Fundamental Skills Resources

 Catch Greatness by Chasing the Right Things
(2/18/2021)
 
 
   

Catch Greatness by Chasing the Right Things


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


It’s easy to fall into the trap. We’ve all done it, myself included, many times. Societal norms can pull us in the wrong direction and leave us chasing the wrong things. We chase the things that the world tells us to, that will give us a better outside appearance when the reality is that we should be chasing the things that transform us on the inside.

Money.

Status.

Titles.

Possessions.

Companions.

It’s common to chase all of these things at various points in life, I’ve been guilty of this many times, but happiness doesn’t always follow even after these things you think you want are attained. When you chase the right things, personal fulfillment is often what follows, and that’s far more valuable than dollars or fame.

The same premise holds true on the diamond. Over the past fifteen-plus years, from working as a college assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Rutgers, to becoming a Minor League hitting instructor turned manager turned coordinator, there have been far too many instances of people going after the wrong things in the wrong ways. This includes Minor Leaguers chasing the Big Leagues, the high school kid chasing the scholarship, college coaches chasing their next job, hitters chasing hits, or pitchers chasing punchouts. Whether you are a player or a coach, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “are YOU chasing the right things?”

Chase PASSION: truly enjoying what you do makes you want to do it more and inspires others in the process to do the same. Coaches’ love for the game gets ingrained into the players they get to work with. Players’ love for the game energizes their coaches to work even harder to make them better. It is a two-way street, and it happens all the time.

Chase PEOPLE: those who will make you better from the inside, out. A few years ago, I had the chance to leave the Red Sox for a higher profile job and a bigger salary. Had I been presented with this opportunity ten years prior, I would have signed on the dotted line before the offer was made because money and status were my compasses. Luckily, my new compass points to people. I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave the people with the Red Sox, who gave me a second life in the game. Turning that “better” job down was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Chase PROCESS: when you work with the belief and the effort that you never arrive, one day, you will. Every Minor Leaguer wants to have a long Major League career, while every hitter wants to get a hit whenever they step foot in the box, and every pitcher dreams of throwing an immaculate inning, striking out the side on nine straight pitches. It’s easy to chase those results. But when people learn what exactly goes into those results and focus on controlling the things that they can control, the results they want often take care of themselves.

Chase AUTHENTICITY: surrounding yourself with real people helps you learn that you don’t have to be fake. Throughout life, we all go through insecurities. That same self-doubt is all over the place on baseball fields everywhere. “Am I good enough?” “Why can’t I break the lineup.” I don’t throw hard enough.” We all have our own unique gifts, both on and off the field. When we truly appreciate and embrace what those gifts are and stop yearning for what are don’t, we are in a far better position to find success by simply being who we are and doing what we do, both on and off the field.

Chase GROWTH: the smartest guy in the room is the one who doesn’t know a thing. When I first started coaching in 2006, I was the dumbest guy in the room because I knew it all. Once I began to understand what I, in fact, did not understand, I was able to transform myself as a coach and continue to chase knowledge every day, in some way, shape, or form. A player who chases growth welcomes their small wins but quickly moves on to their next challenge. What does that player’s progress look like after a week, a month, a season, or a career? They are the epitome of the compound effect of simply trying to get one percent better every day.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be great. In fact, this world is in desperate need of people with great aspirations. Greatness won’t come overnight, and it surely won’t come from running in the wrong direction. But once you understand exactly what to chase, you can’t help but reach that greatness, no matter what it may look like.



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 Smartest Guy in the Room
(1/14/2021)
 
   

The Smartest Guy in the Room Is the One Who Doesn’t Know a Thing


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The New Year is upon us. When the ball drops in Times Square, not only does it represent a calendar change, but it is also the moment for many of us on the diamond when we realize that baseball is right around the corner. And to prime us for the crack of the bat and the pat of the glove, every January, convention season often acts as the unofficial kickoff to the baseball new year.

Throughout the country, various organizations put on clinics where coaches from just about every level of the game discuss and dissect just about every facet of the game. From topics as detailed as fielding a slow roller to as board as developing culture within a team, these conventions offer so many different perspectives on our game with one common theme: sharing ideas with a coaching fraternity who wants to help their players and teams get better. Those who attend these annual events also have a common bond: they are smart enough- and humble enough- to know that they don’t know it all.

In January of 2007, just months into my own coaching career, I attended my first American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) National Convention, the circuit’s marquee event. Listening to speakers from professional baseball, to big-time Division One head coaches, to high school skippers that I had never heard of, I was completely blown away by their knowledge of the game’s smallest details and even more so by their passion and willingness to openly share with other coaches, some of whom were trying to knock them off of their pedestal. During those few days in Orlando, I truly got to know how much I didn’t know.

