berries, dried cranberries, banana chips, chocolate chips, Chex mix, and pretzels. You don’t need to add M&Ms to make a trail mix that contains carbs, though there’s nothing wrong with sprinkling a few in!

2. Granola Bars (done right)
Granola bars are obviously the easiest shelf-stable and locker-friendly go-to, but be careful when choosing one. Some granola bars actually have more sugar than a candy bar! Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian, suggests checking the nutrition facts label and looking for granola bars that have less than 10 grams of ADDED sugar (listed below the total carbohydrate/sugar count on the label). This will help you avoid bars that are packed with cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup, while still containing plenty of carbohydrates like oats and dried fruit for energy. Carbohydrates are never your enemy!

3. DIY Energy Balls
If you eat your locker snacks on a daily basis, you can have slightly less shelf-stable options like DIY energy balls. Your energy balls can be made with just a few ingredients and a food processor: no baking required! In a food processor, Ziesmer suggests blending dates or raisins with your favorite nut (like cashews) along with shredded coconut, rolled oats, a bit of salt, and even a pinch of cocoa powder. Blend until they’re smooth, adding more dry ingredients (the nuts, oats, and coconut) until the consistency is thick enough to be rolled into small balls. Put them in the fridge to set, and then store in an airtight plastic bag or container in your locker for up to a week.

4. Pretzels and Shelf-Stable Hummus
If you prefer a saltier snack, a combination of hummus and pretzels is a great way to get carbohydrates, fat, and protein in a fast, easy-to-eat snack. Look for individual packs of whole grain pretzels or buy a bigger bag and divide it into single servings. The pretzels give you some quick energy thanks to their carbohydrate content, while the hummus provides a bit of fat and protein to make the snack more satisfying. Obviously, most hummus needs to be refrigerated, so make sure to look for shelf-stable single-serve containers of hummus. Once opened, don’t return the packages to your locker!

5. Shelf-Stable Chocolate Milk
For a fast hit of carbohydrates, protein, and a bit of fat, it’s hard to beat shelf-stable chocolate milk. There are a few brands that make shelf-stable packs of chocolate milk with organic dairy , or you can opt for almond milk versions if you don’t like regular dairy milk. It’s easy to keep a few of these in your locker for those days you’re running late and don’t have time to actually eat a snack.

6. Coconut Water
If you’re a fan of sports drinks, Ziesmer suggests trying the more natural coconut water, which is available in single-serve shelf-stable packs. It offers electrolytes and enough carbohydrates that make it similar in nutrition profile to a standard sports drink, but the water comes directly from a coconut. Often, you can find coconut water infused with pineapple or mango, if you’re looking for something with more carbohydrates.

Takeaways
Fueling throughout the day with healthy meals and snacks is critical for student athletes. These six snack options will travel easily, taste good, and offer natural carbohydrates from fruit and grains, as well as small amounts of protein and fat.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 How to Be Heat-Healthy This Summer
(7/13/2022)
 
   

How to Be Heat-Healthy This Summer


Kevin Gorey, MS
Senior Director, US Council for Athletes’ Health (USCAH)


We’ve all heard the term “Dog Days of Summer”, an idiom referring to the hottest days of the year. As the Dog Days loom, did you know young athletes are often the most susceptible to heat stress because they either don’t recognize the symptoms or feel pressured to continue practicing or playing? As a result, it is critical for parents and coaches to learn the signs and symptoms of heat illness to be proactive in prevention and having an action plan in the event an athlete develops heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat illnesses threaten the overall safety and well-being of your child. They range in severity from minor to life threatening, which is why it is important to know the different stages of heat illness so that interventions can be made.

Heat cramps, heat syncope (fainting), heat exhaustion and heat stroke are all heat-related illnesses that happen when the body cannot properly cool itself in the heat. The body’s temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down. Exercising or playing in a hot or humid environment can increase the risk of dehydration, which can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Although these conditions are all caused by heat and a person’s inability to efficiently dissipate it, they often times cause different combinations of symptoms:



How can you help prevent heat-related illness?

On hot and/or humid days, try to do outdoor activities when it’s coolest, like in the morning or evening hours. You can also help protect your child from the sun by making sure they wear sunscreen, even when it’s overcast. Sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool down, which can cause dehydration.

Fluid needs vary based on activity, intensity, environmental conditions, body size of the athlete and training status.

In addition to encouraging athletes to drink during activity, helping adolescent athletes develop their own hydration schedule is also useful. Scheduling fluid intake will help athletes get in the habit of drinking at regular times throughout the day. The following is an example of a basic fluid hydration schedule. Use this as a guide to help athletes understand the purpose, but have them tailor the times to their school and training schedule changes:



This list is not exhaustive and does not serve as formal education. Thorough education for coaches, athletes, support staff and medical staff around heat illness should occur annually and include:

• understanding when it is safe to conduct a workout
• how to recognize signs of heat illness and initial treatment
• the importance of on-site medical supplies specific to the weather
• venue specific emergency action plans

Organizations should be able to show proper education has occurred for these stakeholders on a yearly basis.

Remember, it’s COOL to be able to prevent and treat heat illness!


https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/parenting/parenting-articles/difference-between-heat-exhaustion-heatstroke/

https://truesport.org/hydration/heat-illness-youth-sports/

https://www.childrens.com/health-wellness/the-importance-of-hydration-for-young-athletes

https://www.nata.org/sites/default/files/healthy-hydration-for-young-athletes.pdf


Kevin Gorey is a Senior Director at the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health (USCAH). Kevin brings extensive experience from both commercial health care and sports medicine to the USCAH team. His three-decades long professional experience has produced high-level results for the organizations he has had the privilege to work with.

USCAH was founded upon the need for trusted, independent athletic health care partners with the experience and expertise to advise and consult with organizations regarding their healthcare delivery system. This is why USCAH is committed to providing independent and unbiased medical expertise to organizations and individuals dedicated to the optimal health and safety for the athletes they serve. If your team or organization would like to learn more about preventing/treating heat illnesses or emergency action plans, please reach out to [email protected] or visit www.uscah.com.




The U.S. Council for Athletes' Health (USCAH) was founded upon the need for trusted, independent athletic health care partners with the experience and expertise to advise and consult with organizations regarding their healthcare delivery system. This is why USCAH is committed to providing independent and unbiased medical expertise to organizations and individuals dedicated to the optimal health and safety for the athletes they serve. You can find out more about USCAH at www.uscah.com or by reaching out to [email protected]


 What's the Call? How Many Runs Score?
(7/7/2022)
 
   

What's the Call? How Many Runs Score?


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


The bases are loaded with the game tied at 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth. The batter hits a deep ball into left-center field. The ball bounces over the fence for a ground-rule double. What’s the final score? What's the Call?

For more What's the Call videos, click here.  

Umpires Media is a leading provider of video-based sports rules explanations, maker of the world’s first digital baseball rulebook and the Baseball Rules Explorer.


 Single off the First Base Bag
(8/1/2022)
 
   

Single off the First Base Bag


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow reviews an impressive hit when the balls rips off first base to go into right field, allowing the team to score.
 


