Sport Development Blog

 Dive into First Base
(2/18/2019)
 
 
   

Dive into First Base


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow analyses a hitter diving head first into first base to try to avoid being tagged out.


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.


 Shifting Focus
(2/13/2019)
 
 
   

Shifting Focus


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses shifting your focus from off season training to competing in 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.


 Get to Know What You Don't Know
(2/15/2019)
 
 
   

Get to Know What You Don't Know


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every off-season, I am afforded the opportunity to travel all over the world to share my love for and knowledge of the game in various capacities.  Whether it be working with a local organization near my New Jersey home, running a camp in Taiwan for some of the country’s best players, organizing a coaching clinic in Kuwait for the nation’s only Little League, or presenting at the American Baseball Coaches Association’s (ABCA) national baseball coaches convention, chances are, I am detailing something that has to do with infield play. That is where my greatest passion in the game lies.  This incredible journey I’ve lived on the diamond, everything that I have ever been able to accomplish in our game either as a player or coach, has a foundation that was built on infield dirt.

Most of my infield talks actually begin with my history as a hitter, where I tell the story about a scrawny player who hit .272 as a junior at Middletown South on the Jersey Shore.  Not many careers go beyond high school with an average like that, especially not in a cold weather state that isn’t exactly considered a baseball hot-bed. But I was lucky enough to be a good-glove, bad-hit shortstop in a state where the head coach of our state university valued defense above all else up the middle.

Fred Hill is an ABCA Hall of Famer who helped turn Rutgers University into one of the best programs in the northeast, able to compete on a national level during his 30-year tenure on the banks of the ‘ole Raritan.  He welcomed me to come on board as a Scarlet Knight almost entirely because of my ability to field the baseball.  While I graduated in 2000 with a handful of offensive records, rest assure, it was my defense that enabled my hitting to come along later on in my career.

My glove gave me the chance to play at a pretty good NCAA Division I program.

My glove got me in the lineup from day one as a freshman.

My glove afforded my bat the opportunity to develop.

Knowing how much of my career I owe to the defensive, I have always been enamored with the tiny details of a side of the game that is secondary to most and absolutely love breaking down those parts and teaching them to players, especially those whose bats aren’t necessarily where they want them to be.  Every player has their own individual development, and sometimes it can be discouraging when our game largely revolves around hitting if that happens to be a weak point of someone’s skillset.  My path, I hope, should serve as a source of inspiration for those to understand that there are other roads to success on the diamond outside of the batter’s box.

I give this background on my love for the glove so you may be able to appreciate what is in store for me in the very near future.  This coming season, my responsibilities with the Red Sox will take me to a new place where I am not quite as familiar: the outfield.

This past December, I was promoted to Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator with the Red Sox. Put simply, the position places a responsibility on organizing and implementing an approach and process for developing our outfielders and baserunners throughout the entire Minor League system, from AAA all the way down to our academy in the Dominican. From this position, we will set a foundation over the course of Spring Training with our staff and players while all together in Fort Myers, and then to have our boots on the ground at each affiliate build from there to help prepare our players to become Major League outfielders and baserunners.

We are drawn to what we know, and what we love.  That’s a completely natural part of human behavior, but in the process of constantly planting our feet in our usual box of expertise, we often unknowingly create blinders to other aspects of the game where our understanding falls short. 

This promotion helped open my eyes to my own personal blinders, forcing me to get out of my normal comfort zone to best prepare for this new job at hand.

So, when attending these coaching conventions over the winter months, I took a bit of a different approach to becoming a better baseball coach than years prior: I chose to seek out what I didn’t know.  Rather than trying to further my own knowledge on infield play as was usually the case, I looked to find that same type of detail from others on outfield and baserunning.

In doing so, I learned about the minute details of one part of the game that weren’t even on my radar, like where the ideal spot is to exchange the ball into the barehand.  I learned specific drills that break down and isolate those parts to help build a solid outfielder.  And I learned more about what things are truly important to focus on in that outfield grass, like getting on the ball quickly and developing a quick release, and what things don’t need any of our time, such as the old-school crow-hop when throwing.  

When first being offered this opportunity, I think my exact sarcastic response to my boss was something along the lines of, “you do know I’m an infield guy, right?”  But as we dove deeper into conversation, he made me realize that this promotion was an opportunity to grow as both a coach and leader, the combined result of eventually turning me into a more well-rounded BASEBALL guy.  For all coaches, that should be our ultimate goal.  

By becoming as knowledgeable as we can be, in as many areas of the game as we can think, our impact on players and coaches will be far more reaching than if we were all just infield guys.  And it’s the game that will grow in the end, thanks to how we made the conscious decision to grow ourselves, by getting to know what we don’t know.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and currently serves as the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In 2012 he launched Coaching Your Kids LLC, an organization dedicated to assisting coaches, parents and leagues in developing young players and improving their experience within the game. Previously, Fenster served as the Manager for the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Fenster is a two-time All-America from Rutgers University where he established school records in hits, doubles and at-bats. He was selected in the 12th round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft by the Kansas City Royals and played in the minor leagues for seven years. 


 Stronger Team Mindset
(2/14/2019)
 
   

Stronger Team Mindset


How to get back in the game with a stronger team mindset


All teams face challenges and disappointments, and one of a coach’s most important roles is teaching young athletes how to deal with setbacks and come back stronger. According to Dr. Jim Afremow, PhD, sports psychologist and author of The Champion’s Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite, successful comebacks begin with a team’s mindset.

