Thursday, December 22, 2016

Coal really can become the Diamond

The Diamond in the Rough

It has now been 17 months since I last blogged about anything and specifically about the issues facing youth baseball.  As coaches, and truly the protectors of the future of this great sport, we have to deal with many issues.  Most commonly now people think about arm health, "win at all costs" issues, single sport specialization at too early of an age, and many others that I have written about in the past.  And truly these are all important issues that need serious rectification if we are going to save this sport, bring the fun back in baseball, and build these small children into great men and women.  

Like many coaches, parents, and players, I have had many influences in my life when it comes to baseball and how my philosophy as a coach has evolved.  I can vaguely remember when my biological mom and my dad would play coed softball.  It was 1980 something and other than playing in the ditches with the other kids, I can recall that my mother was a true athletic stud on the softball field.  I also remember (sorry dad),  that my Dad had only average skills, but he had a drive and aggressiveness that would make Chuck Norris proud.  Maybe its the cloudiness of my childhood memories but I remember him diving at balls, running into a fence, always giving it 110% (even when he was too old to really play!!!).  

I've learned from people coaching my own kids and their instructors.  I remember when my boys were taking throwing lessons from Scott Terry, a retired Cardinal pitcher, and I asked him, "How can I find a good team for my boys?"  His answer, "Go to the baseball fields and find a coach that doesn't yell at their players and ask him to coach your son."  Great advice.  I remember Matt Whiteside, a retired pro-pitcher and the Director of the St. Louis Gamers, giving Kyle a pitching lesson.  Kyle was having a hard time throwing strikes and he said, "Kyle, throw the ball the same way, but SMILE this time".  Two or three strikes in a row later and you couldn't get the smile off of his face.

All of those memories are awesome.  The memory I want to share with you today and hopefully write about more is about one of Jackson's pitching instructors, Travis Griffin.  A man I can still call a friend today even though I haven't seen him in awhile.  Travis and Jackson hit it off right away...I could tell Jackson really loved the time he spent with Travis.  One particular lesson, Jackson was having an off day, didn't understand what Travis wanted him to do and he started tearing up and was "silently crying" trying to hold back his emotion and frustration.  This was only like 5 minutes into the lesson.  I wish I remember what his exact words were, but the gist of the conversation was Travis telling Jackson that expressing his emotions was healthy and to learn to use his emotional response to make things better, to push harder, but not to let that response control him.  For those of you who dont know Jackson, he is a talented student and athlete, but he deals with attention issues and has always struggled with letting emotional control get the better of him.  Travis understood this about Jackson and instead of telling him HOW to act, he started Jackson down the path of embracing who he is and turning what many people think are weaknesses into strengths.  

Often times as coaches we dont want to deal with players who have emotional control issues, we want to find athletes that seem to "have it figured out" and looking only to find the low hanging fruit.  We ignore or push aside the piece of coal because we are unwilling to put the effort into it to make the diamond.  I will submit to my readers that we are ignoring a large population of children that can grow up to be great adults and great athletes.  

Recently, Travis introduced me to Ryan China McCarney, an athlete turned successful businessman, who has recently made it his goal to improve awareness of those who suffer and deal with Anxiety and Depression.  He bravely tells his own story by highlighting his own struggle with these disorders.  We should all be so brave.... His association Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression will hopefully lift the stigma!

But the thought it left in my head was.....  

What can we as coaches and parents do to help our young athletes learn to succeed by teaching them to embrace their weaknesses and turn them to strengths?  

How can we work to lift the stigma of athlete's who struggle with Anxiety, emotional control, attention disorders, and other issues that tend to affix a negative label on people that they have to carry their entire lives?  

More to come.....

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why Your Son Didn't Make The Team....But Do You Really Want Him Too?

I am writing this not in response to a specific player or incident, but more of a general "shout out" to all of you going through the tryout process right now.  Think of it as a DO's and DONT's list.

