Sport Development Blog

 Foul Pop Up Communication
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Foul Pop Up Communication


Monday Manager
By Skip Schumaker


In this edition of Monday Manager, Skip Schumaker discusses the communication needed between the catcher and corner infielders on a foul pop up.


Schumaker is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is a two-time World Series Champion. Schumaker was drafted in the fifth round of the 2001 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals following his career at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to his two World Series titles, Schumaker was a member of the USA Baseball 2006 Olympic Qualifying team that won a gold medal in Cuba and secured a spot in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.


 Little Things Make for Big Wins
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Little Things Make for Big Wins


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Omaha, Nebraska.

Every June, this quaint Midwestern city becomes the pinnacle of the college baseball world when it hosts the College World Series. Every February, it is the destination for all 298 NCAA Division I baseball teams. It is the goal. But out of those 298 clubs, only eight get to go. Only eight get to play for the National Championship. EIGHT. It is a special place that only a few special teams get to experience.

Last June, in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied, deciding game-three of the Louisville Super Regional, Cal State Fullerton found itself one run away from its season ending when the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals reached base. A sacrifice bunt was in order. Everyone in the ballpark knew it. Everybody watching on television knew it. And Cal State Fullerton’s defense knew it, too… especially their second baseman, Taylor Bryant.

As Louisville’s hitter laid down a textbook sacrifice, Fullerton’s catcher fielded the ball cleanly, and without a play at second, shuffled his feet towards first to take the “sure” out. When the ball left the catcher’s hand, it was apparent that “sure” out would not be recorded; the throw airmailed over the 1st baseman’s head and headed for the right field corner- but the ball never made it there. The ball never even made it into the outfield because Taylor Bryant was backing up the play, in position behind first base, exactly where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be there. Had he not been there, Louisville’s runner from first likely would have scored easily, and a frantic dogpile at home plate would have ensued with the Cardinals’ ticket punched to Omaha.

But Taylor Bryant was there.

Bryant’s simple backup of first base not only saved the game, but it saved Fullerton’s season. Fittingly, both he and the Titans were rewarded, escaping out of that 1st and 2nd, nobody out jam without giving up a run, and an inning or two later, they would push across a run of their own that would punch THEIR ticket to Omaha… all because Taylor Bryant was backing up a base.

Who knows how many times Bryant had made that sprint to back up first base, only to watch his teammates throw and catch the ball without issue and get that “sure” out? Who knows how many times Bryant practiced backing up first base, only to realize his energy to be in position, just in case of a bad throw, went for naught.

What do we (and Taylor Bryant) know? Clearly, that “little thing” is not so little after all.

One of the biggest challenges for coaches in any sport is to get their players to buy in to the small details of the game, the things that seemingly, to them, don’t really matter. While stories like Fullerton’s help in the cause, the reality is that it takes a special culture to get an entire team to embrace those things that barely get noticed. When you have a roster full of players who take pride in doing the little things, a funny thing happens: those big things tend to take care of themselves.

Creating that detail-oriented, little-thing atmosphere begins with the coaching staff. We as coaches cannot expect players to care about something in games if we don’t show how much we care about something by working at it. From there, it’s time for us to get our players to buy in. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when the majority of these little things garner little notice, nor recognition. So take it upon yourself to change that. Take notice of the details. Recognize those who are doing the right thing.

Everyone knows the hitter who got the game-winning hit, or the pitcher who secured the win with a key strikeout with the bases loaded. Praise the unsung hero. The guy who isn’t in the box score. The player who didn’t get the headline. Point out the guy who moved the runner, or drew the walk to keep the inning going that gave the hero the opportunity to be the hero. Applaud the middle-reliever who pitched those middle innings that kept your club in the game and give the closer that chance to close the game.

In the age of selfies, every kid wants the lens of them. So give them what they want, but do it in their selfless moments. Those moments that aren’t about them individually, but about the team as a whole.

The ultimate compliment a coach can get is that his team plays the game the way it was meant to be played. That compliment, while independent of winning and losing, is a testament to simply caring about doing the right thing- always, and in all ways- because it’s the right thing to do. Caring about the little things shows a love for the game. Caring about the little things shows an attention to detail. Caring about the little things displays character.

Caring about the little things, we promise you, will help make for big wins. Watch this month’s MLB postseason, and you’ll be sure to see for yourself.

Just ask Taylor Bryant…

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.


 Athlete Overtraining
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Athlete Overtraining


Ways to prevent athlete overtraining


“I can’t take time off! Every minute I’m not working out is a minute my competition has to get ahead of me.”

“I get my confidence from knowing that I work harder than everyone else out there.”

“No pain, no gain.”


Statements like these are all too common in the world of sport, particularly at the elite level, where success versus failure is often measured in the smallest of increments. Yet coaches and athletes today are walking an increasingly fine line between maximizing performance and going over the edge into overtraining. Training loads are increasing, by some estimates, at a rate of ten-20 percent every five years. Mark Spitz, for example, won his seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics by swimming 9,000 meters per day. Within 20 years, however, the average college swimmers were surpassing this mark, and by 1995, Olympic swimmers were putting in over 35,000 meters per day. (Raglin and Wilson, 2000).

These training increases have come with a price tag. Overtraining, defined by the USOC in 1998 as “the syndrome that results when an excessive, usually physical, overload on an athlete occurs without adequate rest, resulting in decreased performance and the inability to train” is on the rise. Differences in how overtraining is defined has made a true estimation difficult, but researchers suggest that on average, 10 percent of athletes are over trained at any given time. Endurance sport athletes are usually harder hit – 60 percent of competitive runners are or have been overtrained, by some estimates (Morgan et al., 1988). Overtraining has permeated the highest levels of sport, with 28 percent of 1996 Summer Olympians and 10 percent of 1998 Winter Olympians reported overtraining as a significant reason for their competitive difficulties (Gould et al., 2001).

More disturbing, however, is the increasing prevalence of overtraining at sports’ developmental levels. The price athlete’s pay for overtraining can be a high one. While most athletes who become stale or over trained miss only a few days of training, for others, the symptoms can last much longer. This outcome is particularly true for the athlete who continues to try to train through his or her early symptoms, ignoring the warning signs.

Given the increasing likelihood that your athletes are going to experience overtraining during the course of their careers, what can you do as coach to mitigate or even prevent this from happening?

