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How Can We Gain More Time?

By Mike Epstein

A large part of being a good two-strike hitter is the ability to “wait” as long as possible to determine what type of pitch it is and where it is going. There are a number of ways a hitter can gain more time when confronted with a two-strike count. Over the years, many have been taught to “choke up” on the bat, move further away from the plate, move deeper (further back) in the batters’ box, and to concentrate on hitting the ball up the middle, or the opposite way. Some have been instructed to “close down” their stance somewhat, which offsets the hitter’s contact points back further, and can gain him some extra time. All these have worked for many players over the years.

Another way, which I have found very effective, is for the player to move CLOSER to the plate, “open up” his stance, and utilize the inside-out swing. By doing so, the player significantly shortens the path of his swing. His stroke is shorter (can get to the ball quicker), he rotates less, and has more “accuracy” because he is more compact. My experience also suggests he will “open up” his hitting areas more effectively this way rather than by closing down his stance. I also recommend this approach to all the “singles/contact” hitters I teach, because their greatest asset is their foot speed; the last thing they should want to do is jeopardize their contact-ability by increasing the length of their stroke.

On the other hand, when a player closes down his stance (placing his lead foot closer to the plate than his rear foot), the angle of his stride clashes violently with his deepened contact area. When a player closes down his stance, and resulting stride, he effectively “closes off” to the pitch “in” and “down and in.” With two-strike hitting, the idea is to “open up” your hitting zones, not close them down. And, by closing down in his stride, he not only runs out of hip rotation, resulting in an upper body swing with loss of bat quickness and bat speed, but also blocks off a significant part of his strike zone: the areas “in” and “down and in.” In the major leagues, giving the pitcher an extra 25% of the plate to work with usually gets you a one-way ticket to a bus league.

The Inside-Out Stroke Is Normally Used For Contact
Staying “inside the ball” is an integral part of hitting success. It makes no difference what “type” hitter you are, this concept works for EVERYONE. My article for the Collegiate Baseball News, “Staying Inside the Ball,” goes into much more comprehensive detail about its merits and why it should be on every player’s “hit list.” I encourage you to (re)read it.

The inside-out stroke enables the hitter to wait longer. Coupled with proper lower body rotation, the player is able to contact the ball deeper in his hitting zones. Harry Heilmann, a line drive/gap hitter and Hall of Fame outfielder for the Detroit Tigers in the ‘20s—who hit over .400 twice in his career—said he went from being a “good” hitter to a “great” hitter when he learned how to inside-out the fastball on the inside corner—when he had two strikes. This is a wonderful piece of information for all hitters.

What he was telling us was that by being able to keep his bat 90º to the oncoming pitch on the inside corner, he was able to hit the ball back through the pitcher’s box. When we look at the illustration, we can see exactly what he was saying. We can ONLY effect this by doing two things: 1) By keeping our hands inside the ball, and 2) By using good lower body, rotational mechanics, whereby the hands have the ability to “wrap around” the rotating body as the arms extend to contact. This produces the correct inside-outswing. When a hitter is able to do this, he picks up more TIME, the elusive and valuable commodity hitters never seem to have enough of. And, with two strikes, he doesn’t have to be as “conscious” of the inside fastball—he can wait longer—which then makes hitting the off speed and breaking pitches much easier. It worked in Heilmann’s day—and it’s still working today with baseball’s current crop of outstanding hitters.

A player who quickly comes to mind when I think of the inside-out stroke is Edgar Martinez (bottom, left) of the Seattle Mariners. He puts on a clinic when he hits. If you get a chance to see him on TV, or are lucky enough to see him perform at the ballpark, watch closely and you’ll see what I mean. But there are too many others to mention here. All we have to know is if they’re getting all the headlines—and making all the money—they’re usually the best examples.

Executing the inside-out stroke correctly will enable the hitter to get to the pitch more quickly. He will not have to shorten his stroke. Again, it is worth noting that ALL styles should become singles/contact hitters with two strikes. The hitter has to “give in” to the pitcher by shortening his stroke and gaining valuable time. I am continually telling hitters that when they have two strikes, they can’t anticipate pitches or “guess” with the pitcher. They can’t afford to make a mistake here. They have to concede to the pitcher and just put the ball in play.