Afremow has identified what he calls the “Seven L’s” for creating a successful comeback:
• Let go
• Look for support
• Love the Game
• Learn, Labor
• Learn optimism
• Lean on your mental game

While you can learn more about all seven in his books, three of particular interest to coaches are: Let Go, Learn Optimism, and Lean on Mental Game.

Let Go

“Ruminating about our mistakes and failures is like holding on to a brick,” says Afremow. Some young athletes benefit from a more literal demonstration, so he recommends bringing an actual brick to practice, discussing the importance of “releasing the brick” and being freed from the weight of past mistakes. Some teams adopt “release the brick” as a mantra and even pantomime dropping a brick as a physical cue following an error.

Coaches have to set a consistent example to reinforce the “let go” attitude, which means not dwelling on setbacks. “Getting over a tough loss or a poor performance is about moving forward,” says Afremow.

Encourage athletes to shake off mistakes and focus on the next play. After a loss, acknowledge what went wrong, but emphasize what went well and what can be improved.

Learn Optimism

“Optimists see success as personal, permanent, and pervasive, whereas failure is situational, short-lived, and specific,” says Afremow. “Optimists are more likely to sustain success and bounce back when knocked down.”

Humans have a natural inclination to be critical and learning to be consistently optimistic can require a great deal of positive reinforcement. Dr. Afremow recommends adhering to a 5 to 1 praise-to-criticism ratio when providing feedback to individuals and whole teams.

Expressing five positives for each negative may not always come easily, but the impact on young minds is worth the effort. It is a good idea for a coach to occasionally track comments (or have an assistant coach do so) to see how well they are actually balancing positive and negative feedback.

Lean on Mental Game

Developing an effective mental toolbox during childhood can help prepare athletes for success throughout their academic, personal, and professional lives. Dr. Afremow reminds coaches of three techniques they can teach to help young athletes develop:

• Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening in the moment,” says Afremow. Find moments during stretching, breaks, or practices for athletes to be quiet and mindful in the moment. Focus on fully experiencing what’s happening now instead of what just happened or is about to happen.
• Visualization: Visualization is doing mentally what you do physically. Effective visualization requires training and practice. Facilitate brief exercises with individual athletes and the team. Guide them through the process of “seeing” and “feeling” themselves executing particular skills and achieving success.
• Body Language: “Body language is nonverbal communication through postures, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements,” says Afremow. When athletes exhibit positivity they invite positivity, even following mistakes.

In all areas of life there will be wins and losses, triumphs and setbacks. Teaching young athletes to lose and come back stronger is as valuable as teaching them to win.

To read more about Dr. Afremow’s Seven L’s and his newest book, The Young Champion’s Mind, look up Gold Medal Mind.



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.


 Growth Plate Injuries
(2/5/2019)
 
   

Growth Plate Injuries


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, discusses growth plate injuries and how to prevent and treat them. 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.


 Centerfielder First Step In
(2/4/2019)
 
   

Centerfielder First Step In


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses the impact of the centerfielder taking a first step in on a fly ball.


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.


 Training and Transfer Part I
(1/31/2019)
 
   

Training and Transfer Part I


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


ARE YOU GUARDING A CONCRETE SLAB?

I start this blog with one of my favorite stories “ARE YOU GUARDING A CONCRETE SLAB?” by Sandras Phiri. I was forwarded this in an email and it went like this: There was an army barracks that had 4 on duty soldiers at all time to guard a concrete slab in front of the barracks. The soldiers changed shifts guarding the slabs for many years. Different commanders came and went, and the tradition continued. After many years, a new commander was assigned to the barracks. Amongst the things he did was he asked why things were done the way they were. When he asked why soldiers were guarding the slab, he was told, “We’ve always done it this way. It’s our tradition. Our former commanders instructed us to do that.” The commander was adamant on finding out why.

He went to the archives to look for answers and he came across a document that had the explanation. The document was very old. It had instructions written by one of the retired commanders who had even passed away. The new commander learned that over 80 years ago, the barracks wanted to build a platform where events could be performed. When the concrete slab was laid, wild animals walked over it at night before the slab would dry. The soldiers would fix it the next morning but when evening came the same thing would happen. So, the commander ordered that 4 soldiers should guard the concrete slab for 3 weeks to allow it to dry.

The following week the commander was transferred to another post and a new commander was brought in. The new commander found the routine in place and enforced it and every other commander that came did the same. Eighty years later the barracks continued guarding the concrete slab.

This story was impactful to me because one of the things I do as Coordinator of Instruction is look at what we currently do on the field, why we do it, and how we can improve it. Specifically, I am talking about on-field training. On-field training may be the biggest cement slab in the professional baseball industry that is being guarded. In the process of looking at ways to do truth over tradition, I have dug into the science of motor learning (how we acquire skill) and transfer (our ability to let that skill out in games) in order to help players and coaches. This article will hit some basic fundamentals of coaching while diving into some new concepts, but I promise in the end that you will have some new tools with some simple applications on how to improve how we carry our practice into the games effectively to perform.

