Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 Training and Transfer (Part II)

Training and Transfer (Part II) 

Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon

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

Train to the Truth 

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

The Gap 

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

Training Beyond the Truth 

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

Expecting to Teach and Teaching Creates More Transfer 

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

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



Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer explains why it is important to set goals at the long-term, intermediate and immediate levels in order to accomplish what you want to achieve. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

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

 Sports Performance Anxiety in Youth Sports

Sport Performance Anxiety

In youth sports

Youth sport advice tends to focus on improving athlete nutrition and training. But even in a “fun” league, sometimes the most harmful stressors aren’t in athlete’s bodies, but in their heads.

For many kids, sports provide their first taste of anxiety: the stress of taking a game-tying free throw, the tension of running the anchor leg of a relay, or just butterflies in the stomach before a big game.

Anyone who has played sports has probably experienced sport performance anxiety, sometimes called ‘choking,’ at one point or another. But with their brains and self-awareness still developing, sports can be particularly stressful on the minds of youth athletes. This also means it can be especially challenging for parents and coaches to try and soothe these nerves.

The most serious sport anxiety can also make kids lose interest in playing sports altogether. Thankfully, the growing field of sport psychology has given parents, coaches, and athletes ways to understand and calm the pre-game jitters.
What Causes Sport Performance Anxiety

Mental stress on gameday is typically rooted in at least one of several factors. Many of these have more to do with everything surrounding the game, before and after, than the actual game itself.

Having an audience (particularly one that is loving and supportive): Athletes can become overly self-aware of every decision and play they make when they’re on the athletic stage.

Fear of disappointing others: Even when a parent or coach is supportive, athletes may be anxious about disappointing them.

High expectations: Every athlete wants to do their best, but internal self-talk might create stress when they set expectations that anything less than a perfect play is failure.

Post-game analysis: Whether it is from a coach, parent, teammate, or themselves, the post-game analysis weighs on an athlete’s mindset.

Recovering from an injury: After an athlete gets hurt, it can take a long time to restore their confidence.

How Youth Athletes Can Cope

Sport anxiety’s kryptonite is preparation. Athletes should arrive early and go through the same warm-up routines they do in practice. During warm-ups, they should try and visualize themselves playing well while taking some deep, slow breaths. This will put their heads in a focused and relaxed place.

During the game, focusing on the next play, rather than the result, will help keep athletes in the moment. Another simple trick to stay relaxed, even in high-pressure moments, is to smile. If you go through the physical motions of having fun, the mind will follow!

What Coaches and Parents Can Do

Parents and coaches can help reduce sport performance anxiety with the language they use before, during, and after games. Be wary of only praising athletes when things go right – a good rule of thumb to avoid adding stress is to praise effort instead of the result. As a coach, it can help to avoid instruction that adds extra pressure to a game situation (e.g., “we have to score in this next inning!”).

Studies have shown that we stay out of our heads more when performing actions we might describe as “muscle memory.” At practice, having athletes do many repetitions of the movements they will be expected to do on gameday (e.g., fielding ground balls) is a good way to ensure they become second nature.

Coaches can also simulate game-type pressure in practice by playing music or recorded crowd noise, having parents stay to watch, or adding in other elements that will get athletes used to performing under stress. It’s important to make sure athletes are familiar with and confident in the strategies that are going to be used on gameday.

As a parent, be sure to keep specific post-game comments positive and remember that the time to make corrections is at the next practice, not immediately after a game in the car ride home.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 High-Performance Coaching

High-Performance Coaching

Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle

In this article, we will examine high-performance coaching. From here, we will look at specific coaching behaviors and how they affect performance. Today, we see the word “coaching” being used in many different fields. Whether you are a coach in sport, business or even in a leadership role, the word “coach” describes a way of interacting with people. Coaching is a specific type of behavior. Many leaders use coaching-type behaviors. We see these behaviors in leadership models such as transformational leadership theory (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017). The purpose of this article is to look deeper into specific high-performance coaching behaviors and how these coaching behaviors affect performance.

First, let’s look at the definition of COACHING and then HIGH-PERFORMANCE COACHING:

COACHING -> Leaders attempts to improve performance by facilitating the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and competencies.

I have highlighted the words that I think are most important for us to examine for the purpose of this article. Please read through the entire definition and then take a second to reflect on the words highlighted. If we take the first definition of coaching, the keywords highlighted are knowledge, skills, and competencies. If you remember from the ABC’s of Self-Determination Theory, this theory says that the key elements needed in a person’s life to nurture intrinsic motivation are autonomy, belonging and competence. These elements lay the foundation for intrinsic motivation leading to a self-determined individual. The C within the ABC’s of Self-Determination Theory is competence when developing knowledge and skill.

• HIGH-PERFORMANCE COACHING -> A systematic application of collaborative, individualized, solution-focused psychological practices by leaders to enhance individual, group, or organizational performance. It is intended to support individuals in better regulating and directing their intrapersonal and interpersonal resources to attain goals and help individuals to maximize strengths through self-directed learning. (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017)

The words of importance highlighted here are: systematic application, enhance performance, support individuals, attain goals, help individuals, maximize strengths, self-directed learning. Out of these words, support, goals, help and self-directed learning are keywords/skills for our attention. These words speak to the A and B of the ABC’s within Self-Determination Theory which is the need for (A) - autonomy (goals, self-directed learning) and a sense of (B) - belonging (support individuals, help individuals).

