Blog

 The Many Opening Days of the Season
(2/21/2020)
 
 
   

The Many Opening Days of the Season


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


February is finally upon us which means only one thing: BASEBALL IS BACK! The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, and the thud of the glove fill our senses with excitement as our favorite Major League clubs open Spring Training , while the college programs that we follow begin their competitive seasons. Every player, coach, and fan on the diamond lives by the optimistic mantra that hope truly does spring eternal. With everything in front of us, there is no better time of year on the baseball calendar.

For the many different levels of the game, seasons vary both in length and focus. Tee-ballers and Little Leaguers are just learning the basics of the game and are hopefully having a blast in the process. For high school players, most have taken their game up the ranks and play on a more serious note with aspirations of playing in college or professionally , while competing with friends for local supremacy. In college, student-athletes are balancing academics and baseball in an environment where players are expected to work to get better in order to help their school win.

On the professional level, over the course of the long, seven-month season, we have found value in breaking the year up into different segments that allow our individual players and collective teams to take stake in where they are, how they’ve gotten there, and what the plan will be moving forward.

At the start of Spring Training, all of our players and staff meet together prior to getting going on the field to go over a lot of the basics that will rule the next month and a half of our days in camp. Things like getting treatment in the training room, working out in the weight room, keeping the clubhouse clean, and a multitude of other quick topics are discussed to get everyone on the same page. But the underlying theme when we begin to talk about the upcoming season is opportunity. Every single day is a chance to get better; a chance to make a club; a chance to be that much more prepared for the beginning of the season come April. With that constant message to our players, year in and year out, our Spring Trainings are incredibly productive and we feel like we are in a great position to start the year off on a very positive note because of how well they took advantage of their own individual opportunities.

Come the start of the regular season, everyone is chomping at the bit to be off and running. But before that official Opening Day hits, each team will gather as a group to refocus on the new job at hand. The theme now turns to the standard that we will challenge our players to live up to each and every day of the season. Players will be expected to go about their business in a professional manner regardless of the results from the night before. They will learn how to control what they can control and work like the professionals they are with the goal of getting something out of every practice repetition. When they do those things on a daily basis, the reward of the game each night will become that much more satisfying knowing that they are getting better each day, while developing into productive team players along the way.

The Major League season is 162 games. For our Minor Leaguers, a full schedule includes 140 contests. Both seasons offer a halfway point that gives us another break to introduce a new point of emphasis: to press the reset button. Time and time again, we see players sprint out of the gate like gangbusters and perform at an impressive level for the first couple months of the season. But by the end of the year, the total body of work has fallen back to an average year at best. They tried to ride the wave all the way to the finish, and unfortunately failed to do so. On the flipside, we also often see players who struggle early on, but find a way to finish the year on an upswing because they were able to move on from a tough start to the year. Mentally resetting the year gives players a clean slate, and teams a re-centered focus on what they need to do to be successful. Good or bad, the reset opens up the window for them to keep things going in the right direction, or to start anew and get that bad taste out of their mouths.

There are few things more exciting than playing meaningful games down the stretch with a chance to win a ring in the postseason. And with the start of the playoffs comes another new Opening Day of sorts where only one thing matters: winning. Still to this day, the majority of my favorite memories over the course of my 35-plus years in the game revolve around winning championships. There is something to be said about investing so much time with a group of people to go after something bigger than ourselves. And when everything comes together from everyone pulling the rope in the same direction, there is such a lasting impression that very few things in life can compare.

In the marathon that is the baseball season, it is very easy to hit a wall at various mile-markers along the way. But when players and teams create their own Opening Days throughout the year, a newfound energy and focus can take over when otherwise there might be a lull going through the grind. Regardless of how you divide up your months on the diamond, challenge yourself to approach every day like Opening Day.


Darren Fenster 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.


 Playing on Multiple Teams at the Same Time
(2/18/2020)
 
 
   

Playing on Multiple Teams at the Same Time


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University, discusses the risks associated with playing on more than one team at the same time. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, 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.


