April 2014 - Tip of the Month

"Pride Comes Before the Fall"227

"Complacency is the enemy of study" - Mao Zedong

As the weather warms and ballfields fill, I can't help but express my growing concern with the overwhelming negative impact that pride has in our game.  I will note that some of the coaches out there are going to be put off by this tip of the month, but you'll find no apology here. Other coaches will enjoy reading this because you have taken this approach to the information you present to your players.

The underlying theme of this newsletter? It's that the majority of coaches in baseball and softball have become complacent when it comes to skill development of catchers. How can I make such a bold statement? It's simple, really. I watch a lot of baseball and softball, and that might just be the understatement of the year. You know what I see? I see the same information that was around when games had to be listened to, not watched, spewed to the players of today's generation. And despite the fact that there are alternative stances, which have been proven to allow catchers to have far more success behind the plate, I can walk onto just about any field in the entire country and see a catcher that looks just like this:

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Why is this? My opinion is that pride is largely to blame. Too many of the coaches out there have become so prideful of the work they put in with their players that they willfully reject any differentiating opinions to what they believe is right. For some, it's because different information is scary. It's not safe, and to turn from conventional wisdom is to reject most of what we have all been taught ourselves. For others it's because teaching what they were taught instead of searching for better information is simply easier. That is an incredible hurdle on the path to delivering better information to our players. Information which might give them a mechanical advantage over others.

Too often I am confronted by a student of mine who was forced to change what they have been taught simply because the coach told them "my way or the highway" without any room for discussion or explanation as to why their way is actually more beneficial. I can't think of a more ignorant and counterproductive approach to coaching. I see no benefit in having a player worried to ask a coach questions about what they are being taught for fear that it could affect their status on the team. Coaches please keep in mind that by questioning mechanics, players are NOT questioning your authority. They are simply seeking to understand how to perform a skill the BEST way. Shouldn't a coach's objective be the same?

One sentiment that my father left with me before he passed was that you must remain a student if you wish to continue teaching. However, the day that you make the decision to stop learning, stop refining what you know, that's the day you must stop teaching others.

So here's my plea for all of the coaches out there. What if there is better information out there than what you "know" to be right? What if you aren't right? Wouldn't opening your mind to the possibility that there might be a better way be beneficial to all of the catchers out there. Even if that meant erasing everything we thought we knew about a particular skill and starting from scratch?

Over the past 24 hours I received about a half-dozen phone calls from parents of catchers from various parts of the country. Within the first five minutes each one of them uttered something along the lines of "it's so hard to find good instruction for the catching position". I couldn't agree more, and that is why I spend most of my time watching the game we all love and wish to grow. It's why I am intent on finding better approaches to what we teach and always looking to refine the information we put out there. Sometimes even starting over completely from scratch.

Let's face it, most of you coaches don't have the time to spend thousands upon thousands of hours studying video, mechanics, and the physiology of the human body. But when someone presents you with information different than what you yourself "knows" to be the best way, be it a player or someone like myself, would it hurt to take a step back and ask yourself, "what if there is a better way than what I believe is the best way, and wouldn't I want to know about it even if it proves I was wrong all this time?"

I try to ask myself that question everyday and run my program on the basis that if someone can PROVE to me that there is a better way to do something, we'll teach it. I challenge all of you out there to push aside pride and do the same. The game and all of the players out there will be better for it.

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!