Dave Turgeon Resources

 Training and Transfer (Part III)
(7/30/2019)
 
   

Training and Transfer (Part III) 


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


In Training and Transfer Part II, we discussed on how to add layers to the simple applications to take your on-field training to another level by allowing players to engage in deeper learning and more ownership skills. In the final part, we will discuss the final and critical aspects on how to educate our players.

RANDOM VS. BLOCK TRAINING

There was a study done in 1994 by Hall, Dominguez, and Cavazos entitled “Contextual Interference Effects With Skilled Baseball Players” that shows the benefits of Random vs Block training but before we get into it lets clarify what this is. A great example of Block Training is traditional batting practice. You get a set number of same speed and soft pitches out over the middle of the plate. You know what pitch is coming and to a high degree what speed and location as well. If you know what is coming and where it is coming to, the pitch recognition and decision-making involved in true hitting (like in a game) has been eliminated. Basically, the player is on autopilot and it is swing practice as opposed to hitting practice. Another example of Block Training could be traditional ground ball work. The old “5 right at them, 5 to their left and 5 to their right” routine tells the defender where the ball is going and that it is definitely coming to them. The part of having to read a ball off a bat that may or may not come to them and not having knowledge of where or how hard has been removed. The equation of what is the speed of the ball, the speed of the runner, and “where will I go with this ball” has been removed. Essentially it is skill practice of fielding and throwing a ball only. Now, how could we turn each one of these into a random training session? The batting practice can become random by simply mixing in off-speed pitches and changing locations of those pitches as well as throwing balls out of the strike zone on purpose. By this one change, the batter now has to read and recognize the type of pitch and make a decision on whether to swing or not. The one adjustment got the hitter one foot out of the zoo and one foot into the jungle. To turn the defensive segment from block to random, we now hit the ground balls to any infielder at any time, so the fielder has to be engaged even though the ball may or may not come to him. Add to this a stopwatch of runner’s speed now every groundball (balls are hit anywhere and everywhere) has a speed of ball and speed of runner component to it. Decision making and problem-solving as opposed to mindless skill work have now been achieved. We have gone from zoo to jungle with one simple adjustment. The greatest example I have heard on this was laid out by colleague and friend Andy Bass. In a PowerPoint presentation on “Action Reconstruction” (motor learning term), he asked all of us to solve the math equation he flashed on the board. The math problem was 21 divided by 3, to which we all answered 7. He then flashes the same problem 6 more times to which the answers were quick and easy as expected. He then goes to another block of math problems only this time, every problem is different. The problems were easy but each different. Examples like 12 divided by 2, 18 divided by 9, 12 divided by 3, etc. It was blatantly obvious that the speed at which the problems were solved was quick but markedly slower than the first block. The second block of problems forced us to recognize each problem before solving it in a completely random fashion.  Just like the game! Baseball is constant problem solving done with athletic movements, so we need to practice this all the time. The math exercise is actually much easier than the game because we have more parts to the equations in the game and the added pressure of competition, crowds, weather, and many other moving parts that impact the execution of any and all plays. Our training methods will determine whether or not we are developing good problem solvers or not. Now to put some meat on the bone here let’s break down this study I mentioned earlier. 

The study involves 3 groups of hitters. The first group only does block training in the context of the team practice. The second group does block training the same as the first group but is given extra hitting beyond what the first group did. The third group is trained in a random fashion and is given additional training like group 2 but their additional training is random as well. The study showed as follows: Group 1 improved 6.2 percent, Group 2 improved 24.8 percent, and Group 3 improved 56.7 percent. Now given the small sample size and add in the human element these numbers could be skewed in measuring the actual transfer into games. It still jumps out at me so dramatically that it cannot be ignored. It shows there is value in block practice and that you will improve but more importantly it shows we are lowering the bar of transfer if we train only this way. Get out of the zoo and get in the jungle!

OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING 

“Observational Learning” is another way we learn and create the transfer. A great example of this would be how a baby learns how to walk. We do not coach our kids up and comment on their gate or foot strike, we simply encourage them to get back up. The child is building strength and at the same time figuring out how to walk. Classic watch and do learning. I think back at how I learned things in the game I probably “watched” more than I “did.” I had 6 older siblings that I watched and learned from on a daily basis. I watched baseball on television. I was a bat boy on multiple teams. Thousands of visual reps allowed me to learn and eventually transfer my skills to the game. Colleague Andy Bass broke down this concept to me in an interesting study done by Gaby Wulf. They had one group shoot 30 free throws and another group shoot 15 and observe another 15. The observation group practiced half as many shots. When they brought the groups back for retention and transfer testing the observation group was as good as the first group in retention but even better during the transfer test! The study suggests that having athletes observe while also practicing will deepen learning and processing. Now, discussing this with Andy made my creative juices flow. Obviously, this happens organically in batting practice and defensive practice as the off infielders or hitters are watching others perform the tasks. And educating our players will make them more intentional in watching the off reps. I thought we could be more intentional with this, so we came up with bunting and hitting montages with lots of different bunters and hitters for off hitters to watch on a computer between rounds. I found the most difference with the bunters in terms of speed of learning and will continue to push this concept of learning and transfer. Besides all of these benefits, it is also creating reps that will not wear the body down. In a professional season, the reps mount and the energy wanes over a long season. This is a great way to create and deepen skills and create transfer while saving energy.  
 

TRANSFER WRAP UP

How we create and develop skills into our players will largely impact how they are able to let them out in a game setting. Step one for us as coaches is that we will need to surrender some of our thinking to move our training forward. Remember, even after Christopher Columbus discovered the world was not flat and for many years after there were those who went to their grave believing it was flat still. Baseball teachers let’s adopt the mantra “truth over tradition!” There is a ton of low hanging fruit out there that will force players to Respect The Rep such as demanding it and letting players know the goal and expectation of whatever work you will be doing at that time. The next big one would be creating a challenging work environment that in and of itself requires a player to have focus and intent on every rep which will, in turn, create the transfer. Add the layer of competition and scoring will create the focus we are also looking for. This leads us to a huge one of Training to the Truth. This simply means we are training and making decisions at least to the speed of the game with whatever we are doing. Traditional baseball training is famous for crawling and walking in the workday and then wondering why we cannot run well at game time. Which leads us to Training Beyond the Truth. Shrinking down workspaces to create an even faster decision-making process is a great way of speeding up the game in order to slow the game down for them come game time. Although this make gets messy at times, we have to understand how messy learning can look and be ok with this. If the work is clean, they “have it” and need more challenge and different looks! A couple of new techniques that are big on developing a deeper learning and more transfer is having the players teach different parts of the game. I have heard so many times you never really get to know something until you have taught it and this is true. They are so much more engaged in the work it is amazing! The terms of Random vs Block Training are the latest buzzwords out there in our training and without getting bogged down with scientific definitions just think in terms of zoo vs jungle. You really get more of what you train. Observational learning may be the lowest hanging fruit in this whole discussion. Let’s not forget this is how we learn best. That said I find it critical that we educate our players on why we are training the way we are and that it works. The big hurdle you will face is fewer success rates and more messiness in the workday and players not “feeling” good all the time. The simple question I pose to players is this. Would you rather “feel good” in practice every day or “perform” come game time? The answer will be performed of course and then we must continue to educate them on how we learn, what it looks like, and how we are going to train to get them to perform. This education and the selling of the training is all pivotal on one thing. Does the player trust you? We have hit this element before in that the foundation of all coaching comes back to our ability to connect and develop our relationships with our players. 

SOME DIFFERENT IDEAS ON TRAINING THAT CREATE TRANSFER

• Drop ball ground ball work. Groundballs that are hit off a flip from another coach and randomly done. The defender can get rhythm and timing off of the flipper. Add a stopwatch to this you are now training reps where the ball is not hit to them. The 12-15 seconds between reps now comes into play as it does in the game. This becomes a drill in being present for every pitch. 

• Training in 10-minute blocks is something that I have played with more and more. The ebb and flow of offense and defense are like this and I have mimicked this in the training with good success come game time. This is jungle training while training to the truth of the game.

•More low hanging fruit in creating a work environment: Remove the turtle for batting practice. Do we hit with one in the game? Hitting with a helmet on at all times. Practicing in pants/uniform.  Think of how differently you feel wearing shorts and a t-shirt vs wearing a tuxedo to a function? Wearing pants also allows us to include the fundamental art of sliding into our jungle work. What we wear impacts the mind and the environment. Using music to create a more chaotic environment and make them more reliant on their eyes and reading situations rather than verbal communication. It also puts our brain in a better state to learn as well as create energy.
•Baserunning work is done with a complete defensive shell. The machine at home and runners at different bases are given the number of outs and the inning. The machine fires balls into random parts of the field either on a line or high in the air. The defense is forced to be in spots and make reads and the baserunners are making reads based off of information and real jungle environment. Plays are competed, and slides are in play. With all the decisions and reads that are going on this would qualify as a Fundamedley in the Jungle! The possibilities you can add to this are limitless.

