This post provides a perspective on the current landscape of baseball “club” programs across the country. This perspective is based on my 15 years experience running the Gamers (stlgamers.net), where we admittedly have a narrow view on the right way to do things. We have extreme focus on player development and relationships, and have primarily stuck with 2 teams per age group for 15 years. Our retention rate is > 80% year after year and over time 90% of our 17u players have gone on to play college baseball.
But, this is not the only way to do things in club baseball.
Baseball programs across the country have a lot of different business models, driven by lots of factors such as climate (warm vs. cold), geography (city vs. suburb vs. rural), coaches’ experience (MLB vs. MiLB/College vs. HS), investment profile (facility/assets vs. none), age group focus (HS, MS, Elementary), player targets (college-bound, high-school, recreational), etc…
All the differences above impact the choices baseball programs make in how to structure, manage and coach. What is right in suburban Florida may not work at all in Western PA or St. Louis, MO.
But, there is one defining choice that is currently driving the landscape of club baseball across the country. Ultimately EVERY baseball program makes a choice on how they are going to get players. Where do their players come from?
There are fundamentally two options:
You can Develop Players, or you can Recruit Players. Or, you can try to do both.
Developing players is hard work. It requires you to commit a lot of time at practices, invest money in assets and technology, educate coaches and develop relationships with players/parents that retains them in the program year after year as the young man develops into a baseball player. Development takes time. This choice in youth baseball is well understood and has decades of history in the sport. This development experience between coaches and players and between teammates is perhaps the greatest long-term value of playing youth baseball.
Development Programs hold open tryouts, select players from the tryouts and respond to players/parents reaching out to them for a roster spot. They do not make cold calls, send cold emails and spend time and effort targeting and selling to specific players.
The other choice is to be a Recruiting Program. Recruiting 9-17u players is really hard work too. You have to constantly be on the lookout for players that are more talented than your current players and deliver the right sales pitch at the right time to attract them (and their parents) to your program. You see these guys watching other teams’ games, talking to parents on other teams and closely following rankings and showcase results. Perfect Game/PBR and social media have made it easier to find players over the past decade. Email/text marketing tools are now relatively easy to implement. So you can find 50 players to target and send individualized messages to each of them now with a few clicks. But, at some point, you have to spend hours on the phone convincing players and parents to join your program and jump ship from XYZ. This is a lot of talking and selling. That is the hard part. And it has nothing to do with developing baseball players. That is why this is a clear choice.
Recruiting Programs have exploded over the past decade, fed by showcase/recruiting organizations, social media and the broken structure of the D1 college recruiting process. And, for whatever reason youth baseball has attracted a lot of really good salesmen that understand how to promote a brand to feed the social media frenzy and egos of parents.
Fifteen years ago, there were maybe 10 programs across the country that made this choice. Currently there are too many to count.
Some programs say they do both – develop and recruit. This is possible but quite rare for four reasons:
- As a coach, you cannot commit to developing a kid at the same time you are constantly looking to replace him with a better player. Maybe in pro ball, not in high school or middle school — way too emotional and requires you to be dishonest with kids!
- Not many individuals are good salesmen and good coaches. It is practically impossible for the same person to be good at both.
- Development takes hours, time and facilities and creates a fundamentally different cost structure that is not a good fit for the Recruiting Model, which is all about games and getting other people to pay the bill for talented players to play (see below).
- Target players in the recruiting model are often not local. It is hard to develop a young baseball player if you are not actually with him. Zoom cannot replace coaching relationships, eyes and body language. Didn’t work for schooling and hard to make work for coaching.
This development gap for Recruiting Programs has been filled over the past decade with independent baseball training businesses. Essentially, Recruiting Programs outsource player development to these local independent training business. So, the program coaches do not see the players train and the instructors do not see them play. This is obviously sub-optimal. Furthermore, independent trainers have limited motivation to actually challenge and push the players to get better. This has contributed greatly to “atta-boy” training businesses where players rarely fail and are not held accountable for their own progress. Unfortunately, this is how the development gap created by Recruiting Programs is currently being filled.
So, that is the choice: Development vs. Recruiting. The choice made by individual programs is relatively easy to observe. Where do the leaders and “name” guys in the program spend their time? Where are the kids on the roster from? Do the teams practice during the summer?
Over the years, four types of Recruiting Model Programs have emerged, although there is such high growth in this segment that it is changing constantly.
