Blog

 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.


---

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.


 The Mental Health of Youth Baseball Players
(5/18/2022)
 
   

The Mental Health of Youth Baseball Players


Supporting psychological well-being in young athletes


Chad Asplund, MD, MPH
Executive Director, US Council for Athletes’ Health

Youth baseball is often the first organized sport that children start to play. Many of the lessons learned from youth baseball will help shape the thought processes regarding organized sports or sports in general for many young people. Organized sports, such as youth baseball, can be such a positive tool to learn things like how to be coached, how to compete, sportsmanship, and how to win or lose. However, there can also be a negative side to organized sports. Too much focus on winning, over-scheduling, and poor parent/fan behavior can create a toxic environment.

Youth sports are no longer the neighborhood pickup games of American lore. In recent years children as young as 6 and 7 are increasingly enrolling in high-level sports programs with professional coaches and year-round competition schedules. By age 13, up to 70% of children have dropped out of organized sports.

Evidence suggests that as young people compete more intensely in sports, gains in mental wellness may be replaced by mental health challenges particular to competitive athletics. Pre-pandemic, up to 20% of college athletes experienced major depression. For young athletes competing at national and international levels, anxiety and depression were 20% to 45% — higher in some cases than those in the age-matched control groups.

Parents are supposed to be the ones teaching good sportsmanship and how to behave, but more often than ever, umpires, coaches, and kids are dealing with tantrums from parents. This bad behavior by parents has led to a shortage of umpires and referees across many organized sports. Experts also say the amount parents invest, not just emotionally from the stands but also financially, adds to the pressure kids are feeling. Further, their actions often lead to a toxic environment in youth sports, when instead, they should be supportive and encouraging.

It is very important that coaches and parents are able to recognize the signs of decreasing mental health in young athletes. These signs include reduced interest in sport or other activities, sleep irregularities, irritability, change in appetite, and poor performance in sports or school. The recent position statement on mental health issues in athletes by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine notes that the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy was stressed as an effective treatment for anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and other mental health conditions in the youth athlete population.

Supporting psychological well-being in our young athletes feels especially urgent as we emerge from a pandemic that has probably affected everyone’s mental health in some way. Sports medicine experts are just beginning to seriously study the mental health problems that arise in youth sports, but it’s increasingly evident that constant competition, year-round training, and parental bad behavior can all contribute to worsening mental health in young athletes.


Dr. Chad Asplund is the executive director of USCAH, as well as a sports medicine physician and Professor of Family Medicine and Orthopedics at the Medical College of Georgia. Chad currently serves as the medical director for USA Basketball, and a team physician for USA Hockey, USA Triathlon, and Georgia Southern University. If you have any questions for Dr. Asplund, you can reach him at [email protected]

As a trusted partner with USA Baseball, we are pleased to offer a free online course, "Mental Health in Sport”. To access the free course, please visit www.athleticshealthspace.com and select “Create New Account with Program Code”. Enter your account information and the Program Code: PARENT. Follow the on-screen instructions after you create your account.



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]


 Hip Injuries
(5/12/2022)
 
   

Hip Injuries


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Duke University, discusses labral tears in the hip and treatments to return to play. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.


 8 Tips to Help Young Athletes Perform in Extreme Environments
(5/12/2022)
 
   

8 Tips to Help Young Athletes Perform in Extreme Environments


Advice for performing in adverse situations like heat waves, blizzards, and high altitude.


If your high school team is from Florida where you train at sea level year-round, you might be feeling intimidated when you hear that the National Championships will be held high in a mountain town in Colorado. On the other hand, players from Northern California may start to feel nervous when competing in championships in the hot, humid Midwest after training for months in mild, dry weather.

Whether the extreme environment your athletes are headed to is hot, cold, or at high altitude, you may be tempted to look for a supplement or treatment that can help them quickly adapt and adjust. But Laura Lewis, PhD, Director of Science at the U.S. Ant-Doping Agency, says there’s no pill out there that can help an athlete adapt. However, she does have some advice for performing in adverse situations like heat waves, blizzards, and high altitude.

1: Your body is built to adapt
“Our bodies are amazing, and they can respond to each of these different environments that we expose them to,” she says. “It just takes time. There's no magic pill. Respect the environment that you're in and adjust your training or your level of exertion accordingly, and then make sure that you're allowing your body to recover while you're in these different environments.”

2: Early is better
The gold standard for athletes is to go as early as possible to the location that has different conditions in order to get acclimatized. “Your body does adapt quite quickly: for example, just an extra week in a hot environment can make a big difference to how you're going to feel and perform,” Lewis adds.

It will feel harder when you first arrive. “If you are able to go to a location a few days before and do some acclimatization, the first time you go and do a run, you're going to notice that your heart rate is really, really high,” Lewis says. “But then the body starts to adapt to that. By the fifth day, it's going to feel a lot easier doing that same exercise, because the heat has stimulated a number of adaptations within your body that allow you to cope better overall.”

3: Prep at home for heat
“Obviously, early travel to event locations is not going to be accessible for everybody,” Lewis admits. But you can still prepare at home for the heat. “If you're a track athlete, do some more runs on a treadmill in a warm environment, or even just without a fan in the gym,” Lewis suggests. “The more you can raise your core temperature and stimulate your body to adapt that way, the better.”

But be careful, she adds. “It's obviously really important to be safe, because high schoolers are not going to have the same level of monitoring and support as an Olympic athlete would have doing these various trial sessions.”

4: Stay cool
“If you're not doing much acclimatization work, particularly when going into a hot environment, then you just need to think about your strategies when you're there to try to keep yourself as cool as possible,” Lewis explains. “Stay in the hotel or in the air conditioning until quite close to the game, making sure that you're adequately hydrated and that you do have access to drinks during and after.”