STEP 1: KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING

While the sport scientists are still working to determine the exact mechanisms of overtraining, research and anecdotal reporting have combined to produce a list of overtraining symptoms to watch out for in your athletes:
• apathy
• lethargy
• depression
• decreased self-esteem
• emotional instability
• impaired performance
• restlessness
• irritability
• disturbed sleep
• weight loss
• loss of appetite
• increased resting heart rate
• increased vulnerability to injuries
• muscle pain/soreness

Clearly, coaches who know their athletes better are at an advantage in early detection, since many of these symptoms could be signs of other problems entirely, or even “business as usual” for some athletes. One of the detection issues with overtraining is that different athletes respond qualitatively differently to the same training stresses. What is most important, therefore, is not the presence or absence of a particular symptom of overtraining, but a pattern of differences in symptoms for a particular athlete over time.

STEP 2: INCREASE ATHLETES’ SELF-AWARENESS

“When you don’t feel right, back off. [In marathon training] it is all too easy to fall victim to the idea that you must run a certain number of 20-milers. When you’re tired, it’s better to run less.” -Joan Benoit Samuelson, USA, 1984 Olympic Marathon Champion (Samuelson and Averbuch, pp. 106 - 107).

Easy for Joan to say, hard for most athletes to do. How can you as coach help your athletes increase their self-awareness, to differentiate between pushing through a needed hard work out, and knowing when enough is really enough and more recovery is really the answer?

• Make it a habit to ask your athletes how they are feeling and listen to their answers. Simple as this may sound, many athletes simply have not given much thought to how they feel until the feeling cannot be ignored. Helping your athletes to focus more regularly on their physical and emotional symptoms will hone their self-awareness and their ability to detect symptoms more quickly.
• Encourage your athletes to keep a regular training log. Elite athletes across sports agree that regular use of logbooks can greatly increase self-awareness and smarter training. Dietary intake, sleep quality, resting heart rate, physical and emotional well-being, as well as workout quality can all be useful information when assessing for the possibility of overtraining. For more information on putting together logbooks, refer to the USOC Sport Psychology’s Mental Training Manual.
• Systematically evaluate athlete performances. For many athletes, their competitive performance analysis consists of the knowledge of whether they won or lost. Helping them to understand the process that went into the outcome, including fatigue, emotions, execution of strategy can be helpful in its own right to give athletes an increased sense of control over their performances, as well as connect training quality with performance. It can also help them answer the important question of whether they were adequately recovered, or optimally trained for the competition in question.

STEP 3: MODEL AND TEACH THE VALUE OF RECOVERY

A key for coaches and athletes in the battle against overtraining starts simply with how we define the issue of overtraining. As the comments at the beginning of this article reflect, it is incredibly difficult from a psychological standpoint for a high-achieving athlete to willingly do less of something in order to get better. But if we turn the problem on its head, going from Overtraining to UNDER recovery, we can help athletes understand that their job doesn’t have to be all about backing off from training, but training smarter and doing more recovery activities. How do you approach the concept of recovery with your athletes? Are recovery periods built into your training cycles? Do you refer to them in the same tone of voice and with the same sense of reverence you reserve for your athletes’ most difficult workouts? Do you yourself model good recovery strategies in the context of your own lifestyle?

In addition to being a good role model, coaches must be good teachers of the concept of recovery to their athletes. An active rest day at the swimming pool shouldn’t, for example, turn into a water polo game if rest was really the goal. Particularly at the elite level of sport, athletes need to learn that recovery is as much a part of their job as is the rest of their training regimen, their diets, or their sleep.

STEP 4: KEEP TRAINING FUN AND SPORT IN PERSPECTIVE

One of the main correlates of overtraining has proven to be the levels of stress the athlete associates with his or her sport. Gould and Dieffenbach (2001) suggest that coaches should work to dispel the myth that intense training cannot also be fun and to incorporate innovations to training programs to reduce stress and make sport more enjoyable for their athletes. Athletes should also be encouraged to maintain balance in their own lives and develop their identities in other realms of interest, be it family, school, non-sport careers or outside interests.

REFERENCES

Gould, D., Greenleaf, C., Guinan, D., Dieffenbach, K., & McCann, S. (2001Pursuing performance excellence: Lessons learned from Olympic athletes and coaches. Journal of Performance Excellence, 4, 21-43.

Morgan, W.P., O'Connor, P.B., Ellickson, K.A., & Bradley, P.W. (1988). Personality structure, mood states, and performance in elite distance runners.

Raglin J.S. & Wilson, G.S. (2000). Overtraining in athletes. In Y.L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 191 - 207). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Samuelson, J. and Averbuch, G. (1995). Joan Samuelson’s running for women. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

Courtesy of the United States Olympic Committee


 Engineering Your Sport Environment II
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Engineering Your Sport Environment II


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


Self-Determination Theory

In this blog post, we will explore Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT is a framework that helps us to better understand and predict motivation. We have all heard a coach or teacher say, “This kid is motivated!” or “That kid is just not motivated.” Did you know that the environment that is created by parents/coaches/sport leaders has a DIRECT impact on the motivation of the athlete(s)?

We all want to coach and teach motivated kids. We want to help them grow, develop, and reach beyond their perceived limits. We all know the importance of motivation. What if I told you that all of the motivation you are seeking for yourself and others is right inside of you? Intrinsic motivation is the strongest form of motivation, and we are born with it. For example, I have two young nephews; one is almost three years old, and the other is eight months old. The curiosity in both of them is incredible! They are constantly seeking new challenges and exploring new areas, which drives their mother a little crazy trying to keep track of them. This curiosity, the need to explore and seek out challenges, is intrinsic motivation in its purest form.

Intrinsic motivation is that burning desire found within each and every one of us. We naturally feel motivated and excited about seeking out new challenges, exploring, and playing. Many older adults remember the variety of self-directed baseball games played in their youth (a.k.a. free play). It did not seem to matter if there were only a handful of players. Someone would create a game involving hitting, throwing, and catching. Rules were bent. Structure was stretched so that an uneven number of kids playing could all be involved. This opportunity for ‘free play’ is known today as skill development. What some ‘old-timers’ may not understand is that this is intrinsic motivation. These self-created, make-up baseball games encourage a love for the game and help nurture creativity and curiosity to guide young athletes along their developmental path. If your grandparents are close or an older neighbor is nearby, sit down with them and ask questions about the games they used to play growing up. Ask about the many street games that were played. My guess is those games are still played today. (Feel free to share/email any great stories and games you find to education@usabaseball.com).

