SAYING GOOD-BYE TO 2014 – part 2

One of the things that I am most grateful for and more than a little bit amazed about is where my work for the Reds has taken me. Last year at this time I was working with kids in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Today I’m reporting on a clinic I just finished in Doha, Qatar. In fact, I’m writing this post during a lengthy layover in Abu Dhabi on my way home.

First of all, for the geographically impaired, Doha sits on the Persian Gulf and is the capital of Qatar. Qatar is small but according to Wikipedia, the wealthiest (per capita) country in the world. It is also part of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and an ally of the U.S in the current conflict in Iraq and Syria. To answer the most frequent question I get about my trips to the Middle East…yes, I felt safe.

How did I find myself in the Middle East, you ask? It started when some folks from Dubai read one of my blogs and decided to send their kids to Reds Camp in Centerville. That experience led to what has amounted to almost a baseball/softball exchange program. Under the leadership of Team Rhino Sports based in Dubai, nearly 40 kids from the Middle East attended camps this past summer at the Reds Urban Youth Academy and that led to a request to do a camp in Doha. Mystery solved.

So, with passport in hand, Reds Camps Field Director, Rick Blyberg, and I made the 14 hour flight to Doha. As you may guess, baseball is not real big in Qatar. But don’t tell that to the kids at the American School of Doha. While there were kids from New Zealand, Great Britain, Venezuela and Malaysia, the bulk of the campers were the children of American “expats.” These are American citizens whose jobs have landed them in Qatar and keeping baseball alive in their childrens’ lives is important. That’s a “call” that I’m more than happy to answer. These kids love baseball.

Thanks to a school principal who is an avid baseball fan, the American School of Doha is home to the only baseball field in the country. And it’s a pretty nice field. Coach Blyberg and I had a blast working with this group of talented kids although the 104 degrees coupled with high humidity made things a bit tough on these old bones.

Gotta sign off. Just announced my Etihad Airlines flight is boarding.

Until next time…If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.

Coach Tim

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The morning group of campers at the American School of Doha

 

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Futuristic city? Nope, just a snippet of the skyline of Doha, Qatar

 

SAYING GOOD-BYE TO 2014

Billy Hatcher with camp girl

I was so hoping that I’d be writing this blog about my experiences at the World Series featuring our Reds…reporting on fun and pertinent stuff like how Zack Cozart made that game saving play in Game 5 just like we teach at Reds Camp. And just how great it is to see a walk off hit by Brayan Pena after our camp kids found out firsthand what a terrific guy his is. But it was not meant to be. Not this year, anyway.

As I’ve now officially awoken from my summer camp “coma”  it’s time to say thanks to some very special people for making the Reds Baseball/Softball Camps even better than last year.

Every camp sold out except for the early Kentucky sites because of the extended school year brought on by that ridiculous winter we had. Still over 1,100 kids spent part of their summer with us having a blast, learning to play baseball the Reds way. We don’t anticipate adding more sites for 2015 so you might want to keep an eye on the website in December when we go “live” with the 2015 schedule.

In 2014, we made our first trip to West Virginia and WOW did they ever respond. Special thanks to the folks from the WV Hustle baseball program for their support. We held the first camp ever to be held at the new Reds Urban Youth Academy and had campers from Dubai, Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Pretty cool.

Our veteran sites at Mason High School, Centerville HS, Beechwood HS, Lexington Christian HS, Bellarmine U., Dublin Jerome HS and Fishers, IN were wonderful hosts again.

The secret to our success is really no secret. We bring good instructors to camp and work our fannies off to deliver an excellent product every day. Leading that core of instructors was, once again, Rick Blyberg, John Sullivan and Randy Henson…all three have been with us from the beginning. Thanks, guys.

A very special thanks to Coach Billy Hatcher for continuing to bring his amazing knowledge and huge personality to camp every week. #22, you’re the best. And of course a big tip of the cap to Devin Mesoraco, Jumbo Diaz, Billy Hamilton, Brayan Pena, Todd Frazier and Logan Ondrusek…you guys gave up free time to make the camp week even better for all the kids and coaches.