Essentially, Lewis recommends pre-cooling your body. If your body starts at a lower core temperature before your event, then it's going to take longer for your body temperature to reach that critical temperature where it can't perform, or where you're going to struggle. “Drink a slushy or have some shaved ice,” she adds. “Have something like that where the drink is in ice form, and then has to change from ice to a liquid inside of you. That change of state actually takes away body heat from your core and cools you down.” Other tactics include wearing an ice vest or using cold towels that are dipped in ice on the back of the neck. “Do what you can to lower your core temperature in advance of the event to buy yourself a bit more time when you're actually playing the game.”

5: Cold weather is all about clothing choice
Adapting to cold isn’t too difficult for most athletes, but the clothing can be tricky. “Clothing choices are obviously going to be your big friend here,” Lewis says. “There's not too much body adaptation: Dress appropriately to try to keep yourself warm. It's important to test the clothes you're going to wear though, because running in gloves and tights versus shorts and a singlet has a different feeling. And if you’re wearing gloves, having any drinks or fuel during a race will impact your dexterity.”

6: Altitude is worth the early arrival
“The longer you can be at altitude before an event, the better. If it was a really important event for an elite athlete, you'd be getting there at least three weeks before, but obviously, that's not going to be practical for most of us,” says Lewis. “Even a couple of days can help, though. And for most high school and college level athletes, it's better to spend money to go to the place a few days early rather than investing in expensive altitude training equipment,” she adds.

There are different stages of adaptation to altitude. “In the first day or two, your body's just trying to go into survival mode,” says Lewis. “Your breathing rate increases, you'll end up urinating a lot in order to concentrate your blood. You haven't made any more blood, but you've just really concentrated it so that it can carry oxygen around the body a bit more efficiently. Sleep is often quite disrupted. It's not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath, but that’s just your body adapting and trying to work on a short-term solution.”

Then, it gets easier: “The longer you spend at altitude, the more those acute responses calm down and the adaptive responses take over. Your body actually starts to make more red blood cells, you have more blood to carry oxygen around your body, and everything gradually starts to feel a little bit easier.”

7: Pay attention to nutrition in extreme conditions
“After really hot games, you might not feel like eating,” Lewis warns. “But if you're at a tournament, it will be really important to restore your energy sources. You might just need to think about different ways to get the nutrition in, maybe using liquid-based energy. Even if you really can't stomach anything solid to start with, don't neglect the recovery and the restoration of nutrients just because you don't feel like eating.”

In cold environments, athletes may find that the body is using more energy to keep itself warm. “When it’s cold, you may find that you need to fuel yourself a bit more than normal,” says Lewis. “Prioritize having a little more food around your training session or your event.”

Hydration is also key at altitude. “Because of the increased breathing rate, you actually get a bit more dehydrated because you're losing water every time you breathe,” Lewis says. “So, you need to think about hydration. You might also need a bit more fuel because you're burning carbohydrate, not fat, which means you can run out of energy a bit quicker.”

8: Manage expectations
“It's really important for athletes going to altitude or any extreme environment to realize that it is going to feel hard, so their pacing and performance is going to be lower to start with,” says Lewis. “Athletes also need to respect that they're going to need longer recovery in between efforts.”

TAKEAWAY
Extreme environments present major challenges for athletes who can’t go early to acclimate, but with some early interventions like hotter training indoors, choosing the right clothing, or understanding how the body responds to altitude, it’s possible to have a safe and healthy performance.


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.


 What's the Call? Designated Hitter Replacement
(5/5/2022)
 
   

What's the Call? Designated Hitter Replacement


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


The bases are empty with no outs. The designated hitter hits a shot to left field. As he is running to first, the batter-runner pulls his hamstring and cannot advance any further. The manager is forced to pull the designated hitter in favor of a pitch runner.

Does this terminate the use of a DH for the remainder of the game? 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.


 RBI Single Ties the Game
(5/2/2022)
 
   

RBI Single Ties the Game


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow reviews an RBI single that ties the game.


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.


 3 Signs that It’s Time to Pivot and Set New Goals
(4/28/2022)
 
   

3 Signs that It’s Time to Pivot and Set New Goals


Signs parents should look for to help an athlete decide when it's time to pivot


As parents and as coaches, we often understand that there's value in pursuing a goal, even when it seems unattainable. Every hero's journey encounters some moment of adversity, some chance that they won't reach their goal. And even losing out on a goal has value because it instills resilience.

But at some point, there's also value in pivoting and setting new goals. "In general, we only tell stories of perseverance,” notes TrueSport Expert, family physician, and resiliency guru Dr. Deborah Gilboa. “You hear about athletes who persevere through years of struggle, and finally succeed, but that can be a damaging perspective. To say that perseverance is always the answer, that perseverance towards achievement is always the best or right path, simply isn't true. Resilience means navigating change and coming through it as the kind of person you want to be. And if the only kind of person your child wants to be is a winner, that's a problem because then persevering towards achievement is the only option. And on that path, you have to recognize the risk of permanent damage."

Here, Gilboa shares the signs parents should look for to help an athlete decide when it's time to pivot.

1. Danger, not discomfort
Kids need to hone the skill of differentiating between danger and discomfort, says Gilboa. That means knowing if pursuit of a goal is uncomfortable, or if it could be harmful to their physical or mental health. "This is what Simone Biles showed at the Tokyo Games when she decided not to compete in certain events," Gilboa explains. "She wasn't dealing with tremendous discomfort. She was in danger. We ask and expect our young athletes to figure out how to manage discomfort, and yes, that will serve them incredibly well. The more discomfort they know how to manage successfully, the better. That will help them towards their goal. But if we do not teach them the skill of differentiating between tremendously uncomfortable and actually dangerous, then we do not allow them to protect their own safety."

