The Secret to Correct Practice–
Learn the trick to making players great!
So Pumped to share The Talent Code with you!
I am excited to share with you one of the better books I have read on skill development and how to do it more effectively. It is Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code and it delves into how exceptional skill is cultivated. Coyle combines neurological science with first hand experience and research gathered in “talent hotbeds” of the world, to reveal the true dynamics of how skill acquisition works. I highly recommend this read to anyone, but especially anyone who coaches.
The book is broken into three parts: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. In the next three days I am going to go over the 3 rules of deep practice that Coyle identifies. These give great insight into how to be a better coach in any area.
But what is deep practice?
“Deep Practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways –operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes –makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you are forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them –as you would if you were walking up an ice covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go –end up making you swift and graceful without you realizing it.”
It is this deep practice that creates the neurological response to most effectively and efficiently build skill.
It is also a great argument as to why baseball is one of the best teachers of life. It is a game of failure and that failure serves as life’s greatest teacher…no longer just in cliché terms, but backed by neuroscience. To progress, to grow, to expand, you must operate on the edge of you ability. You must push the edge and encounter failure, because that failure will become your direct signpost to success.
With baseball we have always preached that if you are going to make a mistake, make it aggressively…by challenging your players to push their edge, to test how far they can go, you are creating an environment that fosters deep practice. Embrace failures and mistakes, then use them to help players engage in deep practice.
“This book is about a simple idea: the talent hotbeds are doing the same thing. They have tapped into the neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice build skill. Without realizing it they have entered into a zone of accelerated learning that can be accessed by those who know how. In short, they have cracked the talent code.”
Covering the three rules of deep practice will go a long way in helping you gain a better understanding of how to crack the talent code.
Can’t wait to touch base with you tomorrow about rule #1 and how you can apply it to your baseball practice.
Want Perfect Technique? Here’s How—
The Talent Code: Deep Practice Rule #1
Implement Part Practice and Master Your Skill!
Yesterday I introduced Daniel Coyle’s groundbreaking book The Talent Code – “The book that explains how talent grows in the brain, and how you can grow more of it”
I am particularly excited about the findings of this book because it gives a clear road map as to how we can improve our approach as coaches to help players see more marked improvement. One of the first and most important elements is the idea of deep practice, which I touched on yesterday.
In case you missed it, or to help further understand it, here is another explanation that Coyle provides:
“Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking out a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.
- Pick a target.
- Reach for it.
- Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach.
- Return to step one.”
One of the crucial pieces of this cycle is to pick a target that forces you to operate on the edge of your ability, or a target that forces your athletes to operate on the edge of their ability.
I told you yesterday that I was going to go over the 3 rules of deep practice that Coyle identifies, which means today is focused on rule one.
Rule #1: Chunk it up
In this all-important portion of the book Coyle refers to “chunking” which is basically breaking down any skill into its individual pieces, and perfecting those individual pieces.
This is exactly what we do when teaching the proper fielding position with the Triangle Drill, or guiding a player through proper swing or pitching mechanics. We have always referred to it as part practice.
Try breaking these complicated moves down into their individual parts and teach players to master one piece at a time.
The goal should be for the athlete to be able to perform each one of the individual portions with absolute precision. In doing so perfect technique is built because the perfect neurological circuits are built…and the foundation of perfect technique is crucial to long-term success.
“The goal is always the same: break the skill into its component pieces (circuits), memorize those pieces individually, then link them together in progressively larger groupings (new, interconnected circuits).”
Not only do we want to absolutely perfect each of the individual parts, but we also want to link them together. Have your athletes learn the individual pieces and also work to blend them together. Start extremely slow, having them hold and feel each position individually (new, individual circuits).
Then link them together in a progression in which they still hold and feel each position for a solid 2 seconds. As they continue to get more in tune with each individual position smooth out the progression. Have them move from position A to position B to position C a little quicker. Eventually, getting to a point where it is one smooth fluid motion (new, interconnected circuits).
Additional Teaching Tricks:
Another method you can use within this Part Practice model is mixing up the order of the positions. Have an athlete stand with a bat at his feet and tell him you are going to call out a position and they need to go directly to it. This can help create a deeper connection to that individual position.
“At Meadowmount (elite musical school and talent hotbed) Students scissor each measure of their sheet music into horizontal strips, which are stuffed into envelops and pulled out in random order.”
Additionally, once the athletes have learned all of the positions in the progression you can have them work forward and backwards through it. This again forces them to really evaluate where their body is in space (kinesthetic awareness). Having to do the progression backwards helps heighten this awareness and forces athletes to really think through the moves.
You might be thinking: that’s all good and well, but I don’t know what the most important pieces of the key fundamental movements in baseball are!
What are the component parts of the correct fielding position?
What are the component parts of a major league swing?
What are the component parts of an effective pitching motion?
Lucky for you we have laid some versions those out; click the links below to see some different progressions you can use to implement this part practice:
Breaking into its pieces is a very valuable teaching technique, but there is another element to this idea of “Chunking it up.” Coyle also identifies an important element of “Absorbing the whole thing.”
“This means spending time starting at or listening to the desired skill—the song, the move, the swing—as a single coherent entity. People in the hotbeds stare and listen in this way quite a lot. It sounds rather Zen, but it basically amounts to absorbing a picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it.”
How to apply it to your athletes:
We actually have something called mirror neurons, which are neurons that fire both when you perform the skill and when you observe the skill being performed by another. Basically they help us to imitate. This is why watching baseball, absorbing the way the best in the world do it actually helps athletes develop the skill in themselves.
