Winning in October: Key Moments from the 2021 Postseason so far

As the ALCS and NLCS conclude and set the stage for the 2021 Fall Classic, below are some memorable moments from this postseason and what they can teach us about how to win games in October. 



Two Strike Hitting

In game three of the NLCS, Los Angeles trailed Atlanta 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. They were just six outs away from going down 3-0 in the series. Will Smith lead off the frame singling on a 1-0 low and away slider from Atlanta relief pitcher Luke Jackson. Justin Turner followed, popping up to second base for the first out of the inning. A.J. Pollock was next up to the dish with one out and Smith on first base. Jackson worked Pollock into a 0-2 count. After missing down and away with a slider, Jackson went back to the same pitch. Pollack went down and got this one, sending it back up the middle past the diving glove of Dansby Swanson. This set up runners on first and second with just one out for Cody Bellinger, the hero of NLDS game five. 

In Bellinger’s last at-bat, LHP A.J. Minter sent the Dodgers slugger back to the dugout on just four pitches. The kill shot was a 97 mph fastball he blew by him at the top part of the strike zone. It looked like this:

This at-bat, Jackson started Bellinger with a pair of sliders. The first missed low and out. The second induced a Bellinger whiff, finishing middle down. Jackson reared back and blew his next fastball right by Bellinger. It registered at 96 mph. Up 1-2 in the count, Jackson had a couple of different options. He decided to try and replicate Minter’s kill shot from the bottom of the sixth: Fastball up and out of the zone.

This time, however, Bellinger was looking for it.

Bellinger’s two strike, three run shot evened the score at five. Three batters later, Mookie Betts doubled in Chris Taylor and gave the Dodgers the lead for good. They would go on to win the game 6-5.



According to 2017 MLB data, below is the slash line for big league hitters in two strike counts:

  • .176/.281/.250

On the surface, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Hitters don’t have the affordance to take tough pitches when they only have one strike work with. As a result, they’re more susceptible to swinging at pitches they can’t do a ton of damage with – leading to decreased offensive production. 

It’s exactly why hitting in these types of counts are the difference maker when it comes to winning in October.

Bellinger’s blast wasn’t the only example of two strike hitting in game three. In the first inning, Corey Seager took a 1-2 Charlie Morton curveball 444 ft. to center to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. For reference, Morton’s curveball this year generated whiffs at a 40.1% clip, hitters batted .127 against it, and generated a slugging of just .187. It’s not often hitters park that pitch in the bleachers, let alone do it in two strike counts. Seager did both. 

On the other side of the field, Atlanta outfielder Joc Pederson singled in a run facing a 2-2 count just pitches after a controversial Walker Buehler cutter was called a ball. In the top of the fifth, Adam Duvall singled in a run on an 0-2 slider down and away. The run grew Atlanta’s lead to 5-2 and increased their chances of winning from 76.2% to 84.9%. 

Hitting in two strike counts is hard. The best teams, however, are resilient in these counts. Game three of the NLCS is the perfect example of how a few timely two strike hits can completely change the complexity of an outcome. 

Pitch to contact? Probably not

Earlier this week, ESPN analyst Alex Rodriguez tweeted the following:

While this seems great in theory, application is a little more complicated. There are a couple of moments this postseason that illustrate this (not limited to these, by any means).

In game five of the ALCS, Houston had just secured a 4-0 lead via a Yule Gurriel double. With runners on second and third, two outs, and a 1-2 count, Boston relief pitcher Ryan Brasier threw a high and in fastball to Houston infielder Jose Siri. Siri had failed to record a hit to this point in the postseason. On this pitch, Siri got jammed. The ball came off his bat at 67.5 mph. It floated over the Boston infield and landed in a dead zone just shallow of Boston center fielder Kiké Hernandez. Two runs scored, increasing Houston’s lead to 6-0 and chances of winning to 97.9%. 

In game two of the NLCS, Dodgers hitter Chris Taylor came to the plate in the top of the seventh with bases loaded, two outs, facing an 0-1 count. Luke Jackson threw a fastball up and in at 97 mph, jamming Taylor as he sent a flair to center. Atlanta’s new center fielder, Guillermo Heredia, charged in trying to make a play on the ball. It bounced before landing in his mitt and trickled past him, where Joc Pederson cut it off to prevent further damage. The ball came off Taylor’s bat at 76.6 mph. It plated two, gave Los Angeles a 4-2 lead, and increased their chances of winning from 53.4% to 83.5%. 

