Former major league player, Jack Perconte and Diamond Edge Academy owner, Sam Zagorac, give coaches and parents more much-needed advice. Little is more important in this day and age than knowing ways of avoiding sports burnout. Jack and Sam have been around numerous very good ballplayers who have reached the stage when playing is no longer fun or worth it. Listen in on some great tips for avoiding that, as the situation is very disappointing for parents of accomplished players.
Additionally, Jack and Sam discuss things that people can do to get out of baseball slumps. Even though hitting and fielding slumps are unavoidable for all ballplayers, having ways of limiting their duration is crucial for keeping kids enthusiasm up.
Another crucial aspect of playing baseball, the most difficult sport of all, is knowing the best times to take private or group lessons. Unless, people have unlimited funds and time, having players take additional instruction at the most opportune times can make a big difference in their confidence and careers.
For the pitchers out there, the long-time coaches give some baseball tips for how to throw strikes when they become elusive. Learning a corrective technique or two can help pitchers return to the strike zone and most importantly, learn to make self-adjustments in the future.
Jack and Sam also offer coaches their “coaching tip of the day.” Sam talks about the necessity of remaining optimistic and of giving positive reinforcement and Jack talks of the necessity of doing most of the coaching during practice and letting kids play in games with much less instruction.
For players who are stuck hitting nothing but popped up balls when batting, the guys give some tips to try to avoid that.
Finally, Jack finishes with a story that coaches can pass on to players about what respect for the game is all about. Ever heard of a guy by the name of Joe Dimaggio? Let kids know about his philosophy.
Once again, please check out all of our podcasts of Something Worth Catching and pass the link and share to friends if so inclined.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is now available. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 120 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.
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Slumps and Burnout – How to Avoid Them
We’re here to help youth coaches, parents and players to improve their skills in the game of baseball and just sports in general. We have over 45 years here of coaching experience. We feel like we have something to offer and something to help your child become a better athlete and hopefully a better person also. We’re going back to our regular format where Sam and I will ask each other a question; we don’t know who’s going to get which question. We discuss that topic a little bit and move on from there. Sam Zagorac is the owner and head instructor here at the Diamond Edge Academy in Willowbrook. You should check out their facility and their website. I’m a former major leaguer Jack Perconte, I have a new book out called Creating A Season To Remember. It’s for coaches, parents and even teachers I believe. There are things in there that will help you to learn how to deal with kids better and have exactly that, create a season that kids will remember for the rest of their lives. Without further ado, I welcome Sam back here.
Hello, Jack. I did start to read the book a little bit, it’s a great read so far. I got some great information. It’s a fairly easy read. I think that’s also an important part. No matter what field you’re in, you can never stop learning. I think there are some valuable lessons for sure so far.
We’re going to add a couple of things here. Each session now we will add a coaching tip of the day. Something that Sam and I feel is really important that maybe coaches aren’t addressing with their kids. We’re going to add a coaching tip of the day. Also, a fix-it-now department which we cover each week but a few things that a player needs a quick fix for something. Maybe just a little advice on how to fix something overnight or as quickly as possible so they don’t create that real long slump that is very discouraging of course. We’ll add those two departments here into our questions.
First one, what are some things parents and coaches can do to avoid burn out?
I guess that falls right in the line here. There are so many things to avoid burn out. I think the first and most important thing is responsibility on coaches and parents to define success in the right way. We define success in sports as the highest batting average, the best player. There can only one of those persons. Only one person can be the best. Only one person can have the highest batting average. If the player isn’t that or really high up on the stat sheet, then we tend to think of them as failure. I think if we define success better, to me success is giving your all, enjoying playing. If we reward kids for the effort and not the results then I think they understand what success is all about. When they do struggle, it doesn’t lead to burn out. So often burn out comes because it’s the better players that their expectations from everybody else and even themselves, they don’t meet them. The minute they can’t meet those expectations, they feel like the work is way too much for what they’re getting out of it. It just turns into a burn out situation where they’re just not willing to do it anymore. They were actually very successful players but in their minds they didn’t feel that way. I think if we define success better to athletes especially at a young age, then we’re going to keep them from burning out. They’re going to enjoy the games. Keep the good athletes in the game of baseball especially. I think that’s one thing that we need to do better.
I think the other part too is giving our kids some time off. I think that there are some ages that need to take four months off and allow them to play another sport. Even if they were to play fall ball and it gets them to October, maybe end of October, November, December, that’s three at least in terms of trying to get them to allow their body to recover. Allow them to get away from the game a little bit. Good habits and bad habits creep in regardless of your make up. However, I am also a big believer that through body composition, that some of your deficiencies can go away because now you have become physically stronger. There are things that a player may do one year, they may not do next year because they’re physically stronger. I don’t think that you can get physically stronger by just working the baseball year round.