 Why The Way You Praise Matters
(2/13/2020)
 
 
   

Why The Way You Praise Matters



Whether you’re a coach or parent to a young athlete, the way that you praise them after a competition can have a deep impact. Wade Gilbert, PhD, a professor at California State University in Fresno and a Team USA Coaching Consultant, has some advice on how to praise your athlete in a way that will have the most beneficial impact on their sport and psyche. 

Don’t offer false praise
 
“False praise is the worst thing a parent can give – the best type of praise is genuine praise,” says Gilbert. “If you want to praise kids, it should be genuine and earned. If the praise isn’t earned, don’t say anything. We overcomplicate things by thinking we need to say something positive about everything.” 

Focus on process, not results 

Studies have shown that parents shouldn’t focus on grades that their children receive – instead, focus on the way that they’re playing and performing. And as a coach in particular, the way you praise an athlete based on outcome versus progress can change how your athlete views success. If you only praise your athletes after games they win, Gilbert warns that the athletes will learn to focus on the outcome rather than the skills it takes to perform at a high level. 

Help them master their skills

Student athletes tend to have higher self-confidence long after they’ve left high school. “But confidence doesn’t come from false praise,” says Gilbert. “It comes when an athlete feels competent. So, if your athlete is getting better, that’s how their confidence will build. To pump up confidence, focus on teaching skills rather than praising them.” 

Praise what’s in their control

It can be tempting to point out how a young athlete ‘destroyed the other team' or ‘crushed the competition.’ But that puts an emphasis on the negative side of sport, versus praising the athlete’s personal performance. 

“You want to reinforce the positive things that they’re doing and that they can control, not things that are dependent on how other athletes perform. And in team sports, parents shouldn’t put down other athletes on the team while praising their own child.”

Follow your athlete's lead

“After the game, don’t start with a breakdown of how you thought it went,” says Gilbert. “Ask how your athlete felt about the game and let the conversation flow from that.” 

Sometimes your athlete doesn’t need praise, they may just need to quietly contemplate how the game went, or even talk through what went wrong during the competition. 

Praise others on the field

Gilbert recommends pointing out great plays by other athletes as well as your own. “We think we’re doing a favor by protecting them and offering this false praise, but really what we should be doing is talking about what an athlete did well, and also about what other athletes did. It’s OK to point out another player on the team, or on the opposing team, who had a great game,” says Gilbert. “That helps teach your child how to handle losses and wins more gracefully."

______

Gilbert concludes by recommending that coaches “make a checklist for pre and post-game routines, and a checklist for how often he or she is praising individual athletes on the team to make sure you’re paying attention to everyone.”

He adds, “You have to be proactive about making sure everyone on the team is being acknowledged," says Gilbert. It’s so easy to miss a quieter athlete during a season, but every athlete on the team should end the year feeling valued for their progress, skill development, and attitude.   

 



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.


 Batter Collects RBI with Sac Fly
(2/17/2020)
 
 
   

Batter Collects RBI with Sac Fly


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses a RBI sac fly to left field.


Tom Succow 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.


 Pre-Game In and Out
(2/12/2020)
 
   

Pre-Game In and Out


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses the importance of infield and outfield practice. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 Two Run Single
(2/3/2020)
 
   

Two Run Single


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses two run single during extra innings.


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.


 Throwing Error on a Steal
(1/20/2020)
 
   

Throwing Error on a Steal


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses how to take advantage of a pitch in the dirt as a runner. 


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.


 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 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.


 How to Help Athletes Be Confident In Tough Situations
(1/16/2020)
 
   

How To Help Athletes Have Confidence in Tough Situations



As a young athlete, your child is occasionally faced with big decisions, as well as hundreds of smaller scale decisions on a regular basis. Parents should not only teach good decision-making habits and strategies, but also help their athletes feel confident about making tough decisions.

Dr. Carl Pickhardt, PhD, practicing psychologist and author of 15 books on parenting, including his most recent book, WHO STOLE MY CHILD? Parenting through four stages of adolescence, shares his expertise on how to teach your young athletes how to feel confident about their decisions, from the early days of T-ball all the way through college visits.
 
