Team Management and Culture Resources

 The Power of One Play

The Power of One Play 

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

The final score read 16-1.  The Red Sox win over the Yankees put them just one victory away from advancing to the ALCS in last year’s playoffs. Boston collected 18 hits for the game, including four from second baseman Brock Holt, who hit for the first cycle in postseason history.

But it was a single, non-descript, non-scoring play in the top of the 3rd inning that changed the whole complexion of the game, and in turn, the series. As the Sox lead 1-0, left fielder Andrew Benintendi stepped to the plate with Mookie Betts on first base and nobody out when he blooped a single towards the left field line. Such a soft and shallow hit generally wouldn’t allow a runner on first to advance beyond second base.  When he realized Andrew McCutchen was in no position to throw him out, Betts saw a window of opportunity to go from first to third and challenged the Yankees’ left fielder to make a play on him. 

The safe play in this situation- especially with nobody out- would have been for Betts to hold at second, which would have kept Benintendi at first with the meat of the order coming up. But the Red Sox did not get to where there were by playing it safe; they continued playing the same aggressive style of baseball that got them into the postseason in the first place. 

The result: Betts slid safely into third well ahead of the throw, and Benintendi alertly took second base without breaking stride and without being contested when he read the play in front of him. Not only did the aggressive play put two runners in scoring position, it also eliminated a potential double play, and perhaps most importantly, it set the tone for the game that would shellshock the Yankees. 

Both Betts and Benintendi would score in the inning, and while the Yankees minimized the damage and hit in the bottom half only down 3-0, it was a clear swing of momentum that anyone watching the game could feel. The flood gates would open in the 4th when the Red Sox essentially put the game away with a seven-run rally to jump out to a 10-0 lead.  Game.  Set.  Match.  

As we move into the final few weeks of the Major League Baseball season with a World Series crown on the line, just a single play can change everything. That play may happen on the very first pitch of the game, or sometime in the innings that follow with something that may not even appear in the box score, like an outfielder throwing the ball to the right base. Or an infielder making a diving play on a hit to save a run. Or runners taking the extra base. 

When players are made aware of how much momentum can impact our game, along with the types of plays that can create those swings in their favor, all of a sudden they will take the field looking to change their own games with a newfound attention to details to do things right. There is a microscope that comes over the game in October, one where almost every pitch can be dissected ad nauseum.  Perhaps this year’s champion will be able to look back on its run and point to a single play that made that run possible. THAT… is the power of a single play. 

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

 How to Help Athletes Navigate Between Seasons

Helping Athletes Navigate Between Sports Seasons

In youth sports

Serious student-athletes are being pulled in so many directions now: from academic responsibilities, to school and club sports with seasons that often overlap. Everyone wants those teams to do well, but this can often come at great cost to the student-athletes, who may encounter burnout, overtraining, and mental stress from trying to juggle multiple teams at the same time.

As a coach who focuses on collegiate sports, Celia Slater, former college basketball coach and Founder of True North Sports, often sees athletes coming to college burned out from trying to balance club and school sports. Here she explains how coaches can work together to create stronger, more resilient athletes by sharing the training load, not doubling (or tripling) it.
Don’t Force Them to Choose

“We shouldn’t put student-athletes in a position where they have to choose,” says Slater. “We should be creating systems that support the student-athlete and what he or she wants to achieve in sport.”

It is more work — you’re going to have to individualize plans, communicate more with other coaches and talk with parents and athletes more. It might mean relaxing the rules on the number of practices required or working with another coach to create a cohesive strength-training and interval routine. But ultimately, if the goal is to create great athletes versus simply stake your claim on them, extra time and considerations need to be given so they know they can play for both teams.
Create Lines of Communication Between Coaches, Parents, and the Athlete

Right now, you may be relying on the athlete to tell you what their other practice and competition schedule looks like, but that doesn’t always work. High-achieving athletes will feel the need to try to satisfy both coaches, and as a result, may end up doubling up on practices, or not telling you that they already did a lifting session or interval workout that day for their other coach.

“Talk to the other coach and come up with a plan that’s healthiest for the individual athlete, which also means including the athlete and their parents in creating a schedule that works for everyone,” says Slater. Make sure it’s clear that communication is necessary and expected. An athlete should feel comfortable talking to you anytime, not just at the start of the season.
Think Critically About Your Values Overall

“Are the policies on your team in the best interest of the team or of each athlete?” asks Slater. You may have unintentionally created policies that force athletes into unhealthy situations.

“Athletes are getting pulled in two directions, and eventually, they’re torn in half and will quit, or will pick one or the other. Look closely at your policy and culture and see how it aligns with the values of creating healthy, happy athletes,” she adds. Again, that might mean that your current hard line policy of ‘no missed practices the week before key games’ may need to be relaxed in certain circumstances.
Focus on Teaching Self-Leadership

Ultimately, most student-athletes won’t go on to become professional players, but no matter what skill level they have at sport, you can support their ability to succeed in life. “Student-athletes get sport skills at an alarming rate but often miss skills like self-awareness that they need to get through college and life,” Slater explains.