So here is the process as it pertains to baseball:
- Pick the skill set to focus on: ie. fielding position, a baseball swing
- Observe & absorb the skill/movement as a whole (this can be constant)
- Determine what the component pieces of that skill are (especially what the most important pieces are)
- Break it down into its component pieces
- Master those component pieces individually
- Blend the individual pieces together into progressively larger pieces
- Put it all together into one smooth fluid movement
- Evaluate, refine, repeat. Evaluate, refine, repeat….
Can’t wait to touch base with you tomorrow about rule #2 and how you can apply it to your baseball practice.
How to Develop World Class Skill
The Talent Code: Deep Practice Rule #2
Ready to hack skill acquisition!
Remember yesterday we talked about Rule #1 (Chunk it up)….if you missed it you can read the blog post here.
Time for Rule #2, let’s do this…
Rule #2 is simply: Repeat it!
This seems basic but the science backs it up big time:
“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.” –Daniel Coyle
I know what your thinking:
“Yeah duh! We all know that the action must be performed, that is what we do everyday at practice!”
However, the crucial part of this is that the action is performed with a high level of focus. The athlete must be in that “sweet spot” where they are engaged in the type of deep practice that we went over yesterday.
Again: “execute the action, fire the impulse down the nerve fiber, fix errors, hone the circuit.”
Then Repeat: “execute the action, fire the impulse down the nerve fiber, fix errors, hone the circuit.”
And Again: Perform the action. Fix mistakes. Refine the Skill. Over and over and over…
As a coach an example of the process looks like this:
- Have your athlete practice the fielding position (triangle drill)
- Assess the technique
- Make corrections
- Have them repeat the fielding position with specific adjustments in mind
This focused and attentive repetition should be done with the part practice methods discussed in yesterdays newsletter and with the skill as a whole.
Remember the old adage quality over quantity.
For world-class skill acquisition this is an important idea to keep in mind. The skill must be repeated over and over, but do not let that create a situation in which you have your athletes doing reps simply to do reps. Don’t have them do reps just because I am saying you have to repeat the skill over and over and over.
Have them do reps only as long as those reps are occurring with the deep practice traits I have already outlined.
In Daniel Coyle’s book he points out that there are different amounts of time and repetitions that occur in all of the world’s talent hotbeds that he visited. What was apparent is that practicing 10 hours a day was not necessary. In fact, he states that most of the actual practice time in all of these hotbeds was “reasonably sane.”
It isn’t the overall time that is spent; it is about the level of attentiveness and engagement that occurs within the time.
Basically, once your athletes are no longer engaged in “deep practice” you are wasting not only their time, but also your time.
Coyle states: “Spending more time is effective—but only if you’re still in the sweet spot at he edge of your capabilities, attentively building and honing circuits.”
So when there is a departure from deep practice the return is greatly diminished.
In summation, repetition is king. However, work hard to communicate to your athletes the level of focus that they must have if meaningful results are expected.
It is constantly a struggle to get players to genuinely engage in practice, but using some of the methods reviewed in yesterday’s newsletter can help.
Additionally, intense focus is a habit that can be developed if coaches create and clearly communicate the expectation for it. Just like building skill, it doesn’t happen overnight. But, if the expectations are there and continually reinforced, players will develop the habit of engaging in deep practice.
This ties nicely into Rule # 3, which will be highlighted tomorrow.
As a coach it is up to you to create a practice environment that perpetuates deep practice. Then you must have the resolve to stick with it and get your players to repeat it over and over again.
Remember: “execute the action, fire the impulse down the nerve fiber, fix errors, hone the circuit.”
How to develop world Class Skill
The Talent Code: Deep Practice Rule #3
Big Day…. this is the last rule of the overall “Deep Practice” picture.
Author Daniel Coyle titles rule #3 “Learn To Feel It”
It could easily be titled: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Legendary manager Lou Piniella once said: “You have to learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable”
At the conclusions of yesterday’s newsletter, I recognized the fact that it can be a difficult task to get your athletes to stay extremely focused, and remain in the “deep practice sweet spot.”
There is no doubt that can be a tall task, especially with younger players.
That being said, they are never going to really get to a point where they are “comfortable being uncomfortable” unless you consistently push them to the edges of their ability.
In all of the hotbeds that Coyle visited it was extremely rare for people to describe deep practice as “natural, or effortless.”
The words that showed up were things like: “Attention, build, focus, mistake, repeat, tiring.”
Wait so it is not just about genetic outliers that are simply exponentially more gifted than the rest of us? Precisely…it is about approaching development the right way, not necessarily the easy way.
Just to reiterate what the right way is:
Q: Why is targeted, mistake-focused practice so effective?
A: Because the best way to build a good circuit (skill) is to fire it, attend to mistakes, then fire it again, over and over. Struggle is not an option: it’s a biological requirement.”
At the outset it is not fun to continually fail, but if players start to shy away from operating at the edge of their ability, they have in essence decided to bed down in their comfort zone.
This is where progress or skill acquisition comes to a screeching halt.
I know that many of your players will be resistant to some of the detailed drill sets you put in place to help them access this elusive “deep practice.” However, just like I said in the previous newsletter, you must have the resolve to stick with it and push your athletes to practice in the manner discussed.
They will come around, and that coming around is what Rule #3 is about. Learning to feel the struggle and beginning to embrace the struggle.
For this to happen there is a good chance that some extrinsic motivation will have to be the starting point. However, these talent hotbeds have shown that students will indeed begin to not only embrace deep practice but also enjoy it.
Check out this excerpt from The Talent Code:
“At Meadowmount (elite musical school and talent hotbed), instructors routinely see students develop a taste for deep practice. They don’t like it at first. But soon, the students begin to tolerate and even enjoy the experience. Most kids accelerate their practice fairly quickly.”
Confidence comes from competence, so as your athletes improve they will begin to have more and more desire to practice intensely and correctly.
Do them a favor and implement these three rules of deep practice and you will give your athletes the best opportunity to develop their skill and maximize their potential.
