Darren Fenster Resources

 Don’t Amplify The Problem
(10/15/2020)
 
   

Don’t Amplify The Problem Without Trying To Be A Part Of The Solution


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


A couple years ago, I moved into a new development five minutes from where I grew up along the Jersey Shore. Living in this community comes with some great amenities including a clubhouse, pool, and gym, while also enjoying a maintenance-free lifestyle when it comes to things like landscaping and snow removal. Living here also comes with monthly Homeowner Association dues and an agreement to abide by the HOA regulations that make it all go. The perks and the guidelines are not mutually independent of one another and are necessary to work together in order to help the community operate smoothly.

We have a webpage that is a pathway for communication from management to announce certain community events or changes to some of the rules that the builder initially put in place. Additionally, the page acts as a forum for residents like myself to make others aware of various ongoings in the development that may include specific questions about our homes, organizing group outings for the kids who live here, or voicing concern about the way things may be going. Over the past few months, there has been a ton of “concerned voices” to the point where the page has become an incredibly toxic outlet for a very small number of homeowners to loudly complain about anything and everything under the sun.

“The grass is being cut too short.” “The grass is being cut too long.” (Yes, seriously). “Why hasn’t the road been paved yet?” “It just started snowing, so where are the plows that we are paying for?” “My ceiling has a crack in it.” “The landscaping company sucks.” “The builder sucks.” “The snow removable company sucks.” “The garbage truck made a mess.” “These people should be fired.” “My toilet keeps getting dirty.” (Yes, also a real complaint). Some of the issues are serious and absolutely warrant attention. But many, like those mentioned above, are not and highlight a far bigger issue: frequent complaints that don’t ever come with a single idea of solution.

For coaches, this type of behavior probably sounds pretty familiar. Have you ever had a player who was not happy about his role and spent more energy complaining about it than he did work to get better? How about a parent who wanted a meeting because you were screwing their kid out of an opportunity? Or maybe even an assistant who didn’t like the way you were running things as the head coach? Sadly, in our society, these instances are all commonplace in the landscape of sports today.

The dynamics of groups, whether they be communities, businesses, or teams, requires people to work together in order to have any chance of being successful. Our community has an elected board to make important decisions for our development and its homeowners. Businesses have their executives who are charged to do the same to benefit employees, stockholders, and customers. And in the athletic world, we have coaching staffs in place who are responsible for pushing our individual players and collective teams forward, together. Years ago, a wise man once told me that you cannot be all things to all people. One of the greatest challenges of leadership is making tough decisions that some people will not be happy about, and then, continuing to represent those dissenting voices as their leader.

Cheryl Reeve, a four-time WNBA Champion head coach for the Minnesota Lynx, has a practice of involving her players with every significant decision that comes up over the course of a season. Their voice comes with a caveat: because they are involved in making the decision, they release the right to complain about it after it has been made. While they may not agree with it, they had a seat at the table, and understand that in the end, it is a team decision, and as a part of the team, they will support that decision.

Those who are not actively behind the scenes have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. Simple solutions are not always as simple as they may seem from the outside. Until they become coaches themselves, players will never fully understand the challenges that go into playing time and team roles. There are often instances of players who think they are being unfairly treated by a certain coach, when the reality is that coach- as evident in those private meetings- is that player’s biggest sponsor. Until an assistant coach has to sync up three or four different groups of a team, they won’t fully appreciate how hard a daily schedule can be. Maybe there isn’t a better way to organize things because of all the pieces that go into the day.

When problems arise, and they will, challenge yourself to be more than just that person who criticizes everything that you’re not happy with. Come with potential solutions. Are you a player wanting to have a greater role? Then have a conversation with your coach about what exactly you need to do earn more at bats or innings on the mound. Are you an assistant coach unhappy about the way practice is being run? Offer a different option for the head coach to take a look at. Are you the leader of the team in charge of making final decisions? Create an environment that welcomes outside voices, where team members can be heard. If that becomes an accepted norm, while they may not like your final decision, they are more likely to respect it, and continue to be a supportive part of the team.

Very few things in this world run smoothly without issue. Team harmony in sport is no different. But when all people do is only complain about things, they are only amplifying the issue and throwing fuel on to the fire. We all have a choice. We can make problems worse if that’s all we ever talk about, or we can bring potential solutions to the table, and work together to fix it.


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


 Players Aren't the Only Ones Who Need to be Who They Are
(9/17/2020)
 
   

Players Aren't The Only Ones Who Need To Be Who They Are


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


As coaches, we often talk about the importance of our players being who they are and doing what they do. We want them to use their gifts, play with their personalities, and not try to be someone else. Players who truly know themselves have the best chance to maximize their unique potential.