2. Yellow warning flags
"Unfortunately, many kids will not have the maturity and the wisdom to figure out when they are in a dangerous situation, so it’s our job to keep an eye out for the yellow flags, not just the red flags," Gilboa says. "Red flags are more obvious: a child isn't eating, he's not speaking to you often, her grades are plummeting. But the yellow flags are subtle. One of the things that adults can do is to literally make a list of the behaviors that a child starts doing or stops doing when they're beginning to have a hard time. For one of my kids, he starts sleeping through his alarm. For my other kid, he starts losing stuff. What signs does your child show when he's just starting to struggle?"

3. A desire to quit
If your child is feeling upset that they won't hit a major goal and is ready to give up the sport entirely as a result, that's normal, but suggest that before they pivot away from sport entirely, they take a break first. "Remember that developmentally, young athletes tend to think in binary ways: I quit, or I don't. But there is almost always a whole list of other options," says Gilboa. "So, look for ways to hit pause instead of stop. Simone Biles did not hit stop. She hit a really dramatic pause. She didn't leave Tokyo. She didn't even leave the mat. She stayed there, she became coach and cheerleader for her teammates, and she competed in another individual event days later, as it turned out. She hit pause and continued to behave as the kind of person she wanted to be."

Takeaway
Understand that no goal is more important than your athlete's happiness as a human. "Together, you and your athlete have to figure out what their big picture goals are. Winning should only be a small part of them, because the damage of winning at all costs is fairly self-evident," Gilboa says. "The long-term goal should be about the person your child wants to become, with strong values and convictions. Imagine raising a child who, no matter what obstacles life throws them on the way towards their achievements, can continue to be the kind of person you and they want them to be."


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 Correctly Use the Tee
(4/27/2022)
 
   

How to Correctly Use the Tee


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses how utilize the tee properly and maximize batting practice. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 It Takes Time
(4/22/2022)
 
   

It Takes Time


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Well… This one may make some people mad.

Not the message itself necessarily, but moreover, very few people in the game today want to hear it.

That message is about time.

A few weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons’ Head Coach, Dean Pees, gave an impassioned speech about the growing entitlement among the younger generations of coaches. The speech went viral across social media, as it resonated with so many within the sports communities.

“Go work in a high school,” he started. “Go work at a Division III school where you have to mow the grass and you’ve gotta line the field, and then you will appreciate what you have, when you have it instead of being 25 years old and wondering why you’re not a coordinator in the NFL. Everybody gets on a computer for two years and thinks they ought to be a coach.

“Now it’s ‘how fast can I climb the ladder?’ I didn’t climb it very fast, but I feel good about the way I did it.” Pees didn’t get to the NFL until he was 55 years old. He felt like he paid his dues working as a high school teacher and a college coach, and this time made him a better coach and a better teacher in professional football.

In January, at the American Baseball Coaches Association’s National Convention in Chicago, Mississippi State’s Head Coach, Chris Lemonis- who was named College Baseball’s Coach of the Year after his Bulldogs won the National Title- spoke to roughly 5,000 coaches about what it takes to build a championship program. While detailing his path in the game that included 12 years at The Citadel, eight at The University of Louisville, and another four at Indiana University, he finished by saying simply, “it takes time.”

Scotty Bowman is a legend in hockey. He is a legend in coaching. With nine Stanley Cups as a head coach with three different teams, plus another five as a part of the Cup-Winning Club’s front office, his name is engraved on the most prestigious championship trophy in all of sports, a whopping 14 times. Bowman is among the greatest sports coaches of all time. Following his career as an athlete, he spent ten years doing various things within the game- including coaching kids, scouting, and working in Canadian Junior Leagues- before reaching the NHL for the first time.

Three different sports. Three different coaches. One clear message: time, and the experience that comes with it, is really important.

Time is the most valuable commodity in the world. You may go through life always having a roof over your head. You may never go hungry or thirsty. Money may come easy and in big bunches for you. But time… every single one of us on this planet has a finite amount. Every single one of us will run out of it.

We can’t rush time, nor can we slow it down. Time works at time’s pace, not ours.

My coaching career began in 2006, literally two weeks after I had gotten released by the Royals at the end of Spring Training. Energized by a group of players who made up the same Rutgers program of which I was a product, I believed I could really help our team, so I dove into coaching, headfirst. Coming out of a professional playing career in the Minor Leagues, I took the ‘I wish I knew then what I know now’ approach to coaching, as I felt I had learned so much. At the time, I foolishly thought- with no experience as a coach, no time actually spent coaching- that I would turn every player in an All-American, and our team, into a club fit for Omaha.

Hindsight 20-20, I really sucked as a coach for those six years at Rutgers. While I did know baseball well, and there was a ton of knowledge and new ideas that I did bring to our program, I had absolutely no clue how to coach. I had no idea how to work with players. And, I had no sense of how to work with other coaches. Now some 15-plus years into my coaching career, I realize I was the exact type of coach that, today, I wouldn’t enjoy working with. All because I didn’t understand how valuable spending time working in the trenches was. I can say now, without question, that time has been my best teacher as a coach.

As Dean Pees talked about, young coaches today want to jump to the front of the line without gaining the experience that will make them that much better in the role they want, and yet, most aren’t willing to put the necessary time in to truly earn that position. Similarly, many players want the magic pill that will turn them from amateur to Big Leaguer overnight. And, to aid the issue, there are coaches out there who claim to have that magic pill. The funny thing about those who appear to be overnight sensations, you ask, they take years to develop.

