Sometimes it is not easy to be an engineer and a baseball coach. You see and hear things that don’t makes sense — like the talk about “exit velocity” for hit balls. Just because you CAN measure something DOES NOT mean that it is meaningful or that you should measure it. Exit velocity is one of those things. The velocity at which a ball comes off a bat is controlled by Newton’s laws, a function of: 1. The speed of the bat at impact 2. The mass of the bat 3. The material properties of the bat – ash, maple, metal, sweet spot, etc… 4. The speed of the ball, its rotation, its mass and material properties 5. The angle of impact and angle of ball trajectory 6, Other factors too … All of these things matter — a lot. Click here for the discussion by Stalker Radar which talks about the angle of measurement impact on radar gun velocity. A 30 degrees angle difference, which would still be considered a line drive, would measure 13.9% different than a line drive at 0 degrees angle from the radar gun. That’s the difference between 80 mph exit speed and 70 mph exit speed. A fly ball or groundball at a 45 degree angle would have a 39.3% error. So, all the showcases that report exit velocity are primarily reporting whether or not a kid squared a ball up in at a 0% angle with the radar gun. Angle has that big of an impact. It is probably just as big of a difference as the players’ actual bat speed. Then, for consistency the exit speed measurement HAS to been done off a tee, not a moving ball, to eliminate the variability of the ball. Exit velocity off front toss or pitched balls is not measuring anything meaningful about the player. Too many variables unless the ball is always at the exact location, with the exact spin, trajectory and velocity. And, by the way, the balls need to be exactly the same. Not a bucket of cage balls with worn balls. Only brand new baseballs. And to truly measure apples to apples, all the players needs to swing the same bat. Just because you can measure something does not mean that it is meaningful. Radar guns are great for measuring objects moving at a 0 angle to the gun. But, using them to measure impact with all the variables listed above has no meaning. Showcase scouting reports make a big deal out of a 5 mph exit velocity difference within players. ALL OF THIS DIFFERENCE IS WITHIN THE RANGE OF ERROR OF THE MEASUREMENT. Showcase reports are simply reporting the players that hit the ball close to a 0 degree angle with the gun. This is luck unless you let players take about 20 swings with the same bat and same ball and only record the balls with 0 degree angles off the tee. Not the way it’s done though, 10 swings and out with random data reported.
When we started the Gamers program in 2007, my youngest son was 16 years old and a charter member of the Gamers. The “established” team program in the area wrote a scathing post in STLTODAY’s sports forum (anonymously of course), calling the Gamers “daddy-ball”. It was the first time I had heard that term, but I knew it probably was not a good thing. It has bothered me since because the term was clearly directed at me, not Dave, Scott or Matt.
Now it has been 7 seasons since my son was a Gamer and I have been coaching as a non-dad. I am a much better baseball coach now than I was then. And, the Gamers now have paid coaches up and down the organization, and exclusively from 14 up.
It takes a really special person to be a good dad coach. I was terrible at it. But, these exceptional people are around. We have had some incredibly good dad coaches in our program over the years, who run their teams like Gamers teams and graduate great players at 15u into in the Gamers HS program. These coaches do an excellent job and go above and beyond in achieving the goals of the Gamers program. I have tremendous respect for these guys and the Gamers program has been built on their efforts. With these guys, it is nowhere close to “daddy-ball”.
But, unfortunately, they are the exception.
So, what is “d-ball”?
It is coaching baseball with the primary mission/goals focused on the coach not around the players. “D-ball” coaches are not necessarily bad people, they are just coaching for the wrong reasons.
No one admits to being a “d-ball” coach. But, it is easy to spot using some telltale signs:
How They Act and Talk:
A lot of emphasis on recruiting and behind the scenes deals to get early puberty and physically developed players surrounding the coaches’ son(s) — they pretty much know every kid’s name on every team in the age group and treat them like chess pieces.
On the phone a whole lot with parents. More time talking to parents, than talking to the players
Lot’s of opinions on other players, based on limited observation data and limited experience in talent evaluation (BTW — college coaches would NEVER listen to a dad coach)
Smug sales pitch focused on their “selling point”– telling people what they want to hear, like “all the best players, etc..”. If it sounds too good to be true …
Big focus on results, little focus on process of playing baseball
Big focus on now, little focus on 3 years from now
Drama … in the dugout, on the field, and in the stands.
Small rosters and pick-up players to maximize that “last roster spot” (i.e. players as chess pieces — if the roster is full, it’s hard to play chess)
How They Practice and Play
Systematic favoritism – OK with some parents as long as their son is on favorites list. But, eventually players hurt on both sides of this equation.