It may be just as important for coaches to be who they are and to do what they do to enable them to help maximize their players’ and their teams’ full potential. Last winter, HBO aired a documentary profiling the relationship between two football coaching legends, Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Unquestionably, coaches across America watched intently with pen and paper in hand, feverishly taking notes and fully prepared to be the next Belichick or the next Saban by the time credits rolled. Unfortunately, that is impossible. There is only one Bill Belichick. There is only one Nick Saban.

And there was only one Fred Hill.

In the spring of 2006, upon the sudden end to my playing career, Coach Hill created a position on his Rutgers staff for me because, 1) he thought I would make a good coach, and 2) I had nothing better to do and no plan B in life. At the time, I thought this would be a simple stopgap as I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Little did I know that this would be the start of my second life in the game.

Assistant coaches are the unsung heroes of a coaching staff. They are the epitome of the behind the scenes worker who gets little reward and even less recognition for the job they do. An assistant coach has to be an extension of the head coach. In order for the relationship between the two to thrive, both must be aligned in their organizational standards as well as their strategic beliefs so that their players will get a single, consistent message. With all that in mind, when I entered the coaching profession, I thought I had to be the next Fred Hill.

Being able to work under the guy I played for in college- and who immensely helped me develop as a player- made for a pretty natural transition at the start. I knew his sayings. I knew how he coached. I knew what he believed. But as I began to find my own voice as a coach, I quickly learned that it was impossible for me, a new coach with NO experience as a coach, to be the same as an ABCA Hall of Famer with more than 1,000 career wins.

The process of finding yourself as a coach can be as long of a journey as it is to find yourself as a player. The funny part was that baseball was the least of my worries, as I was pretty confident in my foundation of knowing the game. It was actually the coaching in general where I was all over the map. It was a challenge at times to understand how to handle players on the field and off, how to create cohesion on a staff, or how to disagree with something without causing dissention.

By the time I left Rutgers to join the Red Sox in 2012, I had grown leaps and bounds both personally and professionally over the previous six years. But as the new guy in the organization as an A-ball hitting coach, I was much like a rookie in the clubhouse, unsure exactly of my place in this new environment. The general rule was the same in professional baseball, where hitting coaches and pitching coaches are not only an extension of their club’s manager, but also a vital branch of an entire organizational philosophy. I was hired to coach hitters in Greenville and I needed to figure out the best way to do that. How hands on did I need to be? Could I implement different things with different hitters? What would our daily routine be?

There was no handbook to answer all of my questions, but it was clear that experience through trial and error would be my best teacher, along with leaning on my colleagues who had been in my shoes before. Slowly but surely, I started to settle in. The more comfortable I got in my own skin, the better I become as my own coach. But I wasn’t entirely me. I wasn’t THAT comfortable. I was getting there, but I wasn’t there.

Then came the ground out that marked my arrival.

About one month into the season in early May, one of our best hitters came up with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs. His job, plain and simple, was to drive that run home. We preached situational hitting and the value of getting the job done when it came to developing into a productive hitter. The result of this particular at bat was a roll-over, ground ball to the second baseman. The run scored. The job was done. And I was pumped. Our hitter… not so much.

He sulked off the field. Banged his helmet on the bench. Slammed his bat back into the rack. If there was one thing that always got under my skin both as a player and now as a coach, it’s playing selfish. As I’m watching him come down towards me in the dugout, my blood is starting to boil. By the time he was standing next to me, he started complaining to himself. I snapped. “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM,” I politely asked. “You just did your job. You helped your team. Now stop being a baby, grow up, and pick up your teammate who is hitting right now.”

What I didn’t realize at that impulse was that Chad Epperson, one of our roving coordinators from Boston, was in the dugout at the time. Had I been conscious to his presence, I would have been much more guarded with my words, as I had been to that point, if I said anything at all. I was still the new guy. Still finding my way. Still finding my place. After the game, Eppy came up to me and said that if I didn’t address that situation in the dugout, he would have himself, and he absolutely loved the way I handled it, reassuring me that sometimes players need some messages louder than others.

That meant everything to me, and not because he was ok with me getting on a player who acted unprofessionally. But rather because that was the moment when I knew I could truly be who I was as coach. I didn’t have to be cautiously filtered like I had been to that point. Eppy gave me that freedom to be me. That moment, yet so small in the grand scheme of everything, baseball or otherwise, was, still to this day, one of the most defining moments of my entire coaching career. A coach who knows who he is and does what he does is in the best position to help his players do the same.