The manner in which you invest your time- those same 24 hours of those same days that everyone has- is a clear indicator of what you are truly willing to work for. If you don’t respect those things and the wise people that come with time- those things that NEED time- then you don’t truly understand the value of time. Contrary to the guy who says he can have you throw 95 MPH in a month or the other who claims you’ll be able hit a ball 500’ in two, anything worthwhile in life- baseball or otherwise- will take time. And, doing it is a genuine investment in the most valuable commodity in the world.



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.


 Learning from Failure
(4/26/2022)
 
   

Learning from Failure


Mental Skills
By Andy Bass


We know we learn from failure—but that is not the end of the story.

We know failure is vital for growth, not only in sport but in life. It has almost become cliche to hear the phrase "we learn most through failure." And while this is certainly true (cliches exist for a reason)...there is more to the story.

If we were to complete a meta-analysis on contemporary research in sport psychology and motor learning, there would be a near-ubiquitous consensus amongst the academic community regarding the importance of failure. In motor learning, the benefits of random practice, differential learning, lessening feedback, and the constraints-led approach all contain a foundation of organic failure. In sport psychology, the concepts of embracing nerves, mental toughness through struggle, and accepting the arduous facets of sport likewise state the importance of failure on the path to success.

The kicker with failure, particularly in sport, is not so much that failure should exist-- it is the PERSPECTIVE we take on failure that can ultimately be the deciding factor. And we, as coaches, can be perhaps the strongest influence on how our athletes view failure.

When we learn something new, or when we are challenged in such a way that our minds and bodies recognize something needs to change (we are learning a new skill, we are struggling to complete a pass, we need to go faster to catch up with the person ahead of us). The particular electrical signal that is emitted from our brains during these times is known as an Event-Related Potential (ERP). The stronger the signal—the more likely that learning and growth will occur.

For most of us, failure is not fun. Even if we know that failure is important for growth, in the moment that failure occurs, we oftentimes still despise it. When we take this view of failure as something to avoid or something to despise, the strength of the signal from the event-related potential is a 3. But, when we view failure, not necessarily as something to be happy about (failure is rarely fun), but as something to embrace and be challenged by…the strength of the electrical signal is a 15… 5 times stronger (NOTE: this is not the way these signals are 'reported' in scientific journals; am using this notation for the sake of brevity and clarity).

When we view failure as something to embrace and not something to despise or avoid, we may learn FIVE times faster.

How can we use this to help our athletes? It is one thing to say that athletes need to embrace failure; we shouldn't be so worried if we do fail, failure is natural, etc. But words without action rarely take effect.

1-We don't have to bring attention to failure. If a player swings and misses, makes an error, throws to the wrong base-- we can just let it go. The player knows they messed up. And by us letting it go, they can perhaps begin to lean into the failure, rather than also being consumed with letting us down.
2-We can find the good in the failure for the athlete. "You made a mistake on that play, AND yet you stayed focused and made an incredible move later in the game."
3- We can model embracing failure as coaches. Be vulnerable with our athletes about times we failed... either as athletes or as coaches. What was our most epic fail? How did we learn from it? When our language normalizes failure, our athletes will begin to normalize failure in their own 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.


 What Does it Mean to Have an Approach When Hitting?
(4/21/2022)
 
   

What Does it Mean to Have an Approach When Hitting?


By Jim Koerner


This question gets asked a lot, and there are many ways it can be answered. What’s the situation, who’s on the mound, what are the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, what is the hitter’s state of mind, and how does the hitter conceptualize their process toward success are all important questions.

You can find a mental, perceptual, physical, and mechanical component to every swing. Each component carries its own percentage of importance towards each swing outcome. We have all seen hitters with great physical tools and perfect mechanics struggle on game day. A portion of those struggles can be attributed to the hitter lacking a defined approach. The ability to define the approach and have the focus and discipline to execute it separates the bad from the good and the good from the great. We’ll discuss multiple ways an approach plays a role in the hitting process.

Situationally
An approach can be adjusted from pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, and game to game. Pitch to pitch adjustments to approach can come from count management, pitch sequencing, or the game situation. For example, a hitter comes to the plate with a runner on first base and no one out. The coach gives the hit and run sign. The batter understands that he now must swing at any pitch and try to put the ball on the ground. Before the first pitch of the at-bat is thrown, the pitcher balks. Now with a runner on second, the right-handed hitter is looking for a pitch he can hit to the right side of the field, advancing the runner to third base. After a swinging strike, the runner steals thirds on ball one. Now we have a 1-1 count with a runner on third base, and the infield is up. The batter is now going to look for a ball up in the zone that he can drive in the air using the middle of the field. In the course of one at-bat, this batter’s approach changed three times. Each situation can also play a large role in how a batter might be pitched, especially with runners in scoring position. Your place in the batting order might also be significant. If your team’s best hitter is batting behind you, the chance you get something to hit increases. If you’re the team’s best hitter, you might only see curveballs and sliders. Hitters that can clearly define the changes in the situation and have the discipline to make the pitch to pitch adjustments are more likely to sustain consistent success.

Pitcher Tendencies
Other approach adjustments can be made based on who’s on the mound, pitcher tendencies, and how you have been pitched in previous at-bats. If a pitcher has good stuff and the ability to throw strikes with multiple pitches, hitters need to remain aggressive. Conversely, if the pitcher struggles throwing strikes with average stuff, the hitter now has the luxury of being more selective. Other ways a batter’s approach can be adjusted is through pitcher tendencies and previous at-bats. If it is recognized that elevated fastballs are followed by breaking balls, a hitter can adjust accordingly. Further adjustments can be made if a batter recognizes he is consistently being pitched away. If the pitcher struggles throwing off-speed for strikes, the batter can now sit exclusively on fastballs. Another question to ask would be how the pitcher uses his change-up. Is it only a right on left or left on right pitch, or is he willing to throw it to same-sided hitters? Keeping pitch tendency charts is a great way to recognize some of these patterns. It is also important that players pay attention in the dugout. The ability to have answers to the following questions can help them prepare for their next at-bat. What is the out pitch? Does he get ahead early? Does he challenge hitters with his fastball? Does he expand the zone with two strikes? Can he effectively pitch in? Does he like to pitch backward (off-speed in fastball counts, and fastballs in breaking ball counts)? Can he consistently throw off-speed pitches for strikes?