Poor practice organization, because everything is done from the dad’s perspective. Lots of standing around in lines for ground balls and cage time, with limited instruction or development of core skills — like arm strength, footwork or bat speed. But, the dad coach is busy all practice.
Results based instruction — fielding a groundball with bad technique is rewarded, booting a groundball with proper technique is criticized.
Batting orders and positional lineups built around the favorites
No focus on athletic training and nutrition as the players get older. This really hurts players as they progress to 13 and 14u.
Pouting and negative body language after mistakes are made. Drama on the field, in the dugout and in the stands.
Little true energy put into playing the game right. Just lots of words with no enforcement, especially if son is culprit. I have never seen a d-ball team where the pitcher backs up bases — almost always in the middle of the field pouting after a double.
The scoreboard matters more than how the team plays.
When discussing a loss, immediately jump to BLAME — always one particular play from one particular player — ignoring the other 20 outs in the game. It’s always “that one play” . Reality of course is that is NEVER that one play in baseball.
That’s how you spot a “d-ball” team. Sadly, we have had a few in our program as the years have passed. It never works out.
Some “d-ball” teams can be very talented and win lots of games and trophies if the coach is a good recruiter and has a good sales pitch. Heck, some club programs have become the umbrellas organizations for “d-ball” teams. It is easy to sell jerseys, rent cage time and just outsource coaching to “d-ball” coaches with their own agendas. It’s easy for the club and works well for the “d-ball” coach looking out for his own interest.
But, the “d-ball” process eventually ends the same way …. other players catch up physically, the sales pitch wears thin and parents/players get a clue and start looking out for their longer term self interest. At this point, the players unfortunately have to jump off onto a steep learning curve on how to play the game right. Sometimes, there is nowhere to jump to.
Why do parents put their sons in these situations? I am not sure, but my guess is that:
- It feels good temporarily — everyone is looking for easy success (note — in baseball it does not exist for 99% of players)
- The sales pitch tells them what they want to hear, and they do not see through it
- They are on on the positive side of favoritism (at least temporarily)
- Some parents enjoy the drama, politics and water cooler talk. So, it’s a good fit for the parents.
- They do not truly understand the alternative model, which is more work, harder, imposes discipline and is challenging
After watching and coaching a lot of good high school baseball players for a decade, I have concluded that the two biggest personality trait problems are:
Being Arrogant — thinking you are better than you really are and thinking the you “deserve” something just based on who you are
Being Disrespectful — to teammates, opponents and coaches during competition, during practice and off the field.
The mixture of these two traits is toxic and in my observation is the root cause of:
- Poor work ethic
- Lack of focus on details
- Bad team chemistry & relationships
- Lack of personal responsibility/accountability for game results, practice results and simple things like picking up your own trash and carrying team equipment
- Inability to learn from mistakes and improve i.e not “coachable”.
This is not a long-term success path for baseball players and is not consistent with being a Gamer.
Instead of Arrogant, be modest, humble and confident
Instead of being Disrespectful, be polite, courteous, reverent to other people and the process that you engaged in.
The basic virtues of being a fine young man translate directly onto the baseball field.
One of the reasons I enjoy coaching teenagers is that they keep you off balance and say things that make you think. Several weeks ago, a player said to me:
“Coach, I think you hate losing more than you love winning”.
My immediate reply was “That is absolutely right, I HATE losing”. That was a very honest response. But, I have been thinking about it ever since.
We want our players to play to win, to do the things required to win => like having QAB’s, throwing strikes, making routine plays, winning innings and playing with effort and focus. These are all positive actions to achieve an outcome that they control.
Instead, if a player “plays not to lose”, this sacrifices all this positive energy and completely changes their approach=> they take too many fastball strikes, are not aggressive on the bases and in the field and play tentatively, afraid to make a mistake.
There is a prevalent coaching philosophy in HS/youth baseball coaching that you win most games by letting the other team beat themselves. Unfortunately this is somewhat true, but is not very inspiring and gets less and less true as players move up the ranks. I would rather coach kids to WIN, not just survive.
The difference between the two approaches boils down to level of commitment and willingness to take risks and control your own destiny. It reminds me of the Chicken and Pig fable below — the difference between being involved and being committed. Commitment to winning is a more powerful and positive to achieve than “not losing”.
Maybe it starts at the top??
So, thanks to an 8th grader, I am re-evaluating my approach to coaching (and other things too). My new goal is to LOVE WINNING more than I HATE LOSING.
Part of this is going to be redefining WINNING — it is not going to be the results of the scoreboard. Fortunately, John Wooden’s definition of success provides a good guidepost for this:
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. John Wooden.”
Chicken and Pig Fable
A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road.
The Chicken says: “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”
Pig replies: “Hm, maybe, what would we call it?”
