Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 While Few Will Be Basestealers, All Will Be Baserunners
(5/14/2020)
 
   

While Few Will Be Basestealers, All Will Be Baserunners


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


In February of 2019, I reported to Fort Myers for my first Spring Training in a new role as our Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator. In that role, I am essentially the lead voice- with a lot of input from a lot of people- for our organization with regard to how we will approach developing outfielders and baserunners. As players began trickling into JetBlue Park, many came up to me, excited about getting better on the bases… just not in the sense they truly needed to improve.

“Fens, I really want to get more bags this year,” a number of them proclaimed.

What I quickly realized was that most players associate baserunning only as basestealing, which is just one of the many elements of the overall skill. Furthermore, the stolen base is a dying play at the Major League level, with only six players in the entire game finishing 2019 with more that 30 bags for the year, which works out to a little more than one per week. Gone are the days of guys like Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman stealing over 100 bases in a single season.

So, with our focus on developing the skills needed to help our club win in Boston, it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of our time working on something in the Minor Leagues when it will only be a tiny part of our success in the Big Leagues. That goes for any part of the game, and in this case, basestealing. But for as few who will become true basestealers in the Major Leagues, every single position player we have WILL be a baserunner, and if they take the same pride in the developing the skill required to running the bases as they do their skills of hitting or fielding, they will have a chance to impact games with their legs, and they don’t even have to be fast in order to do so.

Our development on the bases is geared towards players understanding the importance of 90’. Every 90’ is that much closer to scoring a run; a run that may be the difference in a win or a loss; a win or loss that may have us celebrating a championship or languishing in bitter defeat. Baserunning is far more about details and decisions than it is about being fast or slow or even being out or safe.

Above all, baserunning begins with effort, and effort is a decision that is completely independent of talent. It takes no athletic ability whatsoever to give effort. The fastest guy in the world and the fattest guy in the world can both run equally as HARD. “Running for the possible” is the mindset and approach that all baserunners should have. Sure single? Round first base for a possible double. Sure double? Give yourself a chance for the possible triple. Ground into a sure out? There’s no such thing; run for the possible infield hit. Effort forces errors and changes the entire complexion of playing defense.

Baserunning is a skill, in the same exact respect that hitting, fielding, and pitching are all skills. And there is a very specific, detailed technique that comes with running the bases well. Those details include the route from home to first, the correct part of the base to touch, taking a primary lead, timing out the secondary lead, and what to look for while running. When thinking in such a focused manner on those little things, big things on the bases are sure to follow.

Baserunning is a separator skill that is a true indicator of players who are able to successfully separate the game. The second the ball is put in play, the mind has to transform from hitter to baserunner immediately with a 100% commitment and focus on running the bases. That commitment starts with effort, especially in those instances when we didn’t have a good at bat but still found a way on base. Mentally engaged baserunners are dangerous baserunners who know the situation of the game and anticipate all that may happen that will impact their decisions on the bases.

Impact baserunners are both smart and aggressive. Great baserunning teams make intelligent decisions, taking chances based on the game’s variables combined with their reads off the bat and of the defense to challenge the other team to make a play to prevent the extra base. They are aggressive, with effort as their foundation, to work to get to 2nd where they can score on a single or to reach third where they are in position to score on an out, error, wild pitch, or infield hit among others. With that aggressiveness, players must understand that it’s OK to make outs on the bases. There is a risk versus reward aspect to running the bases. Safe teams who don’t make outs on the bases aren’t giving themselves to get extra bases and, in turn, prevent themselves a chance to score more runs. With risks come outs, but with risks also come runs.

There are free bases all over the field, and it’s just a matter of players being made aware of where exactly to look for them. Whether it be anticipating a dirt ball, advancing as a backside runner on a high throw from an outfielder, or reading an outfielder who isn’t in a great position to make a play, there is a competitive edge on the bases that comes from simply watching the game with the eyes. When players realize that being a great baserunner goes beyond their speed and their coaches consciously spend time practicing all of the skill’s minute details, combined they will create a weapon in their club’s arsenal that other teams will soon fear.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Should I Be Worried About My Kid Doping?
(5/13/2020)
 
   

Should I Be Worried About My Kid Doping?