LOW HANGING FRUIT

There are many simple methods and concepts that are already out there, and you may already be putting them into use, creating great transfer and learning. A great place to start here is AUTONOMY or more simply OWNERSHIP. This idea is not new, as when I started playing baseball 50 years ago, we simply played baseball and learned as we went along. Our swings and deliveries were our own which were shaped by the training and practices which were our own. We figured out what worked and did not work. The coaching we received back then focused on the game’s strategies, the x’s and o’s, and how to beat the other team. As swing and delivery coaches came onto the scene, the pendulum swung in the other direction of techniques of swings and deliveries. With that swing, the player became dependent on a coach for swing or delivery fixes and in-game management went to the coach as well. Turning the game back over to the player starts with collaboration and asking questions to lead them to the answers, opposed to just giving it to them right away. Question asking may be the most effective weapon of learning and ownership we have. As we include the student in the learning, they begin to own it. Once they own their game, the commitment to learning and improvement cannot be higher. Consider how we treat a car rental as opposed to the car we have saved up for and purchased with our own hard work and savings. You are all in on taking care of that car as you worked hard and sacrificed to have it. Same goes for our players. Once we have taught them how to fish, they are now capable of honing their skills as a fisherman. Essentially you want to coach your way out of a job with true ownership.

RESPECT THE REP

The next piece of low hanging fruit brings to mind a story which leads to more easy ways of creating the transfer. This spring, I was coordinating our Extended Spring Training Program and we had a competition day. Kieran Mattison and I had split up the infielders into 2 groups and would come up with one winner from each group to face off in a final competition to declare a defensive champion of the day. We ended up with our 2 guys going head to head in a great final until we had the winner. It was clear what happened in the end. One of the players took a playoff and it cost him. When Kieran and I talked about it he said simply “He didn’t respect that last rep.” Well put! Great focus and intent of our reps lead to transfer and ultimately performing well. Respect the rep became a rallying cry for the remainder of camp and into the Gulf Coast League season where I managed. This begs the question: Can we make players RESPECT THE REP?

The simplest and most straightforward way of making players RESPECT THE REP is to demand it. My favorite example of this comes from Joey Cora, our big league third base coach who is also in charge of infielders. Before any defensive segment, Joey brings the group together and lets them know of the expectation of the session, what it is going to look like, and demands the focus and intent on every rep. The seriousness with which he approaches the group immediately gets their minds right. The work that follows is always quality. Quality work = deeper learning = transfer.

More low hanging fruit is challenging the player in the work. No challenge = no focus which = no learning or transfer. An example of this could be a hitter being prepared to face a tough pitcher with front flips and traditional 50 mph coach pitch in a cage. The work itself does not require game focus as the challenge is simply not enough to bring that out. For the opposite of this example, I will use my hitting coach Kory DeHaan’s game preparation with our hitters. The hitters see a combination of machine high velocity, out of hand velocity (we set the distance to the thrower’s velocity with our conversion software to make it reaction time of 90+ mph) with a 2-pitch mix using a front mat and back mat for more challenge and adjustments. Obviously, Kory’s game preparation will require a game-like focus to the work as well as some decision making in the process. This has turned swing practice into a true “how to hit” practice. We will talk about how to add more layers to this later. The point here is the drill or work itself can provide that auto focus and intent without a coach having to demand it. The training in this case has created an environment of many reps being respected. Challenging training = Respect the Rep = Transfer!

Adding to our fruit basket here is competition. So many times, us as coaches’ default to “they just don’t compete well, but they practice well.” If the first time your players have to perform their job in a competitive environment is in the game, then our training is not adequate. If the training never elicits emotions from a player, our training is not adequate. Take the last example of challenging batting practice and add in a point system for executed reps and have something simple as a Gatorade for the winner. I might bring out a couple of Gatorades on ice and you would think they are playing for the Stanley Cup. Emotions begin to spark and flare up. Doing your skills in the fire of competition is what we do at game time, so it makes sense to blend in competition in the workday. Consider competing, just another muscle to build and the more they are put into that competitive environment the stronger it gets. All things equal, the ability to compete well is a separator at any level. Most importantly, the competition makes them respect every rep with game like intent and focus, which will always equate to more transfer!


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.


 Common Shoulder Injury
(1/22/2019)
 
   

Common Shoulder Injury


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, discusses a common shoulder injury and how to prevent it. 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.


 Attempt to Steal Home on Wild Pitch
(1/21/2019)
 
   

Attempt to Steal Home on a Wild Pitch


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses an attempt to steal home on a wild pitch.


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 Ball Has A Voice
(1/18/2019)
 
   

The Ball Has a Voice. Listen to it.


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every Spring Training as Red Sox players and staff descend upon Fort Myers like we will here again in a few weeks, there is usually one of two specific points of emphasis that will largely become the theme of camp that year.  Generally speaking, that focal point is determined based on something that our system as a whole might not have done well in the previous season or something that the Major League staff wants us to get better at as players get called up.  One year it was getting our infielders locked in on the tiny details of their position with things like where to setup on the base for tag plays or making sure they were lined up and out far enough for cutoffs and relays from the outfield.  Another spring stressed to our baserunners anticipation on balls in the dirt when on base to be in a better position to advance, while to start a different camp, our attention was placed on backing up bases and plays.

A few years ago, our emphasis was placed on aggressiveness to get the lead out on our bunt defense.  We wanted our pitchers to dart off the mound to be ready to make a play at 3rd.  We wanted our infielders to cheat, creep, and crash on top of the hitter in order to get what could be a key out in a key spot in the game.  And we instructed our catchers to take charge and direct traffic loud and clear.  Emphatically, that year we simply hammered the point to our players to give themselves a chance to get the lead out when a bunt is put down, and if that lead out wasn’t there, then we’ll just handle the ball cleanly to take the out the opposing team is giving us at 1st base.