Let’s face it. With two strikes, the fight for time becomes amplified. The hitter is now dealing with his “largest” strike zone and also loses the benefits of “anticipation” as an aid.

Prior to Mike’s teaching years, he was an All-American baseball player and still holds the highest lifetime batting average of .384 at the University of California (Berkeley). He was a member of the first United States Olympic Baseball Team, leading the team in many offensive hitting categories (Japan, 1964). He was named the Sporting News and Topps Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 1966.His website is  http://www.mikeepsteinhitting.com/

My Holiday Youth Sports Wish List (2015)

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

The holidays are upon us! This is a time to reflect on the past and look ahead with hope for a new and brighter future. Here are a few items on my holiday youth sports wish list:

That all parents who are about to complain about league politics attend one year’s worth of board meetings before speaking up.

That moms and dads who yell at referees or umpires in a youth sports game have to officiate the next one.

That city municipalities strapped for cash don’t immediately look to charging youth leagues for services that used to be free as a way of balancing their budgets.

That the word “scholarship” be erased from every parents’ mind until their child has at least reached puberty.

That coaches who run onto the field and scream, “THAT’S YOUR FAULT!” to the ten year-old player who made a mistake, (as my son observed while coaching a 10U travel game) would be made to play a game against each other. Every time one messes up, a kid from their team gets to drill them with a ball from close range.

That there was a safe place in every town where children could get together and choose their own teams, decide their own rules, and officiate their own games, with no parents watching.

That all kids who wish to play sports could do so without injury, politics, nepotism or undue parental pressure damaging the experience.

That once each week every frazzled volunteer coach who is scrambling to practice from work, trying to organize a group of energetic kids and figure out what to do with them has a parent come up and say, “We really appreciate you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

That parents who believe the coach is treating their child unfairly observe every practice for a month and see if they don’t change their tunes.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to wish for any of these things. However it’s our job as parents, coaches and league officials to try to make youth sports as perfect as it can be. Here’s wishing all kids have as near the perfect youth sports experience as possible. Happy Holidays and best wishes for a fantastic 2016, from CoachDeck.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Coach Captain Obvious

