Team Management and Culture Resources

 Help Your Players Find Their Voice
(3/15/2019)
 
 
   

Help Your Players Find Their Voice 


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Baseball is very much a game of routine ; those routines, an integral part of a player’s individual development as well as a team’s culture and environment. Hitters get in the cage every day to get their swings right.  Pitchers work in the bullpen every day to perfect their delivery.  Teams take batting practice, get defensive work in, and run the bases.  Every.  Single.  Day. 

Those routines become a habitual part of the professional player’s day .

Over the course of my six years managing at various levels of our minor league system, beginning in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2013, followed by four years in A-Ball, and finishing in AA last year before transitioning to my new role as our outfield and baserunning coordinator, I saw the value of using the previous day’s game as a teacher for our players to learn from.  When reviewing the games in my own mind, I knew what I saw, and the countless coaching points that could be taken from each contest.  But after discussing those points, almost like a teacher lecturing a class, I became curious to see what THEY actually saw.  So I changed my approach a few years ago.

Prior to giving any of my own thoughts, I’d survey the group, “Alright guys… whatdya got from last night?”

The first few times I did this, as I looked across the fifteen or so position players gathered in the group, I was surrounded by blank stares. Heads down. Crickets. No one saying a word. No one wanting to be called on.

Our team environment , at that time, was not one that encouraged input from players.  So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that these players- who we had good relationships with mind you- were apprehensive to speak in front of the group.  Some were timid to open up for fear of saying something wrong, while others wouldn’t open their mouths perhaps they were too cool to do so.  

Slowly but surely, as we changed the approach, we were able to create an environment where giving our players a voice became the norm, and they became more comfortable in talking the game, and using one another as an additional way to get better.  Even in A-ball with those inexperienced kids who truly didn’t know the game. 

In 2018, I managed the Portland Sea Dogs, our Double-A, Eastern League affiliate. Coming on the heels of my previous experience largely with inexperienced players, last year represented my first opportunity to work with guys who had a career under their belt and knew what it meant to be a professional.  We had a good sense of what made them tick individually, and they had a pretty good feel for the game at that point.  Additionally, the majority of them had played for me at some point and time previously, and were familiar with my style of engagement.  That combination, while being at a point in the careers where they were comfortable in their own skin and their understanding of our organizational standards embraced this style of coaching as a conversation.

Part of managing at the Double-A level last year included spending a week with our Major League team in September as a means to get a feel for how our staff and players were doing things in Boston, and figuring out what exactly we can mirror in the Minor Leagues to best prepare our guys for when their time comes.  What blew me away far more than anything else was the interaction between players and the manner by which there was non-stop communication about the game. Coaches would start our advance meetings, and then the players would essentially take over.  Then later, in the cage, around the dugout, or out in the bullpen, there were constant conversations that were completely player driven, a clear part of the culture that helped us win the World Series in October.  Some of our most inquisitive players, not coincidentally, were also some of our biggest stars.

For players, it’s OK to ask questions.  It’s OK to give feedback.  It’s OK to talk the game.  It’s all in reality, a necessary part of development.  We need to embrace the input from our players to know what they actually know, which in turn will help us learn what they don’t.  By encouraging questions, feedback, and game-talk, we can make coaching a conversation, not a lecture.  For coaches, it’s up to us to help our players find their own voice so they can develop in their own game. 


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


 Bad Calls
(3/14/2019)
 
   

Bad Calls 


The best ways for coaches and parents to respond to bad calls  


Bad calls happen. They happen in youth sports, high school sports, professional sports, and the Olympics. Of all the places where officiating mistakes happen, youth sports are probably where they matter the least. But, it’s on the sidelines of kids’ games that we often see parents and coaches losing their cool.

Before we look at three categories of bad calls and how to deal with them, it is crucial for all parents and coaches to remember that the referees in youth sports are often volunteers. Even those who are paid are likely refereeing out of their love of the sport rather than the compensation. They are human. They make mistakes. They have feelings.

Making accurate calls is important, but if we are looking to youth sports to teach kids valuable lessons about sportsmanship, responsibility, competition, and handling adversity, then it is important to realize that missed calls play a necessary role in teaching those lessons.

Let’s look at three categories of officiating errors and how parents and coaches can best respond to them.
 