Both Siri and Taylor got jammed on their respective two RBI base hits. Siri’s came off the bat at just 67.5 mph. Taylor’s came off at 76.6 mph. While we don’t expect a ton from batted balls that don’t even sniff 80 mph, below are expected batting averages for both:

  • 67.5 mph, 42 LA: xBA .930
  • 76.6 mph, LA 25: xBA .660

Yes, that’s correct. Two batted balls averaging 72 mph combined to produce an xBA of .795. This is the problem with “pitching to contact.”

While you could argue selection bias in this instance, we have to respect the role luck plays in baseball games. In Boston’s game five loss, their lineup combined to hit five baseballs 107.7 mph or harder. They scored one run. Kiké Hernandez, arguably Boston’s hottest hitter right now, has collected 19 hits postseason. Six haven’t even cracked 90 mph. Four came off the bat less than 80 mph. Chris Taylor, LA’s hottest hitter this postseason, has collected 12 hits this postseason. Six have come off the bat at 82.1 mph or less. Five haven’t even cracked 79 mph.

If you’re going to die on the hill of “pitching to contact,” just remember that you’re susceptible to these types of outcomes. It’s why, in my opinion, the greatest asset you can have on the mound is missing bats. It’s the one outcome in which pitchers have 100% control over. The second the ball leaves the bat, we allow luck to play its hand. Sometimes it works out in our favor. Other times, as seen above, it does not. Discouraging the one thing pitchers have complete control over, in my opinion, makes zero sense. 

Out of the top 10 pitchers this season according to Fangraphs WAR, not one posted a K/9 south of 9.19. Seven struck out more than 10/9. Out of the top five in WAR – Corbin Burnes, Zack Wheeler, Nathan Eovaldi, Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer – every single one threw minimum two pitches that generated a whiff rate minimum 30%. Burnes, Wheeler, and Eovaldi all threw at least one that got 40% whiffs. Oddly enough, they finished 1-2-3 in pitching WAR. 

Pitching to contact is great until contact results in unfavorable outcomes. The best way to eliminate this is to eliminate contact. In the biggest games of the year, stuff matters. You have to be able to miss bats in key situations if you want to win a pennant. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing to baseball’s toughest intangible influencer: Luck. 

The “Firemen”

In game two of the NLCS, Max Scherzer was pulled in the bottom of the fifth inning with one out and one on. LHP Alex Vesia entered with the game deadlocked at 2. After an Eddie Rosaria single, Vesia was faced with first and second, one out, and 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman at the plate. With the count 2-1, Vesia went right after Freeman with a 94 mph fastball. Freeman swung and missed. He went back to the same pitch 2-2, Freeman fouling this one off. Vesia followed going slider up and away at 85 mph. Freeman swung right through the pitch for the second out of the inning.

Next up was Ozzie Albies, who finished the regular season with 30 HR and 106 RBI. After missing down and away with a heater, Vesia went fastball slider to get the count back in his favor at 1-2. Albies took a questionable fastball, and then fouled off 95 down and away. Vesia doubled down and went right back to his fastball, which he throws at a 72.4% clip. This one was middle up, the same pitch Freeman swung through 2-1. Albies took a big cut and whiffed, ending the inning with the score still tied 2-2. 

The expected run total for an inning with one out, runners on first and second, is 0.93019. There’s a 17.09% chance one run scores and a 11.32% chance two runs score. Not to mention, the two guys standing in Vesia’s way combined for a .848 regular season OPS and 8.2 WAR. 

In game one of the ALCS, Houston starter Framber Valdez did not last long against a hot Red Sox lineup. He surrendered the baseball in just the third inning with two outs and runners on second and third. Boston had just plated three thanks to a Kiké Hernandez homer, José Altuve error, and Hunter Renfroe double. In to relieve Valdez came Yimi García. The expected run total for the situation was 0.603. Boston had a 14.75% of plating two more.

García faced Red Sox infielder Christian Arroyo. He quickly fell behind Arroyo 2-0, but evened it back up with a four seamer sinker combo. The last sinker he threw was his best one of the sequence. It started middle and faded and down, in, and out of the strike zone. Arroyo swung right over top of it for strike three. Houston was able to keep the deficit at 3-1 until the sixth inning, where Altuve made up for his error and launched a two run shot into the left field seats.  They would go on to win the game 5-4 and take game one of the series. García’s critical strike out was a pivotal moment in this outcome. 

