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The Importance of Routines

Next up in our mental game series is the idea of routines.  Routines are consistent habits that players use to get themselves in a frame of mind where they’re physically and mentally ready to compete.  These include what you do before, during, and after competition.  Some routines change and evolve over time, while others remain consistent.  However, it’s impossible to modify your routines if you don’t have any to begin with.

Below are some ways to introduce routines into your training sessions.  Some ideas are more flexible or specific, but all of them are ways to purposely prepare players for training and competition.  Routines are something we can control at all times and are going to be there for us in any kind of situation.  When (stuff) hits the fan – and I assure you, it willwe need something to go back on and help us re-set.  This is where routines come into play.  

Hitting

One of the first things we do with our hitters is address their current routines.  Training sessions are not a race to see who can speed through the bucket the quickest and get the most reps.  Every single rep we take must be done with a purpose, and many times that requires the athlete to simply slow down.  We’re going to get plenty of swings in within a half hour session, so the focus must then turn to the quality of reps we’re taking.

To start, teach your hitters how to step into the box by escorting their feet with their eyes.  If the tee is set up at the front part of the plate, we teach our athletes to line their front foot up with the break in the plate (where the plate starts to angle into a point).  This gives hitters the ability to work behind the tee since we know the average hitter moves forward when they stride.  

We then teach our hitters to tap a part of the plate.  We do this so they consistently know how far away they are from the plate whenever they step into the box.  After they tap the plate, we teach kids to create rhythm by taking their hands towards the pitcher and back.  We then encourage athletes to keep this rhythm by moving their barrel and keeping their body in a relaxed, constant state of motion.  

Some guys do things a little differently, but what we want to prevent is hitters who turn into statues when they step into the box.  We are governed by the laws of physics, and the law of inertia states that a body in motion stays in motion (vice versa).  We want to match the pitcher’s rhythm, tempo, and timing, and that starts by keeping some sort of movement as we anticipate the pitch about to come to us.

From here, we encourage hitters to use their eyes and pick up an area where they want to hit the ball.  On the tee, we set up the baseball so two seams of the ball are facing the hitter and tell hitters to hunt the inside seam.  When we advance to a moving object, we encourage kids to stretch their eyes and pick up where they want to hit the ball.  This could be the screen, back part of the cage, top part of the cage, or something outside like the outfield fence.    

Once a routine is established, it is crucial to reinforce the routine on a consistent basis.  Have the athlete practice stepping out of the box and stepping back in, touching the plate, creating rhythm, and stretching their eyes.  After a bad swing or two, have the athlete step out and re-set by going through their routine. If you let kids get away with it in practice, they’ll never have something to go to in competition when the game starts to speed up.

Fielding

In your average nine-inning baseball game, a fielder will see anywhere between 120-150 pitches.  Of those pitches, as little as 2-5 of them will decide the game.  Since we can’t predict when these pitches will take place, it is absolutely crucial all nine positions are completely locked into each and every single pitch.  You may be locked into 119 of those 120 pitches, but the one you take off could decide whether your team wins or loses that night.

To maintain focus, concentration, and improve reaction time off the bat, we teach our infielders and outfielders to get into a pre-pitch ready position by stepping into the circle.  This can be done by stepping forward with both feet, one foot, or even adding a hop after both feet land.  It is to be done as the ball is about to enter the hitting zone (around when the ball enters the dirt circle).  Following the rules of inertia, we want players to be moving before the ball is put in play so they can get a better first-step read off the bat.

While everyone is different, we highly encourage kids to take a hop step after stepping into their circle.  This move is seen a lot throughout professional tennis (see examples from Andy Murray and Roger Federer)  Considering they see serves upwards of 140 mph, I think their pre-serve actions are incredibly useful to baseball players.   

Here is a video I took of Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres.  Notice how his actions mirror the ones from Murray and Federer.  

If you ever get a chance to attend a baseball game, pay close attention to the pre-pitch actions of all seven fielders.  You might pick up a thing or two from them.  

As a coach, be deliberate in how you teach this to kids.  Draw a circle in the dirt and have kids step in and out of it.  Stepping into the circle is where they lock in and take their focus to the plate, while stepping out is when they can relax and prepare for the next pitch.  Preach it when it’s done, point it out when it’s not done.  It’ll seem tedious, but it will build good habits that will really help kids out when the game starts to speed up.  

Other Notes on Routines

  1. Learn how to utilize the breath when performing your routines!  Breathing helps create clarity, calmness, and focus by slowing your heart rate down and getting oxygen to your brain.  For more benefits on the breath, see our recent blog post “Just Breathe!”
  2. Teach kids good pre and post training/competition routines.  This includes a proper warm-up, recovery, nutrition, hydration, and journaling.  We’ll get more into these topics in the future, but start with something and be consistent with it.  It’s all about building good habits.    
  3. Some routines are built into the game, such as warm-ups in between innings.  Every position should treat these like game-reps.  If you play shortstop for 24 innings in a tournament and get 3 ground balls every inning, that’s 72 opportunities for you to improve your craft.
  4. Mental routines are every bit as important as physical ones.  Visualization, simulating at-bats, self-talk, re-set buttons, and other actions to fuel the mind are critical to game performance.  
  5. Try different routines, experiment, and figure out what works best for you.  As a coach, give kids freedom to do so – but make sure they are actually developing some sort of consistency.  

These are only a few ideas, so feel free to come up with anything on your own as it relates to routines.  If it can be done consistently and help a kid perform to the best of their ability, use it!  

Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns.  We love to hear what you’re doing!

Keep learning and growing.      

Just Breathe!

As discussed before, I think most people would agree the mental game in baseball is a crucial skill to help players succeed at high levels of competition.  Due to the long season, the time between action, and a multitude of other factors, players of all abilities are vulnerable to poor thinking patterns which can erode a player’s confidence and hurt their performance.  Having a strong mental game helps players get control of themselves so they can compete in all environments and learn how to deal with failure, manage success, and keep their emotions from ruining their love of the game.  

 

Like anything else, the mental game is a skill and must be practiced for you to get better at it!  Therefore, coaches must find ways to incorporate the mental game into practice so kids can learn and work at it!  Looking at the mental game as a whole can be overwhelming, so over the next several blog posts I’m going to be posting simple ideas that all coaches can use to help train it.  If it’s good enough for Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo, John Maddon, Manny Ramirez, Derek Johnson, and many more – it’s good enough for you.  


The first step to building a strong mental game is mastering the most fundamental element of life –
breathing!  A quality deep breath does wonders for an athlete and should the first step in learning how to manage the game from the neck up.  In the words of Alan Jaeger, “The breath, like the engine to your car, is the key to keeping the body and mind running smoothly and efficiently.”  