The Official Missed It

An official can’t be everywhere at once, and there is no instant replay in youth sports. Sometimes things like a handball in soccer, a travel in basketball, or an out-of-bounds in field hockey simply get missed because the referee wasn’t in a position to be able to see it. Play continues with this type of error even though the correct call would have resulted in a stoppage of play. The players involved often know the error occurred, and parents and coaches who happened to be in the right position to see the foul know it occurred. So, what should happen next?

Coaches:


Don’t overreact to individual instances of missed calls due to unseen infractions. If it’s becoming a consistent problem, either in your team’s favor or not, have a calm conversation with the official during a stoppage in play. Officials want to perform as well as they can, and pointing out a consistent problem can help the official address it.

Your players’ attitudes and actions will reflect your response to missed calls. If you express anger or frustration, they are likely to respond that way as well, on the sidelines and on the field.

When talking to your players, use this type of missed call as an opportunity to point out that things don’t always go your way, but you have to keep playing and focus on what you can control. Another way to approach it is to encourage players to perform their best so the game is not close enough that a missed call would affect the outcome.

Parents:


Try not to worry about it and absolutely don’t yell about it. Your job on the sideline is to encourage your athlete and all the athletes on the field or court. You’re there to enjoy watching your child. You’ll probably notice missed calls, but let the coaches and officials handle it.

When your child expresses frustration about missed calls, either during a break in play or after the game, you have the same opportunity as the coach to reinforce the notion that life isn’t always fair, things don’t always go your way, and you can only control your own play.
 
The Official Misjudged it


This category of officiating errors focuses on infractions the official sees, but misjudges in terms of severity. For instance, a shove, kick to the shins, or elbow to the ribs might look pretty benign from one angle, but very rough from another. Compared to missed calls, misjudged calls often have an impact on player safety.

In some cases, officials may be too lenient and allow rougher play that endangers athletes. In other cases, officials are hypersensitive to contact and call fouls that seem unnecessary.

Coaches:

If the official is being too permissive of rough play and your players are at risk, speak to the official immediately to encourage them to be more proactive about controlling aggressive play. You can also adjust your player matchups or game strategy, if possible, to reduce the frequency of contact with players who are being aggressive.

On the other hand, if the official is highly sensitive to infractions, work with your players to be even more conscious of how they’re playing. This can be a useful lesson on adapting to the situation.

Parents:

Watching someone be rough with your kid is hard to handle calmly, but losing your temper isn’t going to help either. Let the coaches and officials handle it on the field, and if you feel the need to make your voice heard, talk to your team’s coach. Avoid the urge to yell at the official, and absolutely refrain from yelling directly at the opposing player.

If your player or team is getting called for infractions based on a highly sensitive official, use the opportunity to reinforce the idea that you have to learn how to adapt to the situation and find a way to perform your best.
 
The Official Got Mixed Up

Sometimes officials make mistakes, like losing track of the number of players on the field, counting the incorrect number of strikes or balls, or giving the ball to the wrong team. It happens. This is when the old adage, “It takes a village…” comes into play.

Coaches:

If you notice the error, bring it to the official’s attention so it can be corrected. Particularly in youth sports, these situations are best handled with a sense of humor. In competitive club and school sports, there may be a more formal process for correcting officiating errors.

Parents:

If you notice the error, bring it to the coach’s attention instead of directly confronting the officials. The coach is the person designated to speak and make decisions on the team’s behalf. And in a loud environment with voices coming from all directions, the coach is the person an official will pay attention to.

 Takeaway

Youth sports, even competitive youth sports, are supposed to be a positive experience for young players. Accurate officiating is important, but the big picture lessons that can be learned through youth sports participation are achieved through wins and losses, good calls and bad.


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.


 The Names on a Jersey
(3/13/2019)
 
   

The Names on a Jersey 


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer reflects upon the significance of the names on the front and the back of baseball jerseys. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


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


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

Get to Know What You Don't Know


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


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

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

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

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

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

My glove afforded my bat the opportunity to develop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 Stronger Team Mindset
(2/14/2019)
 
   

Stronger Team Mindset


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


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

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

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

Let Go

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

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

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

Learn Optimism

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

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

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

Lean on Mental Game

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

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

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

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


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