Why Player Development is on the Decline

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Guest Post - Note from Scott
Hey Everyone – Every day I try to find new and unique information about teaching amateurs how to approach training. Throughout this process, I’ve found that most coaching advice within baseball is recycled sayings and verbal cues that have been used for years.

I recently came across this article from Brian Hamm over at www.baseballtoolshed.com about how baseball player development is on the decline and the reasons for it. I really think Brian hit it on the head with this article and I wanted to share this information with all of our readers as well because it applies to all aspects of coaching.

One thing that JT and I always talk about is – What are the best players in the game doing mechanically? Are we looking at it objectively? Are we actually teaching these movements and techniques to our players? Try to keep that in mind while reading.

Anyway, enjoy the article and make sure to check out Brians website, as well as, follow him on twitter @bballtoolshed


Why Player Development is on the Decline, and Why Very Few Realize it – By Brian Hamm 

Baseball is America’s pastime. Every spring and summer millions of kids around the world lace up their cleats, go to their little league games, and dream of becoming the next Derek Jeter. They watch games every night and idolize these athletes for their tremendous ability to make a complicated game look fairly easy. But what most players, parents, and coaches don’t realize is that there is a huge disconnect with how Professional players play, and how our kids are being developed.

Let me start by saying this will be the most controversial thing you read all day. I realize that the concepts I’m writing about are not well accepted in the amateur baseball world. To be honest, I don’t care. Because my mission is to change an amateur mindset into a professional mindset. My mission is to allow players to obtain information that will align with their dreams of becoming a Major League Baseball Player. It bothers me that amateur players are being coached to sacrifice long-term success for short-term results.

Make no mistake, the road to professional baseball is difficult. No matter who you are, what your talent level is, or the quality of your coaches, there are bound to be slumps, roadblocks, injuries, and setbacks. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve made it even more difficult on ourselves by not developing players to reach their maximum potential.

Let me tell you something that most of you know, but few of you comprehend. Each year, when the Major League Draft comes around, we can learn the industry by simply studying who, and why players are drafted. How many 1st round draft picks in this years draft can’t throw 90 mph? How about position players who can’t run under a 7 second 60 yard dash. How about hitters who have zero home runs and zero power? I’m not saying this to make you feel bad about yourself if you don’t. But just look at that data objectively and understand why its happening.

Scouts want tools. If you don’t have any, you won’t get drafted. I don’t care what your high school or college stats are, if you don’t have tools that align with what the industry wants, it won’t happen. How many of you had a higher average than a guy in your league that got drafted. How many of you pitchers had a better ERA, more innings pitched, more wins, than the guy who just signed for 6 figures. There’s probably a lot of you out there. But the reality is, they don’t care. Because when it comes to tools, you don’t have enough to be successful at the next level. In other words, you’re a good player at your current level, but you won’t be at the next.

Here’s where I’m going with this. We have all these kids at all different levels who have high aspirations in the game of baseball. Yet we don’t develop them to reach these goals. We preach command over velocity, yet the radar gun is the key tool scouts use to evaluate pitchers and arm strength. We teach hitting groundballs, yet we watch Joc Pederson do everything but that. Pederson recently interviewed explains is mindset at the plate as “getting the ball in the air”. Yet we praise his ability and say he’s the next great thing, for doing the opposite of what we teach our players.

The question is why? Why do we teach what we teach? Is it for us as coaches? Or is it for the players? Is it to make the player do what we want? Or to help the kid reach his goal? These are things as coaches we need to understand. And if we don’t, player development will continue to decline at a rate that is detrimental to Americas Greatest Past time.

Why development is on the decline

It starts with the fact that hitting coaches have no idea what there talking about. Its amazing to me that my college coaches were teaching us to hit ground balls to the second baseman as a general approach. However, when you turn on a big league game on TV, your seeing players get paid millions of dollars to do the exact opposite. These guys are trying to drive the ball in the gaps and over the fence. If your goal is to play in the big leagues, why are we teaching players to do things that big leaguers aren’t doing.

Its of my opinion that foreign players such as players in the Dominican, and Venezuela are passing American talent because they have no coaching. No coaching is better than bad coaching. So you get these guys in the Dominican who swing out of there shoes trying to hit the ball as far as they can from a young age. Its no surprise that these players are dominating the Major Leagues with raw tools that American players can only dream of. They have NO coaching. They throw the ball as hard as they can. They hit the ball as far as they can. And they run as fast as they can. Little do they know that their developing tools through this system by teaching their bodies to produce the ultimate amounts of force in that particular movement.

In America, we teach kids in Little League to simplify. “Don’t stride, Don’t leg kick, Don’t move your hands so much, Don’t move your body so much. Be short to the ball. Knob to the ball” Everything has to be simple, because simple is better right?