As for physical benefits,
the breath brings oxygen to the brain to help you think clearly.  This is crucial because the brain cannot differentiate between different types of stress.  In other words, it cannot tell the difference between you on the mound in a pressure situation, or you being chased by a sabertooth tiger!  Both will take an according toll on your body despite being completely different circumstances!    


This may sound funny, but
your brain’s number one priority is survival.  Any sort of threat will turn on the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) in your CNS.  If you cannot get oxygen to your brain and rationalize the situation, your body will go into the “flight” stage, shut down, and allocate all resources towards keeping you safe.  This is great for when you’re being chased for your life, but not so great when it comes to executing fine motor skills.  Don’t make baseball a life or death situation when you’re up to bat with the game on the line – just breathe!    

 

Along with this, breathing helps release tension throughout the body.  Loose muscles are fast muscles.  Any sort of tension from toes to fingertips will keep you from moving freely, athletically, and will have a negative impact on balance, rhythm, and timing.  Breathing, on the other hand, will do just the opposite.  For players who struggle with this and controlling nerves before/during games, get them to focus on the exhale portion of the breath.  On the contrary, focusing on the inhale is a great way to help increase energy levels.


Another physical benefit to breathing is it shows
positive body language.  A quality deep breath should be noticeably different from just a regular breath.  Athletes must learn how to enlarge their diaphragm by puffing their chest and elevating their shoulders.  This expands the lungs and helps counteract bad body language such as lowered eyes and hunched shoulders. Psychologists will argue that up to 70% of your communication is done non-verbally.  Be careful of the message you’re sending to other team.  Hitters are like sharks, and they feast when they smell blood.


As for intangible benefits, the breath is a great tool to
let go of the last pitch and get focused on the next pitch.  There is great freedom is enabling athletes to play with their sole focus on the pitch they are about to see.  If they’re constantly bogged down by the emotions of the last pitch or any pitch before that, their performance will snowball out of control.  Breathe in the emotions, bad thoughts, anxieties – and then exhale them out. Be where your feet are.    

 

The breath is also a great way to “check-in” with how an athlete is feeling physically and mentally during training or competition.  If an athlete is unable to get a complete inhale and exhale without being cut short, it is a sign that they are losing control.  As Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza say in Heads Up Baseball 2.0, “Your breath is something to go to to determine if you’re in control of yourself, and it simultaneously helps you get control of yourself.”  Awareness is a crucial part of the mental game, and you can’t be aware of how you’re feeling if you’re not aware of how you’re breathing.    

 

Lastly, breathing helps you transition from training to trusting.  If you were to think about your most successful performances, I think most all of you would realize that you weren’t really thinking about anything at all.  This would be known as trusting – letting the work you’ve done unfold on the field without any conscious thought.  Confident and successful athletes keep things simple, minimize thinking, and play with their eyes.  While there is a time and place for training and conscious thought, it is not on the competitive field.  Use what you have, trust the work you’ve put in, and compete with everything you have to win the next pitch.  Oh, and don’t forget to breathe.  

 

Implementing the Mental Game into Practice

 

Coaches – In your practices, keep it simple for kids: get them to first learn how to take a deep, visible breath.  If you can’t tell they’re breathing from the dugout, they’re not doing it correctly.  Also, do not let kids rush the breath – let them take their time on the inhale and completely exhale the breath.  The exhale should be forceful enough so that kids are able to feel the tension being released from their body.  Kids can add to this by shaking their arms, legs, and releasing their shoulders at the conclusion of their breath.  


Another huge point is 
the breath must have a purpose behind it.  If kids are breathing but putting no intent behind it, they won’t get anything out of it – just like going through the motions in anything.  To help with this, get athletes to notice the air coming in, the air going out, and how each breath makes them feel. Utilizing a quality deep breath is a great way to slow the athlete’s heart rate.  If they still feel tension and anxiety after a few breaths, get them to slow things down and create a purpose behind each breath by bringing awareness to it.  

 

Once you’ve taught athletes how to breathe, get them to incorporate it into their daily practice routines!  Teach them to use the breath in the warm-up and how to exhale as they reach the end range of motion in their body (yoga had this figured out a while ago).  When an athlete boots a ball, get them to take a deep breath and release the error they just made. If a hitter rolls over a ball they know they should have crushed, tell them to step out, look at a letter on their bat, and take a deep breath before stepping back into the box.  Get your pitchers to take quality deep breaths between every pitch – in practices and in games. If you don’t do it in practice, don’t expect it to magically show up in games.  

 

Be creative in how you teach each kid to utilize the breath, but keep the main thing the main thing: When the game starts to speed up, get kids to breathe and slow it down!    

 

For more information about different ways to use the breath, when to use it, and how to improve it, Alan Jaeger’s blog (see Mental Practice: A Daily Routine and Mental Training Talk and Practice) thoughts from Lantz Wheeler, and Heads Up Baseball 2.0 are a good place to start.  

 

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns!  

 

Keep learning and growing.    

How to Build a Better Approach with Steve Springer

I attended the 2019 ABCA Convention in Dallas, TX from January 3-6 (It is a wonderful event and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in coaching!). At the convention I was able to listen to Steve Springer speak about hitting.  Springer enjoyed a 14-year career in professional baseball amassing 1,592 hits in 1,591 games with six different organizations. He previously worked as a performance coach for the Toronto Blue Jays where he instructed players about the mental game.  Some of Springer’s clientele include MLB All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollack, Mark Trumbo, and Nolan Arenado.

Throughout the talk, Springer emphasized the importance for a hitter to have an approach.  In his opinion, it is the most important part about hitting!  He teaches the approach through a few simple ideas that kids can start implementing immediately in their game.  Like any physical skill, they need to be worked on and practiced so they can transfer to games.  

The first point Springer made was 90% of a hitter’s success is about walking up to the plate with confidence.  This is so hard for a lot of kids because they constantly beat themselves up over things they do not have any control over!  The biggest culprit of these is their most recent game performance. It’s easy to feel confident when you’re 4-4, but it’s very hard to feel good when you haven’t had a hit in your last 10 at-bats! This becomes the ultimate challenge: How do you consistently walk to the plate with confidence regardless of the score, your stats, or the guy on the mound?

Springer believes it begins with adopting what he calls an “Opening Day” mindset.  No hitter on Opening Day has ever walked to the plate without any confidence.  Why? Because they don’t have yesterday to beat them up!  It’s easier said than done, but walking to the plate feeling the same way when you’re 4-4 or 0-4 is critical for consistent performance.  When you don’t have the weight of your stats beating you down, you’re free to play the game focused on the most important pitch out there – the one you’re about to see!

Second, Springer believes kids need to change their goal when they walk to the plate.  Instead of trying to get a hit, Springer believes kids need to go to the plate with “an attainable goal to hit the ball hard and help their team win.”  Of course it’s important for hitters to get their knocks, but sometimes getting to first base depends on a little bit of luck.  Jonny can dribble a ball down the third base line, turn it into an infield single, and then smoke one at center fielder his next at-bat – only to be caught!

