1. Talent/Skill level – basically you need to look the part and be able to play.
2. Good grades – a lot more important than most people realize
3. Being a “good kid” – hard worker, committed, able to overcome failure, coachable, etc.. (i.e. are you a Gamer?)
The only thing a college prep, select baseball program can do for you is to help you develop along those three dimensions and to give you the opportunity to play in front of college coaches. NO COLLEGE PREP BASEBALL PROGRAM “GETS” YOU A COLLEGE BASEBALL SCHOLARSHIP!! (this is secret #1 – don’t tell anyone). College prep programs either help you directly with a these three things or they don’t. If they don’t then … ?
If you are 6’3″, throw 89, have a 29 ACT and are good kid => you are going to play at a high-end Division 1 program. Of course, it is a very competitive world and there are literally hundreds of HS players out there that fit this criteria. If you are in this group, congratulations! There are a lot of people lined up to take credit for your success.
Here is surprising secret #2 : for the clear, high-end D1 players… your actual success in college (i.e. actual playing time, having on-field success, having off-field success and graduating) will depend almost entirely on #2 & #3 above, not #1 that you are being recruited for. This is why so many highly recruited and early-commit players do not make it through (or to) college, switch programs after one year, etc.. This is why a lot of D1 recruits get passed by before they even show up on campus. A lot of SEC recruits never play in the SEC. This is especially true for players who look the part and matured early but were never challenged or taught the importance of #2 and #3.
So, the long-term success of the high-end D1 recruits will depend primarily on how good of a student they are and if they are a “good kid”. This is very counter-intuitive and very top-secret. Many high-end D1 program have bullpens & benches full of kids that throw 90+, but cannot get outs or hit curve balls or are academically ineligible.
But, the clear high-end D1’s do not represent most players in college prep, select baseball. The majority of players are either borderline D1 players, or are more likely to play at D2/D3/NAIA or Juco. That is right — the majority of players playing college prep, select baseball are not going to play high-end D1 baseball. (that is secret #3). This is true for almost EVERY program in the country — maybe 8-10 total exceptions across the country (you can usually find one in our pool at East Cobb).
In the Gamers program, 90% of our players go on to play college baseball. But, a little less than 1/2 go to D1 baseball programs. It sometimes changes year to year, some years 60%, some years 40%. But on average, a little less the 50% over 6 years of graduating players to college baseball.
So, here is a surprising secret #4 for this majority of players … the NCAA level of the baseball program DOES NOT MATTER nearly as much as whether the college is a GOOD FIT with your overall goals.
The single most important goals for you are to:
– use baseball to learn what it takes to be successful in life
– recruit yourself into a baseball program that fits with your academic and baseball levels — i.e. where you “fit”
– have a great college athletic and academic experience
That should be the focus for every player, but especially the players that do not fit clear high-end D1 profiles.
The misguided notion that Division 1 baseball is always the best option is flat-out wrong for LOTS of players.
Here is surprising secret #5 …. At the end of 4-5 years, a player that goes to a high-end academic D3 college and plays baseball is usually BETTER OFF than a player that goes to a high-end D1 baseball program. Not always, but most of the time.
Degrees from schools like MIT, DePauw, Rhodes, Wheaton, Wash U, etc.. matter A LOT. Some of these academic experiences are life altering. These degrees matter more than Division 1 baseball. If you play baseball and successfully graduated rom a college like this, you will have great opportunities in front of you.
The chances of ever earning a living playing baseball are REMOTE (is there a way to make this text larger? — this is secret #6). What matters is having a good experience, developing as a person and emerging from college with the capacity to succeed in life.
I have incredible respect and affection and am VERY proud of the handful of former Gamers now earning a pay check in professional baseball. They are awesome young men. But, I am equally proud of the kids that played college baseball and are graduating from great schools with good degrees that set them up for success in life.
Finally — secret #7 — this process is not about baseball. This is about learning how to work hard at something, fail, get back on your feet and keep working. It is about learning how to succeed. Baseball is simply the best platform invented to teach this to young men.
The article is titled “Sports and Money” to fit with the storyline that it is “all about the money”. I rarely post comments on articles, but I did this time.
I am not sure why some professional athletes and coaches are playing along with this. My speculation is that they are out of touch with the competition level in HS sports OR are just parroting something that sounds good and people seem to want to hear. But to me, it sounds a little like “I was so good I didn’t need club sports. I just played in the sandlot with Smalls, Squints and Bennie.” Well, that was a long time ago.