When we first practice our bunt defense- or any other team fundamental for that matter- on the back fields at Fenway South, we do so with no baserunners in a very controlled environment, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be on the diamond.  In many ways, it’s very much like an NFL team doing its walk-thru on a Saturday without any defense in preparation for their game on Sunday.  We then roll bunts at varying speeds at varying spots to give everyone on the field different looks as they will likely see over the course of the long season.  With the emphasis on being aggressive towards the lead out, the first few rolled bunts were sure-fire plays to 3rd; hard pace, right at one of our fielders in a position to make the play we were looking for, all with the catcher yelling, “THREE! THREE! THREE!”  The next few reps were what we would consider tweener sacs, bunts that our defense would have to execute to perfection in order to even have a chance at the lead runner.  Again, with our attention on aggressiveness, every single tweener bunt went to 3rd base.

We then move on to the well-placed sac; that bunt when laid down in the perfect spot at a perfect speed, where it is near impossible to get the lead out, and just as challenging to get the batter at 1st.  Well, that first rep went to 3rd base.  Our staff spread around the field then instructed that the play should have gone for the sure out at 1st.  The next rep went to 3rd.  As did the one after that.  And the one after that.  At this point I realize what we had done:  with our constant stressing of aggressively going after the lead out, we had taken a group of what was, at the time, relatively inexperienced A-ball professional baseball players, and created bunt defense robots.

Stopping the drill right then and there, we gathered as a group on the mound to address this issue.

“Guys… we have to listen to the ball,” I started.  “The ball has a voice and it will tell you what to do with it.  We want that out at third, but sometimes it just might not be there.  So, stop memorizing the game, let the play develop, and make our decisions accordingly.”

The more they learned how to “listen to the ball,” the more they were able to slow things down and trust their eyes, as their decisions got better and better.  This mode of thinking the game doesn’t just apply to bunt defense; it can and should additionally be implemented with baserunning (the ball will tell you when to go 1st to 3rd, when to go back to tag, etc.) and defense (where to throw the ball from the outfield with a runner advancing, when to create a short hop by coming in or a long hop by going back in the infield).  When players can constantly look at the ball and ask themselves what is it saying to them, they will begin to see the game in a different, clearer light.

The idea of listening to the ball also can aid in individual player development.  Some of the best players in the world are likewise some of the most self-aware players in the world with an astute knowledge of who they are, what they do, and how they do it.  When a player can effectively become his own coach without the constant need for feedback from someone else, they put themselves in a great position to get better all the time, not just when a coach or teammate is watching.

Hitting and pitching are two facets of the game right now that have historically been incredibly mechanically driven.  Many players think internally, based on the feel of their swing or delivery.  Putting a focus externally on what the ball is doing can offer a different way for them to perfect those mechanics without necessarily thinking about them.  

For instance, when a hitter is working to improve his ability against velocity, they may initially think about shortening their swing to get the barrel to the ball. But if they instead listen to the ball, and see how everything is going to the opposite field or foul, they may very well then make an adjustment in their timing to make contact to the middle of the field, fixing an internal flaw by listening to what the ball is saying off of the bat.  A pitcher can use the same train of thought with regard to things like arm angle, release point, break, or command.  When they try to make the ball do something else, the mechanics have a chance to fall into place.

Baseball is very much a thinking man’s game , where two identical balls in play may require two completely different decisions based on the variables that come up over the course of nine innings per day, five-plus months of the year. While some decisions are no brainers, others require instincts and intellect just to have a chance at collecting an out, taking the extra base, or having a productive at bat.  Those decisions don’t have to be made alone; let the ball help you. That ball indeed has a voice.  Learn how to listen to it.


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.


 Accountable Sports Parents
(1/17/2019)
 
   

Accountable Sports Parents


The importance of accountable sports parents


Youth sports parents play many different roles:

Former (or current) athlete, coach, fan, motivator, role model, critic, and maybe most importantly, influencer.

Studies have shown that family members may influence an athlete’s involvement and achievement in sport even more than coaches. Parents also are the first and most critical determiners in whether or not children reap the social benefits of playing sports.

This is why it is so crucial that sports parents are aware and accountable for their actions, and how those influence their young athletes.

Accounting for Your Attitude

Parental encouragement is significantly related to a child’s attraction to and competence in playing sports. Parents who provide positive encouragement instill a greater sense of enjoyment, ability, and motivation in their child.

Research done by Windee M. Weiss, Ph.D. of the University of Northern Iowa emphasizes the importance of parents staying accountable for and modeling good behavior, and helping their children interpret their sport experiences. Parents are critical in helping their child develop coping strategies to deal not only with competition, but also with losing. Children’s perceptions of their parents’ interest in their playing sport also predict their lasting involvement in sport.

Studies done by the University of Minnesota’s Diane Wiese-Bjornstal found that the way girls perceive their parents’ assessment of their abilities predict their likelihood of playing and staying in sport. That is, if their parents do not have confidence in their abilities, neither will they.

And dads, are you listening? Studies have found that fathers hold more influence – both positive and negative – over their daughter’s sport competence and values than mothers do. However, mothers are more likely to first enroll their daughters in sport and then continue encouragement by providing transportation, uniforms, moral support, and snacks.

Being Responsible for Their Readiness

There is some good news to report from yet another study on the topic. Researchers from Yale University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Michigan suggest that children participate in organized activities, such as sport, because they want to, not because their parents make them.

But parents still need to consider whether a child is mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically mature enough to participate in sport. Readiness for a sport is just as important as readiness for school. And, like schooling, younger children need more positive direction at first, until they begin to develop and master the sport.