Tom Succow is currently the assistant coach at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. In 2017, Succow retired as the Head Baseball Coach at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, after 42 years at the helm. Succow accumulated over 700 wins during his tenure, as well as a state championship in 2006 and three state runner-up honors in 1982, 2007 and 2012. Succow is a four-time USA Baseball coaching alum, including an assistant coaching position with the 2003 16U National Team, which won the gold medal in the International Baseball Federation AA World Youth Championships in Taiwan. Succow was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) as National Coach of the Year in 2007 and is a member of four Halls of Fames, being inducted into the Arizona Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003, the Brophy Hall of Fame in 2007, the National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA) Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016.



 Diving Effort
(7/4/2022)
 
   

Diving Effort


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow reviews an outfielders attempt to play defense on a barrel hit to left field.


Tom Succow is currently the assistant coach at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. In 2017, Succow retired as the Head Baseball Coach at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, after 42 years at the helm. Succow accumulated over 700 wins during his tenure, as well as a state championship in 2006 and three state runner-up honors in 1982, 2007 and 2012. Succow is a four-time USA Baseball coaching alum, including an assistant coaching position with the 2003 16U National Team, which won the gold medal in the International Baseball Federation AA World Youth Championships in Taiwan. Succow was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) as National Coach of the Year in 2007 and is a member of four Halls of Fames, being inducted into the Arizona Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003, the Brophy Hall of Fame in 2007, the National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA) Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016.


 Why Coaches Should Prioritize their Own Mental Wellness Too
(6/23/2022)
 
   

Why Coaches Should Prioritize their Own Mental Wellness Too


A coach who isn’t taking time for his or her own mental health is at a serious disadvantage. Here’s what you need to know.


As a busy coach, you likely haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about your own mental health and wellness. Sure, you’ve told your athletes to seek professional help if they need it, or maybe even spent time doing group activities with your team to promote mental wellness. But how are you doing?

TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman , PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders , believes that a coach who isn’t taking time for his or her own mental health is at a serious disadvantage. Here’s what you need to know.

You’re not invincible—and don’t have to be
“At the end of the day, it’s important for you and your athletes to understand that as a coach, you are not invincible,” says Chapman. “It’s so important to normalize having a range of emotions.”

Checking in with a professional—even before something is ‘wrong’ in your life—is a great idea for anyone. “In our sporting culture, especially for men, it can be hard to show emotion or admit that you need help,” says Chapman. If you know you should talk to someone but are struggling to feel okay with seeking help, he suggests you think about it in a new way: “I reframe treatment as coaching, or mental conditioning, or mental toughness training. That tends to feel better for many coaches."

Chapman adds, “Coaches generally understand that their athletes need to have a growth mindset  and believe that they’re capable of changing and growing. But as adults, we tend to fall into the fixed mindset even if we don’t realize it. And because of that, we actually convince ourselves that we can’t change or be flexible, or that we shouldn’t ’need to’ grow.”

Your mental health impacts your work
"In my experience with coaches, I’ve found that there's even more of a stigma with coaches seeking mental health treatment compared to athletes,” says Chapman. "I've also seen how incredibly impactful this is, because depending on the sport, a coach’s mental health might be critical to overall success, wellness, and safety on the team.” For instance, if you’re going through a tough time, you might struggle to stay on top of tactics in a fast-paced basketball or football game, or potentially even miss warning signs of injury for your athletes.

“Your functioning is impaired when your mental health is not in order,” Chapman explains. “And if your judgment is impaired, then you need to do something about it. You need to enhance your mental health and wellness. You can't be good at your craft in any capacity if your mental health is not taken care of. You can't competently do your job.”

Athletes emulate you—for better or worse
"As a coach goes, so does the team,” says Chapman. Regardless of how many mental health and wellness activities  you do with your athletes, if they sense that you’re struggling or you’re not taking your own advice, they won’t take it either. Athletes will emulate you , rather than doing what you suggest. There’s a reason for the cliche of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ but unfortunately, that cliche doesn’t work.

“Your athletes are learning more from your example, not from what you're saying,” he adds. “No matter how many mental health exercises you lead them through, your athletes are going to follow that example. Ultimately, some coaches have this unrealistic expectation for themselves that they can't show emotion, which trickles down to the team and what we teach our athletes."

Transparency is powerful
“If you can tell your athletes that you are not okay, and that you’re struggling with something, that's going to enhance your rapport with your players ,” says Chapman. You don’t need to overshare and dig into the details, but telling athletes that something is going on will make you more relatable. “Your athletes are going to relate to you better, because everyone goes through something at some point,” he adds. "And you’ll be surprised, too: Athletes are going to rally around you. They’ll appreciate your honesty and find you more relatable as a human, which will make you more effective as a coach and a leader.”

TAKEAWAY: As a coach, you may not think about your own mental health as often as you think about your athlete’s emotional well-being, but you can’t be an effective coach when you’re struggling internally. Protecting your own mental health will make you a better coach and stronger person.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Less is More: The Feedback Guidance Hypothesis
(6/29/2022)
 
   

Less is More: The Feedback Guidance Hypothesis


Mental Skills
By Andy Bass


Scenario: A coach is in the cage with a player and throwing them batting practice from behind an L screen.

Swing 1: Coach- “Your hands were too low at launch position.”
Swing 2: Coach- “Ok better, but you didn’t stay on your backside long enough.”
Swing 3: Coach- “Make sure you keep your head steady as long as possible.”
Swing 4: Coach- “Try and keep both hands on the bat when you follow through.”
Swing 5: Coach- “Choke up just a bit more.”
Swing 6: Coach- “Narrow your stance to straighten up.”

The intention of this coach, like nearly all coaches, is to help the player. While this example may be somewhat extreme—we have all experienced something akin to this situation either as a player or as a coach… over coaching and using verbal instructions too often. And while we can certainly see how, on the surface, this form of coaching can be unattractive to athletes (the athlete wants time to figure it out on their own, the various forms of verbal feedback are taking their focus too many directions, and rarely do athletes want to be lectured at/spoken too constantly throughout practice). However, the more pressing concern is that when we provide too much feedback, we can hinder learning and performance.

The problem with providing too much feedback is because the athlete is not tasked with ‘solving’ the issue on their own. Feedback has ‘guiding’ properties. This makes sense—we provide feedback because we want to guide athletes toward a movement solution. However, in motor learning there is a concept that builds off the guiding properties of feedback that is, appropriately, called "The Guidance Hypothesis."

The Guidance Hypothesis suggests that, because feedback from a coach serves to direct athletes to a solution, athletes can become dependent on the feedback to make corrections on their own (Winstein & Lewthwaite, 1994).  For example, if a player is constantly corrected by a coach in practice, and not allowed to struggle and work to find the solution on their own, they will become dependent of the feedback to make corrections. And while the athlete is practicing, this is not a problem—the coach is there to jump in and help. But… the coach is not in the batter’s box in the game. The coach is not on the mound. The coach is not in the infield or outfield. And now the athlete does not possess the skill to be able to adjust in the moment, make decisions—and their performance can greatly suffer because of it.