We concluded the camp season with another great Champions Day at GABP. This is where the kids who recorded the top scores in our Skills Competition during the summer squared off for the final time. You can see the winner’s picture and all the final scores at Reds Camp Scores.

All in all a good summer. Like you, we live and die with the Big Boys and despite the rough second half, they gave us plenty of reason to be proud of 2014 and excited about 2015. Expect camp dates to be locked down some time in December.

Until next time…If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.

Coach Tim

Team shot with Devin Mesoraco

“MOMENT OF TRUTH #3″ – BEND YOUR WRISTS AND WAVE BYE-BYE TO A GOOD SWING

If you’ve been following my last few posts, the first thing I must do is apologize for taking so long to get this one out.  2014 camp enrollments have been pounding us and I’m a bit behind. You know that I’m discussing four critical times in the swing sequence. I’ve labeled them the Four Moments of Truth. Overly dramatic? Maybe a tad. But after analyzing thousands of hitters, it’s become clear that a breakdown at any of these Moments of Truth (MOT) will severely limit the hitter’s chance for success.

In order to illustrate MOT #3 let’s go back to MOT #1. Check out the angle of Joey Votto’s cocked wrists at Heel Down.

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The angle of the bat and Joey’s top hand is just about 90 degrees.

It’s at this moment that so many hitters lay their wrists back resulting in what the Big Guys call “laying off the bat head.” This results in a longer swing (not good). This wrist angle change will result in the back elbow sliding underneath too fast and too early which drops the bat head below the hitting zone. The bat is then making contact at an aggressive uphill angle and the result is a swing under the ball or a top-spin grounder.

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This young hitter has laid his wrists back and caused the bat head to drop too far too fast.

So, what do we want the hitter to do with his wrists as he begins the swing?…nothing. That is, the hitter maintains the cocked wrist angle until they unfold just before contact. Fight the urge to make some kind of an adjustment prior to that. The wrists explode into the ball at contact…but not before. That’s why maintaining the cocked wrist angle is MOMENT OF TRUTH #3.

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See how Joey has maintained his wrist angle even as his hands pass by his back hip.

In my next post I’ll look at MOT #4… “Roll Your Wrists and Hit the Exit Ramp Off the Hitting Highway.” Until then, if you’re gonna swing might as well swing hard.

Coach Tim

 

“MOMENT OF TRUTH #2” – THE FIRST DOMINO TO FALL IN THE SWING SEQUENCE

In my last post I discussed the components of the optimum stance to generate bat accuracy and power at the point of contact. I labeled that MOMENT OF TRUTH #1. Today’s topic is a bit more controversial. I say “controversial” not because hitting experts don’t recognize that it happens; but rather because some may not give it the same emphasis as we do at the Reds Baseball Camps. This single move can set up the hitter’s lower half for success or it can betray the entire swing…and it doesn’t come naturally for hitters so we need to teach it. That’s why I think it’s critical.

So, exactly what is MOMENT OF TRUTH #2? So many times I’ve heard baseball people debate regarding the first thing that moves when we launch the bat. Invariably, there is a group that believes that the hitter “just throws his hands” at the ball. Yes, the hitter does do that…but it is by no means the FIRST thing. In fact, it’s the last thing the hitter does prior to contact.

So what’s first? Drum roll please…The inside of the back knee pinches forward and down toward the inside ankle of the front foot. It’s the Knee Pinch that keeps the hitter from spinning on his back foot. It’s the Knee Pinch that launches the back hip, which is the power center. It is the Knee Pinch that prevents the hitter from rising up on his back leg. Yes, it’s the Knee Pinch that launches the hitter’s momentum into the baseball. Important? You betcha.

Take a look at the shots of Chris Heisey and Joey Votto. Notice the Knee Pinch.

