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A Note to Parents for a Successful Season

As we head into the season, our players’ experience hinges upon a team effort.  Our team extends beyond the dugout with their teammates, coaches, umpires, and competition.

We, as parents, play a major role in our kids’ and their team’s experience on the field.  Beyond wins and losses, individual successes and failures, and their experience with their teammates off the field, parents can greatly impact a player’s perspective on each season, positively or negatively.

My parents were my biggest cheerleaders, supporters, and motivators through my childhood all the way up to the major leagues.  They let me know when I played the game the right way, let me know when I did not, and pushed me in the right direction when I needed a push.  They lived the parent experience from the stands like all of us do now.  They were excited with wins and empathetic with losses.   They secretly questioned coaches, umpires, teammates, and my decisions on the field.  They were no different from any other parent as they watched their son try to figure this game out.

They played their role as parents and supporters of my experience on and off the field masterfully.  They were cheerleaders in the stands, and coaches on the way home from the game.  They were always helping me when I needed help away from the field, but let the coaches coach when they were in charge.   They never declined an opportunity to play catch with me or throw  batting practice (my dad’s shoulder is now paying the price for millions of batting practice throws to my brother and I),  and they never passed up an opportunity to help me understand what the game was trying to teach me.

They always talked me through my experiences in games.  They softened my disappointment after tough games by turning losses into learning opportunities.  They made me realize early in my career that every game is a successful game…win or loss, strikeouts, home runs, errors, and everything inbetween.

Our responsibility as parents is not to compete alongside our kids while they are competing, but to support them and help them navigate through the successes and failures of competitive sports.  Let them compete, fail, learn, and work toward success as a result of their experiences.  Guide them along the way so that they know the correlation of work and improvement.  Teach them the concept that playing time is not a right but a privilege, and playing time is not always there for us when we want it.  We have to earn it..every day.

Every team, and every role on each team is different.  Every player must learn how to add value to each team that they are on, and that value is not always from being the star, hitting 3rd and playing shortstop every inning.

We must teach them (from our own actions) that an umpire’s bad call is an opportunity to overcome adversity and that some aspects of a game are out of their control.  A bad call is not an opportunity to tell the umpires how bad they are from the dugout or the stands.  Umpires do not yell at players when they make an error, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt when they make a mistake.

A coach’s decision to not play your son in a game or two is not personal.  It is an opportunity for your son to communicate with the coach to learn how he needs to improve and compete for more playing time.  It is not an opportunity to openly bash the coach and his decisions, in the stands or on the way home from games.  Hearing a negative opinion of a coach only diminishes the player’s view of his coach and his overall experience with his team.  Openly criticizing a coaches decision teaches your son a reaction to adversity that you would never want him copying as a player, a student, or as a co-worker in a business environment.  Even though you do not agree with a coach’s decision, you will not change his/her mind by going negative, especially in front of other parents and your son.

Coaching or yelling instruction to our kids from the stands is at a minimum confusing for the players, and potentially embarrassing for the player and the team.  If we are able (against our instinct) to sit back and let the only voices of instruction come from the dugout, they will bond better with their coaches and teammates, and learn as a team on the field.

We want our players to communicate freely with their teammates and coaches on the field in a time-sensitive and pressure filled environment.  We want them to rely on their teammates and decisions in the moment.  We want our young players to take responsibility for their decisions and actions, and learn from their mistakes when they make them.  We want our kids to be independant thinkers, leaders, and great teammates by staying accountable to their team at all times.  Parents yelling instruction from the stands is often subtracting from these learning opportunities, and adding a distraction for a player in an already distraction-filled setting.

Playing sports is an incredible opportunity for young athletes to learn about teammwork, performing under pressure, and managing adversity.  It is also a great opportunity for parents to teach our kids the right way to react to this adversity, to learn from failures, and to take the “I” out of  team.

This game prepares us for life.  The successes, failures, disappointments, dealing with bosses (coaches) of all types and difficult teammates.  It is not all about the wins and losses, but the journey it takes us on that prepares us for the next phase of our lives.

Our responsibility as parents is to play the part of “perspective police”.  It is staying positive when our kids go negative.  It is to get our kids to understand that each practice, game, and experience is an opportunity to learn and improve.  It is to teach our kids the correlation between work ethic and success.  It is about reacting gracefully to coach and umpire decisions that do not go our way, or when opposing teams or coaches are not showing great sportsmanship.

Our role as a parent is about rising above our competitive impulses, to be the tour guide and mentor for our kids in a journey through competition so they can learn the most they can from their experiences on the field this season.

Let’s have a great 2018 season!!

–Brad Woodall

Owner- Woodall Baseball Academy and Silver Sluggers
Former Major League Player- Braves, Brewers, and Cubs
Professional Coach- Tampa Bay Rays Organization
Presenter and TV Broadcaster

10 Things to Watch in an MLB Game

Most of us are enthralled by home runs, strikeouts, diving plays, wins and losses. However, if we look closer between pitches and away from the ball, we can learn so much about why we will pay to see these players play the game.