Pros and Cons for Parents

Parents also benefit from their child’s participation in sport. Research from Wiersma and Fifer found that their positive experiences include watching their child learn new skills and having the opportunity to interact with other parents.

On the negative side, parents who lose accountability for their lofty expectations and put too many demands on their young athletes before, during, and after competition can create stress that can destroy their child’s enjoyment of sport. Research by Bois et al., Power and Woolger, and Van Yperen has shown that negative parental support and pressure can result in competitive anxiety, interpersonal difficulties among teammates, and even quitting. Conversely, lower parental pressure has been found to be associated with children enjoying their sport more.

An overemphasis on extrinsic goals (winning, trophies, status) by parents can negate focusing on intrinsic goals, through which the child gains enjoyment from playing, mastering skills, and improving their game. Coaches also report that children’s sport performance is affected by the presence of parents. Additionally, parents lacking self-awareness and accountability for their actions are most likely to create conflict for coaches during the critical time that their child is improving mastery and transferring their trust in authority from the parent to the coach.

LaVoi and Stellino research found that the children of parents who create anxiety about failing and emphasize winning are more likely to engage in poor sport behaviors than children whose parents encourage enjoyment and self-mastery. Another study from Guivernau and Duda showed how athletes’ perceptions of their parents’ approval regarding cheating and aggression shape their own views about appropriate sport behavior. When youth athletes feel that their parents are supportive, positive, and emphasize mastery and enjoyment, they are more likely to display concern for opponents and grace in losing. They also are less likely to trash talk or whine and complain about the coach or their playing time.

Accountability from parents for their actions and attitudes effects much more than just their athletes’ level of effort on the field. It also impacts their mindset, mood, and motivation to continue on playing sports at all, as well as their trust in their coach and authority in general.

Creating accountable youth athletes and young adults starts at home, with parents taking responsibility for their actions first before demanding that their athletes do the same.

This was originally published in True Sport: What We Stand to Lose in Our Obsession to Win (p. 58-60)

References:

Bois JE, Lalanne J, Delforge C. The influence of parenting practices and parental presence on children’s and adolescents’ pre-competitive anxiety. J Sports Sci. 2009; 27(10):995-1005.

Brustad RJ. Affective outcomes in competitive youth sport: the influence of intrapersonal and socialization factors. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 1988; 10(3):307-321.

Brustad RJ. Who will go out and play? Parental and psychological influences on children’s attraction to physical activity. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 1993; 5(3):210-233.

Brustad RJ, Partridge JA. Parental and peer influence on children’s psychological development through sport. In: Smoll FL, Smith RE, eds. Children and Youth in Sport: A Biopsychosocial Approach. 2nd ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing; 2002:187-210.

Davison KK, Earnest MB, Birch LL. Participation in aesthetic sports and girls’ weight concerns at ages 5 and 7 years. Int J Eat Disord. 2002; 31(3):312-317.

Donohue B, Miller A, Crammer L, Cross C, Covassin T. A standardized method of assessing sport specific problems in the relationships of athletes with their coaches, teammates, family, and peers. J Sport Behav. 2007; 30(4):375-397.

Fredricks JA, Eccles, JS. Children’s competence and value beliefs from childhood through adolescence: growth trajectories in two male-sex-typed domains. Dev Psychol. 2002; 38:519-533.

Greendorfer SL, Lewko JH, Rosengren KS. Family influence in sport socialization: sociocultural perspectives. In: Smoll and Smith R, eds. Children and Youth in Sport. Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark; 1996: 89-111.

Guivernau M, Duda JL. Moral atmosphere and athletic aggressive tendencies in young soccer players. J Moral Educ. 2002; 31(1):67-85.

Holt NL, Tamminen KA, Black DE, Mandigo JL, Fox KR. Youth sport parenting styles and practices. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2009; 31(1):37-59. 157.

Lafferty ME, Dorrell K. Coping strategies and the influence of perceived parental support in junior national age swimmers. J Sports Sci. 2006; 24(3):253-259.

LaVoi NM, Stellino MB. The relation between perceived parent-created sport climate and competitive male youth hockey players’ good and poor sport behaviors. J Psychol. 2008; 142(5):471-495.

Mahoney JL, Larson RW, Eccles JS, eds. Organized Activities as Contexts of Development: Extracurricular Activities, After-School and Community Programs. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 2005.

McLean K. Dealing with parents: promoting dialogue. Sports Coach. 2007; 30(1):12-13.

Power TG, Woolger C. Parenting practices and age-group swimming: a correlational study. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1994; 65(1):59-66.

Van Yperen NW. Interpersonal stress, performance level, and parental support: a longitudinal study among highly skilled young soccer players. Sport Psychol. 1995; 9:225-241.

Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. The 2007 Tucker Center Research Report: Developing Physically Active Girls: An Evidence-Based Multidisciplinary Approach. Minneapolis, MN: Author; 2007.
http://www.tuckercenter.org/projects/tcrr/default.html.

Weiss WM. Coaching your parents: support vs. pressure. Technique. 2008; 28(10):18-22.

Wiersma LD, Fifer AM. It’s our turn to speak: the joys, challenges, and recommendations of youth sport parents. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2007; (suppl 29):S213.

Woolger C, Power TG. Parent and sport socialization: views from the achievement literature. J Sport Behav. 1993; 16(3):171-189.


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.