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Chris Heisey

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Joey Votto

The Knee Pinch is difficult to teach in the context of this blog. But go ahead and use your DVR the next time Votto, Bruce or Mesoraco launches a moon shot. Focus on the back knee and I think you will see exactly what I mean and exactly why I respectfully submit the Knee Pinch as MOMENT OF TRUTH #2.

In my next post I’ll focus on MOMENT OF TRUTH #3…”Bend Your Wrists and Wave Bye-Bye to a Good Swing.” Until then, if you’re gonna swing might as well swing hard.

Coach Tim

 

“MOMENT OF TRUTH #1” – GET SET UP TO SMASH

In my last post I talked about the overwhelming value of using video to help your athlete. In our Reds Baseball/Softball summer camps we video the swing of every player. But that’s the easy part. Video is nothing more than a nice keepsake unless it’s transformed into a teaching tool and that takes some serious baseball smarts.

I’ve done over 2,000 swing analyses over the past couple years and I’ve identified four points in the swing that can make or break a hitter’s at bat. It’s those four “Moments of Truth” where kids have a tendency to mess up. I think the reason why these breakdowns occur is because there’s nothing particularly “natural” about these four key points in the swing. Kids don’t fall out of the crib doing them.

That these critical moments in the swing don’t come naturally is the bad news. The good news is that they can be taught.

MOMENT OF TRUTH #1: If you want to finish right, you need to start right. Many of the problems at contact are a function of bad posture at heel plant. What the hitter does prior to the front heel planting is, for the most part, a matter of personal style. However, at heel plant is when hitting instructors start “keeping score.”

Here is a great shot of Joey Votto at heel plant and the following six checkpoints are critical to starting a good swing.

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  1. Head up and turned so that both eyes can track the ball. No tilting!!
  2. Knob of the bat is angled toward the catcher’s feet. Barrel is somewhat about his head
  3. Hands are at shoulder height and at or just inside his back elbow (toward the catcher)
  4. Don’t let the camera angle fool you. At heel plant, Joey’s head is right above his belt buckle and in the middle of his feet. He looks like his weight is evenly distributed front to back
  5. Knees are inside ankles and flexed in athletic position
  6. Toes are on a straight line toward the pitcher

Does your hitter have to look exactly like this? Or course not. But all good hitters at heel plant look remarkably similar. So, from our perspective it makes a whole bunch of sense for the Reds Baseball Academy to make sure our kids understand this. If you start right there is no guarantee you’ll finish right. But, if you start wrong, there is not much chance of finishing right. Make sense?

In my next post I’ll focus on Moment of Truth #2…the first domino to fall in the swing sequence. Until then, if you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.

Coach Tim

 

UPGRADE YOUR COACHING EFFECTIVENESS FOR A WHOPPING $5

In my last post I promised a $5 suggestion that could have a profound impact on your child’s baseball/softball life. Read on…

Inside Great  American Ball Park sits a guy you are going to hear a whole bunch more about as the season progresses. Rob Coughlin is the Video Coordinator for the Reds and has just been named as the guy who will help Bryan Price determine whether or not Coach Price will challenge a play on the field under the new MLB replay rules.

When Rob is not being Coach Price’s replay “eyes” he sits amid a bank of laptops and video screens that would make NASA jealous. Rob’s job is to record and catalog every pitch and every at-bat (both ours and theirs) for players and coaches to review as needed. While baseball, on the field, has remained relatively unchanged for the past century, our ability to dissect every aspect of a player’s performance upside down and inside out has changed exponentially.

While the level of digital sophistication at the ML B level is understandably off the chart, there are very affordable options for parents and youth coaches. For my money, with kids’ fascination with all things video, their tendency to be visual learners and the sheer speed of pitching and hitting actions, everybody should use video to help their kids.

Video. That’s my strong suggestion. Video may be the single biggest new asset a parent/coach can bring to the field. Kids love watching themselves and coaches love the “proof is in the video” credibility they get when players finally “see” what you’ve been telling them all along.