Pre-game Pitcher Observations
Defining your approach should begin before the game when you find out who’s pitching. If you’re capable of watching the pitcher warm-up, this can serve as a valuable learning moment. By watching the pre-game bullpen, you can now see what arm slot the pitcher is throwing from, does he tunnel his fastball and off-speed well, or is there different arm slots for different pitches. You should also be able to determine if the arm slows down for any off-speed pitches. Also, depending on the angle, you might be able to determine if the fastball has ride or sink and what type of shape the breaking ball has. Good hitters can identify these qualities and use them to their advantage. The earlier you have this information, the better. Adjustments should always be made as the game progresses.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Hitter
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses allows you to hone your own personal approach to each at-bat. Some good hitters won’t deviate from their strengths unless they have two strikes, regardless of the situation. This takes discipline and commitment. By relying on the pitcher to make a mistake, you must also have a comfort level hitting deeper in counts. Being comfortable hitting in deeper counts gives the hitter additional opportunities to see the pitcher’s full arsenal and also increases the likelihood of the pitcher making a mistake. Ultimately when facing good pitching, hitters typically should be focused on hitting fastballs and mistakes (off-speed pitches left elevated in the strike zone). When formulating your approach, keep this in mind. Good sliders, curveballs, and change-ups are good for a reason. They’re difficult to hit.

Count Based and Two Strike Hitting
There are two counts that should garner attention, less than two strikes and with two strikes. 48-49% (FanGraphics) of all at-bats during the course of a Major League season will be with two strikes. It stands to reason that considerable time needs to be spent refining this approach. While there are many theories on how to approach two-strike hitting, a hitter needs to find something that clicks for them. Some common two-strike approaches include spreading out the stance to eliminate extra movement, choking up on the bat, or crowding the plate. Other approach-based adjustments include taking “A” swings with less than two strikes and “B” swings with two strikes. This tells a hitter to shorten the swing or see the ball deeper and use the opposite gap. FanGraphics states that the average chase rate for an MLB player on all pitches is 30%, while the average chase rate for an MLB player with two strikes is around 42%. This is a significant increase. Knowing that chase rates typically increase with two strikes for various reasons, one of which is the hitter becoming overly aggressive, shrinking the strike zone with an opposite gap approach can shorten swings and help keep hitters in a better hitting posture. A “shrink the zone” cue is more of a feel than an actual directive for a hitter, but for someone overly aggressive, this might click for them. Working from the top of the strike zone to the bottom, as opposed to looking for the ball away or the ball down, also has benefits with two strikes. First, it allows the hitter the ability to cover the ever more popular elevated fastball. Secondly, any off-speed that starts at the bottom of the zone will be easier to let ride off the plate. Since almost half of your at-bats will come with two strikes finding a way to be productive is imperative. However, a hitter settles on their two-strike approach, the ultimate goal should still be to hit strikes hard.

State of Mind
While the other approach-based concepts are mostly established through existing data or factual observation, the batter’s mindset can’t be overlooked. The ability to be confident and aggressive while also possessing calmness and discipline is essential. A good hitter is always mentally prepared to attack. The objective of the mindset is to be ready to swing at every pitch until you shouldn’t. Some coaches call it the Yes, Yes, No approach. This type of approach gathers the body in a proactive hitting position for every pitch.

One way to properly prepare the mind to hit is the development of positive mental triggers.
This is a technique that military snipers use to perform at elite levels. The book The Sniper Mind describes a trigger as an event or action that induces a certain mental state. The book goes on to say triggers should be automatic and familiar. Once the trigger is established, you need to link it to the desired new habit. The book interviews a military sniper who says, “When things get crazy, and there’s a slight sense of panic, and then fear, I tell myself I am a killing machine. In my mind, I have this picture. No flaws, no fear, no mistakes. I am a machine. The perfect machine. And then my brain goes into high gear. Everything happens more slowly; at a distance, I can see things clearer. I feel calm and in control. I become the killing machine of my mind. All gleaming chrome and steel.”

Translating this to baseball, stepping into the batter’s box should elicit similar responses. The batter becomes the hitting machine of his mind with the necessary imagery and self-talk to produce the same state of being. Many hitters already do this subconsciously, but by consciously making this a part of the approach process, you are training your brain to work in specific ways.

Conclusion
If you talk with ten different hitters, you may get ten different answers, but everyone has the same goal of getting their best swing off as consistently as possible. A hitter needs to find what works for them. I recommend keeping it simple! Hitting is difficult enough without overcomplicating it with too many intricate specificities. It starts with being able to be on time for fastballs. A hitter is unable to make adjustments unless there’s a consistent ability in this area. Mike Trout has said it multiple times throughout his career. His general approach is to be on time for the fastball and then adjust to off-speed. Albert Pujols takes it a step further and says he looks for fastballs over the plate with a gap-to-gap approach. Some players, such as Christian Yelich, hit off feel. Other hitters use a combination of the concepts we’ve discussed. This knowledge will help you formulate your plan and put you in the best position to have consistent pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, and game to game success.



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..

 


 The Silver Rule: Speak to Ourselves the Way We Speak to Others
(4/12/2022)
 
   

The Silver Rule: Speak to Ourselves the Way We Speak to Others


Mental Skills
By Andy Bass


We all have a constant internal monologue. The number of words and thoughts humans have per day can be as many as 80,000. And some researchers speculate that 80% of those thoughts are ‘negative.’ While this article is not meant to challenge or disagree with any of those numbers… what we should consider is the word ‘negative.’

