Do you want to make sure you’re educating your young pitchers and catchers the right way? Join Former Major Leaguer Jack Perconte, Sam Zagorac owner of Diamond Edge Academy, Longtime pitching coach Marty Kobernus and expert catching coach Sean Osborne as they share over 80 years of baseball coaching experience in part 2 of this two-part series. Part one here. In this episode of Something Worth Catching, the guys share their views on coaching pitching, catching, and other things that will help youth coaches and parents in their players’ baseball development.
In this session of Something Worth Catching the baseball coaches answer and discuss the following things:
- At what age do you recommend young ballplayers start throwing a curve ball?
- What are the biggest in-game coaching mistakes you see from inexperienced baseball and softball coaches?
- What is the best advice you can give to youth baseball and sports coaches?
- Which major league hitter do you want up to bat with the game on the line?
- What are some of the complaints you get from your players’ parents and what do you do about them?
- What is your favorite baseball movie?
Along with some great answers and discussion of the above, the podcast ends as always with a motivational story that is worth the price (free) of listening to itself. Jack’s latest book, Creating a Season to Remember will be out on July 17th. It will give youth sports coaches of any sport all the information they need to make a positive difference in the lives of their players, the players’ parents and themselves. Preorder has begun at a fantastic price at Amazon.com. For more info click here.
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” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.
Listen to the podcast here:
Youth Pitching and Catching Pt. 2
We have a roundtable discussion with Sam Zagorac, my partner from the Diamond Edge Academy, Marty Kobernus, a long time pitching instructor in the area, and Sean Osborne, another great young coach catching specialist but also does hitting and has his own travel organization. Our goal with our podcasts is to help parents and youth coaches and ballplayers to further their knowledge of the game and to draw off some of our experiences. Between the four of us, we have about 80 years of coaching experience. We’d like to think we can help people somewhat anyway. We’re going to go back to our old format where we have questions that are pretty anonymous and each coach will just pick a question. He doesn’t know what the question is and ask it off one of the members here. We’ll all chime in with an answer. I’ll let Sam begin the questioning.
Welcome, Marty and Sean, to our show. First question, I’m going to shoot this one to Marty and then we’ll chime in off his answer. What are the biggest in-game coaching mistakes that you see?
Not being more positive more than anything else. Focusing on negatives instead of what they’re doing well. That’s basically the way they communicate. I always say that the best advice I could give to a coach is to praise in public and criticize in private. If I have something that I need to say to that kid that may hurt that kid, I’m going to pull him off to the side. I don’t want to yell at a kid right in front of all his peers, his family and everything else but I want the world to know when that kid is doing great. It helps build up his confidence too.
[Tweet “Praise in public and criticize in private.”]
That’s why I wrote 312 pages of a book to help coaches to be more positive and to make the experience for everybody so much more enjoyable. The other thing I see is that coaches tend to panic way before the kids ever do in a game. When the game gets tight or maybe it’s rivalry game or maybe a championship type game. All of a sudden the coaches run around, just act in way different than he ever has in the past. His sense of panic travels to the kids. The next thing you know, everybody’s uptight.
A team is a reflection of their coach. If a coach is positive and staying calm, so will the team.
During my games, I just write everything down. If something negative happened or we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever, we talk about it as a team afterward. I’m not going to sit there and yell at somebody across the field because they’re doing something wrong. Baseball is a lot different than football or basketball game. You might be able to yell at a kid at a football field and get results out of him but on a baseball field, it’s a completely different story. They’re going to completely shut down and probably not play well the rest of the day.
My biggest thing is you have coaches at a lot of levels who will get upset about the way a player did something. More times than not, I think to myself, “I know for a fact that that coach didn’t even go over that situation with that player.” If you haven’t taught them what to do, then how you would magically expect them to know what to do? Coaches are talking about cut offs or “Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you there?” I almost can guarantee that there was something that they didn’t even go over in practice. Like Sean, I keep a notepad in a little postcard in my back pocket and write things down. I’m probably a little more vocal than anybody else at this table but that comes out of my high level of intensity that I have. I do think that staying positive is important. Number two is you can’t expect your kids to do something if you haven’t taught them.
Coaches should take that advice and write things down and try to write down who the players were in those situations so you can re-enact those situations in games and also with any other players that might be in those spots. It can help. I call it hypocritical coaches. They’re the type, “Be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive,” and in the minute a kid swings at a bad pitch, they’re all over him for swinging that bad pitch when they just told them to be aggressive. It’s hypocritical actions that can drive me nuts.
You certainly want kids to make aggressive mistakes not passive mistakes. That’s an important distinction that needs to be made. We have kids that are willing to make a mistake instead of a kid who’s too scared to play or make a mistake.