Here is the comment I posted:
24 March, 2015, 14:45
I find the line of thought, now conventional wisdom that:
a. Travel, club sport coaches and paid instructors are evil
b. Parents who choose to spend discretionary money on sports training are short-sighted and/or are fools
c. Sport specialization is contributing to injuries
d. Young players are somehow victims in the process
to be out of touch with reality, with heads firmly planted ostrich-style in holes.
The world is different now than it was 20 years ago — sorry John Kruk and Curt Schilling. It is a lot smaller world, if you have not noticed.
Players, starting around high school age, figure out if they are pretty good or not at a sport. If they are pretty good, they often want to play the sport a lot, at the highest level they can. They don’t want to just compete with kids in a 50 mile radius. They want to compete against the best from 500 miles, or more. What is wrong with that?
(Please note that I am referring to young men in the HS age group — not elementary and middle schoolers.)
Go check out some HS age competition that is based on a 500 mile radius. You have to be incredibly talented to be on that field. Average does not get you on that field. Kids that want to play on that field know that it is not easy. They are pretty smart.
So, the counter argument is this — “no, little Johnny, let’s be average at three local sports instead of exceptional at the regional level at the one sport that you really like.”
That decision is really up to little Johnny since he has to do all the hard work. And, he probably makes the right decision 95% of the time.
Given the player’s desires, parents with discretionary income then spend money to train their young athletes to compete against the top kids from 500 miles around. That’s what parents do if they can. 95% of the time this represents a significant commitment on the part of the parents to allow their kid to achieve something he/she wants to do. It is players pulling, not parents pushing 95% of the time … especially at high school ages.
Travel, club programs and professional instructors emerged because players/parents want their services and they enjoy working with young people. 95% of these coaches/instructors are incredibly dedicated, good people that do not get paid that much and are great mentors to young men and women. What is wrong with this?
The conventional wisdom implies that the club sport world is supply driven. Somehow, a mass conspiracy formed to convince parents and young players to pay for something they do not need or want. Like pet rocks and sea monkeys. That is very wrong.
This market is demand driven — driven by young athletes that want to compete at a high level. Young athletes want to be trained and developed to compete at a high level. Their parents think that is a worthy endeavor and support it. That is why club sports exist 95% of the time. It is demand, not supply.
95% of players are not victims, 95% parents are not stupid and 95% of coaches/instructors are not “all about the money”.
When people use that phrase, I think they should be forced to set in a dugout with 15 year olds for 2 hours. It is NOT all about the money 95% of the time.
Finally, the injury point. Guess what — if you play sports at a higher and higher level, the risk of physical injury goes up. When you run faster, are bigger, throw harder and hit harder, you are more likely to get hurt. Why is that such a big surprise to everyone?
The chances of an arm injury throwing 90 are a lot higher that the chances of an injury throwing 75. Good players playing at a very physically challenging level tend to get hurt more. People are now actually writing books and making speeches on this absolutely obvious fact.
The only true way to avoid sports injuries is to not play. Playing more, harder and faster leads to more injuries. How’s that for stunning insight.
So, do we tell players to throw easier and run slower? To not compete as hard? That’s just not the way young athletes think.
The entire argument against sports specialization and club sports is focused on the 5% …
… the 5% of players who really do want to play 3 sports but are forced into playing one …
… the 5% of parents who are re-living their own lives through their kids or are being fed BS by coaches/instructors …
… the 5% of coaches/instructors who are in it for the money and do not live up to their end of the bargain …
.. the 5% of coaches that put players at risk for injury by improper warm-up, improper training or letting them continue playing when the risk for injury goes up …
OK maybe its 10%, not 5%. But it is not even close to 50%.
The days of 3 sport athletes dominating their 50 mile radius is LONG GONE … disappearing about the same time as cell phones and the internet made our world a lot smaller. In a lot of areas, it was gone before that. In European soccer is disappeared 5 decades ago.
Club sports and specialization (at HS ages) are not going away. It is a natural and healthy evolution, 95% of the time. Let’s focus on fixing the 5% instead of telling players not to play hard, work hard and have lofty goals, or telling parents not to spend time and money on their kids, or telling coaches not to coach.
Because, I am pretty sure that is not going to happen.
1. Because it is about a baseball player their age that they can relate to
2. It reflects my single biggest fear in coaching teenagers.
So, most players dutifully read the book and send me the one paragraph or one page book report. The impact of the story is not long-lasting. Attention spans are short, and it usually takes 1-2 years for life experiences to catch up with the book. Here is the Amazon link to buy the book, 90 pages, $9 worth every penny.