Why Didn't Your Son Make My Team (not related to ability):

  • He doesn't hustle.  Not hustling during a workout or tryout is a big No-No.  Lack of hustle = LAZY BALL PLAYER
  • He doesn't carry his own equipment.  Even at the younger ages, boys who carry their equipment care about their equipment.  Coaches like that.
  • He doesn't pay attention during instruction.  During my workouts and tryouts I like to give a lot of instruction.  If boys are not paying attention, no matter how talented... bad news.
  • Bad Attitude.  Self explanatory. 
  • YOU try to coach him during the tryout.  As Mike Matheny says, parents should be "a silent source of encouragement".  Resist the urge to talk and enjoy watching your son play.
  • He is dressed like a slob.  Its not important to be dressed like a major-leaguer, but again this shows a coach that you at least care for the game you play.
  • I saw you criticize his performance while you where leaving.  No comment needed here.
  • Your son doesn't practice and work at his skills.  Trust me, its obvious.
  • I or another person I know and trust has seen you yell from the stands during games.  Baseball is a very intimate sport. Most of us coaches watch MANY baseball games a year.
Why Did Your Son Make My Team:

  • He busted his hump.
  • He didn't let mistakes stop him.
  • He took direction well.
  • You were encouraging on your way off the field (coaches watch - trust me).
  • He said "thank you" to the coaches before leaving.
  • He shows the potential to learn and become a great young man and a good ball player.

I think it is important to understand that this is not an all-inclusive list.  It likely applies to teams that value long term development over short term victories; teams that use losses and mistakes to learn and become better; teams that know how to win with class.  

PARENTS:  Talk to the coaches and/or directors.  Walk away if they reference their record or number of championships in the first 3-4 minutes of the conversation.  Challenge them to explain their coaching philosophy.  Talk to current and former (if available) families and validate the information.  If they cant or will not answer these questions, or if they act as if they shouldn't be asked these questions...RUN. 

I hope you enjoyed....

Coach Rich

Friday, May 29, 2015

Outcome vs Process Oriented Development in Youth Baseball

Hi All,

Its been about two months since my last posting!   The beginning of our youth season was quite packed with games and practices, but very few rain-outs.  (An oddity for the St. Louis area in April and May)

I would like to take a little reading time to discuss baseball skill development and specifically the difference between PROCESS and OUTCOME oriented development.  Baseball is one of the most technique driven sports to play.  Every aspect of the game requires the teaching of physical and mental mechanics through repetition and experience.  Baseball also BY FAR, has more statistical analysis than any other sport.

The usage of stats in youth baseball has also increased significantly with the development of easy to use apps and programs such as iScore and GameChanger.  These are invaluable tools for coaches.  However at the youth levels (specifically 7U - 12U baseball), players are still physically developing, learning the physical game, and learning the mental game and have little bearing on future success.

As it relates to developmental progress of an athlete there are two ways to chart such progress; outcome oriented and process oriented.  I will define and provide the pro's and con's of each.


Definition:  The use of statistical data to determine an athletes standing, worth, and/or ability in a particular sport.  


  1. Easy to track with statistics.
  2. Likely correlates with a teams success in games and tournaments (ie Win-Loss).

  1. Can be skewed due to level of competition faced (ie cant compare to other players at different levels of competition).
  2. Does not take into consideration the effect of age and physical growth (ie younger teams with players several years apart OR older teams with players who have physically matured early)
  3. Does not track development of good or bad mechanics (ie a pitcher who throws hard early but with poor mechanics).
  4. Can have a negative influence on players with good innate ability but are still developing.
  5. Younger players can have a harder time dealing with failure as a natural consequence of baseball.
  6. Can have a negative effect on a young mans self-image and self worth as a player and a person during their developmental years,  


Definition: The process by which a players progress is tracked by the skills and mechanics they have acquired, learned, and practiced to determine their standing, worth, or ability in a particular sport.


  1. Intangibles such as hustle, attitude, and effort have a high value.
  2. Players learn to accept failure (ie striking out, making an error, walking a batter) as a natural part of the game.
  3. Players learn to play without fear of making mistakes.
  4. Age and physical development do not effect this process (ie a smaller player who is a late bloomer may have no ability to throw a 50 mph fastball like a teammate, but may have mastered better mechanics)
  5. Allows for players to develop baseball IQ (ie awareness and situational understanding) 
  6. Downplays early win-loss ratio as a predictor of success or worth.

  1. Extremely difficult to track.  Coaches must have a thorough understanding of good baseball mechanics or be able to seek out this information from professional sources.
  2. Requires a lot of patience from stakeholders (parents and players) as typically these teams are not as successful in early years.    