Teach your athlete to recognize decisions when they’re being made

To be confident about making tough decisions, a child needs to learn how to make smaller, simpler decisions for themselves from a young age. “You don’t empower younger athletes to feel like they can make their own decisions; you empower them by helping them recognize all the athletic decisions they are already making for themselves,” says Pickhardt. “This is the personal power base you want them to be able to build upon.”

Helping a child become decisive during practice or games can help to build a strong, resolute nature that will later be used for more than just game-day small-scale decisions. Pickhardt adds that the younger a student is when he starts making decisions for himself, the easier it will be to make complex decisions later on. Think of decision-making like a muscle that needs to be worked out and regularly used to stay strong. The stronger that muscle gets, the more confident your athlete will be in their decisions.
 
Help your child see the importance of consequences

“Decisions can determine direction, and setting one’s own direction can feel satisfying,” says Pickhardt. Children often don’t feel that they have true decision-making power, so when a choice is within their control, make sure you’re explaining how and why the decision matters.
“Choosing shows what one cares about, but also brings with it the risk of disappointment,” Pickhardt adds. “Choosing is also losing — time and energy spent on activity X means time not spent on activities Y and Z, and so this brings the risk of regret.” For example, a young athlete can choose to focus on soccer or track for the spring season.

Because they must choose one thing over the other, children often don’t want to make a decision or will avoid making one. But athletes will gain self-confidence by making these tough choices, so don’t try to force your child into a decision that you think is the right one.
 
Acknowledge the difficulty of making choices

From an adult perspective, some choices seem obvious to you — but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious to your child, and that’s okay. “If the child wavers back and forth or keeps changing their mind, they may be experiencing honest ambivalence — wanting and not wanting to do something at the same time,” says Pickhardt.
Be patient, and don’t push your athlete toward a decision that you want, but instead, help your athlete come to their own choice. “All decisions are partly an entry into the unexpected,” Pickhardt reminds parents. “Thinking through decision-making is important because by predicting possible outcomes before deciding, one can evaluate a possible decision before choosing it.”

You can help your young athlete by teaching smart decision-making tactics, like listing out pros and cons of different options, and by looking back at similar decisions that they’ve made in the past. Remember, an adolescent’s emotional intelligence is still developing, and they may not yet have all the tools to make a rational, thought-out decision.
_____

It’s tempting to simply equate confidence in a decision with making the ‘right’ decision, or a feeling of sureness. But unfortunately, most decisions aren’t black-and-white.

Things like focusing on a club team versus a school team, or choosing a college to attend, won’t be simple choices with an obvious right or wrong answer. “Rather, confidence in hard decision-making is not so much being sure of the outcome, but being secure that whatever the outcome, you will be okay and glad you gave it a try,” says Pickhardt. “That’s true confidence.”


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.


 Catch Over the Tarp
(1/6/2020)
 
   

Catch Over the Tarp 


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses the proper technique to secure a snag on a foul ball hit over the tarp down the baseline as a third baseman. 


Tom Succow 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.


 Conditioning
(1/15/2020)
 
   

Conditioning


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses how conditioning leading up to the season can help athletes perform throughout the season. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 What To Do When Your Athlete Needs a Sports Break
(1/2/2020)
 
   

What To Do When Your Athlete Needs a Sports Break


In youth sports 


When your young athlete needs a break from their sport, it’s your job as a parent to support them and help guide them through this challenging time. Steve Smith, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at UC Santa Barbara, works with parents and young athletes as they navigate sporting life, and he’s seen many athletes take breaks from a specific sport before returning the next season stronger and happier than ever.

Here’s what he wants parents to know:
 
Don’t panic

It’s easy to start catastrophizing when your child needs to take a break or wants to try something different. “Talking with parents about this can be a real challenge, because many get so heavily invested in their child’s participation or results in one given season,” says Smith.