Unfortunately, somewhere within our baseball/athletic development we seem to have lost most of this self-directed play and learning. There are many reasons for this, but one major reason lies in the idea that all sport development must be adult-led, developed, and controlled. Instead of giving young athletes the opportunity to choose to create, parents, coaches and sport leaders are often the ones dictating exactly what will happen. In turn, I fear this next generation may lose the pure love for the game of baseball that our grandparents had, as well as the appreciation that baseball is a game for the whole family to enjoy and play together. As coaches, parents and sport leaders we need an awareness to rebuild an environment that fosters intrinsic motivation.

Let’s Understand Intrinsic Motivation:

Our basic human needs include: Autonomy, Belonging and Competence, otherwise known as the ABC’s of Self-Determination Theory. These elements need to be incorporated into the environment. They need to be in the classroom, in the home and on the field. Let’s take a deeper look at the ABC’s of Self-Determination Theory.

Autonomy: Making decisions for yourself, by yourself, and about yourself. Autonomy occurs when the individual feels in control of their life. This is important in our development as a baseball player and throughout our life. We want to help teach our athletes (young and old) how to make good decisions both on and off the baseball field.

Depending on the age of the athlete, allowing athletes to make choices can be simple or complex. What is most important is creating what Deci and Ryan call an autonomy supportive environment. What this means is that athletes are given opportunities to make choices. For example, would you like to do warm-up A or warm-up B, today? Do you want to catch or play first base? What bat should you use? Do you want to do speed drills or a sprint-based workout?

We also want to give our athletes opportunities to make choices in a variety of situations. We want our athletes to feel confident in being able to make a good decision in pressure situations. When it comes time to make those game winning decisions, we increase the chance of success because our players have had the opportunity to practice making decisions. Good decision-making is not new to them. Players feel competent in their ability to make decisions.

Research in Positive Psychology also shows that having autonomy in our environment increases our well-being. This should not be surprising. Think about it…when we are in control, rather than being controlled, and we make good choices, and we feel good! This can help to increase our performance, allowing us the opportunity to take ownership of our choices and allow for self-directed learning which increases our intrinsic motivation.

Belonging (or relatedness, as described in the original Self-Determination Theory): This is the need for connection with others as well as developing positive, supportive interpersonal relationships. Having a place to be and belong to, having a best friend on the team, having coaches and parents who care about you all help to fulfill this basic human need for belonging. Self-Determination Theory connects to Positive Psychology because both focus on healthy psychological development and wellbeing. SDT aligns specifically with the Theory of Flourishing, which we explored in a previous post (Engineering Your Sport Environment Part I). Many old-timers can tell you about the joy they felt in the neighborhood pickup games or the big hit they got when all that mattered was the team you were on that day. The next game it did not matter because you might be on a new team, but in the memory, you came up big for your team that day, you were proud, and you absolutely belonged. It mattered that you showed up to play on that magical day!

Competence: Having and demonstrating knowledge and skill. Deci and Ryan (2000) define competence as, “The need for mastery experiences that allows a person to deal effectively with her or his environment.” To use a high school academic example; if a student were to study intensely for his/her Algebra exam and feel competent about the information being tested, that individual should feel confident going into the exam. If the student has done well on previous exams and knows the information being tested, again that individual will feel more confident.

Competence (having and demonstrating knowledge and skill) builds confidence. An athlete’s training and practice experience helps them to build baseball skills. Coaches should design for their athletes lots of successful experiences with game scenarios, and practice what will be asked of them in the game (i.e. planned, purposeful practice). Each successful experience helps the athlete feel competent, and thus confident in their ability to perform well when it comes time to compete. As the great Coach John Wooden said, “You have not taught until they have learned.” It is our job as coaches, parents and sport leaders to help players develop the skills necessary for success.

Note on Extrinsic Motivation: The purpose of this article was to introduce and discuss Self-Determination Theory. However, it is important we touch on extrinsic motivation. For the purpose of this article, “intrinsic” refers to source of the driver (who is pushing whom), and the source of the reward (intrinsic joy, pride, happiness vs. extrinsic ribbons, trophies, awards). Research and experience tell us that the best practice for building a successful environment is to development and strengthen the internal, intrinsic motivation BEFORE we sprinkle in the external, extrinsic forms of motivation. Internal, intrinsic motivation should be the stronger driving force.

Coaches, parents, and sport leaders have a role in developing and enforcing team rules, league rules, teaching techniques, and potentially dealing with game experience that may include negative emotion. Coaching and parenting involve having knowledge of the best research/science AND the art of understanding when and how to use it. Knowing when and where to apply external, extrinsic motivation is more of an art than supported by science. A lot of coaching models are driven mostly by extrinsic motivation but there is a better, stronger, more sustainable way to build our sport learning environment and that is with internal, intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation: Autonomy, belonging and competence lay the foundation for intrinsic motivation, leading to a self-determined individual. Deci and Ryan (2000) share that, “People who are intrinsically motivated tend to show enhancements in performance, persistence, creativity, self-esteem, vitality and general wellbeing when compared to people who are motivated by external rewards.” In Engineering Your Sport Environment (Part I), we asked you to remember a positive sport experience and a negative sport experience. In those memories, you will find examples of when you were using internal, intrinsic motivation and external, extrinsic motivation. What memory fueled your desire to succeed? Ask yourself the question: Who is pushing whom? There is no right or wrong answer here. Just make sure your memories include a mixture of both – YOU and your support network were both fueling your motivation. Apply this to the environment you want to set up for the kids you are coaching, parenting and leading. Be sure to create opportunities that foster intrinsic motivation.


Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.


 March Out of the Gate
(8/14/2018)
 
   

March Out of the Gate


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


There is something very special when watching a military company march together in harmony. Every single step of every single soldier- sometimes hundreds or even thousands- is synchronized from start to finish. This well-coordinated march did not happen overnight. It was taught methodically, and learned progressively. Before long, everyone gets on the same page and becomes a cohesive unit, all working together as one.

A very similar process is going on right now at Spring Training complexes in Florida and Arizona, where every Major League club is working every day to start the season marching out of the game, with everyone on the same page. And they do so in a very methodical manner as well.