“You have to teach athletes to lead themselves for success later in life. We underestimate how difficult that transition can be, and don’t teach it.” This might mean letting a student athlete create her own schedule of practice, it might mean assigning more leadership rolls, or asking for a certain type of accountability. Remember that the goal of sport at a young age is about creating good people, not just good athletes.
Keep a Close Watch for Signs of Burnout

“Many athletes pulled in different directions by club and school teams end up quitting by college,” says Slater. “I think very few of these kids who go through club and school sports get to college and don’t want to play anymore, they just want to finally relax.”

This is avoidable: Be on the lookout for signs of burnout.

Slater adds, “Generally speaking, coaches need to be able to see if an athlete is having a high anxiety level, is depressed, isn’t enjoying the sport anymore.” Those signs may indicate that the athlete needs to take a break from one team, or to cut down on practice or play time.

Whether an athlete is on a school team, a club team, or both, it’s a coach’s job to help create a healthy environment for all athletes. To develop happier and healthier student-athletes, it’s important to let them play different sports and learn how to balance their interests in a safe, effective way.

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.

 Disciplining a Player is not Dissing a Player

Disciplining a Player is not Dissing a Player 

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

Players make mistakes. 

They slip-up on the field, and they err off of it as well.  

Players are human, even the ones with super-human talent.  And just like a parent would when their own child screws up, it is a coach’s responsibility to address his players’ mishaps.  Often times, in a practice or game environment, a coach steps in with instruction when the player physically doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do on the field.  It is that type of instance why we became coaches in the first place- to teach the game we all know and love.

In other times, the gaffe has nothing to do with the game. In those moments, our players need our help in a very similar manner they do in order to get better on the diamond. But instead of helping with a skill by teaching, we help by providing discipline and holding them accountable for not doing the things they are supposed to do.

Here in 2019, the concept of discipline is one that comes with controversy. Some believe that punishing a kid for his transgressions potentially limits future opportunities. To me, disciplining those who don’t live up to a team’s standards isn’t hurting their future one bit; it is helping. Discipline is not an old-school versus new-school discussion. It is a straight-forward, right versus wrong TEAM concept.  


A few weeks ago, a very unique thing happened in a Major League game.

A player was removed from a game for not running a ball out of the box. 

Why this was unique was because you don’t see it often in this day and age of athletics, and rarely do you ever see it at the highest level of sport, with one of its best players.

Ronald Acuna is one of the game’s most exciting players, the second youngest player in Major League Baseball history to be a part of the 30 home run, 30 stolen base club.  In the third inning of a game against the Dodgers, he drove a ball deep to right field, and started his slow, home run trot shortly after contact.  The only problem was that this ball did not go out of the ballpark; it hit the wall just short of the seats with the right fielder playing the carom perfectly, setting up a throw to second base. But there was no play; Acuna had barely reached first.  His manager, Brian Snitker, then reached for reserve outfielder Adam Duvall to go into the game for Acuna.

When asked about his rationale for benching arguably his best player, Snitker spoke matter of factly.  “He didn’t run,” he started. “It’s not going to be acceptable here.  As a teammate, you’re responsible for 24 other guys, and that name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back.  We’re trying to accomplish something special here, and personal things have to be put on the back burner. You can’t let your team down like that.”

With what was likely an unpopular decision to Braves fans everywhere, Snitker gave coaches everywhere a lesson of leadership when players don’t live up to the standard that has helped build a successful culture. In pulling Acuna from that game, he didn’t lose the respect of the other 24 players in that clubhouse; instead, he gained it even more. The Braves as a team will be better for it, and Acuna, as a player, will be better for it as well. 


Despite the parent you’ll likely anger, or the player you are sure to temporarily upset, there is nothing wrong with disciplining your players when they mess up.  In fact, contrarily, there is something very wrong, when you don’t. Because what you allow, you actually encourage.  A message to one is actually a message to all, good and bad. 

So, tell your players: the next time your coach benches you, he’s not being mean. It also doesn’t mean that he hates you when he pulls you from a game or sits you for the next. When your coach puts you on the bench, he is simply being your coach, holding you accountable for not doing what you are supposed to be doing. 

You may be mad now, but you’ll be better for it, later.

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

 7 Things to Avoid When Raising Good Decision-Makers

7 Things to Avoid When it Comes to Raising Good Decision-Makers 

In youth sports

Young athletes are faced with a constant barrage of decisions, ranging from when they should take a shot to what sports they ultimately want to play. But logical, careful decision-making isn’t always a skill that comes naturally — it’s often a skill that needs to be nurtured. It can be a challenge for parents and coaches to find a balance between helping athletes develop those decision-making skills through trial and error while also ensuring that athletes find some success along the way.

