Revisiting Exit Velocity

I was recently reminded of this blog post from 3 years ago regarding the silliness of showcase organizations measuring and reporting Exit Velocity in an uncontrolled fashion with pocket radars, cage balls and random front toss.  

Here is that blog post:  https://coachgallion.com/2015/02/11/exit-velocity-seriously/

Thanks to Hittrax, Rapsodo and Diamond Kinetics for bringing order to this chaos.  Data that is accurate and meaningful. 

Unfortunately, I understand that there are still showcase guys with pocket radar on one hand, tossing mushy cage balls in the other and writing down random results in the other.   If you are going to measure and report data on players, please spend some money to make it accurate and make players swing wood bats to eliminate doctored metal bats from the equation.  

Hitting Off the eHack While Being Measured (and 2018 Hitting Program)

Last July we purchased a eHack machine and ball feeder from SportsAttack.   The eHack is the top of the line HackAttack machine, mostly seen in top college programs and pro teams.   Key features of this machine:

  • Incredibly stable and consistent.  Set it up once and it will throw strikes in a small diameter zone for hours.
  • Precise digital control – change speeds, location, etc.. with simple electronic controls.  No knobs.
  • Can move from 95 mph fastball inside to a 87 mph slider away in 8 seconds, with up to 10 pitches in a pitch sequence.  Can throw literally any pitch by controlling spin rate and direction.
  • A ball feeder that holds 150 balls and visibly feeds a ball every 8 seconds down a 2 foot ramp.

Our hitters now see game velocity and movement a lot more frequently.  The impact was directly measurable last fall.  HS age hitters hit 50 points better with 80 points higher Slugging Percentage compared to the previous fall.   Our goal is to continue this transition to challenge our hitters more frequently with more game like velocity and movement.

mix of swings

For this offseason, we built a new cage to house the eHack plus the new version of Hittrax.  We want players taking around 25% of their swings at this station.  So, at least 20 swing off eHack/Hittrax, with the same number off BP, front toss and tee drills in the regular cages.  This is in addition to the Gamers bat speed program that is roughly 50 swings each practice.  The goal is 150 monitored swings, 2x per week during practice.  Non-pitchers get more swings than this.  Two way players and catchers need to really work to get their 150 swings in.

We began the offseason hitting with the eHack at 35 mph from 35 feet.  We have progressively worked back to 74 mph from 55 feet so far, and will end up at 85 mph at full distance in February (we are running a little ahead of plan right now!).  We are also alternating the eHack between 2 feet from the right side and 2 feet from the left side to mimic pitcher release point and will add offspeed and breaking balls in February.

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ehack plan

Every eHack swing for 90 high school age Gamer is being measured and recorded with Hittrax.  This is now being expanded to an additional 100 middle school age Gamers.  It’s been impressive to watch players continue to improve their metrics despite the increasingly challenging pitching from the eHack.  Here is an video explanation of this using data from one of our impressive 2019 hitters:

There is no doubt that hitting off a pitching machine is different from hitting off of a live pitcher.  There is a lot more information to pick up from a live pitcher compared to an inanimate machine with a ramp.  That is why we have partnered with Axon Sports on pitch recognition for our HS players.   You cannot see enough live pitching.  

But once the ball is in the air, it does not matter whether it comes out of a machine or a pitchers hand.  MLB hitters do not get their stride foot down until well after the ball leaves the pitchers hand.   

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A lot of players struggle to hit off the eHack and end up getting frustrated or worse skipping the hitting rotation in the eHack cage.  This has increased as the velocity gets cranked up to more game like conditions.  

Hitting versus game pitching is supposed to be hard!  

After watching thousands of eHack swings since July, here is what I have concluded:

  • 100% of players that hit well off the eHack also hit well against very good live pitching.  Success off the eHack translates to success off high level game pitching.
  • Some players that do not hit well off the eHack still hit well off good live pitching. 
  • There are a handful of swing issues that make hitting off the eHack difficult.  These are the same issues that we often see in games versus live pitching.

What are those swing issues?

Rigid, inflexible timing and rhythm approach  – everything that leads up to firing the swing is so choppy and timing in so rigid that the player has to be perfect to square a ball up.  It’s the old 1 – 2 – 3 – swing approach.  The start/stop swing doesn’t work with a ball moving 80+ mph.   You cannot be perfect every time.  You still need to hit the ball hard without being perfect.