One way to think of how an abundance of feedback can be detrimental to the athlete in game is to liken it to the ‘bumper lanes’ we used when we were younger and learning to bowl. When the bumper lanes are up, it is impossible to throw a gutter ball. Verbal feedback from a coach can be like those bumper lanes. Constant correction and information from a coach acts like a crutch for the athlete as they never are forced to fail/explore movement on their own. Now what would happen if the bumper lanes were suddenly taken away? How well would that bowler do if they had always practiced with the lanes up? Constant feedback from a coach in practice is like having the bumper lanes up. And in the game the bumper lanes are taken away because the coach cannot instruct in the moment—and the athlete will suffer because of that.

What can we do about this? For one… the first step to solving any problem is knowing that there is one. We can bring a clicker to the field or facility with us, and every time we provide feedback (e.g. good job, stay back, keep it up, get lower, etc.) we can click it. And then at the end of the day we should notice how often we are interjecting ourselves, and the next day work to limit how much we speak. There are also methods of providing feedback we can work to help in mitigating how often we speak:

1) Summary feedback- Only provide feedback after the drill is over, and provide a general form of feedback rather than specific to each rep… a summary

2) Bandwidth feedback- Only provide feedback if the athlete falls out of a certain bandwidth. If we are turning double plays we only provide feedback if the infielders turn the double play slower than five seconds. If we are working with a pitcher only providing feedback if their velocity dips below a certain speed.

3) Self-controlled feedback- Only provide feedback when the athlete requests it. Allow them to self-control when they want instruction from us as the coach.

It is not wrong to provide feedback. Coaches have knowledge to impart to athletes, and there are certainly times and places where verbal feedback is necessary. However, we should work to limit how much we are talking during practice. We should strive for the drill itself to provide the information to the athlete… and not necessarily our words. One hypothetical to ask ourselves as we are designing practice should be “How could I teach this skill if the player and I did not speak the same language?”



Andy Bass is currently a Mental Performance Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bass played college baseball at Davidson College and was drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He received his PhD in Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior from the University of Tennessee.


 Baseball: A Game of Decisions
(6/17/2022)
 
   

Baseball: A Game of Decisions


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a podcast hosted by Luke Gromer, a youth basketball coach from Arkansas. In it, he was discussing how he teaches his team of 11-year-olds the importance of taking good shots in the game. Using a scale of three (for a poor shot that was well-defended or out of range) to nine (wide open or high-percentage shot), players scored points based on the quality of shot, regardless of whether it went into the basket. Coach Gromer was coaching his players about making the right decisions, rather than focusing on getting the best results.

This approach really resonated with me, because when it comes to coaching baserunning specifically, coaches are often blinded by a runner being out or safe instead of determining whether the decision to go for the extra base was a good one. If a guy was safe, it was a good decision; out, then it’s a bad one. That is most definitely not always the case.

For instance, if it takes a perfect throw from the outfielder to get our runner out, that result will generally be on our side because throwing with that kind of arm strength and accuracy isn’t a common skill. It’d be a good decision to go. If we are down by four in the 9th inning when a runner tries to steal second and the throw beats him by a mile but is high or off-line, even though he got the stolen base, that’s not a good decision within the situation of the game and will likely come back to bite us if it happens again.

As our organization’s Minor League Baserunning Coordinator, I often found myself talking to our coaches about coaching the baserunning decision and not the umpire’s call. In a results-oriented game, that’s a really hard thing to do… especially when an out on the bases is a costly one that ends a rally or gives the opponent momentum. As coaches, our emotion regularly kicks in whenever that happens. I know it did for me. But that’s when we must take a step back and look at the play beyond just the outcome.

We often hear baseball as being a game of failure, but when you look under the hood, you can see it is a game of decisions. Every single part of the game has some element of choice. Every pitch. Every play. Decision after decision after decision.

Think about hitting. Are our hitters swinging at the right pitches? Their swing decisions- not just ball or strike, but hot or cold spots within the zone- will directly correlate with their ability to hit the ball hard. A rocket lineout is a good swing decision even when the result wasn’t there. When it comes to pitching, every single pitch is a decision between the pitcher and catcher (and at many amateur levels, the coach, too) as to what pitch to throw the hitter. A bloop single on a bad swing against a perfectly executed pitch does not make it a bad decision to throw that pitch because bad swings on good pitches usually lean heavily in favor of the pitcher.

On defense, infielders must make decisions about how to get a ball and create an easy hop. Outfielders must decide what base to throw the ball to either throw a runner out or keep the double play in order. Those types of decisions are everywhere, all game long.

When our players consistently make good decisions, the positive outcomes we all want tend to follow, so let’s learn how to coach decisions, not results.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously 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.


 9 Ways to Model Good Sportsmanship from the Sidelines
(6/9/2022)
 
   

9 Ways to Model Good Sportsmanship from the Sidelines


Here's what coaches should know about modeling good sportsmanship on gameday.


Have you ever stifled the urge to shout at a parent, referee, or player during a big game? As a coach, you probably know that it’s important to be a good role model for your young athletes. But what does that look like when you’re on the sidelines at a big game and your stress levels are skyrocketing?

Dr. Amanda Stanec, who specializes in physical education and youth development through sport is a mother of three young athletes in addition to a coach educator. Here’s what she wants coaches to know about modeling good sportsmanship on gameday.

1. Cheer on effort, not just achievement
Rather than focusing on cheering hard when an athlete scores a goal in a game, try to cheer on moments of great effort. That could be when a child tries a new move—even if it doesn’t work out—or passes the ball to a teammate instead of trying to score a shot solo. "We need to really celebrate creativity and healthy risk-taking for athletes, not just moments where things go right and they score,” says Stanec. “We want kids to feel like they can try new things and take those risks. I hear a lot of coaches and parents make audible sighs or frustrated noises when an athlete misses a shot, and that just discourages athletes from trying anything new. There is no place for that on the sideline.”

2. Focus on the psychosocial dynamic

If we focus on encouraging teamwork and community rather than on competition and winning, more young athletes will stay in sport, says Stanec. "I think if every coach went into sport with the goal of having every kid love their sport more at the end of season, that would be great for youth athletics,” says Stanec. “And they’ll like it more if they’re improving, if they’re learning and trying new things, and if they’re encouraged to have a good time while being competitive.” Focusing on a joyful and hardworking environment will undoubtedly lead to more development and wins.

3. Encourage cheering for everyone
As a coach, it’s important to remember to cheer for everyone, not just the star players or your favorite or most dominant personalities on a team. "To me, the golden rule is to give positive feedback to each individual player on your team,” says Stanec. "There's been such an adult model of sport pushed on kids that it seems like now there's a lot of competition and favoritism even within many youth teams.”

4. Be aware of negative language
"I think a great way to model good sportsmanship from the sidelines is not only by giving each player specific positive feedback, but also making it a rule to not criticize any child during the game, ever,” says Stanec. “Every kid knows when they make a mistake once they begin playing at more competitive levels, so whether you’re a coach or a parent, during a game is not the time to bring it up.” If there’s a skill-based technique or tactic that the athlete can work on, a coach can make a note to bring it up in practice, but the heat of the moment during a game isn’t the time to get into it.