While Vesia and García don’t often pitch in high leverage situations late in games, their role is just as important as the closer. They’re the “firemen.” They minimize damage, clean up the “fires” left behind, and find ways to get the ball into the hands of Kenley Jansen and Ryan Pressley. Just because the game isn’t in the ninth inning doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high. In any of the situations above, a timely hit could have completely changed the outcome of the game. Instead, Vesia and García came in, shut the door, and kept their team in the game.

These kinds of arms are critical to win games in October, especially since starters aren’t going deep into games the way they typically do in the regular season. To give you a feel for this, Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer are both in contention to win the NL Cy Young award. Since going 6.1 IP against San Francisco, Buehler has lasted just 4.1 and 3.2 IP in his last two outings. Scherzer hasn’t made it beyond the fifth inning in two of his three postseason starts. 

When your starters aren’t finishing games the way they’re accustomed to, the bullpen ends up being forced to pick up a ton of slack in high pressure situations. Guys like Vesia and García are the glue that hold games together. If you don’t have guys who can come in on cue and put out fires, they’re going to grow out of control before you have a chance to add to the scoreboard. You can’t throw away games in October. Every out matters. You need a staff that can work together as a unit to collect all 27.

If your weak link in the chain is in the bullpen, it will get exposed this time of year.

Making players better by making them… worse?

Before you call me crazy, try this trick out.

Let’s create a situation where you’re working with a pitcher. On this day, they’re struggling to find their optimal arm slot. This is a pretty common issue we see when kids first come into the shop. There are a lot of different ways we could find a solution to this problem. We could do an athletic throw variation and see if that helps them work back into a more natural position. We could show them a visual of where they’re at and explain where they need to be. Maybe the problem isn’t even with the arm. Maybe the pelvis and trunk need to get into better positions so the arm can sync up and match planes for a more efficient movement.

Here’s the problem: If the thrower doesn’t have great feel for their arm slot, all of these solutions will fall short. If we want to create a long term solution, we can’t just focus on the position of the arm. We need to focus on what the player can, or cannot, feel. Going against the grain is a great way to magnify this.

If we go back to our situation above, we could try a different strategy. Instead of focusing on making the arm slot feel good, we could intentionally make it bad. Ask the thrower to make three consecutive throws. The first throw should be from a slot that feels uncomfortably high. The second throw should be from a slot that feels uncomfortable low. The third throw is the key. Ask the pitcher to find somewhere right in the middle between their first two throws.

More times than not, this will get them exactly where they need to be. Once you can feel what’s too high and what’s too low, it becomes a lot easier to feel what’s just right.



If you’re struggling to make a specific adjustment stick, there’s a good chance you have a feedback error. In other words, a disconnect exists between the athlete’s intention (what they want to do) and execution (how well they’re able to do it). The quality and quantity of our feedback plays a big role in bridging this disconnect.

Our players need feedback that is clear (you either succeeded or failed), immediate (I know exactly what I did after each rep), and loud (I can notice the difference between a good and bad one). If you can’t check these boxes, there’s a good chance your message is being lost in translation. A great way to avoid falling into this trap is by tapping into the power of contrast. 

The trick from above works because it uses contrast to magnify a specific movement error. It takes something that was on low volume (subtle arm slot inefficiencies) and cranks it all the way up to the max (drastic arm slot changes). The feedback between reps, as a result, becomes much more clear. You have a point of reference for what’s bad so you can hone in on what’s better. 

After all, Goldilocks didn’t know the right temperature for her porridge until she tried it just too hot and just too cold. We’re trying to do the same exact thing with our players. They need to know what’s too much, but what’s not quite enough, before they know exactly how much they need. 

As my good friend Lantz Wheeler always says: Contrast is the key to learning. If it’s not noticeable, it won’t make a noticeable difference.

Action Item: If you’re working with an athlete who struggles with:

  • Stride direction
  • Command
  • Over rotating 
  • Stacking on their back side

have them experiment on both ends of the spectrum. Make throws from extremely open and closed positions. Teach them how to intentionally throw pitchers out of the strike zone. Try to rotate too much, and then try not to rotate at all. Push off the rubber as hard as you can, and then don’t use your back leg at all. When we become buried in minutia, we need strategies to create clarity. Contrast helps us do this.