Hands and/or bat start from a weak/stalled position when firing swing.  This is related to the issue above. It is hard to get a barrel moving if it starts out stationary (physics term is inertia).  Same thing with muscles, it’s easier to change directions or go from slow to fast that it is to go from a dead stop.

Barrel is not on plane with the ball on time, or long enough. A 80 mph pitch is moving 117 ft/sec and is in the hitting zone for 0.03 seconds.  That is not much time! A BP pitch at 40 mph from 30 feet may have the same reaction time as a 80 mph pitch, but the ball is moving a lot slower — only 58 ft/sec and is in the hitting zone 2x longer.  To succeed consistently against baseballs moving 110+ ft/sec you need to get the barrel in the zone on time and keep it in zone as along as possible.  

All of the swing issues above are things players have been working on and need to continue to work on to improve.  For example, the med ball drill is great for the first two issues above.  The details are highly individualized and left to our hitting coaches to address with support from the Hittrax data and video, Rapsodo data and Diamond Kinetics swing data and Google Classroom assignments that are available to you.  

But, it is not all swing mechanics!  Here is the process that I see that leads to struggles hitting off the eHack at game velocity:

  1. A hitter misses a few pitches due to the higher velo (it is hard!)
  2. He then starts overswinging, becoming off-balance and disconnected.  This leads to all three issues above. Rigid timing, locked up hands and late/short barrel path.  Is this mental or physical? Who cares — it is real and we can see it.
  3. The more he fails, the harder he tries, making the problem worse.
  4. He extends the round by 5 swings because of failure, which makes it even worse.  After the round, the player is frustrated and loses focuses, either blaming an inanimate machine, his bat or something else. Everything except for the process factors that where just explained above.

Sound familiar?  It looks a lot like in-game hitting to me.  It is a complicated maze of mental and physical factors as you continually process information, deal with failure and face another pitch or another at-bat.    

What should the process look like instead? 

  1. A hitter misses a few eHack pitches due to the higher velo.
  2. He takes a deep breath, clears his mind and does the hard take drill on the next pitch.  Or maybe he grabs med ball for his front foot to help with timing and rhythm.
  3. Instead of speeding things up and cranking up effort, he does the opposite.  He simplifies and slows things down.
  4. He does not extend a bad round with “one more”.  He gets out after 8-10 pitches.  
  5. After the round, he goes to to the open area beside the cage and uses the Swingaway station or dry drills to reinforce good swing patterns.
  6. He gets back in against the eHack with a clear head and takes another round

Maybe he checks out his Diamond Kinetics data to understand what is going on with eHack swings versus BP/Front toss swings.  He checks to make sure that Barrel Speed, Approach Angle, Hand Cast and Time in Zone are the same (hint — they probably are not!).   Then, he shares the information with Coach Cooper, Aboussie, Beckmann, Keeney, Schrimpf or Rosen.

We know this change in practice approach is hard. We are challenging you with game velocity and movement in practice on a regular basis.  With the right mental approach, this can be a lot of fun and you are going to get a lot better. The mental aspect of this is a big deal.  Over the past year we have talked a lot about GRIT and Heads Up Baseball 2.0.  Those are great resources to start with if want to improve your mental process around this.

Is summary, failing off the eHack at game velocity and movement provides a unique opportunity for you to work on your mental game and get better as a hitter.  OPPORTUNITY IS KNOCKING.

 

Coaching Gen Z High School Age Players

The Gamers coaching staff has spent a lot of time learning and talking about how to coach Gen Z athletes (kids born after 2000). This is now our entire group of high school age players. This generation of young men is different (Click Here ). The most astounding difference is this: they are the first generation in human history that does not rely on adults (parents, teachers, coaches) for information. That raises the bar on the role that adults play.

Luckily the Gamers coaching staff includes a number of educators that are on the front line in high school classrooms teaching and interacting with Gen Z students. Gen Z players are energizing to coach, because they force us to do things differently — and better. But we have to be willing to change!

These changes needs to be substantive and real. Not silly youtube videos, shallow Instagram images or related social media noise. Gen Z players deserve much more than this.

