Eyes and Ears


John Mills

A coach I knew some years ago used to say to his young players, "Eyes and Ears!"  He said this to make sure they were attending to his instructions and encouragement.  He also used to ask the question, "What is the most important part of the body for baseball?"  Of course you will think of all of the answers which would have followed this question, most of which are very important indeed.  But the answer he was looking for and seldom received was "ears".  If you don't hear, you can't listen and if you don't listen you don't know and if you don't know you can't do.  That, I guess, was the gist of it.

I had a brief conversation with a colleague recently that revealed several innocent insights into youth baseball here in the UK.  My friend, a coach, explained to his young team that he might use words or phrases, maybe give out instructions, which a player might not understand.  Being part of a performance team brings a need for more in-depth knowledge of the game. The players were urged to ask for clarification if necessary.  Now, youngsters might hide ignorance rather than look silly.  One youngster asked innocently, "Coach, what is tagging up?"  He might have missed the club session where this lesson was taught or his learning might have been assumed by other coaches.  I guess that, as youth coaches in the UK, we cannot assume knowledge as if it was learned by osmosis over many years; instead, coaches have to make sure that there are opportunities for young players to gain the knowledge.  I suppose that the player concerned just copied others and hoped for the best.  Assumption is the mother of all mess-ups!

Another youngster commented that in his team back home, he was one of the best, maybe the best player.  However he realised, while playing in a European tournament, that he wasn't very good at all!  I don't know who the young player is but I do know that he has laid a foundation and identified motivation to be the best he can be.  In order to set a goal for development as a player or as a coach one must know present whereabouts!  It's rather like a navigational challenge.  As an orienteer years ago it mattered little to me how good my off-road shoes were, or how expensive my compass, even how detailed my map.  If I didn't know where I was, I had a hard job setting a course to reach my destination.  Accepting where you are is the first step in making progress.

As a coach and also an umpire, we look and listen.  The foot on the bag and the ball in the glove tell us safe or out.  Often, we need a snapshot to freeze movement for analysis.  Another coach I knew used to say "take a picture".  Freeze the movement and look for the one thing that will make a difference and work at that thing.  One thing at a time.  One pitch at a time.  One play at a time.  We have so many tools now.  Instant replays on the smart phone give video analysis that was not possible ten years ago.  You say you don't have a hole in your swing?  Here, have a look at this!  Hmmm.....!

This weekend the adult season continues and the youth baseball season begins.  Do we all have a map of where we want our season to go?  Do we know where we are right now?  How will we be able to track and check progress?  Have we asked the right questions?  Are we still making assumptions?  When we run out on to the field will we be using eyes and ears to give us an edge?  Lets all try our best to be the best we can be, as a player or as a coach or manager.

tagged under: coaching, team

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About John Mills

John Mills

John was the National Development Manager at BaseballSoftballUK responsible for coaching matters in British baseball and softball, until October 2012. He started professional life as a teacher back in the late 60s, and worked in Sheffield, the Bahamas and Cheshire with other employment in Cumbria for the Outward Bound Trust and at various centres in North Wales.  Academically a physical geographer, John’s early teaching revolved around outdoor education. He has taught mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing, caving and orienteering, and at one time or another was qualified to lead and instruct in all of these sports.  While working in Nassau, John became heavily involved in SCUBA diving, photography and marine conservation.  John’s involvement in baseball began in 1996 with the formation of the Halton Polecats Baseball Club, which¬†his two sons joined. The Halton club renamed their Runcorn-based baseball diamond as ‘John Mills Ballpark’.

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