Note: this blog has the newest posting at the top.
To complete our coverage of Anaheim, we have posted some of the video interviews done by Richard Todd. These were done either on site, or on the road trip, or as a follow up to the 2012 ABCA event. The quality is not great, everything was caught "on the fly", but we hope the content is helpful (and we'll work on doing better next time.)
Home safe and sound - well safe anyway... sound is a judgement call. This is, therefore, my last filing in the road trip adventure, but far from the last you'll hear from me when it comes to new ideas both from the ABCA, and the road, and afterwards.
Today's plan was to do a couple of interviews, one in Portland and one in Seattle. The first happened and continued from a great evening last night. The reason I found it interesting is that Bill Mooney of Bioforce Baseball deserves a lot more credit than he often gets for his insights into baseball instruction, player development, and how to bring different sources into a teaching system.
Like many of the best brains in the game, he has at times been hesitant to put his thoughts into concrete form. And I know why... writing is hard work. In fact any labor of love is a challenge on many levels. What makes what Bill is working on now so intriguing is that will address the very issues of why we struggle with providing good coaching, and why most coaches are reluctant to open their players to ideas beyond the norm. And the great thing is, Bill's ideas go back to a very unexpected source... research done after WWII as to why - and how - some navy warships before better than others. It wasn't the ships, it was te crew - the team if you will.
I don;t want to steal is thunder on this and how it relates to our game. But by putting these hints out there, I hope I have kindled the fire that will lead to important new insights for us all.
Up to you now, Bill.
Also expected today was the follow up to the comments I made in the Jan 11 blog about another source of ideas. For uncertain reasons - which I assure everyone has nothing to do with my skepticism about promised revelations - the launch of this new venture has been delayed, the clock set back 24 hrs.
I read nothing into the delay except "stuff happens". I'm sure it is still coming and after it appears, I will find a time and place to comment. The author expects me to be nothing but critical. I may surprise him. Just because I don't like the tone of a bold claim, doesn't mean I will outright rejection the ideas. Every idea from every source deserve consideration - and reasoned argument.
Okay, first lesson from today - driving by baseball fields and seeing no one playing is no fun - even if it is January and the wind is howling. I am so anxious for this season to start but once you leave the cocoon of the sun belt you realize first hand how disadvantaged the rest of the US (and Canada) is when it comes to baseball playing opportunities. I envy those in Australia and elsewhere in the southern half who are now in summer season.
Lesson two, nothing is more enjoyable than an evening with pleasant company talking about the game, the state of instruction, and why coaching is where it's at right now.
The irony of that conversation over dinner and beyond, is that I come back to my hotel room, check my email, and find a promise by someone to solve all our problems by 9 pm on Jan. 12th.
In part he says...
"I'm going to expose 2 very troublesome trends that are affecting our game. Those who get upset...I don't care they're part of the problem." The site itself says nothing yet except it will be "The Day We Reinvent Baseball Instruction".
Well, gosh, I feel so stupid. As I said to him... "I sure hope you've got it figured. Cause I've come back from a wknd with a whole bunch of people and no one has all the answers, nor would they claim to, and anyone who would have suggested to that group that they did have it figured out - in fact a couple of guys who were that bold - got shot down in flames."
Tomorrow I will now either waste my time interviewing 2 or 3 very knowledgeable baseball people, or I will sit on my hands waiting for 9 pm when all my problems will be over.
First day on the road away from Anaheim, but the memories of people encountered and lessons learned will stay with me, I'm sure, for a long time. While today was a non-baseball day in terms of actual activities, I have been chatting with people about the event.
Following my blast about over-selling instructors, I received an email from an activate WebBall participant who added fuel. i will not say who this is, and will not cite people he might have mentioned by name but here's an excerpt...
It seldom fails to amaze me how much $$$ has infected the game, and I chose that word purposefully. What used to be one of the purest forms of adults helping children, has turned into nothing less than just another niche that can be exploited, and for a pretty fair return in many instances. I don't begrudge anyone being paid for work they do or intellectual property theycreate, but jeez, its gotten to the point in baseball where its becoming nearly impossible to tell the players without a scorecard.