The Chicken responds: “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”
The Pig thinks for a moment and says: “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved!”
Volunteer coaches are at the heart of 9-14u youth baseball. If you coach the right way and at a high level, it is an incredibly time consuming activity. And, more than time, it absorbs an enormous amount of emotion and energy. The guys who do this while also working full time jobs are true servants to the sport of baseball and to young men. This is especially true at higher competition levels. Coaching is like a second job, except without pay and longer hours.
Most volunteer coaches at this age group are also dads. It is incredibly challenging to coach your own son while also trying to coach a high level team. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. You cannot understand this unless you have done it. You are pulled in so many directions. It swings like a roller coaster from incredibly satisfying to incredibly frustrating, and back again. Dad coaches who do it right and can stay balanced are candidates for sainthood. I was not even close.
Parents in the stands need to be thankful for the coaches who do volunteer their time and appreciate the service they are providing. And, parents need to be supportive of coaches. It is really hard for a player to play for a coach that is constantly criticized by parents in the car ride home. It turns into a death spiral pretty quickly and the young player usually ends up with short-end of the stick, because they get less comfortable with playing, play with less confidence and start using the coach as an excuse for poor effort.
So — to volunteer coaches, especially dads, thanks for your important contribution to youth baseball.
To parents, please appreciate of the hard work and service volunteer coaches are providing. Accept the fact that mistakes are going to be made and keep things in perspective. 80% of the coaches are doing things for the right reasons and trying to do things the right way.
Regarding the other 20%, don’t let your son play for them ! That 20% is easy to spot at the select level of baseball:
– They are personally vested into winning instead of actually working with kids to get better. Their relationship with players is one-way, and players are a tool for them to get an ego boost from $4 trophy on Sundays. This is easy to spot by observing the interactions between the player and the coach and also by watching pitch counts climb to crazy levels.
– They are focused primarily on just recruiting early puberty kids instead of using the principles of hard work and passion to develop them. This is easy to spot too — the players are large, the fundamentals are tiny and the coach spends more time talking to parents than to kids. These coaches are a lot more comfortable with a cell phone than a fungo.
Players are better off playing with a lower level team that is better coached, than to play for a 20% coach on a top level team. Ideally you can have both, but that takes some judgement and perspective.
When a kid gets to about 14 years old and decides to put his heart into something, it is such an honorable and courageous act.
There are A LOT of distractions for young men these days. AND, there is as much pressure as ever to “fit in”. But, most people that are exceptional at something do not necessarily fit in. That is not a criteria for being exceptional. Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” gives a lot of insight into what makes people exceptional — from business, to sports, to music, etc..
At the fundamental level, becoming exceptional is a process, comprised of hard work, passion and deliberate repetitions in the right environment. That is the basis for being exceptional — and that is why it is so honorable and courageous. Young men (and adults!) in this process are naturally going to be a little different and are going have an edge to them. That is part of what allows them to be exceptional.
What better sport than baseball as a platform for teaching this process?
A plea to coaches of 12-15 year old teams …. please implement and teach the standard cutoff/relay system that young players can learn and take into high school baseball with them. It makes watching high school baseball a lot more fun. Not sure I can watch another pitcher standing in the middle of the field or a first baseman hanging around first. Everyone has a job to on every play. For everyone except catchers, this means sprinting somewhere 90% of the time once the ball is in play.
I forget where I got the attached graphics, probably picked them up from somewhere a decade ago. They are pretty good. Please share them with your players. They need to know every position. It makes watching baseball a lot more fun too.
Here is the link:
The pluses and minuses of “club” or “select” or “travel” baseball have been debated a lot recently. So, it probably makes sense for me to weigh in on this debate (http://stlgamers.net). My comments focus primarily on the 14-18u age groups. Younger than that is a different animal and different debate.
The anti club baseball crowd arguments can be summarized as some variation of:
- “I made to the major leagues without it” (mostly stated by former players in their 40’s+ who played before club baseball existed. For example, Bryce Harper would not say that as he spent most summers at East Cobb playing in Perfect Game events since he was 14)
- Kids are better off playing sandlot baseball every day during the summer instead of overly organized practices and games. There is a chance this still happens in small communities somewhere — but that perspective is simply out of touch with the reality of urban/suburban teenager and parent life these days. How many parents let their kids disappear within bike ride distance for four hours every day? If sandlot baseball is the best approach, why have major league teams set up training facilities in Dominican Republic? Don’t American kids not deserve the same opportunity?