As the saying goes, spring hopes eternal. With baseball returning from its annual hibernation, there is an excitement for every team at all levels of the game for the season to come. The foundation of a club’s success is not built on Opening Day; it is laid during the pre-season. From day one, coaches can establish their standard of expectation from which their players will be held accountable to, both on and off the field. From day one, the game’s fundamentals can be taught with an attention to detail that will come into play as soon as the season’s first pitch is thrown. From day one, the tone for the entire year is set.

Major League Baseball players are the best in the world. And yet, coaching staffs, in many respects, will coach them as if they have never played the game before. There is an emphasis on playing catch correctly. Teams go over correct backup positions. Infielders are taught exactly how to execute the fundamentals of a rundown. Hitters work off of a tee, while pitchers are covering first base on ground balls to the right side over and over and over.  For the first few weeks of Spring Training, players are educated on doing the things that they have been extraordinary skilled at doing for years not as a sign of disrespect, but rather with the goal of becoming that in-sync, cohesive unit, all working together as one.

For professional baseball clubs, thanks to free agency, trades, promotions and demotions, there are so many moving pieces as rosters are built year to year.  With that in mind, it makes sense to place a priority for each team to teach “their way” to each player.  The same idea holds true for teams of all ages at all levels. Whether it be a high school or college program, newcomers have to learn everything from scratch. For clubs who have a significant number of returnees, simply reviewing everything for everyone will help those who might have forgotten something from the year prior. A sound tactic to ensure continuity is to approach each day to coach the whole team starting at the level of the youngest, most inexperienced player. 

Baseball is a team sport, played from the individual level. It is such a unique game where even if the individual players are great, team success is far from guaranteed (see the New York Yankees, circa 2004-2015). Without everyone on the roster pulling the rope in the same direction, it is incredibly challenging to win consistently over the course of the long season.


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.


 No Matter the Opponent, the Game's Objective is Still the Same
(8/14/2018)
 
   

No Matter the Opponent, the Game's Objective is Still the Same


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The game of baseball is a constant that has stood the test of time, where the team that scores the most runs after nine innings is always the winner. That fact will never change. What does change is your opponent, the pitcher, the hitter, and all other in-game aspects. The game is far too difficult to cater a plan specific to each of those daily variables. But what if you could create an approach for your team and your players that was consistent day-in and day-out, regardless of who was sitting in the other dugout? Fortunately, that plan is right there before you: execute the fundamentals of the game better than the other team and, more times than not, you will beat the other team.

Which is easier: mastering one thing or becoming an expert at many? The answer is simple, and it’s the same answer that should give credence to a focus on the game’s constant fundamentals instead of on the day’s ever-changing nature. Regardless of who is standing in the batter’s box, a pitcher’s job is to execute his pitches. Period. No matter who is on the mound, the hitter is expected to compete to find a way on base or to successfully get the job done within the situation. Period. Pop ups have to be caught, and bunts have to be turned into outs. It doesn’t matter what team is on the other side, the defense still has to make a play. They still have to throw the ball to the right base. They still have to be in the correct backup position. Those skills are completely independent of who your team is playing. Those are the skills that your team has 100% control of.

A huge part of being able to execute the game’s fundamentals lies in the difference between anticipating and reacting. Good players are able to react to make plays. Championship players anticipate plays before they even happen. The game is much easier to play when players know what to expect and aren’t caught by surprise. The countless little things that come up in every game add up to big wins, and doing them has far more to do with thinking the game and playing the game the way it was meant to be played than it does anything else.

That one time out of a hundred when your leadoff hitter is safe at first base because he gave his best effort running down the line as the pitcher threw away the “easy” comebacker and gave your team a baserunner out of sheer hustle, who then was the baserunner who scored the game-winning run, and that win that punched your ticket to the playoffs that ended with a ring on your finger. That’s the good that can come from playing against the game. The bad comes when you don’t execute the controllable skills. That one time out of a hundred when your middle infielder goes to the wrong spot may be the play that gives the other team an extra run that proves to be the difference in a win or loss. A loss that keeps your team out of the post-season.

One of the best teachers of the game is actually the game itself. When on the bench, watch the game. When at home, turn on the TV, and watch the game. When at that big league ballpark, watch the game. Then talk the game. Do that enough and before long, you’ll see clearly that games are won and lost not because of an individual player’s play, but because of teams simply playing the game better than all others. The approach to play against the game is one that sets a strong foundation for success. It’s like building a house on a rock that won’t move instead of on sand that is never solid. Beat the game, and you’ll beat your opponent!

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.


 Coaching Individuals vs. Over-Coaching
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Coaching Individuals vs. Over-Coaching


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


COACHING INDIVIDUALS VS THE OVER-COACHER

As teachers, we may have all transitioned (or are still in the process) from being an “Over-coacher” to “Coaching Individuals.” Let’s take a look at the “Over coacher” (the OC). He has one approach and one approach only. He consumes information and delivers it to his players by hooking up a firehose. This rapid abundance of information sharing is a performance killer. He frequently asks players to make more than one adjustment at a time and gets frustrated when the player cannot make all of them at once. The OC likes to talk a lot and his conversations are usually one way…His way. The OC may be a hit at a clinic but may be known as “Coach OH-NO” by his players, because when the players see him coming they say “OH-NO!” This coach plays checkers, not chess, when he teaches. All of us as coaches have had a moment (or moments) in our careers when we realized when we were over-coaching a player as opposed to an individual.

THANK YOU TIM NORTON

Many of you have or will have that ‘ah-ha’ moment that starts your transition from the over-coacher to a coach centered on the individual. Mine came in 2004 when I was the pitching coach at University of Connecticut. Tim Norton was there when I showed up and jumped on my radar immediately being 6’5” and 235 lbs. He looked the part but the delivery was not up to my standards (at this time not many were) and I could not wait to “clean him up.” I broke down his delivery and started feeding him information and the changes that needed to take place immediately. I was going to make Tim a Big Leaguer overnight. The results of my coaching were immediate! Tim struggled to throw the ball over the plate, velocity dropped, and his confidence waned. This continued over a couple of weeks. Other than that, the five changes I wanted him to make as soon as possible were working out well! The moment arrived as I was sitting with Jim Penders watching this unfold yet again when I thought “I think I have done this to the kid.” In fact, I knew it. My brain raced all over the place as I was trying to figure out where to go from here. In talking with Jim Penders, we agreed we needed to get him back to his natural state (which was not the state of confusion) and let him get after it again. To add to things, I went back and got a full history on his performance numbers and who he was and realized he was already very good and the biggest thing I needed to do was get out of his way. We got Tim back to his own delivery. We worked with him and not against him. I learned to understand how to meet someone where they were at (especially off the field) instead of where I wanted them to be. I learned that Tim’s process was going to be at his speed and that encouragement and patience were two things he needed over anything. I learned that I had never coached a Tim Norton before and I will never coach another like him again and his manual will be his alone. I learned that his process was his and I needed permission from him to get in it. I learned how important it was to see how he learned best. I learned the ripple effect that “over-coaching” has and how it drains the confidence and personality of the player. I also figured out how we can either be a performance enhancer or a performance killer. However, this story has a good ending. Tim ended up pitcher of the year in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League one summer and was drafted by the Yankees. He got to the AAA level and retired following a series of injuries but is now a pitching coach in the Yankees minor league system.