I believe that a team that focuses on the process of learning the game vs the outcome of the game will find the game becomes more enjoyable for everyone and in the end these teams will be some of the hardest to beat and most successful as they get closer to the truly competitive baseball years (high school and beyond).  Systemic adoption of a true developmental approach will also lead to fewer injuries, less burnout, and healthier coach-parent-player relationships.

Have a great beginning to the summer!

Still trying to sort out the chaos of youth baseball,

Coach Rich

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Multi-Position Utilization in Youth Baseball or SAY NO TO DADDYBALL!

I think most people would agree that as parents we try to raise well rounded children.  We want them exposed to different sports and activities, we take them to the zoo, to museums, to movies and to plays.  In the sports world there is just as much data to suggest that the best athletes are those that play different sports throughout their childhood and there are ramifications to single sport specialization.  In 2010 the American College of Sports Medicine published "Early Sport Specialization:  Roots, Effectiveness, Risks".  So as not to risk incorrectly paraphrasing the outcome of the research behind the article, here is the abstract:

Year-round training in a single sport beginning at a relatively young age is increasingly common among youth. Contributing factors include perceptions of Eastern European sport programs, a parent's desire to give his or her child an edge, labeling youth as talented at an early age, pursuit of scholarships and professional contracts, the sporting goods and services industry, and expertise research. The factors interact with the demands of sport systems. Limiting experiences to a single sport is not the best path to elite status. Risks of early specialization include social isolation, over-dependence, burnout, and perhaps risk of overuse injury. Commitment to a single sport at an early age immerses a youngster in a complex world regulated by adults, which is a setting that facilitates manipulation - social, dietary, chemical, and commercial. Youth sport must be kept in perspective. Participants, including talented young athletes, are children and adolescents with the needs of children and adolescents.
With the exception of those living with their head in the sand, I don't think one would disagree with this assessment.   So if it's healthy to expose our children to different activities and it's healthy to expose our children to multiple sports, then:

Why do youth baseball teams tend to play kids in a primary position at young ages?   I think there are multiple answers.  One of which is "Daddy-ball".  According to daddy-ball is:

A term that has been used to describe when your child’s coach has a son or daughter on the same team, and that parent/coach gives their own child more opportunities, playing time, and usually the most popular position on the team

This is rampant in youth sports...Dad's coaching teams to protect their own child or give their own child the undeserved opportunity to play more or play specific positions.  This is also the reason that many players 1) never develop to their potential 2) become frustrated and quit and why teams loose players or dissolve after one or two seasons.  It takes alot of effort and concentration to avoid the temptation of daddy-ball.

The second reason is that the focus is placed on wins and not on the overall development of the team as a WHOLE.  I have fallen victim to this as a coach in the past and have made it a priority to avoid in the future.  It is so easy to put your best player in as a shortstop and your best glove at 1st base and collect some wins and trophies!  It takes courage to place boys in multiple positions.  You will loose more games and you may even loose some families from your team.  The win-at-all costs mentality breeds an environment of poor decision making and inevitably poor morals.   Its a slippery slope that will go nowhere fast.

Up until 11U baseball the boys should be exposed to as many positions as possible.  The wins will start pilling up.  All of the sudden you will have a team that has 4 different SS. 3 catchers, 9 pitchers, 4 1B, and an entire team of good outfielders!  I cant imagine what would be better to a high school or college coach than seeing a player that can play 5 different positions with confidence.

After all youth baseball is not about the wins, its about the experience.  However the result of providing the best baseball experience  (developing relationships, teaching fundamentals, teaching teamwork, and good morals) will likely be A LOT OF WINS.  Its a WIN-WIN SITUATION.

A little more clarity.....

Coach Rich

Friday, February 20, 2015

Your Son Only Has One Arm (To Pitch With)

Medial Apophysitis (Little Leaguer's Elbow)

This injury occurs when repetitive throwing creates an excessively strong pull on the tendons and ligaments of the elbow. The young player feels pain at the knobby bump on the inside of the elbow.
"Little Leaguer's elbow" can be serious if it becomes aggravated. Repeated pulling can tear ligaments and tendons away from the bone. The tearing may pull tiny bone fragments with it in the same way a plant takes soil with it when it is uprooted. This can disrupt normal bone growth, resulting in deformity.