This is why Springer dislikes using batting average to measure the success of players.  Instead, he likes to use quality at-bats.  Some examples of quality at-bats include hitting the ball hard, drawing a walk, seeing a lot of pitches in an at-bat, laying down a sacrifice bunt, or scoring a run through a ground ball or fly ball.  All of these have one big theme in common – helping your team win the game! For these reasons, Springer believes hitters need to forget about getting base hits and instead focus on what they can control – hitting the ball hard and helping their team win!  By committing to a consistent, attainable goal with your focus on the good of the team, your stats will take care of themselves.

In the batter’s box, Springer talks about “hunting speeds”.  These speeds (pitches) should be determined by what the pitcher is throwing and when.  As Springer likes to say, “Should you look for what you want to get? Or what you’re going to get?”  This involves the hitter dialing in on a specific pitch and a location on the plate (in, middle, out) for every count that they’re in.  By creating a narrow focus, the hitter is going to be more prepared for what’s to come by anticipating a likely outcome.

 

To summarize Springer’s thoughts on approach:

  1. 90% of a hitter’s success is walking to the plate with confidence. Believe in your abilities, you are a good hitter!  
  2. Adopt an “Opening Day mindset” – no pitch is more important than the pitch you are about to see! There’s no sense in letting yesterday beat you up when yesterday doesn’t win the today’s games!
  3. Go to the plate with an attainable goal to hit the ball hard and help your team win the game.  You create pressure on yourself when you make it about yourself and your statistics. Focus on being a great teammate!   
  4. Look for what you’re going to get, not what you want to get!   
  5. Hunt one speed in a specific part of the plate.  It’s hard to hit 95 and 79 at the same time!

 

For more information about Steve Springer, you can visit his website at qualityatbats.com or follow him on Twitter @qualityatbats.  Reach out to us with any questions or concerns. Keep on getting after it!

 

Building a Confident Self-Image

How we think about ourselves is a powerful predictor for the type of people that we will become. This is known as our self-image: The stories we construct about ourselves and our abilities. While they may just appear as fictional stories, science shows they actually mirror what our future will look like. American psychologist William James was one of the first people to figure this out when he said, “People tend to become what they think about themselves.”

 

In Dr. Bob Rotella’s How Champions Think, Rotella said, “There is enormous wisdom in (James’) sentence. James was wise enough to see that we are each the biggest influence on our own destiny. More importantly, he understood that we each have the power to construct our own self-image and that the self-image we construct will very likely determine what we become in life.” 

 

In Rotella’s work with some of the best athletes in the world, which includes LeBron James and Rory McIlroy, he has found exceptional athletes think exceptionally about themselves. They construct confident self-images which help feed their success on the playing field. They envision themselves converting in pressure situations and see success before other people do. When everyone else tries to create doubt, they never lose confidence in their abilities. They know they’re good at what they do – and no one can ever take that away from them.    

 

Derek Jeter said that he felt he was the best player on the field every single game throughout his career. When people would tell his father how they loved how humble he was, his father would respond, “(He) has more inner arrogance than anyone I’ve ever met.” When Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young Award in 2016, catcher Miguel Montero said Arrieta knew he was really good. “He believes in his ability, what he’s capable of doing,” said Montero. “That’s what gets him to the next level: ‘I don’t care who’s hitting, I’m right here.’”

 

This attitude is contagious among high performing individuals in all fields. Super Bowl champion Joe Namath’s mindset is perfectly summed up by the title of his autobiography: I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow . . . ‘Cause I Get Better-Looking Every Day. Rotella spoke about performing artist Madonna’s mindset saying, “When I see her perform, I see that the dancers behind her can dance better than she can. Some of her backup singers can sing better than she can. But she thinks she’s the greatest singer and dancer on the planet, which is a big reason why she’s been an enduring star.” 

 

Lady Gaga was no different. “(Gaga) told the Rolling Stone a while back that she operates from a place of delusion,” said Rotella. “She used to walk down the street thinking of herself as a star. She certainly didn’t pay much attention to what people in her childhood neighborhood might have thought was a realistic aspiration for Stefani Germanotta.” 

 

NBA Champion Draymond Green shared similar comments in his post-game presser after Game 4 of the NBA Finals. “As a competitor, if you’re trying to do something meaningful,” said Green. “If you don’t have the mindset that you’re the best ever, you’ve failed already.”  

 

 

Building a Confident Self-Image

 

For some people, building a confident self-image is easier as it is a result of early success. It’s easy to build confidence when you’re the best student in the classroom or when you dominate the playing field growing up. For others, building a confident self-image is a little harder because they don’t have early success to rely on. Instead, they have lingering memories of negative moments where we couldn’t get it done. 

 

Due to an in-built survival mechanism, our minds are hardwired to place more emphasis on negative experiences than positive ones. If we don’t train ourselves to reverse this process, we will find that our most recent negative experiences are going to control our thought processes. 

 

“All thoughts are not equally important,” said Rotella. “Recent thoughts are more influential than thoughts that occurred further in the past. Thoughts associated with powerful emotions and more memorable, and thus more influential, than thoughts to which you attached no emotion.”

 

This is part of the reason why it’s so hard to shake bad performances in games and remember good practices. The emotion attached to performances in games and practices is completely different. Messing up a ground ball in practice is not as nearly as demoralizing as missing a ground ball with the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth. 

 

To combat this, we need to first understand that we are not prisoners of bad experiences. A bad play does not make you a bad player, let alone a bad person. We need to feed our conscious mind positive phrases and images (see “The Power of Visualization”) on a daily basis – which in turn impacts our subconscious mind. Since our subconscious mind is the primary driver for complex motor tasks, we want to make sure it is getting the right information. Negative thoughts chain you to the player you were in the past; positive thoughts free yourself to grow into the player you want to become. 

 

When we can start to control our thoughts, we can then turn to the emotion we attach to certain experiences. This is best described through a speech Jack Nicklaus made to the Georgia Tech golf team, where his son was playing. In the speech, Nicklaus confidently stated he had never three-putted on the seventy-second green of a tournament. After the speech, a young man stood up and pointed out that he had in fact three-putted on the last green of a tournament. Nicklaus cut him off saying, “Sir, you’re mistaken. I have never three-putted the last hole of a tournament or missed inside of three feet.”

 

For those of you that don’t watch golf, this statement by Nicklaus was not accurate. However, Nicklaus was not lying. He, in fact, could not remember a time in which he had done either. Instead of lingering on to mistakes, Nicklaus chose to forget them and instead remember good shots. He removed the emotion attached to negative shots and instead attached it to positive ones. “He refused to feed his subconscious mind with a lot of thoughts about mistakes,” said Rotella. “He understood that there’s absolutely no reason to relive and remember a missed put.

