Team Management and Culture Resources

 How to Persevere as a Team

How to Persevere as a Team

Coaching athletes to push through challenges

While individual athletes might understand how to persevere and show grit while pursuing their goals, it can be tough for a coach to bring those lessons to a whole team since each player might have different goals, respond to different motivators, and be interested in sport for different reasons. But sports are the perfect chance to teach team-based grit, which can help athletes in sport and in their future careers.

Grit – like perseverance – has been defined as the tendency to “sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”

Research has shown that the sense of belonging that comes from being on a sports team, along with a common goal, helps children understand the importance of ‘respecting the rules and honoring responsibilities.’ Angela Duckworth, the researcher who coined the term ‘grit’ in 2007, has found that focusing on a goal as a team can improve focus in all aspects of life.

But how does a coach bring grit to the entire team?

Develop a Team Mission Statement
At the beginning of the season, gather the team and create a mission statement for the season. What does grit mean for the team? What do the players want to work on from a skills acquisition standpoint? What will success look like? What does it mean to have perseverance during practice or competition? Remember, young athletes take their cues from you, so it’s your responsibility to help them understand that ‘grit’ doesn’t simply mean ‘winning’ or ‘never giving up.’

Help them define the team’s values around grit but let them do the actual phrasing and writing. Giving your athletes ownership of this statement will help unify the team around their common mission.

Make Sure It’s Not All About Game Day
If the only emphasis on your team is ‘winning the game’ or ‘game day strategy,' it can be hard to push through rough patches and seasons that don’t go according to plan. As you’re talking about perseverance and dedication, make sure that language is used during practice, as well as on game day.

Setting a specific goal for each athlete to achieve at practice (a certain number of repetitions of a drill, for instance) and having the athletes work together to ensure that everyone meets that goal can be one way to make sure the players are persevering together all the time, not just on game day.

Don’t Put Your Athletes Against Each Other
It’s hard to push through tough times as a team when each athlete is more focused on outshining his or her teammates than performing well as a unit. For young athletes, research has shown that comparison to others, rather than an emphasis on personal development, makes sports less enjoyable. Challenge the athletes in practice, but don’t make them feel as though they’re being ‘graded’ against each other.

But Let Them Be Competitive
Yes – even with each other at practice. While you don’t want to create a culture of comparison, you do want to allow teammates to feel competitive. Challenging each other to be better and persevering through the inevitable failure will help them at their next game…and for the rest of their lives.

Deborah Gilboa, a board-certified family physician and respected youth development and resilience expert, says, “Competition can be really great for kids. If you can teach them to treat each other respectfully, they can compete all they like.”:

“Competition teaches,” explains Gilboa. “The winner learns how to win without over-celebrating and the loser learns how to lose without too much fuss. Kids monitor each other really well. They give honest, if harsh, criticism of poor behavior. They do not hesitate to call each other on cheating, bragging, whining. You do not need to intervene as they teach other these lessons unless the punishment is genuinely too harsh.”

Change Your View Around Winning
A recent study showcased that both girls and boys want to ‘try their best’ and ‘work hard’ during practice and in competition – and that’s what makes sports fun for them. That’s right: Grit is actually fun! This research dispels the traditional myth that boys are focused on winning while girls are focused on friendship. Incidentally, winning only ranked 40th in importance in this new study.

Bearing that in mind, focus less on creating goals around winning and turn your focus to team-wide, process-oriented goals that the team can strive for together. Since process goals focus on personal development instead of the scoreboard, it’s easier to instill a sense of grit and perseverance in the players, regardless of how the team is comparatively doing, because players can still meet goals and see progress.

Keep in mind that introducing lessons of grit and perseverance during your team’s practice will help your athletes look at challenges and obstacles as opportunities rather than risks.

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.

 Soundtracks, Part II

Soundtracks, Part II

Coaching Absolutes
By: Dave Turgeon

A couple of years back, I used to do a segment with staff called “Soundtracks.” Before diving into it I would always talk about what a soundtrack is. Most of us have heard of them and been impacted by them when watching a movie. Some of us (myself included) have been moved to purchase the soundtrack of a movie. Soundtracks, the music of a movie, evoke and stir emotions and amplify a scene in some way. For example, most of us remember the opening scene from “Jaws” where the young woman goes for a swim and some music begins to play that makes us all feel the impending doom to come. And it did. Another example of a soundtrack that brings about some emotions is from the classic movie called “Rocky.” The scene starts with Rocky doing his road work (running) and ends with him running up the stairs to a song called “Gonna Fly Now.” It absolutely is an inspiring scene that was brought to life from that iconic song.

Just as movies have soundtracks, we also have our own personal soundtrack. When someone walks in a room you can usually feel where they are at by their energy, body language and facial expression. Whether we realize this or not, our soundtrack is playing when we enter a room or walk down the street or engage with others. This is about self-awareness and the impact our soundtracks have on players and our personal lives.

Alex Mehrabian

Alex Mehrabian did an interesting study on communication and he broke it down into three areas: body language, tone of voice, and words. His findings were staggering to me. He found the breakdown of our communication as 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone of voice, and 7 percent spoken words. It shows that it is not enough just to have something to say if you do not have the ability to deliver the message in a way to be received. In other words, if we are a coach or teacher and do not have an effective delivery system then we do not have the ability to help our athletes or students. Your soundtrack is big! Mehrabian was keen on the soundtrack! There have been other studies on communication and while the numbers show some disparities, they were all heavy on the body language and tone and light on words.

