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 Can We Help Players Compete Better?

Can We Help Players Compete Better?

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon

One of the hot topics thrown around in coaching and scouting discussions is that competing is a separator tool that determines if a player will play in the major leagues or reach their potential. It then leads to the question: Can a coach help someone get better at competing? There are 2 schools of thought: First, coaches with a growth mindset would say “absolutely I can!” With a little bit of “want to” and a plan, we can grow somebody’s ability to compete in a huge way. The second school of thought, a fixed mindset, is that people are born with the DNA to compete or they aren’t and no amount of coaching will change that. Let’s do a deeper dive into these two very different mindsets.

The Fixed Mindset

The fixed mindset believes that we are born with certain talents or skills (intelligence, athleticism, ability to compete) that cannot be taught. You are simply dealt a hand that you have to play as is. With this mindset comes the art of labeling by coaches and even teachers! I was guilty of this line of thinking and was a product of the system of professional baseball that was very much a “natural selection”, “survival of the fittest” or “cream rises to the top” philosophy. Any of these phrases sound familiar? You also hear coaches say “he was born to play baseball.” As a coach with a fixed mindset you will give the most to those you believe compete. The rest of your players get whatever is left over. Labelling undermines and even destroys our ability to help our players grow. They can sense if you are committed to them or not. This labeling is more common than not, especially when it comes to attaching “he competes” or “he doesn’t compete” to a player. A label sticks with a player and could disqualify them as a prospect without ever giving them the tools to grow.

Joe Martinez

Joe Martinez is the player that started to rearrange the furniture in my head starting in 2003. After managing in professional baseball for a couple years I jumped over to college ball and my first gig brought me to Boston College and Joe Martinez. Joe possessed all the tools you want in a player and pitcher; athleticism, plus pitches and intelligence. As a bonus he came from a tremendous family that instilled a strong value system. He also put together good work days and displayed a great attitude. What was not to like? In the spring of 2003 the team went south to play some other cold weather teams and the first game was against Holy Cross. Holy Cross is a Division I baseball program but certainly not a powerhouse. My thoughts going into the game were that Joe’s talent level was well above Holy Cross. Well, Murphy’s law took over and Holy Cross was hitting him around pretty hard. I made a couple of mound visits to settle Joe down and as I went out the second time Joe was so nervous he was shaking. We eventually pulled him and put in another pitcher. Instead of recognizing where Joe was in his ability to compete and putting together a plan to help him get better, the easy way out was to say he simply doesn’t compete and that is that. Six years later on Aug 7, 2009, Joe made his Major League debut for the San Francisco Giants. Guess he got better at competing? Not only did he get better at competing but competed in the best league in the world! Tracking Joe after 2003, his growth was so steady and so amazing I was surprised his debut did not come until 2009! Players can get better at competing! We as coaches mislabel kids who do not know they are ready to compete as “soft” when the reality is that competing and maturity are fluid. As young players mature as people emotionally and physically this will usually play out on the field of play in a huge way. It is a culmination of all of the above. The evolution of the physical, emotional and then skill level of a player is very hard to project especially with a fixed mindset when nothing is projectable! Thanks, Joe, for starting my true growth journey.

Growth Mindset and Pete Rose

The growth mindset is that we can improve at anything we do by putting in the effort and learning from our successes and failures. This is my mindset today. This idea that an intangible like competing is a tool and can be grown evolved in me first by having players prove me wrong (Joe Martinez was the first of many) year after year and then by digging in and doing some research. Carol Dweck writes articles online and her book “Mindset” was game-changing for my thought process. The “compete” tool is arguably the greatest tool for allowing players’ abilities to either play up or down. I discussed this with a friend of mine, Mike Lum (member of Big Red Machine, among his many accomplishments) who currently is an Advisor in the Pirates Player Development system. I asked him what player he played with or against or coached had the greatest compete tool? He never hesitated and immediately responded, “Pete Rose because he came to beat you every day and on every play.” If you actually broke down Rose’s physical tools of hit, hit for power, field, run, and throw, you are hard pressed to find any above average outside his plus tool of barreling the baseball for singles. Mike Lum played with the likes of Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez (all in The Baseball Hall of Fame). These guys had some great tools and they competed like mad men but Mike did not hesitate for a moment to throw Rose’s name out there. And by the way, Mike Lum is 70 and operates with a growth mindset!


