Sunday Morning, Rain is Falling
Sundays are for rest and “family time”, which consists of me Facetiming with my wife and three boys. Throughout the week I am lucky enough to receive Marco Polos from them, as they like to show me they can hit a baseball or not hit a baseball, ride a bike down a hill, or spell a new word.
I would be ignorant and arrogant to believe that this internship opportunity came only from my hard work and openness to learning. This opportunity only exists for me because my wife is selfless and amazing.
Family is extremely important, and to be honest if you want to be a coach, someone is always making a sacrifice. Since we have been married (ten years in August), my wife has made sacrifice after sacrifice for my coaching career. I need to acknowledge her sacrifices because she is the reason I am able to do this.
When I told her I was offered the Driveline internship, without hesitation her response was, “Let’s do it, I will start packing.” She then promptly quit her dream job (as a flight nurse). Among multiple other sacrifices she has made throughout my coaching career, she has never wavered and has been 100% supportive.
After I Facetime, I find myself sitting on a couch recapping the past week. I reflect on what I learned and what I need to continue to work on. I go over my notes and immediately the feelings of anticipation and excitement build for the upcoming week.
Now that it is mid-February, the training slows down, which really just means less trash-talking. There are still plenty of things that need to get done, and there are plenty of projects happening here at Driveline (I may or may not be working on one myself).
One current set of projects is the Driveline Baseball certifications. I have personally done the hitting certification and will talk more about that in another article, but the certification that I want to focus on right now is the youth development certification, which I have been working on this week.
As a father of three boys who have broken three TVs with baseballs, I am really excited about what Deven Morgan is doing here at Driveline.
Deven is the Director of Youth Baseball, and when I asked if he started Driveline’s youth development program, he modestly replied, “Oh no, it was definitely running prior to my showing up.” I wanted to hear more about the history of the program. This is what he told me:
“When I first started bringing D [aka Danny, his son] down, it was January / February of ‘18. Jason, Gordo, and Joel were running the hitting side of things and Bryan Leslie was running the throwing side. Clearly all Dudes. My understanding is that we have had youth training in one form or another for basically the entire duration of the company’s history—I mean Herbie is probably the OG of all OG Driveline trainees and he started with Kyle when he was like…14? I started working at Driveline in June of ‘18. I guess I took a little more of an active role in the youth off-season leading into the ‘19 season, then more so this current youth off-season. Either way, the majority of the credit goes to the trainers. I’ve just been fortunate both initially as a parent and then later as a co-worker to have just a never-ending torrent of Dudes in our company to bounce questions off of, give me ideas, and generally execute a program that I’m really proud to be involved with.”
If you follow Deven on Twitter, you most likely see his two kids throwing fire or hitting bombs. He also runs Driveline’s youth training from the R&D building. Kids are everywhere in this building once youth training starts. I sit at my desk, earphones out, as I read or write, just listening to the laughter and joy of the athletes.
When you’re a dad, listening to your kids’ laughter is the most enjoyable sound you can hear, and I currently miss that right now. As a coach, I want to see athletes, young or old, having fun while competing at a high level. That’s a sign of peak performance and learning.
The training starts at 6:30 pm and runs until 8:30 on Wednesday nights, and on Sundays goes from 1 pm to 5 pm. Most of the kids go back and forth between throwing and hitting drills, and there’s no doubt that you will hear John Soteropulos’ enthusiasm as he coaches and cheers on the kids: “One more! One more!” or “Foul ball! Doesn’t count! One more chance to get your PR!”
Other trainers that help out on these days are Alex Valasek and Maxx Garrett. These guys are making an impact on these kids that will last them a lifetime. Watching these camps bring back vivid memories of my younger years as a kid. I could tell you what the day was like, the drills we did, and what I was wearing.
The Youth Development certification is unparalleled in today’s youth baseball world. Now, is this certification going to unlock your ability to coach in the Little League World Series, which will then propel you to a coaching position with the Yankees? Probably not. But more times than not, parents are volunteering or fulfilling an obligation to coach a team without any real knowledge of how to coach kids.
My sister coached my nephew’s tee-ball team last year because no one wanted to. My sister never played baseball or softball but grew up watching my dad coach. She knows baseball well enough, but even she admitted to struggling in the beginning. This past summer my son played on his first tee-ball team in the Midwest, and I can confidently say they didn’t play baseball, nor did it look like any form of actual baseball.
Yes, a baseball and bat were involved, but let’s just say my son might have been the only kid wearing baseball pants and leave it at that.
God bless the people that volunteer their time and energy, but if we in the baseball community are going to allow that, then let’s set up the youth for success. This certification gives coaches the structure to start developing young baseball players. When kids feel like they are improving, they tend to have more fun, which tends to keep them in baseball longer.