The beauty of all of this is that it really speaks to teaching players how to be successful in whatever area they choose to pursue. “You come to the field to learn baseball, but you leave learning life.”
I will leave you with one final quote from this great book:
“To get good, it’s helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad. Baby steps are the royal road to skill.”
Learn from an NFL Head Coach
So I was catching up on some Hardknocks, which is the HBO series that documents NFL training camp with one team. In 2015, the series features the Houston Texans.
The second episode of the series opens with the Texans meeting in the locker room during half time of their first pre-season game. The first words spoken in that episode come from head coach Bill O’Brien. You hear him say:
“So these are some things I wrote down: We got missed tackles
10 men on the field on defense
We had a holding call on punt return
We had an offensive holding call, we’re not set on the clock play
We had 7 shots from the goal line and don’t get it in, from inside the 2 yard line”
Head coach Bill O’Brien is reading these bullet points off of what looks to be a piece of paper that is folded in half horizontally, and then vertically.
To most viewers this would be an inconsequential 10-second portion of the overall episode. However, Coach O’Brien reveals a great coaching technique.
I first saw this done by Coach Scott Payne. During every game and practice he is religious about writing down anything that is done incorrectly, or done extremely well. These notes serve as great teaching devices.
When players actually experience something happening in real time, and then have the chance to go over that with their coach, it has a much deeper impact than if the situation was simply addressed in a “chalk talk session.”
As coaches, we feel like we can remember exactly what the important moments in a game were that we must address. Very often we try to address the mistake or great play immediately after it happens, if all of the moving parts allow for this it should indeed be done. Yet, often the player we want to talk to is leading off the next inning, or another player could have learned from the situation but you only have a chance to speak with the involved party before you have to go coach third base. By the time the game is over it is very easy for that learning opportunity to have slipped your mind.
Point being, coaches should get in the habit of writing down all of the events that happen in a game that they have some sort of commentary on. Then they should address those issues immediately after the game. By doing so the coach gives the entire team a chance to learn and improve based upon the game experience they just had.
If you adopt this you are building up your teams baseball IQ and giving them a direct signpost to success. Additionally, you are supplying them with an experiential library of game situations that they can draw from for the rest of their playing career.
On top of what a great benefit it can be to the players, this list of bullet points will have a way of showing you what elements need to be emphasized in practice.
It is so easy to get caught up in the game, but making a concerted effort to write down the things you as a coach see, then communicating that to your players will help them see the game from a coaches point of view. Pretty soon you will have baseball savvy players, doing the right thing on instinct.
Do yourself a favor and start carrying a note card, or even a folded up piece of paper…and jot down mistakes, great plays, situations, or other occurrences, then review those with your team immediately after the games. In practice, you have the ability to stop things and put the teaching in right away. Make an effort to do so in games also, but don’t let one players mistake be a learning opportunity for just him. Let it be a learning opportunity for the entire team.
It is not a matter of calling anyone out, it is simply a matter of teaching. Very calming and matter of factly recall the situation and then provide guidance as to how it can be done better next time. Or highlight great efforts and plays and emphasize the fact that that particular play or effort is how things should be done.
If an NFL coach is writing these types of things down I think it is a good suggestion to try it out for size. I have loved it ever since I have started doing it. Give it a try and you and your players will reap the benefits.
How to teach players the sac bunt correctly + Bunt Progression you can use today! – 3/10/15
Want to see your players have more success, enjoy the game more, and WIN more games?
Then learn how to turn your group of players into the best bunting team in the league.
I am a big proponent of swinging the sticks and swinging them hard, I am not going to sit here and tell you that players need to be bunting all of the time. Scott and I are all about trying to be objective and earnestly look at what is done at the highest level. When watching a big league game there is not an overwhelming amount of bunts being laid down. When played at the highest level, players are swinging the large majority of at bats. Therefore, if we want players to maximize their potential they need to take as many live at bats as possible.
There are two different sides to this story:
If we take a player who doesn’t have quite as much offensive prowess and decide to bunt him every single at bat of the season we are doing him a disservice. In a sense, we would be handicapping his development and his ability to improve as a hitter.
However, we might be helping the team win if we ask this player to bunt all the time. At the major league level, if a hitter bunts every single at bat, the out will be recorded 98% of the time. That number decreases considerably when you are playing youth baseball, errors are exponentially more prevalent and simply putting the ball in play consistently, enhances the teams potential to score runs. Every level that players or teams progress, the defense improves…meaning it becomes more important to put the ball in play with authority if we hope to have offensive success and score runs.
So what does it all mean?
I am a proponent of everyone learning how to become a great bunter. No matter how big of a bruiser you are, you are doing yourself a favor by learning how to bunt. It is a necessary skill set to have to be a complete baseball player. Yes, I recognize that when you watch a big league game the majority of bunts you see will come from a pitcher or a speed guy. However, the game evolves and having every possible tool in your tool belt to be able to evolve with the game is imperative if we want to give ourselves the edge over our competition and to identify ourselves as the crème de la crème.
Consider the trend of utilizing “the shift” in defensive alignments, that speaks to the evolution of the game and also points to a situation where great bunting skills could absolutely help you find more success. I am not going to preach that youth or high school players need to be bunting all the time but I will preach that they should all learn to become great bunters. There will be players that you coach that are elite at one level and it seems like they should never bunt, but as they progress to higher levels the talent gap closes (no matter who you are) and that means there may very well be situations that require that same player to do something to differentiate themselves. Being the best bunter on the team is something that can be that differentiator. Your ego may be acting as that voice in the back of your head right now saying “no not me” or “not my son” and that is perfectly natural. However, our goal is to give our players, our children, or ourselves the best opportunity for success. I promise you that taking a minimal amount of practice time and dedicating it to learning and developing the art of bunting and execution will be gaining an edge that others naively overlook.