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


 Be Ready for When Your Number is Called
(8/20/2020)
 
   

Be Ready for When Your Name is Called


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Unless you followed the Rutgers University Baseball program in the mid to late 90’s, you probably have no idea who Joe Waleck is. Even if you were a fan of the team, he wouldn’t likely be one of the first 15 players from that roster who you’d remember. Why would you? He was the team’s third-string catcher, and in 1998, the fifth-year senior finished the season with a grand total of 28 at bats after appearing in just 19 games. But for those who closely watched the school capture its first Big East Conference title, you know exactly who Waleck is, and are quite familiar with one of the greatest moments in history of Rutgers Baseball that he authored.

On Wednesday, May 13, 1998, our top-seeded Scarlet Knights opened the conference tournament against sixth-seeded and in-state rival Seton Hall. With two outs in the top of the 9th inning, the tying run on second base and us clinging to a 6-5 lead, a routine ground ball was hit my way at shortstop. As the classic, good-field, no-hit infielder, most people in the stadium in that moment probably thought the game was over. They thought wrong. The ball kicked off of my glove for an error, and instead of shaking hands, we were headed for extra innings.

In the bottom of the 16th inning, our starting catcher reached base and was lifted for a pinch-runner. With our backup catcher hurt, in came Joe Waleck to catch the top half of the 17th. By the time he came up to hit in the bottom half of the frame, records had already been set for, among others, the longest game in league history. After sitting on the bench for more than five hours, Joe Waleck stepped to the plate for his first at bat of the day, ready to seize the opportunity that every player dreams about. He hit a three-run, walk-off home run that, he would tell you, is the greatest moment of his athletic life.

Still to this day, I thank him for hitting that home run and he thanks me for making that error.

It is hard being a back-up. It is a challenge to stay motivated and to feel like a part of the team when the stat sheet says otherwise. But the truth is, every single player who has a uniform has an opportunity. It may not be the opportunity that you want, but it is an opportunity for you to be ready to take advantage of. The biggest challenge of being a reserve player often is simply not knowing when your chance is going to come. It is incredibly tough to be ready for something that doesn’t have a date or time.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, no two opportunities are the same. Some may find their names penciled in the lineup everyday regardless how they perform, while others may only enter the game as a backup. What is constant between the many vastly different opportunities that exist are the players equality to take advantage of them.

For role players who rarely see game action, the opportunity to take advantage of is batting practice. THAT’S your game for that day; your opportunity to get better. That’s how you ready yourself for your chance when the lights go on. For the backup who only gets in when the game is out of hand, your lone at bat when your team is down by seven is your opportunity to take advantage of. It may seem like a meaningless AB to everyone else, but to you, it carries meaning. When you take advantage of one opportunity, others generally follow.

During this unprecedented time in our history, in a way, Coronavirus has turned us all into Joe Waleck. Like him, none of us know for sure when our number will be called again. But just like he came off the bench in a key point in the game, it’s up to us to be ready for when that moment comes.


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


 Finding an Edge
(7/16/2020)
 
   

Finding an Edge


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


For all the wrong reasons, the Astros were the talk of the off-season. Following an extensive investigation by the Commissioner’s Office, it was found that Houston had implemented a system that illegally enabled their hitters to know what pitch was coming, giving them a distinct advantage over their opponents en-route to a World Series title in 2017. Well before technology, analytics, and data were even on baseball’s radar, players and coaches have been looking for an edge as long as the game has been around. The Astros just took it to a whole ‘nother level, going leaps and bounds beyond the appropriate line of gamesmanship within the game.

Players and teams who are constantly looking for even the slightest of edges are able to separate themselves from the pack when they find it. The edge is about the smallest of details; and for those with the eyes and the mind to find it, an edge can be found all over the game.

From 2006-2011, as a member of the coaching staff at Rutgers University, I was responsible for creating scouting reports for all of our opponents. In addition to developing a plan of attack based on the overall stat lines for the opposing players, we also compiled additional information and tendencies that were potentially valuable while easily able to be implemented in game by our players and coaches. Knowing a few of these different things and finding a way to use that information could help us on every side of the ball.

Looking at a spray chart to know where to position our infielders might just enable us to make a play defensively that otherwise may have gotten through for a hit. It may allow a pitcher to get ahead in a big at bat in a key moment to know that the hitter was not a first-pitch swinger. It might open a window for us to get a stolen base on a pitcher’s slow delivery or stretch an extra 90-feet against a weak-armed outfielder. All of those types of edges add up, and over the course of a game and a season, they add up to wins.