•Pitching PFP should be done randomly and with a stopwatch. Instead of doing things in order like cover plays, comebackers, and fielding bunts do all of them out of order and with a different situation called out. You now have reading and decision making as part of the training. Better yet you could have some element of this while performing a bullpen session with counts and a coach in the box with a fungo. Sometimes balls being put in play and a pitcher being forced to run to cover a base or field a bunt and then return to pitch just as they do in a game. The heart rate going up just as it does in the game simulating stress to the work.
Put them in the jungle as much as you can to create a ROBUST learning environment and then, in the end, help them make sense of it. This involves question asking and feedback and allowing them to search for and give answers.

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.


 Training and Transfer (Part II)
(4/17/2019)
 
   

Training and Transfer (Part II) 


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


In Training and Transfer Part I, we discussed simple applications on how to improve how we carry our practice into the games effectively to perform and how competing makes players respect the game. In this part, we will discuss adding layers to the simple applications to take your on-field training to another level.

Train to the Truth 

The expression TRAIN TO THE TRUTH is simply doing things at game speed in our training with game-like focus and intent on all reps. We partly hit it already with our challenging and competitive hitting practice. We can now expand our focus to team fundamentals blended with hitting, defense and baserunning. We call this segment of practice a couple of different things. Sometimes we refer to it as the Jungle. Trevor Regan hits the analogy well and I use it in my thinking constantly. If you train at the zoo all day but have to perform in the Jungle at night, you are in for a hard time. Think about a lion who is born and raised in the zoo where everything is given to him daily. He never taps into or trains his speed, hunting, and aggression instincts. If that lion is put out into the Jungle after being brought up in the zoo, he is not going to perform or live long for that matter! If your training is more zoo than jungle, re-evaluate it. The speed of the Jungle will overwhelm your players if they have not been there. The other word we use when blending our work is our Fundamedley. This is a simple set up that starts with an I-screen or an L-screen. We have 2 groups of defense and offense, and a coach pitching behind the screen with a pitcher on the mound. This is a live scrimmage that is scripted out on paper but the action it produces is all unpredictable like the game is. For example, inning 1 may begin with a runner on second base and 0 outs and let the inning run from there. We are now situationally hitting, defending, and baserunning with whatever happens. The coach is using a full mix of pitches from up close to simulate reaction times of high velocity. Inning 2 may start with runners on first and second and no outs. Again, the coach will then run his defense, the other coach will run the offense and play it live from there. The beauty of the Fundamedley is the coaches are getting game speed reps also. Adding layers to all this, we will use a scoreboard to give the inning and score and counts, which is the information that dictates our decision making on the field. This GRILL (GAME LIKE DRILL) can be used in endless ways. And most importantly, the environment we have set up has again forced players to RESPECT THE REP. Get out of the ZOO and start living in the JUNGLE in your training. The transfer and performance come game time will reflect more and more where you live the most! Warning: the action that takes place in the Jungle may be messy at times. This is good! Learning is messy and recognizing when a group/individual is learning and allow this messiness to take place is showing maturity as a coach. When your work is clean it is telling you that players have learned this already and they need more. Be prepared to add layers to whatever they do because they learn at an incredible rate of speed! 

The Gap 

The messiness of learning we are talking about was described by our Mental Conditioning Director, Bernie Holliday as The Gap. The Gap is that area just beyond their current abilities. Go beyond The Gap and you are killing confidence. Push ‘em into that gap and there is stretching and growing that is happening. Players are figuring it out. Whether it is a new mechanic or a decision-making play, there is sure to be messiness involved here. That is the art of coaching, knowing where they are as a group and as individuals and pushing them just beyond. The analogy to learning may be lifting weights with a partner and having him help you through those last 2 reps. The last 2 reps got you into the gap and got you stronger. Getting players into the Gap = Learning = Transfer!