 

James Harden started Game Three of the NBA Playoffs First Round going 0-15 from the field. It was the worst start of a playoff game for any player in the past 20 years – but it did not bother him on the court. When asked after the game about what he thought about starting 0-15, James had no idea. He wasn’t oblivious to what was going on – he just chose not to reminisce on a bad start. Instead, he found a way to score 22 points and lead his team to a 104-101 victory where they took a commanding 3-0 series lead over Utah. 

 

Going forward, think about what you want to become and build an identity that’s going to help you get there. See what it looks like, figure out what it’s going to take to get there, and work relentlessly to make it happen. If you believe that you are a really good baseball player, you’re going to prepare, work, and train like one regardless of any external circumstances. If you don’t have a strong belief in your abilities, you will crumble when adversity tests your strength to press on. Don’t give your past the paintbrush that you’re using to create your future today. Build it, believe it, and don’t let anyone outwork you for it.  

 

I’ll leave you on this final quote from Nicklaus: “You have to be a legend in your own mind before you can be a legend of your own time.” 

 

Keep learning, working, and growing.

Rethinking Success – Building a Process Oriented Athlete

Goal setting is incredibly important for athletes who strive to get the best out of their abilities. It’s a way to push the limits of what you can do, monitor progress, and receive satisfaction when you achieve things you set out to do. Regardless of how big or small these goals are, we’re going to focus on two types of goals today: process and outcome oriented goals.

 

Outcome oriented goals are goals that deal with end results you wish to achieve. On the baseball diamond, some outcome based goals could be getting a base hit, hitting .350 on the season, winning a local tournament, or earning a college scholarship to play baseball. Outside the baseball diamond, some goals could be to lose 10 pounds, earn a 4.0 GPA, or find a new job in a field of interest.

 

On the other hand, process oriented goals are goals that focus on how you take steps to achieve outcome based goals. If your goal is to hit .350 on the season, some process goals would be attacking your weaknesses in training, learning how to take a quality deep breath, and developing a consistent preparation routine. If your goal is to earn a college scholarship to play baseball, some of your process based goals could be lifting weights three times per week, putting together film of yourself, and reaching out to college coaches of schools you’re interested in.

 

If losing 10 pounds is your outcome based goal, your process goals could be sweating every day, cleaning up your diet, and keeping track of your calorie consumption. If you want a 4.0 GPA some process goals could be studying each class every night for a period of time, being involved in class discussions, and asking teachers questions about learning material. If you’re in the middle of a job search, some process goals could be building a resume, reaching out to different companies, and honing your craft daily to make yourself a more attractive option.

 

The big overarching difference between process and outcome oriented goals is the control you have over each. Process goals are things that you have complete control over. There are no barriers to doing things like showing up, working on your weaknesses, and asking for help. The only one stopping you is you. We can influence outcome based goals and tip them in our favor, but we can never have complete control over them. You can completely crush your process goals and put yourself in the best possible position to achieve your outcome based goals, but it doesn’t guarantee you success.

 

There are always going to be things outside of our control. We can do everything right and hit four baseballs right on the screws, but all we’ll have to show for it is an 0-4 day if we hit all of them right at the center fielder. If we are constantly worried about our outcome based goals without a process behind them, our confidence will slowly erode until there is nothing left (see Syndergaard).

 

This is why creating process goals is so huge as a player: They gives us confidence by knowing we’ve done everything we can to prepare for what’s to come. When our confidence grows, our skills improve, we trust the work we’ve put in, and we start to see the results on the field. Whether we have our A, B, or C game, we know we’ll always have our process. If we show up everyday and commit to it, our outcome based goals will start to take care of themselves – not the other way around.

 

Building your process

 

Alan Jaeger of Jaeger Sports is a huge advocate for the importance of athletes to build an in-game process through process oriented goals. In his work with athletes, he recommends players pick 3-4 simple, attainable process goals to focus on when competing. The idea is not to do a lot of things fairly well – it’s to do a few things really well.

 

Below are some ideas on what athletes can choose from to develop their own personal process. While some ideas are individualized, others are things we strongly recommend for all athletes (ex: breathing).

 

Hitters

 

  1. Take a quality deep breath.
    1. Everything starts with the breath. Release the past pitch, slow your heart rate, get yourself under control. See our post “Just Breathe” for more information on what the breath can do for you.
    2. Watch MLB hitters between pitches – they are great examples for how to take a quality deep breath.
  2. See ball, hit ball.
    1. Keep it simple – the less you think, the better you perform.
  3. Visualize yourself hitting hard line drives
    1. Building positive images in your mind is a powerful tool. See our last post for more information about this.
  4. Recite a mantra
    1. Keep it short, sweet, and supportive (hit it hard, see it up, next pitch)
  5. Mechanical cue
    1. Small action to remind you about a helpful mechanical cue (feeling the back elbow slot, front shoulder down, front knee brace)
  6. Physical release
    1. Letting go of the last pitch through a physical cue (Picking a handful of dirt, wiping away the rubber (watch Justin Verlander pitch), taking your hat off)

 

Pitchers

 

  1. Take a quality deep breath
    1. For the reasons above – we’re at our best when we’re calm, confident, and in control.
    2. See Kevin Abel’s breathing routine from when he threw in the 2018 College World Series championship game. You can also read up about his process here.
    3. David Price from the 2018 World Series
    4. Justin Verlander bullpen
  2. Pick out a specific target
    1. Aim small, miss small (pocket of the catcher’s glove)
  3. Visualize the intended pitch
    1. See exactly what that pitch looks like, how it’s going to finish. See the last 15 feet of flight.
    2. Jake Arrietta, Orel Hershiser.   
  4. Recite a mantra
    1. Commit to this pitch, next pitch (see Stephen Strasburg), you’re in control, through the mitt
  5. Commit through your target
    1. There can’t be any doubt you’re going to throw it through your visual with 100%  conviction (see Kershaw, Bumgarner, Rivera, Harvey).
  6. Physical release
    1. Take your glove off and rub the ball, step behind the rubber, take your hat off

 

Fielders

 

  1. Take a quality deep breath
    1. See a theme?
  2. See the field, scoreboard
    1. Know the situation
  3. Visualize the play unfold
    1. Anticipate the ball coming to you, making a play
  4. Recite a mantra
    1. Give me the ball, next pitch, out front, through the mitt
  5. Step into the circle
    1. Everyone in the field needs some sort of pre-pitch movement

 

When you’ve chosen a process that makes sense for yourself, write it down on paper. Place it in a spot where you can see it all the time. Remind yourself of it on a daily basis. Talk to your coach about it so you’re both on the same page.