 Being a Good Teammate
(1/16/2019)
 
   

Being a Good Teammate


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discuss the benefits of being a good teammate for your teammates and yourself. 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.


 The Individuality of Coaching
(1/9/2019)
 
   

The Individuality of Coaching


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


As someone who loves psychology and finds the intricacies of human interaction fascinating, it is easy to see why I would be drawn to the topic of the individuality of coaching. Most of us would agree that the psychology of each person is quite fascinating. We might also agree that understanding the unique psychology and communication needed in coaching someone would prove to be important in helping our athletes achieve their fullest potential.

Each of our personalities, along with life experiences and the environment in which we live and learn plays a huge part in how we socialize, communicate and interact with others. The ability to relate to others is a key topic in effective communication and coaching.

- How do effective coaches build relationships and trust with their athletes?

- What are some keys to effective communication?

- How does effective communication help us to teach sport skills and evaluate progress in performance?

3 Keys to Effective Communication
• Cues
• Feedback
• Personal Coaching style

In the world of athletics, one of the most important sport skills is the mental ability to focus one’s attention. Previous research in the field of sport psychology has shown that successful athletes have honed their ability to use visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues to intentionally focus their attention. When distracted or not focused on the task at hand, these athletes also use visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues to refocus their attention. Research conducted with Olympic Medals winners indicates that cue systems were most successful when the cues had been established and used by the coach and the athlete in the weeks and months leading up to the Olympic finals (McGuire, Shadle, Zuleger, & Low, 2014). Both coaches and athletes reported that this type of communication was one of the factors that significantly helped the coach-athlete duo to win an Olympic Medal.

As expected, the actual cues a coach uses with athletes depends on both the coach and athlete and their preferences. It is important to understand the individual’s learning style and tailor your cues to that style. Listed below are some of the benefits, of using cues systems, for athletes as well as for coaches.

Cues from the coach help the athletes to:
1. Focus their attention on specifically what the coach considers to be most important in that exact moment – i.e., cues connect the coach with the athlete and are able to provide immediate guidance and attention to the athlete. Cues tell the athlete what they need to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

2. Immediate feedback, learning, and direction - these cues are especially important during practice because they tell the athlete about their progress. Loaded with information, these cues enable the athlete to make decisions about where to focus their time and effort; e.g., on perfecting technique, or developing strength or how to improve footwork/stance.

3. Feel supported psychologically - cues can give the athlete energy, reassurances, inspiration and have a calming effect.

Cues help the coaches to:
1. Direct the athlete’s focus and attention. By using a cue system coaches can provide specific feedback to athletes during practice as well as during competition in a very efficient and precise manner (Keep cue language short and to the point. Can you say it in 3 words vs. 10?) When a coach needs to communicate with an athlete and time is limited, such as in the heat of competition, a cues system can be especially valuable.

2. Immediate feedback, learning, and direction- these cues are especially important during practice because they enable coaches to teach athletes exactly what to do “next” or when they find themselves in a specific situation. Thus, cues help coaches process the information through their eyes, digest it and then teach athletes what to do next.

3. Provide psychological support to athletes and to maintain own emotional balance and mental fortitude - cues help the coach manage their own energy and composure while also helping to support the energy and composure of their athlete(s).

Effective ways to establish and use cues:
Use results from the individual communication style and preferences inventory to create a mutually acceptable plan for improving the efficacy of communication between the coach and the athletes.

How to give cues:
Cue from the ground up: verb body part direction
(Example: Lift your elbow up).

Feedback:
We know for an athlete to learn a skill, the skill must first be performed and programmed into their body’s motor learning. Skill is defined as, “the capability to bring about some desired end result with maximum certainty and minimum time and energy,” (Schmidt and Lee, 2014). A few of the different components involved in the process of learning and performing a skill are the perceptual or sensory processes, along with decision making, and finally the movement. Taking the time to explain why you are doing something and connecting it to the end goal for the athlete helps to strengthen not only trust with the athlete but also understanding the learning that is occurring.

When giving feedback, it might feel like you are saying the same thing over and over. This is part of the learning process. When you teach, you often repeat the same thing, but it helps to vary how you say the same thing until the athlete gets it. This is when you know a cue works. A cue that works for one athlete might not make sense to another and vice versa. The great John Wooden has a book entitled, You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices. This is a great book to further dive in and learn more about the individuality of coaching individuals as well as a team.

How much feedback is too much?
It has been found with a group of elite Olympic athletes that one correction was enough for the athlete when learning a new skill. Coaches must prioritize, from their own coaching style, what is most important. This will help guide which corrections are most important and need to be made first. Some athletes can handle two corrections but for most one correction was enough when learning a new skill. Once the athlete has mastered and made the first correction, you can move on to another.

The issue we often see is that coaches give too much information with their feedback which can often overwhelm the athlete (it is also too much information for the brain to process-thus why the athlete feels overwhelmed). It is best to take it slow when coaching/teaching new skills or correcting/breaking bad habits. Some athletes will adapt and learn quicker, others are less flexible and thus take more time to learn new skills. This is where the psychology of the individual comes into play and understanding how your athlete learns and the style in which they best absorb the information being communicated.

One final note: I would caution learning a new skill or changing the way an athlete does something too close to championship competitions. We want the athlete to feel confident going into major competitions. If this is a new skill you are working on and it is early in the season, I would say go ahead and work at that new skill. Be sure to communicate that information and the learning process to your athlete. For example, “I know we are working on this new batting stance. I want you to stick with this during the next game.”


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.