Training Beyond the Truth 

Daniel Coyle’s book entitled “The Talent Code” inspired this next segment of training several years back. In the book, he studied how the Brazilians had so consistently dominated the soccer world, discovered the game of futsal, and how it became a breeding ground for super skilled soccer players. Futsal is essentially the game of soccer played on a much smaller field. Everything happens much faster (decision-making and skills) than on a bigger field so that when they go back to the big field, the game is slowed down while actually playing and thinking at a greater speed. I ended up thinking about doing the fundamedley of bunting on it with 70-foot bases. The results were amazing. The field was so messy and fast (learning is messy!!!) but in just a short time it got cleaner as players learned quickly. This shrunken game of bunt defense created some challenging skill work, decision-making, and helped them slow the game down come game time. It’s okay to make the training even more challenging than what they may face because now we are building real confidence. Training beyond the truth = faster processing = transfer! Another example of this is the use of handballs (not to be confused with racquet balls) with infielders. While coaching at Duke back in 2006, Sean McNally used handballs to sharpen the skills of infielders. The handballs training (done with and without a glove) was actually hop reading and decision making on steroids as it was beyond the speed of the game they would face. Once the defenders were recalibrated to normal game speed and space, the common feedback that we would get from players was how much slower the game was to them. The handball work is not limited to the infielders. Handballs infiltrated our big-league camp last year and were used in the pitchers fielding practice (pfp) development of the pitchers. They have been used in the catching and outfield areas as well. Warning: the use of handballs can be messy at times. That is okay, they are learning! 

Expecting to Teach and Teaching Creates More Transfer 

Friend and colleague Andy Bass shared a study with me by Daou, Lohse, and Miller in 2016 entitled “Expecting To Teach Enhances Motor Learning and Information Processing During Practice.” It was done with a large number of golfers and the premise of the study was to determine or measure the transfer benefits of having to teach a skill and then perform it. The interesting twist, however, was that when the players who were told they were going to have to teach putting and its details the following day they then were told they did not have to. Remarkably the group who were told they were going to have to teach putting far outperformed the other group in terms of learning and transfer. The act of preparing to teach a skill deepened the learning and led to greater transfer when performing the skill. I have used this method with my players but have allowed them to actually teach. Now the phenomenon that was exposed in this study is real, but I believe the actual teaching aspect takes it to another level. I have found that the player or players doing the teaching are completely engaged, and witnessing players teaching players is a wonderful thing. I have done this in all phases of the game and also including some culture building exercises. A great example of this on the baseball side is using the players to teach a fundamental and give them a one-day advance to prepare. I will usually have gone through all the fundamentals and training once before turning it over to the players. They will be required to give the explanation verbally and then show it using either whiteboard or video. I have also used the players to teach Pirates core convictions with explanations and videos and preparation all left to them. Generally, the players will knock it out of the park and the other byproduct of using this method is more ownership of their development. Along the same lines of teaching and expecting to teach, I have assigned players to break down different areas of the game postgame, letting them know beforehand to be ready to debrief post game what they have seen. The amount of engagement of the players is phenomenal as they are now watching intensely and learning as well. If you find the feedback lacks certain things, then we as coaches can fill in the cracks when needed. Players will astound you as to what they see and know if we allow it. Most importantly, we have found out exactly where they are and where we can now take them. Allowing players to teach one another = deeper learning = more ownership = transfer! Warning: If you choose to allow the players into the teaching you and your staff will also be learning! Players see things we do not and if we do not show them, we learn from them we have not truly given them permission to learn from us! 




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


 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.


 Culture is a Verb Part III
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Culture is a Verb Part III


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


REVIVALS ARE IMPORTANT

Recently flipping through some channels, I came across an Evangelical station where a preacher was preaching, and I could not help but marvel at the intensity with which the audience was connecting with his words.  That preacher was doing a number of things for the people. He was getting some new followers, getting some who used to follow and had gone away to follow again, and he was getting some who were following already to follow in a more committed way. Of course, critical to all of this was the environment he created to make these things happen. The words and the way he spoke, the lighting, the sound, and the music were all ingredients to allow for the room and the people to be moved. It got me thinking how important revivals are not just in spiritual terms but also in life in general. We all need to reconnect and recommit to some things in order to continue to grow. I recently experienced a two-and-a-half week revival in culture building and leadership I wanted to share. My revival took place in Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida, and I thought it worthy of our Culture discussion.