Single Event Teams. This is where the Recruiting Model started decades ago. For big national events like the East Cobb WWBA, Jupiter, USA Baseball, Area Code among others, it has been relatively common for players to be recruited to play. Sometimes they pay, sometimes they don’t. But, the idea was relatively simple — recruit the most talented players at a given time and compete against other top talent. The teams and coaches are together for a couple of weeks at most. For several months in advance of the event, the focus is on recruiting — phone calls, networking, emails and texts. At the event, coaches primarily focus on handing out uniforms, writing out lineups and managing game strategy. Player development is not even an after-thought. These events are usually fun for everyone, although the relationships are short-term and shallow.
Fly-in Programs. These emerged as a natural evolution of the highly recruited Single Event Teams. If you are going to go through all the effort of recruiting for a Single Event, why not recruit the same top players to play all summer long in a series of high-end events. Some of these programs have been incredibly successful recruiting extremely talented players to play for the summer.
At the 15-17u level, it is not uncommon for all the recruited players on a true Fly-in roster to already be committed to large D1 schools. So, ongoing development is not necessarily a high priority for these players. They have already “made-it” in their minds. Fly-in Programs do not practice during the season or off-season. They just fly-in talented players and roll them out to play.
The sales pitch is straight forward “Come play WITH other very talented players and WIN A LOT of games and GET RECOGNITION playing mostly against teams with less talented players”. These teams usually cruise through pool play at big events until they eventually face other teams with talented players.
Last year at the 17u WWBA, eight of the final 16 teams where Fly-In Programs, with players from multiple states on 30 man rosters. Fly-In Programs have won the past 5 straight 17u WWBA events.
As Fly-in Programs have succeeded and built their brands around winning, they have expanded the number of teams and players to well beyond just the elite players. The emerging model is to have 3-8 teams at each age, where the lower level teams are comprised of a combination of fly-in, drive-in and local players. These programs use the lower level teams to fund the top teams, which allows them to add a new element to their sales pitch for talented players “you do not have to pay, the less talented players are paying for you”.
Drive-in Programs. These programs are similar to Fly-In Programs in many ways, but they are more regionally focused where players typically drive 4 hours to play games. In strong baseball markets like Georgia, Florida, Carolinas, Chicago, Texas and California, there are enough elite players within driving distance to compete at the national level. Most Drive-In programs do not practice during the season or during the offseason due to the driving distance. Players are on their own for development. Five of the final 16 teams at the 2022 17u WWBA were Drive-in Programs – from FL, GA, MO, NJ and Southern CA.
In many cases Drive-In Programs are competitive with Fly-In Programs. It is common for Drive-In Programs to have 3-10 teams at each age group with the lower level players paying the bill for the “Scout” or “National” Team. The most talented players are the least likely to pay. Also, a recent trend has been for national Fly-in teams to add regional Drive-In teams to their programs across the country as a way of expanding nationally and growing revenue. There are probably now a dozen or more Fly-in programs that have expanded nationally with multiple regional Drive-in “franchises” to grow revenue.
Buy-in Programs. This is the latest evolution of the Recruiting Model. Unlike the Fly-in Programs, these programs do not have a history for winning elite events. The have emerged primarily to compete against Development Programs by offering lower costs travel baseball since little investment is made in player development. Instead, they recruit players to play in games, at a lower price than development programs. The typical structure is 3-6 teams at each age, with the top team usually competitive at a regional level but not competitive with Fly-In Programs. Teams 2-6 are usually not very competitive, with many players not even starting on their high school teams.
This is why I affectionately call them “Buy-In” Programs. At a relatively low price, a player can buy-in to be part of a club that has a handful of good players on the top team and feel good about the brand affiliation, despite personally playing a level of baseball that is closer to recreational baseball than top tier Fly-in programs. Buy-In programs are low priced because most of their teams play in $800 tournaments instead of $3k tournaments AND they have skeletal player development programs (i.e. they do not practice during the summer). Any significant player development activities are outsourced to independent baseball training organizations.
To make it work, Buy-In programs need to be really good at playing the rent-a-player game on their top teams, bringing in different players each weekend and managing the player free agent market. This is usually done locally or regionally. It is common for players to combine 4 weekends of Buy-In Program baseball with 4 weekends of Fly-In baseball with a different program. The primary focus for these programs is getting enough quality players on the field on their top team to attract enough players to fill another 3+ teams of buy-in players that pay full price. It is a financially opportunistic business model that is becoming common across the country.
So, that is the current landscape of club baseball from my perspective. The primary differentiating choice is Development vs. Recruiting, with lots of implications for players and parents falling out from that fundamental choice. It is important for players and parents to understand the landscape and options to make informed decisions. Part of the sales pitch for Recruiting Programs is to blur informed decisions. In baseball, player development has been and always will be the core of the sport and the tools for player development are getting better every year. There is no sales pitch, no matter how good it makes players/parents feel, that overcomes that fact.