My favorite passage in the book is:
“It was as if this baseball coach had reached inside me, found a rusty switch marked: ‘turn on before attempting use’ – and flipped it.”
Flipping switches is not pretty. Sometimes the switch is hidden kind of deep and you have to dig around and it gets messy. Sometimes, the switch turns back off and needs to be flipped back on again a couple of times. And, ocassionally it does not switch on at all.
If you have just 10 minutes, please read the story about Coach Fitz that Michael Lewis wrote for the New York times http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/28/magazine/28COACH.html (it’s free — although the book is a lot better).
Even though the story is now 10 years old now, it provides good insight into the coaching challenge in 2015. Flipping switches is 10x more challenging (and more important) then teaching kids to throw hard or run fast.
Sometimes when I interview people for jobs, I explain the Coach Fitz story and ask the candidate “who is your Coach Fitz?” The answers vary between incredible stories and just blank stares. It’s about 50/50, but with declining numbers for Coach Fitz.
Sadly, the NY Times article ends like this:
“And when I think of that, I become aware of a new fear: that my children might never meet up with their Fitz. Or that they will, and their father will fail to understand what he’s up to.”
Blog post from 4 years ago. Yogi Berra >> Stephen Hawking. Literally 4 years ago.
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, snake oil salesmen have ridden into town (actually, they have been here a while). They target talented baseball players and sell them a magic potion that looks like this:
“Come to our program. We don’t practice as much, have friendlier coaches, don’t work as hard and have lower expectations. Don’t believe the Gamers BS about Hard Work and Passion. Plus, because we reduce un-needed coaching and instruction, and no high expectations. Fun all around”
This is almost comical. Get better, by working less. Snake oil potions, combined with some multi-level Amway marketing.
Some parents and players fall for this 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.
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 …
I remember being fascinated by wave theory and propagation calculations back in my engineering days. It is the technology that we used at British Petroleum to drill for oil and develop the North Slope oil fields. Shoot sound or pressure waves, measure reflection and time at the surface and you can map what is 20,000 feet underground. Really cool technology.
Now, 30 years later, all those smarts are now on built into a $1200 radar gun with the Stalker Pro II, an incredible piece of technology. You can make adjustments and option settings to automatically compensate for lots of conditions. All menu driven and easy to do. We literally used a Cray mainframe computer for these calculations in the 1980’s.
So, here’s a easy hack to pick up 3mph on your fastball.
1 – Turn on the gun
2 – hold down Menu button for 1 second
3 – select Option 10 called “Cosine Angle” (evidently just called angle with some software)
4 – input 15
exit out of Menu, then voila, the gun will read 3.4% higher. So, an 82 mph fastball will read 85 on the gun display. If you input 30 with Option 10, the gun will display 94mph for your 82 mph pitch. At some point is gets out of control. If you input 45 on Option 10, the gun will read 115 mph. That might be a little much, but it makes you feel like Aroldis Chapman.
So, a key part of this Stalker hack is to be realistic setting Option 10 and then take a picture of the gun reading to reflect the higher reading. Because, if it is on the gun, it will generally be considered true.
Great news … Stalker has now made this hack feature available on ALL models, including the $499 Sport II model. The options are a little different so you’ll to read the manuals online.
Last night, on the way home from practice at 11:30pm, I was reflecting on how very, very easy it would be to coach and do the college prep baseball thing if I did not care. If a player is not working hard, just let it go. If a player is doing something incorrectly, just let it go. If he is not meeting expectations in the weight room or in fitness levels, just let it go. Missing assignments, let it go.
Just let it go and focus on having fun, telling players and parents whatever they want to hear and ignoring issues. Let players show up whenever they want, no schedule, just nice and friendly and comfortable. Convenience and fun are the priorities. Fun and easy. Happy.
Bad grades, let it go. Showing up late, let it go. Not showing up, let it go. Crazy college lists, let it go. No college lists, let it go. Throwing 50% strikes, let it go. Rolling over in the cage, let it go. Being lazy in long toss, let it go.
Gosh, things would be swell. And easy. And fun.
Throwing extra BP, let it go. Writing letters for players, let it go. Creating recruiting websites/videos, let it go. Editing poorly written profiles, let it go. Hitting hours of extra fungos, let it go. Extra practices, let it go. Pregame work, let it go. Poor style of play, let it go. Kid gets hurt, let it go. Kids doing drugs, let it go. Bus trips, let it go. Team Rooms, let it go. Hotel blocks, , let it go. Spending weekends away from family all summer, let it go. Giving up my downstairs to out of town players for 10 weeks, just let it go.
Golly, it would be a swell life if you could let it go and not care.
