“Feel it when you do it right & feel it when you do it wrong”. The movements baseball players have to put their bodies through to effectively execute success while hitting, fielding, and throwing can be very technical and very unnatural. Throwing consistent strikes on the mound as a pitcher can be related to making free throws as a basketball player. Both athletes will tell you they rely on a certain “feel” or touch to make sure their execution is successful over and over again. Any experienced hitter will tell you how good it feels to execute perfect timing while squaring up a ball on the barrel of his bat resulting in a smash of a hit. Feel is so important in success and failure to a baseball player. I like to point out to hitters when they get a great result in practice to “remember what that felt like” and that the key of becoming a good hitter is being able to produce that feeling consistently. On the other hand: when everything is off, doesn’t feel right, and we get a bad result, we need to register that feeling as well……in order to recognize that we don’t want to go back to that feeling. Inevitably we are always being drawn into that slump or negative feeling, but fortunately for baseball players there is no such thing as perfect. In our game, the best are the one’s that fail the least. Find ways to get back that feeling: “Feel it when you do it right & feel it when you do it wrong”.
I’m a huge fan of players learning how to play multiple different positions in the field. The most demanding positions on a baseball field (defensively) are: shortstop, catcher, & center field. This is where the majority of the action occurs. Your most capable players are plugged into these positions at an early age. Others are thrown into left field, right field, second base, etc. As we get older our kids develop and grow while the competition gets better. The reality of where you play on defense comes down to this: You will NEVER get the ample amount of game experience at every position you want to play. There is simply not enough games to be played. Most coaches are out to win and not develop, therefore putting the best kids in the right positions. Thats fair enough. So how do we get better and learn about other positions? You really have to learn and study the RESPONSIBILITIES of the job at each position. Usually it comes down to: positioning, cut-offs & relays, footwork on throws, and situations (bunt defense, steal coverage, double plays). A ground ball is a ground ball the same way a fly ball is a fly ball. If you spend time in the outfield at practice throwing to bases and cut-off men you should know how the entire defense is reacting to your play. Take practice time to understand the correct positioning of players in different positions during different situations. Knowing where to go and where the play is at every time the ball is hit into play is highly under-rated and not practiced enough. If your physical abilities as a defender are average or better (soft hands, good feet, strong arm) you should be able to handle all outfield positions and most infield positions, no excuses. The game experience of playing all these positions will never be there, so you have to work at it. When it really matters you can tell a coach you can handle nearly any position….even if you never played it. Prepare yourself. Opportunities will present themselves if you do.
In the never-ending search to uncover the BEST ways to become a better baseball player I have come up with some thoughts that I want to share. I always ask myself: When is a player getting better? What setting is the best for making improvements? Before I start I want to make this statement: The Major League level is the only level of baseball where winning at all cost is the priority over everything else. Every other stage of a players baseball career is a developmental stage. Now, some coaches may disagree because their jobs may depend on wins and losses at the high school and college levels. Well, I guess you better start developing your players. I can tell you without a doubt that player development is more important to a professional baseball organization than wins and losses in their Minor League systems. Like I mentioned before, the Major League level is the only level where winning is the priority over everything else. So, if that’s the philosophy in professional baseball, than why isn’t that the philosophy at the lower levels (little league, club baseball, high school, college)? I’ve seemed to stump myself by my own question because I don’t know why we don’t put individual player development over EVERYTHING else in the game of baseball. Until your playing everyday in the major leagues…..I don’t want to hear it. Youth baseball has to get it together along with players, parents, and coaches to put the emphasis on individual player development. I work with a lot of kids. My goal for a kid 6-11 years old is to emphasizethe fundamentals (hitting, throwing, fielding) and start to introduce some of the physical actions of the body that will help you in the game (hand-eye-foot coordination, reaction time, awareness). 12-14 years old all I care about is you making the high school baseball team. Hitting, arm strength, fielding, and athleticism is where the emphasis is. It comes down to a 2-hour tryout for most that will either get you a spot on the team or END your baseball career. Your going to be judged more on the basics rather than the intangibles. Can you HIT, RUN, THROW, & FIELD? Start to specialize your training! Get individual about it! Take it upon yourself! Players get better when you put yourself in the best situation to LEARN. When is this? I believe it to be in an individual or small group setting where you learn and apply. Learn and apply without expectation until you find technique that works for you through practice sessions. Be relentless in your pursuit to execute that technique in game situations once your ready (most players don’t because they won’t allow themselves). LEARN—–APPLY—–EXECUTE. If there is a breakdown in any of the three than your game is not going to be successful. Execution is what ultimately separates the pack. Most everyone can learn and apply, if you don’t it’s usually because of either your stubbornness or your laziness. Your high school coach is not going to care how good your little league or club baseball team was. He’s going to want to SEE how good YOU are. If your lucky enough to get recruited by colleges to play baseball….those coaches won’t care about how good your high school baseball team is. They want to SEE how good YOU are. If your good enough to get drafted, the scouts are not going to be interested in how good your high school or college team is. They want to SEE how good YOU are. However far you advance in your baseball career will be because of YOU and how your parents and coaches went out of their way to put the individual player development ahead of everything else.