5. Cheer for the other team
Coaches (and parents) can influence how your team sees and treats players on opposing teams by cheering for those kids as well. "I like to cheer for the other team when a great play is made,” says Stanec. “Saying things like great shot, great save—those small things can make a big difference in attitudes from the opposing team’s athletes, coaches, and parents, while also making games much more fun, even while remaining highly competitive.” And cheering for great plays from the other team as a coach can also cue your own athletes into great tips and tactics that they may not have noticed before. Showing appreciation for the game and all the joy it can bring is something that ought to be celebrated.

6. Coaches should set the tone with parents
“It can be so helpful to have a meeting with parents at the beginning of the season to set standards for what’s appropriate at games,” Stanec says. “Let them know that the only thing you want to hear from them during a game is positive encouragement like 'great hustle,’ or ‘great try.’ No coaching the coaches, no coaching the athletes.” You can even ask the athletes themselves to come up with a Code of Good Sportsmanship that encompasses the team’s positive values for coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves. Get everyone to sign this code at the start of the season.

7. Pay attention to your body language
You may not realize that your body language unconsciously is sending negative messages, but if you’re constantly shaking your head, covering your eyes, looking down, gesturing wildly, or just showing closed off body language, you may be sending unintentional nonverbal cues to the athletes, says Stanec. If you aren’t sure how you’re appearing at games, consider asking someone to video you for a few minutes, then play the footage back to see how you handle different moments. Focus on positive body language like cheering, smiling, making eye contact, and generally keeping your body relaxed and open.

8. Roleplay high-stress scenarios
A great way to model good sportsmanship—and prevent potential emotionally fraught moments in the game—is by roleplaying different high-stress situations. Ask yourself, how would you respond if someone does something disrespectful during the game, or makes you angry? Now, picture how your response would look if someone captured it on video and posted it online. Would you be okay with that reaction being posted? If not, what could you do instead? Preparing yourself by ‘rehearsing’ these scenarios can make a big difference to your reactions in the moment. Do this activity with your athletes or just as a personal exercise.

9. Remember that kids absorb everything
The areas that control logic and rational thought are some of the last to receive a circuit update in an adolescent’s brain, says Stanec. That means it may be harder for them to control their emotions, and if they see you engaging in unsportsmanlike behavior, from cursing under your breath at the umpire to shouting at a parent on the opposing team, they begin to emulate that reaction. “These unsportsmanlike behaviors are taught,” says Stanec.

TAKEAWAY: When athletes look at their coach during a game, they should see positivity and encouragement, not frustration or anger. Athletes also shouldn’t see you arguing with referees or exhibiting negative body language. Remember, how you act determines how your athletes act.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Athletes
(6/15/2022)
 
   

Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Athletes


Kevin Gorey, MS
Senior Director, US Council for Athletes’ Health (USCAH)


**Sensitive Content: This article depicts instances of sudden death of children and may be sensitive to some readers.**


What Causes Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) in Young Athletes?

Most cases of SCD in young athletes are due to hidden heart defects or overlooked heart abnormalities. These deaths usually occur during practice or games. Another condition that can cause SCD is commotio cordis. Unrelated to any pre-existing heart conditions and caused by blunt cardiac injury, it accounts for approximately 20% of sudden cardiac deaths.

What is commotio cordis?

Commotio cordis occurs when a person is hit in the chest and that impact triggers a dramatic change in the rhythm of their heart. A projectile, such as a batted or thrown baseball, can cause a blow to the chest that results in commotio cordis. Researchers have found in animal studies that the optimum speed for a baseball to cause commotio cordis is only about 40 miles per hour. Many baseball pitchers can easily throw at that speed.

Keep in mind that optimum speed does not mean the minimum speed. There is a documented case where a father underhand-tossed a softball to his 6-year-old son at a picnic. The ball skimmed off the child’s glove, hit him in the chest, and caused a fatal cardiac arrest.

This may explain why that in most reported cases of commotio cordis, sudden death follows a seemingly benign blow to the chest. In these situations, witnesses have generally believed that the blow to the chest wasn’t hard enough to cause a serious injury.

What is the incidence of commotio cordis?

The U.S. Commotio Cordis Registry in Minneapolis, MN tracks cases of commotio cordis and has documented over 250 occurrences since its formation. Approximately 10-20 events are added to the registry every year. The actual incidence is believed to be greater, though, due to lack of recognition and underreporting.

Commotio cordis occurs most frequently in young people under the age of 18 during sports activities. The most recent data indicates that 53% of the victims were engaged in organized competitive athletics, while the rest were involved in normal daily activities (23%) or recreational sports (24%).

Healthy young athletes are especially at risk because of the pliability of their chest walls. One study of 55 cases of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) found that 90% were 16 years old or younger. All were playing sports either organized or informally. None of these children showed evidence of any heart defect or disease.

Typically, when a young athlete collapses on the field, people are confused and unsure of what to do. This confusion delays necessary treatment and lowers the chance of survival.

Can These Sudden Cardiac Deaths Be Prevented?

The only true prevention of commotio cordis is to eliminate blows to the chest, so realistically there is no way to prevent it in sports like baseball.

The only proven prevention strategy for SCD is through emergency preparedness. Use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) dramatically increases survival rates if used within minutes of a collapse.

With defibrillation (use of AED) at one minute, the survival rate can be as high as 90%. Within 5 minutes, the survival rate can be as high as 50%. The survival rate of SCA decreases 7-10% for every additional minute that passes without defibrillation. By the time the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) typically arrive (9-12 minutes), the survival rate drops to 5%.

Importance of Emergency Action Plans


Emergency action plans are a critical component of the emergency response program for any sports team or organization. Not only should they be updated as often as necessary, but they also need to be readily accessible at all practice and game facilities.

The one action that can prevent deaths from sudden cardiac arrest is responding quickly and appropriately. Part of that response includes knowing CPR and having access to a functional AED.
Training parents, umpires, coaches and other staff to recognize commotio cordis, provide basic life support, and respond quickly is essential to a successful outcome. All coaches and staff should be trained in CPR and AED administration annually.

The sudden, unexpected death of a young athlete is a tragedy. It not only affects family and friends, but it also affects the coaches, players, league and entire community. It is natural for everyone to wonder what could have been done to prevent this sudden cardiac death. Now we know.

 **For more information about keeping your athlete safe during baseball season, check out USA Baseball’s Health and Safety Resources.**

Resources:
https://www.healthline.com/health/commotio-cordis
http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/902504-overview
http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/125/20/2511.full

Kevin Gorey is a Senior Director at the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health (USCAH). Kevin brings extensive experience from both commercial health care and sports medicine to the USCAH team. His three-decades long professional experience has produced high-level results for the organizations he has had the privilege to work with.