No attachment, no loyalty, no commitments, no problems. Just cut kids that are struggling, Just focus time on the easily recruitable players, while ignoring others. Have 24 players rosters. Let coaches do whatever they want. Don’t help out people in financial trouble Just let it go. Cash shortfalls, let it go, Investments in new facilities and equipment, let it go. 1am letters to college coaches, let it go. 20 phones calls from college coaches, let it go. Honesty, let it go … way too hard!!
How is this player? Definite D1, throws 5mph harder that the gun reads.
How’s that player? Definite D1, you can teach him to throw strikes when he gets on campus.
How’s the other player? Has an offer from AR, 30 lbs overweight is very attractive to the SEC, so better offer fast.
It would be just swell to stand on the sidelines, doing the easy stuff, cashing checks living off the efforts of others. Let other people do the hard work of forming teams, selecting players, scheduling games, developing players, coaching games, traveling with teenagers, being responsible for teenagers, making lineups, helping them compete, dealing with emotions. That stuff is too hard and not fun.
That’s a nice gig! Everyone has fun, everyone likes you, no hard feelings, all cheerleading and everyone gets a prize at the end. Gosh, that sounds great! No worries.
Dr. Tom Hanson says the three most important words in baseball are “let it go”. Not what he meant, but golly-gee who cares. Hukuna matata.
So, my mom always told me (and still does) that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. Proven right again. A couple days ago I made a unkind joke about a baseball facility in an email that went out internally to just 60 Gamers players/families. Like they say — never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want printed in the Wall St. Journal. Sure enough, the email got forwarded outside the Gamer group — resulting in an embarrassing situation. Not my intent. But. Mom was right.. again.
Chalk that one up to my growing list of mistakes. But, if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough.
And sometimes, you really do need to say things that are not nice. Not in an email like my recent stupid mistake. But, as a coach, a business person, a friend, negative things sometimes need to be said especially if there is a chance that it will have a positive impact. This is a real dilemma for coaches and teachers. We need to say a lot of things that are not nice. Players need you to coach them. You cannot help them unless you say things to make them better. If you stay silent and overlook things, you are simply cheating the player that wants to be coached. That is my opinion.
If a player wants to be coached, I (we) are going to coach him. That means being honest, demanding and holding him to high standards. If he wants to be coddled and told only what he wants to hear, then I am not the right coach and the Gamers is not going to be the right program. This is the topic for a whole other blog post. But, in this narrow case — of coaching — Mom is not entirely right. Sometimes, “not nice” things need to be said. Sometimes, you need to actually care.
So, I overhead a conversation between a couple of HS seniors this weekend about how the HS school teams were stacking up this year. In talking about one of the teams that has been good in recent years, one player said “They lost Player A and Player B, so they will not be as good”. The other player agreed. A and B were well known baseball names, and had been since they were 12 years old.
But, the reality was that there was a Player C on that same team that out-performed Player A and B for the past 2 years. But, Player C was a late bloomer and did not have the “myth” aura surrounding him. He was just really, really good and very competitive and physically a late bloomer. So, he led the team in offensive production and no one noticed. Not his peers, not the Post Dispatch, not college coaches. I am not sure even his high school coaches noticed (or cared).
How does this happen?
Well, this happens A LOT in baseball, and is increasingly a problem with the early college recruiting cycle. A lot of “prospect” rankings are based on the “myth”. Everyone just talks to everyone else and sooner or later the myth emerges. Observed data that supports the myth is amplified, all non-supporting data is ignored. Meanwhile, Player C works his tail off and gets better and better and no one notices. College coaches get sucked into this all the time — especially at top notch colleges who love to recruit the “name” players. They fall for hype and let myth distort reality.
Here is reality:
Dominance in 12-14u baseball has little meaning
Velocity does not equal outs.
Bat speed is useless unless a hitter squares up live pitching consistently with real bats (not toy bats) and can hit an off speed pitch.
High velo throws over 1B or cutoff man’s head result in losses.
Foot speed has no value unless you get on base and take good angles.
Physical size has nothing to do with heart, competitiveness or mental toughness.
All the potential in the world means nothing unless you can perform, during games, against other players.
The problem with baseball is that you need to observe LOTS of data to make a real conclusion, or have a very, very well trained eye. Without lots of data, all you have is myth.
It’s the way the human mind works. We latch onto data that supports existing beliefs while ignoring other data. You remember the 400′ bomb, but forget the 8 chased curve balls in the dirt. You remember the 92 on the gun, but forget the 50% strikes that ruined the game. That’s how myths are fed. That is why scouting is so hard and draft/recruiting results so inconsistent.