Athletes can’t just know what it feels like when it’s right. They need to know what it feels like when it’s wrong before they can figure out how to get it right.

The equipment you don’t know is dragging you down

On July 2, 1994 a lightning strike sparked a fire near the base of Storm King Mountain, about seven miles west of Glenwood Springs, CO. After 48 hours, the fire had only spread a mere three acres. While it didn’t start as an immediate threat to people, the persistent blaze caused local community members to grow concerned. On July 5, a plan commenced to extinguish the blaze before it could grow out of control.

The uneven and rugged terrain created a difficult constraint for firefighters that were dispatched to the scene. As a result, smokejumpers were sent by air to help contain the fire. Fire lines were dug out to create tangible barriers designed to slow the fire’s progress. What happened next, however, was something they failed to account for. 

On the afternoon of July 6, a series of strong uphill winds pushed the fire up the canyon. As flames spread across the gulch, firefighters on the ground were put at serious risk. They only had moments to flee 200 feet uphill a rugged terrain to safety. Fourteen – four women, ten men – never made it.

There have only been six wildfires in United States history that have claimed the lives of more than 13 firefighters. The Wildland Fire, as remembered now, is one of them.

When investigators examined the scene, they discovered a trend. Over a fire year period between 1990 and 1995, 23 firefighters lost their lives batting in wild fires. Each death shared a similar story: Instead of ditching their heavy equipment while running uphill from the fire, they held on to it. This puzzled investigators. Common sense tells you to drop the equipment, lose the deadweight, and run for your life. What actually happened, however, was the exact opposite. Firefighters were willingly carrying around additional weight that prevented them from saving their own lives. For a group of people that specialized in saving lives, it made no sense at all.

That is, until you evaluate the decision beyond surface level.

When one of the Wildland fire survivors testified about their near experience with death, they were every bit as confused. He said, “About three hundred yards up the hill, I then realized I still had my saw over my shoulder!” 

What he said next was even more puzzling: “I irrationally started looking for a place to put (my chainsaw) down where it wouldn’t get burned… I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m putting down my saw.’” 

Not everyone did. One of the victims was later found with their backpack on and chainsaw clutched in their grasp. The U.S. Forest Service determined the firefighters could have moved 15 to 20 percent faster without their tools and backpacks. They said, “Had they dropped their gear, the firefighters would have reached the top of the ridge before the fire.” 

Now for the obvious question: Why were so many firefighters willing to hang on to their gear when it became the difference between living and dying? Turns out, the tools weren’t just a vessel to extinguish fires. They represented something much more powerful.

What people learned about the Wildland Fire goes much deeper than firefighting. Many of us hang on to “equipment” every day that slows us down in some way, shape or form. As we’ve seen above, it’s not that easy to let go of it.

There’s a specific reason why.



The other day, we had an evaluation with a young hitter. For context, our evaluations at 108 Performance are divided into two parts. The first part happens before they step foot in the shop. All players are required to first go through out foundational level one courses. The courses are designed to give incoming players context on what we believe in, why we believe in it, and how we train hitters and throwers at 108. This allows us to get right to business when we go through part two of the evaluation: The in person assessment. 

When players first come into our shop for the evaluation, we want to get a really good feel for what makes them who they are. This includes observing their routines, behaviors, how they warm up, what they do off the tee, and how their movement signature evolves as they move into different environments (e.g. flips, BP, machine).We’ll ask calculated questions about why they do specific things, what they focus on when they’re doing well, and what they consistently struggle with. As we uncover layers behind their behavior, we start to gain a lot more clarity. Our eyes will tell us what is going on. The depth of our investigation will help us uncover why it is happening.

After we observe how players move in a couple of different environments during, we’ll step in and try a few things to see if we can get a couple of quick unlocks. Giving someone a certain thought, drill, or cue can create a pretty significant change if it’s crafted carefully and done in the right context. For this young man, he had a couple of swing flaws that were preventing him from barreling baseballs consistently and effectively. The problem, however, wasn’t his swing. It was how he thought he was supposed to swing. His beliefs were his biggest constraint.

In this situation, we couldn’t start with a specific drill, cue, or thought. They would have been worthless. Instead, we had to convince him to drop his equipment. If he didn’t, it was going to drag him down with it.



