Training and Transfer (Part II)
By Dave Turgeon
In Training and Transfer Part I, we discussed simple applications on how to improve how we carry our practice into the games effectively to perform and how competing makes players respect the game. In this part, we will discuss adding layers to the simple applications to take your on-field training to another level.
Train to the Truth
The expression TRAIN TO THE TRUTH is simply doing things at game speed in our training with game-like focus and intent on all reps. We partly hit it already with our challenging and competitive hitting practice. We can now expand our focus to team fundamentals blended with hitting, defense and baserunning. We call this segment of practice a couple of different things. Sometimes we refer to it as the Jungle. Trevor Regan hits the analogy well and I use it in my thinking constantly. If you train at the zoo all day but have to perform in the Jungle at night, you are in for a hard time. Think about a lion who is born and raised in the zoo where everything is given to him daily. He never taps into or trains his speed, hunting, and aggression instincts. If that lion is put out into the Jungle after being brought up in the zoo, he is not going to perform or live long for that matter! If your training is more zoo than jungle, re-evaluate it. The speed of the Jungle will overwhelm your players if they have not been there. The other word we use when blending our work is our Fundamedley. This is a simple set up that starts with an I-screen or an L-screen. We have 2 groups of defense and offense, and a coach pitching behind the screen with a pitcher on the mound. This is a live scrimmage that is scripted out on paper but the action it produces is all unpredictable like the game is. For example, inning 1 may begin with a runner on second base and 0 outs and let the inning run from there. We are now situationally hitting, defending, and baserunning with whatever happens. The coach is using a full mix of pitches from up close to simulate reaction times of high velocity. Inning 2 may start with runners on first and second and no outs. Again, the coach will then run his defense, the other coach will run the offense and play it live from there. The beauty of the Fundamedley is the coaches are getting game speed reps also. Adding layers to all this, we will use a scoreboard to give the inning and score and counts, which is the information that dictates our decision making on the field. This GRILL (GAME LIKE DRILL) can be used in endless ways. And most importantly, the environment we have set up has again forced players to RESPECT THE REP. Get out of the ZOO and start living in the JUNGLE in your training. The transfer and performance come game time will reflect more and more where you live the most! Warning: the action that takes place in the Jungle may be messy at times. This is good! Learning is messy and recognizing when a group/individual is learning and allow this messiness to take place is showing maturity as a coach. When your work is clean it is telling you that players have learned this already and they need more. Be prepared to add layers to whatever they do because they learn at an incredible rate of speed!
The messiness of learning we are talking about was described by our Mental Conditioning Director, Bernie Holliday as The Gap. The Gap is that area just beyond their current abilities. Go beyond The Gap and you are killing confidence. Push ‘em into that gap and there is stretching and growing that is happening. Players are figuring it out. Whether it is a new mechanic or a decision-making play, there is sure to be messiness involved here. That is the art of coaching, knowing where they are as a group and as individuals and pushing them just beyond. The analogy to learning may be lifting weights with a partner and having him help you through those last 2 reps. The last 2 reps got you into the gap and got you stronger. Getting players into the Gap = Learning = Transfer!
Training Beyond the Truth
Daniel Coyle’s book entitled “The Talent Code” inspired this next segment of training several years back. In the book, he studied how the Brazilians had so consistently dominated the soccer world, discovered the game of futsal, and how it became a breeding ground for super skilled soccer players. Futsal is essentially the game of soccer played on a much smaller field. Everything happens much faster (decision-making and skills) than on a bigger field so that when they go back to the big field, the game is slowed down while actually playing and thinking at a greater speed. I ended up thinking about doing the fundamedley of bunting on it with 70-foot bases. The results were amazing. The field was so messy and fast (learning is messy!!!) but in just a short time it got cleaner as players learned quickly. This shrunken game of bunt defense created some challenging skill work, decision-making, and helped them slow the game down come game time. It’s okay to make the training even more challenging than what they may face because now we are building real confidence. Training beyond the truth = faster processing = transfer! Another example of this is the use of handballs (not to be confused with racquet balls) with infielders. While coaching at Duke back in 2006, Sean McNally used handballs to sharpen the skills of infielders. The handballs training (done with and without a glove) was actually hop reading and decision making on steroids as it was beyond the speed of the game they would face. Once the defenders were recalibrated to normal game speed and space, the common feedback that we would get from players was how much slower the game was to them. The handball work is not limited to the infielders. Handballs infiltrated our big-league camp last year and were used in the pitchers fielding practice (pfp) development of the pitchers. They have been used in the catching and outfield areas as well. Warning: the use of handballs can be messy at times. That is okay, they are learning!
Expecting to Teach and Teaching Creates More Transfer
Friend and colleague Andy Bass shared a study with me by Daou, Lohse, and Miller in 2016 entitled “Expecting To Teach Enhances Motor Learning and Information Processing During Practice.” It was done with a large number of golfers and the premise of the study was to determine or measure the transfer benefits of having to teach a skill and then perform it. The interesting twist, however, was that when the players who were told they were going to have to teach putting and its details the following day they then were told they did not have to. Remarkably the group who were told they were going to have to teach putting far outperformed the other group in terms of learning and transfer. The act of preparing to teach a skill deepened the learning and led to greater transfer when performing the skill. I have used this method with my players but have allowed them to actually teach. Now the phenomenon that was exposed in this study is real, but I believe the actual teaching aspect takes it to another level. I have found that the player or players doing the teaching are completely engaged, and witnessing players teaching players is a wonderful thing. I have done this in all phases of the game and also including some culture building exercises. A great example of this on the baseball side is using the players to teach a fundamental and give them a one-day advance to prepare. I will usually have gone through all the fundamentals and training once before turning it over to the players. They will be required to give the explanation verbally and then show it using either whiteboard or video. I have also used the players to teach Pirates core convictions with explanations and videos and preparation all left to them. Generally, the players will knock it out of the park and the other byproduct of using this method is more ownership of their development. Along the same lines of teaching and expecting to teach, I have assigned players to break down different areas of the game postgame, letting them know beforehand to be ready to debrief post game what they have seen. The amount of engagement of the players is phenomenal as they are now watching intensely and learning as well. If you find the feedback lacks certain things, then we as coaches can fill in the cracks when needed. Players will astound you as to what they see and know if we allow it. Most importantly, we have found out exactly where they are and where we can now take them. Allowing players to teach one another = deeper learning = more ownership = transfer! Warning: If you choose to allow the players into the teaching you and your staff will also be learning! Players see things we do not and if we do not show them, we learn from them we have not truly given them permission to learn from us!
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.