Here is a feel good story for the holiday. Chiefs’ reserve linebacker James-Michael Johnson found out that someone stole 300 turkeys from a homeless shelter near his hometown of Vallejo, CA. Guess what he did to make sure Thanksgiving Dinner will still be served?
By Nate Barnett of the Pitching Academy
Baseball is possibly the most statistical game on the planet. Everything a player does is tracked and evaluated based upon some series of stats. While extremely helpful in many scenarios, statistics have a way of eating away at the minds of many athletes if not understood properly. When the swing is feeling good, stats are the hitter’s best friend; there’s no better feeling than going 4-4 at the plate with a couple doubles. On the flip side, there is nothing worse than going 0-4 with two strikeouts. Throw in the additional dynamics of youth insecurities, coach pressures, playing time, etc. and you have a recipe for a mental meltdown in any given game. My proposal is that there is another way to evaluate the offensive play that is not based on the traditional hits to at bats ratio. Instead of placing value on the number of hits each game (results thinking), I argue a hitter can do more for the improvement of his game and mental stability by evaluating the choices made (process thinking) during each game.
First, let me lay out why results thinking can be inaccurate in measuring offensive success. In any given game there are two things that are controlled by a hitter: the mechanics of a swing, and the thoughts and choices of the mind. That being said, the hitter has no control over the defense running down a ball in the gap for a long out. Additionally, he has no control over the pitcher’s ability to hit his spots and change speeds. Because of these couple inconsistencies, it makes little sense to place high value in the number of hits each game. Balls hit hard would be a better way to measure success, however, this become subjective. I remember playing a couple games where I crushed the ball four times. Two of the balls were caught at the wall, and the other two the right-fielder didn’t have to move but a few steps to pull down my line drives. In the books I went 0-4. If number of hits in a game is where I placed all my value, I could become frustrated real quickly. Frustration creates tense muscles, and tense muscles produce poor un-relaxed swings.
There is a better way; a method of evaluation which is far more accurate in determining things that are important to the improvement of the hitter. I’m referring to the choices made each at bat. I’ve written an article on how to develop a plate strategy that breaks down how each hitter can determine what I call, a hot zone. I suggest reading this article before proceeding. If you’re short on time, I’ve provided the condensed version in the remainder of this paragraph. This is the zone that spans a range over the plate where a hitter has the highest percentage of success if he swings at pitches in that zone. Each hitter will have his own hot zone, and can only be defined by becoming aware of what locations he tends to hit better than others. To determine this, place six baseballs across the front edge of home plate. The ball that is the closest to the hitter we will call the #1 ball. The baseball furthest from the hitter is the #6 ball. Next it’s important to evaluate which three or four pitch range tends to produce the most balls hit hard. For example, I had the most success when I swung at balls in the #2-#4 range. Sometimes #5 balls I would hit hard of they were up on the zone. Most youth hitters will find that the #3-#5 ball range suits them best. In the following paragraph we’ll use this model hitter who has a hot zone of #3-#5 that he is most comfortable with.
In this new method of evaluating the performances in each game, I want to walk you through the following hypothetical at bat in which we will keep track of the pitches swung at, and pitches not swung at. Each correct choice in every at bat we will assign a point to, and each incorrect choice we’ll take a point away. The first pitch comes over in the strike zone and is a #3 ball. Our hitter swings at it and fouls the ball off. One point is awarded for making the correct choice and swinging at a pitch in his hot zone. The next pitch comes across and is a #5 ball, but is a little high and out of the strike zone. The hitter lays off this pitch and now is awarded with another point for making the correct choice again for not swinging at a ball out of his hot zone. The 1-1 pitch is thrown over the inside corner, a #1 ball, and our hitter swings and hits a blooper to shallow right field and gets a hit. We remove a point for swinging at a pitch out of the hot zone. The at bat ends with two points being awarded in three attempts. For youth hitters, a 67% success rate on the choices made up at bat should be the standard of a successful at bat, regardless if he reaches first base or not.
I need to add a couple more points of clarification on this system of evaluating success. Any time a hitter is ahead in the count, that is, 0-0 (often a good pitch to hit), 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 then pitches only in the hot zone should be offered at. Once a hitter is even in the count or behind in a count, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2 he must expand his zone. This should be done gradually on a 1-1 count to instead of a #3-#5 range to a #2-#5 range, or whichever direction on the plate is most comfortable to expand to for the hitter. Then, with two strikes, full plate coverage (balls #1-#6) must be taken into account.
In summary of this philosophy then, balls swung at in the hot zone (regardless if they are hit or not) count as a point. Balls swung at that are outside of the hot zone (depending on the count) result in a loss of a point. Balls let go that are outside of the hot zone result in adding one point. Balls let go that are in the hot zone result in a loss of a point.