We started making this transition with pitcher development several years ago and now are making a lot of changes across the board. Here are the underlying principles that we are building throughout the Gamers program to make it even more impactful for Gen Z players:

  • Gen Z players learn by doing and seeing, not listening. Our practices are full of live action drills and not a lot of talking. Drills are becoming more live action simulated game situations, on the mound, in the field and at the plate.
  • Constraints-led coaching and non-linear pedagogy is now incorporated into every element of our practices. OK — we were doing some things like this before Coaches Beckmann and Aboussie told us what is was called. Now we are doing it even more. Cones, med balls, weighted balls, weighted bats, resistance bands, uphill mounds, etc … are everywhere. We are providing an practice environment for players to use their own muscles and neurological system to “figure it out” in dynamic situations. Our coaching staff is now constantly coming up with dynamic, non-linear drills. This is why our 150 minute practices fly by.
  • Immediate data feedback is everywhere. The players understand the goal of their athletic movement, and they are provided immediate feedback, in many cases through a screen, bluetooth device or a visual cue. They then use their natural athleticism to make adjustments based on the feedback. It is very impressive to watch these athletes make themselves better with feedback.
  • We are interacting with them on their mobile devices across a number player apps, ranging from Sportsengine and Twitter to TrainSmart, SwingTracker and Hittrax. We now encourage them to bring fully charged smartphones to practice. What a change over from just three years ago!
  • Different words and cues from coaches. More questions than statements. How did that feel? How was that different? Why were those numbers better? Gen Z players want to be fully engaged in the process, not just the target of shallow compliments, high fives or criticism. These kids are too smart for shallow coaching. The Gamers program is built on process, so it’s a great fit!
  • Personal Responsibility & Accountability. Gen Z players are independent. They need to do it for themselves. Our job is to give them the right resources, right support and right environment. From there, the Gen Z player is on his own to succeed or fail. And most of them would not have it any other way. Self-reliance and independence are great traits in athletes.
  • Holistic Approach — this is not just in baseball practices. The Saturday team workouts following practices adopt the same philosophies. If you have ever seen the Speed Treadmill, you know what we are talking about. Same with our college process, nutrition program and weekly life lesson sessions. All elements of the program are incorporating these principles.

This journey with Gen Z players is fun and energizing. The changes that we are making as a program are significant and important. Gen Z players are making the Gamers program even better.

And, they are a lot of fun to coach — once you figure them out.

Below is an excerpt from great resource about leading Gen Z kids. Highly recommend that parents/coaches read it.

From the Book: Elmore, Dr. Tim; McPeak, Andrew. Marching Off the Map: Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World

To connect with Generation Z, we should:

  1. Keep it short. Remember, they have strong filters and short attention spans. They can binge watch Netflix for hours, so they can pay attention to a long stint of content. The key is to engage them within six seconds. That’s how much time we have for them to make up their minds about engaging with us.
  2. Make it visual. They are visual learners. Images are the language of the 21st century. Images are the language of the 21st century. Among teens, Instagram is the fastest growing social media tool. In short, pictures beat words. This means we’d do well to anchor our big idea with a metaphor, or better yet, with an actual image or visual on a screen.
  3. Feed curiosity. Whet their appetites. They want to discover new content and pass it on. Build a hunger for interesting facts, and relay why some are important to know. The numbers tell us they’re naturally curious, consuming Buzzfeed and all sorts of daily data. Feed it and channel it in a positive direction.
  4. Give them ownership. Students support what they help create. Help them own the message. Don’t do the work of learning for them. 5. Make it interactive. They love connecting socially. Place them in small communities to talk. They are an “upload” generation who wants to talk, create and offer their opinion. So let them. While it takes longer to teach something with interaction, it sticks longer as well. If you want retention, foster interaction.
  5. Gamify your content. Make your message an interactive game with quests, points and badges. A huge percentage of Generation Z is gaming in some way. Try utilizing points, competition and achieving badges (with or without technology) to position them in their natural habitat. Learning has gone from Gutenberg to games.
  6. Offer a cause. Most kids want to do something very important and almost impossible. This has always been true for adolescents. They have a natural bent for risks as their teen brain (the frontal lobe) develops. Why not use this for redemptive purposes? Give them something meaningful, not hypothetical, to pursue.

Thoughts on Freshman and Sophomore HS Baseball

This is a post sent on April 1st for the past 7 years.

This posting is primarily directed to 15u and 16u Gamers .

We have now had hundreds of players go through high school baseball as freshmen and sophomores. Some have had great experiences. Others have had bad experiences. It is important to have your expectations set properly and go into the high school baseball experience with the right mindset.