COACHING INDIVIDUALS

Coaching Individuals is committing to build a new manual for every player we impact. It means that in an effort to help a player this becomes a collaboration between you and him and beyond, depending how deep we go. We as teachers have to know the man before gaining a vision of where he wants to go and how we can help take him there. How does he learn? How does he move? What is the personality like? Has he played other sports? What approach from his teacher does he need? Who is a big influence in his life? How does his body work? Is he ready for change? These are a few questions to start with when coaching the individual. Putting these answers together is the “art” of coaching that is so challenging and fun at the same time. This coach is harder to spot because he typically talks less, softer, and watches a lot. He never gives a player more than one thing to work on. He impacts the person before the player. This coach is truly playing chess when he teaches.

WATER THE BAMBOO

Recently I read a book by Chip Kelley and it talks about a bamboo species called the “giant timber bamboo.” Watering this bamboo will yield no growth but amazingly in the 4th year it can grow up to 90 feet in 60 days. I could not help but draw the analogy to the way in which a coach can focus on player development. By patiently drilling down, pouring into and developing the player and his craft and meeting players where they are in their process rather than quickly fixing his way up the chain we can better develop players. Show players how to fish rather than give them the fish. This style of player development is harder to master, but when the player (bamboo) pops, he really pops. For example, Gift Ngoepe, among many, comes to mind.

GIFT NGOEPE

Gift came to the Pirates by way of South Africa as a raw and athletic 18 year old. Considering where he is from and his background makes this player development story more remarkable. Starting his 8thseason in 2016, Gift is 26 years of age and currently on our 40 man roster. This story epitomizes coaching the individual in so many ways. First, the adversity that he faced simply coming over to the US to pursue his dream of playing in the Major Leagues is staggering. New country, new culture, and an incredibly competitive business just to name a few. How many 18 year olds could survive that transition in a traditional player development system of natural selection? How about the off field issues of life that have impacted Gift? He also has a younger brother he has to look out for and be a role model to. We had the patience to continue to water this bamboo for 7 years and it is popping before our eyes. The collaboration of staff to help in his process has been and continues to be top notch. Gift is on the cusp of being the first South African to ever play in the major leagues. This is a great story not just in terms of him playing in the major leagues but seeing the young man he has become.

We all need someone like Tim Norton in our careers to allow us to understand the incredible impact we have on players and that it is a privilege not a right to be able to teach them. Tim (as do most of my players) taught me more than I ever taught him and I will be forever grateful for the wisdom I gained from my time with him.

If you have coached for a while chances are these stories struck a chord within you. Haven’t we all had a Tim Norton experience? Hopefully, we have also seen the other side of coaching with a Gift Ngoepe story. Rod Olson, who has been a positive influence on me in so many ways, said once, “If you have patience it is about the player. If you don’t have patience it is about you.” Coaching Individuals or being the Over-Coacher is really about having patience or not. It is either about you or him. Make it about him. Go water the bamboo- starting today.


Turgeon is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is the Coordinator of Instruction for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turgeon played in the New York Yankees farm system from 1987-1990 under Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter after being drafted out of Davidson College. Before playing for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate in 1998 he spent eight years playing abroad. From 2000-2001 Turgeon began coaching in the Cleveland Indians organization before entering the college ranks where he coached with Boston College, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Virginia Tech.

 


 Taking Time Off
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Taking Time Off


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer discusses how taking time away from baseball each year is not just acceptable, but necessary. To have your topics or 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.


 Get Out of Your Usual Bubble
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Get Out of Your Usual Bubble


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


October 10 marked Opening Day for the 2017 edition of the Arizona Fall League, a “polishing-off school” of sorts for some of the game’s top prospects who are on the brink of the Major Leagues. The 32-game schedule allows for a select few players from the upper-level Minor Leaguers of all 30 MLB clubs to get just a few more at bats or innings before heading into the offseason. The AFL provides an incredible opportunity for development not just for those players fortunate enough to be selected to play, but also for the coaches chosen to coach. This fall, I have the privilege of being one of those coaches.

Six teams make up the circuit, each based out of various Spring Training facilities surrounding Phoenix, with players and staff from five different Major League organizations comprising each team’s roster. As a part of the Peoria Javelinas, our players from the Red Sox will be joined by those from the Padres, Mariners, Braves, and Blue Jays. And by nature of this unique setup, therein lies the awesome opportunity.

From the start of Spring Training in the middle of February to the end of the Minor League season in September, I live inside of the Red Sox bubble. Just about everything that we do over the course of the year comes at the direction of our coordinators and front office. As an organization, we are incredibly consistent in our daily approach that has helped develop countless Big Leaguers not just in Boston, but around the entire league. While we have a formula that we believe works, it’s a formula that always gets tweaked slightly from year to year; a formula that, no matter how good it may be, can always be better.

The Arizona Fall League offers me a rare chance to live outside of my usual baseball environment for a month and a half. While the players and coaches from the other four clubs who will make up our team in Peoria will get a glimpse into the way we do things with the Red Sox, we will equally get to see how those other four organizations go about their business. By the middle of November, as the league is finishing up, I am sure that I’ll have plenty to bring home with me that will help make our players and organization better, just as the guys from the other four organizations will feel the same.

This won’t be the first time I escape my usual bubble, and, based on similar experiences outside of my normal comfort zone, I sure hope it won’t be the last.