When we think of self-talk (the constant internal monologue that goes on in our head throughout the day) we think of thoughts as being either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’

“Coach, my self-talk is really negative today.”
“I really wish I had more positive self-talk out there.”
“I Need to get more positive thoughts than negative ones on the field.”

Thoughts are not ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ in the traditional sense. What does that mean? Player A may say to themselves at the plate after swinging at a pitch in the dirt, “You are better than this! Get your head out of you rear end and get going!”—and to Player A, that phrase is motivating and drives them.

Player B may say to themselves at the plate after swinging at a pitch in the dirt, “You are better than this… get your head out of your rear end and get going!” – and to Player B, that phrase may demoralize them and make things worse. It is all a matter of perspective and interpretation. This one phrase (You are better than this. Get your head out of your rear and get going) is open to interpretation and has different effects on both players. Thus, the phrase cannot, by definition, be considered ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’

Where do we go from here? How can we create a bandwidth for our own self-talk? For one, we can think of self-talk as either ‘beneficial’ (i.e., Player A) or ‘detrimental’ (i.e., Player B). Furthermore, what is the Golden Rule? The Golden Rule states “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If we flip this sentiment, and substitute the word ‘speak’ for do, we get the Silver Rule… “Speak unto ourselves the way we would speak to others.”

One way we can help our players determine what is ‘beneficial’ self-talk is to have them become aware to how they speak to their teammates. Perhaps Player A would be comfortable telling a teammate “You are better than that! Come on get your head out of your rear and play like you know you can!” in which case—that is the kind of self-talk that would be beneficial for them. Player B, alternatively, may not be comfortable saying that to a teammate. They may instead feel comfortable saying “It’s all good. You swung at that one and will get the next one.” THAT is the kind of self-talk that is beneficial for Player B.

Self-talk is messy. Our minds can go to some extreme places, especially in a sport like baseball or softball. One step we can take toward dialing in, and bringing awareness to, our self-talk is to ask, “would I ever speak this way to a teammate?” If the answer is yes—that is beneficial self-talk. If the answer is no—then we need to work to limit that from our minds.



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.


 Ankle Sprains in Baseball
(4/19/2022)
 
   

Ankle Sprains in Baseball


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Duke University, discusses ankle sprains and treatment options to allow you to quickly return to play. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.


 How to Align Team Goals and Set Individual Goals
(4/14/2022)
 
   

How to Align Team Goals and Set Individual Goals


Advice for how to get team and individual goals as aligned as possible


Setting team goals for the season or the entire year should be a group effort—not a coach-driven spreadsheet or list. Each athlete on your team will come into the season with different goals, motivations, and values, and as a coach, part of your job is to help the team blend the overarching team goals and values with those individual drivers.

The process begins with some thoughtful conversations, and should continue throughout the season. Here, TrueSport Expert and registered social work, Nadia Kyba, MSW, shares advice for how to get team and individual goals as aligned as possible.

Understand the difference between goals and values
Values include characteristics like hard work, courage, respect, and integrity, while goals are more specific and focused around actionable items, explains Kyba. While your team should have both process and outcome goals for the season, it's arguably better to focus on values that the team holds together. Your team should be value-driven rather than goal-driven. This allows for each individual to also have a set of individual, specific goals for the season while still feeling in alignment with the team's values.

Start the season with a team meeting about goals and values
Kyba recommends setting goals and values early on. In the beginning of the season, hold a team meeting where you discuss all of the objectives for the season. Who do your players want to be? What characteristics will help the team be strong and successful as a unit? What goals should the team focus on? Come up with a list, starting with the bigger picture values like hard work before getting granular on outcome goals like winning a regional championship title and process goals like showing up to practice on time and ready to work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Make sure all the athletes on the team actively participate in this exercise: Athletes are much more likely to buy in and take ownership of goals and values that they create, rather than ones you've preselected for them. Allow some time for athletes to also reflect and write out their individual goals for the season, encouraging them to think in terms of process and outcome goals.

Share individual goals
As you create a list of goals and values for the whole team, it's important to allow athletes to share their individual goals as well. Letting athletes bring these goals to the attention of the team not only creates accountability around the goals, but it allows teammates and you as the coach to better understand each athlete's individual hopes for the season. As a coach, take note of these individual goals and how they might help or hinder overall team objectives. For instance, an athlete whose goal is to score a certain number of points in a season may need occasional reminders that a core value of the team is teamwork, and he needs to be passing the ball more often. But on the other hand, if one athlete's goal is to work on her leadership skills and public speaking, you can encourage her to lead warmup drills and pep talks before games, and to emphasize the team value of leadership. You can even take the conversation further by asking athletes how they can connect their individual goals back to the team's values and goals to inspire actionable ideas.

Create a list of team values and hang it somewhere it's easy to see
This can be a team project or it can be relegated to the more artistic members of the team, but create a poster or other wall hanging that lists out the team's values and goals for the season. Snap a photo or email it to all the athletes (and parents of the athletes if appropriate). This way, the initial goal-setting conversation isn't forgotten as athletes get busy with the season and with schoolwork.

Understand and acknowledge that not all goals will align perfectly
While some teams may be more suited to meshing individual goals with team-oriented goals, that won't always be the case, and as a coach, it's your job to find the right balance between helping athletes achieve individual success while still helping the team thrive. Most team sports are fairly straightforward, though things like playing time and positions may be challenging as some individuals set goals of more time on the field and less time on the bench. Individual sports like wrestling may prove more challenging, especially for older athletes with goals that prioritize individual performances rather than team unity. And any athlete who's involved in multiple sports, on multiple teams, or participating in other after-school electives may have a very different set of individual goals compared to the team goal of showing up to every practice. Remember, athletes are rarely actively trying to work against the team goals, but there may be an individual mismatch, and viewing that with empathy rather than aggravation is critical as a coach.

