The best tool a baseball player can have is a strong mind. Most players would agree the mental aspect of baseball is harder than the physical aspect. I once sat down during a junior college practice with Scott Elarton (big league pitcher from 1998-2008) and asked him what the biggest difference between each level of pro ball was? His answer surprised me, it wasn't the velocity of pitchers or the strength of hitters or the crowds but the understanding of knowing you belong at each level of the game. He said, " I saw some of the best athletes with the greatest tools in Double-A, but they never made it because they weren't mentally strong." At the time, it really helped me develop and educate myself on what will make me better mentally on the field. I truly believe that talk changed me from an average competitor to a mentally strong bulldog.
What's a bulldog? A bulldog is someone that never allows negativity to cloud their mind, they are always in attack mode and locked in on the task at hand. When the opposing team scores or their team makes an error, the emotions do not keep a bulldog from being ready for the next play. They understand they will fail and fail often but know how to overcome that failure quickly.
Having this mindset is what all ball players should strive for. I was great at this my sophomore season, it was my best season in college by far but like I said, "baseball is a sport with a lot of failure." I lost that mentality after blowing my first save in my college career during my junior season against our rivals at home in front of one of our biggest crowds. I gave up back to back home runs to lose the lead. Looking back I should have chalked it up to a bad day and stayed with my routine that got me my success. However, the game got the best of me and I decided to change everything and anything to make sure that would never happen again. I went from bulldog to lost puppy. I made mechanical changes, routine changes and eventually gave up on my dream of playing pro ball a year later because the failure was too much for me. One game or one play can eat at you and ruin your mindset if you allow it to. At Rogue, we try to teach our guys how to avoid this.
Mental training is often overlooked in high school but heavily emphasized in college and pro ball so we are trying to implement it as much as we can. Our main tool for helping our guys cope with failure is a strategy called release and refocus. Doing this connects a physical movement or gesture with the release of a negative thought, then refocusing on the next task in a positive mindset. Recreating how the brain thinks is a larger task than incorporating a physical movement, so linking the body to the brain to release and refocus embeds the mental routine into the physical. The best example is the physical movement of unstrapping your batting gloves to release the bad call the ump just made combined with a deep breath, once the mentality is back to neutral or positive strap them back up, refocus and you are ready to go again.
This strategy helps give the guys a tool to use and develop in a way that makes sense to them. Instead of just telling them to be mentally strong, we try to provide them ways of accomplishing that task. It's something they can work on between every repetition at practice, whether it's in the cage or during a bullpen; if the rep was a failure, can they succeed at clearing their mind for the next pitch or ground ball? Then once failure happens in a game they aren't surprised and lost but have their routine of release and refocus to fall back on. It is not easy but it is crucial to becoming a successful ball player.
As the fall season is past midway for us at Rogue Baseball, it is our desire to share some of the ins and outs of our fall program and the methodology that drives the things we do with our team. We feel very strongly that the training environment and culture that we are in the process of creating (and will always be looking to improve upon) provides high school baseball players with some of the best opportunities to develop as into a high level player at their current level, and help them towards their goals of advancing to the next level of baseball. This post will be pretty extensive, providing full insight into the processes that we work through on a daily and weekly basis.
This is not a “Showcase” team!
Our goal every fall is to provide our guys with the feel of a college baseball program, as it is most guys’ goal to get to that level. This is in large contrast to the “we’ll see ya next weekend” mentality that many programs employ during the fall season. We are firm believers that if we can expose them to what it takes to play college baseball from a commitment standpoint, we have provided them the opportunity to decide if it is in fact something they want to pursue, as well as prepare them for that commitment on the baseball skills side. Because this is such a different mindset than most guys are used to, it often comes as a shock to some of our players. Early on, many have a little bit of “what did I get myself into”, but most of our guys settle in and embrace the commitment after understanding and experiencing what’s expected of them. Some guys however do not, and realize that it’s too much and find other options. To us, that is just fine. For a player, facing the reality and learning what they don’t want to do is just as important as learning what they do want to do, and we want guys in our program who embrace and enjoy the grind.