Here are 10 things to watch in a game to teach us a lot about what great players do to compete with the best in the world:

1. Pre-Pitch Routines: One of the best things that a young player can learn from a major leaguer is the process that each player goes through to prepare for each pitch.  Professional athletes are the best in the world at what we call “working hard to relax” during games.  Taking a deep breath, active visualization, consistent focal points (feet set up, home plate, barrel of the bat, foul pole), and consistent movements before each pitch are just a few of the great examples of how the world’s best players relax under pressure.  A player’s routine before each pitch is their secret sauce for consistent preparation to compete every pitch in a game.

2. Pitch Sequencing:  Young players can learn so much from getting involved in the game on TV.  Play the game with the MLB players.  Put yourself in the batters box against Clayton Kershaw.  Guess along with the hitter as he tries to predict what pitch or location is coming next.  Young players strategizing within the game is a great exercise to prepare for their games on the field.  If you are a pitcher think along with the pitcher to put together a pitch sequence to get a hitter out.

3. Runners’ Leads:  Watch how baserunners take leads at first and second base.  Evaluate their footwork, their lead length, athletic positioning, and their secondary lead after the pitch.  Every step or hop has a purpose and a strategy. The name of the game is to get to the next base in every way possible.  MLB baserunners are in the business of scoring runs.  Baserunning strategy and footwork is a big part of the formula for scoring runs.

4. Player Communication:  Players are constantly communicating  between pitches.  It is tough to pick up with the camera angles, but watch how infielders talk to each other between pitches, especially when runners are on base.  Confirming how many outs, signaling who is covering on a steal, telling everyone who is covering on a ground ball to the pitcher, what pitch is coming and where to play depending on the count and hitters tendencies, and confirming with every infielder and outfielder what is happening on a bunt play are a few of the examples of communication.  Players are constantly talking to each other between pitches because there is little time to communicate during the play.  They need to be on the same page for their defense to run smoothly.

5. On Deck Process:  Mark McGuire used to stand in the on deck circle with his eyes closed visualizing his at bats in front of 50,000 fans.  Prince Fielder used to work on his timing getting his front foot down and getting to the contact position.  Watch what hitters do on deck to get ready for each at bat.

6. Coaching Strategy:  Coach along with the coach during the game.  Try to predict when and why the team might bunt or steal.  Whether they will swing on a 3-0 count.  How long will they stay with the starting pitcher before going to the bullpen?  What are they talking about during the many mound visits during the game?  Thinking along with the game makes young players much more experience when their time to be on the field and compete comes.

7.  Turns Around Bases:  Baserunners are running the bases looking for any opportunity to take the next base.  Their turns around the bases are aggressive moves.  If the outfielder bobbles, is slow getting the ball or lobs the ball in, good baserunners are looking for that opportunity to take the next base.  Great turns around bases are the first step in getting that jump to take the extra base.

8.  Fielders Footwork:  Watch how fielders prepare for each pitch.  Identify how 3rd basemen set up differently than SS and second basemen.  How outfielders set up differently from infielders.  Watch how infielders approach a ground ball with their footwork, their glove positioning and movement to get in position to throw.  Great fielders make great plays look rather easy with their footwork and glove positioning.  Pay attention to the details of their movement to see how they move into position to make great plays.  This same idea goes for catchers receiving the ball, pitchers mechanics to pitch from their windup and stretch.

9.  Hitters Taking a Pitch: Balance, great posture, hands back, eyes tracking the ball in…. Watch how great hitters take a pitch.  They often use a take as practice tracking the ball to see the ball better for the next pitch, when they swing.  Notice their balance and athletic positioning when a hitter takes a pitch.  They are always ready to swing, even when they do not swing.

10. Pitchers Holding Runners On Base:  There are many subtle ways for pitchers to hold runners on base and slow down the running game.  Holding the ball longer, head movement, various pickoff moves, quick step to reduce their time to the plate are just a few of the strategies pitchers use to keep baserunners from stealing the next base.  Young pitchers can learn a lot from watching how MLB pitchers hold runners on base.

11.  Bonus Watch– The Dugout:  The camera will often pan the dugout between pitches.  There are always many players on the top step of the dugout watching the pitcher, his pitch sequencing, how he holds runners on base.  Great players are always looking to find an edge.  Watching the game looking for any trends or tips from the other team can help them perform better during the 18 minutes of action of a baseball game.

There are so many other things we can learn from watching a major league game.  These are great ways to get you started, and to let a young player understand why baseball is really a game of strategy and anticipation for the next pitch.  Great players are great at preparing better than anyone else for the next pitch.  Watch the game to learn the details of how great players perform on the field.

Thank you for reading.  Good luck this season.

Brad Woodall
Owner- Woodall Baseball Academy and Silver Sluggers Baseball
Former Major League Player