The Batters Box Blog
Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s greatest investor, does not have a smart phone. In his own words, “I don’t need instantaneous information”.
There are of course many other reasons for players to have cellphones in today’s era. Parental communication, safety etc. come to mind. However, they don’t have any place or need on the diamond or in the dugout besides tucked away for alerting parents that practice is over. They don’t belong in back pockets during ground balls and they certainly shouldn’t interrupt a coach’s front toss or BP so a player can check the latest snapchat or Instagram post. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, we witnessed a player pull a fidget spinner out of his pocket after a double last year.
Attention to detail and the ability to focus are critical parts of the youth game. The bench is a position in baseball from which much can be learned and it is no time to fill the game with an app. Life has a lot of boring moments left out of Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat and in fact, the majority of life isn’t what gets posted. Just like the majority of baseball gets done when no one is looking or there is no umpire - the extra swings, the extra ground balls in the backyard, asking dad or mom to hit some pop ups. The ability to connect effort with improvement and ultimately success with lots of failure in-between, that is what is great about the training ground of baseball for life.
Time spent reacting to the instantaneous pleasure and disappointment of social media is a lost opportunity for more ground balls, more fly balls or more swings, frankly more anything - math problems, writing, reading, grammar studies, more conversation – more work ethic towards skills that matter.
We spend a lot of time with the boys talking about the life lessons imbedded in baseball. These include focus, work ethic, respect, dealing with failure, and sportsmanship amongst one's team and the opponent, just to name a few. As such, we thought we'd start the new year with an excerpt from an interview referencing baseball. Before you click on it, please try to guess who is speaking based on the following quotes and subjects addressed:
- "You need emotional stability"
- "Detach yourself from fear"
- "Ignore others' opinions"
- "I stand with a bat on my shoulders and wait for a fat pitch"
- "I know the pitch I like"
Other subjects covered in the interview but not in the clip:
- "Know the value of swinging and missing"
- "I make a lot of mistakes"
- "I read a lot of books."
Did you guess an athlete? The lessons learned on field and the analogies to life beyond the field continue no matter where the player leaves the game and what industry they enter. Our job as coaches and parents is to impart a love of the game, teach the value of learning, and breed the life lessons
so that they stick in the face of adversity, challenge, and success alike for years to come.
In 2018, let’s take a page from Warren, who loves his baseball, and have the players resist the need for “instantaneous information” in favor of a few more reps, coach!
Why Umpires are Leaving the Game - Part I
The chain-linked fence separating a guy, for all practical purposes, volunteering his time for small compensation has somehow empowered parents to say whatever they want and, as the article above points out, fewer and fewer at alarming rates want to do the job anymore. We simply don’t believe that a chain-linked fence separating a sporting parent’s boss and the parent would allow said parent to speak his or her emotional mind on leadership, compensation or quality of work. Yet, this is what is happening weekend after weekend in youth sports and we have to ask ourselves what it is teaching our children.
The Umpire is the underpaid CEO of the diamond. Failure is a key aspect of baseball and youth umpires are primarily there for love of the game. They make mistakes. Teaching respect for the game, coaches and players alike, starts with parents but extends to all. No contracts are at stake for the youth players. No college application is going to include how many youth wins or home runs a player hits. And I’ve yet to find research that shows a correlation to becoming a collegiate or pro athlete based on how dominate a player’s youth team was.
Thank them. Don’t berate them.
Why Umpires are leaving the Game - Part II
If we were to do a scripted video short on how not to behave at a baseball game, it would probably end up like one of those TSA videos in Las Vegas – cheesy and exaggerated. It certainly wouldn’t be as good as catching the real thing on video. You simply can’t make this stuff up.
We’ve reported to you before on the dwindling numbers of umpires and referees around the country and occasionally we catch a gem or two on a go pro at one of our games. We’ve also asked the questions, “What are we teaching our children?” and “Would you talk to your boss this way?”. Further, we try to remind everyone that NO ONE is going to be interviewed for a job, apply for college, or talk with prospective collegiate coach about youth baseball results. It is just practice for when it finally does matter.