First a little grounding in reality. Of the Gamers playing college baseball right now, here is what they did during their freshman and sophomore years in high school:

  • During their freshmen year, 40% played freshman ball, 40% played JV and 20% played varsity
  • During their sophomore years, 60% played JV and 40% played varsity.

Every situation is different. Some of our players go to huge high schools, some to small high schools. Some high school coaches push younger players to play “up”, while other coaches have firm policies to play juniors and seniors.

So, don’t get too caught up on whether you play freshman, JV or varsity baseball. Obviously, we would like you to play at the varsity level and hope that you get that opportunity to face better competition on better fields, etc..

But, we have had a number of players go on to play D1 college baseball that never played “up” in high school and did not even start as juniors. High school baseball is not necessarily a good indicator of college baseball potential or opportunities.

In fact, we have a LOT of players commit to college baseball programs BEFORE EVER PLAYING AN INNING OF VARSITY BASEBALL. 

The opportunity to play “up” depends on a lot of factors, many of which are entirely outside of your control. My observation is that the process of selecting players to play “up” is not necessarily based on a players’ baseball talent, skill or attitude. Other factors clearly come into play, making the process seem almost random.

This randomness can be quite frustrating for high school athletes and parents. But, it is outside of your control.

So, if you are selected to play “up”, congratulations. You need to work hard, continue to improve, earn playing time, be a leader and play like a Gamer.

Your challenge is to get pick up good habits from older teammates, and not pick up bad habits. I have seen too many freshmen play at the varsity level for all four years, and never get significantly better. By the time they are juniors, they start getting passed by. It happens all the time…don’t let it happen to you.

If you are not lucky enough to be selected to play “up”, just relax and focus on the things that can control. You need to do the same things as the players that are playing “up” — work hard, continue to improve, earn playing time, be a leader and play like a Gamer.

Your challenge is to overcome lower quality competition, fields and umpires to use the high school experience to improve your game, develop your skills and prepare you for the summer. With the right mindset, you can have a very successful and productive high school season without playing “up”.

This is what pursuing excellence is all about. You compete against yourself to get better, day by day, regardless of the level of competition you are facing. This is how you can take control of your high school baseball experience.

Remember John Wooden’s definition of success — Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming“.

Learning and mastering this mental approach is 10x more important than whether or not you play “up” as a freshman or sophomore in high school baseball. This is the mental approach that will ultimately help you succeed at higher levels of baseball and other aspects of your life.

Potential Versus Performance

Our challenge (in everything) is to perform to our potential in activities that we care about.

Of course, as Gamers, we are constantly working hard to expand and increase our potential — through training, nutrition, practice and being students of the game.  We are trying to hit a moving target, which is our Potential.

Performance is how we actually play and can be easily measured or observed.  Potential is obscure, but performance is easy to see.  Your performance is the answer to the question “how good of a player is he?.”  That question must be answered with actual results — not obscure potential.  The ultimate assessment of a player is what actually happens on the field.  That is a tough reality.

(Note – Unfortunately, the current college recruiting process sends too many mixed messages on this topic.  Coaches recruit on potential, but usually play their top performers. College bullpens are full of players that throw >90 but cannot get outs and hitters that can hit the ball 400′ but cannot make consistent contact.)

Young baseball players that aspire to play high level baseball are constantly challenged with two things:

Increasing their POTENTIAL

Closing the GAP between PERFORMANCE and POTENTIAL

Closing the GAP and playing to your potential is very challenging, but also very rewarding.  The two best toolsets for closing this gap are:

1 – Play Big program which is focused on overcoming fear and other emotions that interfere with playing to your potential.  The new Heads-Up 2.0 program from Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza builds on this for more advanced players.  

2 – Pyramid of Success which is 14 Personal Traits that are the building blocks to success in team sports (borrowed from John Wooden).

If your PERFORMANCE GAP is big, then you need to address issues around Playing Big and/or the Pyramid of Success.  Simple recipe but hard to do. 

This is why the Gamers program spends time on these tools, especially the Pyramid of Success.  The way to address a PERFORMANCE GAP is outlined on the chart below. But, it takes personal responsibility and accountability to look inside yourself to address a PERFORMANCE GAP.  It usually requires a change in behavior — like more effort, greater passion, more self-control, more initiative, etc…

Too often, teenage boys seek the easy way out — looking for excuses, passing the blame — instead of accepting this personal responsibility. This is a very important lesson to learn and separates young men from mediocrity. The end product is worth it for players who accept this responsibility.  

