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

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


By Jim Koerner


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

What is the Team Philosophy?

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

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

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

What is your hitting philosophy?

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

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

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

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

Challenging and Competitive

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

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




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

 


 Uncoach the Uncoachable
(5/20/2022)
 
 
   

Uncoach the Uncoachable


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


 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]


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