Having been to a few conventions, I can only imagine the pummeling those attending what you did, were subjected to. But what's anyone going to do? Now that $$$ have become such a large part of the youth baseball experience, and people actually expect to spend lots of $$$ for what they get, I don't see any way to put the cat back in the bag. Its all become so complicated, with the focus no longer being to just have fun playing a great game. Now almost everything is geared TO THE NEXT LEVEL, whatever it may be.
I suppose its not as bad as I perceive it to be, but it sure ain't like the old days, is it?
While I provided an immediate response to him about where to draw the line. I thought about his comment more afterwards. So here's a tip (free) for any one with a product to sell who plans to be at the show to present ideas as well. Get help. Have a support staff. When I think of examples of guys who did it well, they took care of offering advice and others handled the business side. Those who had to wear both hats often tripped over themselves often without realizing it.
What does this teach us about coaching? We need to know ourselves and work with in that framework. If you are a good mentor on the mental game then be that and let someone else throw B.P. or work with the pitchers. If you're better as a base-running or defensive coach, then be that and let someone else handle other duties. If you know more about pitching, coincide to others on glove work or team organization, etc.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from all the instructors at a weekend like this is to not only know your limitations, but your potential. How much better would you be in your area of expertise (pitching, hitting, breathing) if you could spend less time on other things?
I don't have the answer for you. I will continue to seek it for me.
The final day of the conference (although this blog should continue for the next few days with other baseball encounters as they happen.)
The morning presentations were (typically) not well attended as Sunday is "get out of town day" for most coaches attending. Those who did stay were treated to some of the best insights of all...
- First a very unique perspective on hitting - both the things that are fundamental and those merely stylistic - this from Mark Kingston
- Then a session on aggressive baserunning by Coach Bakich of U.Maryland - ideas that will find their way into our series on the base path.
But for me the highlight of the day was the hour spent with Alan Jaeger. This was a one-on-one once the conference ended. Part of it was a frank (off the record) exchange of opinions, but I did video tape some of our conversation and I hope to have that posted on WebBall after some iMovie editing.
Let me give you the synopsis now.
We basically did the on-camera part on two topics...
- His breathing/meditation routine which he had demonstrated the night before with a group of coaches.
- And his originality in bringing Yoga positions into the baseball realm.
On the meditation exercise (which I have used with one of my teams and intend to do for myself as well), what struck me most is how much it can create calmness but also energy renewal. I now that many coaches will view the commitment of 10 minutes out of practice as time they can ill-afford, but Alan considers it as important as any other drill the team might run, and I agree. I am extremely optimistic that he will soon have a full-on video version to offer. If it doesn't come soon I'll do my own and, trust me, you'd rather have his.
Yoga is simply a surprising convergence of traditional poses which appear absolutely connected with many of the important mechanical check points we use in baseball. His theory is that the great yoga gurus and the baseball gurus either share the same DNA or (if you accept such things) are one and the same people through a long change of reincarnation.
I know, it sounds radically, and for many it is beyond leading edge stuff, but I remember 20 years ago when no team in baseball had a conditioning coach, now all the pros do. And many are starting to call on "mental training" coaches as well - although they might call these guys "performance" coaches because "mental" still has connotations too far out of the norm.
For the rest of us, given the number of instructors at the ABCA focused on this new, spiritual thinking, it is only a matter of time. And - as with so many training ideas - it will push up from the bottom. I see that coming and so does Alan.
Aside from specifics, what I admire about Alan - and I have told him so directly - is that he is a purest. When he instructor that is all he does, he makes no attempt to sell you on anything but the concept that has him enthralled. Part of his reasoning for that will be on the video clips. And, I hope to have much, much more to add to WebBall in the coming months from Alan.