THE GULF ROAST LEAGUE 

I had the privilege of managing our Gulf Coast League club recently (a league that is so hot in summer it is affectionately called the Gulf Roast League) and was quickly inserted back into our Pirate culture as opposed to viewing it or help lead it from 30,000 feet. Meeting coaches and players where they are at is a huge piece in leadership and I quickly realized when I put the manager hat back on how quickly we can forget this basic tenet.

Revival number one was having empathy. Empathy is one’s ability to understand another’s feelings and what they may be experiencing. How important is it to never forget what those you lead are going through or feeling? We could argue it is more important than your x’s and o’s knowledge. The game is played and coached by people, and understanding what makes each tick is critical to a culture.

The last two weeks allowed me to remember how hard this game is from a player’s perspective. The physical grind of working at a craft and performing on a daily basis is a huge challenge. This grind of the season is hard, beats up the body, and pushes it to the limits. The mental grind of failing, falling and getting back up again on a daily basis is hard. The combination of using athletic skills with decision making on the chessboard called a baseball diamond is hard. Taking care of the body and recovery is hard.  

From a coach’s perspective, helping players through off field issues and teaching personal and professional separation is hard. The ability to finish this 6-month season stronger than how you started is a huge challenge. Putting in work days in extreme heat and at times being away from family is a challenge. Helping players “get it” is a challenge. Going through life with a group of people in a competitive environment is a challenge as it affects peoples’ emotions. Being aware of a group as well as individuals’ emotions means constant engagement with staff and players, and this is a challenge.

What does all this mean? First, it feeds our patience bucket as teachers to be able to truly understand where they are all at and what they are experiencing. It also means our ability to empathize is critical to the growth of your culture and team! Continue to connect and be present for those you lead and teach!

Revival number two: Championship Preparation. If I am not prepared, I cannot meet anyone where they are or lead them because I have not taken care of myself yet! The analogy of the airplane that has a drop in pressure and the masks drop down to feed the oxygen to the passenger speaks to this. Well, you cannot help another until yours is secured to your head first. Take care of all the “me” stuff before staff and players arrive, so that when they do arrive you can lead and serve them. This may mean everything from personal (sleep, nutrition, workout, family time) to professional (schedule and the contents of the day, lineups, and scheduling meetings) and all things in between.

Now that you are prepared, you can help others prepare. Ultimately, how well you and your staff prepare will determine how well the day and game will be executed. This leads to revival number two: Championship Execution. Championship Execution cannot happen without Championship Preparation. Execution without preparation is leaving a day of player development up to chance. After you and your staff have done everything in your power to prepare for the work day, it ultimately gets tested at 7:00 (12:00 in the Gulf Roast League) and everything you have done or have not done gets exposed. How you prepare (mentally, physically, and fundamentally) consistently on a daily basis will ultimately determine how consistently the team performs.

Now the biggest revival may have hit me on day two after unpacking the entire day with staff as we always do. Revival number four was Championship Review. Championship Review may be the most critical part of the day. At the end of every day, we did a couple of reviews. First, with staff, we would discuss what they liked, what they learned and what we needed to get better at tomorrow. This is so critical in how we plan tomorrow’s workday. The other thing we did is we had the players unpack what they saw and what they liked and learned and what they felt we needed to get better at. You want to know where the players are at? Ask them what they see! Not only do you get an insight into what they know and do not know, but they also now feel they have a voice in their development. Autonomy of their days will leverage their development in a huge way. This cycle of prepare, execute, and review, and how well you do it ultimately is ultimately the life force behind your culture, organization and team. 

THE BASIL PLANT

What does a basil plant have to do with culture? Upon my return to Bradenton after a trip, I walked out onto my back porch to find a big new plant in the corner, which had been left alone and exposed to wind and rain for two weeks. You see, my wife, Theresa, had also been on the road and still was (tending to our daughter and first grandbaby) but did something before she left that I had not known. I assumed she had bought this new plant and simply left it to fend for itself. I called her immediately to ask her about the new plant, and she told me it was not a new plant but an old plant she simply re-potted into a bigger pot to see what would happen. She said it was the basil plant I had bought at the grocery store. First, these plants have lasted us about a week or so in the past as we would use the leaves for seasoning but the plant would generally turn brown, shrivel up, and die. Second, the plant was huge and green and was unrecognizable, so I was shocked when she said it was the little basil plant I had bought long before I had hit the road for my last trip. The basil plant was put into a bigger pot and allowed to receive the natural rain and sun. With room to grow and some rain and sun, in two weeks the basil plant was on its way to becoming Jack’s beanstalk! Theresa had simply put the plant in a bigger pot, put it in a good spot on the porch and gotten out of its way. What I thought would have been too much for a basil plant was exactly what it needed. The harsh sun and thunderstorms and wind allowed the plant to grow deeper roots and bigger branches.  

