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 Players Aren't the Only Ones Who Need to be Who They Are

Players Aren't The Only Ones Who Need To Be Who They Are

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

As coaches, we often talk about the importance of our players being who they are and doing what they do. We want them to use their gifts, play with their personalities, and not try to be someone else. Players who truly know themselves have the best chance to maximize their unique potential.

It may be just as important for coaches to be who they are and to do what they do to enable them to help maximize their players’ and their teams’ full potential. Last winter, HBO aired a documentary profiling the relationship between two football coaching legends, Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Unquestionably, coaches across America watched intently with pen and paper in hand, feverishly taking notes and fully prepared to be the next Belichick or the next Saban by the time credits rolled. Unfortunately, that is impossible. There is only one Bill Belichick. There is only one Nick Saban.

And there was only one Fred Hill.

In the spring of 2006, upon the sudden end to my playing career, Coach Hill created a position on his Rutgers staff for me because, 1) he thought I would make a good coach, and 2) I had nothing better to do and no plan B in life. At the time, I thought this would be a simple stopgap as I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Little did I know that this would be the start of my second life in the game.

Assistant coaches are the unsung heroes of a coaching staff. They are the epitome of the behind the scenes worker who gets little reward and even less recognition for the job they do. An assistant coach has to be an extension of the head coach. In order for the relationship between the two to thrive, both must be aligned in their organizational standards as well as their strategic beliefs so that their players will get a single, consistent message. With all that in mind, when I entered the coaching profession, I thought I had to be the next Fred Hill.

Being able to work under the guy I played for in college- and who immensely helped me develop as a player- made for a pretty natural transition at the start. I knew his sayings. I knew how he coached. I knew what he believed. But as I began to find my own voice as a coach, I quickly learned that it was impossible for me, a new coach with NO experience as a coach, to be the same as an ABCA Hall of Famer with more than 1,000 career wins.

The process of finding yourself as a coach can be as long of a journey as it is to find yourself as a player. The funny part was that baseball was the least of my worries, as I was pretty confident in my foundation of knowing the game. It was actually the coaching in general where I was all over the map. It was a challenge at times to understand how to handle players on the field and off, how to create cohesion on a staff, or how to disagree with something without causing dissention.

By the time I left Rutgers to join the Red Sox in 2012, I had grown leaps and bounds both personally and professionally over the previous six years. But as the new guy in the organization as an A-ball hitting coach, I was much like a rookie in the clubhouse, unsure exactly of my place in this new environment. The general rule was the same in professional baseball, where hitting coaches and pitching coaches are not only an extension of their club’s manager, but also a vital branch of an entire organizational philosophy. I was hired to coach hitters in Greenville and I needed to figure out the best way to do that. How hands on did I need to be? Could I implement different things with different hitters? What would our daily routine be?

There was no handbook to answer all of my questions, but it was clear that experience through trial and error would be my best teacher, along with leaning on my colleagues who had been in my shoes before. Slowly but surely, I started to settle in. The more comfortable I got in my own skin, the better I become as my own coach. But I wasn’t entirely me. I wasn’t THAT comfortable. I was getting there, but I wasn’t there.

Then came the ground out that marked my arrival.

About one month into the season in early May, one of our best hitters came up with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs. His job, plain and simple, was to drive that run home. We preached situational hitting and the value of getting the job done when it came to developing into a productive hitter. The result of this particular at bat was a roll-over, ground ball to the second baseman. The run scored. The job was done. And I was pumped. Our hitter… not so much.

He sulked off the field. Banged his helmet on the bench. Slammed his bat back into the rack. If there was one thing that always got under my skin both as a player and now as a coach, it’s playing selfish. As I’m watching him come down towards me in the dugout, my blood is starting to boil. By the time he was standing next to me, he started complaining to himself. I snapped. “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM,” I politely asked. “You just did your job. You helped your team. Now stop being a baby, grow up, and pick up your teammate who is hitting right now.”

What I didn’t realize at that impulse was that Chad Epperson, one of our roving coordinators from Boston, was in the dugout at the time. Had I been conscious to his presence, I would have been much more guarded with my words, as I had been to that point, if I said anything at all. I was still the new guy. Still finding my way. Still finding my place. After the game, Eppy came up to me and said that if I didn’t address that situation in the dugout, he would have himself, and he absolutely loved the way I handled it, reassuring me that sometimes players need some messages louder than others.

That meant everything to me, and not because he was ok with me getting on a player who acted unprofessionally. But rather because that was the moment when I knew I could truly be who I was as coach. I didn’t have to be cautiously filtered like I had been to that point. Eppy gave me that freedom to be me. That moment, yet so small in the grand scheme of everything, baseball or otherwise, was, still to this day, one of the most defining moments of my entire coaching career. A coach who knows who he is and does what he does is in the best position to help his players do the same.

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.

 Soundtracks, Part III

Soundtracks, Part III

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.

The Dominican Experience

The first time I went to the Dominican Republic I realized it was different than anywhere I had coached, starting with culture and language. In addition, the age range in the Dominican Republic is 16 - 17 and the paths of each player that took them to this point were unique in every way. So, I started from the beginning with my “serviceable Spanish” and started getting to know players and watching a lot. I coached very little. The Latin player is always so appreciative to coaches that make the effort to speak their language but also get to know them personally. When you need to get in there and coach them they receive it so well.

How is this different from coaching here in the States? It’s not! It is coaching 101. Get to know your players personally, watch them a lot, and then if they need coaching they will receive it.

So, what did I learn in this experience? I learned two HUGE lessons. First, your soundtrack is even more important if your language skills are limited. They realize you are trying to help them and care for them even if your Spanish is bad because your tone and body language speak volumes in the absence of words. The volume of your songs is especially big here also because they are so young and inexperienced you could be in danger of losing a player quickly if it is too loud too quickly. When they cannot understand the words always remember that they can FEEL you!

The second HUGE takeaway came to me a couple years ago when speaking with the legendary coach, teacher and author Frans Bosch. He said to me “players’ bodies really have no interest in your words.” I realized I may be a better coach in the Dominican Republic because my words are always distilled down to extreme simplicity and low numbers. I usually quickly transition to show and do, or watch (video) show and do. This is also coaching 101! Talk less and show and do more!

Before I knew anything about the science of skill acquisition I learned about what is needed for some real skill acquisition. Bernie Holiday, the Pirates Director of Mental Conditioning, said to our group a couple of years back another nugget on coaching and the use of words. He said our first language is not English, Spanish or whatever language we speak. Our first language is pictures, and it will always be our first language because we think in images. To Bernie’s point, if I said the word HORSE to you, your thoughts do not think of the word HORSE but an image of a HORSE. In teaching, master your Soundtracks, limit your words, and default to watch, show, and do more often!

To be an effective coach, having command of your 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 Coordinator of Instruction 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. 

 Safely Return to Play

Safely Return to Play

Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard

Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Duke University, discusses how to safely return to play after time away. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Marc Richard, MD, is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.


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