 

Whenever you train, go through your process. Grade yourself on how well you executed your process. If you three 25 pitches, how many of them were you fully committed to your process? Out of all your swings, how many of them did you take not committed? How did we react after a few bad outcomes in a row? Did we get frustrated and let the game speed up or did we go back to our process? If we want to be able to slow the game down and build confidence in our abilities, we must learn how to crush our process every time we touch a bat or a ball.

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning, growing, and crushing your process.

Summer Camp Recap – Ground Balls

Something we did every single day with our campers – both young and older – was catch ground balls. Being able to defend your position is a crucial skill as a player. Because of this, we place a heavy emphasis on the defensive portion of the game throughout our summer camps. If you can field your position at a high level, you will find yourself a spot on the field. Don’t believe me? Check out this excerpt from the 2017 World Series between the Dodgers and Red Sox.

 

 

The bottom line is this: Great teams play great defense. They catch ground balls, make throws, and eliminate free bees. Only 15 people in the world are being paid to just hit for a living. Odds are, it probably won’t be you. If you want to put yourself in the best possible position going forward as a player, we’d highly recommend you work relentlessly at your defense

 

Catching ground balls is great for all positions – outfielders, pitchers, and catchers included. It promotes the athletic position, active footwork, good catch positions, requires athletes to hinge and flex into their hips, trains instincts (reading balls off the bat, making different routes), and promotes overall athleticism through various types of plays. If you want kids to learn and improve their defense, catching ground balls creates a huge bang for your buck.

 

For you to really take advantage of this period, it is crucial you take athletes far to their left and right. Typical practices feature kids fielding balls hit right at them with two hands and lethargic footwork. As a result, you have to get kids uncomfortable and really force them to make plays that require greater demands of athleticism. Through this, kids will gain more confidence and learn how to improve their range, take more efficient angles, and get better reads off the bat. Very few ground balls are going to be hit right at kids in games. If you want kids to be able to make various types of plays in games, you must create them in practice. 

 

When making plays that force the athlete to move several steps to their left and right, it is very important they learn how to use one hand. We understand there is a time and place for two hands. However, using one hand helps give kids a better feel for good catch positions and gives them more freedom/range. Don’t believe me? Pre-set your glove on the ground with one hand as if you were going to catch a ground ball. Then take your throwing hand and move it towards your glove as if you were going to catch the ground ball with two hands. You’ll notice your glove starts to come off the ground as you start to take your throwing hand towards it. By using two hands, you’ve limited your range. If kids are moving multiple steps to their left and right, we need as much range as possible. As a result, it is imperative that kids learn how to make these plays using one hand. 

 

Another point to emphasize would be the “ready position” before catching a ground ball. Just like hitting, a poor set up position is going to lead to poor positions down the road. Start by getting kids into the athletic position where their feet are slightly wider than shoulder width, their nose is over their center of mass, their knees are slightly bent, and hands are open and outside their hips. This position is the same position you’d see if you were to guard someone in football or basketball. It gives athletes the ability to work into the ground, create efficient angles off the bat, and set up for good catch positions. Kids should get into this position before every single ground ball is hit

 

Many will get lazy with it and assume a more vertical starting posture. These kids are going to tend to be the ones that usually just miss balls underneath their glove. Others will keep their hands inside of their hips and start with them closer to the ground. If we sprint with our arms outside of our hips, it seems to make the most sense to start them there. There’s no need to start with our glove on the ground before the ground ball has even been hit. See the picture below for a better visual of what you want from your infielders. 

 

 

Once you create this athletic position, emphasize kids to “step into the circle” just before you hit the ball. In a game environment, fielders want to time this move when the ball meets the hitting zone (around the grass/dirt cut out). By having our feet moving when the ball comes off the bat, we’re able to get better reads off the bat and a quicker, more explosive first step. We like to compare this idea to a tennis player on the receiving end of a serve. You’ll see receivers get into an athletic position and then utilize a hop as the ball comes off the racket. We highly recommend this move with all of our infielders (see Bregman, Torres), but some sort of movement as the pitch is entering the circle will suffice. Just like catch play – stagnant feet lead to poor catch positions. All seven fielders must move in unison (see the Astros from the 2019 All-Star Game) with each pitch. If it’s not done, correct it until it is.

 

Whether you’re making throws or not, footwork after catching is just as important as the footwork prior to catching. Getting kids to play through the ball and replace feet is an important skill that will help accuracy and strength of throws. When we didn’t make throws, we had kids practice taking a shuffle and getting their front shoulder on first base after catching. Kids shuffle by clicking heels and creating direction towards their target – not by coming off the ground an excessive height or crossing their feet. If kids are making plays on the run, have them keep their feet moving through the catch and throw off of their post leg (right leg for right handers). While you don’t always have to make throws, it is important to practice patterns after you catch on every single ground ball you take (see Bregman). 

 

One of the toughest things you’ll have to wrestle with kids is learning how to use the backhand. Most coaches deter kids from using the backhand and preach getting in front of everything. This mindset will get kids handcuffed in games when balls take them far to their arm side. As a general rule of thumb: If the ball crosses your belly button to the right, use your backhand. If it’s hit at you/to the left of your belly button, use your forehand. In situations where kids aren’t used to catching to their backhand, start slow and speed it up as they progress. Emphasize good early glove presentation (try to pre-set glove 1-2 steps before they catch) and praise effort/glove touches. Get kids working underneath the ball and get them to learn how to play through it. It’ll look ugly at first, but it will improve with time. Their forehand might get the job done most of the time, but their backhand will hold them back unless they learn how to practice with it. 

 

Just like catch play, catching ground balls can get monotonous in nature. Spice it up using competitions and challenges that create game anxiety. Take careful note if the patterns you’re trying to create break down during these competitions. You want to keep ground ball work fun and engaging, but you don’t want movements to go to hell because kids are scared they’re going to drop the ball (ex: the kid who gets handcuffed because he’s afraid to use his backhand). The more you work at it, the more these patterns will start to become second nature. When they become more instinctive, you’ll start to see them surface when a little bit of pressure is put on the line.   

Summer Camp Recap – Teaching Catch Play

One of the areas we put a premium on at summer camp was mastering the basic fundamentals of catch and throw. Every single play on defense requires a catch and throw – whether it’s the pitcher throwing to the catcher, the shortstop throwing to the first baseman, or the outfielder throwing to the relay man. If you want to eliminate free-bees and minimize run production, owning your catch play is a great place to start. 

 

Catching is one of the more difficult skills kids try to learn at a young age. It is also one of the most traumatizing – miss one and you could have a black eye for the next couple weeks. As a result, glove presentation during catch play is a crucial point to drive home early on. Have kids present a target in the middle of their chest, fingers to the sky, and out in front of their eyes. Whether the ball moves left or right, create the habit of catching out in front with eyes behind the glove. If you wouldn’t field a ground ball behind your line of vision, you sure shouldn’t play catch like it. 