At our Reds Baseball/Softball Camps we record the swing of every player, analyze it, and email it out sometime after the camp. It’s an unbelievably valuable tool to extend the camp “classroom” beyond the 30 hour camp week.

If you are the analytical type and need to research all the products in the market feel free to “Google” away. You may come up with better options…and there are tons of options. Here is my summary of what I think you should be looking for:

  1. Easy to learn. I want my guys to be great baseball coaches, not computer whizzes.
  2. Analysis must be work on iOS and Android tablets and smartphones
  3. I must be able to narrate, telestrate and run back and forth in slo-mo
  4. I want side-by-side player comparison ability
  5. Easy to share
  6. Cloud-based so that email systems won’t reject large files
  7. Smart tech company that will keep improving their product
  8. Cheap

DISCLAIMER: The Reds Baseball Camps have no financial interest or any other interest in promoting one app over another. In fact, if you come up with a better selection, I’m all ears.

I have found that Coach’s Eye (www.coachseye.com) meets our needs quite nicely. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that the cost of Coach’s Eye is a whopping $4.99.

In 2014, video is too cheap, too easy and too powerful to ignore. In my next post I will reveal my first of four “Moments of Truth” that can make or break an at-bat. Oh yeah, I’ve identified these four “Moments of Truth” by doing over 2,000 swing analyses…on video.

Until next time, if you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.

Coach Tim

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Every coach should consider using video as a teaching tool

COACH TIM “REPORTING FROM SPRING TRAINING”

We often hear that “pitchers and catchers report” may be the most poetic and inspirational four word phrase in a baseball lover’s vocabulary. But I’ve got a better one…”Reporting from Spring Training.” And that’s exactly where I am as I write this.

Every year I make the trip to Goodyear, Arizona to watch baseball. Not so much to watch the games as to watch the guys prepare. My role as Director of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Camps is to make sure that what we do at camp in Mason, Lexington, Dublin, etc., reflects what goes on in our Big League camp. And so I come to Goodyear to watch and listen. Because when you break it down, our week-long instructional camps look a lot more like Spring Training than a day at Great American Ball Park.

After just two days here’s what I see. I see a whole lot of attention being paid to fundamentals. You might think that’s always the case and to a large extent it is. But this camp feels different. These Bryan Price Reds do it, repeat it, and do it again until every detail is right.

Today I saw bunt coverage, “first and thirds,” rundowns, PFP, backhands, forehands, outfield drop steps. I watched #19 spend 30 minutes after practice fielding ground balls and short hops from every angle. And he wasn’t the only one.

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Typical Spring Training morning…Pitcher Fielding Practice (PFP)

 

I can imagine that to the Spring Training neophyte, all this activity might seem a bit chaotic, but it’s not. There is a purpose and tempo to everything going on.

You could hang up a sign over Goodyear that reads “MEN AT WORK” and that would be spot on. And that’s why I love coming out here. That, and a net gain of about 50 degrees from the frigid temps at home.

In my next post I’ll give you an idea that may be the best thing you can do to help the young player in your life. So break the piggy bank because this idea is going to set you back about $5…no kidding.

Until then, I’m Coach Tim “Reporting from Spring Training.” (sigh) If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.

TOP SIX THINGS I HEARD THIS SUMMER THAT MADE ME CRINGE

Right out of the box I will admit that just because we wear a Major League uniform doesn’t mean we have all the answers. I am not afraid to question what I believe and have made adjustments in my teaching approach over the years as a result. That being said, I’m also not bashful about going toe-to-toe with things I hear that are fundamentally wrong; especially those that pose a threat to the health of the athlete.

 Here are some of my “favorites” from this past summer…

 #1. “Are You Teaching the NEW Way of Hitting?”

Oh boy. Part of my role with the Reds is to attend seminars, study video, observe Spring Training, and generally keep up with new approaches to teaching our game. 99% of the time, a question like that is traced to a private instructor or Internet Guru whose trying to make a name for himself by “discovering” something new or renaming something old for marketing purposes. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong…but they do add to the noise that tends to confuse people. We teach hitting the way that Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and for that matter, Miguel Cabrera, swing the bat.

