Team Management and Culture Resources

 The Best Coaches in the Country
(1/17/2020)
 
 
   

The Best Coaches in the Country


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Soon after the ball drops on Time’s Square and the New Year is rung in, an event for baseball coaches takes place. During first week of every January, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) holds their national convention where baseball personnel descend upon rotating cities to learn more about the game so they can help make the game we all know and love even better. 

While all under the same one roof, you’ll find coaches from every single level of the game who combine to create a brotherhood of likeminded people who can’t get enough time talking baseball. It is an environment unlike any other that not only creates a feeling of excitement for the upcoming season but also a great sense of appreciation to be a part of such an incredibly special group.

For most in attendance, myself included, the highlight of every ABCA Convention is the clinic speakers. In a massive room seats are perfectly lined up and big screens hang from the ceiling, all eyes lock in on coach after coach who take the main stage to discuss various aspects of the game. From something as specific to how to turn a double play or script the perfect bullpen routine to topics as broad as developing culture within a program or learning how to coach different individual personalities on a team, there is literally something for everyone in attendance. 

The ABCA prides itself by having “some of the best coaches in our game” present to its members. I’ve been fortunate to have been a speaker twice and can honestly say that presenting in this environment to my peers in the game is one of the coolest things I’ve done over the course of my career.

But something dawned on me a few weeks ago as I sat in the crowd taking notes, blown away by this year’s lineup of speakers.  With every introduction for each coach, no matter the role and no matter the level, it seemed like each guy was “one of the best teachers of the game” or “one of the best pitching coaches in the country” or “one of the best experts on hitting.” And in the industry, on the surface, those descriptions were most deservedly stated.  

With all due respect to Vanderbilt’s Head Coach Tim Corbin, who I admire as much as any coach in the game and would have loved to have played for or coached alongside; with all due respect to JT McGuire, a Minor League coach with the Cleveland Indians, who shared more drills in 35 minutes than I ever thought even existed for outfield play; with all due respect to Kerrick Jackson who worked a miracle at Southern University; Buck Showalter who has probably forgotten more about the game than most will ever know; Rick Heller and Matt Hobbs who can use today’s technologies and analytics with hitters and pitchers as well as anybody; and with all due respect to the ABCA who spends months lining up each presenter to make every convention an impactful one; these were NOT the best coaches in our game. 

The best coaches in our game were the ones sitting in the crowd. They, collectively, represent the future of our game far better than any one of us who has the privilege of taking the main stage. Without these grass-roots coaches, there are no college All-Americans or MLB All-Stars.

The majority of the coaches in the audience at every ABCA convention don’t have anywhere close to the same resources of those presenting. They have less man-power on their coaching staffs; a smaller budget for developmental tools; fields that are literally just fields, not facilities. All of those limitations force those coaches to be more creative in order to make their players and teams better.

Most of the coaches sitting in those seats also don’t have nearly the same talent as those speaking on stage. It’s easy to coach when you have great players. It’s easy to coach when you get to pick your own roster. But most don’t have either luxury, let alone both. Their roster is what it is, and they have to figure out how to develop every single player. And year after year, that’s exactly what they do.

Contrary to popular belief, the mark of a successful coach is not found in a won-loss record. In fact, some of the very best coaches may very well be found on some of the worst teams. Years ago, a wise man once told me that the way a coach should be judged has nothing to do with a season’s outcome, but rather everything to do with the players’ excitement to simply come back to play again the following year. Let that sink in.

Today’s player is tomorrow’s coach. As coaches today, we have the incredible opportunity to give our players such an experience on the diamond so rewarding that they not only want to play year after year, but later, make the decision to join us in the coaching ranks to share their knowledge of and passion for the game with the next generation of players, as we did with them. If we do it right, those players that make up our teams will at some point down the road be sitting alongside of us at future ABCA conventions, not realizing that they are sitting amongst the those who are truly the very best coaches in our game.