The U.S. Council for Athletes' Health (USCAH) was founded upon the need for trusted, independent athletic health care partners with the experience and expertise to advise and consult with organizations regarding their healthcare delivery system. This is why USCAH is committed to providing independent and unbiased medical expertise to organizations and individuals dedicated to the optimal health and safety for the athletes they serve. You can find out more about USCAH at www.uscah.com or by reaching out to [email protected]


 The Importance of Using Data and Technology in the Player Development Process
(6/14/2022)
 
   

The Importance of Using Data and Technology in the Player Development Process


By Jim Koerner


Data and technology are revolutionizing how competitive sports are being played. Teams and organizations are receiving and inputting data at lightning speed. In baseball, we’ve seen major advancements from how we evaluate and develop players to actual in-game decision making. In what, for decades, used to be a mostly subjective, feeling-involved occupation, baseball now applies real time data to all facets of the game. Let’s look at why data and technology are important, and how they can be added to your daily player development process.

10 benefits to Using Data and Technology in Your Player Development Plans:

1. Identifies Areas of Improvement:
All players have inefficiencies and areas that need improvement. Player development can be more efficient when these areas are identified through objective measures. What does good horizontal movement on a slider look like? Do the fastball and change-up have enough separation? Does the barrel spend enough time in the zone? The development process is only as good as the evaluation process. Technology helps ensure the efficiency and accuracy of these processes.

2. Reinforces Areas of Strength:
Not all player development lives in the world of what’s wrong. Reinforcing positive movement patterns is a strong developmental technique. The appropriate technology and data collection can assist in keeping players doing the right thing more often.

3. Strengthens Arguments for Change and Improves Communication:
Visual reinforcement is a powerful tool when communicating about adjustment with players. With the increased access to information across multiple media platforms, players can now be more informed than ever before. Factual data and visual recordings make the buy-in process more influential.

4. Allows For Real Time Feedback and Adjustments:
The ability to capitalize on teachable moments is priceless in the player development world. Having insistent feedback and replay on a singular pitch or swing can allow a player to make immediate adjustments. This is a place where the “real” vs. “feel” worlds can assimilate.

5. Ensures Accuracy:
There is nothing worse than being wrong when it comes to player development. To suggest a change and then spend countless hours working towards it, only to see minimal or zero return can be debilitating. Sensors, apps, ball tracking devises, and video review keep us going in the right direction.

6. Tracks Progress:
Simply put, there is no better way to track progress than through data collection. Data eliminates any subjective assessment of improvement, which is especially important if the actual need for improvement doesn’t exist.

7. Separates Style from Technique:
There are a lot of instructors/coaches that make changes with their players because of the way something looks. As long as style isn’t affecting technique, these adjustments aren’t necessary. Technology can help prevent coaches from making unnecessary changes.

8. Holds Players Accountable:
There are numerous ways accountability can play a role. A simple tool, such as a pocket radar, can immensely enhance the productivity of your batting practice. Having players take rounds that are within +/- 3 of their maximum is a great way to ensure proper intent with each swing.

9. Saves Time:
Beginning with the player evaluation, and continuing through the execution of the plan, all areas in baseball technology and data collection are quantified. If progress continues, the process continues, if progress stops, we adjust.

10. Enhances Overall Goal Setting Process:
Goal setting is crucial to producing results. A player or coach can’t manage what they can’t measure, and you can’t expect improvement is you can’t manage. The popular goal setting acronym S.M.A.R.T stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. To execute this process without data and some type of corresponding technology to collect it, is difficult.

How to implement Data and Technology Through Goal Setting (S.M.A.R.T+)

*SMART+ is my way of adding an application method to the goal-setting process.

Let’s look at a fairly simple example. You have a player that’s new to your program. After a couple weeks of practice, you believe that your player sits on his back leg while hitting and produces a lot of unproductive fly balls. Since you’ve been using a bat sensor during your batting practice sessions, you now have two weeks' worth of data at your disposal. After reviewing the data, you conclude that the swing metrics match your observations. This player averages 15-18 degrees on his attack angle. Based on your players physical profile, you both agree its best if he could work in the 8-12 degree range. While you’re going to continue to monitor each swing on a daily basis (for coachable moments), after three weeks, it’s your belief he should be averaging at least in the upper ranges of the agreed upon range.

SMART+ Test:
(S)pecific- Yes, you and the player are focused on adjusting the attack angle of the swing to a range more suitable for his body type.
(M)easureable- Yes, you are using a bat sensor that provides quantitative data.
(A)ttainable- Yes, while his swing has some upward lift, he is not far from swinging in an ideal range for his body type.
(R)ealistic- Yes, your player is a good athlete that has shown an aptitude for adjustment.
(T)ime Sensitive- Yes, in three weeks you want to see this player consistently in the desired range.

Types of Technology and Data Collection

There is potential for data and technology collection within many types of programs. While it would be great if everyone could have Edgertronic Cameras, Rapsodo, or Trackman, budgetary concerns play a role.

Here are a few low budget options that would work for various programs:

- Stopwatch (the best piece of low-priced technology every coach should use)
- Radar Gun
- Pocket Radar
- Diamond Kinetic Pitch Tracker
- Bat sensors
- Hudl Technique app (one example of a cost-effective app you can get on your device)
- Smart Phone (video, camera, apps)
- Manual charts (if you can chart it, I recommend doing so)
- Player journals (goal tracking, weight gain/loss, nutrition habits, general well-being)

By applying the appropriate data and technology to our player development models, we can streamline the efficiency at which we work. As coaches, we owe it to our players to provide the best possible solutions to their developmental needs.



Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 Low Pitch Slips by Catcher
(6/6/2022)
 
   

Low Pitch Slips by Catcher


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow reviews a low pitch that slips by the catcher. 

Tom Succow is currently the assistant coach at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. In 2017, Succow retired as the Head Baseball Coach at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, after 42 years at the helm. Succow accumulated over 700 wins during his tenure, as well as a state championship in 2006 and three state runner-up honors in 1982, 2007 and 2012. Succow is a four-time USA Baseball coaching alum, including an assistant coaching position with the 2003 16U National Team, which won the gold medal in the International Baseball Federation AA World Youth Championships in Taiwan. Succow was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) as National Coach of the Year in 2007 and is a member of four Halls of Fames, being inducted into the Arizona Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003, the Brophy Hall of Fame in 2007, the National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA) Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016.


 What's the Call? How a Run Scores
(6/2/2022)
 
   

What's the Call? How a Run Scores


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


There are two outs, and bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at 5-5. The batter draws a walk, touches the plate, and high-fives the runner from third who crosses home and heads to the dugout. If you’re the umpire, is your night over? What's the Call?

For more What's the Call videos, click here.  

Umpires Media is a leading provider of video-based sports rules explanations, maker of the world’s first digital baseball rulebook and the Baseball Rules Explorer.


 Developing Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part II)
(5/31/2022)
 
   

Balancing the Development of Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part II)


By Jim Koerner


View part 1 here.