But how can you simplify complex movements and expect to be able to move efficiently. Dominican players have big, long, powerful swings. But they’ve developed great rhythm, timing, and movement patterns that are explosive, all from a young age.

What I’m trying to say from a hitting concept is that we don’t need our kids to simplify. What we need to do is embrace the fact that swinging a bat is a complex movement, and understand the intricacies of that movement on a higher level. When you embrace the complexity of the swing and are willing to work on those complexities, you create a fine tuned machine that fires on all cylinders.

Take Josh Donaldson for example. Josh Donaldson has HUGE movements in his swing. A youth hitting instructor would never say hit like Josh Donaldson because his movements are too big and complex. Little do they know that Josh developed every little thing in his swing consciously. The timing of his bat tip synced perfectly with his leg kick, and the firing of his muscles working in the correct kinetic sequence for ultimate bat speed and power. Josh Donaldson actually learned to create more movement in his swing in order to get more out of it! As you can see below, is swing as evolved from when he was in the Minor Leagues to the one it is now. For me, I say learn from Josh Donaldson and understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. Instead of just saying my kid or player can’t do that. Josh didn’t develop over night and neither should our players

Josh Donaldson college vs pro swing

The real difference between your swing and the swing of a pro

In baseball, everybody talks about hitting mechanics and what it takes to have a great swing. If you tune in to a live broadcast of a Major League Baseball game, chances are at some point in that game, the analyst (usually a former big leaguer), will comment on swing mechanics. But it’s shocking to me how many of these “experienced players” have no idea what’s going on with the swing.

A few of the comments that drive me crazy:

“He has great/strong hands”

“Look at that extension through the ball”

“Look how he stays on top of ball with his barrel above the hands”

None of these concepts are what makes that hitter successful. In fact, anyone who starts off talking hitting mechanics by using the word “hands” can be totally discredited. I’m not saying you don’t use your hands to swing a bat, but that’s not where you start the conversation. Not even close.

The details of swinging a baseball bat in an efficient and effective way comes from a specific sequence of events. Inefficiency then comes when muscles are activated too early, too late, or not in the correct order. This is called the kinetic chain, and is the major indicator of how efficient the body moves in all sorts of athletic movements. Throwing, hitting, jumping. They all have a correct kinetic chain for reaching maximum velocity, maximum bat speed, and maximum vertical height.

The swing starts from the ground up. I don’t care what anyone says about hands, bat path, or contact point. When it comes to creating an efficient swing, it starts from the ground. “Ground reaction force” is the single most important element in creating an explosive and efficient swing. If you have a problem with anything else throughout your swing, chances are it’s a lower body issue. And here’s where I have an issue with how players are being developed from a swing mechanics perspective.

Coaches are all about keeping things simple. And although I understand the logic behind it, I disagree with the tactic. Instead of helping the player correct his swing by starting from the ground up, most coaches go straight to the hands. “Be direct with your hands,” they’ll say. The problem is it’s a band-aid. It’s a quick fix because the coach is either too lazy, too impatient, or doesn’t know how to fix the root of the problem.

Your goal should be to help your body feel what its like to swing efficiently and have everything working together. Each movement is creating momentum for the next movement to pick up where the previous one left off. When you understand the kinetic chain and how it can benefit you, you will see huge improvements in your swing mechanics, and ultimately your results.

So next time a hitter hits a towering 400 foot home run and the announcer says, “wow, he has to have strong hands to do that”, you’ll know that it wasn’t his hands. He moved his body extremely efficiently in order to create maximum bat speed and power.

The difference between him and you? Most likely, the kinetic chain.

“Feel” is not always “Real”
One of the hardest concepts for players and coaches to understand is the concept of “feel is not always real”. What I mean by this is what a player thinks he’s doing in his mind, is not necessarily the actual reality of that swing.

For example, an elite hitter might say he’s focusing on taking his knob to the ball, and keeping his barrel above the baseball. But when you look at the video of that same swing, his knob is not going towards the ball, and his barrel is below the baseball.

This is why some elite hitters are great performers and have great swings, but can’t teach what they do. Because their “feel” is different than other players.

Its only by examining actual video that we can see the reality of swing mechanics. The best hitters in the world might use cues that are horrible for any other player. The fact of the matter is, when coaching or developing a player, you must learn to coach ACTUAL movements that are going on during the swing.

I think a major issue in development these days is relying too much on what is said, and not enough on what is done. Since every player is different when it comes to movement, we don’t want to swing how others are telling us to swing, we want to swing how the best are ACTUALLY swinging.

Here is an example of Don Mattingly teaching proceeded by a video of Don Mattingly doing. They are very different from one another.

Don Mattingly’s feel is not real for most people.