My coaching career began at Rutgers University, my alma mater, where I played for and later worked under American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Famer Fred Hill. He is the number one reason why I am a coach today, having seen something in me far before I was ready to see it in myself at the abrupt end of my playing career because of injury in 2006. At a time when I had a degree, but no plan B for my life, he literally created a position for me on his staff because he thought I would make a good coach. The rest, as they say, is history. Fred Hill’s style of Rutgers baseball was all I knew. It’s what helped build me into the player I was back then, and more importantly, the person I am today. From swing mechanics to practice organization, accountability to discipline, work ethic to bunt defense, offensive philosophy to strength and conditioning, recruiting to coaching, upon the start of this second life of sorts in baseball, my approach and beliefs in the game really weren’t mine at all – they were his. Now, some 11-plus years into my own coaching career, it’s easy to see how much of my foundation with my own clubs is a direct result of my ten years with Coach Hill. But that’s much of my foundation, not all of it. The rest is a product of my time spent away from the only thing I knew…

The position that Coach Hill created for me back in the spring of 2006 was that of Director of Baseball Operations, one that was just beginning to make its way around to the bigger programs across the country. While I was on the Rutgers coaching staff, technically, by NCAA standards, I was not a coach, and was not permitted to be on the field, actually coaching players. I had a wide array of responsibilities, from helping our organizational recruiting efforts to compiling scouting reports, coordinating camps and their daily schedules to assisting in travel logistics. This position enabled me to learn everything it takes to run a college program from top to bottom, except one vital element: coaching. So, in an effort to get a uniform back on, and to see if this coaching thing was truly for me, I looked to hook on with one of the many collegiate summer league teams that played around the nation.

In the summer of 2007, fresh off a Big East Title at Rutgers, I shipped off to Minnesota, where I’d be an assistant with the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League. Head Coach Tony Arnerich, a former Minor League teammate of mine with the Royals who was an assistant at the University of California at the time, saw a good fit for me on his staff to work with infielders and hitters, while coaching first base. It was interesting for me to be a part of a team that didn’t bunt most times when the situation called for it, like we did at Rutgers. It was eye-opening to see how many different things went into the decision-making process over the course of a day, from setting the lineup to organizing the pregame schedule to using our in-game strategy, not to mention daily concerns including travel times, team meals, and hotel rooming lists.

I honestly had no idea how much responsibility fell on a head coach’s plate. That summer in St. Cloud made me realize how much more there was to coaching, than just coaching. Those two-plus months helped me learn how much I truly needed to learn.

A year later, I was off to the Cape Cod League as part of the Orleans Cardinals coaching staff, where longtime skipper Kelly Nicholson afforded me what is still to this day one of my biggest breaks and best opportunities to develop as a coach. He would have me make out the lineup every day, organize batting practice, coach third base, and run the in-game offense as I saw fit. For the first time in my coaching career, I had to think on my own two feet. He gave me responsibilities that I never had and put me in a position to make decisions I previously never had to make.

With the perspective that almost ten years offers, I can honestly say that it was during that summer in Orleans when my coaching career truly took off. That time spent with Kelly as a mentor along with the duties he put on my plate helped me grow more than I could have ever hoped and helped prepare me for the day when I would be promoted to an assistant, on-field coach at Rutgers and later, as a hitting instructor and manager in professional baseball.

Having just completed my fifth year as a Minor League manager with the Red Sox, I have my own personal pillars and beliefs that I have seen first-hand yield some incredible results both on the individual and team levels. But over the next month and a half out in Arizona, being surrounded by those from four other organizations, I am excited to learn from them new ways to make those pillars and beliefs even better.

Comfort is one of the biggest obstacles to growth. Get out that comfortable bubble of yours…because that’s where our personal development truly lies.


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.


 Nutritional Guidelines
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Nutritional Guidelines


A guide to to an athletes diet


THE RIGHT MIX

Food fuels the body with energy. If you expend more energy, you need more fuel. The athlete needs high-performance foods. These high-performance nutrients for baseball players include the right mix of fluids, carbohydrates and proteins.

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates are the master fuel for generating energy for practice and competition. The body breaks down carbs into glycogen, which is used in the muscle as fuel. Baseball players should keep their carbohydrate intake at 60-70 percent of their daily total calories. There are two types of carbs: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates provide a gradual release of energy over a long period of time. Simple carbs offer a quick fix. You want to take simple carbs which are found in fruits, root vegetables, beans, pasta, rice, breads and cereals.

PROTEIN

15-20 percent of your diet should be made up of proteins. The body needs protein to repair and build muscle tissue but can only utilize a small amount. Any excess protein in the diet is broken down and stored as fat. Good sources of dietary protein are beef, chicken, turkey, fish, cheese, milk, egg whites and yogurt.

FATS

Your diet should consist of 15-20 percent of fat. The average diet contains more fat than is needed, leading to unnecessary weight gain. There are several ways to lower your fat intake:
• Prepare food by broiling, steaming or poaching rather than frying.
• Remove skin from poultry and fish.
• Drink skim milk or water.
• Substitute fish and chicken for red meat
• Avoid foods packed in oil.

HYDRATION & FLUIDS

Warm weather athletes (baseball players) lose more body fluids through sweating. This increases the body’s temperature which causes exhaustion, decreased performance and increased potential for injury. For these reasons, fluids are as important as a bat and glove to a baseball player.

Drink before you’re thirsty: To avoid the risk of dehydration, you must replenish fluids before the on-set of thirst. If you’ve waited until you are thirsty to take a drink, you have waited too long. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already at about 1-percent dehydration; this equals close to three cups of sweat for a 150-pound person!

At 2-percent dehydration, your ability to perform in sport may drop as much as 15 percent!

When you become dehydrated, your ability to think and react slows, your stamina and recuperation becomes suppressed, power and strength output drops and the risk of injury increases dramatically!

Weighing yourself before and after games and practices is a good way to monitor fluid loss. Each pound you lose during exercise equals about two cups of sweat. The recommended amount of fluids per day for an adult male is 120 oz. For athletes working in the heat, this may be substantially more; drink as much as 8-10 ounces every 15-20 minutes or as much as you can handle.

Fruit juices, especially orange juice and pure peach and pear juice are great ways to replenish electrolytes lost via sweating. Mix them 25-percent juice and 75-percent water for the best results.

Sport drinks can also be used, but they too must be diluted with water at the 25/75-percent ratio. Most sport drinks have large amounts of sugar that just are not great for performance athletes, so use them sparingly.

Hydration for the athlete is a full-time job; as an athlete, you must start hydrating first thing in the morning and continue right to the time you go to bed.

The key is never to become thirsty!