Get to know athlete's motivations
It's one thing to understand that each athlete has individual goals. But it's arguably just as important to understand the motivation for each goal. The better you can understand the individual goals of your athletes, as well as the 'why' behind them, the better you can align those goals with the team's overarching goals. For example, an athlete whose motivation is rooted in needing to get a scholarship in order to attend college might serve as a reminder to you that not every athlete on the team can afford expensive team gear or can commit to extra weekend practices.

Celebrate victories
Each week, take a moment after practice to acknowledge some small (or big) wins. Did someone on the team truly exemplify the team value of hard work? Did the team as a whole hit the process goal of showing up on time every day? Taking the time to acknowledge when goals and values are being met makes it easier for athletes to remember what they're working towards, so take the time to make their efforts feel seen.

Takeaway
Every time your players come to a practice or competition, there are both individual goals and values, as well as team goals and values, at play. These tips will help coaches align goals and values, while still honoring each individual.


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.


 What's the Call? Definitions
(4/7/2022)
 
   

Definitions


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


There are no outs. The pitcher has a problem releasing the ball, so the ball bounces off the ground once and enters the strike zone. The batter reacts quickly and drives the ball into right field for a base hit.

Is this a base hit?

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.


 Quick Relay Prevents Possible Triple
(4/4/2022)
 
   

Quick Relay Prevents Possible Triple


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow analyzes a quick relay by the left fielder that prevents a possible triple.


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.


 Sharing Information
(3/30/2022)
 
   

Sharing Information


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer recommends that players and coaches communicate with one another during the off-season to enhance their preseason preparation and expand their knowledge of the game.


Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 Life-Changing Power of Sport
(3/24/2022)
 
   

Life-Changing Power of Sport


7 Steps to teaching youth athletes to respect umpires and officials


Even from a young age, the sports children play and the teams they join can shape them into the adults that they will become. Here, three TrueSport Ambassadors are sharing how sport has changed their lives, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. If you’re a parent or coach of a young athlete, hopefully the stories from these Ambassadors helps deepen your understanding of how important sport can be to young people.

Sport teaches athletes to deal with adversity
“Sport has shaped my life in multiple ways, but one of the most prominent ways has been through the various trials I’ve faced in sport,” says 18-year-old Olympic weightlifter Abby Raymond. “Every hurdle has given me an opportunity to grow and learn from my mistakes. Each setback has made me stronger by providing the opportunity to persevere, which in turn, has shaped my character.”

Even though the tough situations are uncomfortable, they also teach athletes how to be successful in sport and life. “I’ve learned everything I know today about sports from great coaches I've had in my life. And I've learned what not to do because of some bad coaches I've had,” says wheelchair curling Paralympian Steve Emt. “As long as you can learn from the good and leave the bad with the bad, you’ll be successful.”

Sport creates community
“Sport has changed my life for the better by providing an amazing community of other athletes, leaders, and coaches,” says Raymond. For many young people, it’s been difficult to feel like they’re part of a community in the past year as schools switched to online learning and children weren’t allowed to spend time together due to COVID-19. However, many student athletes were able to stay connected to teams and coaches thanks to virtual practices, and this showed just how important sport can be when it comes to creating strong community ties.

“Being a disabled athlete, I've come across some incredible athletes during my seven-year career,” adds Emt. “We all have different stories and have shown incredible resolve in overcoming serious life-threatening adversities. I love being around my teammates because they pick me up when I need it and inspire me to be the best.”

Sport teaches life lessons and values
“Coaches have influenced my life in and outside of sport by being intentional about the lessons and values they teach,” says Raymond. “I’ve been blessed with amazing coaches throughout my athletic journey thus far and each coach I’ve had has been intentional about making sure that the lessons they teach me at the gym can also be applied in life. The best piece of advice I’ve received from my coach was to trust the process and to aim for progress rather than perfection.”

Athletes can grow into role models
“Not long after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 16 years of age, I joined a team with other cyclists living with type 1 diabetes and that was a turning point for me,” says Mandy Marquardt, a professional cyclist for a global all-diabetes professional cycling team. “Finding Team Novo Nordisk changed my life—having the support system of people who understand what it’s like to follow your dreams while managing your diabetes is really special.”

“Sport has given me a platform to help others. Our team works to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes,” says Marquardt. “I’m grateful to do what I love, give back, and change people’s lives in a lot of ways. I strive to be a role model for young children, as well as a role model for people with diabetes, and inspire them to live life to the fullest. Being an elite athlete is a full-time job, and managing diabetes is 24/7, but I wouldn’t wish for it to be any other way.”

Sport teaches work ethic
“Sport has taught me the importance of hard work, teamwork, and participating in something that is bigger than yourself,” says Emt. “I couldn't imagine life without sports of some sort. Everything I learned at an early age was from participating in some sort of sport. I learned that I needed to work hard because others on my team depended on me. This lesson has stayed with me to this day.”

Sport teaches the value of losing
“My first curling coach taught me all about the sport of curling, and more importantly, how to be a man off the ice,” recalls Emt. “Before he and this sport came into my life, I needed to WIN. Tony, and this sport, taught me that is not possible, and that I needed to enjoy every second out there on the ice and every second when I come off. After every game or practice, no matter how I did on the ice, Tony was there with a big hug waiting for me. Tony taught me about life…curling is just a sport.”
“My coach Andrew Harris with Edge Cycling understands life outside of sport too and is fully invested in each athlete on the team,” says Marquardt. “He likes to say, ‘Winning is a lot more fun than losing, so let’s have some fun.’ It made me chuckle when I first heard it: It isn’t always about winning, but ultimately having fun and enjoying each and every day of putting in the work. As long as you show up and do your best, you’re a step ahead.”