At its core, our game is the same today as it was 50 years ago, or even 100 years ago. Teams try to score more on offensive and prevent runs when out in the field; that part hasn’t changed one bit. But what has evolved and always will evolve is the scope under which we look at, and in turn, teach the game. That ability to continue to grow as a coach right along with the game is a direct result of simply being open to learning new ways to do things. Staying current doesn’t mean year in and year out you completely throw what you know out the window, but rather being able to build from your foundation from previous years with potentially better or more efficient ways to get the most out of your players and clubs.

Now some 14-plus years into my own coaching journey, I have had the privilege of speaking on the main stage of many of the events of convention season where I previously have sat in the audience. I often end my presentations with the following sign off:
The dumbest guy in the room is the one who knows it all. And the smartest guy in the room is the one who doesn’t know a thing.
The know-it-all isn’t in the crowd at these clinics because, in their mind, they have nothing more to learn. The coach who “doesn’t know a thing” always knows that there is still something to gain with the end result of helping our game grow.

With convention season set to begin here in 2021, the pandemic has forced much of the circuit to go virtual this year, making it easier for coaches across the country to learn from more coaches across the country. USA Baseball has established Online Community Clinics that are part of the USA Baseball Coaches Certification Pathway. USA Baseball also offers Regional Clinics, two-day immersion events hosted in Major League cities and coordinated in conjunction with Major League Baseball clubs. Day one is spent with clinic speakers in a lecture style format; while day two is on the field, typically in a big league stadium, applying the content speakers referenced the day before.
USA Baseball Virtual Community Clinics
USA Baseball Coaches Clinics  


Below are links to a handful of other clinics:
ABCA National Convention
World Baseball Coaches Convention
i70 Clinic
Be The Best
CatcherCon
Slugfest
Pitchapolooza
Bridge the Gap


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.


 Become a Part of the (Book) Club
(12/17/2020)
 
   

Become a Part of the (Book) Club


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Over this past year, the entire baseball community was knocked on its heels thanks to coronavirus. The Big League season didn't even start until July and lasted only 60 games. College programs across the country had to send their student-athletes home before getting into their conference slate. There wasn't a single Minor League Baseball game in 2020; the entire year a wash for player development. Many high school teams suffered an identical fate.

For a few months beginning in the middle of March, from Little Leaguers to Major Leaguers, just about every single baseball player was in the same boat: living without the game. How were players supposed to get better when living in a region with significant quarantine restrictions? How could teams get better as collective groups when they couldn't get together as collective groups? The spring of 2020 became a free-for-all with most everyone on their own when improving on the diamond.

As a coach and coordinator, I was in the same predicament. No players to work with; no coaches to help guide through the summer's ups and downs. For the first time since probably pre-school, I was without a baseball season. What first started as what we all thought to be a temporary pause turned into an off-season right in the middle of what should have been the regular season. So just as is the expectation in a true off-season, we still needed to find ways to get better, albeit in a completely different environment thanks to such an unforeseen circumstance.

We started sharing different resources that would enable us to grow professionally and personally. Some might have shared various podcasts with content to help make us better leaders. Others posted articles that may have included a relevant story to what we do or a lesson for a better way to do it. Videos from past coaches conventions that displayed productive drills on specific parts of the game helped keep our baseball minds sharp. While it wasn't ideal for any of us who all yearned to be off of Zoom and on a field, it was a way for us to continue to move forward on several different fronts.

During this time also came an idea that had been around forever in academia, despite rarely being welcomed in the alpha-male athletic world: the book club. One of my New Year's resolutions back in January was to read more, and the pandemic offered an unexpected opportunity to do so. After soliciting some recommendations from friends and colleagues, I bought several different books on leadership and culture, having become very interested in both in recent years. As we began to spitball creative ways to engage our minds while in quarantine and off the field, I mentioned to our group that I had just started reading the book Legacy, and if anyone wanted to discuss it along with me, they would be more than welcome. To my delight, a handful of guys joined in.

In the book, author James Kerr takes a deep dive under the hood of the New Zealand All-Blacks, a professional rugby team, which is arguably the most successful team of all time in any sport with an overall winning percentage of .773 through October 2019. It is a commonly recommended and referenced book, not just in the sporting world but also in business. The principles dissected throughout under the scope of leadership, culture, and teamwork provide a translative blueprint for developing and sustaining an effective organization.

On the surface, baseball and rugby couldn't be more different. One is played with a detailed skill and an athletic grace as the defense has the ball; the other with equally impressive brute force and tenacious grit as defenders seemingly try to kill the guy with the ball. On the surface, you would be hard-pressed to relate what happens on a rugby field to a baseball diamond. But if you were to go below the surface…

We spent the better part of a month reading and discussing the book, chapter by chapter, creating the conversation around what Legacy's rugby world contents would look like in our baseball environment. We found principles that by no means were specific to rugby, or even sports as a whole for that matter; they were pillars that help enable organizational success, skillfully scaled to anything that operates in a group. Upon completing the book, I was surprised at how productive the discussion was after hearing how we interpreted these principles from our own individual perspectives. That initial book club went so well that we did the same with Daniel Coyle's The Culture Code a few weeks later.