Our Coaching Staff
With any good program, the coaches that lead it are of paramount importance, or “the golden goose” as once described to me. We are fortunate to have a group of coaches that have an incredible passion for teaching, a strong base of current knowledge, the time to commit to fully developing our guys and most importantly a willingness to constantly challenge the things they are doing and learn about new ways to make our players better. The mindset of “this is how I did it, so you’re going to do it this way” is completely nonexistent in our staff and forever will be. Everything we do has purpose behind it and is always communicated to our guys. We aren’t scared to try new things that may be outside the box, as well as checking our ego’s enough to do things that others have proven to work. A quick introduction of our staff includes Logan Serena who is in charge of our infielders as well as coaching third base and dominates throwing batting practice (an extremely important skill.) Dillon Moritz is our pitching coach and does an incredible job at preparing and guiding our pitchers, as well as throwing great BP (which is rare from a pitcher.) Jordan Serena is a current professional player with the Angels and is a huge asset to our guys given his experiences at baseball’s highest levels. Jordan works with outfielders, catchers and base-runners. I run our hitting, as well as coordinating and overseeing everything within our program. Although our staff members all have well defined roles, it’s understood that the better each coach understands and can teach each aspect of the game, the more productive we can be. We take pride in treating practice and game days like workdays, rather than rolling the balls out, sitting on a bucket and spectating.
Our Core Principles
In the spirit of operating like a college baseball program, we have found that having a set of core principles that guide our processes has been of huge benefit to us as coaches and to the players. It helps us as coaches classify our expectations as well as have a specific focus for the things we do to train our players and for the players it gives them guidelines to how they should be approaching each day. Below is a description of our principles, creating a definition for the word “Rogue”.
Routined - Rogue coaches help players and teams understand the importance of creating and executing daily and pitch-to-pitch routines, as well as maintaining a focus on mastering the routine aspects of the game.
Optimized - Rogue coaches work tirelessly to help players and teams develop their Tools, Actions and Game-ability in the optimal way, understanding that there are foundational principles that all great players work to master. Coaches work to help players achieve optimization within his own individual style.
Gritty - Through a hard working, blue collar attitude and approach to the game, Rogue coaches, players and teams understand how play the game hard, how to handle inevitable adversity and how to continuously trust the process as they look to improve.
Unselfish - Rogue coaches, players, and teams understand that personal greatness can still be achieved with a team first attitude. Cooperation, sacrifice, and the success of the team are driving forces and are celebrated above all else.
Energetic - Rogue coaches, players and teams bring the three C’s every single day; Concentration on the task at hand, Commitment to giving 100% effort at all times in any role, and purposeful Communication with themselves and those around them.
Our belief in and daily adherence to these principles will guide our culture and continue to provide the best baseball development environment possible.
Our Expectations of our Players
While developing great baseball players is an exciting and enjoyable task, developing great men is a far more important one for us as coaches. With that in mind, accountability is at the forefront of our expectations of our guys. While there are constantly little (yet important things) things that we try to teach our guys, we don’t have a giant rules list and there are two main expectations that we have. Number one is communication. Whether it’s something off the field like a schedule question or that you are going to be a few minutes late to practice, or on field items like discussion of swing/throwing/fielding mechanics, we are huge believers that our guys need to learn to communicate well. The reality is that everything that is going on in our program revolves around them, so they are the center point of all communication between coaches, themselves, and their parents. In very rare cases do we speak with parents without players being included in the conversation. Our number two expectation is that our guys be prepared. Having the proper tools, apparel, nutrition and idea of the purposes that day all come with being a prepared player, and we expect our guys to operate in that fashion. With these two guidelines, we believe that we are helping our guys with basic skills that will help them be successful as ballplayers but more importantly as people.
In the next post, we'll dive into the specifics of how we train our players, including a strong empahsis on the strength aspect, layouts of our weekly practices, and our goals and routines within those sessions.
Part 2 - Weekly Training
Part 3 - Our Approach to Games
Part 4 - Helping Players Play at the Next Level