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


 Iron Sharpens Iron...Especially in the Winter
(12/20/2019)
 
   

Iron Sharpens Iron...Especially in the Winter


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The baseball off-season is always a time of year that comes with some concern for us coaches. Yes, we love the down time which allows us to recharge our batteries to once again be energized come spring. Yes, players need time away from the game so that they, too, can get both a physical and mental break that will allow their bodies and minds to make a strong return to the diamond. 

But there is an aspect of our absence off the field that brings us anxiety. It doesn’t come from the time off; it comes from the unknown. 

When professional players disperse every September for all corners of the world, they do so with clear expectations of what they are to work on. As college programs wind their semesters down, the student-athletes that make up their rosters will all go their separate ways for the holidays with an understanding of where they should be athletically when they come back. For an extended period of time of weeks and months, these players will be on their own, relatively removed from the coaches who have invested countless hours into their individual development.  

Come the start of the 2020 baseball season, all coaches will generally have two simple expectations for their players: 1) report to spring training or pre-season practice in good physical shape, and 2) return a better player than when they left. Both of these reasonable asks require players to do a lot on their own.  For many, we know that won’t be an issue at all.  For others, we have absolutely no idea what we’ll be getting upon reuniting as a group. 

The players we don’t have to worry about are the ones who understand and master the power of self. They know that the best type of discipline is self-discipline; they do what they are supposed to do and don’t do what they’re not. They realize the best type of coaching is self-coaching; they don’t need to be under constant watch by someone else to get better. They recognize the best type of motivation is self-motivation; they don’t need a tweet or a video or a quote to push themselves. Additionally, they carry two very distinct character traits on top of their natural athletic ability: 1) they take initiative and don’t have to always be told what to do, and 2) they go above and beyond the status quo and do more than what’s expected of them. In all these ways, they are just different from the rest.

It’s those exact type of players who we don’t worry about who we want to surround those we do. With the extreme limitations that high schools and colleges put on their coaches when it comes to actively coaching their players, members of the team would often organize captain’s practices, where everyone would get their work in without any supervision or direction from the staff. 

But it’s more than just gathering a group together to play catch and take some swings.

When those players who we don’t have to worry about are intentional about the time spent with the ones that concern us, a slow transformation takes place. Little by little, all of that good stuff that we want in all of our players- the initiative, the work ethic, the self-awareness, the discipline- starts to seep into the players we question. And before we know it, our players return to campus and report to spring training not just as better players, but also as better people. Because of the positive influence of a teammate.

Every summer, Peyton Manning would fly his receivers in from wherever they spent their off-seasons not just to run routes and get a feel for how the soon-to-be Hall of Fame quarterback threw the football, but as much to build a relationship that would be the backbone of a big part of their team’s success. Recently retired infielder Troy Tulowitzki would bring a number of Colorado’s prospects in to live with him at his house during the winter in Arizona not just to workout together but to be an example for what would be the future of the Rockies franchise. 

When your best players are investing in the rest of your players, a positive culture is being built at the core. Every coach has their game plan for a success season before Opening Day, but when you nail culture before strategy, your strategy has that much more of a chance to stick. 

Many view the off-season as a time of year when focus goes entirely to individual development. But it’s as much a team period as any other time of when teammates can push one another beyond their own limits, and truly show one another what means to be a part of a team. While a club’s stars will come out in the spring, its leaders are undoubtedly born in the winter.


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


 Live Your Life Legibly
(12/4/2019)
 
   

Live Your Life Legibly 


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer explains why it's important to take pride in your name, who you are and where you came from. 

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.


 How to Help Your Athletes Achieve Goals
(12/19/2019)
 
   

How to Help Your Athlete Achieve Goals 


In youth sports 


Some athletes, when asked about their current goals, will simply list ‘winning.’ But ask how they intend to meet that goal and you’ll likely be met with confused silence. Not only does goal-setting often go overlooked, we also miss teaching students how to meet their goals by putting specific, long-term daily habits in place. 