I see it as a person’s ability to take his skill level (wherever that is) and perform to their maximum capability in the heat of competition. It is also the ability to get back up every single time you get knocked down regardless of the outcome. It’s that simple. I love the term Justin Meccage (Pirates AA pitching coach) shared with me once regarding a player who competes when things are going well but then goes away when things go wrong. He referred to him as a “convenient competitor.” I see convenient competitors as simply in the larvae stage of potentially becoming a true “competitor.” We can help them reach that competitor stage with time and preparation (we will get to the how later). Baseball can illustrate these differences in many ways. The most obvious occurs on the mound and in the batter’s box. The pitcher may be moving along easily getting outs and then all of a sudden finds himself in a jam after a couple of hits and a walk. You might see the body language go south, the velocity drop off, the command go away, and the results spiral out of control. He was competing well when the results were good but stopped once the results went bad. Hitters can illustrate this as well. At times when you watch hitters in advantage counts (0-0 ,1-0, 2-0, 2-1) be extremely disciplined and hit well then become unglued as the counts go the other way (0-1, 0-2, 1-2) and lose all ability to swing at or recognize a strike. Now in both cases (the pitcher and the hitter) the players who compete have the ability to get knocked down and get back up and keep coming. The pitcher who competes will continue to fight and when results go bad they have a tendency to be able to minimize the damage of an inning and regain their form. They keep attacking their opponent relentlessly. Hitters who compete have a tendency to fight pitches off when behind in counts many times fouling off tough pitches with two strikes and eventually putting the ball in play. This grit factor has become easy to spot over the years and I believe the “compete” or grit factor is a true separator among players.

Now that we have established that we need to have a growth mindset when teaching and coaching, and what it means to compete, we can finally attack the question: How can we get them better at competing?

There are two parts to this process; the first one is to increase the skill level of each player with purposeful progression (skill building) and purposeful preparation (testing the skills under pressure). The progression form of teaching this game is critical for players in building the wiring or muscle memory of their swings or deliveries in order to go out and have a chance to compete. Think of the practice of a player as crawl, walk, run on a daily basis. Let’s use the progression of skill building for an infielder in our system as one example.

Purposeful Progression

Throwing Program (TP): this is not a get loose drill for the arm as much as it is a slowed down form of learning how to handle the baseball and throw accurately with the proper footwork. This TP is the foundation of the skill building of the day. Poor TP or mechanics will show up in the other parts of his game or even in the game itself. We take our time with this and do not rush it. After focusing on form we then begin to speed things up and give them 30 seconds of speed in catching and throwing the ball. Crawl, walk, run.

Knees wide base is the next phase for our infielders. They start on their knees to emphasize the proper hand/glove presentation to the ball and proper funnel to the chest. Next, the proper separation and grip of the ball. In the next phase they are on their feet and do the same drill with the proper set up. After these progressions we get them to their positions to work on fielding ground balls properly and then throwing accurately to bases. We then progress to hitting them ground balls at game speed to a game clock to develop the internal clock and to add some pressure to the drill. We finally progress to random groundballs with the same clock speeding things up on them. Crawl, walk, run.

These are just two examples of progression, where you slow down teaching in order to build the skill level so that they can now have a chance to compete. We do this in every single aspect of the game: hitting, base running, pitching and defense. Now comes the fun part which is how to grow the COMPETE tool!

Purposeful Preparation

The ultimate test of our progression work is to see how it holds up under the stress and pressure of the game. If the first time our player experiences stress or pressure to perform his skill is the game, we may have failed him in helping him compete. Purposeful preparation is doing all of the above work on a daily basis but we now blend in some competitive fun, consequences, stress and pressure to help him get better at the transfer of those skills. The growth mindset coach realizes that in order for the skills to transfer under game pressure we must provide that for them at some point in the prep day.

