Dave Turgeon Resources

 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 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.


 Coaching Individuals vs. Over-Coaching
(8/14/2018)
 
   

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.

THANK YOU TIM NORTON

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

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.

WATER THE BAMBOO

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 NGOEPE

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.


 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.


 Funny How Things Change
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Funny How Things Change


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


When thinking about “Coaching Absolutes” many coaches immediately think of the classic pillars such as fundamentals, preparation, the swing, the delivery, defensive strategies, team offense, how to build a team, work ethic, and so many more. No doubt about it these are critical to success on the field. However, as I think about my coaching journey at both the collegiate and professional level I could not have had any success without first understanding the impact of relationships and love through coaching. Can I teach those elements (fundamentals, defense, and offense) without the building of solid relationships? Put another way, can I build a home without a solid foundation? Think of the concrete poured into the foundations as the relationships with your coaches and players.  Once the foundation is secure we can then begin to think about building something that lasts.  

It’s funny how things change. In my first job (Managing Class A short season for the Indians Organization in 2000), it was about the WIN and ME and becoming SUPER COACH (I have team photos where I think I had an “S” on my chest and a cape coming out the back of my jersey). I had just finished playing for 13 years and I was fortunate that Neal Huntington (currently the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and the Indians saw something in me that said I had the raw material that convinced them I could make a fine manager. There I was, charged with the task of teaching this game I had just finished playing to young men and there was no tutorial or managing handbook. The best analogy I can offer to describe this daunting feeling is being asked to last a round with Mike Tyson in his prime for 3 minutes! This 4-part series is going to take you on my coaching journey and be my Coaching Absolutes testimonial. Hopefully, there are some things that will resonate with you and help the cause of impacting people in a positive way and making a difference starting today. 

THE DINNER

It was late summer of 2000 in my first season managing (Cleveland Indians Organization) when my pitching coach, Tony Arnold, asked me to dinner after a game. As we sat there we discussed the game, the players, strategies and we broke down everything there was to break down. At that point, Tony decided to throw me a 3-2 slider on the black. He told me that he appreciated what I was trying to do with the club BUT (oh that word told me something was on the way!) I may need to work on my approach with them. I will never forget the words: “They respect you, but if you keep the gas pedal on all the way all the time you might lose them.” I was all ears as he told me that he had a book that I needed to read. The book is called “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. This is the book he wants me to read for coaching?!” A couple of days later he actually gave me the book. If you are not familiar with this book, it is a basic blueprint of how to treat people and develop relationships. Wow! Bam! Right between the eyes!  

I think back at how much courage it must have taken Tony to speak truth to a young up and comer like me who was pretty full of himself. That courage had to come from a deep level of care for the players and for me. Because of the relationship I had with Tony, I realized it had to come from a place of love. He wanted me to grow. This look in the mirror moment Tony provided me took my focus off of ME and back to the PLAYERS. He took me from being a black belt (expert) to a white belt (forever learner) in the span of one dinner. I am still close to Tony to this day and my coaching journey truly began that night.

DIVINE INTERVENTION

It is hard not to speak of divine intervention when I think of Chris Bando, but I have to. People are put in our lives for a reason and CB was put in mine just in time! His way of managing was so foreign to me I could not help but recognize he was the first manager I had been around that didn’t have the mouth of a sailor (that includes me!), and really connected with the players on a personal level. He was calm and consistent. I noticed players would come up to him and ask him questions that were not always baseball related. I thought that was interesting the players not only respected him but they actually liked him as well!  He spoke of his faith that he poured into his players and me. With CB I could not have had a better mentor in showing me how coaching and teaching all begins with the relationship. If I heard him say it once I heard him say it a thousand times “Turg, every day I come out here I just want to teach and encourage.” CB walked the walk that matched his words. Could it be that simple? Yes it can, but I was still not ready for this and realized I had work to do. (Still do!)

Fast forward some years (8 years in College baseball) and I found myself back managing again with the Pirates Organization. All of the things I had discovered about relationships and teaching became crystal clear when I realized the Pirates had already incorporated this into their culture. The first concept that I learned as a Pirate was that we don’t just hop in and start coaching. They preached the need to “paint the picture of the man.” This was the first organization that I had been involved with that drove the importance of relationships so intentionally and purposefully. These were not words on a poster but rather a foundation of a coaching culture. My first memorable experience came at an organization meeting that opened with a Will Ferrell video from his movie “Semi Pro” and it humorously talked about love….Then we talked about love. Not an easy topic to discuss in a room full of professional baseball men, some accomplished former big leaguers, and coaches. But we did. 

