Be a Good Role Model

I was with a couple of ex-players from one of my successful high school baseball teams and they were reminiscing about their glory days. What threw me during their conversation was their biggest memory of high school baseball. It wasn't a particular game or an accomplishment during a game, rather it was me having a meltdown in an indoor practice that they remembered.

It reinforced my belief that when you are a coach and players respect and look up to you, you must always act in an exemplary fashion because like or not you are in a position of a role model.

You must leave a positive impression no matter the ages of your players, because they see and hear everything that you do and say. Being physically and/or verbally abusive will make your team believe that is correct coaching behavior and it will repeat itself if they choose to coach, which would be damaging and irresponsible to the next generation of athletes.


How Do You Learn to Coach More Effectively? Watch Bad MLB Teams.

I was told as a young player by my coaches to watch all the good teams like the Yankees, the Cardinals and the Orioles because that's how you learned to play baseball the right way.

But as an adult and as a career coach, what I have found is even more effective is watching bad MLB teams and what they did wrong. I can then make sure at practice the next day that my high school team doesn't repeat the poor execution and mental mistakes that always seem to happen to poorly coached teams or coaches that rely on skill and athleticism and ignore baseball strategy and fundamentals.

I watched a three-game series between two non-contending teams recently and started to take notes about missed cutoff throws, poor baserunning and leads, slow coverage by infielders of bases on steals, lack of discipline at bat in RBI situations and the inability to get a batter out by pitchers ahead in the pitch count. At practice I made sure I went over everything I saw that was executed incorrectly or ignored and did it correctly in detail.

As a coach a lot of good can come from watching bad.


Interpreting Pitch Counts to Accurately Measure Fatigue

In recent years, many youth baseball organizations have placed a limit on the amount of pitches a player can throw per week as a means of preventing overuse and decreasing throwing related injuries. A positive by-product of these pitch count rules is that coaches are now forced to develop more pitchers on their staff and not rely on the same two or three athletes to win games. While there is little doubt that pitch count rules protect the health and safety of youth athletes involved, it is also important for coaches and parents to understand that pitch counts are an indicator of fatigue and overuse, but not an absolute.

Due to existence of different body types and exertion thresholds, every athlete is different when it comes to fatigue and arm injuries. There is really no rule of thumb when it comes to pitch counts and proper rest. While we do look at pitch counts as high school coaches and advocate their use in youth leagues, we are also proponents of a common sense approach when it comes to interpreting what these pitch counts actually mean.

For starters, we all are aware that proper mechanics are a key determinate to arm injuries. The problem with young pitchers is their inability to consistently repeat the same delivery time after time. Parents and coaches need to monitor and correct mechanics constantly. It is a never ending process.

Young pitchers who show the ability to consistently repeat proper pitching mechanics can throw more pitches than those athletes who are still developing a feel for the mound. In other words, a pitcher with poor mechanics who throws 30 pitches can be more damaging to the arm than a pitcher with solid mechanics who throws 75 pitches.

As indicated, pitch counts can be an indicator of fatigue and overuse, but it is not an absolute determinate. We really hone in on the number of stressful pitches and measure those. For example, a pitcher who threw 45 pitches in one game, all in one inning, can do more damage to himself than another pitcher who threw 75 pitches over 5 innings. Along the same lines, 50 pitches with runners on base in a tight game may be more stressful on the arm than 75 pitches with nobody on base with a 7-10 run lead to work with.

The catch-22 in this whole ordeal is that the best way to strengthen the arm is to throw more often. Other than the obvious wincing in pain and dangling or holding of the arm, other signs of fatigue an overuse include a considerable drop in velocity, poor command (leaving the ball up or bouncing the ball to the plate), and suddenly inconsistent mechanics.

While pitch counts do have their purpose, we encourage parents and coaches to read between the lines, identify possible warning signs, and constantly communicate with their athletes to better gauge fatigue and overuse. If they are not tired, let them throw. Don’t baby them!

Poor Hip Rotation in Game Situations

Often time young hitters struggle with turning and releasing their hips during game situations or live batting practice. This can be quite frustrating for coaches, especially for those who see their young athletes demonstrate a solid understanding of hip rotation during tee work, soft toss, short toss, or simple dry swings. There are usually two causes for lack of hip rotation in game situations.

Initiating the swing too late
When hitters start their swing too late, all they can do is defensively throw the bat at the ball. Late swingers do not have the time to take an aggressive pass at the baseball. As a result, they immediately go into survival mode.

You may have seen this even at the major league level, when a hitter with two strikes is thinking curve, but gets thrown a fastball. All that hitter can do is throw the bat late at the ball—all arms and no rotation.