 #2. “My Son Plays Travel Ball so He’s Probably Too Good for Your Camp.”

Ugh. Them’s fightin’ words. When you take a look at the resume of our coaching staff and the depth of our curriculum, it’s pretty much impossible to conclude that we can’t help an athlete of any level…unless he comes to camp with the mindset that he doesn’t want to learn.

 #3. “Girls Need to Learn a Different Way to Hit Because…Well, They’re Girls.”

I know that statement is not meant to be insulting to softball players…but it is. The male and female bodies get the bat to the ball in exactly the same way. Granted, there are some nuances but girls generate force at the point of contact just like guys. Just ask Jennie Finch, Crystl Bustos, Stacey Nuveman and Jessica Mendoza…some of the best U.S Olympic hitters of all time. Better yet, grab some video as I have and see for yourself. Of course, I’m not referring to slap hitting here. 

#4. “I Heard You Should Never Use a Batting Tee Again.”

 Yikes. There’s that Internet Guru again proclaiming that if you don’t do it his way, at best you are a terrible coach and at worst, a moron. Don’t use tees? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Every professional, collegiate and high school team relies on the tee to isolate swing mechanics before introducing a pitched ball. Statements like that may be a good way to sell a video but they also add more confusing noise in the market. By the way, I bought video…and I got my money back.

#5. “I’m Going to Have My Son Throw Every Day Over the Winter to Add MPH’s to His Fastball.”

No. No. No. Sometimes more is not better and when it comes to the “care and feeding” of the arm, it definitely isn’t. The shoulder and elbow need rest in order to repair the strain of the long grind of the spring/summer season. Big Leaguers shut it down after the season and not just to play golf. Since 2000, there has been a 500% increase in elbow and shoulder injuries among young baseball and softball players. Almost all of that is attributed to overuse. Now when I say to shut it down I’m referring to all overhead activity like volleyball, football passing, dodge ball in gym class, badminton, etc. I know that’s not realistic but not throwing a baseball IS realistic. Work on core strength and hammer those difficult-to-work decelerators in the back. You will love the result come spring.

#6. “Coach, Am I Throwing the Curveball Correctly?”

I won’t even answer that question. Yes, it’s true that a correctly thrown curveball is less stressful on your arm than one thrown incorrectly. And yes, there are some pro’s who started throwing junk very early in their young lives. There are also miles of scar tissue and shattered careers because of the unnecessary harm caused by curves and sliders. As a teacher of baseball and the Director of the Reds Camps I will not teach the curve because it plays Russian Roulette with the pre-pubescent athlete. I know that’s controversial but winning isn’t worth the risk. Spot your fastball. Throw a change-up and study hitters’ weaknesses. The “W’s” will pile up.

OK, got all that off my chest. Until next time, “If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.”

- Tim

BASEBALL IN THE LAND OF THE SAND

I admit that as I’ve aged, I’ve become more and more of a homebody. So, when Team Rhino Sports, the only baseball/softball training academy in the Middle East, invited me to assist with a camp for the Dubai Little League, it took more than a little nudging to pack my suitcase and make the journey to the “Land of the Sand.” But, with passport in hand and one of the best Reds Camp instructors at my side, Isaac Valdez and I boarded a plane for the 15 hour flight to Dubai.

 For the geographically challenged, of which I am a charter member, Dubai is a city in the emirate of Dubai which is part of the country of the United Arab Emirates. Think of it as New York City in the state of New York in the country of the United States. That may be where the similarities end. Dubai is a Muslim emirate sitting on the Persian Gulf not so very far from places we hear about every day…and not often in a good way.

In the city of Dubai, you can play a spectacular golf course in the morning, eat lunch at the world’s tallest building, shop in the world’s largest shopping mall and finish the day by skiing indoors at another enormous shopping mall…no kidding. The wealth and opulence are incredible. Roger Federer gave a tennis lesson yesterday to one of the camp kids and Rihanna is performing tonight just up the road in Abu Dhabi…not very often I get to write “Abu Dhabi” so I had to throw that in. Dubai is where the Arabs come to relax as well as a whole bunch of famous American entertainers.

