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The First Step Is to Take the Bat, Ball and Glove Out of Their Hands - Part I the Process of Learning to Coach Life Lessons within the Game

Coaches must see things no one else sees. One of the best ways to learn to do this is to watch other coaches at work, not just in your sport, but in all sports. Watch how the game is played not who plays the game. Watch the process of what happens not the result of what happened. Watch what happens “off the ball” not who has the ball. Ask why the coach chose to have his team do that regardless of whether the result was good or bad for the score.

Good coaches recognize that to develop the best teams and players, they must first train the team members to be great athletes. But the coach must be able to look at the player and see the athlete. Coaches always preach to their players to control the process and the execution, and the result will take care of itself. Equally true to the development and success of the baseball player is whether the coach can see the player do what they do without seeing the bat, ball, or glove in their hand. In other words, when watching the player do what they do, can the coach see the process and the execution of what the player does as if the player was not holding a bat, glove, or ball?

A coach must be able to visually extract the bat, glove, and ball when the player performs and evaluate how a player uses and moves their body. Does the player use their feet quickly, yet efficiently? Does the player load and apply force properly with their back foot and hip when throwing and hitting? Does the player’s body move smoothly and in sync with the upper and lower body working together top and bottom and left and right?

One of the best ways for a coach and player to learn to do this is literally to take the bat, glove and ball out of the player’s hands. The teaching process for all sports begins with dry mechanic work without any implements involved. All learning, as well as, all faults and fixes, begin with a ground-up analysis of posture, balance, footwork, angles (both in set up and in movement), rhythm and timing.

Even after the process is learned, a great way to reinforce the process and the execution is to have the player do what they do by just moving their body, i.e., literally just going through the motions - throwing, pitching, fielding, and throwing, and hitting. It is a very instructive exercise to have a pitcher go through his pre-pitch mental process and then execute a pitch without actually throwing a ball. Do this for an imaginary three batters before every bullpen session and you will be amazed at how a coach can see and how the pitcher can feel flaws in the process and execution of the delivery.

Position players can benefit from the same exercise. For example, have an infielder take their prep steps and then react at game speed to an instruction by a coach to charge, move left, right or angle back in either direction and pretend to field and throw a ball to a base. A coach will be amazed at how easy it will be to see things they never noticed before in the way the player moves and how they execute their mechanics.
After the player gets comfortable doing it with their eyes open, have pitchers and position players do their routine with their eyes closed. This is a fantastic kinesthetic progression. Of course, coaches and players who are visual learners will also find frequent frame-by-frame video analysis very useful.

The same can be done for hitters. I will frequently stop a hitter at front foot strike and ask them to freeze. I will take the bat out of their hands, and we will both look to see whether the player has maintained their posture and balance and whether their hands, arms, and bat are in the proper positions after their stride is complete.

Optimum player development requires coaches to see the athlete in their player by visually and, at times, literally taking the bat, glove and ball out of the player’s hands.

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