My problem is that I love Player C kids. They are fun to coach, fun to watch and have more long-term upside because they have learned to work hard and overcome adversity. But, it takes a lot of mental toughness, personal courage and passion to fight through being in the shadows while the spotlight is searching for the myths. Too many Player C’s get disappointed and give up their passion before their body catches up to their skill and hard work.
If I was a college coach, I would just recruit late-bloomer Player C kids and not chase myths.
Over the past month, about a dozen different people have forwarded to me an article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer featuring Dr. James Andrews, the renowned surgeon. He has been in the news a lot lately with all the TJ surgeries in MLB last Spring. Besides his famous patient list, he has done great work in trying to understand the cause and prevention of elbow and shoulder injuries in youth pitchers. Here is a copy of the Cleveland article.
From the start of the Gamers program in 2007, we have been at the leading edge of applying “healthy” pitching discipline in our program. We implement all the preventive elements that the ASMI (Dr. Andrews’ research institute) recommends based on the medical research — specifically:
- Healthy throwing mechanics (this is #1 cause of injury according to Dr. Mathews — no inverted W’s)
- Age-based pitch count limits and rest between pitching appearances (unfortunately we cannot control April/May HS pitching)
- No one in our program pitches more than 8 months competitively — March – October
- Focus on overall athleticism and strength, not just sport-specific movements (like throwing)
- Throwers 10 program
So, we have been strong proponents of Dr. Andrews and ASMI guidelines. We are not perfect, but we try really hard.
Given the above, it is important to note that a number of Dr. Andrews comments in the Cleveland article are unfair and not supported by any research or any study that has been published by ASMI. If you are interested in the actual medical research, I have collected it in one place. Click here for the batch.
Here are the comments that I find unfair — they are highlighted in yellow in the article:
“Now parents are hiring ex-pro baseball players as hitting and pitching instructors when their kid is 12 … they’re ending up getting the kids hurt” I have never seen any research or debate about hitting year round — or baserunning, or fielding. So why is he talking about hitting?
Second, he later goes on to say that “bad mechanics” is the #1 contributor to pitching injuries. You cannot have it both ways — you cannot say that a kid needs proper mechanics to prevent injury and then turn around and blame parents for taking their kids to instructors.
“The almighty dollar has a lot to do with it, yes. Some parents are putting a football or baseball in their kids’ hands when they’re 3 years old, and it’s not just for a fun little photograph…. What’s happening is, the tail is wagging the dog.” This comment reminds me of the former MLB player/commentators criticizing travel baseball, while at the same time marveling at Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and all the young pitchers throwing 98.
Maybe, just maybe, the kids actually enjoy playing baseball and want to play as much as possible and at the highest level possible. My data indicates that this is 6.5x more likely than a parent or travel coach forcing kids to play (being facetious about the stat. not the point).
The bigger point though is that Dr. Andrews’ comment above has nothing to do with medical research or technical expertise. It is an opinion based on limited interaction with players/parents in pre-op and post-op rooms. The tail is not wagging the dog in most cases.
“I said in the book, I want parents and coaches to realize the implications of putting a 12 or 13 year-old through the type of athletic work done by a 25 year-old. Parents and coaches, though they mean well, need to understand what the long-term effects of overuse can be.” I have never seen a youth baseball workout or practice that even comes close to the athletic demands of a Division 1 college program. The Gamers program has a very challenging and disciplined practice and workout routine — probably more so than other youth programs. But, everything we do is age appropriate. It is nowhere close to what a 20 year old, Division 1 college baseball player does.
I understand that the medical research on this topic is lacking, so it leaves room for lots of opinions like the above.
But, these broad generalizations about select travel baseball are unfair and getting over-hyped. Things have gone too far when you have position players citing “over-use” as an excuse for poor performance at the plate or pitchers worried that 50 innings over 4 months is “over-use”. We do not need another “syndrome” or “condition” for young people/parents to use a crutch. Especially, young people who are trying to work hard and pursue something they love at a high level. Their efforts should be cheered, not discouraged as “over-use”.
What we do need is parent/coach education. A 30 minute video class for baseball coaches, similar to what the Positive Coaching Alliance does, would go a long way. Call it ASMI coach certification. I would require every coach in the Gamers program to go through certification. That would be a productive step — more than taking pot-shots at parents and coaches. Coaches and parents want to do the right thing. The baseball/surgery industry needs to arm them with the right education. Right now, there is nothing out there. Google “baseball pitcher arm health” . Not much there . A good education resource would go a long way!!