What is the proper technique?
This post will focus on a sacrifice bunt, in large part because players should first learn a proper set of mechanics for a sacrifice bunt, then progress to the skill (drag, push, etc.) bunts after that.
- Pre-pitch set-up—Players need to be taught to get up in the batter’s box (towards the pitcher). Meaning they should have their front foot as close to the front line of the box as possible. This improves our angles and hence improves our ability to get the bunt down in fair territory.
- When to show the sacrifice bunt—Players need to be taught when to show bunt. Remind them that this is a sacrifice; we are giving ourselves up (for much younger players letting them know that it doesn’t count against their batting average can help their state of mind). This means we do not have to wait until extremely late to show bunt (different situations will dictate how early or late we can show bunt and we will cover those in a future post). For this set of mechanics tell the players to go ahead and show early, meaning once the pitcher comes set we can go ahead and show.
- Early show set up—Players should be directed to set their angle early with the barrel level to the ground. Additionally, we want to get the barrel out away from our body/face. All the while putting our face behind the bat.
3A. How to set the angle: The 1st and 3rd baselines are perpendicular to each other, so to set our angle (as a right handed hitter) we can think about pointing the tip of our bat to 1st base to set our angle for a bunt down the third base line. Then we can think about pointing our knob towards 3rd base to set our angle for a bunt down the 1st base line…visa versa for both of these for left handed hitters. Now, keep in mind this is a sacrifice bunt so we are looking at getting it down in the 1st base third or the 3rd base third, we do not need to make a perfect bunt that is right down line. Therefore, after we have pointed the tip or the knob we will decrease the angle slightly to help insure we keep it fair.
3B. Why level instead of tip up: Some coaches are adamant about the tip being considerably higher than the hands. That is how I was taught, however, when we start in that position it means we have to drop the tip down as we are bunting the ball. By starting with the barrel level we are going to be able to change elevation by using our legs, which will allow us to keep our eyes at the same spot relative to the barrel of the bat. This makes it much easier to track the pitch and get the bunt down.
3C. What do you mean face behind the barrel: We want players to gain depth with their chest and their eyes and have their eyes above the barrel while the face is behind the bat.
3D. Where should the barrel be set from an elevation or height standpoint: Our eyes and the barrel should be set at the top of the strike zone, anything that is above the barrel we will pull back and not offer at the pitch. Any thing that is a strike and below the starting position of the bat we will simply take the back knee down towards the ground to change the elevation of the bat. As this move is done the eyes should change elevation at the same rate as the barrel and therefore stay at the same spot relative to the barrel (as we just discussed…but this is really important, beat it to death until the players make the adjustment). Emphasize having the players watch the ball hit the bat.
3E. Should the bat be out away from the body or in close: Get that thing out there! When bunting down the third base line as a righty, we have had success with the verbal cue of: “think about your back shoulder touching your chin and reaching that right hand out in front.”
A lot of people have concern that reaching the arms way out in front leads to hard hands. To avoid this think about keeping a micro-bend in the elbow (emphasis on micro!) and be loose with the hands, this will keep us nice and soft. One of the other quite common verbal cues you can use to potentially help with this is: “catch the ball with the bat.”
3F. How our lower half should be set up: Think about a lunge position with the lower half, with the back foot pivoted around (turn the shoe laces over). This sets us up to be able to very efficiently change barrel/eyes elevation with our legs by simply taking the back knee down towards the ground.
- Where the ball should be bunted—The situation will dictate where we want to bunt the ball bunted. In most cases it is favorable to get sacrifice bunts down in the 3rd base third of the infield. Typical sacrifice situations will be when there is a runner on 1st only or when there are runners on 1st and 2nd base.
Situation #1 – Runner on 1st only: When there is a runner on 1st, if we get the bunt down the 3rd base line then we create an interchange situation for the defense. This is when either the pitcher or the catcher is supposed to interchange with the third basemen. Very often teams are not properly coached on how to run the interchange or the pitcher or catcher flat out forgets. That means 3rd base is open and the runner that we sacrificed to 2nd base can now potentially take 3rd base due to the fact that no one covered it up. However, if we bunt it down the 1st base line the third basemen should retreat to 3rd and have it covered.
Situation #2 – Runners on 1st and 2nd base: When there are runners on 1st and 2nd we especially want to try to get the bunt in the 3rd base third of the infield because it draws the 3rd baseman in to field the bunt (dependent upon the bunt defensive play that has been called by the opponent). As an offense we want the out to be made at first and the other 2 runners to advance, if the 3rd baseman has to field the bunt this desired outcome is much more likely.
Below I have put together a bunting progression that can be implemented into practices to help skyrocket player’s ability to execute. Try implementing this during practice; it will take a fair bit of time to explain the proper technique and the progression itself the first time you introduce it to your team or child, but after that it should be something that can be completed in 10 minutes.
- On one knee with one hand 5x to 1B side
- On one knee with one hand 5x to 3B side
- On one knee with 2 hands 5x to 1B side
- On one knee with 2 hands 5x to 3B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 1 hand 5x to 1B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 1 hand 5x to 3B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 2 hands 5x to 1B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 2 hands 5x to 3B side
If players do this on a daily basis they will undoubtedly improve as bunters. If you can consistently get bunts down and they are called for in the correct situations it will absolutely lead to more wins. Try it out and let us know if you have any questions.
Why I May not Know What I’m Talking About…3/11/15
As coaches, we all like to believe that the information we’re giving our players is “right”. We all think that other coaches have no idea what they’re doing and if they teach something differently they are just flat out wrong. Sound familiar?
Good questions to ask yourself (one that I recently asked myself) are, “Am I really teaching what the best guys in the game are ACTUALLY doing?” Furthermore, “Why am I teaching this? Do I have a solid reason behind every technique that I teach, or am I just teaching what I was taught?”