An update on the assessment process: I went through the second round of assessments and did way better. This time the “new trainee” showed up late on purpose and my proctor wanted to see how well I managed the time. The second time around I felt pretty comfortable with what was happening. K-Vest didn’t work again during my assessment time. But, all in all, I was happy with my progression and am getting more comfortable with running an athlete through the assessment. Round three will be next week. Let’s see how I fare…
Philosophy Before Driveline
Fundraising is a necessity in almost every college program. I haven’t done a study nor do I have any numbers to back it up, but the teams that fundraise the most will likely have a better chance to win, in my opinion.
Fundraising allows for the opportunity to:
- pay coaches more (usually resulting in better coaching)
- buy better equipment and improve facilities (resulting in better player development, which means better players)
- get nicer things like jerseys and better food on the road and nicer hotels (resulting in the possibility of recruiting and bringing in better players)
- get involved with multiple communities (the college, local community, and families of players), which will develop a strong culture in the present and future.
Before coming to Driveline Baseball, I saw different ways to run youth camps as fundraisers (I have been a part of some as well). They are geared towards getting the community involved with your program and are usually a way to pay assistants.
These camps have very good intentions, but most of the time lack quality baseball instruction. College players are forced to volunteer and to interact with the kids at the camp, while assistant coaches monitor, give instruction and yell, “Rotate!” I think we can do better, and Driveline Youth Development can help.
Philosophy After Driveline
As a baseball community, we need to practice more and play travel games less. I believe that in the practice setting there should be more gamification.
I have believed this for a while because I grew up around one of the best little league coaches ever: my dad (Biased? Absolutely. But correct? Absolutely). He found a way to develop kids, taught them how to play the game of baseball, taught them to love the game baseball, taught them to love to compete, and never had them focus on winning or losing.
I loved playing for my dad—his practices were almost always more fun than the games. But more importantly, other parents and my little league teammates loved playing for my dad, too. I remember after draft nights, parents from my dad’s previous teams would call him to see if their son or daughter was on his team.
Quick story: my dad coached little league for nine years in the 1990s, and during those nine years, three girls tried out. My dad drafted two of them. Now, I’ve got nothing against girls playing baseball, but as a 90’s kid, I was shocked, to say the least. He worked tirelessly to make sure he could communicate the game to children between the ages of seven and twelve.
I tell you this story because I recognize my dad’s philosophy in the Driveline youth development certification. It has structure and key ingredients to help anyone become a good Little League coach. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money buying videos on how to be a coach or books on how to structure practice (I would definitely recommend it though) because you can get all that coaching and instruction in the youth certification.
Why am I talking about youth development in baseball? No reason, other than that it’s absolutely necessary. Every time I go to a Little League game, the level of play at the given level just seems worse.
A lot of youth camps that colleges run are great for kids because it gets them on a field, are a great means of raising money for the program and are also a great opportunity for college players to give back.
Where is it going wrong? Most of these camps are weekend or week-long camps and unfortunately, there’s not much you can cover in that amount of time.
There are a large number of schools that offer exercise science degrees or minors in coaching, recreational leadership, or at least offer a coaching class. If I were a head coach, I would go straight to the head of the department of those fields and find a way to get the Driveline Youth Development Certification offered to students in those departments.
It would also help the resumes of players that have these majors. They probably want to work with kids in some capacity if they are taking these classes. When your players graduate with a degree in recreational leadership, they would also get to put the youth development certification on their resume. It might be another way to recruit players, and maybe even get one or two more coveted recruits.
This certification could also open up doors for your assistants, student assistants, and graduate assistants. Money is tight in most cases and non-existent for some of these positions, why not look into introducing them to a high-quality certification program that is also very affordable. If your assistants know how to run an efficient youth camp, it could become a source of supplemental income to help them stay on staff until a better opportunity comes along.
Youth development is not going to be a key ingredient to winning a national championship at the college level; however, it is a very important link between your program and your local baseball community.
So even though your passion may not be coaching youth, at some point you may get an opportunity or you could even be the lone volunteer.
Driveline’s Youth Development Certification will give you a good foundation so that you can both enjoy coaching at the youth level and do it properly. Do you need a certification to coach Little League? Probably not, but this will definitely provide context and help you develop your players, which may even keep everyone in baseball a little longer (which is what we need in the baseball community).
We need more educated coaches, running fun and efficient practices, teaching the game of baseball and keeping kids playing the game longer. If you’re an 8U coach that is obsessed with tracking wins, well, there are at least four wins in that previous sentence.