Isn’t this just like player development? On the other hand, should I ask, isn’t this what player developmentshould look like? The basil plant brought me to another mini revival, not to be understated. Revival number five: The environment we are creating as leaders must leverage learning and building competitive and tough men that win on and off the field.  

This basil plant reconnected me to being intentional in creating an environment to maximize players’ growth. It made me think of how we as coaches can create a small pot environment, which limits growth, and become a roadblock instead of an asset. We did an exercise as a staff (after I dropped the basil story on them) and asked, “What do we do as teachers/coaches that creates this small pot where the plant shrivels up and dies?” This brought out many great points such as over-coaching, not allowing players to fail and figure things out, not allowing risk or room to fail, negativity, lack of challenge, bad body language, non-competitive work days, not holding players accountable, the language we teach with, ownership of their days and careers, not asking questions, emotional outbursts, etc. The list went on. Then I asked, “What we can do to create a big pot where the plant can grow and become some amazing version of itself?” Allow free play, emotional stability of staff, involve them in their process and turn over ownership to them, ask questions to engage them and meet them where they are at, challenge them, variety, put them in competitive work days, use stress, keep score, hold them accountable, have fun, etc. This list went on as well. The basil plant created a mini revival for me, and I in turn brought the revival to the staff on many fronts. Better self-awareness translates into better preparation, teaching, and setting up of our environment.

THE 30K-FOOT VIEW IS IMPORTANT, BUT…

In leadership, it is important to step away from the fire in order to see things clearly and grow the culture with intention. However, the last two weeks have made me realize that we all need revivals in our lives and jobs in order to grow. Our ability to stay committed to certain tenets of leading and connected to what players and coaches go through on a daily basis is critical in order to lead, teach and help them. The team with a culture that can continue to improve and streamline the 24-hour cycle of “Prepare, Execute and Review” will find itself playing for championships. How well we are preparing will determine how well we execute at game time. How well we review (autopsy of the day to learn from our successes and mistakes) will determine how well we can grow and then prepare the next day. “Prepare” and “Review” bookend “Execute,” and we truly need to be improving at both all the time. Lastly, I hope you all start to view your work environment as I did the basil plant. Is your environment a small pot with limited access to wind and rain and sunlight and growth? I like to think that after reading this, we would all do some soul searching and create a big pot environment where players and staff become something unrecognizable but in a positive way. Remember, we all need revivals, and they can only happen if you allow them to and want them to. Now go grow some basil…I mean baseball players.

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.


 Culture is a Verb Part IV
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Culture is a Verb Part IV


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE ON THE FIELD?

The first three installments on Culture did not talk much about baseball. We hit on leadership and how it drives the train of your team. We spoke of relationship building and the importance of communication and our rules of engagement. Adding on to our foundation of culture we dove into the importance of our day-to-day mentality. Folks who have a Blue-collar work ethic demonstrate the ability to “show up” every single day. The more people “show up,” the more the culture grows. As important as the work ethic piece is, the “white belt” mentality of being a forever learner goes hand in hand with that. People who understand that once you achieve black belt (expert) status, the learning does not end. It never ends. Adopting the idea of getting one-tenth of one percent better every day is an achievable goal. Can you imagine a group of blue-collar people who love to learn, all getting one-tenth of one percent better every day for a year? It is hard to quantify how strong your culture can become, but just one person who does that is about 36 percent better! You do the math from there.

Our third installment hit on our need for revivals not just in our lives but also in our jobs of keepers and growers of culture. Revivals to recommit to some things as well as expand our lenses. We also hit the importance of our EQ and never forgetting how hard the jobs of those we lead are. Finally, those led to the environment we are creating for learning and growth of our players and staff. Is it a small pot that does not allow the plant to grow deep roots, or a big one that allows the plant/player to become an awesome – and perhaps unrecognizable – version of itself?

All of the above have lead us to the promised land of the field and our last piece of culture. What brand of baseball is it that people are looking at when your team is on the field? What do teams feel like after they have played your team? Let us examine what I am talking about here.

HOW DO YOU ESTABLISH YOUR IDENTITY?