Sidebar: Mental training ideas can come from anywhere. My wife found a Disney t-shirt earlier (this is Anaheim after all), it was for a young girl, had a Tinkerbell image (a very no-nonsense pose), with the phrase "It's all about attitude."
The interview with Alan was a wonderful note on which to end the ABCA weekend. But it is only the beginning of my next few months of training discovery, product innovation, starting with contacts on the way home. (I am still firming up those plans. If you haven't heard back from me, please get in touch again.)
Another great day of overwhelming ideas - in both traditional "speaker" driven sessions and what was build as a hot stove discussion. What was most interesting was the reaction to many speakers by coaches - inevitably there were presenters who generally received favorable response from almost all listeners, but other instructors seemed to create both hot and cold reactions.
I think it's a predictable human response. Yes we all come to these events looking for new ideas... but apparently it doesn't hurt to have your prior belief system reinforced. In fact, I caught myself doing that a few times and had to stop myself. After all, the point of WebBall is to not accept the norm, but to question, to seek out new ideas, to boldly go where... (you get the idea).
I found myself most surprised by some clinicians who I expected to be oriented in one direction yet they turned my head around to another perspective, another way to tackle a training challenge. Those I will be talking about a lot - A LOT - on WebBall in the comings weeks and months as the 2012 season gets under way.
Two quick examples...
- Bruce Brown who talked about senior players serving breakfast to and carrying the gear for team rookies. THat's too simplistic but it was one of his examples of how programs develop continuity and leadership.
- Geoff Miller who made us realize how important coaching gestures are in communicating either defeatist or winning attitudes.
On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed whenever I encountered a presenter who seemed way more focused on shilling his products than providing insights. I get that it's a challenge for all of us who serve as suppliers to the baseball community. But I have always considered myself a coach first and I came here to learn. If you have something to sell me, I'm okay with that - but first, because I have paid to sit in the audience, let me get what I already paid for. If what you say is worthwhile, I'll find a way to get in touch with you. Your ideas should sell themselves.
Sorry, that was a bit of venting and while no names were mentioned, if anyone reads the paragraph above and thinks I might be talking about them, well I as Carly Simon once sang: "you probably think this song is about you." The tile of that song of course is "You're so vain." And- hey - if anyone catches me doing that you have my permission to call me on it.
Last session are in the morning and then I am on the road north with more baseball stops along the way.
Back at the computer after yet another day of information overload at the ABCA. This time let 's focus on the instructional/coaching side of the event.
Instructional opportunities at these events breakdown into 3 components...
- The formal scheduled presentations by high-reputation college and high school baseball programs.
- The even more formal awards presentations.
- And the many scheduled and unscheduled side events (hot stoves, hallway conversations, bar encounters, and private invite events.)
Guess which ones I prefer? Absolutely the 3rd kind... informal, unpredictable, and a wealth of knowledge from unexpected sources. But, to be honest, as one coach from Europe said to me there are conflicting opinions and approaches and it's hard to know who to follow or believe.
My advice to the novice clinic attendee is to start with the schedule (but take breaks, they can be mind-numbing) and compare notes with fellow coaches over lunch, etc. If you've done these enough, you start to understand what it is you need to know or refine that will help your own game plan.
However, it's taken me years to learn how to be a sponge AND a filter (must be both) and I have been known to follow the wrong path and risk falling off the edge... "Here there be dragons."
The oddest situation is when a respected clinician will ask me to comment on something he just said to a coach (only happens in sidebar situations), and I will say in my own words what I think. Here's the shocking discovery... the clinician may be surprised when I use other words and interpret his ideas differently than he intended.
It's what we all must do - acquire and adapt. For instance, countless times I heard one instructor paraphrase something I heard years back from someone else. But the sourcing is always in doubt... did A here it from B or did they both hear it from C? More likely instructor A heard it from C and B got it from D or E and it originated with instructor F, G, H, K, or who knows when or where.
I really want to give you some specifics right now, but that would be a mistake and unfair... I need to process and analyze and get comfortable with - and only then - regurgitate what I've learned that (I think) makes sense for you and me.