We used the acronym L.E.A.D to explain our method of coaching, teaching and leading. 

The L in LEAD stands for “love.” Do you operate from a position of love with your staff and the players? Do they feel it? Do you love what you do? Do you love the challenges that leadership brings?  I look back at coaches and players that have impacted me and it is so plain to see that was their foundation. Almost every year, I get a hand written letter (there is nothing like receiving a letter!) from my high school coach Mr. Hayes catching me up on his life but most importantly he always says how wonderful it is that I have stayed in the game and how proud he is of me. Now that is love. I played for Mr. Hayes 33 years ago and those words “I am proud of you” still inspire me to do better. He still tries to get me to call him Tom but I simply have so much respect for the man he remains and always will be Mr. Hayes to me. 

The E in LEAD stands for “example.”  Do your actions speak louder than your words? My Dad is the poster child for “example.” He has always been a man of very few words. He showed up ready to do his job and support a family (7 kids) every day and did it well. He worked 40 years as a mechanic and I honestly don’t remember him taking a sick day. He expressed his love for his family every day by showing up and going to work. For my Dad, it was and always will be about example.  

The A in LEAD is “authentic.” Are you who you say you are? Do the words and the actions align? Our skipper is Clint Hurdle who is one of the most dynamic and larger than life personalities that you will find but the quality that resonates with me is his transparency. He is as authentic as they come. His authenticity breeds more trust than any leader I have ever been around. 

The D in LEAD is “dependable.” Do you have your staffs’ and players’ backs? I have been blessed to have so many that have had my back. I never realized this until I had a manager that didn’t.  Looking back on it, we called him “the frontrunner” which in a nutshell means when you were doing well he had your back, but when you weren’t doing well, not so much. I am still grateful that this manager unintentionally helped me learn the importance of dependability and trust in relationships.

THEY DON’T CARE WHAT YOU KNOW UNTIL THE KNOW THAT YOU CARE

Many of us have heard this before but do we live it? This generation of players has made me a better man and teacher. First, they are interested in a personal relationship that is authentic before they trust where it is you are going to take them. The other thing they have is knowledge that we never had back in my era. They have access to technology and have been coached up like never before. As a result, they are much savvier than we ever were. When I hear coaches complain about this generation and their neediness I have to wonder: are we missing an opportunity? Players today want a bond and closeness with their coach like never before. This is our opportunity to challenge ourselves to be open to bonding with each and every player. Your impact on them is only going to be as far as you are willing to go in the relationship. 

Rod Olson, a coach of coaches, says to us all the time “you cannot give away what you don’t possess.” We can help them be better men only if we are working on being better people. We are coaching so many young men that will never play in the big leagues so the real impact becomes: “did we help them become better people?” This should be our legacy. If you are looking at this approach from strictly a baseball perspective I would argue that this is a performance enhancer that cannot be tested for and is not just for players who are not going to play in the Big Leagues. It this hard? Yes. Does this require more work? Yes. Can it be maddening at times? Yes. But the payoff is amazing! Perhaps your natural instincts would tell you that becoming too close will make it more difficult to speak the truth with your players or staff. I would submit that the opposite is the case. If the relationship is strong it will withstand some bumps in the road and challenging conversations. Keep pouring the concrete. 

NAVY SEALS

The last story I have for you is worthy in that it was lens changing for me. Five years ago I was privileged to be in a room with some very elite coaches as well as some elite people in their fields outside of baseball. A Navy SEAL was asked to speak to us. This gentleman was not only a Navy SEAL but he was a “teacher of the teachers” of Navy SEALs. He started his presentation with a simple statement. “You better be a better man! Be better men!” I remember it so vividly it still gives me chills. It was so simple yet so profound to me. His passion and conviction lit up the room. He would say what an honor and privilege it is to be able to teach and coach so “you had better be a better man!  Be a better person!”  He would go on to tell us the number one way to impact your men is to simply modelit! He spoke of the love of his men and it was clear that he operated from a place of love. These were the last things I expected to hear from a Navy SEAL that deals in a very dark and clandestine world. In baseball terms, he was telling us that our players don’t want to hear a sermon every day- they want to see one. 

If you would have told me 16 years ago that I would write an article on coaching and the centerpiece would be about relationships and love I would have probably laughed. However, this journey has taught me that I am at my best when this foundation is firmly in place with my players and staff. It has been said that the teacher appears when the student is ready. Are your students ready?


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.