By Tony Earp

While sitting and watching a youth soccer match, you will hear a lot of things said from either sideline. Often we focus on things that parents say from their sideline that are not beneficial to the players, but what about what is being said by the players’ coaches? Throughout the game, what information is being shared from the coaches’ sideline to the players? This will change drastically depending on the type of coach that is working with your child. High level youth coaches provide information to help players solve the problems of the game and improve their level of play. When mistakes are made, information that is useful to the player to help them have success the next time is provided. Unfortunately, some players will play for coach “Captain Obvious” who does not provide information that helps the players as much as just pointing out mistakes and running commentary of the events of the game.
Think of it this way, it is not enough to just point out issues and mistakes on the field. That is not coaching. It is the lowest level of observation and thought by just stating the obvious over and over again. Also, when a coach only points on mistakes without any information to the player on how to correct it, than nothing is learned.
Does your child play for “Captain Obvious?” Here are some things you would hear from the sideline from this type of coach, and how I am confident most players would like to respond.
“You can’t lose the ball there!”
OK. Please point to the area of the field where it is fine to lose the ball. Next time I “INTEND” to lose the ball, I will do my best coach to make sure I am in that part of the field. Is there anything I could have done different before I got the ball or with my first touch to help me not lose the ball in this “can’t lose it there” area of the field?
“Keep possession!”
Ohhhh, I misunderstood the point of the game. I was TRYING to give the ball to the other team. I thought we got points for each time we lost possession. Any tips on how to keep possession?
“You need to finish those opportunities!”
Are there opportunities that I do not want to finish? Hopefully you understand my intention was to score that goal. I did not miss on purpose because I thought this was one of those opportunities that it did not matter if I scored or not.
“Take less touches!”
You mean take one less than the number I took right before I lost possession? Yea, I guess that would have been a good idea. I am not sure why I feel the need to take all these touches. It is like some type of addiction to have the ball at my feet. Personally, I wanted to give the ball up earlier, but my feet would not let me. How many touches should I take each time I get the ball? Is there some type of chart for me to review?
“Better pass!”
By “better” do you mean one that goes to my teammate versus the other team? You’re right that would be a better pass. Perhaps some advice on how to strike a better pass than reminding me I just gave the ball away. Were you under the assumption I thought that was a good pass?
“Better first touch!”
Again, by “better” you mean one that does not cause me to lose the ball? Yes, again, that would have been better. I am glad you said something. I was actually going to take a worse touch next time and see how that worked out.
“You need to win that ball!”
By win the ball, is there some type of raffle, or do I just go and take it from him? I was under the impression that they are suppose to just give me the ball when they do not want it anymore. If I would have known I am suppose to go win it, I would have done it already. Thanks again coach! This game is so simple.
“You let him get by you!”
Well, he asked nicely. He said, “hey man, can I get by?” So I said, “Sure!” Next time should I say no?
“You have to run!”
Not true. Look up Carlos Valderrama. He rarely ever ran and was really good, and I model my game after him.
“You are out of position!”
Can you perhaps put up some type of markers, or maybe an electric fence to help me know when I am not in “position” during the game? Don’t worry about teaching about my roles and responsibilities, just point and yell.
“You dribbled right into the defender!”
Incorrect. That defender ran right into me. It is his fault!
“Shoot when you get the chance!”
Thank you for permission to try to score when I have the chance. I tend to wait till I do not have the chance to try to score, but I will try your way from now on.
“Get open/No one is moving!”
I keep trying, but this guy keeps following me around. Can we ask him to stop following me? It would make it much easier to get open. But if he is just going to keep following me, I really just don’t see the point.
I know I am being overly sarcastic, but my point is simple. These types of comments are just obvious observations from the sideline from the coach. They do NOTHING to help a player improve or better understand the game. To tell a player who just lost the ball that he just lost the ball, is not what I would consider high level coaching. To tell a player who just missed a shot on goal to hit the target, does not provide any information to help the player do what is being asked.
Instead of telling a player to not lose the ball or score, a coach would provide information to help them be able to do that the next time they get the chance. The player does not need to be told what just happened. He was there and is well aware of what just transpired. What the player needs from the coach, is corrective information that the player can apply to the next time he gets the same opportunity.
Instead of “hit the target,” after a miss, a coach who is trying to teach may say something like, “Take a look before you shoot so you know where you are and get your feet set before your shot.” That is just an example, but it gives the player something to try next time they get the chance to score.
This can be applied to most moments in the game. When coaches speak to the players during the game, instead of just commentating on what just happened, it is much more helpful to provide the players with information to help them improve their level of the play. All the examples I gave do not provide any helpful information to allow the player to have a better chance of having success the next time. Like any great teacher, comments should be designed to either spark critical thinking to solve the problems presented to the player or are hints/tips for them to discover how to find more success in the game. Stating the obvious may sound like coaching, but nothing is being taught (or learned).
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Three Things Every Athlete Needs to Succeed

By John O’Sullivan

Elite performance is determined by a number of factors, amongst them innate talent and genetics, hours of deliberate training, coaching, and luck. But performance is also great affected by what is between an athlete’s ears: mindset. An athlete’s state of mind is perhaps the single greatest factor that affects performance.

In his great book The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance, author W. Timothy Gallway writes the following equation:

Performance = Potential – Interference

What Gallway means is that an athlete will perform up to his potential (the combination of innate talent, training hours, playing hours, coaching) minus all the things that interfere with that potential, namely a poor state of mind.