 

Throwers must also learn how to utilize their eyes effectively. Every single throw, get them to pick out a specific target and get them to try and throw it through the target. Your eyes are going to guide your body. By creating an external focus, throwers are able to train their instincts and figure out how to optimally move to locate the ball to a specific location. Kids have no time to think about where their arm or glove is in the middle of a game. Just as a hitter “sees ball and hits ball”, throwers should see target and throw through target. 

 

It’s crucial to drive home you own anything that touches your glove. Drops are not acceptable. If you let kids get away with drops in their catch play, don’t be surprised when they start booting around balls in the infield. By creating this specific focus, kids become more engaged during catch play and really start to concentrate when the ball comes towards them. One of the most important skills you can teach kids is basic focus and concentration. There are a lot of things in baseball that can get dull and monotonous. If focus is lost during these crucial moments, kids won’t learn. If kids aren’t learning, they are regressing

 

An overlooked part about catch play is the feet. Just as if you were in the infield, your feet should never stop moving throughout catch play. If the ball takes you a certain direction, the receiver must move their feet so they can get in a good catch position. As a thrower, you should be constantly utilizing your feet to put you into good throw positions. Stagnant feet leads to poor catch positions, poor throws, and a lack of focus/concentration. You catch with your feet, you throw with your feet. 

 

When you can start to figure out some of these things, it’s important to get kids to stretch their arms out and throw the ball from farther distances. Very seldom are plays going to occur where throws under 40 feet are required. Throwing the ball far and hard is a skill you need to teach and emphasize in your catch play. This helps teach kids how to use their bodies more effectively while building better work capacity and arm speed. It also helps receivers learn how to move their feet and make various types of catches. Being able to understand how to use the ground is a skill players can practice when throwing from longer distances. Throwers can practice long hopping the ball while receivers can practice fielding these types of hops and seeing which ones they can and can’t handle. 

 

Utilizing competition is a great way to break the monotony of catch play. Get kids to see who can drop the least amount of throws, who can throw the hardest, farthest, or the most accurate. These challenges will help increase focus, concentration, and can make catch play more enjoyable. Creativity is key – as long as you’re getting the right output. 

 

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.

 

  

Building Your Most Important Asset: The Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, has done decades of research diving into the core of human motivation. Through her work, she has discovered that there are two different types of mindsets in people: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Both have a significant impact on how people view challenges, grow, and ultimately perform.  

 

Dweck said, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.” 

 

A growth mindset, on the other hand, looks at challenges in a completely different viewpoint. “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence,” said Dweck. “They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

 

Like we talked about in “Building a Confident Self Image,” it is well known that our thoughts and beliefs are powerful predictors for our performance. When looking at a fixed vs. growth mindset, the ultimate question comes down to this: Are you born with a fixed amount of intelligence, or can it be developed? 

 

Dweck had a breakthrough in her research when she looked at a group of 10-year-olds to see how they coped with difficulties and challenges in school. She noticed how some craved challenges and sought to learn something from them, while others loathed the idea of being challenged. The first group of kids is what she grouped into the growth mindset, while the others were labeled with a fixed mindset. 

 

When studies dove into these two mindsets to see how they affected future performance, research found those in the fixed mindset were more likely to run away from future challenges, cheat, or find someone they did better than to feel good about themselves. Because they were gripped in the “tyranny of now,” they found coping strategies to protect their intelligence – which is constantly up for judgment. They needed validation for their abilities and ran from any kind of criticism that could suggest they were flawed. 

 

On the flip side, research found those with the growth mindset thrived when faced with challenges. Their brain lights up like a Christmas tree as they engage, tackle, and find solutions to problems. Instead of looking smart, their goal is to recognize errors, work to correct them, and learn from them so they are not repeated in the future. Challenges don’t present threats to their intelligence – rather opportunities for growth. While the kids in the fixed mindset regressed, the kids in the growth mindset excelled – and the only thing that separated the two groups was their perception of challenges.  

 

These core beliefs about yourself and your intelligence have a great correlation to the risks you take, the challenges you encounter, your creativity, resilience to adversity, and how you perform. A growth mindset helps facilitate deliberate practice – the deep, concentrated state where we train just beyond our abilities in order to build and develop more efficient neural circuits in our brain. It is through this process that we are able to build and refine our skills as the circuits become stronger with more practice – but it cannot happen if we don’t have the mindset that we can grow

 

Building a Growth Mindset

 

Using the word yet is a powerful way to get people out of the fixed mindset and into the growth mindset. The word yet facilitates hope by creating a vision and connection to the future. It gives us the idea that while we aren’t where we want to be, we still have the ability to get there with time and practice. Instead of believing we’re stuck with what we have, we use the power of yet to understand we’re far from a finished product. Saying you’re not a good math person is one thing, but saying you’re not a good person yet completely changes the game. 

 

As a player, it is important to identify language and actions that identify with a fixed mindset. Some of these include:

 

  • Excuse making, lack of ownership
  • Doubt
  • Fear
  • Jealousy
  • Focus on things we can’t control
  • No plan for the future
  • Need for validation
  • Constant comparison with others

 

If you sense any of these thoughts or feelings, immediately address them and reshape them. Ask yourself why you’re feeling these emotions and where they came from. What are you protecting using your fixed mindset? Are we afraid of screwing up because we’ve been praised as the smartest or most athletic? Are we letting other people determine the ceiling for our abilities? Do we really believe that we have the ability to grow and do we use it to fuel the work we put in? 

 

Cutting off these thoughts at the root helps protect you against developing a fixed mindset. If we let them slide and lose responsibility for our actions, our short-term fixed mindset will compound into one that is hard to break in the long run. Feelings of fear and doubt are normal responses to the challenges we face, but we can always control our reactions to them. How we ultimately act goes back to our mindset. Failure never defines those with the growth mindset – it only fuels them to recognize their errors, work hard to correct them, and use the experience to help them grow. 

 

As a coach, be careful how you praise your athletes. Instead of praising intelligence, praise effort, strategy, progress, and engagement. Praising intelligence builds insecurities by making kids run from challenges that could threaten whether people think they’re the best, brightest, or most intelligent. Praising effort creates enthusiasm for the process of becoming great.  

 

Get fired up when kids really grapple with a problem, attempt different solutions, and learn from their mistakes. It doesn’t matter if they find the result they were looking for. If you commend them for their effort and how hard they worked, they will take similar strategies when faced with problems in the future – and they will get results. If you mock them for not finding a solution, the fixed mindset will kick in and steer them away from tackling problems head on. We want to develop independent problem solvers who love to take on challenges – not kids with sore egos.