If we want to understand why firefighters have a tough time shedding their gear, we have to change how we view their equipment. Organizational psychologist Karl Weick talked about this in Adam Grant’s best-selling book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. “Fires are not fought with bodies and bare hands,” said Weick. “They are fought with tools that are often distinctive trademarks of firefighters.”

At surface level, we think of chainsaws as an example of a tool firefighters use to fight fires. As it turns out, they’re much more than that. Weick explains: “Dropping one’s tools creates an existential crisis. Without my tools, who am I?”

The equipment firefighters carry isn’t just equipment. It’s a part of who they are. Dropping your chainsaw is like shedding a part of your identity. This is no easy task for a firefighter running for his life, let alone anyone fighting to hang on to who they are. If you want to change their behavior, you can’t just address the tools. You need to address their relationship to the tools.

This is where we started in our evaluation.

The “equipment” weighing down this young man came from a specific routine he was taught by a previous coach. One of the moves in his routine involved doing this with his lower half:

When we sat down afterwards and talked about it, you could tell it was something that was very important to him. If you showed him a video of a big league hitter, he tried to explain what he was doing was exactly what they were doing. This is the problem with video analysis: It can often become subjective. Ten different kids can have ten completely different interpretations of Mike Trout’s swing when you show them the same exact video. As a result, we couldn’t waste time getting granular with slow motion video. We had to get on common ground by getting away from baseball. I decided to create an analogy.

I asked the young man: “If you were to wring out a wet wash cloth, how would you do it? Would you take both hands and turn them in the same direction, or would you turn them in opposite directions?” He answered opposite directions. Duh, dumb question. It’s impossible to get any water out of the towel if you’re turning both hands in the same direction. I took it a step further and asked, “Did you know our body produces force just the way you’d wring out a wash cloth?”

Now we had the opportunity to peel back some layers. I pulled up a video of Hank Aaron to show him what I was talking about. As the upper body started to rotate and deliver the barrel, I explained how it was wringing out the wash cloth in one direction. The lower body, as a result, must counter and wring out the wash cloth in the opposite direction. This could be seen with Aaron’s kickback move. When the upper half rotates forward, the back leg kicks back and works in the opposite direction. This is how our body becomes a human wash cloth. We don’t produce force by moving both our lower and upper body in the same direction. We produce force by working them against each other.

Training yourself to turn both of them in the same direction goes against what our body naturally knows how to do.

I brought the explanation back to this young man’s swing. When the back leg turns and rotates early, you’re not turning both hands against each other to wring out the wash cloth. You’re turning them in the same direction. Does this mean that the lower half doesn’t rotate at all? Absolutely not. We want the lower half to turn, but how it happens is more important. It’s tough to make a connected turn when the first move is a disconnect.

I pulled up one of his best swings of the day, after we made a couple of adjustments:

I then compared it back to he tries to do with his lower half. Here’s what they look like next to each other:

What started as a hard conversation now became an easy conversation. One of those positions is much more powerful than the other. It doesn’t take much to figure out which one it was.



As a coach, you’re going to run into situations where you have to change what someone believes is true. If aren’t successful, they’re going to wind up like the firefighters above: Clinging to their beliefs will end up digging their own grave (metaphorically). You won’t be able to make the decision for them. However, you can present what you know in a way that makes sense to them. The rest is out of your hands.

It’s why my good friend Lantz Wheeler always preaches start with beliefs. If you never know what they’re willing to stand for, you’ll never be able to convince them to drop their equipment – even if it means saving their own life. 

The problem with “Ghost Victories” and what they hide about our success

In 1994, the New York Police Department (NYPD) implemented a data collection system called “StatCom.” The software was designed to increase and improve data collection on crime throughout the city so resources could be better allocated to areas of need. Objectives were built out, designed, and communicated in order to measure effectiveness.

It started out with good intentions. Execution was anything but.

Instead of tracking crime better, the department tried to look better. Certain crimes weren’t reported. Other crimes were re-worded so they didn’t look as bad as what they actually were (e.g. rewriting rape as “theft of service”). Data on crime throughout the city, as a result, improved. However, it was not an accurate representation of what was actually going on. 

What they learned is something all coaches need to hear.

In Dan Heath’s best-selling book Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems before they Happen, Heath described the StatCom blunder as an example of a “ghost victory.” The illusion of success makes us believe our interventions were much more successful than they actually were.