The eyes can also create an edge by simply paying close attention. For decades, baserunners, when on second base, have worked to subtly relay pitches to the hitter by intently watching a catcher’s sign sequence. This is essentially what the Astros got in trouble for, only they didn’t use their eyes from second base; they used a camera from centerfield. Similarly, the keenest of eyes can pick up when a pitcher may be tipping his pitches by seeing the most minute difference from pitch to pitch.

For as detailed and challenging as getting pitches may be for a lineup, when out in the field, that edge can be gained much easier. Foul balls tell a story for the defense. When a hitter is clearly late against a hard-throwing pitcher, infielders and outfielders should clearly see that and position themselves a few steps to the opposite field. Pitchers can get a leg up against a hitter by reading swings; was the batter completely fooled by a change-up? Then it might be a good idea to throw it again. Baserunners may get a great jump on a dirt ball when realizing that the pitcher always throws one when he gets to two strikes. All of these tiny, little edges add up, especially when everyone on the team is looking for them.

Finding an edge is all about preparation off the field and in the dugout, allowing players and coaches to anticipate when the game comes around. Information enables those in the game to take the guess work out of it. With all of the variables that can occur over the course of an inning, a game, and a season, every pitch can be a crapshoot. The more variables we can eliminate, the easier we can make a really, really hard sport.



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


 The Last Line of Defense
(6/18/2020)
 
   

The Last Line of Defense


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Over the last few years, no skill in our game has transformed more than hitting. With new ways to evaluate swings, combined with more aggressive approaches to hit the ball over the shift instead of around it, hitters are doing more damage than ever. For all that has changed in the batters’ box, there is a very important corresponding fact that we need to acknowledge: outfield play has never been more important than it is today.

Every year as a manager, usually on the day when we are teaching our players the pop-fly priority team fundamental, I would gather everyone together and explain to them that when the ball went in the air, they needed to become Dennis Rodman. A confused look usually overcame the entire group, not knowing for sure who exactly Rodman was.

Before he became “that guy with all the tattoos,” as our young players vaguely recognized him, Dennis Rodman was arguably the best rebounder in NBA history, carving out a Hall-of-Fame career by doing the dirty work on the court that few would ever embrace. When the basketball was shot in the air, Rodman expected to get the rebound. Every single time. And THAT’S the approach all great outfielders have; when the ball goes in the air, they expect to catch it.

There are three main priorities when it comes to outfield play, and the first is a simple one: EFFORT. Go. Get. The. Ball. Without effort, an outfielder can’t even be average. With effort, an outfielder will always give himself a chance to make a play. All of the extra bases are in the outfield, and nothing shuts down the extra base easier or better than simply effort to get on the baseball. The harder an outfielder goes after a ball, the sooner a baserunner or third-base coach has to make the decision on whether or not to stretch an extra 90’ or send the runner around.

The second priority of outfield play is a mental one: ENGAGEMENT. We want all of our players, no matter the position but especially our outfielders, to engage in the pitch, the play, and the game. In the Major Leagues, on average, roughly 300 pitches are thrown per game. That means for 150 of them, our players are out in the field playing defense and are expected to lock in mentally on every single one. That means they are timing out their pre-pitch to be ready to move to the best of their ability if the ball is hit their way.

We expect our outfielders to be engaged to the play. Whenever the ball is put in play, and many times when it’s not, there is always somewhere for everyone on the field to be. When players are focused on their specific job at hand, they are in the correct position, doing the right thing. The final piece of engagement is with the game. Depending on the score, the situation, or the inning, the variables of the game will dictate our players decisions offensively and, in this case, defensively. When our outfielders are engaged in the game, they know where to throw the ball, when to dive for a ball, or when to play it safe.

And lastly, the final priority of outfield play is OWNERSHIP, where we want our players to take pride in perfecting their craft in becoming the best defenders they can be. This is a two-pronged focal point, the first of which takes place during drill work. Our practices routines are designed in a way to only have one or two specific things to work on as we progress through our drill packages. When players truly take ownership, their drill work is laser-focused on the things they are working on and they can’t help but get better.

The second part of ownership is found during batting practice… on the outfield grass. Without question, the most important part of an outfielder’s day is when they work live during BP. There is no drill or fungo that offers a better rep than what an outfielder can get during batting practice. It’s as close to a game rep as there is, allowing for outfielders to get consistent with their pre-pitch timing, clean up their reads and breaks, and perfecting their routes to the ball. How an outfielder approaches batting practice will determine whatever they will become.

Many coaches have long tried to “hide” a productive bat in the outfield, thinking that they could sacrifice defense in favor of offense. Well, with the direction the game is going in, that strategy probably isn’t the smartest one in this day and age. For outfield is truly the last line of defense.


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