Alright, enough of the preaching. Let’s get down to why I’m an idiot, what I’m teaching wrong, WHY it’s wrong and the better way of doing it.
I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been teaching the infield footwork wrong for years now. Here’s a direct quote from the article Infield Throwing Position that I wrote (specifically the step in front footwork section):
“The step in front footwork model is probably the best one to teach to beginners. The step in front is widely taught and is probably the most commonly used for the routine ground ball. I would always recommend the step in front method for the routine ground ball.
When the fielder is transitioning from the fielding position to the throwing position the right foot steps in front of the left foot. A good teaching point is to tell the kids to take the insole of their right foot directly towards first base.”
The idea behind the step in front is that it gets the fielder headed in the correct direction towards the play and shifts the shoulders to be inline with the base that the ball is being delivered to. Basically, this is just plain wrong and there are multiple reasons why:
- Stepping in front doesn’t actually force the shoulders to be inline with the throw, especially the ball two or three steps to the left. It actually takes the fielder to the left of the play.
- The steps become too long and are basically inefficient
- The difference in the distance that the fielder gains towards the play with the step in front is negligible (about 4 or 5 inches) compared to the replace step
- There’s the chance that crossing the right foot over the left can cause the fielder to trip or clip the foot they are crossing over. Although this is a small chance there’s still a chance. Lets say it happens once every 500 times, there’s the possibility that on that 500th play it’s to end a big game. Is it really worth the risk if there’s a better option?
- In the quote above I talk about how it’s widely used and very commonly taught. Although, this is true in amateur baseball, you very rarely see professional infielders use this method.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, “What’s the better way and why?”
After looking at the best infielders in the game and realizing that they just don’t use the step in front method, I naturally asked myself the same question. I came to realize that the infielders at the top of their game and throughout history are all using the same common footwork and it’s elegantly simple. They use the replace step on almost every routine ground ball.
The replace step is simply taking the right foot and replacing it to where the left foot was at during fielding position and taking the left foot directly towards the target. I describe it here in the same article that I referred to above Infield Throwing Position:
“The replace step is another set of footwork that’s best used on certain types of ground balls. Simply, the replace step is a shuffle towards first base. The reason I call it a replace step is because the back foot is basically replacing itself where the glove hand foot was in the fielding position.
I see a lot of kids naturally do this on the routine ground ball as well, instead of the step in front method talked about above. The reason that I don’t like it as much for the routine ball right at the infielder is because you really don’t gain as much ground toward first base as you do with the step in front method and it takes just as much time. Having said that, the play that I like to teach the replace step with is the routine backhand (read more about backhands here).”
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I struck through a statement that I made above that’s just not true. You actually do gain ALMOST just as much ground towards the play and it’s definitely faster. There’s also a couple more reasons that I think it’s more effective:
- It gets the shoulders inline perfect every time
- You can pretty much use it with any routine play including backhands
- There’s no chance of clipping the opposite foot
- The timing seems to be easier and fielders look more on rhythm
- The time from catch to release is absolutely faster
I think the thing that really stands out to me about this method of footwork and why I’m going to exclusively implement this method, is that it’s just simple. An easy verbal cue is right to left, left to the target; simple, elegant, and consistent.
This has been really eye opening for me and has motivated me to take an audit of everything I teach. I’ll ask myself the following questions from above. Why am I teaching this? Is this the most efficient way? Are the best players in the world doing the same thing?
I urge you to do the same. As coaches, we often are very good at teaching one aspect of the game and neglect the others by just teaching what we were taught without really ever questioning if it’s the best way. It’s our responsibility to give our players the best information possible. If we’re teaching them incorrect technique and that technique becomes habit, then it’s OUR fault that they’re not getting the results we expect, not theirs.
How to create an effective practice plan (The 2-hour Practice)- 3/01/15
The throwing portion should be exactly the same every day as well. It’s important to note that an every day catch play routine will be different for different groups of players, and that’s why you have infielders play catch with infielders, outfielders with outfielders, and pitchers with pitchers.
Defensive Maintenance (30 Min)
Again, the defensive maintenance portion of practice will be something that is done every day. Here’s where you will start to plug and play a bit more. You will add or subtract things depending on the certain aspects of defensive play that your players need to work on. This portion of time is more focused on developing individual defensive ability. Players are working on their individual technique…as they improve the team improves.
It’s important to note that each of these drill sets can be done with a partner throwing the ball or a coach hitting a fungo. You want to designate a 30 minute time frame for defensive maintenance every day. You will split the players up into 3 separate groups: infielders, outfielders, and pitchers.
Each group will have certain drills they do every day to improve basic fielding and throwing techniques, as well as, selected techniques (determined by the coach) that they will do that specific day.
Infielders will do the following during defensive maintenance
- Short Hop Drills (Every Day)
- Robot Drill (Every Day)
- Forehand and Backhand Drills (Every Day)
- Choice (Pick 2 to 3 Every Day)
- Down, Up Drill
- Left Foot Timing
- Flips and Feeds
- Slide Drill
- Diving Drill
- Spin Plays
- Replay Drill
- Left Eye Drill
- Drop step drills
- Chop Step Drills
Outfielders will do the following during defensive maintenance
- Fly Ball Angles (Every Day)
- Communication (Every Day)
- General Fungo (Every Day)
- Choice (Pick 2 or 3)
- Sun Drills
- Fence Drills
- Hitting Cuts
- Backup Practice
- Inside turns
- Long hop, no hop throwing
Pitchers will do the following during defensive maintenance
- Form Throwing (part practice)
- Change Catch
- Bunt fielding
- Pick off practice
- Look variance
- Fly balls
- Intentional Walks
So, all of the different parts of defensive maintenance are happening in the same 30 minute interval every day. As a coach, you just have to make sure each group knows what choice drills they will be working on that day.