It’s unfortunate that I work with a large number of professional players and a handful of guys that are currently the Big Leagues. That’s their thing to them. They have to shut down, they have to get away and leave the bats in the bag. Give themselves a good four to six weeks before they even get back in the weightroom. Just to get themselves away and to get their body back healthy again and recharged. Fortunately there are some teams out there that even the youngest ages eight, eleven, twelve years old, they’re playing 80 games in a year. That’s 80 games in a really, really condensed frame time. You’re looking at most of them are playing over the weekend. Now you’re asking kids to play potentially five, six games every weekend. That’s going to come back to bite you a little bit. I’m not a big fan of that. I do think that getting them to get away from the game. Getting them to give their body a rest. Getting them to give their arm a rest. I think all of those things are very important to keeping the burn out.
Studies are showing that early specialization is just the way to go. The word is starting to get out about that. Hopefully parents are going to heed that information and understand that it just doesn’t pay to have your kid doing the same sport close to a year round. Its just not an advantage in anyway. I think that’s important too. Sam, I ask the next question here. This gets back to our fix-it-now question. We always think the slumps are being hitting slumps in baseball. What do you do when a player falls into a fielding slump? Which is just as common and you can tell they’re out there and they’re praying the ball doesn’t get hit to them.
We just had this conversation. You can go four or five games without touching a base. We get players, they rotated from position to position. That one day you may get two balls hit you. You may make two errors but you haven’t had a ball hit you in a game in three games. If you’re not giving positive repetition at practice, which I think a lot of teams don’t do still, is that they’ve forgotten the practice piece of everything. It’s hard to expect the kids to perform well if again they’re not practicing. The same thing with my point of a player making a mistake. Before getting on the player, we have to acknowledge, have we talked to the player about that play? Does he actually know? Have we practiced that? If he hasn’t practiced it, how in the world can we honestly expect him to do the right thing?
I think there are a lot of things as a coach that we can control. Can we control bad hop? No. Can we control the fact that he had two balls set off his glove? No. What we can control is the repetition and making sure that he’s getting enough of those positive reps to the point where he feels comfortable and that proverbial snowball doesn’t just keep getting bigger and bigger. The baseball guys will find a way. You make one error, they’re going to can come right back at you and see what your level of failing adversity is. You say it all the time, a guy who makes a great play in the field he almost always leads off to next inning or he leads batting in the next hitting. That’s just the way the game is. The game is a very, very funny yet cruel game. If you don’t take at it the right way.
[Tweet “The game gets real boring if the ball never does come to you.”]
It’s definitely a game of repetition. I tell kids no matter what skill they’re working on, they need to be able to do it at least eight out of ten times correctly in practice in order for it to take over in the game. Until they get to that level, it’s difficult to repeat it in the game when the pressures on. When they maybe haven’t got a ground ball the whole day and then all of a sudden it’s a seventh inning and here comes that ball to them. The other thing in practice, I used to do this a lot, when I was hitting fungo to an infield practice before the game. When the game’s on, I used to always yell out, “Who wants the ball coming to him?” I want to hear those eight or nine players out there saying, “I want it.” If we have players that want the action, I always tell them, “The game gets real boring if the ball never does come to you. You have to want the ball coming to you not just expecting it.” If I can get them that attitude of “I want the ball coming to me,” then I just tell them, “You’re going to make your errors. Forget about it. Get ready for the next one. I want you to want every pitch ball. You have to think, “I want it coming to me.” Once I get that attitude, no matter the result I think good things can happen. They can eventually get out of those slumps too in the fielding end of it.
Making sure they understand they must do a physical mistake and a mental mistake. Physical mistakes can happen. You can turn on any ball game tonight that you want and you are going to see an error. It’s just the mental ones are the ones that we need to try to eliminate. It follows up to the last one. What is some of the advice for coaches when players do slump?
I think there are different levels of slumping. I think coaches have to read the frustration level of the kid. Some slumps affect some kids more than others. If they’re to the point of total frustration, or are just so down on themselves, that’s the toughest slump of all of course. That’s where you pull them aside and try to massage them a little bit. Also that might be the point you recommend maybe going to a private instruction type situation to where they get a new lease on things. That might be a good idea if they’re that frustrated. The other thing is, I know this sounds funny but actually to work on other parts of their game a little more than the part that’s slumping. If they’re slumping with hitting I’m going to go out maybe hit them a few more ground balls than normal and say, “You can make up for this until you get out of that slump by helping the team, by making the plays.”