 Attempt to Stretch a Single to a Double
(1/7/2019)
 
   

Attempt to Stretch a Single to a Double


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this week’s edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses an attempt to stretch a single to a double.


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.


 What's the Call? Catcher Interference
(12/27/2018)
 
   

What's the Call? Catcher Interference


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


No balls, no strikes. With a runner charging home, the catcher moves into position to make the play, interrupting the hitters swing. What's the Call?

For more What's the Call videos, click here.

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.


 Stability and Mobility
(12/25/2018)
 
   
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Stability and Mobility


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, discusses stability and mobility as it relates to your performance as a baseball player.


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.


 Should Kids Set New Year's Resolutions?
(12/20/2018)
 
   

Should Kids Set New Year's Resolutions?



Learn how to be a resolution role model


Many adults associate New Year’s resolutions with abandoned aspirations instead of positive changes.

For those who struggle to stick with New Year’s resolutions, it can seem illogical to promote the habit to children. However, many experts in child development recommend parents set goals with their children every New Year. Not only does it help teach the power of creating goals and following through, but it can also help us stay accountable to our own resolutions as part of being a good parent role model.

The Case for Youth Resolutions

The American Academy of Pediatrics is just one big proponent of setting resolutions with kids. Their own list of recommended resolutions is age specific, making suggestions such as washing hands before eating for preschoolers and reducing soda intake and standing up to bullying for high schoolers.

While setting goals with young kids might seem a little excessive (if not overambitious) in this age of overscheduling, some argue that childhood is the best time to teach how to form new habits.

“[Kids ages 7-12] are still young enough that their habits are not firm,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. “They’re old enough to think about what a New Year’s resolution is and to make their own, yet parents can still help guide them.”

Young kids also aren’t likely to set resolutions of profound importance, meaning the focus should be on the goal-setting process rather than the success or failure of achieving the desired result.

Do It Together

Most kids probably won’t sit down and make their own resolutions, let alone follow through on them, without some guidance. Setting goals as a family is a great way to demonstrate that goals are much easier to achieve when you have the support of people who care about you. Clinical health psychologist Indira Abraham-Pratt, Ph.D., ABPP, says, “Resolutions that involve the entire family foster teamwork and support; families come together and encourage one another, which also inspires healthier habits for the whole family.”

This is also an opportunity to show kids what good goals look like, how to write them, and what to actually do with them. Chances are they’ll propose something lofty, such as winning every game they play this season. After admiring their ambition, suggest ways they could re-write their goal to make sure it’s something they can control. Once you’re all done, take their goals, along with the rest of the family’s, and put them someplace where they’ll be seen frequently, such as on the fridge or on a bulletin board.

Set regular check-in times once or twice a month to ask how your child’s goal is going and discuss challenges they might be having, as well as ways to overcome them. Be sure to share progress, successes, and struggles with your own resolutions. And perhaps most importantly, be open and honest about the possibility of failure.

“One of the reasons people break resolutions is that they don’t anticipate the moments when sticking with the resolution is going to be especially difficult,” says Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed. “Talking those over in advance as a family will be helpful — and it will help if the family can come up with strategies to get through those tough moments, so they can celebrate their overall success at the end of the year.”

Do Not Set Resolutions This Way

While most agree resolutions can be beneficial to children if they are well thought out, setting resolutions without their input is a surefire way to get low buy-in and a high chance that they’ll never want to set resolutions again. This is especially true if the proposed resolution is something you’ve been harping on anyway, such as a household chore.

Similarly, first-time resolutions (or even ones for adults) shouldn’t be too-far-reaching or without some easily clearable benchmarks to help build momentum and acknowledge progress.

Carter recommends keeping lists short and breaking resolutions down into actionable steps, such as having a child focus on putting their shoes away when they arrive home as part of a larger ‘be tidier’ resolution, and only giving verbal praise as a reward. “You can’t bribe kids into doing this,” he comments. “Once you make it external with rewards, you lose them.”

Resolutions also need to have a positive frame around them, not one of deprivation.

“Instead of a resolution like ‘No desserts this year,’ a family might choose something more attainable like ‘Eat healthier this year,’” says Tough.

Be A Resolution Role Model

Achieving the greatest buy-in from goal-setting kids comes down to two things:
1. Is following through on this goal enjoyable?
2. Do the people I look up to show me it’s possible to achieve my goals by following through on their own goals?

If those two conditions can’t be met, then it might be best to skip setting goals with children until we can accomplish what Katie Hurley, author of The Happy Kid Handbook, recommends is a much more important resolution for parents:

“Help your children explore their passions. Encourage them to follow their dreams. Dial back the intense worry about college acceptances and high paying jobs and help them understand the importance of happiness. Happy kids are more successful in the classroom. Happy kids are more likely to follow through with their goals and reach a little bit higher. Happy kids are confident enough to enter the world without worry. That is the greatest gift you can give your child this year.”

If you do decide the time is right to set resolutions with your child, the most powerful way to show the importance of setting goals will always be to follow through on your own. This added accountability is a powerful tool to create change for both you and your child and to ensure the next generation continues turning over new leaves with great success.

Sources:
http://www.pbs.org/parents/holidays/making-new-years-resolutions-child/
http://www.parents.com/holiday/new-years/resolution/8-ways-to-help-kids-make-new-years-resolutions/
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/4-new-years-resolutions-that-will-change-your-childs-life_b_4521297.html
https://www.today.com/parents/how-make-succeed-family-new-year-s-resolutions-t106510
https://www.floridahospital.com/blog/why-your-kids-new-years-resolutions-should-be-part-your-own


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.


