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

Why Coaches Should Prioritize their Own Mental Wellness Too


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Baseball: A Game of Decisions


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


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

9 Ways to Model Good Sportsmanship from the Sidelines


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


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

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

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

2. Focus on the psychosocial dynamic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Athletes


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


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


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

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

What is commotio cordis?

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

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

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

What is the incidence of commotio cordis?

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

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

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

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

Can These Sudden Cardiac Deaths Be Prevented?

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

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

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

Importance of Emergency Action Plans


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


By Jim Koerner


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Technology and Data Collection

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

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

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

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



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

 


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

Low Pitch Slips by Catcher


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


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

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


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

What's the Call? How a Run Scores


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


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

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

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


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

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


By Jim Koerner


View part 1 here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Intent Swings (Light bat/Heavy bat) - Power

Target Tee Swings- Contact

Walk-up Drill w. Timing- Power and Contact

Shuffle- Power

Step Backs- Power

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

Off-Set Angles (Front Toss) - Contact

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

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

Short bat (Front Toss) - Contact

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

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

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

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

Breaking Ball Machine- Contact, Decision Making

Open and Closed Angle- Contact, Decision Making

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

Situational Hitting- Power, Contact, Decision Making

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

2K Approach- Contact, Decision Making

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

Environment Constraints- Power, Contact, Decision Making

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

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

Feel Good BP

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

 


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

When Can Young Athletes Return to Sport After Illness?


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


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

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

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

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


Asymptomatic COVID-19


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

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


Symptomatic COVID-19

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

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


Cold / Flu / Bronchitis


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

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

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

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


Mononucleosis

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

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


Gut Issues

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

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


TAKEAWAY

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


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


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

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


By Jim Koerner


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

What is the Team Philosophy?

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

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

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

What is your hitting philosophy?

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

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

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

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

Challenging and Competitive

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

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




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

 


 Uncoach the Uncoachable
(5/20/2022)
 
   

Uncoach the Uncoachable


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


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


---

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.


 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.


 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]


 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.


 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.


 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.