Consequences: One example of creating competitive consequences can be after the hitters go through their progression, the last round of BP consists of opposite field line drives. If he fails to execute the rep he either loses his round or has to do five pushups. Maybe you can add a layer of every foul ball a player hits he has to go get it on the spot. Maybe you hit with no turtle as well for a different feel. The level of pressure goes up, the level of focus goes up and his swing and skill level are being tested in a little adversity.

Rewards: The same round of BP could be taken and for every executed rep (whatever the objective is in that round) there is a point earned. The player with the most points is awarded a Gatorade or t-shirt after a clear winner is established. The swing is tested under stress or pressure and he is competing to win.

Make the preparation take their skills to the edge of their abilities and a little beyond. If we were to do the same competition as above but had the BP thrower move the L Screen five feet closer it may be the reaction time of 96 miles per hour which may be more than they will see that night. However, players will make adjustments and grow their skill levels in many cases to meet that challenge. We are stretching their skill level and their ability to compete.

The Biosphere 2

How can the Biosphere 2 have anything to with helping kids compete better? Well, our Mental Conditioning Coordinator, Bernie Holiday, told us this story that helped make perfect sense of this compete tool development. The biosphere is an artificial ecological system that is indoors. It was created perfectly in every way. Perfect air, water, dirt and vegetation. A problem kept occurring in that the trees they were growing would all grow to a certain height and then fall over and uproot. Time and time again this occurred until they figured out that the missing ingredient in this perfect environment was the wind. The stress of the wind helped the trees grow deep roots to make them stronger and help support an even bigger tree. As coaches we have the ability to grow the compete tool of players by adding pressure or stress and competitive fun into the environment all the time. We are providing them the wind that will help their games grow strong and with deep roots. The wind that will allow the preparation to transfer into performance at game time.


If we go through a preparation day without adding pressure to it we have not prepared our players for what they are about to face come game time.  We are not developing the compete muscle that allows them to maximize their potential.  But it is more than this. I believe that building the “grit factor” has much more impact on what they will face in life than even at game time.  At your level, how many of the players you coach will ever get to reach their dream of playing in the Major League? How many will stay there after making it? The percentage is extremely small, somewhere between 1% and 3%, or less. This game mirrors real life; it’s hard and competitive. Will the grit factor we help develop help them in their jobs, marriages and whatever else life offers them? Absolutely! They will learn that the “hard” is what makes it satisfying and even fun. Their ability to compete gives them the drive/energy to keep getting back up time and time again after getting knocked down.  Where in life do we not need this “compete/grit” factor? The greatest gift we may give our players is the ability to compete.

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 II

Culture is a Verb Part II

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon

Having been a part of several culture rebuilds at the collegiate and professional levels, I have learned many valuable lessons along the way. In the beginning it is important to start with some simple questions: Where are we today, and where do we want to go? The next question becomes: How are we going to get there? 


When I came to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2010, they had finished with losing records for 17 years in a row; but the day I arrived, I knew by what I saw and heard that this would soon be changing. The foundation of the culture was being laid and, as always, when building a new culture, the last thing to come are the wins. We would come close to winning records for two more seasons but fall short again and then again. Finally, after 19 years of losing seasons, the Pirates broke through in 2013, 2014, and 2015 not only with winning records, but with playoff appearances. The culture was firmly in place, and many people were asking not only how this small market team was dancing with the big boys, but also how it had become one of them? We knew where we were at: 19 losing seasons in a row tells you exactly where that is. Where was it that we wanted to go? We were going to win World Series Championships and “Change the World through Baseball” in the process. This is the dream and cause that guides and pushes us to do what we do. 

I remember one day in Spring Training as Clint Hurdle, the Manager of the Pirates, was speaking to us he read a quote by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” That quote encapsulates what we are all about. It is a big and audacious dream that will be a reality soon. 