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Freshman Grades Matter – Remix #9

This is now the 9th year I have published this post for Freshman Gamers.bad_report_card

The transition to high school requires – Self Control” and “Intentness” from the Pyramid of Success.  Attend class, learn, hand in assignments and study for tests. Being on time, focused, consistent and disciplined is 80% of the battle in the classroom (which sounds a lot like baseball!!)

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This post is for all 15u (current high school freshmen).  Parents, please make sure that your son reads this. This is a friendly reminder from the Gamers program that we care about you and your success.

Grades matter.  If you want to play college baseball, grades matter A LOT.   Time after time, we see that GPA’s and test scores make the the difference in the college recruiting process.  Coach Whiteside reviews the chart below in the Gamers college process meeting every Fall.

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College coaches never ask about Batting Average or ERA.  They ALWAYS ask about GPA.

Now that you are a freshman, your grades now count toward your high school GPA.  A year from now college baseball coaches will start looking at you.  One of the first questions they will has is “how are your grades”. Three years from now, you will be filling out college applications.  Every college application will ask for your GPA and a copy of your high school transcript.

In baseball, your skill level and athleticism as a Freshman don’t matter a much as your skill & athleticism as a Sophomore and Junior. You have some time to work on those.

Unfortunately, GPA’s are different — they are cumulative.  Sometimes, freshman do not realize this simple fact — your grades as a freshman count JUST AS MUCH as your grades as a junior or senior. 

Here is an example for you.

Say a player gets the following GPA’s:
Freshman – 3.6
Soph – 3.2
Junior – 3.6
Senior – 3.2

The result of this would be an overall GPA of 3.4.  Pretty good (our 15u-17u Gamers have an an average GPA of 3.5).

But, say that same player got a 2.2 GPA his freshman year instead of a 3.6.  (ALL C’s and a couple B’s)

Do you what he would have to achieve during his sophomore, junior and senior years to graduate with the same 3.4 GPA?

To overcome this bad start, he would have to achieve a 3.8 GPA for all three years to pull his overall GPA up to a 3.4 by the end of his senior year.

So, his grades would need to look like this:
Freshman – 2.2
Soph – 3.7
Junior – 3.8
Senior – 3.9

Which scenario looks easier to you?

AND, when college coaches are actually recruiting this kid his GPA would still be under 3.0 because of his disasterous Freshman year.

Don’t put yourself in the situation of playing catch up.  It is hard to do.  Plus, freshman classes are a lot easier than junior and senior classes. It gets harder and harder every year to play catch up.

So, the point of this email is simple — Get off to a good start with grades during your freshman year. 

What are the common excuses that we hear about why players “mess up” during their freshman years?:

– They don’t hand in homework or “projects” (the easiest points to get).
– They procrastinate, waiting until the last minute for assignments and studying
– They have bad study habits (do not use their time efficiently)
– They spend more time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…. than on schoolwork
– The are not serious in the classroom, preferring to be the class clown

Essentially, they do not take school seriously and don’t put their best effort forward.  That is not consistent with being a Gamer.

It is now November  You are well into your first semester of high school.  If you are doing well, congratulations and keep up the good work!!

If you are not doing well so far, fix the problem RIGHT NOW.  Talk to guidance counselors, teachers and your parents.  Get a tutor.  Show that YOU CARE.  Fix the problem before it gets too late to impact first semester grades.  Your grades are not going to change unless you change something.  It is your responsibility.

Remember, these grades count and will be with you for the next 3 years. 

If the Gamers coaches or directors can help, let us know.  We see a lot of young men go through this process and know what works.  That is why I am sending out this email.

Getting off to a good start is one of the most important success factors in high school.  It is like throwing a first pitch strike.

Good luck as you wrap up your first semester,

Coach Gallion

Deja Vu All Over Again, and Again

Blog post from 5 years ago now.  The italics are only addition.

Selling the Easy Way To …

Since the days of snake oil salesmen, people have been trying to sell the “easy way out” potions and formulas to a willing audience. It is human nature to look for the easy way out, the easy weight loss diet, the easy way to get in shape, the easy way to make money, the easy way to find a mate, the easy way to do about anything ….

This now includes the easy way to play baseball at the next level.

The Gamers program is built around Hard Work and Passion. These are the cornerstones of our pyramid of success. Along with Commitment and Loyalty.  We practice a lot, work hard and have high expectations on and off the field. We depend on each other to succeed.  