Performance Enhancing-Drugs and Red Flags for Parents


There’s no question that the pressure in youth sports has become increasingly high over the years. The money and time dedicated to exclusive camps, extended travel, and elite club teams have reached epic proportions in the quest for stardom, scholarships, and status. Even in youth sports, there are also many examples of success or self-worth being sought through darker means, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) like human growth hormone (hGH) and testosterone.

When it comes to how success is achieved, there’s also no question that young athletes are very much influenced by those around them. In addition to parents, athletes are often influenced by coaches, trainers, medical support personnel, professional sports idols, and their peers.

Young athletes exposed to the win-at-all-costs attitudes of others are susceptible to adopting the behaviors that go along with that climate, and in some cases, may even be directed to abuse substances. These substances can enhance performance and violate the rules of sport, but more importantly, they can lead to devastating physical and mental effects.

As parents, it’s important to evaluate the influencers in your athlete’s life and be aware of substance abuse warning signs. Here are three red flag phrases that might indicate your athlete is in a risky situation or facing pressure to dope.

1. "Everyone does it."

The phrase “everyone does it” has been used to justify doping for decades at all levels of sport, from high schools to the Tour de France. This reasoning can result from exposure to PED abuse by peers, as well as the many examples of professional athletes who’ve found success through shortcuts.

Unfortunately, the life-threatening impact of this mentality is evidenced by the story of Taylor Hooten, one of the most well-known examples of a student athlete whose quest for success through steroid use led to the worst possible outcomes, including physical effects like back acne and rapid muscle growth, as well as mental effects like depression and aggression, and finally, suicide.

Taylor sourced the steroids from a local gym, and even in 2003, before widespread internet use made substances even more accessible, Taylor’s close friend Billy Ajello told the New York Times that steroid use was “extremely widespread” at the boys’ high school before Taylor’s death.

In addition to the “everyone does it” mentality among peers, Ajello believed that students construed mixed messages from coaches. ''Coaches don't come out and say, 'Take steroids,' '' Ajello told the New York Times. ''Freshman, sophomore, junior year, they tell you you're too small. A kid thinks high school sports are everything: 'I have to take it to the next level to get bigger and stronger to play.'"

He also noted, “I think the coaches know and almost kind of turn their heads. I think if they knew for sure, certain coaches would pull a kid aside and say, 'What are you doing?' I think other coaches would turn their heads, and even if they knew wouldn't say anything to a kid.''

As the TrueSport Report further confirms through national research and data, “High school and college coaches who turn the other way on bad or delinquent behavior (e.g., drinking, violence off and on the field) are sending a strong signal that such behavior is acceptable.”

2. “It’s for their health or benefit.”

In some cases, the pressure to dope may be more forceful and come directly from a person of influence in an athlete’s life. If an authority figure - whether it be a coach, medical professional, or parent – encourages an athlete to dope, it’s extremely unlikely that the athlete will be able to resist or even realize that they are doing anything wrong because their sense of security and understanding of right and wrong is frequently dependent upon the adults around them.

These trusted authority figures may also attempt to justify the behavior by insisting that a pill or treatment is necessary to protect the athlete’s health, is required for inclusion in a training group, or is the only way to achieve success. An authority figure may also insist that an athlete hide their use from friends, family, and other adults because they wouldn’t understand, which can alienate the athlete from positive influencers while further uniting the athlete with a negative influencer.

There are many examples of authority figures directly facilitating doping behaviors by young athletes, but one of the most egregious may be the case of Corey Gahan, whose own father, a trainer, and an alleged medical provider arranged for him to receive increasingly risky injections to improve his in-line skating performance. It started with b-12 vitamin injections when he was 12 and quickly escalated to testosterone and hGH injections.