Here at the Changing the Game Project, our goal is to help every athlete play his or her best. Some may have the potential to be elite, and others just need to develop a mindset and lifestyle that promotes activity for life. As coaches, we are developing the next generation of fans as well as athletes. If you are the coach or parent of any level of budding sportsman, from beginner to expert level, you play a significant role in your athlete’s state of mind.  Our job as adults in youth sports is to strip away as much interference as possible, and let our athletes compete to the best of their abilities.

In a recent conversation with York University Sport Scientist Dr. Joe Baker, we were discussing the qualities that all high-performing athletes share. In his opinion (and I agree wholeheartedly), at the bare minimum there are three qualities that every athlete needs in order to strip away the interference. These factors are so significant, in fact, that I would go as far as saying that without them, there is no chance your young athlete will ever perform at his or her very best. They are:

Intrinsic Motivation: Baker calls intrinsic motivation the “currency of athletic performance.” If your child does not have it, not only is it very hard to instill, but your athlete will never have the drive, grit and mental fortitude to train and play hard enough. I see many parents who are the ones leading the charge when it comes to going to training, doing extra work on the side, and finding opportunities for the athlete to challenge himself and get out of his comfort zone.

Enjoyment: for some reason, there are a number if misguided coaches and parents who think that competitive sports and enjoyment are mutually exclusive, They are not. In fact, if an athlete does not love her sport, is she does not enjoy the experience, she will never hang around long enough to be good. This does not mean that every single moment has to pleasurable, as I know many top athletes who might not consider conditioning training to be enjoyable. But the experience, taken as a whole, must be fun, it must keep them coming back, and it must be something they look forward to doing. As I tell coaches of young players, if you instill a love of the game, if all your players want to play again next year, you have already accomplished more than most!

Autonomy: Your athlete must have ownership over his or her sports experience. The goals pursued must belong to them. As coaches and parents, we can suggest some goals and encourage athletes to aim higher, but ultimately we must release them to their game, and their goals. They have to dire the bus, and we must be the passenger who helps them find the way. We can encourage, we can push them and hold them accountable for their ambitions and dreams, but ultimately, if it is you and not your kids in the drivers seat, the trip will be a short one.

No matter how much talent your athlete has, no matter what level of coaching he or she receives, or how many championships that team has won, without intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, and autonomy, your athletes will never play long enough, train hard enough, and be gritty enough to become an athlete who performs up to his or her potential.

How do you know if your aspiring athlete has these three things?

To ensure your child has autonomy, ask yourself whether you are saying things like “we struck out ten batters today” or “we scored three goals?” If you are speaking of your child’s athletic achievements as ours instead of his or hers, it is a good sign you have not let them go and let the game belong to them. Have you done goal setting with your child, and then accepted his goals for sports? If you have completely different goals and ambitions for your kids in sports, they will never have the autonomy needed to succeed.

As far as enjoyment goes, there is a huge popular misconception that competitive and fun cannot happen at the same time, and this could not be further from the truth. The only way to compete, to do the monotonous training and other things that it takes to be elite, is through innate enjoyment of the sport. Look to see if your athletes are smiling and laughing, and looking forward to training. Do you ask them “are you having fun?” Do they carry their ball around, looking to play outside of practice? Do they want to get their early or stay late? If yes, that is a good sign that the experience is an enjoyable one.

With both autonomy and enjoyment in place, your athlete has a much better chance of being intrinsically motivated. Is he the one jumping out of bed to go to early training, or do you drag him out of bed? If he is asking “can I skip practice” and “do we have to go” all the time, chances are his motivation is lacking. As Dr. Baker mentioned above, if a child does not have intrinsic motivation, is it very hard to give it to him, so a parent or coach must be very cognizant that the athlete is driving the bus, not the adult.

The good news is once your athletes have autonomy, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation to compete, they will have the mindset needed to play up to their potential. Genetics, hours of training, great coaching and luck all play a part, but without a high-performing state of mind, those things lose their luster no matter how much talent an athlete has.

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”

Sports with most concussions

This was originally published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and re-tweeted by our partners at STOP Sports Injuries.org. The article also contains some good tips for parents to reduce the risk of their children suffering head injuries.