Dr. Jim Taylor, a sport psychologist and parenting expert, has a unique expertise in helping parents and coaches raise well-rounded athletes who not only excel in sport, but who are able to make rational, well-thought-out decisions from an early age. Here, he talks about the biggest mistakes he sees adults make when it comes to raising a good decision-maker.
Not Understanding Your Role 

In early stages of development, when a child’s executive functioning isn’t entirely developed, it can be a challenge for them to make a rational decision. You need to pay attention to your child’s maturity levels (which can ebb and flow over time) and adjust your role in the decision-making process accordingly.

“The role of the parent in decision-making evolves as your child grows,” Taylor says. “It starts as dictator, where you have all the power; then it goes to governor, where you’re giving them some options to choose from; then to consultant, where they consult you for feedback on good decisions; then you become a sounding board, where you’re just listening to them puzzle through decisions. You’re progressively ceding control.”
Offering Too Much Choice 

“It’s trendy to focus on ownership and agency, letting kids have a sense of control over their lives,” says Taylor. “But they’ll make millions of decisions throughout their lives, they don’t need to make 50 today. It’s exhausting and confusing.”

It’s okay to moderate some of the decisions your athlete needs to make. Taylor adds, “I use the metaphor of forks in the road. Children are constantly faced with forks in the road: it might be just two, it might be ten choices. We need to help our kids learn to recognize the forks in the road, what the options really are and narrow them down.

Research has shown that the more options you’re faced with, the harder it is to make decisions.”
Offering Too Little Choice

On the other side of the spectrum are the parents who don’t offer children any agency, whether it’s choosing their sports for them, laying out clothes to wear, and picking their books to read. Coaches can have the same problem, laying out the game play-by-play and micromanaging athletes until they feel like pawns rather than players.

“Don’t make all of your kid’s decisions,” says Taylor. “Once they become old enough to choose things for themselves, we need to start offering some choices.”
Offering Choices That Don’t Exist

“Often, we make an attempt to give a kid a sense of agency where none exists, with the hope that they will make the ‘right’ decision,” says Taylor. “That’s disingenuous. Don’t offer them decisions in areas where you’re not actually going to honor their choices.”
Saying a Decision is Wrong or Bad

Raising a good decision-maker doesn’t mean raising a child who always makes the right decision, just one who is capable of being decisive, weighing both sides of an argument, and coming to a firm conclusion. If a child chooses soccer when you think he should play baseball, don’t tell him that was the wrong decision.

“Decision-making is a skill, it comes with experience, but it takes confidence. So when you allow a kid to make a decision, it’s not just about that specific decision. It’s about boosting their ability to make a decision later on,” Taylor adds. “You want them to sometimes make bad decisions because that’s how they’ll learn to make good decisions.”
Letting Your Child Avoid Decisions

If you’re the parent or coach of a child who’s obedient to a fault, that may not be an entirely positive thing. “There are some kids who are naturally risk-averse and don’t want to make the wrong decision,” says Taylor. “That fear of failure can be problematic down the road. They start attaching fear to making bad decisions.”

Start pushing the child to make small-scale decisions. Rather than picking your child’s clothes because he or she can’t decide what to wear, Taylor suggests offering two options (the red shirt or the blue shirt). That way, your child is still making a small decision, but it likely won’t be paralyzing.
Not Talking About Decision-Making

Making a choice might seem obvious to you as an adult, but kids need to be taught how to make decisions and that doesn’t come naturally. “Talk through decisions, look at how to list the options, and discuss the costs and benefits of each. Talk about which is the right thing to do. Talk about what is in your kid’s best interest,” says Taylor.

Taylor recommends following up on decisions: have the conversation with your athlete a few weeks after a decision to check in on how that choice looks now. “You can’t go back in time to change that decision, but if you have a period of reflection and talk through it, you might not make the same decision again.”

Remember, you’re a role model for your athlete. Decisions are ultimately made based on core values, and to raise an ethical decision-maker means walking the walk.

“Teach kids to be deliberate about decisions,” Taylor says.

“Whatever you value, you’ll make decisions that align with that. If you value winning at all costs, you might take performance-enhancing drugs. If you value sportsmanship, you won’t. And those values may transfer to your kids,” says Taylor. “Instilling healthy, positive values in kids is the foundation for making those good decisions.”

And while it can be maddening waiting for a child to make a decision when you’re trying to tick an item off of your to-do list, remember that you’re not trying to raise someone who can make abrupt decisions. You’re trying to raise a child who can make measured, carefully considered decisions.

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.

 Coaching Philosophy

Coaching Philosophy

Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses how what you should emphasize when building your coaching philosophy, and what your purpose should be as the leader of the team. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and 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.