Organizing Your Batting Practice Groups
The organization of your batting practice groups can go a long way towards your practice efficiency. There are multiple ways this can be accomplished. Left or right-handed batters, by position, similar mechanical deficiencies, or the type of hitter are most popular. You can script a batting practice routine that suits their individual needs by categorizing your hitters. An example would be:

Run Produces: These are the elite players in your lineup you rely on to drive in runs. They are typically your middle-of-the-order hitters that have power potential. These players won’t be using small ball concepts (bunt, hit and run, slash, backside groundball, etc...) or will be using them infrequently. You can now either completely eliminate these reps from their batting practice plan or limit the number of reps.

Gap to Gap: This group might have some of the same qualities as the Run Producers but also have the need to execute the short game when needed. Practice reps would be adjusted accordingly.

Table Setters: These hitters will be relied upon to sacrifice bunt, bunt for hits, hit and run, run and hit, and slash. More attention to these specific skills should be emphasized, but it doesn’t mean broader hitting concepts are ignored.

Don’t force hitters into certain categories just to check a box. Just because a player bats fourth doesn’t necessarily mean he’s elite. You may end up with all Gap to Gap groups or more Table Setters.

Smaller groups also keep players more active. Groups of five would be the maximum. Groups of 3 or 4 are ideal. This gives each hitter an ample rest period but not so much downtime that they become stagnant.

Repetitions and Rounds
There are two proven effective training methods, Random and Blocked. Both methods can serve a purpose during batting practice, but studies prove that randomized training translates better game performance. Random training is never performing the exact same skill twice. For example, while hitting off a tee, you would adjust location and height after each swing, or in the batting cage, you would follow a gap to gap swing with a hit and run. Blocked training (repeating the exact same movement) is effective when reinforcing a specific feel for a hitter, whether a round of all hit and run execution or setting up a tee exclusively low and away.

How you approach each repetition and round also plays a role in game simulation. Each round should consist of no more than five swings. Anything beyond this point, fatigue sets in, and the quality of the repetition diminishes. More consistency and success can be found in rounds of 3 or 4, with a small rest in between each repetition. This is more game-like and allows for maximum focus and intent.
Rounds of 1 are also highly recommended to simulate game conditions. Tiering your rounds can also be effective. This allows you to accomplish different objectives throughout a session. This would look like this: 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.



Drill Stations and Structure
Facilities, equipment, and time play a large role in what can be accomplished during batting practice. Here are examples of different stations that can be used to construct your ideal batting practice routine using the principles mentioned above:

Tee (Cage): A lower-pressurized opportunity where a coach can incorporate an individualized component to a routine. If there is a specific feel or mechanical adjustment a player is working through, you can set it up here. If a player has a specific routine they like to complete; this station is also a good place. If you believe you need more time to work on general concepts related to Decision Making, Contact, or Power, that can be accomplished as well.

Intent Swings (Light bat/Heavy bat) - Power

Target Tee Swings- Contact

Walk-up Drill w. Timing- Power and Contact

Shuffle- Power

Step Backs- Power

Front Toss (Cage): An Area where you can blend competitive drills with developmental concepts. If you’re incorporating a bat speed program or using different weighted and length hitting tools, this is an area that serves both purposes well.

Off-Set Angles (Front Toss) - Contact

Velocity (Overhand- short distance) - Power, Contact, and Decision Making

Mix (Overhand-short distance): Contact and Decision Making (Pitch Recognition)

Short bat (Front Toss) - Contact

Heavy bat/Light Bat (Front Toss) – Power, Contact

*Decision making can be incorporated into any one of these drills using the 1-6 zones discussed earlier

On-Field: Typically, on-field hitting is where I would like to get the most competitive and challenging. Increasing the pressure to perform in the same environment that game competition takes place further enhances the hitter’s comfort level in the batter’s box.

Velo Machine (Overload training)- Power, Contact, Decision Making

Breaking Ball Machine- Contact, Decision Making

Open and Closed Angle- Contact, Decision Making

Count Management (>2K, <2K) - Power, Contact, Decision Making

Situational Hitting- Power, Contact, Decision Making

Random Mix (FB/BB, FB/CH) - Power, Contact, Decision Making (Pitch Recognition)

2K Approach- Contact, Decision Making

Generate a Run Rounds (Group or Individual) - Power, Contact, Decision Making

Environment Constraints- Power, Contact, Decision Making

Multiple Plate Breaking Ball (Machine) - Contact, Decision Making

Multiple Plate Fastball (Machine or arm) - Power, Contact, Decision Making

Feel Good BP

Other Potential Stations:
Bunting
*Can be completed behind the backstop when the hitter leaves the on-field batting cage in between rounds, or it can be a separate station in an outfield corner. Using a bunting station on the side allows you to eliminate bunting on the field. Now you can use those reps for more swings.

Standing In – Decision Making and Pitch Recognition
*Any bullpens that need to be completed can have a batter standing in calling out pitch type upon recognition. The hitter can also use a simple yes or no call if he would swing or not.

Video Review
*Once the hitter leaves the cage, he can look at the previous round to evaluate

Vision Training Apps
*There are numerous vision training and pitch tracking apps that can used between rounds

Calling out Zones:
*Having the previous hitter stand behind home plate, calling out what zone the ball crossed to reinforce if the hitter swung at the proper pitch. This reinforces plate awareness for both players involved.

Non-hitting Stations:
Defense and Baserunning groups are both major aspects that can be incorporated into batting practice.
Live reads for the infield and outfield are arguably the greatest training tool available for defensive skill acquisition. This is also true for our base runners.


 
This example of a batting practice plan would be posted in the dugout or someplace that all the players on your team have access to it. It would be expected that each player has an understanding of their responsibilities for each station. Depending on roster size, facility access, and equipment, anything can be added or subtracted. In this example, groups were broken down by position (not by classification as in the previous example). Your structure will depend on the level of value you place on each skill.

Conclusion:
When structuring your team batting practice sessions, it is important to strike the appropriate balance between developing your offense and developing hitters. These are two separate aspects with overlaying principles that need our attention. By creating a challenging and competitive culture that is also organized and detailed, using various training instruments, we will develop our hitters into better movers and decision-makers.



Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 When Can Young Athletes Return to Sport After Illness?
(5/26/2022)
 
   

When Can Young Athletes Return to Sport After Illness?


Signs, symptoms, and feelings that can help athletes, parents, and coaches determine when it’s time to get back in the game.


Returning to sport from illness of any kind can be tricky, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s only gotten more difficult. But even a simple cold or stomach bug can leave an athlete sidelined without a clear idea of when it’s safe or advisable to return to sport.

Here, Dr. Michele LaBotz, TrueSport Expert and sports medicine physician, will dig into the signs, symptoms, and feelings that can help athletes, parents, and coaches determine when it’s time to get back in the game.

Before we dive into specific ailments and illnesses, it’s important to note that even when an athlete is no longer infectious or isn’t running a fever, they may still not be ready to return to play. “Even something like an ear infection can be really difficult when it comes to returning to play,” says LaBotz. “An athlete may technically be cleared to return to practice, but I think it’s critical to understand that an athlete’s comfort and capacity to be fully engaged with the sport are just as important as a fever being gone. If a player is distracted because their ear hurts too much or because their tooth hurts too much, they're potentially risking injury. An athlete has to be feeling well enough that they can perform effectively.”