I always tell kids, “If you save a run on defense, to me that’s the same as not going in on offense. If it’s a hitting slump, let’s make up for it by doing something else to help the team.” I think those are important things that may get their mind off that one thing is to start working on something else a little more. Then the last resort and I think this gets back to the burn out Is maybe just some time away. If they just can’t get through it mentally. They’re just so down that they’re self-defeating before they even walk up to do something. They think they’re going to make it out before they even walk up the home. If it gets to that point then they probably need a few days away from the game just to refresh and regroup their mind. The slumps is not easy. There are so many things that go into it. Once again if you get back to defining success is doing the hard work and just putting in the work, then I think that can help kids in the long run too.
I think when you get to the older kids it’s trying to simplify things. The problem is with some of the coaches is trying to make things too complicated as opposed to getting back to simple things. The understanding what a successful at-bat is goes a long way too. You can go 0 for 4 and have really good at-bats, you can go 2 for 4 and have four bad at-bats. You could have flared a couple of balls over the second base instead or be on a field hit or something that wasn’t a very good at-bat. I think that through age, through maturity I think it gets a little bit easier. It does get harder to hit because the pitching is getting that much better too. The sooner they can understand to handle some adversity and work their way through it through simple, simple answers, I think is the best.
I tell everybody, “You’re not happy with your slump right now, but it’s going to help you deal with the next one.” There will be a next one for everybody. You can’t avoid them. That’s a great point you made. It always goes back to the basics. You go back to the simple things. Over time that usually will pay off. When we get in a slump, we try to do too much too often. That’s the worst thing that can happen. By keeping it simple maybe just hitting the ball the other way or trying to hit balls back to the middle for a spell that can get you going again. When you look at Kyle Schwarber they say, “What did you do in the minors to help so much that little spell he had?” It’s pretty obvious when he came back up. He’s willing to take a lot more balls to left centerfield and it’s paying off big time.
That’s what he did last year. I think his whole mindset and process changed when they put him in the lead off-spot. His head just got full of different things to get him to be a different hitter than he actually is. I think that he was able to just clear his mind. Get back down or have some good at-bats. Re-focus on what his approach is. I think there may have been some mechanical things they cleaned up. I think getting his mind right and his approach right was a big thing.
It’s nice to see when a player could do that. His ego wasn’t so big that he took it as a front to be sent down. He went down to Minor Leagues thinking, “This is my way to get it back.” That’s what he did. In a relatively short period, he has turned into a better hitter this second half. Sam, I got a new question for you. We touched on this in an earlier podcast. Most parents do not have unlimited funds. When do you recommend they take some private lessons to help out their son or daughter?
There are a couple of different answers to that question. One, getting them in sooner than later is important. Here on time at edge, kids that are under the age of ten, they get a junior rate which is $15 off the regular rate. Getting them in here to get some understanding of some of the basics. I have always made my parents welcome during my lessons. Ultimately they’re going to see them and spend more time with them than I will, so making sure they’re reinforcing everything. That’s number one. Number two is I have never been a lesson pusher though either. I’m very upfront with our kids and the kids that work with me that, “This is a two-way street. I’m giving you all the answers to the test. Whether you want to take those answers and apply them and study them that’s up to you.” As Marty Cobern always says, “I don’t have any magic dust in my pocket. If I did I’d be a millionaire.” I think the kids need to be committed to it. It gets back to also on the parents and neighborhood side; playing catch with friends, playing catch with your son. Getting out and hitting ground balls to him whether it’s on the sidewalk or on the grass in front of the house. Growing up in the city I took ground balls in the street. That’s the way that it was. You just figure out a different way to practice. I think the biggest issue is not necessarily getting them in. It’s getting them in with then some follow up on the parental side.
I always say there’s three times I like to see if he can afford a few lessons before the season so you can have a sense of direction for the season. Even if it’s one lesson if you have a good coach, which is obviously important, a good coach should be able to tell you a couple of main things to focus on moving forward. A good coach should also be able to give you hope that, “I can do this if I do do the work.” Before the season I think is good. Parents listening in is always a good thing, as long as it’s just the listening part for the most part. Finding out exactly what can help their kid and then focusing on that throughout the season.