Frank L. Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, regularly finds himself teaching these concepts to university students who are learning about goal-setting for the first time. Here’s what he wants you to know to help your athletes create a system of habits to hit their goals.  

Teach goal-setting basics 

Before explaining habits, you need to first teach your athletes how to set goals, and then how related habits can logically help them achieve those goals. It sounds obvious to adults, but for young children, that cause-and-effect may be harder to comprehend. 

“In college, I teach a course on this, but it’s foundational and often skipped in younger grades,” says Smoll. In order to set young athletes up with a strong foundation of goal-setting, try sharing the concept of SMART goals and the reasoning behind this strategy.  

Consider the ABCs 

“Create goals that are Achievable, Believable, and Commit-able,” says Smoll. “People often set broad goals – like New Year’s resolutions to ‘lose weight’ – and they rarely work.” That’s because goal-setting is a process that requires commitment to working on things on a daily basis.  

You need to start with a goal that you can believe in, realistically achieve, and are willing to commit to. Then, break down that goal into action steps. “Find individual steps that are achievable and commit to them,” he adds. “Those early wins are going to keep students invested and moving forward.”  

Not all goals are created equal 

“Find something that your athletes want to get from the season. Find something that they will want to achieve, and they will be motivated to start working on those strong habits,” explains Smoll. 

Their goals don’t have to be sport-specific. Suggest something outside of sport if they’re struggling to find something sport-related. Maybe a goal would be to make time to read more books or improve their grade in a class. Smoll adds, “You can find something simple that they want to accomplish, and once they accomplish something small, they’ll be even more motivated.”  

Define those good habits 

Once a SMART goal has been identified, sit down with your athletes and list out habits that support that goal and will help the team find success, suggests Smoll. 

That can include practice-specific habits like always warming up, as well as healthy lifestyle habits like eating balanced meals, getting in physical activity beyond practice, and practicing smart time management.  

Show the importance of specific habits 

Often, children won’t understand how a habit like sleeping enough can improve their training. “You have to convince young athletes of the importance of these habits before you can expect them to put them into practice,” says Smoll. 

For example, more than 40 percent of teens aren’t getting adequate amounts of sleep, and inadequate sleep can lead to inattention in school and in games, as well as an increased risk of depression and anxiety or other risky behaviors. Simply telling a student to ‘sleep eight hours each night’ isn’t as helpful as explaining the benefits versus the risks.  

Avoid external rewards 

It’s tempting to offer extrinsic rewards for a job well done, or for sticking to a healthy habit for a certain amount of time. “But the problem with providing extrinsic rewards for goal achievement is that an athlete will start working for that reward versus that feeling of accomplishment. A dedicated athlete shouldn’t need five dollars for a win,” says Smoll. 

“A lot of parents want to be involved, but they’re actually hurting the athlete by providing external motivation. We want athletes to have an internal drive, and if you start introducing extrinsic rewards, that undermines internal motivation.”  

Chart progress 

Repetition has been shown to be the key to habit formation. “One of the keys to goal-setting is adding in process goals that are measurable, things you can do each day. I have athletes set up a simple performance evaluation system where they can check off if they met that objective for the day,” explains Smoll. 

That can be things like drinking a certain amount of water, showing up to practice on time, doing a quick yoga or mindfulness routine each day, or any other healthy habits. “Any simple form of record-keeping is going to be helpful." 

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Teaching young athletes how to develop strong habits early will set the foundation that will allow them to reach their goals. 

Being able to see “those easy early wins – like simply sticking to a small habit – can make it much easier to work towards big goals,” says Smoll. “Give a kid something they can do right away, and you create a foundation for moving on to other things. This is a big part of why youth sport is so valuable,” Smoll says. “It’s a laboratory for life.” 

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.