Captured in the video is a shining example of what is absolutely wrong in youth sports. And sadly, it is every day stuff now across all sports. The absolute desire to berate an authority figure, coach, teacher, umpire or referee, when it does not go “your team’s way”, “your son’s way” and even “your way”. (see the video on our video page – “Why Umpires are Leaving the Game”).
There are at least 15 unique parents speaking. When these young men go for their first post-college job interview and fail, will the parents call the prospective employer and tell the interviewer that he or she didn’t ask the right questions? Probably.
HISTORY vs. The Past
History versus the Past is an often misunderstood concept that I found myself explaining to the boys after our second walk-off win of a recent tournament. We were hitting well but for a couple of our solid bats who seemed to be obsessed with how long it had been since they had a solid line drive. That is the Past but at 13u, it isn’t HISTORY. The Past is often exaggerated or exploited because it is memory-based on an individual basis.
I could see the frustration and over-thinking from the coach’s box at each at bat. This is a common problem at all levels of baseball – the focus on the results of the past, not the present, which is simply the next pitch or the next play. When the Past is positive, we tell the boys to call their grandparents and tell them all about it. Every player should be able to brag to his grandparents. Grandparents love that stuff. Your teammate who struggled, not so much. Your coach, he saw it. No need to remind him. Your friend or foe on the opposing team, never. And it depends on the household, but, in mine, it is a never to parents either.
As an organization, we talk so much about the problems in youth sports with the entitlement, disrespect of umpires, the impact of game play versus practice, but we don’t talk enough about de-emphasizing results and over-emphasizing effort. Congratulating your son on executing in games the things that he practices often is reinforcing work ethic and the connection between repetition and execution. When he is called upon to get the bunt down for the win and does, it is because he’s put in the time in practice and took it seriously. Similarly, if he goes 0 for 4 with line outs to all three fields, it is because he’s practiced. The hard hits just didn’t fall in. Rewards and congratulations for only home runs, the cycle, or walk-offs reinforce pressure for statistics and results and leads to emotional swings and a focus on the Past good and bad. In the youth game, it is all just practice until a third party is keeping scores and writing about a player. Focusing on effort, not results, helps keep players in the present. Which brings us to HISTORY.
HISTORY is when that 3rd Party is present and is writing about a player or is summarizing the work of others who were present. HISTORY is particularly credible when it is a disinterested third party doing his or her job of recording history, such as reporter, writer, or scholar. For most of the boys, baseball HISTORY will begin when they join their varsity high school team and the local paper covers them. For others, a National event, high profile tournament or showcase, like Cooperstown, USA Baseball or Perfect Game, might provide a HISTORY moment at the youth level, but more than likely even that won’t be a factor in a college application or a job interview as an adult.
Encourage the boys to get out of the Past mentally and focus on the present only, so that they are putting in the practice to one day make some baseball HISTORY, which for most is actually the Future.
HIGH SCHOOL COACH VS. COLLEGE COACH
It is so prevalent that it is become cliché. Your high school coach wants 100% commitment to baseball at the expense of your other sport or sports. In the worst cases, he threatens you with playing time or leaving you on the JV because you played basketball and you made it to the playoffs. The facts are the college coaches WANT two or more sport athletes. They want the guys in great shape that can transition from sport to sport. You will simply get more attention in this day and age being multi-sport. Your athleticism grows and if your grades are maintained you’ll stick out even more. Play them all if you can handle it academically.
Daddy Ball is the pet peeve of many, many youth parents. However, if you talk with many pro guys, they have a lot of stories about their own fathers or other fathers developing their love of baseball and their careers. Many players will articulate that Little Johnny playing short and batting third is a small price to pay for the passion and time commitment of that father. We say evaluate the character of the coach, his ability to communicate with the players and teach the game. Unfortunately, we see plenty of affluent dads start teams and pay a third party coach only to find Entitled Little Johnny still batting third and playing short because his dad pays the coach. At the youth level, if you like the third-party coaching and benefit from some defrayed costs, stick with it. If this describes your High School program, find a club team, take another AP class and run. High school baseball isn’t worth the brain damage when your coach is peddling influence for payment and the program isn’t merit and performance based.