In the field of psychology, we are interested in creating theories and frameworks from knowledge acquired that help us better understand and predict behavior. Keeping the Self-Determination Theory’s framework in mind, let’s next look into specific coaching behaviors.

Regardless of the employment area, the literature on all high-performance coaches has similar behaviors. Those behaviors are: observing and performance analysis, ask effective questions, facilitate goal setting, provide developmental feedback and motivational feedback (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017). These specific behaviors have been proven in research to offer psychometrically sound, brief, and easy ways to measure high-performance coaching behavior. This framework was developed through the workplace, leadership, and sport coaching literature (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017). What are these specific behaviors?

1. Observing and Performance Analysis
1. Plays close attention to what the athlete does
2. Carefully observes athlete’s skills
3. Carefully watches athlete doing the skills and drills
4. Analyzes athlete’s performance

Observation as a coaching behavior key. Try stepping back and taking a researcher’s eye to practice. Training as a researcher, one of my assignments in graduate school was to go into an environment that we were familiar with and sit back and observe. This allowed us to see the familiar environment through a different lens and from a different perspective. I challenge you to do the same. Step back, slow down and intentionally watch interactions and skills being practiced. What do you observe? Be specific on what you observe. Write down what you observe and think. Later allow yourself time to process what you have observed as it relates to performance analysis.

2. Effective Questioning
1. Encourages athlete to think about how they can improve performance
2. Encourages athlete to question the way they do things
3. Encourages athlete to make suggestions on how they think they can improve performance
4. Asks the athlete’s opinion on how they can improve performance

My graduate school professor would often remind us that, “It is twice as hard to LISTEN as it is to talk. This is why we have two ears and only one mouth.” Take the time to ask the right questions and then being PATIENT enough for the reply. PATIENCE can be very challenging yet extremely important and effective in helping our athletes perform. Coaches need to create space for their athletes to answer questions. Great teams I have been part of, have done this at team events, dinners and on bus rides when practice times did not allow for the time and attention needed. Effective questioning allows the athlete to understand and digest what they are learning. Effective questioning allows the development of a key piece of autonomy (ownership). Two challenges: 1. Think about a specific athlete and create a list of questions that get at helping them perform better. 2. Create a question list that addresses the four items listed above.

3. Goal Setting
1. Monitors athlete’s progress toward goals
2. Helps athlete set short-term goals
3. Helps athlete identify targets for attaining goals
4. Helps athlete set long-term goals
5. Provides support to an athlete to help attain goals

Coaches, hopefully, are usually pretty good at goal setting. They have meetings with their athletes at the beginning of the season, meetings (individual/team) throughout the season and reflection/summary/team input at the end of the season as well as setting goals for the off-season. I would encourage you to continue to improve on the five areas listed above. Continue to talk to your athletes about the process of success. Continue to build the vision for them on where we are going and how each individual in practice and training is responsible for helping us get closer to the end goal.

4. Developmental Feedback
1. Makes sure athlete understands what they need to do to improve
2. Gives athlete advice on how to improve their skills
3. Offers advice on what the athlete needs to do to improve
4. Shows the athlete how to improve their skills

Feedback is critical information that helps individuals understand how they are performing and what changes, if any, need to be made. Coaches have a lot of different ways in which they give feedback. Coaches employ different tools to give that feedback. Key factors for feedback are the development of skills and strategies that align with your athlete’s and team’s goals. Developmental feedback provides athletes with direction, builds self-awareness, allows for self- reflection, and performance improvement. In the organizational psychology literature, it has been found that developmental feedback is aligned with intrinsic motivation which enhances learning and improvement. What this is saying is that developmental feedback helps build intrinsic motivation in your athletes which helps them be more engaged in the learning and focused on improvement.

5. Motivational Feedback

1. Tells athlete when they do a particularly good job
2. Sees that the athlete is rewarded for good performance
3. Expresses appreciation when an athlete performs well
4. Gives athlete credit where credit is due
(The five topics listed above were adapted from Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017).

There is a lot of research that highlights the importance of positive feedback and/or behavior that is reinforced or rewarded by the coach. Motivational feedback recognizes when the athlete performs well or does something well in training or competition. Providing genuine positive feedback about an athlete’s development and progress help coaches recognize improvement, build autonomy, and competence within their athletes. Coaching research shows that these autonomy-supported environments have been related to self-determination, persistence, and motivation. Autonomy-supportive coaching behaviors are important in helping our athletes perform and succeed (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017).

In closing, the purpose of this article was to look deeper into specific high-performance coaching behaviors and how those coaching behaviors affect performance. These behaviors are: Observing and Performance Analysis, Ask Effective Questions, Facilitate Goal Setting, Provide Developmental Feedback and Motivational Feedback (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017).


Wagstaff, C., Arthur, C., Hardy, L. (2017). The development and initial validation of a measure of
coaching behaviors in a sample of army recruits. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 30: 341-357, 2018.

Deci, E.L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49 (3), 182-185. Doi:10.1037/a0012801

Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.

 Managing Workload

Managing Workload

Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard

Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, talks about ways to manage workload early in the season. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Marc Richard, MD, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.