BASE RUNNING

The best (this is a great argument) way to establish your team identity – and perhaps the most overlooked – is through base running. Let me add to that “aggressive/smart base running”. It is at least 25 percent of the game that goes with pitching, defense and offense. Aggressive / smart base running and the pressure applied amplifies any offense. Pressure base running will separate the pitcher’s mind and conviction from his pitch, leading to mistakes thrown, which lead to baseballs getting barreled by our hitters. Pressure base running plants the “I have less time” seed into the defender’s mind and creates errors, which leads to baserunners and runs scored. It leads to extended innings because when infielders have baserunners bearing down on them, even on a routine double play, things somehow change in their exchange and throw. Good pressure leads and secondary leads may lead to catchers back picking and taking risks when they should not, leading to extra 90s or errors.

The ripple effect of smart / aggressive base running goes on. Why, then, don’t people establish this piece of their identity? There is no simple answer to this but I will start with the fact that it is not sexy to train baserunning (it requires preparation and time that would otherwise go into more sexy things, like hitting and pitching). Many do not understand the huge positive impact of relentless pressure baserunning on an offense, and in our industry, it does not necessarily lead to guys getting bigger contracts (unless he is an elite base stealer). The other piece of this is coaches who do not understand the art of pressure may confuse base stealing with baserunning. While base stealing can be another form of pressure in our baserunning package, it does not mean we cannot be great baserunners if we do not steal bases. Another reason players may not embrace this mentality of pressure is they think, “if I have below average speed, I cannot become an above average baserunner” which could not be further from the truth! I often show our players and staff video of smart / aggressive baserunning by below average speed guys to hammer home the message.

Establish the team identity on the bases by creating attitude (anticipation is aggression), with preparation and knowledge, and you will become a team that others do not enjoy playing. Applying constant pressure on the bases slowly exhausts the opposition. This then becomes a part of the daily training and not just the routine base running work most teams do during batting practice. Daily training in base running daily hammers home the message of its importance, as well as rewarding it when it is executed.

PITCHING IN WHILE POUNDING THE ZONE

Another form of pressure that establishes the identity of a team culture is a staff that works ahead and uses pitching to its advantage. Hitters know they must be ready the moment they step in the box when the guy on the bump is a strike-one machine. When a staff works ahead constantly and looks for opportunities to pitch in for strikes – and, more importantly, “in for effect” – the opposition can be taken completely out of their game plan and approach. It is uncomfortable for hitters when pitchers force them to alter their normal stance in the box by opening up the other side of the plate and keeping the hitter guessing. Staffs that do these two things consistently also send messages to hitters that if you are thinking that you are going to cover the whole plate in your at bat, you need to think again.

Don Drysdale was famous for pitching in for effect, and his motto was, “I would come in off the plate two times in a row to let them know it was not an accident.” That kind of pressure from the pitcher to the hitter over a period of a series can remove the aggression on the part of hitters and again establish your club’s identity as one that others do not want to face. It also keeps the other side of the plate open for late-inning relievers who come in during a tight game. Generally, in tight games we never want to get beat pull-side late in the game, so pitchers will stay away. If the starters have done their job of establishing pitching in for effect earlier then it would make sense the ability for hitters to cover the whole plate is surely more challenging later. The myth here with pitching in is that you have to be a hard thrower to pitch in. This simply is not true. One of the best examples of this was Tom Glavine, who was a hard thrower when he came up, and it was not until later in his career when his stuff had diminished that he truly embraced pitching in for effect and for strikes.

MASTER THE 15 SECONDS

Develop “baseball players” who dominate the 15 seconds between pitches. As of 2014, the average Major League game lasted approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes. Of this time, 16 of those minutes were action. That left a whopping two hours and 39 minutes between pitches, at bats and innings. Seventy-five of these minutes was in between pitch time. Although that 15 seconds could be a bit longer or a bit shorter it is there where the game is played out. A guy who always seems to know where he needs to be on the field, throws the ball where he is supposed to, calls the right pitches behind the plate, gives quality at bats when hitting, is a good baserunner, is a quiet assassin on the mound, is a “baseball player.”