Defensive Team Integration (30 Min)
After the first portion of defensive maintenance (Individual defensive skill progressions) we will implement a team defensive portion. Basically this portion focuses on defensive schemes more so than individual skill set, although, it should be noted that simply participating in the team integration drills will develop individual skill sets. This is another 30-minute time slot where all three groups are integrated on the field to work together. As a coach, this is where plugging in the new and essential team techniques are applied.
Some examples of what can be done during this phase:
- Bunt Plays (Outfielders running bases)
- 1st and 3rd situations (Outfielders running bases)
- Pick Plays (Outfielders running bases)
- PFP’s (Outfielders running bases)
- Back Up Situations and Scenarios (Pitchers rotating between running bases and backing up)
- Fly Ball Priority (Pitchers running bases)
- Double Cuts (Pitchers running bases)
- General Situations (fungo)
- Splitting Runners (Pitchers running bases)
Offensive Maintenance / Offensive Team Integration (30 Min)
When it comes to offensive maintenance and team integration, I’ll kind of leave it up to you as a coach or parent. This is a website focused on defense, so I’m absolutely biased that it should get a larger amount of practice dedicated to it.
I would suggest taking the same approach as above though when it comes to outlining your offensive drills. Having said that I would choose either offensive maintenance or offensive team integration per practice.
Examples of Offensive Maintenance:
- Dry Hacks
- Front Toss
- Cage BP
- Field BP
- Hit and Run Drills
- Score the runner from 3rd less than 2 outs
- Move them over
- 2 out hitting
Examples of Offensive Team integration
- Live BP
- Coach Pitch Situations
- Squeeze Practice
- Live Bunting (with base runners)
- Live At Bats
There are so many drills you can institute as a coach when it comes to hitting that it would be ridiculous for me to list them all. If you have specific questions feel free to shoot them to us at email@example.com
Efficient Conditioning (15 min)
We use a term called “KT drills” which stands for “killing time drills.” In certain instances coaches put in conditioning simply to kill time, let me just be frank, to have your players condition by just running long distances is an absolute waste of time and actually counter productive from a performance standpoint.
We are interested in functional conditioning that will help improve performance. It is vitally important to recognize that we have a finite amount of time, therefore that time must be spent on the most important things…running poles is not one of the important things.
There are a couple reasons that you would connect conditioning to baseball specific activities. First off, when you connect your conditioning with specific baseball movements it reinforces skills that were learned earlier in practice. Second, it helps manifest a level of mental toughness to fight through the physical strain and practice the skill in an effective way every time. Lastly, it mimics a game because there will be instances during a season where a player will just get done running the bases and be winded and not have enough time to recover before they have to make a defensive play in the following inning.
Some Examples Include:
Infielders: Side to side, rapid fire ground balls; Fly ball tracking; Double cut positioning; slow rollers without rest; soft toss ground balls without rest; double play drill without rest; etc
Outfielders: Fly ball communication without rest; Playing balls in the gap and hitting the correct cut man without rest; backup assignments without rest; diving drill etc
Pitchers: Tradition tells us that pitchers need to run long distances to build stamina and reduce lactic acid build up in their arms. This is one of those false pieces of coaching folklore. The fact is that there is substantial research that argues against long distance running for pitchers. Here are a couple of the key issues with distance running: it decreases hip mobility, it trains the incorrect type of muscle fibers, and it trains the incorrect energy system.
There is extensive research done on this topic and if this incrimination of distance running challenges your current training paradigm I encourage you to look further into the science and research rather than holding tight to tradition and folklore. We will discuss it further in later posts.
Well what should pitchers to do instead? Consider more explosive movements, such as sprints, medicine ball explosions, agility ladders or hurdles. Again the options are quite extensive, this article offers some great options: http://www.webball.com/cms/page7180.cfm
Base runners: Straight steal, hit and run, delayed steal, practice with coach simulating pitching motion; running first to third; running out a double with a slide and jog back; down angle reads; running out of the box and running out a base hit, a double, a triple, or an inside the park HR.
The key is to keep your players moving and to stress correct technique with all baseball movements while exhausted. This is called complex training and can be extremely beneficial. It will feel like you have to say something to every single player on every single rep at first. This is OK. You need to do this and eventually you will see that your players will improve their skills while getting into shape and creating mental toughness.
Should I swing a heavy bat on deck? – 2/07/15
Baseball is often referred to as America’s Pastime. With that rich and fascinating history comes traditions and routines that run deep. There is a certain level of resistance to change within the baseball community that far surpasses that of any other sport. In this age of science and technology, training improvements are prevalent in almost all athletic endeavors. Baseball has benefitted from that in several ways, but my goodness it takes exponentially longer for players and coaches to accept new findings and eventually adopt them.
But why…why is baseball the dinosaur sport?
Because it is such a game of routine, player’s routines become directly linked to their confidence levels. To be perfectly blunt, a baseball player’s psyche is incredibly fragile (especially hitters) because it is such a difficult game to play.
Baseball players are so often referred to as the most superstitious athletes out there…and that may very well be true, but why?
It is because having those superstitions often create a feeling of comfort, they create a belief in a players mind that they have done everything possible to be lined up for success. Of course the preparation is extremely important, competence breeds confidence…that is apparent. However, that quirky little on deck routine, or sequential organization of the dirt in the batter’s box can be the thing that truly puts a player’s mind at ease. It is that routine that can conger up feelings of past successes. Not only being aware of past successes but also actually recreating those feelings serves to galvanize a player’s confidence.
When looking at it from that angle it seems to make more sense as to why players hold so tightly to their routines. However, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when science tells us we are doing something that is putting us at a disadvantage from a scientific standpoint.