 Role Modeling for Young Athletes: What Not to Do
(12/5/2019)
 
   

Role Modeling for Young Athletes: What Not to Do 


In youth sports


As a parent, raising a happy and healthy child is probably one of your top goals. Throughout this journey, you’ll not only be cultivating a positive, caring environment for your young athlete to thrive in, you will also be acting as a role model of the behaviors and values you want to instill. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) defines a role model as “a person who serves as an example by influencing others. For many children, the most important role models are their parents and caregivers.” 

Leading by example and embracing the fact that you are your child’s key role model will help them develop the kind of behavior you want them to adopt and practice throughout life. The AACAP explains that “children look up to a variety of role models to help shape how they behave in school, relationships, or when making difficult decisions.” 

It’s imperative for parents to take a look at the way they are living their own lives and reflect on what they want their children to mirror, especially since “negative role models may also influence children,” according to the AACAP. Here are five practices that parents should avoid in order to position themselves as the positive role model their young athlete needs to build character and confidence in sport and in life.  

Don’t Silence Your Goals 

According to Michele Borba, PhD, an internationally recognized character development education expert and educational psychologist, “To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations.” 

Borba adds, “The secret is to purposefully model goal-setting when your kids can watch or listen. In fact, modeling is such a simple way to learn the skill. All you need to remember is the formula for goal-setting: I will + what + when and then teach it to your kids.” 

Practice writing out a few goals with your athletes with the formula above. For example, you can suggest, “I will improve on passing the ball more accurately by the end of the soccer season.”  

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations 

While there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, be aware of your athlete’s true capabilities and work with them to set realistic expectations for themselves. 

“Be careful of setting too high a standard. Putting your kid in situations that are too difficult puts them at the risk of failing and lowering feelings of competence. Aim for ‘one step more.’ Effective expectations encourage kids to be their best, so that they can develop a solid belief in themselves,” says Borba. 

For instance, if your child is learning a new sport skill, like shooting the basketball with their less-dominant side, you cannot expect them to perfect that skill in a season. Instead, help them set an expectation that they’ll be attempting to score 1/3 of their shots with that less-dominant arm by the end of the season.  

Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture 

At times, it can be easy to lose sight of the big-picture benefits sport participation can bring to your young athlete’s life. Some sport parents get so bogged down in wins or loses that they forget how sport enriches the lives of young athletes by teaching them values and life skills, such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and teamwork. 

Frank Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, suggests, “Parents should never shout criticism or instruction at their children – even to teammates and opponents. If parents wish to shout encouragement or praise, codes of sportsmanship dictate that recognition be given to other athletes as well.” 

He emphasizes that “there’s no reason why a great play or great effort made by the opposition shouldn’t also be appreciated.”  

Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You 

In recent times, we’ve seen how a bad call can push some parents over the edge and create tension on the sidelines. But that behavior will only teach your child that it’s okay to erupt in violence when things do not go their way. 

“When parents yell at or criticize athletes, coaches, or officials, they set an incredibly poor example. It’s not surprising to find that parents who exhibit poor self-control in their own lives often have children who are prone to emotional outbursts and poor self-discipline,” says Smoll. 

He adds, “If parents are to expect sportsmanship and self-control from their children, they need to exhibit the same qualities.”  

Don’t Forget to Show Empathy 

According to Borba, “Empathy is the ability to identify with and feel for another person. It’s the powerful quality that halts violent and cruel behavior and urges us to treat others kindly.” 

When parents can display empathy on a daily basis, they encourage their young athlete to show the same grace to their teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials. 

Borba confirms that “the more aware that kids are of what empathy sounds like, the more likely they are to use those behaviors in their daily lives. Let’s not assume our children know how to show others they care. For instance [phrases to share are]: ‘You look upset.’ ‘I understand how you feel.’ ‘It makes me feel sad that you’re hurt.’ ‘I bet that hurts a lot. It happened to me, too.’”  

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Your influence as a parent is something that should not be taken for granted. Remember, young people are always observing your actions and attitudes. At the end of the day, the way you behave can easily impact your child’s development in a positive or negative 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.