“Both his father and his trainer, Corey says, assured him that the shots were for the best,” according to a Sports Illustrated article. “The prick of the needle was accompanied by a pinch of guilt; it felt, as Corey puts it, ‘like I was doing something wrong.’ But he believed in his dad, a charismatic and fiercely ambitious former high school wrestler. He also trusted his trainer, a bodybuilder who acted like a big brother. Besides, what did Corey know about the substances being injected into his body? ‘Testosterone cypionate, it's just a word,’ he says. ‘It doesn't have a meaning. At least not when you're 13.’”

By 16, Corey was breaking records at top competitions and testing positive for testosterone and another steroid. While his reinstatement from a two-year ban hinged on acceptance of counseling and a medical evaluation, Corey’s father, trainer, and the false doctor were under investigation and went on to receive jail time for their crimes.

"This case shows the extent to which drugs have infiltrated youth sports," said U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis T. Tygart to Sports Illustrated at the time. "It was hard to punish this kid. Yes, he cheated and unfairly beat other competitors, but he was under his father's influence. The kid was a victim."

3. “Don’t worry, it’s safe.”

Sometimes, there is also risk from trusting an influential person even when that person respects the athlete’s health and wellbeing, as well as the rules of sport. This is especially true in today’s climate of rampant supplement use and radical health trends to support and enhance performance. But with supplements regulated pre-market and wellness clinics offering treatments banned in sport, there are many opportunities for exposure to prohibited and potentially dangerous substances, even when assurances are provided that a product or treatment is safe.

Unfortunately, a recent case involving a young and up-and-coming weightlifter illustrates this risk. Abby Raymond was just 14 years old when a family friend and fitness influencer offered her a protein powder and a pre-workout supplement from his newly formed company. The family friend assured Abby that his company’s products were plant-based, vegan, and made from all-natural ingredients. Excited about the sponsorship opportunity but recognizing the risk that supplements pose, Abby’s father pointed out that she was subject to anti-doping rules, so the products would have to be completely free of prohibited substances. This concern was met with further assurances by the family friend and company owner that the supplements were safe. After just weeks of using the supplements, Abby had an anti-doping test and soon learned that she had tested positive for ostarine, a prohibited anabolic agent that’s not approved for human use or consumption anywhere in the world. Later testing confirmed that the supplements were contaminated, to the family friend’s surprise, but Abby still received a period of ineligibility from sport and devastating damage to her reputation.


Remember, young athletes are vulnerable to the influence of trusted authority figures and their peers, so it’s important to stay alert for signs of a win-at-all-costs environment, including the red flag phrases and situations above. To learn how to support clean and healthy decisions, visit our Clean Sport Lesson.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Corticosteroids v. Anabolic Steroids
(4/23/2020)
 
   

5 Facts You Need to Know About Corticosteroids v. Anabolic Steroids


Educating athletes on the effects and warning signs of steroids


When athletes or their parents hear the word ‘steroid,’ they may envision a muscle-building, performance-enhancing drug that not only destroys the integrity of sport, but also comes with extreme health risks – especially for young athletes.

When it comes to steroids, however, that description is only one piece of the equation. There are actually multiple classes of steroids, including anabolic steroids and corticosteroids, which have different uses, side effects, and performance-enhancing qualities.

Amy Eichner, PhD, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Special Advisor on Drug Reference and Supplements, explains five things you need to know about steroids, including the difference between corticosteroids and anabolic steroids.

What are steroids?

Steroids are a class of compounds that all have a similar structure and bind to hormone receptors in the body. Anabolic steroids bind to the androgen receptors, whereas corticosteroids bind to the glucocorticoid receptors – leading to different effects on the body.