In order to get where you want to go, you need a Global Positioning System (GPS). Once you get on that road to your destination, you also need some guardrails to keep you on track. With the Pirates Organization, we have our own core convictions that serve as both. The word P.I.R.A.T.E.S. is our convictions acronym. P stands for PACE. Preparation, Attitude, Concentration and Effort are controllables we need to dominate daily. I stands for Integrity, which is having the courage to do the right thing all the time, whether or not someone is watching you. R stands for Relentless, which means we fight to move forward in our pursuit of excellence with uncommon grit. No excuses. A is for All In. Trust and faith in our abilities, our teammates and our cause while bringing complete belief to the job at hand. T is for Tough. We overcome adversity and are mentally and physically resilient. E is for Everyday. We focus on championship execution not just on the field, but off the field as well. Our greatest ability is our dependability. S is for Selfless. We commit our strengths to something bigger than ourselves, we are winners and we add value to others.

After reading our convictions, the first thing you may notice is that all of these words are attitudes which are also choices, and they are not about talent or swings or velocities or how much knowledge you have. These things won’t go very far if you don’t dominate these attitudes and controllables. 

The convictions might even sound cliché. Everyone thinks that Cultures must have their own “secret sauce” in order to beat the competition, but this is not true. What you need is to dominate these controllables and not have them just be words on a page. These convictions are all words of ACTION. If we operate by our P.I.R.A.T.E.S. creed, you cannot stop us. If you have enough people operating by these convictions, it will amplify everyone’s abilities and allow everyone’s abilities to play up. 

Without these convictions, it is like going to the gym and getting your workout in alone, as opposed to going to the gym and having a workout partner. Every time you get stuck, your spotter pushes you through those last two reps, which are the two that will make you stronger. Think about the cumulative effect that spotter has on your strength; the same goes for our ability TO BE P.I.R.A.T.E.S. on a daily basis. It is the same as always having that spotter helping to push you to get stronger on a daily basis. Dominate these attitudes, and your culture will flourish. 


When you want to build a culture, it requires affecting change. People are creatures of comfort. We seek it. It is hardwired into us. Bernie Holiday, our Mental Conditioning Director, taught us the term called “homeostasis”. Basically, when we are made uncomfortable in any way, we are hardwired to seek out comfort, however that looks. It is like the body always wanting to regulate itself back to its 98.6 degrees. He also used the image of the elastic band when referring to people and change. When stretched out, it will snap back to normal once you let go. The key for growth and change is to surround yourself with others that are seeking to be stretched, rather than seeking comfort. 

No matter where you are, if your culture is pushing to pursue your dream, it requires stretching and change. With stretching and change, you are going to experience pushback and detractors. The key is how you respond to it and view it. For me, it started with understanding it and identifying whether what I was doing was right. Is it pushback from many people, or just a few people? Strong pushback used to cause me to disengage and go backwards and doubt my convictions. But somewhere along the way I realized that being an agent of change is almost like going into boxing match knowing that you are going to get hit. The key is to keep on going. Pushback used to disengage me, but now it emboldens me to push harder and harder. When you know what you are doing is right and good, it is worth it.

The story of “Run to the Roar” is one that resonates with me. In the lion pride, when a male lion gets old and cannot hunt any longer, he is used to hunt down prey by separating from the pride and using his roar to scare prey away. Meanwhile, the rest of the pride is waiting to ambush the running prey. Had the animal run towards the roar and confronted it, he would have been fine. But he sought safety and comfort and ran away from it, thus putting himself in grave danger. 

Life so many times offers us up these roars, and so many times we run away from them. I want to offer up encouragement to run to the roar! When you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and you feel uncomfortable, take that as a signal you are about to grow! You will become stronger and bolder the more you do it. You will now engage instead of disengage. It is weight training for courage! Run to the roar!


The kinds of people who climb aboard your Culture train are signing on to a mentality. I am not saying that all of you must think the same and agree on all fronts; that could be bad, and the group could get stuck this way. For example, within the Pirates organization we have so many great minds in different areas that think dramatically different in so many ways. However, what is the same with all of them is they have a “white belt mentality.” 

Seven years ago, Bernie Holiday told us the story of Jigoro Kano, the father of Judo. He was obviously a black belt expert but when he passed away, the only wish he conveyed to his followers was to be buried in his white belt. The white belt is the beginner’s belt. It symbolizes where that person is at in his journey and how far he must go. Kano was a forever learner who realized that in order to improve you must keep that mentality of the beginner who has much to learn. It represented his humility as well. That is our mentality: confident in what we know and do at present, yet humble in understanding we have much more to learn. You want individual thinkers who are convicted in what they know and do, but have the mentality of wanting to learn more and grow. Be a “Learn it all” and not a “Know it all.” Remember this if you remember anything: If you get a group of people that are learning and growing, then the culture and whoever you are leading is learning and growing!  