YOUR PRE-ADOLESCENT PLAYER IS GOING PRO
He isn’t. Nor is he getting a D-1 scholarship or partial scholarship. It is simply too early to tell and there are too many post-adolescent factors that influence drive and passion not to mention statistics aren’t on your side. Encourage Little Johnny to love the game and work hard. Reward him for doing his homework and being an outstanding student. Teach him to pick himself up when he fails and show emotional control. Let him look forward to his next game not fear it because of parental pressure. Share your love of the game and let your player know you love watching him or her play but you don’t care about results. There are far too many great twelve year olds out there being poisoned unknowingly by parents following them position to position barking out instructions that should be left to the coach. They often revolt and make lots of room for the less developed player with a work-ethic and patient, supportive parents. Let the player’s drive determine how far he or she goes but don’t forget to contribute with some backyard catch, front-toss, and fungos.
COACHES: EMBRACE LEARNING NEW WAYS
As a baseball facility owner, three statements used to make me cringe, “Well when I played……”, “I played pro ball with XXX or played college ball at XXX” and “I ran the Little League in XXX”. In order and in most case, when you played there were 3 channels and a video game called “Pong”. We’d all stand in line 13 deep to take ground balls because we didn’t have anything more stimulating to do. Now if you pull that move, you are lucky that the 9 kids in the back don’t whip out cellphones and play an interactive video game against each other while they wait. Baseball practice needs to be fast, fun, and fit. The players need to be challenged, learning and failing and finding success in each practice. Going out with one ball and changing situations because the coach is bored shows a complete misunderstanding of how pre-adolescents learn. Reduce your variety and increase your reps for success.
For those that love to lead with the brag, I give you the words of an outstanding junior college coach, “Don’t tell me you throw 85 mph and show up throwing 81.” Please understand that the internet has databases on everything baseball college and pro going back a long, long time. If you are going to lead with the brag, take the time to google yourself in case you’ve forgotten what it isn’t true.
And finally on administration, thank you for committing to the game and the development of our youth through baseball but being an administrator doesn’t make you a coach. Our understanding of the mechanics of the game have changed very, very fast in the last decade with the advent of high speed cameras, other technologies, and the economics to support real academic research. Being willing to ask questions, learn new techniques, and physically try to execute the techniques will make you a better coach. I’ve learned as much from guys who never played pro ball or played limited pro-ball as I have from Hall-of-Famers or seasoned pro Veterans. Your ability to suspend your biases and invest time in asking questions and what has changed will make you a better coach.
A few of the coaches have asked for some guidelines beyond what is available on the Little League website and the MLB Pitch Smart site. I would recommend every parent with an aspiring pitcher read Jeff Passan’s “The Arm”. There are no solutions in the book but it is a detailed summary of the history of UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) surgery or “Tommy John” as it is commonly known. It is probably somewhere between hypothesis and thesis that we’ve learned to train the arm to produce velocities which are perhaps beyond the arm’s physical limits. The shoulder injuries in the history of baseball seem to be far out-shadowed by the magnitude of UCL injuries from pros to now the youth game. Research has shown that shoulder injuries are strength related but elbow injuries relate to mechanical issues (timing, kinematic sequencing and the resulting mechanical process).
Again, at best weak hypothesis, but we do know what is different. Strength training is different. More emphasis on long toss, velocity balls, and band work than decades ago. Year round baseball is different. Fall baseball wasn’t an option when most of us were growing up. Children are different. We coddle them more. We overschedule them. They play video games instead of climbing trees. They don’t watch enough baseball to imitate 50 different player’s swings or the arm slot differences between a pro third baseman, outfielder, and middle infielder. Access to coaching is different. Dedicated and obsessed parents provide children individual instruction with pitching coaches historically reserved for post-adolescents. Some are experts, some are charlatans, and some are in-between. It is art, and still not much science. Therefore, proper mechanics (at least as we except it today) are learned and honed earlier and earlier without thought to the impact on the development of the whole arm. I.e., too strong, too early in very limited but mechanically sound areas.