- Kids need to play multiple sports, not just focus on one. Don’t disagree with this. I love kids that play multiple sports. But, here again, reality is a lot different, especially at large high schools. Former athletes who say this need to spend a Friday night at a large high school football or basketball game. The skill and sport-specific athleticism is those sports is off the charts. Normal 6’1″, 175lb athletes have to be truly exceptional to play football and basketball at large high schools. Not everyone can afford to send their kids to small private schools where multi-sport athletes are more common.
- Single sport focus creates too many over-use injuries. I have no clue about this, other than to point to papers and studies that support both sides of this issue. First, the best way to avoid injury in sports is to not play at all. I totally agree that club baseball players need to be on an overall strength and speed training program and pitchers need to shut down their arms for a period in the winter. But, let’s face it, if a kid does ANYTHING at an elite level, there is going to be an increased risk of injury because they are naturally going to be pushing their bodies closer to physical limits. The easy way to handle this risk is to not do anything at an elite level. But, my experience through a decade is that elite baseball players have an equal likelihood of getting hurt in PE class at school than during baseball.
- Club baseball costs too much. I tend to agree with this if there is profit margin built into the cost of the program. If there is someone at the end of the day that is making money without actually coaching and training kids, then the cost is too high. It is fair for coaches to be compensated for their time at a market rate. That allows you to attract and keep good baseball guys in the sport. Most of the great club programs across the country are not run to make profit for shareholders. All the fees are invested in coaching, practice rentals, uniforms, tournaments and travel.
Maybe there are other arguments against club baseball, but the above captures 80% of the criticisms.
Here is my argument in defense of club baseball:
- Professional baseball is NOT the measuring stick. The measuring stick is COLLEGE BASEBALL. Club baseball gets players prepared and placed into college baseball. The value of this is both short term monetary, athletic and academic scholarships, and long-term experiential. Kids who play college sports do better in college and have better life potential through the experience of playing sports at an elite level. This is a really big deal. Former MLB players who criticize club baseball either have no concept of this or take it for granted. Club baseball is about the 99% who do not make it to MLB, not the 1% who do.
- It does not just start in college. Teenage boys need to learn how to compete at a high level. I don’t care whether it is in baseball, chess or debate club. The PROCESS of working hard, passionate commitment, overcoming failure and focused achievement is 10x more important than baseball. Club baseball is a great platform for young men to experience and learn this PROCESS that can be applied to all aspects of their lives. True success is not random. Life is not a lottery ticket. This is the true value proposition for club baseball — it teaches kids how to succeed.
- Club baseball, done right, can teach young men to think outside of themselves, to care about teammates and group success instead of just themselves. Any parent of a teenage boy understands how important this is. Other team sports can do the same thing. But, to me, the act of a sacrifice bunt, advancing the runner, staying in rundown, hitting a cutoff man, getting on/off the field in 10 seconds, etc.. in baseball is at higher level and is more visible “big picture” perspective than other sports. The empathy to pick-up a teammate and the grittiness to compete for 21 outs teaches emotional maturity. Most great things in life are accomplished with these traits. Club baseball, done right, is where these things are taught. Top club programs can bench their #3 hitter for being selfish and replace him with someone just as good. It really hard for high school coaches to do this effectively, because the talent depth is too shallow and political correctness in school environments inhibits the coaching emotion and passion required to teach this.
- Finally, to become an elite player you need to compete against other elite players. Club baseball provides this opportunity to play against higher level competition from across the country. Eventually, players from the Midwest and North need to compete against players from the South, Florida, Texas and California. A .800 winning percentage and a .550 batting average in local legion baseball is not very meaningful. That is why all the college coaches are at club team, showcase events during the summer. Elite players want to play against the best competition, and college coaches want to see them do it.
A lot has changed in baseball and other sports over the past decade. Club baseball is a reality and is here to stay — just like AAU summer basketball, year round soccer/hockey and summer football camps.
I would love for the debate to shift to what is the best way to coach and teach young men in the club baseball environment. The critics need to stop harkening back to the good ole days and start contributing to the realities of todays’ athletes. There are a lot of coaching opportunities available for former players who want to contribute and give back to the sport. Those contributions would make club baseball better.
Below is a chart of data of MLB on-base percentage as hitters pass through different counts. Of course, everyone starts at 0-0, so the MLB OB% average is .324 (note there are some quirks in this data and it is a couple decades old, but conclusions are right).
If the result of pitch 1 is a ball, then the batters on-base % goes to .387. If the result is strike 1, then the on-base % goes to .256. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE and sets up the rest of the rest of the at-bat. You can see how the results further diverge as the counts play out.
The different between the upper right 1/2 of the box and the lower left 1/2 of the box is the difference between scoring 2 runs a game or 7 runs a game. Pitchers need to throw strikes early, hitters need to swing at strikes early. That creates a perfect match-up!