This brings me to one of the most senseless routines that continues to be a staple at all levels of baseball. The heavy bat in the on-deck circle! Whether it is a weighted doughnut, 2 bats, or a overweight training bat…the science is now clear that swing it on deck will lead to a slower bat speed when players step in the box.
YES, after swinging a much heavier bat, our game bat feels lighter in our hands (and might give us a little confidence boost, so I will concede that their could be a psychological benefit).
BUT…NO!! It will not actually help increase your bat swing speed when you step in the box and it actually counts.
Here is why this is the case:
We have several different muscle fiber types, this in and of itself is an entirely separate article, but here is the very brief breakdown.
Our species has 2 main classes of muscle fibers: Fast-twitch muscle fibers & slow twitch muscle fibers. However, there are 4 distinct types of muscle fibers as fast twitch can be broken down into 3 sub categories.
1. Slow Twitch
2. Fast Twitch
Fast, oxidative, glycolytic
Fast twitch and slow twitch vary in many ways, one of the big ones being endurance capacity. Fast twitch muscles have a much lower level of endurance (meaning they fatigue much quicker). Slow twitch muscle are the muscle fibers recruited to perform more endurance-based activities. Fast twitch fibers are recruited for more explosive-based activities.
Swinging a weighted bat actually trains your muscles to contract at a slower rate.
Obviously, when swinging a heavier bat your muscles cannot contract as fast as they can with your typical game bat. The added weight forces a decrease in bat speed, which means the muscle fibers will be contracting at a slower rate. When your muscles are contracting slower they are using more slow twitch muscle fibers. As I explained above, these slower twitch muscle fibers specialize in endurance instead of quickness or explosiveness. Fast twitch fibers fire much quicker. So when you are using a weighted bat you are preparing the incorrect muscle fiber types.
Coop DeRenne who is a professor at the University of Hawaii has researched the science behind all of this over the last 20 years and demonstrated that if you warm up with a heavier bat (10% – 13% or heavier than your game bat)
You can cause a 3-5mph decrease in your bat speed when you step in the box.
That may not seem significant but understand that 1 mph of bat speed can equate to about 5 additional feet of flight (launch angle and other factors being held constant). That means you could be sacrificing 25 feet of flight, which can easily be the difference between a home run and a routine fly ball. Pretty crucial…ditch the doughnut!
Baseball Specific Core Exercises – 2/06/15
There are several elements of training that can contribute to better performance on the baseball or softball field. There is the fine-tuning of skill sets, vision training, speed & agility, reaction time, and of course strength training. When we talk about strength training for diamond sports we always emphasize the importance of core explosiveness.
There are several rotational moves that are paramount to success in baseball and softball. Sadly, I see so many young athletes trying to train core explosion with crunches. Not that I have anything in particular against crunches, but that is not training the correct energy system.
Without getting too complicated let me quickly explain what I mean by an energy system. For us to exert force or contract a muscle our body uses ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The body uses 3 different energy systems to produce that ATP. They are as follows:
- Phosphogen or ATP-PC system – Short duration & high intensity, allows for about 12 seconds of max effort
- Glycolytic system – Moderate duration & moderate intensity
- Oxidative system – Long duration & low intensity
I am not going to dive into the details of these, what is pertinent here is to understand that training the oxidative energy system as a baseball or fastpitch player is much less beneficial to our performance than training the Phosphogen/ATP-PC system.
The overwhelming majority of requirements placed on a baseball player throughout the course of a game are short duration, high intensity movements. Throwing a pitch, swinging a bat, sprinting to first base, running down a fly ball, diving in the 6-hole for a ground ball…each of these would access the ATP-PC energy system.
Two of the more critical movements I referred to above are of course throwing a pitch and taking a swing. Both of these moves rely heavily on core strength. In today’s world of measurement and benchmarks, there is an elevated concern around bat speed, exit speed, and arm velocity. To produce higher numbers in all of those categories you must train your core in an explosive manner and access the ATP-PC energy system.
Please understand, I am not discounting training the core with lower intensity, longer duration movements. They can still help to build overall core strength and help prevent injuries, as you will work a lot of the smaller stabilizer muscles. That is an important aspect also, however, the real opportunity for gains lies in the explosive movements.
That being the case, I have provided several different exercises that translate very well to baseball and softball specific movements.
Check out these different exercises and add them into your routines to help you increase bat speed, exit speed, and arm velocity…not to mention a chiseled core.
TAP Slam Ball Rotational Throws:
- RH Side Chest Pass
- LH Side Chest Pass
- RH Side Under
- LH Side Under
- Square to Wall Under
Med Ball Rotational Throws:
- RH Side
- LH Side
- Alternating Sides
- Triceps Rope Rotation (Wood Choppers)
- Extended Arm Controlled Rotation- RH Side
- Extended Arm Controlled Rotation- LH Side
- Extended Arm Shuffle- RH Side
- Extended Arm Shuffle- LH Side
- One Knee Isometric Core Hold – RH Side
- One Knee Isometric Core Hold – LH Side
- Rotational Landmine Press – RH side
- Rotational Landmine Press – LH side
- Landmine 180’s
Baseball Specific Eye Training -2/04/15
Check out this great training tip to help your players see the ball better:
This is the most overlooked type of training and it can absolutely improve performance with zero additional training time!
Have you ever heard someone say “he just isn’t seeing it well today” or “it doesn’t look like she is picking it up very well”?
Whether it is baseball or softball one of the most important things we have to do to be successful is to simply see the ball…and see it well.
When something is traveling towards us (a pitch for instance) our eyes work together to help us track that object, they also work together to help us see depth. When the eyes rotate towards each other to look at an object that is closer by, it is called convergence. When looking at an object farther away the eyes will rotate away from each other, this is called divergence.
Part of what allows our eyes to work well together is the muscles that you use (pretty much unconsciously) to move your eyes around.