 

Below are some other ideas for coaches to help build athletes with a growth mindset:

 

  • Teach them what the two mindsets are, how they’re different, and why you want a growth mindset over a fixed one. 
  • Relate it to things athletes do off the field (school, clubs, etc.). 
  • Teach the power of yet – make it part of your shared vocabulary. 
  • Share real life examples of the growth and fixed mindset.
  • Address language and behavior of fixed mindsets immediately. Rewrite the script using a growth mindset. 
  • Figure out why some people have a fixed mindset. If you want to change behavior, you have to get to the roots.
  • Eliminate the need for constant validation and comparison. 
  • Create incentive for players who show exceptional qualities of a growth mindset (ex: growth mindset of the day). 
  • Encourage players to ask questions.
  • Model the growth mindset yourself. 

 

Feel free to reach out with any questions or thoughts. Keep learning crushing the growth mindset.

This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

Deliberate Practice

There is no secret recipe. Everyone is looking for the number one thing, but it’s simply hard work. It literally takes hours and hours and hours of repetition. Just showing up every day and being consistent.” – A.J. Pollock, MLB All-Star

I love this quote from Pollock because it is spot on in so many different ways. In an age where everyone is looking for the next big thing or the quickest route to success, nothing can – or ever will – replace hard work. As a baseball player, the time and quality of your practice will ultimately dictate the type of player you become. As Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch says it best, “Practice does not make perfect. It makes permanent.” 

 

This brings up my main point for this article: There is a right way to practice, and a wrong way to practice. You can’t fake working hard – you get out of it what you put into it. If your practice lacks focus and concentration, centers on your strengths, and is done sporadically, it will never help you achieve the results you desire. There is nothing engaging about the practice you’re creating – it’s simply what you want to do, when you want to do it, and it’s done without precise attention to detail. 

 

To discover the origins of what we know as talent, Daniel Coyle took a trip around the globe to discover the key ingredients for what created hotbeds of talent in various occupations. He recorded his findings in New York Times Best Seller The Talent Code (a great read for those interested). Through his work, Coyle found three themes that allowed for the optimization of performance in just about everything. We’re going to center in on one of those themes today – the idea of deliberate practice.

 

Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson was fascinated with the idea of talent and decided to explore it from several different angles. To discover the nature of skilled performance, Ericsson vigorously studied the time and characteristics of practice from several professions. What he discovered is nearly all experts were the product of around 10,000 hours of committed practice. Ericsson called this process deliberate practice, defining it as “working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and focusing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses.”

 

The key part of Ericsson’s deliberate practice definition is the idea of commitment. While acquiring hours of practice is critical (Mozart was estimated to have 3,500 hours of practice by his sixth birthday), not all practice is created equal. To understand this, see the example below from Aubrey Daniels:

 

“Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?”

 

Not only does Player A get up more shots, but the focus and concentration is exceptionally better, there is feedback on every single shot, and that feedback is reviewed every 10 minutes throughout the training session. There’s a system to Player A’s training. Player B is just getting shots up at their leisure.

 

Any sensible athlete would understand how Player A’s training is much better, but most fail to practice the necessary focus and concentration required for deliberate practice. James Clear, author of New York Times Best Seller Atomic Habits, spoke about this saying, “The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. In the beginning, showing up and putting in your reps is the most important thing. But after a while we begin to carelessly overlook small errors and miss daily opportunities for improvement.” 

 

This carelessness comes from our brain’s natural tendency to throw skills on autopilot once we begin to master them. This is the reason why we don’t have to think about how to ride a bike or drive a car the way we once used to. With practice, our brain is able to build and strengthen neural circuits required to perform the skill with great efficiency. This makes our day a lot easier by helping us conserve cognitive energy for other places, but it works against us when we’re trying to improve performance. Mindless repetitions and activity do not help us improve. If anything, they’re the start to our regression.  

 

To avoid falling into the trap of mindless practice, we need to practice strategies that help facilitate deliberate practice. To really and truly be engaged in your work is difficult to do, but it’s how high performing individuals separate themselves from the field. They’re not interested in practicing the puts they could put in blindfolded. They’re on the practice course going through their in-game performance routines, trying new and difficult shots, making mistakes, learning from them, and becoming their own best coach through trial and error. As Ericsson says, “There’s no cell type that geniuses have that the rest of us don’t.” 

 

How to Design Deliberate Practice

 

Coyle divided deliberate practice into three rules. The first rule, chunk it up, is where participants absorb the entire activity, break it into its smallest possible chunks, and then practice it by slowing it down – eventually speeding it up – to learn its “inner architecture.” The second rule, repeat it, is where participants practice the skill through mindful repetitions. The last rule, learn to feel it, is where we put it all together and create awareness for when we’re using deliberate practice. 

 

Absorbing the skill sets the framework for how the participant views the skill and how they can ultimately perform it themselves. Given our natural tendency to imitate, it is incredibly valuable to watch and study high performers in our field. By seeing what they do really well, we can unconsciously learn how to take on similar movements and actions that set us up for long term success. Watching Bryce Harper’s highlight reel isn’t just to admire his 400-foot bombs – it’s a way to spark early interest and engagement. 

 

Once we have the blueprint for what we want to accomplish, we need to break it down into the smallest chunks possible. By memorizing individual parts of the intended movement, we can learn how to master each one and ultimately put them together in one complete sequence. In baseball, this could be breaking the swing down into a move out of balance, foot plant, initial move to the ball, contact, rotation, and extension. By seeing and feeling how each of these parts should fit together in the whole movement, we’re able to build greater awareness for what it should all feel and look like.

 

After this point, we can start to put it all together by slowing it down. A slow pace enables a high degree of precision which allows you to be more attentive to small errors. This helps unlock what Coyle calls “a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprints.” We become in tune with the rhythm and relation of the interlocking circuits required for the skill. We don’t just go through the motions – we do it with such a high degree of concentration that we become completely immersed in it. It’s our way to deliberately leave no stone unturned. 

 

Once we’ve been able to do these three things, we can move on to Coyle’s next rule of deliberate practice: repeat it. As Coyle says, “There is, biologically speaking, no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing you can do – talking, thinking, reading, imagining – is more effective in building skill than executing the action, firing the impulse down the nerve fiber, fixing errors, honing the circuit.” 

 

To explain this, he brings up a question: What is the quickest (non-injury) way to diminish the skills of a superstar? The answer is simple – “Don’t let them practice for a month.” Nothing physically about the athlete has changed, but the channels responsible for firing the skill have begun to decay. Just like nature – if it isn’t growing, it’s dying. 

 

While nothing can replace repetition, it is only useful if it is done on the edge of your capabilities. Coyle calls this area the “sweet spot” for the facilitation of deliberate practice. More doesn’t always mean better if you’re not challenging yourself and finding areas of your game that need improvement. 

