Academy Baseball keeps getting better

Mon 9 Dec 2013

BSUk Academy Baseball LogoContinuous improvement has been a goal at Academy Baseball for a long time.  But this autumn, under new Academy director Liam Carroll, there have been changes to the training programme, the introduction of specific themes for each session and a focus on game-like situations.

In this article, Liam sets out the philosophy that now drives Academy Baseball and pays tribute to some of those who work behind the scenes:
 

by Liam Carroll

I mentioned in a blog my trepidation before the first BSUK Academy Baseball practice of the winter in November.  But these feelings passed quickly thanks to our coaches and staff rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job.

One of the things that has impressed me most since becoming Director of Academy Baseball is how so many people like Phil Edmonds are willing to devote their time to make it happen.  I don’t know whether it’s an innate or learned trait or because his son is involved, but whatever the reason, I can’t help but admire the service shown to British Baseball by Phil.  As a coach with the Horsham Hornets and General Manager of the GB Juniors, he already handles more than his fair share of volunteering duties – but on top of those roles he also serves as the administrator of Academy Baseball.  It’s a role that requires long days and little thanks.

BSUK Academy BaseballWhile I would guess that Phil is happy to remain in the shadows, I think that it’s important to recognise and thank the volunteers who are not just making Academy Baseball happen, but are making it one of the best things going on in all of British Baseball.  With two national practices under our belt and the first regional practice set for 14 December, I couldn’t be happier with the direction that Academy Baseball is taking.
 

Changes

Academy Baseball was by no means broken before this winter’s practices started.  Every spring, the players who attend the Academy over the winter are better prepared for the season.  However, with our desire for continuous improvement and wanting to put my own stamp on the programme, we have made some changes.

As in the past, we hold national practices in Milton Keynes and regional practices in the North and South.  Over 100 10-25-year-old players are registered, with clubs from all over the country represented.  It can be difficult to cater for individual needs when delivering a practice to so many players, but the ratio of players to coaches continues to improve and at our most recent practice it was great to see examples of stations with a coach for every five players.

A change to the structure of the Academy this year has been to include a theme for each practice, which to date have been “Win This Pitch” and “Teamwork.”  The implementation of these themes has reinforced a progressive framework for player development that will continue throughout the winter. 
 

Win the Pitch

Our “Win This Pitch” practice focused on individual skills and approaches and encouraged players to treat every repetition as an individual competition.

Like any other sport, the better the athlete is able to stay in the present moment, the better their chances of success.  Playing an entire game one pitch at a time is a mental challenge and I would argue especially difficult for a British player because they play games only one or two days a week.  Incorporating a “Win This Pitch” mentality into practice enables our players to be in a game-like setting more often.

It won’t replace game experience, but I’m confident that if our Academy players focus on playing the game one pitch at a time with their BBF clubs they will be better ballplayers.

Teamwork

In the “Teamwork” practice, we put individual skills in game-like situations.  Our coaches stressed to players that they need to execute their part of a play in order to enable their teammates to execute the next part.  To do this, a player must have a plan.

I think that giving our players a plan is one area where Academy Baseball is doing a phenomenal job.  One of the best things about our sport is that while there is no clock, time is massively important; the slightest miscue in the execution of a skill can add the fraction of a second that is the difference between out and safe, fair and foul or swing and miss. 

At Academy Baseball we’re striving to educate our players with a new level of detail about what success looks like.  The attention to detail means that players will understand how their role in a given situation is dependent on the execution of someone else’s role.  It encourages personal responsibility to master individual skills, communication to learn about the preferences of teammates and accountability for recognising mistakes.

Combined with “Win This Pitch”, it enables our players to practice learning from a mistake and then move on to the next repetition.
 

Strength and Conditioning

Just as in the wider baseball world, we have made progress in areas such as Strength and Conditioning.  This is largely thanks to having Alan Dean on staff, a Strength and Conditioning professional with lots of letters after his name.

As with skill-specific work, much of the Strength and Conditioning work that is done at the Academy is suitable for players to practice safely at home.  Our players are always encouraged to put the work in between sessions and reminded that it’s the commitment they make at home that will determine whether they reach their potential.
 

Baseball IQ

While areas such as Strength and Conditioning, mental skills training and vision training get lots of attention from coaches across the sport, another that seems to get overlooked is Baseball IQ.

Learning the game is often perceived as something you can only do through playing.  However, just as we can practice throwing and hitting and can get faster and stronger, our players can also improve their Baseball IQ.  As well as improving their skills and athleticism they must become smarter ballplayers.  Further, a savvy player can make up for not being the most physically gifted.  To that end, Academy Baseball now includes theory sessions.

Our first theory session was built into the Teamwork practice and included quizzes and discussions about situational hitting.  We focused particularly on the hit-and-run, a great example of how the success of one player executing a plan impacts another’s success.  At the least, an Academy player should have a great plan should his club coach put on a hit-and-run next season.  At the most, I hope we are instilling a desire to become a student of the game.
 

Great experience

With our next Academy practice less than a week away, I am focused on putting together a practice plan that will give our players another great experience.

It’s difficult, however, not to think about the bigger picture – specifically, how the programme is impacting the future of British baseball.  Building on a great tradition, the quality of playing and coaching at Academy Baseball gets better and better and it’s exciting to think about how this can carry over to the BBF leagues.

We will end this cycle of Academy Baseball with a series of games at Farnham Park on 22-23 March, and I can’t wait to gear down the instruction and let the players go out and play.  Further ahead, if every Academy player and coach goes about things with their clubs in the same way they do in Milton Keynes, then we are in for a great future.

There are lots of ways of doing things and I don’t think the Academy Baseball way is the only way.  But it is a great way and I hope to see the many Academy players trying to “Win This Pitch” for seasons to come.

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