Even pro pitching coaches will admit it is art and not enough science. The money for the research is there as is the incentive but the sharing of information remains limited. Passan does a good job of pointing this out down to the differences between clubs. For instance, the Cardinals have an obsession with the dorsi-flection of the back ankle and its predictive value. Information is power. Baseball is a business, so short of Pitch Smart it is unlikely we are going to get a lot of collective data across all MLB teams any time soon.
That said, our youth is our chief concern. Again weak hypothesis, but we’ve seen in our various clubs more late 12u and early 13u injuries than we’ve seen above or below that. Is that because those are the beginning of the pre- to post-adolescent transition years and when we begin to see meaningful growth spurts? Should pitch counts decrease in this window and go back up? Who knows. It would be nice to have a central database where youth coaches could go to simply report injuries and some player history in order to start to see trends. It is on the list of “wouldn’t it be nice” but so are a lot of things baseball development related.
Bottom line is, we listen to our gurus and we have a great deal of faith in their passion for protecting pitchers.
The list below was developed with thoughtful input but these are hypotheses. They aren’t close to theses and far from scientific fact. We spare the repetition of Pitch Smart and simply say that multi-sport is the way to go, rest is critical, and both have long-term benefits. Players are simply not getting enough agility movements in their development so mixing it up athletically is imperative. In the long-run, the boys will find it is increasingly impressive to college coaches as well.
So here goes:
· Long Toss. The jury is still out. Many believers, many nay-sayers. Distances vary widely by players. Cole Hamels’ is 120 feet. Clayton Kershaw in nearly pole-to-pole as high level examples.
· Finesse vs. Velocity. Emphasis on perceived velocity, absolute velocity, and pitch location is the way to go. Think Barry Zito and Gregg Maddox versus Aroldis Chapman. Pinpoint accuracy and pitch selection can go a long, long way. There is probably a place for weighted balls and long toss in there with some science but many gurus don’t bother with either. Many are focused on teaching pitchers of all ages to hit their spots and have two solid change of speed pitches that are thrown correctly and safely.
· Pitch Counts. This one is sure to be met with some boos. We suggest 35-40 pitches per outing. This is well below the standards on Pitch Smart and Little League. Impractical? Maybe. Unless all 12 on your team pitch, but I would like to remind everyone it is youth baseball - No contracts on the line and no championships that really matter. None of us at the front lines level of youth coaching are going from our roles as coaches to the Major Leagues or college coaching. Explain to the boys why we do what we do – for safety and the chance for every player to experience success and failure on the hill.
· Mechanics. We are believers in torque and first move towards the plate in pitching. You are seeing more and more of it at the collegiate and pro level. We don’t teach the windup but go always from the stretch for head stability and we control the glove for accuracy. All that said, we get new boys in the program all the time and we have some boys who have outside pitching coaches. We don’t mess with a good thing unless we see a safety issue. We will change a youth player from a slider to a proper, safe curve ball but we don’t force good pitchers who can already spot and change speeds, even if their lift to foot strike is slower than we’d like.
· Year round flat ground throwing. In Southern California, Florida, Texas and Arizona where it is easy and possible, one has a lot of boys to research and track. Again hypothesis, but pro position players don’t seem to have a lot of UCL incidents (they ARE out there - Paul Molitor had one late in his career). Position players throw on flat ground much as humanity has for tens of thousands of years. Hurling down a hill at maximum effort for 80, 90, 100 pitches per outing appears to have some negative impact without proper recovery periods outside the seasons. In the youth game both are controversial. The science of youth learning and the absence of myelin in the brain dictate repetition and limited breaks from the uniqueness of baseball’s muscle and neurological memory. However, most every expert will agree that throwing on mounds year round is a no-no. Take breaks. Rest. Way more flat ground than bullpens. Accuracy drills are primarily done without a mound. There are a lot of options. We recommend at least two to three six-week breaks from throwing. We are aware of plenty of boys of all ages that throw flat ground year round without injury. Again, art, not science so far.