How to know if you’re being poorly coached?
Coaches that take away athleticism are poor coaches. Swinging a bat, throwing a ball, catching a fly ball or groundball, are all athletic movements. It is important in coaching that we don’t coach the athlete out of the player. Yet, that is exactly what the industry seems to be doing. Through over-simplifications and step by step procedures, we are coaching athletic players to create nonathletic movements.

Instead of listening to this poor coaching, you would be better off with no coaching. Going out to the ballpark everyday and swinging out of your shoes. Throw as hard as you can. Run as fast as you can. I guarantee you will create more long-term athleticism and better results in the future if you develop yourself like this as opposed to oversimplified movements.

There are programs out there that develop kids in a way that will allow them to reach their maximum potential. There are programs that will help you develop tools and the mindset it takes to develop these tools. Mine is one of the few around, but they do exist. As a whole, the amateur coaching world is filled with bad information. Information that could jeopardize your goal.

Oh by the way, do you think Hanley Ramirez grew up trying to hit ground balls to the second baseman?

Coaches are coaching instincts out of the player.
Why are fewer players these days showing the great instincts that some of the all-time greats had?

Well, its because that’s how they’re being developed.

Coaches these days from the youngest levels all the way through college are providing a crutch for their players. Over coaching, over managing, and under-developing.

Let me explain myself. Coaches these days are controlling too much of the thinking throughout games. We have base coaches that tell you when to advance from base to base. When to steal. When to bunt. When to swing!

To me this is one of the biggest crimes in the development for our amateur players. They never learn to play the game for themselves. They are taught to be passive, not on purpose, but by default. They are taught to give up the responsibility and the thinking portion of the game to the coaches.

“Coach told me to steal”

“Coach got me picked off”

“Coach waved me home and got me thrown out”

“Coach called that pitch, and the guy hit a bomb”

Its of my opinion that very little coaching should be done in game situations. Players should be set free on the bases, at the plate, and in the field. They will make mistakes! They will fail. But they will learn what they can and can’t do, and sooner or later, develop instincts to perform under their OWN ability.

Pitching coaches that call pitches are not only giving their pitchers a disadvantage, but their catchers as well. Pitchers and catchers need to learn to call their own game without a coach telling them exactly what to do. If they give up a couple home runs because the wrong pitches are being called, so what! They will learn from those mistakes and make adjustments.

So let them steal when they want. Let them bunt when they want. Let them swing when they want. They will learn what they need to do to be successful.

No base coaches. No pitch calling. No outfield positioning. Let them play. Let them learn.

The coaching takes place after the game, in practice, or in a controlled environment. Address the mistakes they make after they happen and have discussions on how they can improve and avoid those mistakes in the future. But there’s a big difference between coaching to prevent mistakes and coaching to learn from mistakes.

This is the only way to develop our youth players to have the “6th tool” that is so desperately needed at the highest levels of this game. If you can’t think, play, and make adjustments for yourself, you will never play with the freedom you need to perform at a high level.

What has to change

The culture of baseball development needs a change if we want to give players the best chance at reaching their potential. It starts with understanding the PLAYERS goal. It’s not about you as coaches, its about helping develop the player to reach his goal.

If a player says I want to be a Major League Baseball player, he must be developed and trained differently than a player who wants to make his high school varsity team. We as coaches need to understand and accept that different players need to be developed differently in order to meet their specific goals.

But why are we sacrificing kids long-term goals for short-term results? If a player knows from an early age he wants to be a Major Leaguer, why not develop him with that in mind. Why not teach him a swing that produces line drives and long fly outs? When he gets older and stronger, that swing will be better suited for the level he ultimately wants to play at than a swing that produces ground balls that eat up high school infielders. Because that same ground ball swing that eats up that high school shortstop to win a game, is an out 100% of the time when its hit to Andrelton Simmons.

Trevor Bauer threw 78 mph as a high school sophomore. But through an obsession with baseball and a goal to be a Major League pitcher, he realized that if he didn’t throw 90+ mph, he had no chance no matter how good his results were. Trevor went to the Texas Baseball Ranch and started throwing weighted balls because he knew that velocity was important despite what high school coaches say. He went from 78mph to 93 mph in a year.

But velocity can’t and shouldn’t be developed right? Hmm…

The point is, if you want to play in the MLB, you have to compare yourself to an MLB player and attack your training with that mindset. If you want to be a first round pick, you have to understand who and why first round picks are picked there, and attack your training with that mindset.

Understand the goal, and develop the player with that goal in mind.

That’s what player development should be, and that’s how I will ALWAYS coach my players!

Email me with questions and concerns, and follow me on twitter for new content!

COACHES/PARENTS FREE OFFER: Email me your name, location, and age group coached, for a FREE complete sample practice plan to implement concepts discussed in this article.

Email: brianhamm99@gmail.com

Twitter: @bballtoolshed

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