One additional insight I'll share now - after listening to a series of award recipients. If you know the old expression "there are no atheists in foxholes" let me add to it... "there are no atheists in foxholes or dugouts." That might not be true with a younger generation, but certainly appears to be the case with the generation older than my own (and I ain't no young-un.)
After tomorrow's sessions I might add to the above or create a series of post eventv blogs starting next week based on my processing ideas. Either way, much more to follow.
Where to start... an amazing day and my head is swimming with ideas and information. Some details will wait until WebBall has had more time to evaluate products and consider the validity of some coaching ideas. But let me begin with some some "shoot from the hip" impressions.JAN 4
First, as expected it was an afternoon and evening to renew old aquantances and meet some folks for the first time. Some names familiar to WebBallers would be Perry Husband, Ron Wolforth, Tom Hanson, Alan Jaeger, Pete Wilkinson and others. Some first-time face-to-face encounters were with people who you might know for their products which we feature, but not their names...
- Paige Bishop who is the guy behind the Pitching Pad and Target Pad.
- Robert Oates of Oates Specialties (TAP balls)
- Robert DeCloss of Wheelhouse Batting Cages
- Mike Schmidt Snr who started the company which supplies our Osborne screens and White Line products
- Duggan Moran of Crossover Symmetry (they have a new product/upgrade which we'll be introducing soon.)
- Paul Hataway of Staler Radar
For my thinking the important thing about there folks is not that I know them better now, but that it should reinforce our ability to provide you with good customer services.
But this was also about new encounters, coaches, potential products, etc. And what struck me (more shooting from the hip) was the ease with which you can divide new products into 3 categories...
- Inventions which could really change the way we coach baseball
- Products that would be good if only their inventors had a clue about marketing
- And stuff that we will absolutely not waste your time on - I almost felt sorry for the number of companies who think they have a great idea which will never find a market, and the number of people who think being the 7th or 8th choice in an already saturated category was a good idea.
Without naming names let me give you some examples. As - or if - they find their way to the pages of WebBall, we'll have more to say about these and others, but until then I won't reveal their names.
There's a new tee I really like, but half the guy's marketing literature was wasted on color choice, as if that matters. The idea is sound and he can be helped, but there are a lot of stubborn inventors in the world and here's how I see it... if he won't take advice from us, will he really listen to customers? I hope so, we'll work on it.
Then there are the new entries in the screens & netting category. I felt most sorry for a company that spent a lot on a very large floor space... I saw no one bothering to visit and no one came and talked to me while I stood for a minute examining the product. It's not that they should know or care abut WebBall, but could they afford to ignore any potential buyer? The only saving grace for them is that other companies wasted even more space on items that gathered neither a crowd nor any chance of sales.
Another over-milked category is software for analysis. Someone told me there is a $6 app you can buy so who the heck will pay $300-$2,000 for the same capability? It has to be a killer app for it to break through into a crowded segment.
There were also a lot of clothing companies represented. As a clever coach (okay it was Pete Wilkinson) said to me, that stuff is ordered over the phone, that's where customer service matters, not at a trade show. On the other hand, it is an opportunity for tangible assessment (aka touchy-feely) and I have to admit that's something that a website like ours has trouble providing. I hope my own physical experience with some products will substitute for your own.
I also spent much of the evening in instructional discussions, but I need to digest the ideas longer, and tomorrow will be filled with more of that, so let's see how that play out.
The whole experience is a lot of fun, and you should go.
More traveling, more plans being formulated. About the closest I came to anything baseball on day 3 was a drive-by of Candlestick Park and a few more school backstops planted here and there along our route. No interviews today, but heard from another California-based .instructor who has made a major impact on baseball I have been invited to a special side session he's doing Thurs. evening. It will be a nice change from roaming the exhibits in the afternoon. I'm also wondering how to handle the information overload about to hit me in the next 3 days. My "role" as a "filter" should be put to the test. I guess we'll find out together.