Kaizen is a concept that was introduced to me when I arrived to the Pirates organization seven years ago that reshaped how I view my learning and improvement. It can become overwhelming once you realize how much you need to learn and improve when you look honestly in the mirror, especially if you are a perfectionist. Kaizen is the notion of continuous improvement with the idea of becoming one-tenth of one percent better every day. This would equate to 36 percent over a year’s time! Can you imagine the collective growth if your culture had a group of people who adopted the philosophy of Kaizen? 

The flip side of this in my head is pursuing perfection instead of improvement. This was something I used to pursue, but obviously it does not exist, and pursuing it can exhaust you. It will lead to constant disappointment and fear of that inevitable falling short of perfection. Julia Cameron put it well when she said, “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.” Kaizen and focusing on daily marginal improvement freed me up and made things less overwhelming and more realistic for me. It has helped me manage my improvement. 

Let me share a funny story of my Kaizen t-shirt to illustrate how strongly the concept hooked me. When I saw the word Kaizen with the Japanese characters that represented it I thought it would look very cool on a t-shirt. I decided to have some t-shirts made with Kaizen and the characters so that others could join me in my quest for improvement. They came out great, and I was excited others were actually requesting the shirt from me. At our winter meetings, we had at the time a Japanese strength and conditioning coach who, upon looking at this t-shirt (by now there were a dozen or so circulating), asked why someone put the word “Japanese” next to the word “Kaizen?” Yes, next to the word “Kaizen” I had unknowingly put the word “Japanese” in Japanese characters! We all laughed hard that we were walking around with t-shirts that read “Kaizen – Japanese” on the front! The message was still there, though. Let’s all just focus on getting better and the process, rather than seeking perfection. It is a much better place to be in. 

Having a cause is going to be the fuel that fills your energy tank on a daily basis and that has to be your starting point for your culture. Having clear core convictions (rules to live by) will provide you with a GPS to get there as well as be the guardrails to keep you on that path. You are going to have pushback to the change and detractors along the way, but fear not! My encouragement to anyone establishing a new culture is to run to the roar and be bold! Keep engaging! In addition, the people you bring on board with you is critical, not because they think exactly as you do, but because their mentality is that they have much to learn and improve at. If you all are learning and improving, then those we are leading and teaching are as well. The concept of Kaizen breaks improvement down into workable pieces. We are looking for marginal gains over long periods of time to achieve what it is we want to achieve. Getting one-tenth of one percent better daily is something that we are all capable of doing.

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 I

Culture is a Verb Part I

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon

Culture is the latest buzzword that is tossed about in organizations and teams. “Culture eats vision for lunch;” “Cultures win championships, MVPs don’t;” “Their culture is one of excellence;” to name a few expressions you may have heard. By Webster’s definition, culture is the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. It is the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious or social group. It is also the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time. It is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization. This Webster’s definition is a lot, so let’s simplify. Culture is the way you and your team do things on a regular basis. The key word here is “DO!”


Establishing a culture starts with LEADERSHIP. I am currently a part of the most dynamic and forward thinking culture I have ever been a part of in my entire life. An appropriate quote that describes our culture is one from Gandhi: “Be the change in the world you want to see.” This resonates with me because our culture is one of action as well as being. After establishing what the culture is, none of that vision matters without the “action” and “being” behind it. It is great to have inspiring words and posters on the walls, but without the substance of the “act” and “be,” it is nothing. The Pirates “act” and “be” on an elite level. Know this. Leadership of your organization or team creates the mindset, energy and environment that will either lead to or stagnate growth.