Eliminating the stride and simply having hitters pick the front foot up and drop it down in the same spot (no lateral movement) will help hitters start the swing earlier. The key is mirroring the pitcher. When the pitcher’s front foot lands, the hitter’s front foot should land as well.

Fear of striking out and/or just being content with making contact
Hitters who have a fear of striking out become passive at the plate. They are content with just making contact, and not using their lower bodies in the process.

Especially at a young age, coaches should reinforce the idea that they would rather see an aggressive swing and a miss rather than a passive swing and poor contact. After a live round of a batting practice, hitters should be dripping with sweat. This aggressive mindset will help young hitters translate what they already know about hip rotation into game situations.

Many youth coaches use the phrase "squish the bug" as a means of giving kids a visual of what hip rotation looks and feels like. “Squish the bug”—the turning of the back foot as a means of initiating hip rotation—is not something I am hugely in favor of. If you want to turn your hip, turn your hip, and then the foot will follow. Big muscles pull small muscles, not the other way around. In other words, it’s not that turning the back foot is wrong, but ideally this should be an effect of hip rotation, not the cause. It’s important to understand that a player can still turn their back foot yet not achieve full hip rotation.

What I’ve Learned from Coaches of Other Sports

As well as learning from coaches within your coaching sport, we can learn from coaches in other sports, both positive and negative. For me, I've learned from professional football coaches. The great ones are well-organized and have their teams prepared for any game situation. They stress execution and precision and run purposeful practices. They also oversee all branches of offense, defense, and special teams, which is daunting.

Because of this amount of responsibility, great football coaches are more essential for success than in any pro sport. Plus, they have to deal with players that can be egocentric, un-coachable, or uneducated. The coaches that handle all these factors and get their players to work as a team toward one goal are successful.

Coaches that have exhibited these qualities historically and in the present are Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Bill Walsh, and Bill Belicheck. Lombardi and Walsh were system coaches. They took over bad teams and immediately changed player mentality by proving through repetition and results that their philosophy worked. Shula and Belicheck adjusted their coaching methods to their personnel, winning several championships along the way.

I have also learned from these coaches and others how not to act, specifically interacting with people not involved directly with the sport. Football coaches are boorish, humorless, paranoid, smug, distrusting, and devoid of integrity. They blame outsiders for losses and come across as spoiled brats.

For example, Belicheck was fined a half million dollars for spying on other teams. Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears has no patience for the media, gives the media little credit for having any knowledge of the game, makes excuses for his players, and gives nothing answers or insight when asked questions. This last point makes Smith look more inadequate when he is outcoached because we don't know what HE knows.

I would rather see coaches follow professional basketball coaches such as Glenn Rivers, who is very direct and forthcoming and understands players should be professionals and held accountable for their actions and play.

Conduct and Accountability Starts with the Coach

Recently Sean Woods, the men's basketball coach at Morehead State University, was suspended one game for verbally and physically abusing his point guard for fouling out when the game's outcome against Kentucky was still in doubt. As a coach where do the lines start to blur between accountability and confrontation? Why do coaches feel they have to be abusive to get their coaching points across? Whether the coach was upset that he fouled out, or that he was out of position, playing the wrong defense or not in a correct defensive stance is irrelevant.

Coaches should be the role models. They must exhibit self-control and be the leader in the most positive sense. Not only did Woods push the player toward the bench while screaming at him, he continued his tirade when the player sat down.

How can a coach like Woods ask his players to be accountable when he acts so irresponsibly? After watching this nationally televised game, how many impressionable young coaches will imitate that behavior?

And regarding accountability, it took Woods two days to apologize. It should have been done immediately after the game. Instead he talked about himself and his coaching style. Just a one game suspension from his university? More examples of poor sportsmanship and leadership.

Diversified Coaches Help Players Self-Correct Technique

One of the most rewarding results as a baseball coach is when players are able to self-correct during games, whether on the mound or in the course of an at-bat. This can only happen with hands-on teaching and constant reminders on what can make the player have success. When players do execute, it tells the coach that the players have listened and have tried to incorporate the techniques that the coach believes will maximize their talent.

Not every coach follows that modus operandi. There are a multitude of system or philosophy-driven coaches. If players don't fit in to a system they will usually underperform or be eliminated from the program. Only teaching one philosophy is a disservice to players, who might not fit in depending on skill and size. With coaches who know how to teach only one system, it is their way or no way.

Coaches who have taught and understand multiple methods to improve player skills are more preferred and appreciated within the coaching profession. It expands their teams' talent base and, as a byproduct, improves their team's chances of winning.

Generally coaches with the most expertise are the most successful. They have other options when some strategies don't work. On the other hand, system coaches get beat when opposing coaches figure out how to attack their system, leaving system coaches without any alternatives.