Heath described three different examples of ghost victories we should be conscious of when evaluating success. The third should resonate with coaches of all levels.

He said: “There is also a third kind of ghost victory that’s essentially a special case of the second (when short term measures don’t align with the long term mission).

“It occurs when measures become the mission.”



At Bridge the Gap 2020, Pelotero CEO Bobby Tewksbary warned of the “Crossfitification” of baseball: Achieving certain performance metrics has become the goal, not actually performing in games.

Practice has become the game.

This, in essence, is what Heath was trying to explain. Having achievable measures to track improvement is important, but they are not the ultimate goal. They are a means to mobilize towards the long term mission. Not the mission itself.

This, in a lot of ways, is synonymous to baseball. The goal is not to just perform well in practice. The goal is to perform well in games. How you train influences how you perform. If the metrics you’re selling out for in training (yes, that’s you Hitttrax hero) are hurting your ability to perform in games, you have misaligned interests.

This is critical.

As coaches, we have to be very cognizant of the things we place importance on in our training environment. Trying to set a new tee exit velocity PR might be really fun, but hitting good pitching is really hard. Trying to throw as hard as you can on pulldowns is also enjoyable, but there comes a time and place where you need to throw a baseball without a running start.

If the things you place importance on in training are not transfering to games, you need to re-evaluate what you think is important.

Naval Ravikant, Indian-American entrepreneur and investor, said it best: “When you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.”

The best way to not win stupid prizes is to not play stupid games.

What “The Office” can teach us about crafting more powerful messages

In episode ten of season five of The Office, Oscar Hernandez walks into his boss Michael Scott’s office. In his hands are a series of papers stapled together. The papers break down final costs over the past year for the Scranton branch. As Michael goes through the papers, Oscar explains how the branch did very well. Michael pretends to understand what he’s looking at, but after a few glances gives up.

He asks Oscar, “Why don’t you explain this to me like I’m an eight year old?”

Oscar says the papers break down the overall budget for this fiscal year. This doesn’t help Michael at all. Sensing this, Oscar skips to the last page and points out the highlighted number. This number is the budget surplus for the branch. It totals $4,300. Oscar explains that if that amount is not spend by the end of the day, they will lose $4,300 off next year’s fiscal budget. 

At this point, Michael is completely lost. He puts his hand on his head, turns to Oscar, and asks, “Why don’t you explain this to me like I’m five?”

Oscar decides to create an example for Michael. He said his parents have given him $10 to build a lemonade stand. After going to the store and purchasing cups, lemons, and sugar, Michael discovers the items he needed for the stand only cost $9. As a result, he has an extra dollar leftover which he gives back to his parents. This starts to make sense to Michael. 

Oscar explains the consequences for giving this dollar back by sharing what will happen next summer. Instead of giving Michael $10 for the lemonade stand, his parents are only going to give him $9. That’s what they think it costs to run the stand. They won’t give him more than what they think he needs. To avoid losing this dollar, Oscar explains it’s much smarter to spend the dollar now so his parents believe the stand costs $10 to run. Therefore, they won’t short him a dollar next summer. Michael understands. 

“So the dollar is a surplus. This is a surplus,” said Michael.


Oscar uses this point of common ground to relate it back to the office’s current situation. Michael agrees and understands the importance of eliminating the surplus they currently have. He just isn’t quite sold on Oscar’s pitch for a new copier…. (you’ll have to watch the end of the episode to learn what they decided to do).



Let’s play a game. Below are three different thoughts designed for hitters. Your goal is to match the thought to the situation we just observed between Oscar and Michael. 

Which one represents Michael’s initial reaction when Oscar handed him the spreadsheet, Michael’s second reaction when he asked for an eight year old explanation, and his final reaction when he wanted to be treated like a five year old?

  1. Stay back while you go forward 
  2. Work your back hip into external rotation and counter rotate with your torso as you spread your center of mass into foot strike
  3. Land in a position where you’d want to throw a punch

Let’s see how you did, starting from the top.

All three thoughts are describing the same exact move: The forward move. All three use different verbiage to describe the same exact thing, but resonate completely differently. As a result, not all of them are going to be equally effective. They might all work, but there’s one that stands out from the rest. We’ll explain why below.