Osteochondritis Dissecans

A less common condition called osteochondritis dissecans is also caused by excessive throwing, and may be the source of the pain on the outside of the elbow. Muscles work in pairs. In the elbow, if there is pulling on one side, there is pushing on the other side. As the elbow is compressed, the joint smashes immature bones together. This can loosen or fragment the bone and cartilage. The resulting condition is called osteochondritis dissecans.

Howdy All!

I attended a scheduling meeting for my 8U / 9U youth baseball team a few weeks ago.  These meetings are spectacles in their own right...A mix of testosterone ridden blow-harding about this team or that, about who will dominate...usually amusing but not typically fodder for a blog.  Unitl this happened.

We are in the middle of an intriguing discussion about how many rainout weekends we will have available for rescheduling and one coach stops the conversation dead in its track:

Coach:  "Wait a minute guys, I have a question about the pitching rules"

Coordinator: "OK"

Coach: "If my son pitches three innings in a 9U game and then has a 10U game right after it, can he pitch another 3 innings"

--Insert Awkward Delay--

Me:  "Do you really have a boy that can throw 6 innings in a day?"

Coach: (Slightly annoyed) "Yes"

Me:  "Really???"

Coach:  (More annoyed) "Yes"

Me:  "Ok...whatever."

This highlights one of the HUGE problems plaguing "Daddy-ball" in youth baseball.  While this man's son may be an excellent pitcher, WHY would you ever want to put one 9 year old on the mound for 3-6 innings in a game?

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the two most common injury's in youth baseball are Medial Apophysitis and Osteochonsritis Dissecans.

Both of these injuries are chronic in youth baseball.  A groundbreaking retrospective study by James Andrews, MD and Glen Fleisig, PhD of the American Sports Medicine Institute, "Prevention of Elbow Injuries in Youth Baseball Pitchers" found:

"The majority of baseball elbow injuries are noncontact injuries to the dominant arm resulting from repetitive pitching. Five percent of youth pitchers suffer a serious elbow or shoulder injury (requiring surgery or retirement from baseball) within 10 years. The risk factor with the strongest correlation to injury is amount of pitching. Specifically, increased pitches per game, innings pitched per season, and months pitched per year are all associated with increased risk of elbow injury. Pitching while fatigued and pitching for concurrent teams are also associated with increased risk. Pitchers who also play catcher have an increased injury risk, perhaps due to the quantity of throws playing catcher adds to the athlete’s arm. Another risk factor is poor pitching biomechanics. Improper biomechanics may increase the torque and force produced about the elbow during each pitch. Although throwing breaking pitches at a young age has been suggested as a risk factor, existing clinical, epidemiologic, and biomechanical data do not support this claim."

The study points out that it was estimated that 5.7 million children play baseball annually annually (kindergarten through 8th grade).  The math is a little fuzzy as not every boy pitches, but we are still talking about THOUSANDS of surgeries over a 10 year period.


SOLUTION:  If we coach to develop players and not to win trophies at early ages then this likely never occurs on your team.  

REALITY:  Most coaches, teams, clubs, associations, and frankly a lot of parents do not have the bravery to institute common sense pitching regulations that will protect the arms of our youth players and inevitably allow more boys to learn and experience the art and fun of pitching. 

Everyone is turning a blind eye to the problem!


At the end of this communication, I will post the pitch counts recommended by Dr. Andrews and his colleagues...What you can do is this:


If you see a coach working a 8 year old for 40+ pitches in a game, pitching 5 innings in a tournament game, pitching for the 3rd straight day....





Here are ASMI's Pitch Count Rules:

Pitch Counts

AgeMax. Pitches
Per Game
Max. Games
Per Week

Recovery Times

Age1 Day Rest2 Day Rest3 Day Rest4 Day Rest


Fleisig GS, Andrews JR. Prevention of Elbow Injuries in Youth Baseball Pitchers. Sports Health 2012;4(5):419-424. doi:10.1177/1941738112454828.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Bravado, Swagger, and Intimidation Shouldn't Be Part of Your Coaching Style....

Hello All!

I had the awesome opportunity to attend Mike Matheny's book release of "The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Managers Old School Views on Success in Sports and Life".  The book was an extension of the "Matheny Manifesto", a document that Coach Matheny wrote to the parents of a team that desired him to coach their boys.  The document really hit some nerves and almost immediately went viral.  I suggest that if you have not read the original letter you do so at:  

Very simply the point it this...The only job that a baseball coach has is:

1.  Teach boys how to play baseball the right way.
2.  Make a positive impact on them as young men.
3.  Do it with class.