Coaches who work with each player on their team form relationships and can get players to self-correct if the coach has excelled as a communicator. For example, a pitcher has thrown two balls up and in to a hitter. The coach signals to the pitcher what he is doing incorrectly or yells to him a key from what they have been doing in bullpen sessions to get him back on track, and immediately the pitcher makes a correction. Or after a hitter fouls balls off to the opposite field. If that was perceived to be a problem and the hitter has reverted back to his previous form, one keyword or signal can activate the correct technique within the hitter. The hitter steps out, gets his head together, and executes his right swing.

Watching players adjust during games is one of the most gratifying aspects of coaching. It feels like you are getting your message across and doing your job, making players play at the best of their abilities.

Good Coaches Don't Win by Running Up the Score

On Tuesday December 12th in Indianapolis, the Bloomington South High School girls' basketball team beat Arlington High School by a score of 107-2. Bloomington South coach Larry Winters insisted that there was no effort to embarrass Arlington or run up the score. Really Coach? Do you know how hard it is to score 100 points in a 32 minute high school basketball game? While I didn’t see the tape of the game, those that truly understand basketball can appreciate the need to play an extremely up-tempo offense fueled by an attacking, opportunistic, and highly aggressive defense to score that many points in a game while limiting your opponent to a measly 2 points. Great sportsmanship coach – your school community and principal must be proud of your decision to beat an inferior opponent into submission.

There is no other way to explain such a lopsided outcome other than Coach Winters using this game as an opportunity to boost his own ego and the egos of his players, which is certainly not needed nor warranted.

Naturally, good coaches should recognize a potential blowout game long before the game becomes a blowout and play kids who normally don’t play or call up younger kids of lesser ability to get a more challenging experience. If that puts the team in a competitive disadvantage, so much the better for the starters to come into the game behind, having to work hard to catch up. If the blowout is a blowout even with the subs starting, at least the subs know they played when the game was still at stake.

There are many ways to not run up the score against a team that is not as talented: running the offense multiple times, not fast-breaking when up more than 20 points, not pressing at the half-court line, staying in a soft zone, working on multiple defenses and offenses, or giving younger or less talented players the opportunity to play.

Coach Winters insisted that he got all of his nine players in the game that night. Are we to believe that Coach Winters was unaware of the inferior skill level of his opponent before the game started? Come on Coach – as a high school coach myself, I know the talent level of every team on our schedule. What a perfect opportunity to call up some players from the JV team and give them Varsity experience that night. But I guess that would have been the actions of a responsible, classy, and honorable coach.

Coach Winters is an embarrassment not only to himself and the school community who is short-sighted enough to employ him, but to the coaching profession itself. Here’s a newsflash for you Coach Winters: Winning games with kids who are physically more mature is more a success of enrollment than coaching. Winning games by developing the talents of weaker players is a better test of a coach’s true abilities.

Using a Tee to Correct Stepping in the Bucket when Hitting

A youth baseball hitting drill combining short toss and tee work can correct stepping in the bucket and/or opening the front hip too early. Throwing short toss inside and forcing the hitter to then hit the ball off the tee on the outside corner forces the hitter to utilize the same lower body mechanics regardless of pitch location. 

How We Evolve As Youth Baseball Coaches

With the advent of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, businesses get instant feedback. At DNA Sports we have had an extraordinary amount of positive responses plus suggestions of what consumers need or are searching for. It has helped us expand into areas in which we didn't originally specialize when we created our consulting service. We are really appreciative for the public's belief in our conscientiousness. While we certainly do not profess to know everything about baseball, we do have over 30 years of coaching, teaching, and recruiting experience and our material is based on field and never-ending research. When we have questions we ask peers or mentors. We always are testing our findings for functionality and correctness.

We also do not subscribe to one particular system or program. There are several philosophies that have been successful and are proven to be very sound. But we know we are diversified and educated enough to teach the style that best fits the athlete, with the proper communication skills so the athlete understands what we are saying. Plus, we always strive to keep coaches on the path to excellence by stressing what we have found is essential in leading athletes.

Our refusal to subscribe to one particular theory of hitting or pitching is worth mentioning further. In particular, we have come into contact with several private hitting and pitching trainers who teach a one size fits all approach to every athlete they work with.

They read a book, attend a few seminars, and/or watch several training videos from so called gurus in the field and regurgitate these theories like it’s gospel. While certain fundamentals apply across all ages and ability levels, the bottom line is you cannot teach every hitter to swing a bat or pitch a ball the same way.

Like any athlete, we take great pride as coaches to always better ourselves and improve our craft. Our philosophies and teachings are consistently evolving as we seek to understand how we can best meet the unique needs and circumstances of every athlete we come into contact with.