Footnote — this Development vs. Recruiting choice is also playing out at the college and pro levels too. A separate topic though.
Many locally competing programs/teams point to the Gamers roster size as “why you should play with us”. Our roster size goals are as follows:
- 10-12u – 12
- 13u – 13
- 14u – 14
- 15u – 15 + maybe 1-2 added PO’s (12-13 position players)
- 16u – 16 + maybe 1-2 added PO’s (12-13 position players)
- 17u – 17 + maybe 1-2 added PO’s (12-13 position players)
For the kind of competition level that we play and depth our our schedule, these roster sizes are on the small side.
Local teams and programs that claim to operate on 12-14 player rosters at HS ages do not understand this because they do actually compete at high level national events.. We could play local tournaments vs. local teams with 12-14 kids per team. But, that is not what our program is about. We compete at the highest level nationally, especially with our Blue teams. Our 15 Blue, 16 Blue, 17 Blue teams were 17-6-1 in WWBA pool play this summer in ATL. (note — only two other programs in the region even sent 15u, 16u and 17u teams to the WWBA event in ATL).
Our 16 Blue and 17 Blue teams just finished playing 47 games in 52 days against top competition in front >>100 college coaches. This is a physically taxing grind. If anything, Gamer rosters sizes are too small for this schedule. Most of the teams we play against at the national level have 20+ players on the roster. It is incredibly hard to play 5+ games every weekend with less that 18-21 players at this level of competition.
In addition, our teams actually practice 2x per week during the season. This is how we develop players. Our practice schedule insures that players that do not get as many game reps get a chance to compete and improve outside of games. Same thing with our 90 minute pregame sessions. It insures development and reps outside of games.
Teams with 12-14 players on the roster simply do not play and compete at the same level that the Gamers play. So, if someone is saying this … they are either misleading you OR are simply out of touch with the level of competition at national travel baseball. Youth baseball has changed a lot in the past decade and is changing every year.
The Gamers roster size policy has always been the following:
- 12 players up to 12u
- Roster size = player age at 13u and above
- At 16u and 17u may be more that 16 or 17 with Pitcher Only players
We deviated from this some this year (2018) and are not happy with the results.
We carried more players at 14u in 2018 because we had three 13u teams moving to 14u the prior year and wanted to give more 14u players a chance to experience the Gamers 14u program. We carried small rosters at 15u and 17u, with the idea that we would move players around between age groups once the grind of the summer season started. That happened a lot during June when we had 14’s playing 15 and 16’s playing at 17.
But, when the 14u Atlanta trip came around, we moved the 14’s back to their age level to better compete in ATL and other events. And, the 14u players wanted to play with their 14u teammates in the big events, which is understandable. So, we never fully moved the 14u players to 15u. After June 30th, we realigned the 15-17u rosters from 6 teams down to 5 teams and kept the 14u players at 14u. So, for much of April, May and July, we had too many players on our 14u rosters (15 on 14 Gray and 16 on 14 Blue).
This was a mistake on our part.
However, despite this, the 14u teams played more baseball than any other 14u teams in the region, with ONE WEEKEND off between mid April and the end of July. Our 14Blue players played in 57 games and practiced 32 times between April 1 and July 22nd. Our 14 Gray players played 48 games and practiced 32 times during the same period. This is on top of the 24 practices in the offseason. When other teams were rained out or snowed out on April weekends, we practiced in our indoor facility. There is no other baseball opportunity in the region that offers this kind of baseball experience.
Although the roster size was bigger than planned, the players played A LOT of baseball, developed as players and got a taste of what it takes to compete at a higher level.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- A hitter misses a few pitches due to the higher velo (it is hard!)
- 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.
- The more he fails, the harder he tries, making the problem worse.
- 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?
- A hitter misses a few eHack pitches due to the higher velo.
- 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.
- Instead of speeding things up and cranking up effort, he does the opposite. He simplifies and slows things down.
- He does not extend a bad round with “one more”. He gets out after 8-10 pitches.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
To connect with Generation Z, we should:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This is a post sent on April 1st for the past 15 years.
This post is primarily directed to 15u and 16u Gamers .
We have now had almost 1000 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. (Recently, we had a 3 year starting infielder for a local D2 program that was cut every year by his high school team.)
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 high school rostering 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.
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.
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!!)
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.
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,
Blog post from 7 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 …