Our second thing as I touched down a little earlier. When the frustration is so deep that a kid just can’t get any confidence at all, that’s a good time to maybe throw in a lesson. A good coach should be able to give him a new lease on their skills level and what to work on. That’s another important thing. The last things is, right before either a big tryout or high school tryout for sure is just making sure they know about how to look good in the tryout. I think that’s important. A good coach should be able to tell him how to look good. I always tell my kids, “It’s not how you do in a tryout. It’s more how you look.” Theoretically, you can miss every ball and look like you have a good swing and look better than a player that hits every ball but the coach can tell their swing just isn’t fundamentally very good. It’s important to know how you look, your balance and just addressing things like that. Private lessons once again can be very important or group lessons for that matter to help kids at those critical junctures where they need to add a dose of confidence.
Confidence is number one for me. A kid to walk out of here or walk out of your session with some confidence, that’s a boost for them. The next question here is our fix-it-now. I’m not a pitching coach, so good luck. Pitcher cannot throw strikes.
The thing that sometimes we forget about with pitching is like hitting. It’s all about timing. Pitching is timing. If your kid has decent throwing mechanics and they can’t throw strikes that chooses the timing of their delivery. Pitching is about getting the ball to the perfect spot or at least close to that when that front foot lands. A lot of that is timing. If we can figure out the timing of the knee lift and the swing of the arm back, it usually produces more consistency. What I usually look for is the rhythm in the pitcher’s delivery and just the timing of everything. A lot of times I can solve their control problems relatively quickly by just either slowing them up or maybe speeding them up a little bit so that timing is just smooth once again.
It’s like we talked about with the hitting and it’s getting back to basics in a sense. You can just figure out the timing and it’s a little different for each player’s delivery. If you can get their timing down, I usually see much greater consistency. If they’re just continually all over the place then they obviously need some real mechanical adjustments. I think that’s important. The other thing is just treating your playing catch time, your warm up time with respect to where you goal for every pitch, every throw you made on practice. If you have control when you’re playing catch, there’s a good chance you’re going to have control when you’re pitching the ball. If you treat it like, “I’m just warming up,” and balls are going everywhere then there’s a good chance you get on the mount and balls are going everywhere too. Your playing catch time is really important.
The one thing that I read about Luis Aparicio, the great shortstop from the Sox, was that they had asked him what could he had done more as a player. His simple answer was play catch. You hear guys that are that successful and that great, they really break it down that simple. It really is. It is a game of catch. My son is a pitcher and the kids on his team they start to lose some of their mechanics. They start to lose focus. They start to lose balls up in the zone. He would always tell me to tell the kids to aim for home play. Mentally we get them to think about releasing the ball more upfront and get the ball down a little bit. Knock wood that this seems to be a good answer for most of the time I go out there. I do also think that fatigue is extremely, extremely important. I get a lot of these kids that aren’t physically strong enough. You play in these tournaments and some coaches simply don’t care. They threw 50 pitches on Friday and they want to throw again on Saturday. He’s not ready to throw. His body is not ready, he’s fatigued. All of a sudden, you raise the risk for injury. For me, there’s no win that is more important than a players health.
You’re always looking for tendencies with anything in the games. If you have a pitcher that is normally in very good control, then all of a sudden things are all over the place then fatigue is probably the first thing to look at to make sure, “How much has he pitched? Is he tired?” Especially when it’s 90-degrees day. It doesn’t take much for a pitcher to tire out sometimes. This gets back to the beginning here where we said, what is your youth sports coach tip of the day or tip of the week for coaches, maybe something that they haven’t thought about in the past; a coaching tip
Positive reinforcement. As coaches, we all have a tendency to get on a player or over-stress a bad play or a bad decision. I think every single one of us is guilty of that. It’s important to identify a mistake, speak to that mistake and then make sure that we’re reinforcing a correction in a positive way. Personally, I keep a post card in my back pocket. As things happen during the game I write them down. Sometimes during the game isn’t the right time to address them, depending on the situation. I’ll address them after the game or at practice and go through them and write down some notes. That’s how I want to do that. I think the other thing too is a player may make a mistake. It’s important to make sure you speak to the whole team about it. If there’s going to be a chance for another player may have the same issue and to make the same mistakes. You take that and you teach to the whole as opposed to individual sometimes. At the end of the day, it’s about positive reinforcement and making sure that errors are going to make and physical mistakes are going to happen. It’s how we react to them and the adversity side of that. Don’t let a physical mistake lead to a mental one.
I always tell coaches and when I do my writing and stuff. One of my sayings is, “Games are kids’ time to shine and practice is the coach’s time to shine.” It gets along to your point there of taking notes in that. At practice a coach should lose his voice by the end of it because he is coaching the whole time. Where as in games it’s more time to let the kids play and learn to make their own adjustments. Coaches can take their notes and follow up on it later.