Assuming your athlete is ready to get back on the field, here’s what you need to know:


Asymptomatic COVID-19


We’ve written about returning to sport after COVID in the past, but as LaBotz points out, the recommendations are changing constantly. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as getting a negative test—there also needs to be a complete resolution of even mild symptoms, and an all-clear from a physician before an athlete comes back. “Once symptoms have resolved, it is recommended that they touch base with their primary care provider,” says LaBotz. “Many primary care providers are doing a phone call follow up to make sure that there are no other factors that need to be considered.”

Approach an athlete’s comeback the same way you would progress an athlete with a concussion, LaBotz says: “Take a stepwise approach, starting with low intensity activity, and then gradually building back up to sport-specific and higher intensity training over the course of five to seven days.”


Symptomatic COVID-19

“For moderate symptoms, the current recommendation is that athletes get seen by their primary care provider before returning to play,” says LaBotz. “In the United States, the recommendations are that an EKG be done, and the doctor may decide to order additional tests looking at the health of the heart muscle.”

With severe symptoms, it is presumed that an athlete has myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscles. “For them, it's a three-to-six-month time period before they can get back to sport,” says LaBotz. “The recommendation is that all of those children with severe symptoms get cleared by a cardiologist before going back.” (If you want to learn more about how COVID-19 can impact heart health, check out this article.)


Cold / Flu / Bronchitis


You may have heard of the ‘neck rule’ in the past, and LaBotz is a firm believer in it when it comes to dealing with colds and flues. “If you have symptoms that are isolated to above the neck, like an earache, a runny nose, or a sore throat, then generally speaking, you can return to sport safely if you feel okay,” she says.

However, anything below the neck—a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lung symptoms, a significant cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath—then those need to be addressed before an athlete can go back to sport. “For fevers, you need to be fever free for 24 hours before being able to return to sport,” she adds. To check your athlete’s temperature, LaBotz recommends a digital thermometer that goes in the mouth. Forehead thermometers—popularized during COVID-19—are much less accurate.

“If an athlete is on an antibiotic for an ear infection or for a strep throat or a similar illness, once the fever is gone and they're feeling okay, they can go back,” says LaBotz. “They don't have to wait until they're done with antibiotics to go back to training.” (Just be aware that athletes may experience some gut issues like diarrhea because of antibiotics, and in that case, may want to wait until those gut issues resolve.)

LaBotz adds that it’s a great idea to ensure your athlete gets a flu shot this year. “If you're part of a team, you put not only yourself at risk, but you also put your teammates at risk if you're not vaccinated. So, making sure that athletes get their influenza vaccine is important,” she adds.


Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is one of the scary high school illnesses that can set an athlete back for a full season in some cases. LaBotz notes that first and foremost, before even considering fever or spleen status, an athlete should be feeling better and their energy level should be coming back before return to play should be considered. Once an athlete is feeling energetic and their fever is gone, it’s still important to check with a doctor to get the all-clear to return, though. “The biggest concern, especially with contact sports, is the risk for splenic rupture. Splenic rupture will most commonly happen within the first three weeks of illness, so that's when the risk is highest,” LaBotz says. “For most young athletes, there will be the recommendation that even if they're feeling a lot better, they stay out for that period of time. Return to sport is largely based on how the patient feels, as well as if there's any tenderness to palpation over the spleen area.”

LaBotz notes that “Kids can end up in a vicious cycle with mono. Symptoms may take a while to resolve, but after they do, kids are still feeling a lack of energy because they’ve been doing nothing for weeks.” Generally, LaBotz recommends starting a low impact activity like walking or yoga once symptoms subside and it’s been a few weeks, even if energy levels are low. “It's also a good time to focus on rehabilitation, flexibility, and other lower intensity stuff,” she says. “When you're coming back from a serious illness like that, a slow progression is helpful.” It can also help them mentally get back in the game. (The same applies for athletes coming back from long bouts of the flu.)


Gut Issues

For stomach bugs, food poisoning, and any tummy trouble that includes vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain, it’s important to stay away from practice until it resolves—both for the sake of the athlete and the team. Especially in high contact sports or sports with shared equipment, stomach bugs can easily pass between players. “These days, we’re all talking about respiratory transmission and wearing masks, but when it comes to gastrointestinal illnesses, it’s all about hand washing,” LaBotz says. “And those bugs are not just spread by hands, they spread by contact with the basketball and the gymnastics equipment and the wrestling mat. So, it’s important to be cautious.”

“If there's still active diarrheal episodes or vomiting, stay out of practice,” she adds. “Not only because of transmission, but because with both vomiting and diarrhea, athletes are at higher risk for dehydration. And with some of these illnesses, the virus can affect muscle as well—in particular the heart muscle—so myocarditis is another concern.”


TAKEAWAY

Knowing when it’s safe to return to sport after illness can be tricky and depends not only on how the athlete feels, but also the potential for spreading the illness to others. Particularly when athletes have been away from sport for more than several days, return to sport is not “all or nothing” but should include a few days where activity is gradually increased based upon the athlete’s energy and performance. Following the above guidance from Dr. LaBotz can help your athlete and their teammates stay healthy and return to sport safely if they do get sick.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Developing Your Offense & Hitters (Part I)
(5/24/2022)
 
   

Developing Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part 1)


By Jim Koerner


Some coaches deem batting practice the most important segment of their training session. If a typical team practice takes three hours to execute, batting practice usually occupies at least a third of that time. With such a large portion of training time dedicated to this skill, coaches need to ensure the execution of this segment is completed with the utmost efficiency and productivity. Multiple layers need to be considered when constructing your batting practice plan. This article will define philosophy, cover specific hitting concepts, and detail the integration into a batting practice model.

What is the Team Philosophy?

Before a coach can put together a player development model that can serve the needs of the team, they must first define what they believe is important. More specifically, a coach needs to fully understand his team's make-up and how his personnel is best suited to win games. At higher levels (college), some of this is controlled through the recruiting process and can be consistent from year to year. Coaches will recruit players that fit their offensive style. For example, the small ball game might be more important to some than others. Therefore you may see more players capable of using the hit and run or bunt as offensive weapons. Other universities might be more power-oriented and recruit more physicality. This helps when allocating precious practice time and repetitions. Why spend hours on sacrifice bunting when you know you're only going to do it ten times a season? At the high school level, the team's make-up is more likely to vary somewhat from year to year, and at the youth level, a more universalized approach should be stressed for all players to understand every concept.

It is also important to have a firm understanding of your offensive goals and how you want to achieve them. This helps keep you and your team focused on what is important. Scoring the runner from third base with less than two out (infield up, infield back, runners at second and third with one out or no outs, or bases loaded), two-out RBI's, two-strike approach, free bases (walks and HBP's), moving runners, quality at-bats, and the ability to string together consecutive quality AB's, along with all other situational hitting (all bunts, hit and run, run and hit, and slash) are areas that you might find important. If so, you need to find a way to make them a part of your daily or weekly routines.

