Fountains and Drains


Liam Carroll

A highlight of the baseball coaching calendar is the American Baseball Coaches Association convention.  Every year the ABCA puts together an outstanding collection of clinicians comprising university and professional coaches and experts from fields such as strength training and sport psychology.  Thousands of coaches attend and the ink runs out as pages upon pages of notes are taken.  Between clinics coaches can visit exhibit halls where companies promote every product one could ever imagine being useful to baseball and hundreds more one couldn't.

The convention is worth a trip for the clinics and exhibits alone but what always makes the trip for me is networking, catching up with old coaching friends and making new ones.  Talking story and sharing ideas with peers is, aside from coaching itself, about the most rewarding part of the job. 

A few years ago the convention was in Orlando and my two highlights were in fact at the airport before I flew home to Vegas.  The first was getting reacquainted with an old coach of mine.  Someone tapped me on the shoulder while I was queuing to get some food.  Brandon Johnson was an Envoy coach for Major League Baseball here in 2000.  I played for Bracknell back then and it was my last year with the Junior National Team; Brandon was involved with both programmes.  By Orlando I had learned that the best coaches are thieves and sponges: they copy and steal everything and decide what will best fit them and their programmes.  One of the things I remember best about Brandon was they way he communicated the number of outs between defensive players.  We're all familiar with a simple “one down...two down.”  Brandon's form of communication was different and kept youth players engaged.  “One in the wagon, two draggin'...two in the wagon, one draggin'.”    There are myriad things defensive players should think about and communicate before each pitch: which base to throw to? Can we make a short throw with two outs?  Who's covering the base on a steal?  Who's relaying my throw to 3rd?  The list goes on and on but in order to get players talking about those things we first need to get them to talk about more basic things like the number of outs.  Brandon's method achieved that; I use it all the time.  The only problem is that there are a few kids in Hackney who apparently didn't hear me correctly and are running around shouting about “dragons.”

The second Orlando highlight was meeting Brian Cain, a peak performance coach who works with university and professional programmes across America.  I'm very interested in “the mental game” of baseball and at that time Brian was getting ready to blow up on the baseball scene.  I saw him in the departure lounge and decided to introduce myself.  Since then I've been fortunate enough to cross paths with him several times and have stayed in touch through phone, email, and now I'm always on the lookout for his tweets.  Brian is an energy-giver who inspires people to make the best of every day and from him I've copied and stolen many things which have influenced my coaching style and have implemented into my programmes.  So that this blog entry doesn't turn into a novel I'll write about just a few: leadership, fountains and drains.

As coaches we are leaders.  We lead our players and other coaches and they are going to be influenced by both the things we say and the things we do.  There is absolutely a place for the quiet leader, the one who leads by example.  That person isn't a coach however, it's a player.  As coaches we have to do both because the moment we say one thing but do another, or vice versa, will be a moment one of our players is looking or listening.  The best coaches are fountains in that they give energy to their players and assistant coaches by leading with what they say as well as what they do.  Their positive message is backed up with positive body language.  Many a time I've seen a team's energy taken away by a coaches' negative message and negative body language.  That coach is a drain and it's likely their players will follow.

Something that can help us as coaches be fountains is to remember that while we can't control what happens – the umpire's call or our hitter missing a sign – we can control our reaction.  We can choose to be a fountain. 

One more thing on Brandon Johnson: I think he's still unsure why the people at KFC thought he wanted a chocolate digestive when he ordered a three-piece with a biscuit.  Alabama meets Bracknell.

tagged under: baseball, coaching, abca, leaders

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About Liam Carroll

Liam Carroll

Liam was a Regional Coach and then Development Coordinator for BaseballSoftballUK until May 2014. He returned to his hometown of London to work for BSUK in 2010 after stops in Somerset, Bristol, Cornwall, California and Nevada. Growing up playing in Britain, Liam made the move to America to study and play university baseball. After figuring out that his future would be brighter as a coach rather than player, he moved to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to finish his degree and coach college baseball. Since then he’s coached youth and adult teams on both sides of the atlantic and with the Great Britain Baseball National Teams.

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