Monthly Archives: September, 2014

Being Exceptional

For the past 5 years, I have shown this graphic to our high school age baseball players:

I try to convey that “to be exceptional, you need TO DO exceptional things”. Sure, talent helps. Luck sometimes plays a role.  But, in my experience, the most exceptional people are not the most talented. There are always more talented people around. Talent or luck do not separate exceptional performers from the pack.
What makes people exceptional is that they combine strong talent with hard work, enthusiasm, commitment, and a strong mental make-up. That combination makes people exceptional — in any chosen field.
Most of these elements that lead to “exceptionalism” are CHOICES that individuals have the FREEDOM, CONTROL and RESPONSIBILITY to make. Being exceptional is a CHOICE. To me, that is an inspiring, positive and very American outlook on life.
My personal goal is to help young men learn to be exceptional — whether it is in baseball, academics or professionally. This is a core part of the Gamers baseball program.  In the Gamers program, it is OK to be ambitious, to have goals, to work hard and try to become the best you can be. No apologies required.

Repost on “Mis-Perceptions” on the Gamers Program

The post below was made in 2012.  I am still hearing some of these “mis-perceptions”, so I have revised and re-posted below.

====================================================================

Over the past weeks, several parents and players have asked me about certain things that have been posted on discussion forums and/or said by individuals regarding the Gamers program. So, I thought that I would just address them in a blog post.

1. The costs of the Gamers program is high because “its all about the money” and “they only care about the money”.
This is a naive myth. Do the math …

Uniforms >$350

Tournaments & Gamesv$850per player (entry fees only, we play EVERY weekend in high end tourneys)

2 paid coaches – $700

100 hours of instruction – $1500 (thats $15 per hour, including facility rentals, practice fields, coaching, etc..)

Total >>$3000 per player.
We do not pay our instructors or coaches too much. We pay them fairly, and they work harder than any other group I have seen.  We have two paid coaches for each high school age team.  No dad coaches at the high school level.

Younger teams are lower cost because tournament fees are lower and we us a combination of volunteer and paid coaches.

The myth that club baseball is “all about the money” is out of touch with reality. If you do it right, it costs a lot of money.

It is all about what you get for the money.

If a program does not play in high end tournaments, gets kick-backs on tournament fees, has fewer or unpaid coaches, does not provide 100+ hrs of instruction, does not practice, marks up travel costs and still charges $3500+, then maybe the critics of club baseball have a point. The math does not work in that case.
But, that does not describe the Gamers program.

2. The Gamers promise kids a college scholarship

This is not true. Although over 90% of our 17u players go on to play college baseball , we don’t promise anything to players and parents. The only way to play college baseball is to be talented, skilled, work hard and get good grades. We can help with this. But, there are no promises — it all starts and ends with the player.
3. The Gamers tell players that they can only get a college scholarship if they play club baseball.
We have never said that.  Other programs do.  If a player is talented, skilled, works hard and gets good grades, then he will have an opportunity to play college baseball. Some kids can play legion baseball during the summer, and go into great college baseball programs.
The whole college scholarship thing is blown way out of proportion. The Gamers program is about providing kids the opportunity to play high level, competitive baseball in an environment that is both challenging and fun. We want to use baseball as a platform to positively impact kids’ lives — for the long term.  

If your mission statement as a program focuses on freshman year of college baseball, then it is misguided. 

4. The Gamers do not let their players play other sports.
Almost 50% of our high school age players play multiple sports. They find the time to work on baseball in the winter, play their second sport and keep their grades up. Not much time for partying and hanging out. But, our multi-sport athletes work hard and do things right. We are proud of them.

We want our players to take baseball seriously. A second sport cannot be used as an excuse for not working hard at baseball.

These days, it takes an exceptional athlete to do well in multiple sports in high school.  That it just the reality — football camps run all summer long, basketball and soccer are year round sports.

5. The Gamers are making money by charging parents to use Gamechanger.

Someone actually posted this on a local sports discussion forum…. crazy. Kind of shows the length some people will go to bad-mouth a program.
We adopted Gamechanger in 2010 (the “pilot” program for Gamechanger) to keep track of our 13 teams and to consolidate all the stats. The design of Gamechanger was built around the stats that we keep as a program — things like quality at bats, and first pitch strikes.
But Gamechanger is an independent company. It makes money by providing “live” game info to parents that it sells through a subscription. It is a nice feature for parents. But, the Gamers do not make a dime off of it.

6. The Gamers make money by charging players for bus trips.

 This one is out of touch too.
Bus trips provide an opportunity for our parents to “take the weekend off” and stay at home. Each high school age team does 1-3 trips per summer. Again, do the math on bus trip costs and you will see that $350+ per player barely covers the cost. We travel on high quality, safe, large buses driven by Vandalia, the top charter service in the area. And, we stay in nice hotels with hot breakfast. Buses rent for $1000 per day. Hotels are $100 per night. It quickly adds up to $350 for a 4 day bus trip.
Some other programs travel in passenger vans driven by coaches (our insurance carrier does not even allow this!!!)  and stay in lower quality hotels. Perhaps those trips cost less than $300 per trip. But, you get what you pay for. I would rather travel on safe buses for an extra $50-100 per player.
We do not do bus trips every weekend because we know that a lot of parents want to attend the games. So, to have bus trip costs plus parent travel costs is redundant. I am not sure why some programs do bus trips every weekend and make parents pay double.  Oh … they may money on hotel commissions.
7. The Gamers program plays out of town because they are afraid to play local SLABA and high school teams.