Even though it was new for us, book clubs have been commonplace among some of the most successful athletics programs. While coaching USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team, Louisville skipper Dan McDonnell had his club read The Gold Standard by Mike Krzyzewski, a book that chronicles Coach K's time as the head coach of the US Olympic team. Glenn Cecchini, the head baseball coach at Louisiana power Barbe High School has his teams read one book together each season. Over the years, they have read titles including Self-Discipline by Dominic Mann, The Power of a Positive Team by John Gordon, and Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willinik. Anson Dorrance, a voracious reader himself, the legendary North Carolina Women's Soccer Coach selects specific books for each of his Tarheel classes; a different one each for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, most of which have nothing to do with soccer.

Different times and different situations call for different measures. While I can't imagine many baseball coaches had a pandemic playbook handily ready back in March when our world stopped, there are countless playbooks out there that can help us better prepare for when it starts moving again. It's just a matter of us reading some of them…together.



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.


 Sometimes Actively Coaching Looks Like Not Coaching At All
(11/19/2020)
 
   

Sometimes Actively Coaching Looks Like Not Coaching At All


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Thanks in part to the Minor League season being cancelled this past year, my spring and summer were without baseball for the first time since I was probably four or five years old. Living in central New Jersey where Coronavirus initially hit hard and forced a state-wide lockdown, kids all across the Garden State were without baseball much of the spring and summer as well. But as things started to open back up once we got into summer, knowing that I had a lot of free time on my hands, one of my best friends asked if I wanted to help out coaching his son’s team. Without much going on and while dearly missing baseball, I jumped at the opportunity.

If there were rankings for 10-and-under for fall baseball, which embarrassingly enough there probably are, you won’t find our Jersey Shore-based Tribe Red 10u club anywhere on any list of the top teams in the age group. This group was about to embark on their first experience playing on that intermediate, 50’ mound/70’ base field, with rules now allowing for leading and stealing. With that in mind, our practices focused on having fun while teaching players basic fundamentals as well as new aspects of the game, including taking a lead or pitching from the stretch.

In late September, after a solid month of practicing twice a week, we entered our first tournament, a one-day, two-game deal that gave our team some real competition. This was also my first real exposure to this level of amateur baseball. Walking around the complex with other games going on, the scene shocked me. Seemingly every single pitch, coaches from just about teams were shouting direction from the dugout. It was suffocating coaching.

To pitchers: “Push off the mound. Get your arm up. Get the ball down. Go from the stretch. Pick off. THROW STRIKES!”

To hitters: “Step to the pitcher. Keep your front side closed. Open up a little bit. Line drive swing. Barrel up. Head down. SWING AT STRIKES!”

To the defense: “THREE! THREE! THREE! FOUR! FOUR! FOUR!”

In the rare instance when there was no directive coming from a coach, the game screeched to a sudden halt, with players habitually looking into the dugout, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. These coaches- all well-intended, I’m sure- were creating robots on the diamond, paralyzing them from being able to just go out and play. This experience made me realize one of the most important aspects of coaching that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: active coaching requires us to NOT always actively coach.

The ability to figure things out, I believe, is an innate human trait. Think about it in this light: a child doesn’t learn how to walk by attending an “Elite Walking Camp” at 12-months old. They learn by falling, getting up, and then trying again. Maybe a parent will help the child stand for balance, but eventually will let go as their kid takes his or her first steps. Eventually, the child figures it out with minimal guidance.

Kids who are just learning the game are going to make mistakes all the time. For some perspective, even Major Leaguers make mistakes quite often. Just like a parent when their child is learning how to walk, as a coach, you have to learn how to let go so your players can learn how to play the game. And they will learn, by metaphorically falling down on the field. We have to let them play, let them fail, and let them figure it out.

At its core, coach’s job is to help players, so the urge to instruct whenever we see a window to do so is understandable. The perception of a coach not doing anything when everyone in the ballpark sees a mistake is one of a coach who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or worse, doesn’t care to help. To the trained eye, however, in many cases the reality is that not only does this coach know exactly what he’s doing, he cares SO much that he is consciously deciding to bite his tongue.

It is easy to be told what to do, and then go out and do it… or at least try. But in order to be able to do things on their own, players need to learn how to think for themselves. Constant direction removes that necessary layer of player development, and for teams trying to win, you may be sacrificing an out or a run in the process that affects the final outcome of the game. But without question, this short-term loss will produce a lot more wins, long-term.

Even though it may not look like coaching to everyone in the stands, some of your greatest impact on your players may come from those moments when you choose not to do anything at all. Stepping back, and letting players do what they think is right will open up the window afterward to teach them exactly what is right. The next time it happens, they will be ready do it right on their own, because you helped guide them to the path that is the way.


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.


 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.