And then there is baseball. I really didn’t know what to expect from the Dubai Little League but what I found was an organization that is trying to hang on to a piece of their heritage which happens to be embedded in a rare patch of green that serves as home to the 400 kids of the Dubai Little League.

This is the morning of the last day of camp and what I’ve experienced isn’t whole lot different than Reds Camp in Centerville or Mason. Yes, the kids are from Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia but they got those addresses by way of Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Washington, etc. In other words, these are American children of “expats” who have been raised to love baseball and their MLB teams just like we do. They are following the playoffs like their counterparts in America except for the fact that the games usually start around 4am local time.

It’s been a remarkable experience and I feel blessed to be a part of these kids’ baseball lives. It’s going to be 105 degrees today and you have to be careful as the sun and heat can flatten you like an Aroldis Chapman fastball. Other than the heat, the only threat to my health in this Middle Eastern country was the teenage Dubai Royal firing past our car at about 200mph in his Ferrari on our way to the baseball fields yesterday…

Until next time, “If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.”

Coach Tim

 

 

 

Isaac Valdez and I at Dubai’s “Field of Dreams” with the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building) in the background.

THE SECRET SAUCE IN EVERY CHAMPION’S RECIPE

secret sauce

 We recently concluded our second season of the Reds Baseball/Softball Camps and it was a wonderful repeat of Year One…except that over 1,000 kids attended, up over 20% from 2012. I want to extend our sincere appreciation to a crazy good group of instructors who are the backbone of the operation. I also want to thank Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Xavier Paul, Shin-Soo Choo, JJ Hoover, Todd Frazier and Tony Cingrani for making the Great American Ball Park visits so unforgettable. And, of course, Billy Hatcher was again the perfect host for our GABP trips.

At each camp, we conduct a Skills Competition that really spices up the week. A few weeks ago, the top 80 scorers from the summer participated in Champions Day at GABP. In addition to the 80 competitors, there were another 300+ friends and family members in attendance.

The focus of this post is to ask whether or not placing kids in the cauldron of competition prepares them for what’s ahead. Trust me; the kids at Champions Day feel the pressure of competing for a trophy in front of a lot of people on the very field their baseball heroes perform. It’s only natural to feel that heart-pounding, sweaty palms, “where’s the restroom?” sensation. The big question, of course, is whether or not the performer can park those feelings somewhere they won’t impede their physical and mental performance. Or do they give into them and essentially fall apart at the most critical time?

I submit that champions not only control those emotions but use them to propel his/her performance to new heights. That confidence, that belief in oneself, is the secret sauce in every winner’s recipe.

I think about all the travel tryouts that were conducted throughout Reds Country in the last 60 days. We measure kids’ running speed. We hit them ground balls and watch the “carry” on their throws across the infield or outfield. We throw batting practice and watch their strokes. What we can’t do is put a dipstick in that part of the athlete that measures their ability to manage stress…to excel under pressure. If we could, I fear that many of us would come up a quart low.

Case in point. If you ever had the pleasure of standing in the third base coaching box you get a real sense of the kids who step into the batter’s box like they own it. It’s as though they lock the door behind them and nothing exists other than the next pitch. These kids will compete for me. On the other hand, I’ve had plenty of kids who stepped into the batter’s box in that same pressure cooker situation and looked as though there was a snake in it.

The remarkable “you can’t beat me” attitude is what separates good from great and it may very well be hard wired in the athlete’s DNA. Although, preparation, experience and multiple “learnable” techniques can make a huge difference. But the “will to win” that we see from the great ones may not be something we can teach. Then again, a few Sunday’s ago class was in session at GABP for 80 young athletes from the Reds Baseball/Softball Camps…and they put on a show. You can go to HERE to see the final rankings.

Until next time, “If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.”

Coach Tim

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