The soundtrack package of communication of our words, body language and tone leave out one component that is not to be ignored: Timing. Timing is the ingredient that allows us to leverage our delivery system. Timing, some might argue, is everything.


Mike Lum is a senior advisor with the Pirates and has been in professional baseball as a Major League Player or Coach for some 50 years. He played on the Big Red Machine of the 70’s and once pinch hit for Hank Aaron. He has been a mentor to me for the past 10 years. His specialty is the hitting area and he continues to evolve with the technology and the generation he teaches. His mastery of teaching hitting is two things: first, he has a deep knowledge of hitting and understanding how to teach each player as an individual. Second, he has the deepest soundtrack with the ability to command it of anyone I have observed in coaching. I have watched him teach every level of player, players from different cultures, players who did not speak English, and players of all ages. That is a lot of different soundtracks to master. He has the universal soundtrack. His songs are appealing, and they disarm the players he coaches. He uses very few words but when he does, they are timely and have affect. The business of coaching becomes more watch, more show, more do, and then great timing of words. It becomes more experience and feel when his players are learning. Master coaches have mastered their own soundtrack which allows them to master their craft. He has the most effective packaging system for a teacher I have witnessed in my career. The Master DJ is Mike Lum!

To be an effective coach, having command of our soundtrack is critical. Further, having command of many songs of your soundtrack will allow you to reach more players. When I say command, I am talking about having your self-awareness get to a point where you can adjust the song and volume of that song in order to connect and reach who is in front of you.

As a coach, there are two huge questions we must continually ask:
Which song does the individual need?
What song does the collective group need?

Transitioning from song to song and adjusting your volume along the way is what good coaching looks like. It is seamless and constant.

Turgeon is the AA Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turgeon played in the New York Yankees farm system from 1987-1990 under Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter after being drafted out of Davidson College. Before playing for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate in 1998 he spent eight years playing abroad. From 2000-2001 Turgeon began coaching in the Cleveland Indians organization before entering the college ranks where he coached with Boston College, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Virginia Tech. Turgeon was also the Bench Coach for the 2019 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. 

 The Last Line of Defense

The Last Line of Defense

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

Over the last few years, no skill in our game has transformed more than hitting. With new ways to evaluate swings, combined with more aggressive approaches to hit the ball over the shift instead of around it, hitters are doing more damage than ever. For all that has changed in the batters’ box, there is a very important corresponding fact that we need to acknowledge: outfield play has never been more important than it is today.

Every year as a manager, usually on the day when we are teaching our players the pop-fly priority team fundamental, I would gather everyone together and explain to them that when the ball went in the air, they needed to become Dennis Rodman. A confused look usually overcame the entire group, not knowing for sure who exactly Rodman was.

Before he became “that guy with all the tattoos,” as our young players vaguely recognized him, Dennis Rodman was arguably the best rebounder in NBA history, carving out a Hall-of-Fame career by doing the dirty work on the court that few would ever embrace. When the basketball was shot in the air, Rodman expected to get the rebound. Every single time. And THAT’S the approach all great outfielders have; when the ball goes in the air, they expect to catch it.

There are three main priorities when it comes to outfield play, and the first is a simple one: EFFORT. Go. Get. The. Ball. Without effort, an outfielder can’t even be average. With effort, an outfielder will always give himself a chance to make a play. All of the extra bases are in the outfield, and nothing shuts down the extra base easier or better than simply effort to get on the baseball. The harder an outfielder goes after a ball, the sooner a baserunner or third-base coach has to make the decision on whether or not to stretch an extra 90’ or send the runner around.

The second priority of outfield play is a mental one: ENGAGEMENT. We want all of our players, no matter the position but especially our outfielders, to engage in the pitch, the play, and the game. In the Major Leagues, on average, roughly 300 pitches are thrown per game. That means for 150 of them, our players are out in the field playing defense and are expected to lock in mentally on every single one. That means they are timing out their pre-pitch to be ready to move to the best of their ability if the ball is hit their way.

We expect our outfielders to be engaged to the play. Whenever the ball is put in play, and many times when it’s not, there is always somewhere for everyone on the field to be. When players are focused on their specific job at hand, they are in the correct position, doing the right thing. The final piece of engagement is with the game. Depending on the score, the situation, or the inning, the variables of the game will dictate our players decisions offensively and, in this case, defensively. When our outfielders are engaged in the game, they know where to throw the ball, when to dive for a ball, or when to play it safe.

And lastly, the final priority of outfield play is OWNERSHIP, where we want our players to take pride in perfecting their craft in becoming the best defenders they can be. This is a two-pronged focal point, the first of which takes place during drill work. Our practices routines are designed in a way to only have one or two specific things to work on as we progress through our drill packages. When players truly take ownership, their drill work is laser-focused on the things they are working on and they can’t help but get better.

The second part of ownership is found during batting practice… on the outfield grass. Without question, the most important part of an outfielder’s day is when they work live during BP. There is no drill or fungo that offers a better rep than what an outfielder can get during batting practice. It’s as close to a game rep as there is, allowing for outfielders to get consistent with their pre-pitch timing, clean up their reads and breaks, and perfecting their routes to the ball. How an outfielder approaches batting practice will determine whatever they will become.

Many coaches have long tried to “hide” a productive bat in the outfield, thinking that they could sacrifice defense in favor of offense. Well, with the direction the game is going in, that strategy probably isn’t the smartest one in this day and age. For outfield is truly the last line of defense.

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.

 Preparing for Home and Away Games

Preparing for Home and Away Games

Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses how to prepare for home and road games. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.



Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses the importance of routines. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.