In our opinion it is the right way to do things, regardless of how talented players may be. Even the most talented players need to work hard — because being talented in St. Louis does not translate into being talented and successful at the next level.

There is “no easy way out” in the Gamers program. This is our image and reputation in the youth baseball market, and it is true.

But, there is a lot of snake oil being sold in youth sports these days.  These salesmen target talented baseball players and sell them a magic potion that looks like this:

“Come play with us. We don’t practice as much, have nicer coaches, don’t work as hard and have lower expectations. Don’t believe the BS about Hard Work and Passion. We reduce un-needed coaching and instruction and practice.  No sweat, no tears. Fun all around”

This is almost comical. Get better, by working less. Snake oil potions, combined with some multi-level Amway marketing.  

How do you tell if it’s snake oil?  Pretty easy, just listen to what is being said.  Things that are meaningful in life are not supposed to be easy.  It should be difficult.  You don’t “enjoy the journey” on cruise control,  by not being 100% engaged and overcoming challenges.   IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE CHALLENGING!

Some parents and players fall for the sales pitch. Like the magic weight loss, hair growth and smart pills from frontier days. Sounds great for parents — a lot less driving around and fewer practices, maybe even lower cost.  Sounds great to players, sit by the pool and relax all summer while becoming an elite athlete.

Don’t believe the snake oil salesmen. You cannot lose weight unless you eat less and/or burn more calories. Sorry Dorothy, but the Wizard is just a man hiding behind a curtain.

There is no easy way out if you want to be an elite baseball player. Especially, here in the Midwest, where the baseball season is too short and you do not get nearly enough reps by just playing. If you are extremely talented, you may get to the next level on raw talent alone. But, you will not succeed at the next level unless you understand Hard Work and Passion.

There is no easy way out if you are pursuing excellence and competing against yourself to be the best you can be. It takes hard work, a lot of practice, challenging coaches, high expectations and a lot of dedication. It takes commitment, it takes two-way relationships. That is the magic formula. There is no easy way out.

Or, I have great deal where you can work from home 3 hours a day and earn $100k …

Re-post: WINNING THE 0.50 SECONDS!

Baseball action happens in 4 second intervals. This is the time it takes for an athlete to run 90 feet — so it is a fundamental design element of the game since it was created.

A groundball to the infielders must be fielded, thrown and caught in 4.0 seconds — which is the time it takes the runner to get down the line.

A well hit ball in the air to the outfield will travel in the air about 4 seconds, longer if it is high pop-up. An outfielder has 2 x 4.0 seconds to throw a guy out going from 1st to third — 4 seconds to catch the ball and 4 seconds to throw it 220 feet to a tag out.

So, where does that 4.0 seconds go?  Well, it takes an athlete at least 0.3 seconds the visually see, process information and fire muscles.  So, that leaves just 3.7 seconds to make the play.

Watch a young fielder and this is what you see … After the initial 0.3 sec reaction time, the fielder takes an additional 0.5 seconds before reacting because he either was not really ready to react OR he is unsure of himself and wants to see the ball more before reacting.  When he does this, he usually straightens up and visually pauses. So, that is 0.5 seconds of lost time.

Then fundamentals come in to play — as an infielder, he will be inefficient to the ball, taking 1-2 extra steps and giving up time.  As an outfielder, he will drift to the ball, instead of running full speed to a spot to make the catch.  So, time and  fielding range is reduced proportionally.

The impact of the lost time is significant.  The charts below show the relationship between lost time and fielding range.  This is a battle over time.  There is at least 0.5 seconds in play between doing it right and doing it wrong.  The challenge is to win that 0.5 seconds.  To do that:

– You need to be ready to react, immediately.  This means that as the ball enters the hitting zone, your muscles are ready to fire explosively, like a sprinter.

– You need to anticipate the ball off the bat, reading bat angle, and ball angle even BEFORE contact.  Really advanced fielders do this.  Repetitions are the way to learn this.

– You need to trust yourself.  Your first instinct will be right 95% of the time, don’t waste 0.5 seconds trying to be right 100% of the time.  It is not worth it.

– You need to be smart — pitch count, what pitch is coming, hitter tendencies, etc..  all of that information can make you really good at “guessing”

– Relax and breathe… in pressure, tense game situations, your breathing becomes shallow and your muscles tense up.  Tense muscles with low oxygen cannot react.

Win the 0.5 seconds and your range and fielding success will go up immediately.