Why is all of this important?
Because you can actually train your eyes to work better together. You can call them eye exercises, or convergence exercises, or even ocular enhancement exercises if you are trying to impress someone. However, all that really matters is that through performing these exercises we have the ability to actually help our eyes perform this all-important “convergence” more efficiently.
Again, the eyes working together is one of the factors that help us see depth….to perform well in baseball or softball, we need to have great depth perception.
When we are tracking a pitch with our eyes, we are performing what is known as a smooth pursuit. Think of this as the eyes working together to track something along a continuous line. It allows us to closely follow a moving object.
Our eyes will also perform something known as a saccade, this is when our eyes jump from one fixed point to another. It is more clearly defined as a rapid movement of the eye between two fixation points.
At times it is also possible for the tracking of a pitch, a fly ball, or something of that nature to be done with a combination of saccades and pursuits.
So, What Does it All Mean?
Basically, I am telling you that practicing saccades and smooth pursuits is a necessary training modality if we are interested in absolutely maximizing our potential.
So here are a couple extremely easy eye exercises that you can do at home with nothing more than a string and a doorknob.
What is a Brock String?
To make one just get a string that is about the thickness of your iPod charging cord and cut a piece that is about 12 feet long. Get three different colored beads and put them on the string….easy squeezy lemon peezy!
Now, how do I use this advanced training device I have just fabricated?
Tie one end of the string to a doorknob and space out the three beads. For first timers you usually want to start with the beads about 20cm apart, you can space them out more and more to increase the degree of difficulty.
Now that it is all set up hold the string tight to your nose, making sure the string is tight and tilted slightly down hill.
Then take your focus to the middle bead…you should notice that you now see an “X” formed by the string. The center bead you are focusing on should be the center of that “X.”
Next look at the bead closest to you, and then look at the bead that is the farthest away from you. Then look again at the middle bead.
When you are jumping from bead to bead you are performing a saccade. As I touched on a bit earlier we also want to work on smooth pursuits. We will accomplish this by holding the string to our nose with the same set up as the initial drill; except for this time around we are going to clear the beads.
With the string held up to your nose (tight enough that the string has no sag in it)…bring your focus to the point on the string that is touching your nose, just as if you were going cross-eyed. Now, imagine a spider or an ant walking out away from your nose (down the string). Track that spider or ant with your eyes and slowly walk your eyes down the string.
Try to control your eyes and take at least 10 seconds to walk the eyes all the way out. Then once you hit the end of the string, turn it around and imagine the spider or ant walking back up the string, again tracking your eyes back up the string.
The center of the “X” that the string forms should move along with the imaginary spider or ant.
You can continue to walk it back and fourth and you will feel the muscles around your eyes working.
We have articulated the fact that we have a genuine desire to not simply teach but to develop and inspire the complete individual. We love the game of baseball and we have a profound interest in helping you or your young athlete become the best player they can possibly be. However, we recognize that sports can play a crucial role in the overall development of an individual. Moreover, we know that the best coaches are more than that, they serve as mentors. We strive everyday to fill the roll of a mentor. The things we teach will without a doubt fine tune skills and deliver results as far as performance goes…but we want to offer much more than that. You take the role of a psychologist when you are a coach, especially in a sport that can be as difficult as baseball. The simple fact is building character and confidence is just as much our focus. Always remember: By becoming a better person we become a better ball player! This page is just an area where we can share some of the inspiration and motivation that we believe helps train the “inner game.” Enjoy!
Sunday, April 06, 2014
“I think there is a certain delusional quality that all successful people have to have. You have to believe that something different than what has happened for the last 50 million years of history…you have to believe that something different can happen.”
“Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity!”
“It’s unrealistic to walk into a room, flip a switch and lights come on…that’s unrealistic, fortunately Edison didn’t think so. It’s unrealistic to bend a piece of metal and fly people over an ocean in that metal. Fortunately, the Wright brothers and others didn’t believe that.”
Can you imagine telling someone from the stone age that one day we would fly airplanes and have and incandescent light bulb? They wouldn’t even be able to comprehend it. To them the idea would be 100% unrealistic.
One of the most powerful abilities we have as human beings is the capability to dream. Any of the world’s most impressive accomplishment started out as a dream. However, very often that creative facility is beaten out of us as we grow older. The stubbornness or naivety that allows for a dream to persist is a special thing. There will always be people around to tell you that something can’t be done. Our job as mentors is not to be that voice of negativity. Our job is to build confidence, encourage dreaming, and provide an environment that helps kids develop a positive self-image. The fact is that we cannot outperform our own self-image. Therefore, to help not only players but also people reach their full potential we must ensure that their self-image is one that reflects that potential.
The above quote from Will Smith is so pertinent because people will not be willing to take the chance to dream or be “unrealistic” if they have a negative self-image. If you want to accomplish great things make the conscious decision right now to stop obeying that voice in your head that says: “No you can’t do that, that’s just not realistic.” Decide today that the next time you have that thought you will stop and write down one reason as to why your idea was “unrealistic.” Then force yourself to write down a solution to that barrier. Believe me, there is a way…it just might require a little more ingenuity. Do yourself a favor and push yourself to start being a bit more unrealistic. It is the birthplace of greatness.
Consider these words of wisdom:
“Many things that were considered completely unreasonable a hundred years ago are so common today that everyone takes them for granted. Great progress is made by those who have the foresight and the courage to be unreasonable.”
“Are your decisions being guided by the conventional wisdom about what is and what is not possible? That can keep you trapped in frustration and mediocrity.”
“Instead, listen to your heart and decide upon what you must do. Go beyond being merely reasonable, and live the life that you know is you.”
“Instead, of compromising your dreams to fit into what the rest of the world thinks, lift the world up to match your highest vision.”
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