PRE AND POST-GAME MEALS

You should eat two to three hours before activity. This will prevent your blood sugars from getting low, which is a common cause of premature fatigue in many athletes. Avoid overeating and eating carbohydrates late at night, because your metabolism is slower at night and this late meal increases the chance this food will be stored as fat.

THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR DIET

• Eat breakfast – it is the foundational meal of the day. Consume one-third of your calories here.
• Eat extra carbohydrates, not proteins, except late at night.
• Drink plenty of fluids, especially if hungry to fill the void.
• Eat four to six smaller meals each day as opposed to three larger ones.
• Eat two to three hours before competition.
• Eat 60-90 minutes after competition to allow your body to absorb more nutrients and replenish itself better.
• Do not overeat!
• Eat light at night, more protein than carbs but not much of either.

SAMPLE DAILY EATING SCHEDULE: (SIX MEALS – EATING EVERY THREE HOURS)

8:00 a.m.
1 cup oatmeal - complex
1 cup of fruit - simple
8 oz. glass of skim milk - protein
8 oz. glass of OJ - simple

11:00 a.m.
Meal-replacement shake with fruit - protein and carbs

2:00 p.m.
3 oz. chicken breast - protein
1 potato - complex
1 cup mixed fruit - simple
8 oz. glass of skim milk - protein

5:00 p.m.
Meal replacement shake - protein and carbs

8:00 p.m.
3-4 oz. of chicken or fish - protein
1 cup of rice - complex
1 cup of vegetables - simple
8 oz. glass of skim milk - protein

11:00 p.m.
Meal-replacement shake or bar - protein and carbs


 Lineup Card
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Lineup Card


A tool for coaches to best prepare their lineup


Prepare for games by printing this template and creating the lineup. Don’t forget to post a copy in the dugout so your players know the batting order.

PRINT


 Tommy John Surgeries in Position Players
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Tommy John Surgeries in Position Players


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, talks about Tommy John Surgery in position players.


Marc Richard, MD, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and 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.


 Leadoff Double
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Leadoff Double


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this week’s edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow highlights the importance the leadoff hitter paying attention to pitches and hitting cues.


Tom Succow, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and 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.


 Team 101
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Team 101


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


A Major League season is 162 games. While every single one of those games is entirely its own experience, the end goal of each is exactly the same: to score more runs than the other team. Our game is hard enough as it is, and it becomes far too challenging to create 162 separate game plans. Baseball is not football. We do not get six days to prepare for everyone game. We are playing every day. But what we can do is create one singular game plan that can be applied every single time our players take the field:

Execute the fundamentals of the game better than the club in the opposing dugout.

Clubs that can master the following five team fundamentals will put themselves in a great position to shake hands at the end of the game.

BACKUP POSITIONS
Whenever the ball is put in play or thrown there always is somewhere to be for every guy on the field. To know where exactly each position should be, think in a very simple progression:

1. Ball in play - if the batted ball is in the vicinity of your position, that’s where you go.
2. First possible throw - after the batted ball is fielded, where is the first throw going?
3. Second possible throw - after the first throw is made, where may the next one go?

If any of those plays or throws are mishandled, and the ball would go in your position’s general area, that’s where your backup position should be.

Backing up bases is the epitome of a little thing that can translate into a big win. Do it, and it will help prevent extra bases and extra runs. Don’t do it, and the other team will appreciate your generosity of free bases and runs. The one time you don’t back up is the one time when the ball is going to get by the person you are supposed to be backing up. Be there!

CUTOFFS & RELAYS
Any ball that is hit into the outfield is going to call for infielders to set up a cutoff or relay to get the ball back in to the proper base. Depending on the situation, each position has different responsibilities when it comes to being in the correct cut off spot. For instance, with nobody on base, a single is going to have the cutoff set up for second base. With a man on first, the relay goes to third on a base hit. On a sure double, the ball is going in to third. Knowing where to direct the ball comes from thinking about the situation before the ball is hit. While good teams communicate where the play will be, everyone on the field should know without being needed to listen for the call coming from the field.

Once the ball is put in play, and the defense knows where to throw the ball to, it is the infielder’s job to lineup with the base the throw is set to go to. Lining up is important if in the event the throw is too high or low and not handled cleanly by the cutoff man, it will go to the base and not into no man’s land. His hands are up so the outfielder can clearly see who to throw the ball to, and as the throw is coming, the infielder should move his feet to be in turned position to catch the ball, setting up the throw. From when that ball is picked up by the outfielder to when it gets back in to a base, cut offs and relays are simply the game’s version of playing catch.

POP-UP PRIORITY
When the ball goes up in the air, every position in that pop-up’s zip code has to expect to catch the ball themselves, and not look to other players on the field to do so. Then, once a player realizes that he can catch the ball, he can call for it loudly, using, “I GOT IT! I GOT IT! I GOT IT,” or “ME! ME! ME!” When two people are both calling for the ball, then the priority takes over based on what position each player is on the field. Outfielders have priority over infielders. Infielders have priority over the pitcher and the catcher. Centerfielder has priority over corner outfielders, middle infielders (SS/2B) have priority over corner infielders (1B/3B), and corner guys take priority over the pitcher and catcher.

BUNT DEFENSE
If an opposing team is going to give your defense one of the 21 or 27 outs, then it’s foolish not to take that out every single time. That’s the main point of any bunt defense: to get an out. The bunt is used to advance runners, but the defense doesn’t have to just give that next 90 feet if the bunt is gotten down. So, the next key to defending the bunt, is to be aggressive to the ball, just to have a chance to get that lead out on a poorly placed bunt. If that lead out is not there, then simply take the out at first base. Teams don’t need to have twenty different bunt plays to run in order to defend the bunt, but rather just one or two that they can run to perfection to get an out every single time.

RUNDOWNS
When a baserunner gets caught in a rundown, the out is there for the taking. And it can be an easy out to record if the defense does one simple thing: get the runner to run hard! When the runner is committed to a base, it’s that much harder for him to stop and go back and forth, caught in the middle of infielders throwing the ball back and forth. So, it’s the infielders whose responsibility it is to get that runner going hard by going hard themselves. From there, it’s important for the infielders to clear a lane to throw on either the inside or outside of the runner to prevent having to throw over or around a body. With the runner committed, and an open lane to throw, the receiving infielder then should call, “now” when he senses an easy catch and tag can be made to record the out.