Having both of these areas clearly defined will allow you to cycle through and allocate the appropriate practice days and repetitions necessary to excel at those skills.

What is your hitting philosophy?

There is a difference between a team philosophy on generating offense and a philosophy on what's important when it comes to hitting. To be clear, I am not speaking about swing mechanics but rather general concepts that will define success for every hitter. Over the years, I've outlined three areas that I believe bring value to our everyday batting practice routines. These three concepts are decision-making, contact, and power. Sometimes these three work independently, but many times they blend together. Batting practice routines should reflect the importance of these concepts on a daily basis. While the point of emphasis might vary from day to day, the underlying concepts are the same.

Decision Making: This is arguably the most important concept when developing good hitters. Players with strong strike-zone management skills are most likely the same players with high contact rates, higher on-base percentage, and more maximum exit velocity swings. Great decision-making also leads to a greater ability to execute an individual's plan (situational hitting) and to maximize one's own strengths and weaknesses. Pitch recognition also needs to play a role in the Decision-Making development process. The early ability to recognize spin directly impacts the swing decision. This is something that can and should be trained. An easy daily Decision-Making tool would be to have your home plate divided into six different hitting zones. These zones would be numbered across the plate 1-6 from the inside corner to the outside corner. Another way to accomplish this would be to place six baseballs across the front of home plate.
Each baseball represents a different zone. Now you can structure batting practice rounds based on the zones you want your hitters to attack. If the hitter swings at a pitch outside the required zone, he leaves the cage. This creates discipline and structure when progressing through your rounds. You can also have batting practice rounds that force your hitters to only swing at one type of pitch. Now you are layering in a pitch recognition element. For example, the BP thrower is working a fastball/curveball mix while the coach wants the hitter to attack zones 2-5 on the plate, only swinging at fastballs.

Contact: In its simplest form, contact is the ability to consistently put the bat's barrel on the ball. We have all heard terms like, "He has a feel for the barrel" or he has "barrel control." These terms describe the hitter's adjustability in the swing. Adjustability in the swing is the hitter's aptitude to hit on multiple pitch planes and adjust to multiple speed differentials. Incorporating multiple bat weights and lengths into a batting practice routine is a great way to promote swing adjustability. Over time, the body will learn to organize itself to allow the barrel to find the ball. These different size and weighted bats can be used during all types of hitting drills.

Power: Power can be a relative term and is not exclusive to hitting home runs or extra-base hits. I define power as the ability to maximize exit velocity and bat speed on an individual level. Mechanics and physicality aside, "power" is developed through swing intent, timing, approach, and count management. I recommend getting baseline exit velocities and bat speed readings on all your players. Once baseline averages are established, bat sensors are a great way to keep hitters accountable during batting practice. If the program doesn't have bat sensors, a radar gun can be used to track exit velocity. Batting practice rounds that consist of the player being required to work within +/- 5 MPH's of their maximum is a great way to manage the consistency of swing intent. It also layers in Decision-Making qualities.

Challenging and Competitive

It has been well documented how challenging it is to hit a baseball. This needs to be reflected in the way we train. If you want to excel at hitting 75 MPH fastballs, train in the 75-80 range to achieve the desired outcome. If success against pitchers that reach velocities of 90 or greater is important, then the training should reflect the objective. Obviously, this is age-dependent, but the point remains the same. Hitters swing and miss, get fooled and strike out at all levels. If this never occurs during batting practice, the training is not challenging enough. Failure is both a mental and physical part of development and needs to be dealt with at the practice level before you can expect your hitter to succeed on game day.
The use of pitching machines for all off-speed pitches, high-velocity fastballs, randomizing angles, over-training, and incorporating environment constraints (i.e., setting up cones in the gaps) are some examples of challenging batting practice. If you can chart it, then do so. Charting and tracking batting practice success gives a competitive element to each session and reinforces the development process, and shows progress. Examples of hitting drills that can be charted include situational round execution rates, hard contact percentages, exit velocities, and target tee drills. I recommend posting results after each practice so players understand where they stand relative to their teammates.

Tune in to Part 2, coming May 31, to learn more about organizing batting practice groups, repetitions and rounds, drill stations, and structures.




Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 Uncoach the Uncoachable
(5/20/2022)
 
   

Uncoach the Uncoachable


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


*DISCLAIMER*
I recently wrote an article detailing a coach’s responsibility to coach everyone on their team. The subject of this article stands in direct contradiction of that aforementioned piece; words that, despite what I’m about to tell you, I believe in as strongly now as I did when I stressed the importance of coaching everyone just a few short weeks ago.


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Spend a long enough time in coaching, and you will soon be hit with one of the more frustrating certainties that come with the profession: you’re not going to be able to turn every one of your players into a hall of famer. It’s a harsh reality when you pour everything you have into a player and for whatever reason, they are not able to put it all together the way you envisioned. It’s a blow to our egos.

But, for as frustrating as that experience can be, there is one that is worse. Much worse. We’re not talking about the player who just can’t seem to figure it out; rather it’s the player who isn’t open to trying. The player who won’t even listen to a word we say. The guy who won’t fully buy-in. It’s the kid we call ‘uncoachable.’

In professional baseball, when a player gets drafted, they have shown the ability and potential for a Major League club to use one of its select number of picks because someone in that organization thinks they have what it takes to, at some point, become a Major Leaguer. For most players, the process of becoming a Big Leaguer is one that takes years to see through. It’s a process that involves a lot of people, from every corner of the player’s life- both on and off the field- playing their part to help that player reach his potential.

The majority of players truly appreciate how much others invest in them, and they take advantage of the many opportunities available to develop. While only a handful reach their ultimate goal of Major League stardom (it’s just THAT hard), they all tend to enjoy significant growth as players and people when all is said and done. All, that is, except for the rare player who doesn’t want help. The player who is stubborn to change and thinks he knows it all. For as challenging as this type of personality is to coach, there is a simple resolution for the player who doesn’t want to be coached: don’t coach him.

On the surface, as mentioned in the disclaimer, the approach to NOT coach someone goes against everything I believe in at my core. But, if I have realized one thing in the last 15-plus years of coaching, it’s that players must want to be coached in order to actually be coached. For most who don’t, the time and effort spent trying to get through to them turns out to be a frustrating waste of time and effort.

At the end of the day, the players’ careers are their own. So, even if they are doing something that we, as coaches, know won’t work- like a long swing or a disjointed delivery- if they are not willing to change, then by taking a step back from trying to change them gives them ownership of the results, both good AND bad. If you’re right and they do end up failing on their own, a special moment often happens soon thereafter. They will comeback asking for help, and that’s when you got ‘em. The kid that was uncoachable is now open and ready to be coached, in large part because you made the decision to walk away and stop coaching him.

A lot of coaches are under the impression that they have to actively coach their players at all times, in every imaginable way. There is a time and place to be hands on, sure, but just as important, we have to recognize those times when it’s more beneficial to take a step back and not coach. Believe it or not, NOT coaching often IS coaching… especially for those who aren’t quite ready for you to help them. NOT coaching the uncoachable kid may very well be the way you're able to coach him after all.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously 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.