This is not a complicated blueprint, but its one that most coaches will not agree with, as evidenced by every time I step foot in a youth baseball park I see coaches yelling at umpires, I hear parents yelling at kids, and I see 45 year old men intimidating children.  Its embarrassing to witness.

The steps outlined above are inseparable; teaching boys how to play baseball the right way cant be accomplished without positively impacting a young man, and you sure as heck cant do #1 and #2 without class.  The very second that the game becomes about the coaches feeling better about themselves, collecting trophies for their resume, and parents thinking somehow that the stat line is a reflection of them, then that's the very second I want nothing to do with it...and neither should you.

A coach's  (and in proxy the parent) job is simple;  prepare this young man to go out on the field and play the game the very best that he can.  Prepare him to control the variables that can be controlled: attitude, hustle, and attention.  When you really put everything you have into preparing this young man to play baseball, then he has already won.  By giving the child the tools for success you have armed this young person with powerful ammunition and I believe the wins, hits, stolen bases, no-hitters, and championships will come.

Work these boys to the breaking point at practice, let them fail, and put them up against competition that is much better.  These are great life lessons....but also give them the gift of confidence, lay a foundation that no matter the outcome or the box score you are proud of them for playing right, playing classy, and controlling what they can control.  Let THEM play; YOU be seen and not heard. Stop thumping your chest and strutting the field like a rooster!  Coach...don't control.

Some who will read this will want to point out that I haven't followed this blueprint close enough in the past.  I will be the first to agree with them.  But every practice and game I will ask myself if I completed #1, #2, and #3.  And to me that's a win everytime!

A little less chaos from the dugout!

Coach Rich

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Always Looking Forward in Baseball or "How to Survive Machine Pitch Baseball"


When you walk into a local association, you could close your eyes and find the machine pitch games....just listen.  About every 45 seconds you will hear the "clunk" of a ball being fed into a machine and usually every 90 seconds or so the cheer of a three-error double.  On base percentages for most teams are around .650.  Its exciting for the parents, kids, and coaches to score 15 runs on 32 "hits".  Watch some of the club teams play and you get to see offense and defense on display.   Most of the teams have 3-4 really good defensive players on display at the "golden triangle" (SS - 2B - 1B).

Its easy to play the 3 best players at those positions because doing so makes the team "better" and when the team is "better" (wins more) then its easy to overlook the weaknesses. How can a team with a great record be weak?  Here are just a few ways:

  • They cant catch fly balls
  • They don't really understand situations in the field
  • They really don't understand situational baserunning
  • They get away with sloppy defense
Frankly, I found myself in the same boat last year.  There were times were I got too caught up in getting that win that I lost track of one fundamental reality:


8U and 9U baseball have rules in place to allow boys and young men the opportunity to slowly uncover the "mystery of life" in baseball:  IT IS THE HARDEST SPORT TO LEARN WELL.  Many teams that were VERY GOOD at 8U will fail by the time they are 10U / 11U.  An excellent 8U team will have:  

  • 1 or 2 boys that can catch a fly ball
  • 4 or 5 good hitters
  • 1 good shortstop
  • 1 good 1st baseman
With that you can have a team that wins ALOT of games.

When you get to 11U baseball (the year the rules open up to full MLB rules) you will need AT LEAST the following to be successful in a 35-45 game season:

  • 7 consistent pitchers who can throw a fastball and change-up
  • 4 very good middle infielders
  • 10 players that can play the outfield
  • 2 solid catchers

  1. Find boys and families that are committed to learning the game the right way
  2. Teach the game to everyone....all the players and all the parents
  3. Teach your players to "think baseball", understand situations
  4. Teach your players how to play 3-4 positions
  5. Develop catchers early and place emphasis on this position early
  6. Teach good mechanics over performance
I think by following these basic rules a team can develop into a nice "plug and play" team.  (ie there are multiple options at every position)  Team spirit will be less about "Billy the stud shortstop" and more about a team that is solid from beginning to end.

Again this is a lesson I have recently learned (or at least "re-learned").  Its a rocky road, and I think it takes bravery to stay the course and avoid the easy win, but in the long run its better for the team as a whole.

Hopefully a little more clarity from the chaotic dugout.....

Coach Rich