The reason this philosophy improves a hitter is twofold. First, it keeps track of the important part of each at bat, pitch selection. Ted Williams once said, “A good hitter can hit a pitch in a good spot three times better than a great hitter can hit a ball in a questionable spot.” Likewise, Branch Rickey was quoted in saying, “The greatest single difference between a Major League and minor-league batsman is his judgment of the strike zone. He knows better whether to swing or take a pitch.” Therefore, it’s important to place high value on pitch selection, for without this, hitters are doomed to increased failure the better pitchers get.
Secondly, this philosophy is healthy for the brain. In a game of constant failure, increasing the success rate will only improve confidence and relaxation at the plate. The byproduct of this then is an increased amount of actual hits. It’s a well known fact that hitter must be relaxed and free of over-thinking to have success. The philosophy in this essay does just that; it allows your mind and body relax and concentrate on hitting the right pitch at the right time.
Implementing this philosophy takes practice, mostly the adjustment in the brain that an 0-4 day in the books can still be a successful day at bat. This mental change does not come easily, it take time and practice. Give it the time and attention it deserves and practice it diligently.
Nate Barnett is a hitting, pitching, and mental skills coach residing in the Puget Sound area in Washington State. He played in the Seattle Mariners organization and is co-owner of the The Pitching Academy.
During my childhood and into high school I played a variety of sports and was on many teams. Through all of those teams, both recreational and school-affiliated, I had some average coaches, some good ones, and a few who were excellent. But I also had one really poor one. And he happened to be my very first coach ever.
My grade school friend, Steve, told me his dad was getting a basketball team together and asked if I wanted to play. I was eight, and I believe the league was for 8-10 year-olds. Steve, another friend, Butch, and I were the youngest on the team. There were only six of us total. The three older kids and Steve played every minute, though Steve, to put it charitably, was not much of an athlete. He and I ended up going to junior high and high school together and he never played another team sport. Coach Walt split the remaining two halves down the middle between Butch and me. Butch played a half of each game and I played the other half.
You would think that my first ever sports experience would be etched in my mind, full of positive moments. But instead I have only two specific memories and one general recollection from my time on the team. I can’t remember if we wore uniforms, where we played, if we won or lost. But I can remember Walt’s incensed, shouting face. You see, he tried to approach this team as if he were a big-time college coach. Screaming. Calling angry timeouts when a player messed up, so he could chew him out. I can only theorize that he was emulating real coaches he’d seen on TV. This was the early 70′s and we were in Indiana, maybe he idolized Bobby Knight. But I have a feeling if Knight had seen Walt coaching little kids this way, he’d have stuffed him in a trash can.
The two specific memories are these: One game, I came off the bench to start the second half and they in-bounded the ball to me. I launched up a beautiful shot from the baseline. It would have been a three if there were such a thing back then. Swish. It was by far my best (and luckiest) shot of the season. I can still recall the feeling of immense pride as I began to jog back down court. However, that sensation was short-lived. Walt was screaming for a timeout, yelling for me to get over there, red-faced, eyes blazing in anger. I realized then that we’d switched baskets at halftime and my greatest shot ever counted for the other team. As I approached the coach, our opponent’s best player jogged behind and patted me on the rear. I don’t think he was doing it to be a wiseguy, but more that he felt sorry for me; hitting that beautiful bucket that cost our team two points, now about to face a tongue-lashing.
The second mental souvenir is actually fairly funny, and came from one of the game’s halftime breaks. If you’re as old as I am, you might remember the very first “energy bars” called “Space Stick Bars”. My mom never got those for us at home so the few times I’d tasted them at someone else’s house I thought they were the best thing ever. Walt had brought some to give out to the team. Everyone but Butch and I had gotten their bars and there were two left. Walt said, “Here. You two can split this one.” He then unwrapped the other one and ate it himself.
The thought never crossed my mind to quit the team. My parents didn’t have a “talk” with the coach. You didn’t do that back then, and I doubt they even knew anything was amiss because I didn’t complain and parents never attended games. But I do know I didn’t play much organized basketball after that, choosing instead to only play with my friends on our backyard or driveway hoops. I can’t say if that’s all Walt’s fault, but I know I went through my early childhood thinking I wasn’t very good at basketball.
So why am I writing about this all these years later? Because often we, as coaches, get so wrapped up in the moment we don’t think about the future. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Every kid on your team is going to take away memories that will last months, years…or, as I can attest, in some cases, decades. And when you’re the coach of young, impressionable kids, they won’t remember if you brought the team wins and losses as much as they’ll recall if you brought them snacks. But they will remember whether they wanted to be around you. They’ll recall how you made them feel about themselves. For youngsters participating in their first few seasons of sports these memories, not your X’s and O’s, are the legacy you leave.
Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Dave Simeone
A remarkable amount of time now goes into structured programming. The reasons for this vary. There’s the issue of insufficient free play that turns into structured play time. This moreover eliminates younger kids playing with older, wiser and more sophisticated players. This has an impact on players’ technical capability; their comfort level with the ball under pressure or developing a broader and more urbane set of “tools” that allow them to solve the problems the game presents them.
The mechanics of passing, receiving, heading, crossing, turning, or striking with laces all deserve some time in environments that don’t involve pressure from an opponent or the restrictions of time and space. There’s a need to balance this type of training out with activities that are game like which include restrictions of time & space along with opposition.
The same can be said for game understanding and developing the choices a player makes in the course of play. Often time we choreograph and set up situations in training that mechanically resemble coordinated movements but lack the “when” and “why” that are so instrumental in all the decision making in the game.
Stoppages Changing Methodology
Coaching takes on several roles. One is to set up the correct environment; the correct types of activities. Another, and equally important, is as an interactive means of instruction.
Our experiences, in part, that we take from our playing backgrounds shape and form our individual coaching methodology. This is also true via valuable experience from coaching education. In each instance we are influenced, in some way, by the personalities and behaviors of other coaches.
The emphasis has been shifting and there is a different approach prevalent in our coaching schools that reflect incorporating coaching appropriately in activities. We’ve always stressed the significance of creating the right game like environment for learning. The trend has continued to move towards when and how to coach within the context of games and activities without creating undue stoppages.
A Departure from “Stop, Freeze…..”
In the past the emphasis has been on identifying a coachable moment, stopping the activity, giving the player’s information, restarting the activity. The intent of this methodology is to interject coaching and information into the players. This contributes to a lack of flow in training; an absence of uninterrupted match play combined with an increase in “coach oriented” learning.
Affecting technical development in games or activities has more to do with application. Whether turning a ball into pressure, poorly crossing a ball into the opponent’s six yard box or playing a pass with the incorrect weight or accuracy speaks to application. We can implore players to have greater sensitivity of touch when dealing with the ball but most improvement comes by way of experience which involves trial and error and improved awareness.
There are also the situations which deal with decision making and choices. Many times coaches “freeze” an activity and patently move players around adjusting their angle or distance of support or instructing them to get tighter in defending. These points may be valid but they lack the “how, when or why” that is necessary in improving a players’ choice or behavior. Moving players around in this manner and then restarting the game is the equivalent of moving any inanimate object.
If we realistically expect decision making to improve then we need to incorporate what we, as coaches, read in the game as information we give to players. As the ball is moving through a certain part of the field or as a touch is taken; what is it that we read “in the game” and feel that players must notice and pay attention to that would change their decisions and ultimately the outcome of the circumstances?
The challenge for coaches is to find ways to interact with players in ways that don’t necessarily begin with “stop, freeze”.
The most obvious of all these is when the ball goes into touch or out over the end line for a restart. The game or activity stops naturally and this presents the chance to coach.
The additional factor in these natural stoopages is that they are moments of transition. So whether it’s going from attacking to defending or vice versa we can address organization, decisions, communication as well as understanding the sheer significance of these pivotal moments in the game. These instances are when goals are given away or taken sometimes too easily.
Near stoppages can be just as opportune and also correlate with moments of transition. As a result of crossing or shooting and when the ball ends up secure in the goalkeeper’s hands; the game goes into transition but is also an opportunity for the coach to interject information without stopping the activity. As coaches we can encourage players going from defending to attacking to take up correct starting positions to get forward, goalkeeper distribution or once the goalkeeper distributes the ball how players stay connected to eventually possess, penetrate and create goal scoring opportunities. As players go from attacking to defending we can similarly coach defending; either drawing a line of confrontation, recovering to get goal side as the game goes into transition or if the game is played through the air how to get the correct starting position in order to head and compete in the air.
Near stoppages can also occur when one team is clearly in possession of the ball. This example allows the players from the attacking team further away from the ball to receive coaching. In attacking, if back players possess then we can address high players; how they create length in the game or how supporting teammates can become more mobile while the game is being played.
Insight: Reading the Game
The methodology to coach and teach in the context of games and activities requires the same sort of insight and “reading” that we expect from players. Much of the timeliness and information involved in coaching during near stoppages is founded in understanding how everything happening on the field, how it’s all connected, inter-related or effective in terms of its application to the game.
For coaches this process needs constant attention; being students of the game, an interest and willingness to continue refining our observational skills and instructional capacity. All together this is what helps impact the experience and development of players. Remember, play is the key word in player development!