“There’s good research that shows kids need breaks from sport and pushing too hard can often end in outcomes that no one wants.” Don’t forget, a break isn’t always because of a physical injury – your athlete might need a mental and emotional break as well. Everyone can burn out from pushing beyond their limits, both physical and emotional, even at a young age.
 
Be aware of your response

For some parents, it can be hard to accept that your athlete needs a break. On a conscious level, you may not even be aware of how you’re reacting, but your young athlete might sense your disappointment.
“Parents will say they’re OK with the child taking a break, but the child will tell me, ‘If I take time off, my parents will be disappointed,’” says Smith. “Parents are communicating something different to their child than what they’re saying, and it can be really confusing.”
 
Find an expert

The hardest part of helping an athlete take a break from sports can be the initial conversation. You may not want to be the one who tells your athlete they need a break – and honestly, many pre-teens and teens are disinclined to listen to you anyway. Smith recommends seeking out an expert, such as a sports medicine doctor, sports psychologist, or physical therapist, who can assess and explain the reason for taking some time off.
“It’s helpful to have a third party involved. A sports medicine doctor can help explain to a young athlete that six weeks off now can lead to six years of strong play,” he adds. “A coach can also help here, telling an athlete that leaving is only temporary and they still have a place on the team.”
 
Make an active recovery plan

Many athletes and parents panic at the idea of a break, simply because there isn’t a firm timeline or plan in place. This especially true for young athletes who are told to take time off but may not be given a strategic recovery plan that involves low-impact exercises, physical therapy, or mental wellness activities.

Depending on the situation, a coach may be able to help create this plan in tandem with a doctor, physical therapist, or even a sports psychologist. However, Smith notes that not every athlete wants to immediately return to sport, so if your child seems uninterested in a return, don’t force it.
 
Help your athlete keep in touch

Staying connected with coaches and teammates can be hugely beneficial. “Often, a child’s teammates are their closest friends, and suddenly he’s not seeing them every day at practice, and it can feel like his friends are moving on without him,” says Smith.
Keeping in touch with a coach can also help with a child’s motivation and eventual return to sport, and it keeps the coach connected so he knows when the athlete will be able to return to play.
 
Find similar athletes

“There are so many great blogs and online resources out there created by athletes who’ve had the same hurdle as your child,” says Smith. “Search for those so you can show your athlete that he’s not alone in needing a break, whether it’s due to injury, burnout, or even just to pursue another sport or hobby. There’s always a success story that you can point to.”
 
_____
 
The hardest part for both parents and athletes on a break from sport is that suddenly, time opens up. For a lot of young athletes, hours after school and on weekends are dedicated to practice and competition, and the new free time can be daunting.
Let your athlete take a few days to indulge or recover with some time spent relaxing but try to find ways to fill the time after the first week, says Smith. “Find a new activity that can be life-enhancing so that time can be really enriching,” he suggests. That may mean joining a new club at school or spending time as a family doing things like hiking or taking a class together.
Parents also may find themselves at a loss when, suddenly, they aren’t driving to and from practice and competition. This is a good chance for you to take some time for yourself, perhaps restarting your own exercise regimen or spending more time at home. “Know that you deserve a break, too,” Smith adds.


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.


 Hamstring Injuries
(12/24/2019)
 
   

Hamstring Injuries 


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, discusses how to prevent, identify and treat hamstring injuries, which are the most common lower extremity injury in baseball. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


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.


 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 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.


 Textbook Backhand by the Shortstop
(12/16/2019)
 
   

Textbook Backhand by the Shortstop


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses how to execute a perfectly-timed backhanded snag and deliver a pinpoint throw from the shortstop position. 


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.


 Myths Surrounding Pitch Type
(12/10/2019)
 
   

Myths Surrounding Pitch Type


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Duke University, breaks down how the effects (or lack of effects) that throwing breaking balls has on a youth pitcher's arm. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, 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.


 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." 

_____  

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.’”  

______ 

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.


 Diving Play by the Second Baseman
(12/2/2019)
 
   

Diving Play by the Second Baseman


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses an attempt at a diving catch by the second baseman, and how both the defense and offense should react when they fail to covert the grab. 

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.