Practice is my time. Game is players’ time. I even tell the parents that. I said, “If you come to a practice and you see me get a little animated and raise my voice, practice is my time. That’s when we’re going to work hard and get some positive reinforcement and get positive repetitions.” The other problem with that is if you don’t do it then and you do it in the game, the player may have that issue of just shutting down. There may be four innings left to the game and the last thing you want to do is that kid who shut down on you may have the biggest at-bat of the game. He cashed out on you. It’s important to try and keep everything positive during the game. We’re all guilty of doing the other way. I’m certainly guilty of it. Trying to get the positive side is the most important.
I think my coach’s tip of the day here is for coaches to at least occasionally if not more often than that is to inform parents of exactly what you’re working on with their child. That’s a sign of a good coach to talk to parents also and say, “Here’s what we’re working on with your son.” I don’t care how good the player is, there’s something to work on. It’s important for you as a coach to inform the parents of that. That way they understand this is a process. It’s years upon years of process to get their child to hit or to make plays or understand the game. It doesn’t happen overnight. Parents expect a lot of time to fix their child overnight and get them hitting the next day. By telling them, “Here’s what we’re working on,” they understand. This is a process, the coach is addressing it. They respect you for that in the long run.
Jack, we’re down to our last question here. It’s a fix-it-now. Hitting too many pop-ups.
I always tell coaches, a hit and run is a lost art nowadays. No one uses that hardly even at the Big Leagues level. You just don’t see the hit and run play very much. Sometimes I’ll teach a hit and run to hitters in practice just to get them to understand how to try to get on top of the ball. A hit and run means trying to put the ball in play on the ground if you can. In practice I might just have a session where I say, “We’re going to work on the hit and run today,” which means they have to swing but they have to hit the ball on the ground. In that manner, it’s a way of trying to get them to adjust themselves and learn getting the top half of the ball instead of keep popping balls up. That’s one thing I might do. The other thing is just putting a batting tee up high if they’re doing some warm up work in that tee at the upper levels of the strike zone and work it until once again they get to maybe eight out of ten where they’re keeping the ball from that top net. The more they can do that they can start self-adjust and learn, “Why can’t you get me just on the top part of that ball just a little more?” We’re talking inches when it comes to a pop-up in a line drive. If they can just learn make that little bit of adjustment. If they have big mechanical problems then obviously, that’s something that’s going to take longer. For a quick fix, a real high tee or working on the hit and run can help maybe change their part of the ball they’re hitting.
The other part of that is trying to get them to use the other field. You allow just a little bit longer in flight. You have a chance of at least staying through the ball a bit better if you’re thinking about going the other way. The likelihood of you popping it up in that situation is less likely. You don’t stand out in front of anything. You’re just not dragging through. I do think that if you can get them to just slow things down and let the ball go the other way, that helps as well.
That’s a good fix for about everything in hitting. It’s much harder done than said, that’s for sure. Sam, thanks a lot for a nice session here. We encourage people to tell their friends about us. There’s a lot of good information here we believe that can help youth, players, parents and coaches. Sam, if you want to talk a little bit here about what’s going on at the academy. I know you have a nice Fall Program in that.
Fall Program is just about right around the corner. If you need to get more information about that come visit us at www.DiamondEdgeAcademy.com. You can also pick up the phone and give us a call at 630-601-7171. We’re also in the process of starting to put together a winner programming and specials that will be running as well. Doors are always open here. We’re here to help.
Sam, best of luck, keep up the good work. Once again, I’m Jack Perconte. I encourage you to go to my website, BaseballCoachingTips.net. You can read about my new book there. I’ll guarantee, it can help coaches of all experience levels. As always, we’ll have a story here at end of our podcast, pass on to your kids. Thanks for listening to Something Worth Catching. We look forward to talking to you again in the near future.
Thank you very much Jack. We’ll talk to you soon.
[Tweet “Respect for the game is all about giving your best every time out there.”]
Here’s a story that’s a short one but it has great meaning. One day a reporter asked the great Yankee Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every game. Joe answered with something like, “There may be some kid out there who has never seen me played before.” That was a great answer because it gets to the idea of respect for the game. Respect for the game is all about giving your best every time out there so that you can feel good about yourself and the effort you gave your team at the end of the day. When you go out to play your next game, think about the great Joe DiMaggio and realize that there may be someone there watch you for the very first time. It’s important that you give your best. Thanks for listening. Tell your friends about us. We’ll see you again next time.