When considering my past leadership and team models that I have learned from, I always think of the 1989 Prince William Cannons team I was a small part of. This story is one of the most extreme and dramatic culture/leadership turnarounds I have ever seen or been a part of. It also became a special group that was at first disjointed by its leader and then brought together another leader that recognized what the group needed immediately. The ‘89 season started out with high hopes, as we had plenty of talent and personality on the club. Breaking from Spring Training, the expectations were high (always high expectations with the New York Yankees organization – they are a winning culture!), as was the morale of the club. Things fell apart quickly, and at the midpoint we found ourselves finishing dead last in the league.

Stump Merrill came in and reset the culture. He freed us up (mindset) to just go play (energy) while holding us accountable to the Yankees standards. He connected with us. He encouraged us. He stayed with us when we hit adversity. His leadership style created an environment to thrive in and at the end of the year we found ourselves dumping champagne on one another’s heads in Durham, North Carolina. We beat the Durham Bulls (Managed by a current Pirates Special Assistant Grady Little) to capture the Carolina League Championship. Stump took the same team that finished last in the first half and won the league championship. You think leadership isn’t the most important piece of the firing order of culture? It drives the train!


Although most want to talk about how their systems and programs are cutting edge and beyond the industry, I will argue that having people who understand how to start and develop relationships will determine whether or not you will have success, or any sustained success. That’s right – I am saying the cement and rebar of any elite culture are expert relationship builders! Coaching and leading teams is a people business more than an X’s and O’s business. The game is played and coached by humans, and not played on Xbox, so our ability to connect and dive deeper into our staff and players ultimately will determine successes on and off the field as they transition into their next phases of life.

Sounds simple, right? Not always. In our industry, because of its global nature, there are the obvious challenges of languages and customs on and off the field. At some point, we can get beyond all of those things in time with our multilingual staff and players and our ability to educate each other on all of the above. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to understand what each individual’s language is. No, not Spanish or Mandarin or Dutch…each person’s LOVE language! What does that mean? We will circle back to this in a bit.

There will always be those who are easier to connect with and always some that seem more challenging. What I have come to realize is that those challenging ones are the ones that are the essence of coaching and leading, and ultimately the ones that make us better at coaching and leading. These are the ones that require intentionality and action and energy. But why?


As mentioned, relationship road blockers are not limited to language and customs. Could it be their love language that we do not understand?

One of my mentors, John Blanchard, introduced a book to me called The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which came with a test. The book was great, and I found the test to be a fun and useful exercise. The basis of the book is that we all have different ways of understanding and expressing our love, which gets broken down into: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and gift giving. As you can imagine, it gets fun talking about how we MEN express and understand LOVE! 

Several huge nuggets came to me from doing the test (please do this with your spouses or significant others as well!), and the first one was self-awareness. Knowing yourself is where it all starts. If you do not know yourself, how can you hope to know others? You must know your own love languages and what makes YOU tick. Now, overall, I had an idea of my strongest love language, but what I realized is that we probably have a piece of all of them in our communication toolbox. 

The second “aha” moment came when I realized that if we do not understand the love language of those we lead, we are not leveraging the power of TEAM! It is amazing that, although the people you are communicating with may speak English, you might as well be speaking to them in Russian if you do not have this piece.

If Rosetta Stone offered Love Language as a course, I would buy it right now. Since diving into the Love Languages, I have solved some relationship riddles (although not all… this is just one more tool to find answers) that have allowed both of us to help move our culture forward. What would stop a culture from growing or moving forward? Lots of things, but please believe that poor or stagnant relationships is the biggest. Growing Relationships = Growing Culture!


The last little story I have on Love Language happened last summer. I was visiting one of our upper level clubs, and when I walked into the clubhouse, I saw up on the whiteboard that our manager had done the Love Language test with the entire staff and team. Listed under each Love Language was the player’s name if that was his number one Love Language. Boom! What a tremendous cohesion building exercise, as well as a great way for a group of men from all over the world (at least three different languages) to understand each other’s most important language of all… their LOVE language! When I walked into the manager’s office, he was quick to mention the exercise and asked me if I saw what his number one Love language was. I said, “Of course. Yours is words of affirmation. Great job!” Now this was funny, but also powerful in so many ways. If we are building relationships, we are always searching for innovative ways to do it, and the Love Language test is just another way.