Dave Simeone brings nearly thirty years of coaching and managing experience combined from youth, college, Olympic Development, U.S. National Teams and the National Coaching Schools. Simeone earned his “A” license and National Youth License from U.S. Soccer and the National Diploma from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. His website, Soccer Development Strategies is a valuable resource for coaches.
A remarkable amount of time now goes into structured programming. The reasons for this vary. There’s the issue of insufficient free play that turns into structured play time. This moreover eliminates younger kids playing with older, wiser and more sophisticated players. This has an impact on players’ technical capability
By Steve Henson
Nearly 75 percent of kids who play organized sports quit by age 13. Some find that their skill level hits a plateau and the game is no longer fun. Others simply discover other interests. But too many promising young athletes turn away from sports because their parents become insufferable.
Even professional athletes can behave inappropriately when it comes to their children. David Beckham was recently ejected from a youth soccer field for questioning an official. New Orleans radio host Bobby Hebert, a former NFL quarterback, publicly dressed down LSU football coach Les Miles after Alabama defeated LSU in the BCS title game last month. Hebert was hardly unbiased: His son had recently lost his starting position at LSU.
Mom or dad, so loving and rational at home, can transform into an ogre at a game. A lot of kids internally reach the conclusion that if they quit the sport, maybe they’ll get their dad or mom back.
As a sports parent, according to Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC, this is what you don’t want to become. This is what you want to avoid:
• Overemphasizing sports at the expense of sportsmanship: The best athletes keep their emotions in check and perform at an even keel, win or lose. Parents demonstrative in showing displeasure during a contest are sending the wrong message. Encouragement is crucial — especially when things aren’t going well on the field.
• Having different goals than your child: Brown and Miller suggest jotting down a list of what you want for your child during their sport season. Your son or daughter can do the same. Vastly different lists are a red flag. Kids generally want to have fun, enjoy time with their friends, improve their skills and win. Parents who write down “getting a scholarship” or “making the All-Star team” probably need to adjust their goals. “Athletes say their parents believe their role on the team is larger than what the athlete knows it to be,” Miller says.
• Treating your child differently after a loss than a win: Almost all parents love their children the same regardless of the outcome of a game. Yet often their behavior conveys something else. “Many young athletes indicate that conversations with their parents after a game somehow make them feel as if their value as a person was tied to playing time or winning,” Brown says.
• Undermining the coach: Young athletes need a single instructional voice during games. That voice has to be the coach. Kids who listen to their parents yelling instruction from the stands or even glancing at their parents for approval from the field are distracted and can’t perform at a peak level. Second-guessing the coach on the ride home is just as insidious.
• Living your own athletic dream through your child: A sure sign is the parent taking credit when the child has done well. “We worked on that shot for weeks in the driveway,” or “You did it just like I showed you” Another symptom is when the outcome of a game means more to a parent than to the child. If you as a parent are still depressed by a loss when the child is already off playing with friends, remind yourself that it’s not your career and you have zero control over the outcome.
FIVE SIGNS OF AN IDEAL SPORTS PARENT
Let’s hear it for the parents who do it right. In many respects, Brown and Miller say, it’s easier to be an ideal sports parent than a nightmare. “It takes less effort,” Miller says. “Sit back and enjoy.” Here’s what to do:
• Cheer everybody on the team, not just your child: Parents should attend as many games as possible and be supportive, yet allow young athletes to find their own solutions. Don’t feel the need to come to their rescue at every crisis. Continue to make positive comments even when the team is struggling.
• Model appropriate behavior: Contrary to the old saying, children do as you do, not as you say. When a parent projects poise, control and confidence, the young athlete is likely to do the same. And when a parent doesn’t dwell on a tough loss, the young athlete will be enormously appreciative.
• Know what is suitable to discuss with the coach: The mental and physical treatment of your child is absolutely appropriate. So is seeking advice on ways to help your child improve. And if you are concerned about your child’s behavior in the team setting, bring that up with the coach. Taboo topics: Playing time, team strategy, and discussing team members other than your child.
• Know your role: Everyone at a game is either a player, a coach, an official or a spectator. “It’s wise to choose only one of those roles at a time,” Brown says. “Some adults have the false impression that by being in a crowd, they become anonymous. People behaving poorly cannot hide.” Here’s a clue: If your child seems embarrassed by you, clean up your act.
• Be a good listener and a great encourager: When your child is ready to talk about a game or has a question about the sport, be all ears. Then provide answers while being mindful of avoiding becoming a nightmare sports parent. Above all, be positive. Be your child’s biggest fan. “Good athletes learn better when they seek their own answers,” Brown says.
And, of course, don’t be sparing with those magic words: “I love watching you play.”
Steve Henson is Senior Editor, Major League Baseball at USA Today Sports Media Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @HensonUSAToday