Michael’s initial confused reaction can be best replicated using our second thought: “Work your back hip into external rotation and counter rotate with your torso as you spread your center of mass into foot strike.” This thought is a walking word salad. You have several anatomical terms packaged into one big message that is nearly impossible for any kind of player to comprehend. How many players even know what external rotation is in the first place?

Better yet, do they really need to know it happens at all?

In Chip and Dan Heath’s best-selling book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, one of the biggest communication blunders they see is caused by “The Curse of Knowledge.” This includes any kind of situation where the messenger doesn’t think like the receiver. They think like the messenger. When Oscar initially walked into Michael’s office, he knew exactly what the numbers and charts said. The problem was that his boss didn’t. When we think the receiver understands something we do, we run the risk of the Curse of Knowledge. What we know blinds us from what others don’t know.

If we go back to the hitting thought, we see a similar pattern. Coaches with an anatomy & physiology background can easily visualize what external rotation of the hip and counter rotation or the torso look like. The problem is most of our players don’t. Trying to talk to them using gross anatomy is like talking to Michael Scott using spreadsheets. The message might be well intentioned, but it’s not addressing the audience. If you think like the sender, you’ll never connect with the receiver.

Michael’s second reaction can be described by the first thought: “Stay back while you go forward.” While it’s noticeably dumbed down, it still lacks clarity. Stay back and go forward are simpler terms, but they have a number of different interpretations (not to mention, they’re contradicting). Stay back with your hands? Legs? How far back? When do you go back? How do you stay back while also striding at the same time?

It’s simple, but it’s not comprehensive. This is part of the problem Oscar ran into. He tried to make sense of the data and charts by explaining basic office terminology (e.g. fiscal budget, budget surplus). The problem was that Michael did not understand these terms. Your average businessman would have no issues understanding the significance of a budget surplus, but Michael Scott does not fall under this population. As a result, a disconnect still existed between the sender (Oscar) and receiver (Michael).

Oscar couldn’t just rely on simple terms. He had to find a way to paint a picture. This is where schemas come into play.

Schemas, as explained in Made to Stick, are mental markers embedded in our memory that help us recall specific information. The best way to explain them is to use an example. If you were to describe to your friend with no knowledge of hockey how good Wayne Gretzky was, you can do it two ways. The first is where you’d list out the accolades, records, championships he won throughout his career. The second way is where you could use a schema: Wayne Gretzky is the Michael Jordan of hockey.

Both strategies work, but the second is often much more powerful. It’s also a lot easier, too. Without spending the time to explain Gretzky’s specific accolades, all you have to do is use the schema of Michael Jordan’s illustrious basketball career. It paints a pretty clear picture to your friend: Gretzky wasn’t just a good player. He was one of the greatest players of all time. Breaking down the records set and championships Gretzky won doesn’t resonate the same way when you put him in the same sentence as Michael Jordan. We’re not looking to say the most. We want to pack the most using the least.

This is exactly what Oscar did for Michael.

When Oscar created Michael’s lemonade stand analogy, he was using a schema: Running a lemonade stand. In order to get onto common ground, he had to start with something Michael was familiar with. In this situation, running a lemonade stand was the perfect way to bridge their gap in misunderstanding. He could communicate a ton of information about businesses without making Michael feel like he was taking a business class. When Michael showed some understanding, Oscar was able to slowly relate it back to their situation in the office. He leveraged his schema to paint the perfect picture. Something that started out as abstract became concrete through the use of a carefully crafted analogy. 

Our best coaching interventions often follow the same pattern.

Our third hitting thought represents Oscar’s art work: “Land in a position where you’d want to throw a punch.” This thought utilizes the a key schema: Throwing a punch. Without mentioning anything about where you should land as a hitter, the thought of throwing a punch creates a strong blueprint for action. Punching isn’t something that we just see in our heads. We can feel it. Without telling a hitter to work into external rotation, counter rotate their torso, or land in a strong, centered position, we can accomplish all of those things because we can feel strong positions vs. weak ones. This is the power of analogy. You’re using less verbiage (e.g. schemas) and simpler terms to create a more powerful message. 

If you’re having issues getting through to your athletes, try thinking like Oscar. How can you break down a complicated concept using carefully crafted analogies and schemas so your athletes can better understand your message?

We’ve already put together ten of our favorites if you need some inspiration: The Power of Analogies: 10 you can start using today.