 Off-Season Recommendations
(12/19/2018)
 
   

Off-Season Recommendations


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses ways to train and grow as an athlete during the off-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.


 Game Three: A Classic That Taught Us So Much
(12/14/2018)
 
   

Game Three: A Classic That Taught Us So Much


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The game’s first pitch was thrown at 5:10 PM local time in Los Angeles.

Its final pitch was delivered at 3:30 in the morning back on the East Coast in Boston.

What happened during the seven hours and twenty minutes in between that was Game Three of the 2018 World Series was nothing short of baseball history. It had everything. And if you somehow had the motivation (or caffeine in your system) to stay awake for the whole thing that culminated with Max Muncy’s walk-off home run, you couldn’t help but go to sleep with just a little more baseball acumen than when you woke up.

Eighteen innings. One game needed two to finally be decided. It was the longest game in World Series history by four innings in length and by one hour and 19 minutes in time. Both teams combined to use 46 players, meaning only four guys between the Red Sox and Dodgers did not appear in the game. There were 561 total pitches thrown over the course of 118 at-bats, both new records for baseball’s Fall Classic.

But it wasn’t all of the shattered records that made this game so incredibly great; it was everything that happened between the lines, that enabled those records to be shattered. The game, put simply, was a coach’s dream, with countless teachable moments that every single one of their players could benefit from, truly exemplifying the value of learning from watching.

In the top of the 13th inning, Brock Holt showed outstanding anticipation on a pitch in the dirt and was able to advance to second on an impressive dirt ball read. He would later score the go-ahead run on an error by the pitcher who threw the ball away on a soft ground ball up the first base side. In the bottom half of the inning, Max Muncy alertly tagged up from first to second on a foul pop out along the third base side. He would then score the tying run from second with two outs on a throwing error by the second baseman that the first baseman couldn’t keep in front of him.

The Red Sox put runners on first and second with nobody out in the 15th when Christian Vasquez laid down what appeared to be a good bunt on the third base side of the mound. But it didn’t get the job done after Kenta Maeda made a great play to nab the runner at third. The game also had instances of players not hustling out of the box and not getting an extra 90 feet on the bases because outfielders backed up misplays and got the ball back in quickly and accurately. How could this game have possibly changed had those guys gotten to second base? An answer we will never know…

So, the next time your coach gets on you for not hustling or backing up plays; obsesses about tiny details like perfecting cutoffs and relays; spends time focusing solely on baserunning; teaches you how to bunt; and consistently works to get pitchers better at fielding their position, thank him. That is a coach teaching you how to be a baseball player. And baseball players win.

But it wasn’t just the fundamentals of our game on display that this game taught us. In Nathan Eovaldi, we learned all about selflessness and competitive drive. In Alex Cora, we got to see true leadership. And in the Boston Red Sox, we saw first-hand the true meaning of team. I honestly believe that the Red Sox won the World Series when they lost Game Three.

The game itself was an instant classic that neither team deserved to lose. And it was the individual effort by Eovaldi that most assuredly had no business tagging an “L” next to his name. Pitching on one day’s rest after appearing in the first two games of the series in Boston, Eovaldi toed the rubber for seven innings out of the bullpen, more than any pitcher in the game besides Dodgers’ starter Walker Beuhler. With essentially no one else left to come into the game for the Red Sox, he emptied his tank, inning after inning, for his team, extending the game into the wee hours of the morning with every zero he put up. It was a performance that had some of his teammates inspired to the point of tears. It was a performance that all of his teammates knew deserved a better fate. And it was a performance that Alex Cora couldn’t help but recognize following the game’s heartbreaking end for his club.

Minutes after the game ended, Cora witnessed each of his starting pitchers from the first three games of the World Series offer to start Game Four. Chris Sale insisted he was available. David Price, on two days’ rest, volunteered to take the ball. Even Rick Porcello, who started the very game they had just lost, told his manager that he, too, would be good to go. And yes, even Boston’s folk hero Nathan Eovaldi and his seemingly bionic arm wanted his name up for game four.

Not one for post-game speeches, Cora gathered his band of brothers in the clubhouse after what had the potential of being a debilitating, Series-swinging loss, wanting to make sure his team knew two things: first, how proud he was of the effort displayed on that field, and specifically how incredible Eovaldi’s performance was; and more importantly, that his club still had a two-games-to-one lead in the Series. Cora managed to get his team to leave a clubhouse that they had entered demoralized, completely inspired as they looked forward and turned the page.

“By the end of (the meeting), we felt like we won the game,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

And it was that feeling of confidence, fueled by Cora’s speech and motivated by Eovaldi’s outing, that the Red Sox collectively took into games four and five of the World Series. The rest, as they say, is history.

The 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox may very well go down as one of the best teams of all time. But their success was far from a sure thing, having entered the postseason with countless questions about how they would be able to neutralize the power of the Yankees formidable lineup; how they were going to deal with the Astros’ big three arms of their rotation. Their success was a product of everything we as coaches strive for not just on the field, but off the field as well. And all we needed was Game Three to show us all of those things in one place and one time, for 18 long and glorious innings.


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? Fair/Foul
(12/13/2018)
 
   

What's the Call? Fair/Foul


What's the Call
Presented with Umpires Media


The first baseman is positioned in fair territory when he fields a ground ball that is over foul territory. What’s the Call?

For more What's the Call videos, click here.

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.