Takeaway
Sport is often reduced to conversations about tactics and plays, talent and skills, and winning and losing, but it’s so much more than that. It's a life changing experience for a young athlete whose character is often shaped by the lessons they learn on the field of play. With the right coaches and support, sport has the power to shape resilient, courageous, and healthy young people who find success on and off the field.


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.


 When to Bring the Infield In
(3/22/2022)
 
   

When to Bring the Infield In


By Jim Koerner


In 2001, with the infield drawn in, the New York Yankees lost the World Series on a broken bat single that barely glided beyond the infield dirt. While Yankee manager Joe Torre’s options may have been limited in this particular situation, knowing when to bring the Infield In can have game changing repercussions. There are numerous factors to consider when making these decisions. Let’s examine what these look like.

What do the analytics say?

Sports Information Solutions reports that from 2015-2018 (MLB) with the Infield In batting averages on ground balls and short line drives was .366 with 49% of the time at least one run was scored. In contrast, normal depth on similar ground balls and short line drives yielded a .296 batting average with 63% of the time at least one run was scored. These numbers were based on late game situations with less than two outs and runners on either second and third or just third base. As you can see, batting averages, and thus on-base percentages, drop significantly with the infield back, but it also yields a 14% greater chance to give up a run. So when is the trade-off worth it?

Standard usage of an Infield In defensive positioning

All infielders are brought to the front edge of the infield grass with the sole purpose of stopping the runner from third base from scoring on a ground ball. Typically, this is a late game situation (8th or 9th inning) with either zero or one out. It should be deemed that if the runner on third base was to score, the outcome of the game will be directly affected. In most cases, the potential runner on third base represents either the tying, go ahead, or winning run.

What inning is it and what’s the score?

If it’s early in the game, your team has time to score. As you get deeper into the game those opportunities become more limited. The score may be the biggest determinant. If you are winning by more than one run at any point in the game, there is no need to bring the Infield In. Outs become more important as well as limiting any chance of a big inning from your opponent. In contrast, if your team is behind, you may want to prevent more runs from scoring by bringing the Infield In.

Is there a difference in strategy with a runner on third compared to runners on second and third?

By bringing the Infield In with runners on second and third, you must think about your probability of winning if the runner from second also scores. Keep in mind that if your Infield is In, the runner on second can now get a bigger lead. This nearly guarantees him scoring on a single. If you’re the visiting team in the bottom of the 8th or 9th inning with runners on second and third, it may be wise to only bring the Infield In if the runner on third represents the go ahead or winning run. In contrast, if you’re the home team in the top of the 8th inning with the score tied, you still have two innings left to hit. This might change your strategy. Now you may want to consider factors, such as where you are in the lineup and who is on the opponent’s mound.

Is there a difference with no one out or one out?

This is another very important factor. Playing your Infield In with no one out takes on greater risk than with one out. “The Book” states that with no one out and a runner on first base, the run probability almost doubles (.95) as opposed to one out (.57). This means that if the batter reaches first base, the likelihood of giving up another run in the same inning is significantly higher with no one out. With one out in the inning and a runner on first base, a ground ball double play gets you out of the inning.

Who’s pitching?

This can help you determine how early in the game you may want to adjust your infield. While it may be discouraged to bring the Infield In too early in the game, let’s look at how the pitching match-up might affect this. If the opponent’s pitcher is challenging to score on, trying to save a run earlier in the game might be the difference between winning and losing. If you feel that scoring on the opponent’s pitcher is conceivable, it may be a good idea to play back and get outs.

The type of pitcher you have is important to consider, as well. Does your guy typically induce a lot of ground balls? Have the batters been overmatched at the plate? Recognizing these qualities can help in the decision making process throughout the game. Also, knowing if there is a pitching mismatch can influence what you may decide as a coach. If you believe you have a decided advantage on the mound, why give your opponent the opportunity to have a big inning early in the game? Standard depth would be the best option in this situation.

How confident are you in your offense?

The weaker your offense, the more important it is to prevent runs. This can affect how early and often you try to cut the run at the plate. In contrast, if you have faith that your team will sufficiently score, the risk and reward analysis changes. In this case, have confidence in your offense and play standard depth until the situation becomes more critical.

Is a 5-man infield an option?

In today’s world of extreme shifts, advanced scouting, and precise analytics, this might be the next wave of run prevention. While we have seen it several times at the MLB level, the implementation of a five-man infield takes on great risk. A five-man infield, where an outfielder is pulled in to play infield, should only be implemented if the runner on third represents the winning run in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings. If this is a strategy you wish to apply, there are several factors you should consider. First, does my pitcher give up more ground balls or fly balls? Is the batter a ground ball or fly ball hitter? For positioning purposes, does the batter have strong pull tendencies, or does he spray the ball over the field? The following is a scenario where the risk might be worth taking. It is the bottom of the ninth inning in a tied game. There is a runner on third base and no one or one out. On the mound, is a right-handed sinker ball pitcher that, based on the spray chart, would have difficulty elevating. At the plate, is a right-handed hitter with a two to one ground ball to fly ball ratio and limited power potential. What would you do?

Summary

Obviously, the key to winning baseball games is scoring more runs than your opponent. When done correctly and strategically, bringing your Infield In can be a valuable tool in preventing runs from being scored. When ultimately making the decision, it should depend on the urgency of preventing that run from scoring. Consider your knowledge of the score, inning, opponent, and your own team’s ability when doing so. Put your team in the best position to win by making the right call!

*All of the above scenarios are based independent of the intentional walk. Intentionally walking a batter can significantly change game strategy.



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..