The game’s fundamentals do not change. They provide coaches with a constant plan to present to their players every day, not matter who is in the other dugout. Championships are built on the foundation of executing the game’s fundamentals. Play against the game, not the opponent!


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.


 What’s the Call? Runner Passing
(8/14/2018)
 
   

What’s the Call? Runner Passing


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


With only one out, the runner from first is holding on the fly ball to right. The ball is dropped. What’s the Call?


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.


 Common Mechanical Errors of a Fielder
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Common Mechanical Errors of a Fielder


How to identify and fix common mechanical errors of a fielder


Because of the numerous mechanical aspects that comprise fielding a ground ball, it is one of the hardest skills to master in baseball. It could take players months or years to master this skill. Players, along with their coaches, must understand and practice proper fielding mechanics over and over to become an accomplished infielder.

Mechanical errors of fielding are common in players from youth leagues up to the big leagues. Identifying and correcting these errors are the two ingredients to becoming a great infielder.

This resource will cover a few of the common mechanical errors that infielders encounter when fielding. Through observation, coaches and players must first identify the problem(s) and the severity of the problem(s) in each player’s fielding mechanics. Once these errors are identified, the coach and player must make necessary adjustments to eliminate these problems.

• “Stiff hands” refers to a player tensing up while fielding his position. Not being relaxed tightens up the fielder’s muscles, makes his movements jerky and causes him to misplay the ball. As much information as there is on fielding, players can tend to over-think and not let their play flow. Reinforcing good fielding habits through practice is important, but the mental game is often overlooked. Imagining positive results works wonders on improving fielding skills. This builds confidence and allows a player to relax and let his hours of practice do the work for him.

• The player may also be “stabbing” at the ball with his glove. He should let the ball come to him and field it out in front in a smooth motion. Fielding practice with a flat glove or with bare hands helps to reinforce this relaxed feeling. This develops “soft hands” when receiving the ball.

• Remember that errors are part of the game. No matter how good a fielder is, he will make errors. The best fielders are those who can put the error behind them and be ready for the next ball hit their way. Positive body language is key to reinforcing a strong mental game.

Handcuffing interferes with smooth fielding and often leads to errors. This occurs when the ball gets too close to the fielder before it hits the glove. An infielder gets “handcuffed” for three different reasons:
He tries to field the ball on an “in-between” hop: The infielder should field the ball being “proactive” not “reactive.” The ball should be fielded on a long hop or a short hop. This greatly decreases the instance of a bad hop or “in-between” hop.
He pounds his glove before receiving the ball: This is an unnecessary complication to fielding the ball. Often, the fielder will pound his glove late, which causes him to rush to get his glove down. The fielder should always field the ball from the ground up. This pounding of the glove also forces him to start high.
His glove is too close to his body: Instead, he should receive the ball out in front of him.


 Understanding Minerals
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Understanding Minerals


A list of minerals and their functions


INFORMATION

Similar to vitamins, minerals also assist in many body processes and are crucial in muscle contractions, energy expenditure and immune function. Elite athletes have an increased need for both macro and micro-minerals because of the higher stress that is placed on the body during training. The following is a list of all of the minerals, their functions and food sources.

MACROMINERALS



MICROMINERALS



Courtesy of the United States Olympic Committee


 Baseball: The Only Game Where the Defense Has the Ball
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Baseball: The Only Game Where the Defense Has the Ball


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


In a nine-inning baseball game, each team gets 27 outs. Great defensive teams don’t give any more outs than that. We’ve established previously that the teams that play catch the best are generally the best teams. Well, those who struggle to consistently handle the ball cleanly tend to make errors. Errors equal extra outs. Extra outs equal extra runs. It’s those runs that teams will have to overcome offensively in order to win a game.

No matter the position, great defensive players are not made in games, but during practice. It is during those practices when coaches have to make the conscious effort to work with their players one step at a time. Break a skill down to its simplest form, isolating a specific part of a specific skill, and build it up from there. Create drill packages that force your players into a defensive routine to help them develop the same way you would with hitters in the cage. Like a batter starting his day on the tee, putting your infielders on their knees to field hand rolled ground balls gets them back to square one. Just as pitchers do their dry drills to perfect their delivery, tell your outfielders to lose their gloves to learn how to catch the ball correctly in front of them, over their head, and fundamentally sound. If you try to hammer ten points into one drill, you’ll be lucky if they retain a single thing. But if you give them a single thing to focus on, before you know it, you’ll quickly be moving on to the next step.

It’s very important for coaches to be patient. We all want to progress to the next thing, so we can get to the thing after that, and quite often we do so before our players are truly ready. So how do we know when it’s time? When they can do what we’re asking them to do… slowly. If they cannot do it slow, they cannot do it fast. Technique is step one. Speed of that technique is step two. Let your middle infielders literally walk through the footwork of a double play, because without the correct footwork, they won’t be able to turn two as fast as you want. Have your catchers throw to bases with the ball starting in their glove, so they can perfect the exchange into the throwing hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with breaking a drill down so basic and so slow so that a five-year-old can do it, in fact, we encourage it, as that’s how fundamental base foundations are built.

There’s also a time and place when infielders and outfielders can improve with the glove as good if not better than anywhere else. It’s called batting practice. There is no better repetition than a ball off a bat, just as it would be hit in the game. There is no drill or fungo that can mimic a game-like practice repetition better than during batting practice where the defenders can work on their pre-pitch (or ready) position, their first step quickness, and routes to the ball. Pitchers shag casually during batting practice. Gold Glove Award winners use it to work intensely.

No matter how defensive periods are organized during practice or in pre-game, remember this: players don’t learn to be sure-handed with the glove when that first fungo is hit. They learn how to catch the ball when they start their day with that game of catch… because that’s all defense is!


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.


 Pitch Selection in Youth Baseball
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Pitch Selection in Youth Baseball


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, discusses the constant debate on whether youth baseball pitchers should throw curveballs.


Marc Richard, MD, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and 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.


 Tagging Up vs. Going Halfway
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Tagging Up vs. Going Halfway


Monday Manager
By Skip Schumaker


In this edition of Monday Manager, Skip Schumaker analyzes a baserunning situation on a deep fly ball during an NHSI game.


Schumaker is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is a two-time World Series Champion. Schumaker was drafted in the fifth round of the 2001 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals following his career at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to his two World Series titles, Schumaker was a member of the USA Baseball 2006 Olympic Qualifying team that won a gold medal in Cuba and secured a spot in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.