The body naturally produces testosterone, an anabolic steroid, that regulates bone and muscle mass and fat distribution, as well as sex-drive (libido) and red blood cell production. The body also naturally produces cortisol, a corticosteroid. When cortisol binds to the glucocorticosteroid receptor, it activates a metabolic pathway that suppresses inflammation and immune responses.

There are also many synthetically produced anabolic and corticosteroid compounds, some of which are legitimate medicines and some of which are not.

What are they used for?

Prescription use of testosterone can be used to treat hypogonadism in men, or to prevent the loss of muscle associated with HIV infection. In some teenage boys that have been diagnosed with delayed onset of puberty or a genetic abnormality, testosterone injections are sometimes prescribed to kick-start growth and development.

Corticoids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions. Corticosteroid creams can be applied to the skin to treat poison ivy rashes, or contact dermatitis, whereas corticosteroids in pill form can be taken to treat allergies, as well as autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Inhaled corticosteroids are effective in treating asthma, and corticosteroid injections into joints can treat inflammation related to sport injuries or arthritis.

Are there side effects with steroid use?

Corticoids and anabolic steroids not only differ in the primary medical uses, but also in their potential health risks and side effects.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency lists some physiological effects of both, as well as psychological effects from anabolic steroids:

CORTICOIDS

PHYSIOLOGICAL:
- Short-term side effects include an increase in appetite, weight gain, insomnia, fluid retention and bloating, and mood changes like irritability and anxiety
- Long-term use of corticosteroids can result in loss of muscle and/or bone mass, thinning of the skin (with topical use of corticosteroid creams), high blood pressure, diabetes, weakening of injured areas in muscle, bone, tendon, or ligament, decrease in or cessation of growth in young people
- Withdrawal from long-term use of corticosteroids can cause fatigue, weight loss, and nausea

ANABOLIC STEROIDS

PHYSIOLOGICAL:
- Acne
- Male pattern baldness
- Liver damage*
- Premature closure of the growth centers of long bones (in adolescents) which may result in stunted growth*
- Stunted growth and disruption of puberty in children

PSYCHOLOGICAL:
- Increased aggressiveness and sexual appetite, sometimes resulting in abnormal sexual and criminal behavior, often referred to as “Roid Rage”
- Withdrawal from anabolic steroid use can be associated with depression, and in some cases, suicide.

NOTE: * Effects may be permanent and can vary by individual.

Why are steroids considered performance-enhancing drugs in sport?

Anabolic steroids are performance enhancing because they have such profound, long-term (several months) effects on muscle mass and strength. Athletes that use anabolic steroids still benefit from their effects long after they stop using them. For this reason, anabolic steroids are prohibited at all times, during competition and in the off-season, by athletes subject to anti-doping rules.

Corticosteroids offer more immediate performance-enhancing benefits. Injections into muscle or oral corticosteroids reduce the pain and inflammation that often occurs with extreme exertion. Athletes have reported that corticosteroids help them push through the pain of extreme exertion and allow them to recover faster for the next event. The benefits of corticosteroids wear off pretty fast, which is why they are prohibited in-competition only.

What are the warning signs of anabolic steroid abuse?

Some teenagers abuse anabolic steroids in order to build muscle and get the body they want. Parents are often very surprised to learn how easy it is for their kids to access illegal steroids. The FDA has issued warnings about such abuse.

If an athlete is abusing anabolic steroids to enhance their performance, there are a few patterns of use they may employ:

• Cycling: The person ingests anabolic steroids in cycles of 6-12 weeks (known as the "on" period), followed by four weeks to several months off.
• Stacking: Users combine several different types of steroids or incorporate other supplements in an attempt to maximize the effectiveness of the steroids. This is called "stacking."
• Pyramiding: Some users gradually increase the dose to a peak, then reduce the amount.

According to a report, 3.3 percent of high school students admit to anabolic steroid use and another study found that 8 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys report using products to improve appearance, muscle mass, or strength.