 

After we’ve chunked it up and repeated it, we need to learn what it feels like to be immersed in deliberate practice. Creating awareness for how we feel helps counteract the natural tendency to dislike deliberate practice. It’s very tough to find a particular struggle, invest 100 percent focus and concentration, and consistently evaluate to see whether you are making progress or not. As a result, you need to praise the right things and hold participants accountable to the standard you create. 

 

To give you an idea of what deliberate practice should feel like, Coyle composed a list of words that experts from around the world used to describe the practice:

 

    • Attention
    • Connect
    • Build
    • Whole
    • Alert
    • Focus
    • Mistake
    • Repeat
    • Tiring 
    • Edge
    • Awake

 

Here is a list of words that DID NOT make the list:

 

    • Natural
    • Effortless
    • Routine
    • Automatic

 

To give you an idea of how deliberate practice should occur, follow these four steps:

 

  1. Pick a target
  2. Reach for it
  3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach
  4. Return to step one

 

If you can chunk it, repeat it, feel it, and crush these four steps on a consistent basis, you’re on the right track to deliberate practice. 

 

After your training sessions, journal and record what your goals were, how you set out to achieve them, the results of your training, what helped you, and what didn’t help you. Get measurables and record film that you can use to track how you’re progressing or regressing throughout your training. Ask for input from others and see if there’s anything they would do to try and help you achieve what you’re striving for. Research things you don’t understand and seek people who understand it very well. Exhaust every possible resource you can – you only have one career. 

 

If experts from all around the world have invested close to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you’ve got no time to waste.       

 

Keep learning, growing, and practicing deliberately

 

This article was written by Andrew Parks.   

How to Find the Right Information

We live in an age where there is an abundance of information that is more accessible than ever before. This is a great asset when it comes to making quality information more available to larger crowds. Great information drives better engagement, development, and results as it empowers coaches and athletes to take on more effective training methods. Instead of guessing what is good or bad, we now have a large network of people in constant pursuit of awesome information – and they are more than willing to share it.  

 

On the flip side, having more information at the tip of your fingers makes it more likely that you’ll run into bad information. All information is not created equal. People have different opinions, viewpoints, and interpret things differently than others. Information changes with time and old training regimes can become outdated with new and improved research. Some of the best coaches out there have published things that they no longer agree with. Others aren’t as well-intentioned and publish thoughts claiming their “expertise” as the reason why you should trust them. Either way, you are always going to run into conflicting information.

 

As a result, it is more important than ever to have a strong filter when sifting through information. The amount of information published is not going to slow down and the quality of that information cannot be guaranteed. You’re always going to have to work through some bad stuff in order to find something that can really help you. Quite honestly, it’s a good idea to collect some bad information early on. You can’t decipher what’s good or bad if you haven’t collected anything that contradicts what you currently think – and what you think is “bad” might actually be exactly what you need to hear.    

 

Below are some tips on how you can learn where to get great information from, who to trust, and how to determine what is useful or detrimental. 

 

  1. Collect as much information as you can early on. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Understand a variety of perspectives and learn both sides of the conflicts that you find. When it comes down to it, people are going to generally agree on roughly 90 percent of what you see. The other 10 percent is where you start to see differences in training philosophies. Odds are, you can probably learn something from almost all of the people you come into contact with. Only by interacting with a wide variety of ideas do you really start to build your own opinions and formulate what you believe is true.
  2. Don’t just look to confirm what you already believe (confirmation bias). Michael Boyle, strength trainer in Massachusetts, made a great point of this saying, “People don’t call for advice, they call for agreement.” Most people are going to search for things that they already believe to be so. It’s uncomfortable to face the facts and objectively look at the validity of what you think is true. If you can put your biases to the side and seek information that contradicts what you believe, you’ll have a large competitive advantage over your peers. You’ll either find a new perspective you never thought of or you’ll only strengthen your argument for what you already know. One of the best ways to build a strong argument is to thoroughly understand the other side of it.
  3. Beware of self-proclaimed “experts.” Expertise is built through years of experience, skin in the game, and positive impacts on other people. If anyone should call you on expert, it should be the clients and colleagues you work with. If you’re taking the time and energy to validate yourself as an expert online, you probably aren’t one. You’re most likely masking an insecurity where you feel people will only respect you if you have some sort of title next to your name. 
  4. There are no “secrets.” In fact, some of the smartest people/organizations out there share the most amount of free content. If you find someone who claims that have the secret sauce that you can access for $19.99, it probably isn’t worth your time. Don’t waste your time or money with someone who isn’t willing to share their work without a price tag on a public platform. 
  5. There are no free lunches. Don’t be the guy who is always asking for a free-bee. You’re not being thrifty – you’re being a cheapass that no one wants to deal with. Respect other people’s time and put money into resources from people you get a lot from. The free content they put together for you comes at an expense to them. Begging them for more free stuff is another way to tell them you don’t respect their time. Don’t be afraid to spend the dollar – think of it as an investment into your future
  6. Beware of jargon. Fluffing up your vocabulary to make yourself seem smarter may fool some, but it doesn’t actually make you smarter. The best in the world are able to take really complex material and break it down to the point where they could teach it to the dumbest person in the room. Using advanced terminology won’t help you do that. As Einstein says it best, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” 
  7. Context is key. As Eugene Bleeker says best in his book Old School vs. New School, “Everything is great and everything sucks.” Don’t just jump to conclusions when looking at research, experiments, or other outcome-based methodologies. Try to understand the method, who was involved, and how it was used before forming an opinion about it. A poorly executed weighted baseball program should not be rationale to demonize weighted baseballs. 
  8. Seek transparency. Basic marketing concepts will make you believe everything is good and everyone always gets better with training. This just isn’t reality. While many will not go out of their way to publicize failures, the best in the business have no problem admitting them. If you’re thinking of training with someone who claims they’ve never made an athlete worse, don’t walk – run away. Get information from people who are willing to share their failures and shortcomings. Those who aren’t willing to do so are people you shouldn’t trust. 
  9. There are no guarantees. There is no such thing as a weighted baseball program that guarantees 5-10 mph in x amount of weeks. Training with a certain guru will not guarantee you a Division I scholarship. If anything holds true, you are owed nothing from your training. If you find something that promises you an outcome-based goal, don’t trust it. There are steps you can take to improve your odds at doing something, but your training will never replicate an algebra equation. If anything, your progress is going to look a lot messier than you originally thought. 
  10. Beware of those who spend the majority of their time attacking their competition. If you put together a quality product or service, your success should show for itself. You shouldn’t need to spend your time bashing others to make yourself seem like a better option. People who are secure about their value are going to refrain from going out of their way to stir up a storm. Steer clear of those who always find themselves in the middle of a Twitter controversy. Odds are, it’s the only way people will talk about them

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