I have a few things on my list today. It’s been awhile. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the ability to learn and understand what you are being taught. Some of the most valuable learning lessons can be done without a baseball, bat, or glove in hand. Often you hear people say “Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it”. It’s not that easy, is it? NO. If it was, there would be far more successful people in the world than there is today. That’s a dummies way to learn. Success is achieved through a good teacher and a good student. The student being able to understand that he will ultimately help himself more than any teacher could help him. What I mean by this is that there is a level of execution that has to take place when it matters most. This responsibility is the students. Take this for example: Your teacher cannot help you when it’s time to perform. You must execute the performance by yourself. It’s the teachers responsibility to understand why a student cannot perform to his abilities when it matters most (GAME TIME). In the meantime there is a training process. The level of concentration and ability to learn by the student during this time is of the utmost importance. It’s just not “doing it to do it”. You have to be able to understand what the teacher is teaching, how it is going to apply to your style, and how best your going to get a consistent result when it matters most. Teacher and student need to understand each other, It’s not a one-way street.
Fear plays a big role in hurting the development of young players…..every player. It starts with being afraid of the ball. Overcome fear. Most young players don’t know what their afraid of. Overcome it by doing it. Like many things in life and baseball, we don’t know until we do it. A fielder who is afraid of the ball won’t get in front of the ball….force yourself. A hitter who is afraid of the ball will step away from the pitcher and bail out during his swing…..force yourself. If you don’t force yourself into doing what’s right technically, you will never get better. As a parent or coach we understand that it’s not easy to force a young player to do something they are afraid of. They might not respond to it. What I found they will respond to is you telling them they will never be good in baseball unless they force the good habits upon themselves. It’s the truth. It only comes when the player decides he wants to do it. Fear is just not for young kids. Fear can hold you back at all ages and levels. The fear of failure can and will destroy a player at any level. It comes from trying to be too perfect, not understanding how difficult the game is, and not being able to handle your failures. Don’t be afraid to stink it up or look foolish as long as your willing to do what it takes to improve and make adjustments. Talented players must believe in their abilities and that through the good and the bad…..they will be considered good. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on the subject of failures and fears and how it relates to baseball: “SHOW ME A GUY WHO’S AFRAID TO LOOK BAD, AND I’LL SHOW YOU A GUY YOU CAN BEAT.” – Lou Brock
I believe baseball players and even parents of baseball players at the lower levels really waste too much time and effort worrying about OTHER players, kids, parents, and coaches. What I’m getting at is two points: This attitude causes anxiety, frustration, jealousy, and anger. Constantly trying to engage in other peoples business can drain you of a lot of energy you could be using to apply in a positive manner. Such as training, improving, setting goals, and reaching goals. My other point that goes along with this is: Don’t worry about what you can’t control. For example in youth baseball, rarely will a parent be able to control what position your kid is playing or where he’s hitting in the lineup. I assure you that your kid will be able to control what happens during his at bat or what happens when the ball is hit to them (then whose fault is it if he fails?). A lot of kids and parents want their kid to pitch. The kid complains, the parent complains, and then they get an opportunity and fail at it. I would have liked the parent and child to have spent more time seeking out pitching instruction and reviewing what they are doing to get better aside from a few silly little league practices. It’s hard not to constantly be comparing your kid to others or as a player it’s hard not to get caught up on the success and failures of others. Take the high road, concentrate on YOU as a player, and your kid as a parent. If you find yourself rooting AGAINST a child on a baseball field, because you think their failures will benefit your kid, then you have a problem. It might feel natural to feel this way because it’s your kid, but I’ll tell you with certainty that your behavior will effect you and your kid negatively in the future. When we take a step back and take a deep breath, we realize…..it’s COMMON SENSE
I want to talk about 3 topics that are very important to any ball players progression. First: Cause and Effect. Baseball is a brutal sport. One of the great things about baseball is that we can evaluate what happen and why it did happen. For every cause….there is an effect. Baseball speaking: If you swing and miss…there is a reason. If you make a throwing error….there is a reason. If you walk 3 batters in a row….there is a reason. See what I am saying? Put an emphasis on why you do wrong. What causes it? Maybe you pulled your head? Maybe you didn’t get your feet set for a throw? Maybe your over-throwing or aiming too much? Ask yourself, why do the bad things happen? Why do the bad habits continue? Second: Strengths and weaknesses: Quit wasting your time and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly your weaknesses! Be honest with yourself and identify what you are bad at. Work to get better. Have no shame in your game. Address the issue and improve on that issue. Finally, Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself. Baseball is a brutal sport. You know! Deal with it. Take the good with the bad. It’s a game of averages. DON’T EVER FEEL SORRY FOR YOURSELF. NO SYMPATHY! Concentrate more on how to improve rather than taking pitty on yourself. When it’s all said and done, no one will care why you failed, didn’t make the team, etc. Get over it and focus on what the next step is. Be a student of the game. Start to understand why bad results are happening. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and never feel bad for yourself. Move forward and execute to the best of your abilities.