While many players simply react pitch to pitch on offense or defense, the player with good game awareness only reacts after preparing and then anticipating. He does his preparing during those 15 seconds. Let me give you some examples. An outfielder should go through many scenarios in his head before a ball is put in play. He may think if a ball is hit to my left, ball to my right, ball in front of me, ball over my head where am I going to be throwing the ball? He must also process the scoreboard information such as inning and score and the hitter, which will also affect the aggressiveness of his decision to attack a lead runner, or simply keep the double play in order and get the ball in quickly to the middle of the field.

An example of an infielder’s 15 seconds could be a shortstop who is presented with a runner on second base and one out situation. Between pitches, he must process what if the ball is hit to my left, to my right, right at me or slowly in front of me? The aggressiveness of his decision (to attack the batter and take the out at first or attack the base runner attempting to advance to third) comes off the scenarios he played out in his head and again the score, the inning, the hitter. All the info processed in the 15 seconds told him that he should take the out at first and have two outs and a runner on third, rather than risk attacking the lead runner and him being safe and then creating a first and third and one out situation.

The catcher’s 15 seconds can be challenging. They have to control the pulse and pace of the guy on the mound, know where his stuff is at that day, know the hitter and the situation, and of course, know the scoreboard before determining what pitch to call and – if runners are on base – controlling them as well.

The hitter’s 15 seconds can be interesting also. When they step in the box they have to determine their role (get on base, move a runner, drive a runner in from third, etc.) and then get a pitch to execute it with. The challenge with hitters, though, is that their role and approach may change from pitch to pitch. One of the biggest homeruns in World Series history was hit by Kirk Gibson on a 3-2 slider. When Gibson came to the plate, Mike Davis was on first base. When Gibson came up to bat he understood he would have to drive a ball in a gap to score the runner from first or drive one out of the park to win it. So simply slapping a ball the other way and getting on was not his role when he was up there with the runner on first. However, on the sixth pitch of the at bat, Mike Davis stole second base and this changed things with the count now 3-2. Gibson now did not have to drive a ball in the gap or over the wall, but rather, he could now think of slapping something the other way, as a single would now tie the game up. When you watch what happens next, you see Gibson hit a 3-2 slider (it was not hung) out for the game winner. He had changed his approach and role based on the runner advancing to second base. This is huge because if he had the pull approach and tried to do too much, there is no way he stays on and tracks the 3-2 slider from Eckersley.

This is an amazing detail of the 15 seconds that we may miss because we are caught up in the result of the big homer. Gibson did not get beat by the slider because he continued to think during the 15 seconds, ‘what is my role?’, and he got a pitch to do it with. The changing of his role and approach allowed a guy who could barely walk to hit one of the biggest homers in the history of the game.

Pitchers need to be playing the game during their 15 seconds as well. People often speak of situational pitching, referring to different points of the game when you face a hitter in a critical situation. The fact is that every single pitch of the game it situational pitching, according to who is up and the scoreboard information. Therefore, the pitcher, after considering his information between pitches, can either sign off on the pitch that the catcher called, or call another pitch. If you have a collective group of players who are good at the 15 seconds (game awareness), you become someone who is hard to beat because you are never beating yourselves with poor decisions. Your decisions have already been made between pitches, so the equation becomes preparation + anticipation = good decisions. Dominate the 15 seconds, and you dominate your opponents during the 16 minutes of action!

CHAMPIONSHIP ON-FIELD CULTURE

The building blocks of your team’s identity starts with a relentless baserunning pressure package. Our ability to disrupt the thinking of a pitcher and force the defense to rush plays works in unison with our offensive approach in the box. If we are also ready to do damage when stepping into the box, we are creating a “2 vs. 1, 3 vs. 1, or 4 vs. 1” pressure, which can be formidable. On the mound, we also apply pressure to the opposition by relentlessly working ahead in counts and pitching in for effect with conviction. There is no comfort for hitters when a pitching staff pitches in for effect with conviction. It will also allow the late-inning relievers to stay away from hitters in close games because we have not allowed them to cover the plate early in the game and series.

Having a team of “baseball players” who dominate the 15 seconds between pitches is a form of psychological pressure as well. Other teams know that club will not beat itself by giving up extra outs or extra bases, so it then causing them to try harder or put pressure on themselves, thus leading to mistakes.

Building your on-field culture is both challenging and fun. Continue to look at your group in the collective mirror, but most importantly, with your staff. Eventually, whatever is going on on your field becomes a direct reflection of you. One of my Pirates leaders once said, “You are either coaching it up or allowing it to happen.” Keep that in mind as you are building your on-field culture.


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.