Is the Golden Rule at the top of your list in terms of how we treat one another? Maybe it should be. The Golden Rule of “treat others as you would like to be treated” is a great start to get into some specific standards we all need in our teams, organizations and families. I recently heard of the expression “over the table communication vs. under the table talk,” which I loved. It simply was an expression that meant to have an environment where people felt free to respectfully express what was on their minds in front of all, as opposed to going off after the meetings to have sidebars or “water cooler” conversations that breed divisiveness. The key to this is respect. Respectful communication allows us to get stuff out there in a productive way, rather than have it fester in those small sidebars.


The advent of text and email has allowed us to expand our speed and breadth of communication. Unfortunately, its convenience has removed much of our intentionality and purpose to connect person to person. It has made us lazy at developing relationships, and what’s more, we may have a generation of people who have not gotten relationship “reps” growing up, because their lives have revolved around smartphones and computers as their main vehicle to communicate. Email and texting are great for getting information out, but when we start trying to solve problems or discuss serious matters this way, we are losing the art of communication because we are not present to see the body language and hear the tone of the message; we are simply guessing at the true meaning.;

I recently read a study by the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University that estimated that in communicating, 2.5% is verbal (the words), 10% is vocal (volume, tone, cadence) and up to 83% is visual (body language). So, if this was even half true (I believe in the science), we are truly stifling not only our messaging but also our ability to learn. Please understand: I get technology. I use it, and it is effective. My point is that expert relationship builders (drivers of our culture) are consistently and intentionally present to build those relationships and move them forward while enhancing them with technology…not the other way around.

Email has also replaced meeting in person for some. Again, this is an excellent way of getting information out there to the masses, as well as being organized in our days. However, when this becomes the primary way we try to fuss and discuss things, we are truly missing the boat. Do you manage, lead or teach INBOXES, or PEOPLE?


The lunch pail is a symbol of the blue-collar worker, the common man who went to work daily to provide a life for his family. It can also describe a mindset of a culture. Part of our Pirates Pride comes from this symbol. We believe in showing up for work every day and rolling up our sleeves to grow our culture so that in turn, we are growing our players and playing for championships. This attitude of showing up every day is about really SHOWING UP every day! Bringing your best every day is not an easy thing to do. The key here is to surround ourselves with people who show up every day, which raises the bar collectively for us to do the same.

I would compare this to going to the gym and working out with a partner who spots you at the end of every exercise you do. He pushes and encourages you to squeeze out that last rep or two to get you stronger. People who show up every day do this for their teammates on a consistent basis. Those extra reps of accountability and ownership of what we do every day is the difference between good and great over a long period of time. Show me a team of good spotters, and you will show me a growing culture.


In the baseball world, most people think of OPS (slugging percentage plus on base percentage) as an offensive statistic. When I first came to the Pirates almost seven years ago, then Pitching Coordinator Jim Benedict changed my thinking. Benny (Now Vice President of Pitching Development for the Miami Marlins) used to preach OPS as: Organization, People, Self. He lived it. Here’s the thing, though, with Benny: he also happens to be an incredible pitching/baseball man. If he did not live his job in the order of his OPS acronym, the seeds would not take hold nearly as well. Benny gets a ton of credit for being an amazing pitching guy (which he is) but it casts a shadow on the true selflessness of the man who coined “OPS.” OPS means people over programs! Thanks for your impact, Benny.


We have laid the foundation for your culture. It starts with leadership. The thermostats of the culture create the environment, set the tone and the energy of all that takes place. For the vision to grow, it requires a team of relationship builders who understand that as we grow relationships, we in turn grow our culture. These people take the time to understand every person’s true language to move things forward. The Golden Rule is another guardrail of the culture when considering rules of engagement. Treating others as you would like to be treated is paramount. The Golden Rule is best exercised in person. Text and email are no substitute for in person and real interaction when it comes to communication and growing relationships. Lastly, the work ethic and care level of a culture will allow it to grow or not. Showing up daily with the blue-collar mentality can overcome so much. And one last reminder…PEOPLE OVER PROGRAMS!

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

Culture is a Verb Part IV

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


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.



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.


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.


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!


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.

 Coaching Individuals vs. Over-Coaching

Coaching Individuals vs. Over-Coaching

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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