If you suspect your athlete is abusing steroids, here are gender-specific physical changes to look for:

MALES:
- Breast tissue development*
- Shrinking of the testicles*
- Impotence
- Reduction in sperm production

FEMALES:
- Deepening of the voice*
- Cessation of breast development
- Growth of hair on the face, stomach and upper back*
- Enlarged clitoris*
- Abnormal menstrual cycles

NOTE: * Effects may be permanent and can vary by individual.

If your athlete has been misusing anabolic steroids and they suddenly stop taking them, they can also exhibit symptoms of withdrawal, which include:

- Fatigue
- Restlessness
- Mood swings
- Depression
- Insomnia
- Cravings

Help your athlete understand that there are serious health consequences associated with the use of steroids, especially anabolic steroids. These substances can end up illegally in supplements and are fairly accessible on store shelves and online, so your awareness and diligence is critical.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 


 Hitter Produces 2 RBI with a Two Strike Count
(4/20/2020)
 
   

Hitter Produces 2 RBI with a Two Strike Count


Monday Manager
By Tom Succow


In this edition of Monday Manager, four-time USA Baseball coaching alum Tom Succow discusses a hitter producing 2 RBI with a two strike count.


Tom Succow is currently the assistant coach at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. In 2017, Succow retired as the Head Baseball Coach at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, after 42 years at the helm. Succow accumulated over 700 wins during his tenure, as well as a state championship in 2006 and three state runner-up honors in 1982, 2007 and 2012. Succow is a four-time USA Baseball coaching alum, including an assistant coaching position with the 2003 16U National Team, which won the gold medal in the International Baseball Federation AA World Youth Championships in Taiwan. Succow was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) as National Coach of the Year in 2007 and is a member of four Halls of Fames, being inducted into the Arizona Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003, the Brophy Hall of Fame in 2007, the National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA) Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016.


 Getting Up After Getting Sent Down
(4/17/2020)
 
   

Getting Up After Getting Sent Down


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every year at the very end of Spring Training is what is arguably the worst day of the baseball calendar: cut day. A Major League roster carries 26 players. This year, we brought in 66 guys to camp. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that there are far more players than there are spots. The same rule holds true on the Minor League side.

As camp begins to wind down and the Major League roster is set, there is a trickle down all the way through our Minor League system that often causes players to put on their imaginary GM hats. They, too, know that there are more players than spots and try to figure out for themselves where they will fit come April 1st when we leave Fort Myers and head to our affiliates up and down the east coast.

Players spend their entire off-season working towards the next year. They report to camp in better shape, with better swings, better pitches, looking to become better players. Whether they are coming off of a great season or one that didn’t necessarily go as planned, most players come to Spring Training with high aspirations to make the club at a higher level from the prior year. While sometimes that works out, often times, it doesn’t. That reality tends to set in on cut day.

On cut day, there are a lot of sad faces with bad body language across minor league fields all over baseball. But most aren’t upset because their buddies just got sent home. Rather their hurt stems from a demotion that they hoped wouldn’t happen. Whether it’s from the Major Leagues down to AAA, or back to the rookie leagues from A-ball, getting sent down sucks, and is an added challenge to overcome in a game full of incredibly hard challenges.

But getting sent down is better than the alternative of getting sent home. And that is the message we seemingly always relay to our players still in the organization on cut day every year.

The players that had to walk out of the complex with bags in hand may have played their last game. In that moment, they would kill to have been sent down to a lower level, because that means they would still have a job. As long as a player has a uniform, they have an opportunity to become a Major Leaguer. Throwing a pity-party for will only take them away from that goal.

Our game is filled with adversity on so many levels. Whether it be a professional getting demoted to a lower level, a college guy being benched, or a high schooler getting cut, they all have the same exact choice, which should be a simple one. They can wallow in self-pity, or they can use their hardship as motivation to overcome and grow from it. Hopefully the send down has left the player better prepared to get back up.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.