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“All-Star” Events

I am amazed with the number and variety of “all-star” events that select level players get invited to.   Every year, it grows and grows and grows.  Soon, everyone will be an “all-star”— just sign-up early before the spots sell out.  

Parents and player are now asking “should I do this event or that event”.  It is crazy.  I am not talking about showcase events — which serve a recruiting purpose and can be great events.  I am talking about 10-15u “all-star” events that are devoid of any pretense of development, college recruiting or scouting.  Just pay some money and you are an “all-star”.

For all the players and parents asking me, here is the answer:

USA Baseball NTIS events are the only “all-star” type events worth doing.  The reasons are simple.  First, it is THE USA Baseball — you know, the one that competes in the World Baseball Classic and all the USA National Teams from professional down to 12u.  Second, the USA Baseball NTIS process is an important part of the National Team selection process and the BEST players in the country participate in these events.    

Want proof?  — just check out the Twitter stream at @USABaseballNTIS for all the highlights of NTIS alumni.  It is incredibly impressive.  And, here is a stat — since 2008, 263 NTIS alumni have been drafted by MLB, with 23 First Round Picks.  This is the best of the best, including #2 overall pick Alex Bergman in 2015.  No other even series in the country come close to this.

If you have discretionary cash and want to spend it on a baseball weekend for your son, then maybe you should consider the multitudes of “all-star” events.  Just recognize that this event will have little meaning once it is over.  

USA Baseball NTIS events offer much more meaning.  If you get a chance to represent your Region in Cary, NC, it is an incredible honor and a great baseball experience.  After all, this is USA Baseball and you are on the field with the top players in the country.  And if you get a chance to be invited to a National Team trial, or get named to a National Team … that is an experience of a lifetime.

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Thoughts on Freshman and Sophomore HS Baseball

This is a post sent on April 1st for the past 6 years.

This posting is primarily directed to 15u and 16u Gamers .

We have now had hundreds of players go through high school baseball as freshmen and sophomores. Some have had great experiences. Others had bad experiences. It is important to have your expectations set properly and go into the high school baseball experience with the right mindset.

First a little grounding in reality. Of the Gamers playing college baseball right now, here is what they did during their freshman and sophomore years in high school:

  • During their freshmen year, 40% played freshman ball, 40% played JV and 20% played varsity
  • During their sophomore years, 60% played JV and 40% played varsity.

Every situation is different. Some of our players go to huge high schools, some to small high schools. Some high school coaches push younger players to play “up”, while other coaches have firm policies to play juniors and seniors.

So, don’t get too caught up on whether you play freshman, JV or varsity baseball. Obviously, we would like you to play at the varsity level and hope that you get that opportunity to face better competition on better fields, etc..

But, we have had a number of players go on to play D1 college baseball that never played “up” in high school and did not even start as juniors. High school baseball is not necessarily a good indicator of college baseball potential or opportunities.

The opportunity to play “up” depends on a lot of factors, many of which are entirely outside of your control. My observation is that the process of selecting players to play “up” is not necessarily based on a players’ baseball talent, skill or attitude. Other factors clearly come into play, making the process seem almost random.

This randomness can be quite frustrating for high school athletes and parents. But, it is outside of your control.

So, if you are selected to play “up”, congratulations. You need to work hard, continue to improve, earn playing time, be a leader and play like a Gamer.

Your challenge is to get pick up good habits from older teammates, and not pick up bad habits. I have seen too many freshmen play at the varsity level for all four years, and never get significantly better. By the time they are juniors, they start getting passed by. It happens all the time…don’t let it happen to you.

If you are not lucky enough to be selected to play “up”, just relax and focus on the things that can control. You need to do the same things as the players that are playing “up” — work hard, continue to improve, earn playing time, be a leader and play like a Gamer.

Your challenge is to overcome lower quality competition, fields and umpires to use the high school experience to improve your game, develop your skills and prepare you for the summer. With the right mindset, you can have a very successful and productive high school season without playing “up”.

This is what “pursuing excellence” is all about. You compete against yourself to get better, day by day, regardless of the level of competition you are facing. This is how you can take control of your high school baseball experience.

Remember John Wooden’s definition of success — “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming“.

Learning and mastering this mental approach is 10x more important than whether or not you play “up” as a freshman or sophomore in high school baseball. This is the mental approach that will ultimately help you succeed at higher levels of baseball and other aspects of your life.