I can say universally that none of our coaches, including me, enjoys traveling on summer weekends. It is costly and a major impact on our families. It is a sacrifice we make to ensure that our players are playing the right competition and are in an environment where they can be seen by college coaches.

We would love to stay in St. Louis 8 weekends a year. We have worked hard to bring tournament operations like Pastime tournaments and DiamondSports tournaments to St. Louis (before us, these tournaments organizations did not even operate in St. Louis). We continue to work on it.

There are enough good baseball players in the St. Louis area to host 2x the number of tournaments that are currently hosted here. But, there are parochial barriers to this happening.

So, until progress is made on this front, we will not take the easy way out and have our teams/players play in less competitive local events that are not exposure-oriented. Until we get more of these events into St. Louis, we will continue to be away from our families during the summer. Our players need to play against the top competition available. If that is not available in St. Louis, then we will travel.

8. In addition to club fees, Gamers players are required to take individual pitching and hitting lessons at All-Star Performance.
First, less than 33% of Gamers players take individual lessons at All-Star Performance. Way less than 1/2 the players.

Second, our program provides a lot of instruction that is already baked into the program fees. There is no requirement to add individual lessons on top of this. Some players do, because they are working hard to improve and want more direct one-on-one coaching from an instructor. But, it is not a requirement of the program.

Select Baseball and Academics

Incredibly — 8 years ago now, I interviewed Brendan Sullivan from Headfirst Baseball about select baseball and academics.  Great insights for any HS player that want to play college baseball.

Click Here to listen.  It is a about 20 minutes long.

Team Measures in Baseball

I spent the weekend looking at baseball through the lens of “measuring team performance”.  There are a lot of individual measures in baseball to tell a player how well he is doing.  Team measures, other than Wins/Loses are a lot harder to come by.

So, I am looking for some measures that look into the heart of a team.  Does the team play hard and have the guts, courage and tenacity to compete.  Nothing new here, but these are the measures that come closest for me (and pretty much directly relate to wins/loses, but are a lot more controllable to players):

Win 3 innings =>measures tenacity and persistence.  John Wooden uses the term “intentness” for this.  In a 7 inning game, if you win 3 innings, you will win 90+% of the time.  If you don’t win the 3rd inning, it is up to luck.

But, inside of the “Win 3 innings story there are several subplots:

Prevent/Achieve a BIG Inning => string a series of Quality At Bats together to score 3 or more runs in an inning. From a defensive standpoint, prevent BIG innings by limiting walks, errors and extra bases (cutoff men, passed balls) and making routine plays.  It takes courage to step up and limit damage after the other team scores.  Weak team roll over and let 2 runs turn into 4.

Shutdown Inning => put up a zero immediately after we score.  This is about focus and not letting up.

Answer Back Inning =>the other side of the Shutdown inning … answering back by scoring immediately after the opponent scores.  This measures guts and courage to respond.

Extend the Lead Inning => this is adding on runs to an existing lead.  Often over-looked, but goes hand in hand with winning 3 innings.  This measures tenacity and persistence.

These are all team measures and provide a view directly into the heart of a team.

Up the Middle and Oppo

Four phrases comprise 90% of my coaching of hitters during games”

Be aggressive

Let the ball travel

Attack the inside half

Keep your head still

I probably stay each of the above phrases 10+ times per game.  Here is how these phrases all stick together:

Through 11 games this fall ….

When we put the ball in play to the pulls side, we are hitting .259

When we put the ball in play up the middle or oppo, we are hitting .456.

That is a really big range — 200 points of batting average.  Most pitchers are throwing fastballs away and off speed.  We cannot try to pull these pitches.  If we do, we will hit .260 or less.  Instead, if we take an up the middle/opp approach, we will hit .460.  Eventually, if we keep hitting the ball oppo, pitchers will make adjustment and start pitching us inside.  The we have them where we want them.  But, if we keep rolling over on away pitches, we will never see inside pitches — pitchers will just keep pounding us away.

Competitive Dynamics

So, extending the work from 1-Pitch Warrior, this is how the 16 Blue team has done so far this weekend:

Which Gam                   Game1  Game 2    Game 3

Shutdown Inning              2           3                1

Big Inning                        0            1               0

Answer Back                   1            1               0

Extend Lead                    2            2               0

Game Score               5-2W       16-2W       2-3L

There is a lot to this regarding how a team competes during the game.  It a good measure of tenacity, intensity and focus.

Can we put a zero up after we score?

Can we strong good At-Bats together to create a Big Inning?

Can we answer back with a run after the opponent scores?

Can we extend the lead once we get it by adding on runs?

It is like turnovers and offensive rebounds in basketball.  A direct measurement of competitive tenacity.

“Process” Based Stats

I have been doing some reading of the “1-Pitch Warrior” material at http://www.1pitchwarrior.com.

The approach has a lot of overlap with the Gamers approach, including:

QAB — Quality At-Bats, to measure hitter performance (instead of batting average)

First Pitch Strikes – our target is 67%

Overall Strikes – our target is >60%

Defensive Walks + Errors – less than 5 is target

Win three innings (if you do this, you win 90% of games)

In addition to these, 1-Pitch Warrior talks about some other team based measures such as:

Shutdown Inning — putting up a zero after your team scores

Big Inning — scoring 3 or more runs in an inning

Answer back inning — scoring immediately after the other team scores

Extend lead inning — score to extend the lead, adding on insurance runs

I like these measurements because they reflect the competitive ebb & flow of the game.  Coach Dehmer has the same crazy stats as me — if you achieve just three of the above in 7 innings, you will win 90% of your games.

Going to start adding those to the Gamers vocabulary.