Marty, we’ll let you fire away the next question. You can ask anybody you want.
Game on the line, 7th game of the World Series, who is the better lineup of the players playing today?
I love Miguel Cabrera, the way he bats, the way he approaches every at-bats. If he’s healthy, you get Miggy Cabrera with the game on the line, I’ll take my chances. He adjusts as well as anybody at the play. There’s a lot of great young hitters coming up that a couple of years they might take away that distinction of maybe being a better clutch hitter than Cabrera but I like him.
Moving down the line, someone who definitely has proven his worth over the course of the last two years himself is Kris Bryant. He always seems to have a very good at-bat in a very important time. There are a lot of good players out there, even guys who don’t get much recognition like Ian Kinsler. I tip my hat on Kris Bryant.
What would you think about somebody like Javier Báez who seems to go in there without a care in the world and just wants to do his thing and get the job done? Not so much maybe the greatest hitter in the game right now but just that confidence that he brings to the table.
I like your thought process there. It’s just he needs to learn the strike zone better. A young player is obviously going to be so excited in those situations that they think they might be overly aggressive and get themselves in trouble. Kris Bryant is such a great example to everybody. He’s Rookie of the Year. He goes home and retools his swing because he didn’t hit too many foul balls. He flattened out his swing and now he becomes the most valuable player. I read this where he went this off-season and he and his dad worked on outside pitches a lot more because they feel like that’s always going to get pitched more this season. It’s a remarkable work ethic and knowledge of the game and a desire to be better that Kris Bryant is just so impressive in every phase of baseball. Sean, we’ll let you fire away a question at somebody.
Sam, what’s the biggest complaint you hear from parents about your coaching?
I do think that I do have a little bit of old school in me. I demand a lot from our kids and that’s from the way they wear the uniforms to the way that they practice to making sure I don’t let any of our parents carry the equipment for our players. It’s their equipment. It’s their bag. If you’re a catcher, you chose to be a catcher. You have to carry your equipment. I don’t want to be parents lugging equipment around. I’ve been fortunate that I have been surrounded by a lot of good parents. I expect a lot out of them and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m not quite sure. That’s someone else’s opinion to weigh it on. For me, it teaches a high level of accountability. It teaches a high level of responsibility. It teaches being good teammates. I take the individualistic option out of it when I make sure that everyone is dressed the same. I make sure everyone is expected to do the same things. I don’t put anyone on a pedestal. As a matter of fact, I probably get the biggest complaint from my wife because I’m so hard on my own son. I get that from Marty as well. I’m the opposite. There are a lot of parents and coaches out there that will coach a team because they want their kid to bat third and play shortstop. I’m the complete opposite and that’s something I probably need to better on.
I don’t think anybody can blame somebody to be old school because I don’t think it’s all bad and expect a lot of kids and that’s a good thing, Sam. What makes you a great coach, even if you’re a little hard-nosed, I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with being hard-nosed. People know you care and you care about helping every player out there and like you say, not just your son. That’s actually a desirable thing. A lot of times, positive coaching gets a bad rep because they think it’s all make everybody feel great about everything and you’re the greatest. To me, that’s not what positive coaching is. It’s expecting, it’s holding kids accountable but it’s doing it in a way where it doesn’t take away from their character and who they are. As long as you can draw that line, I don’t think parents or anybody should blame you for expecting things from people and hold them accountable, that’s a great thing.
We live in the entitlement world. That has a negative effect on kids as they grow up through life because that’s not how life is.
Marty, what’s the complaint you get from parents?
From the very first time that I started coaching, and that was with you, and the first speech that I gave was that my emphasis was not on winning but was on development of the player. The players were hot when I said that. I do that to this day prior to any team I select before any season starts. I tell them, “I’m not in this for the winning. I’m in for the development.” They get all upset with that because they are here for winning. Every year, my team keeps on winning because you get the player to be the best that they can be and they wind up winning games. That’s the biggest thing. At the end, it seems to work out fine.
[Tweet “Winning is a by-product of player development.”]
Winning is a by-product of player development.
Sean, did you get any complaints?
The only complaint I ever get is from Sam. No parents ever complain about me. I had a dad who like Sam was just explaining, he was always harder on me than anybody else. I appreciated that especially looking back at it now. That made me the ballplayer I was. I’m fairly young. I’m as old school as it comes when it comes to coaching and working with some of these young kids. I’m lucky like Sam, most of all my parents from my teams let me and my coaches sit back and do our thing and they trust us and that’s a blessing. It’s great to see that there are parents out there that trust us to mold their kids not only as ballplayers but as a young man.
I’m not sure I hear these complaints but I would guess that complaint I would get would be that I’m just not hard enough on players. I don’t know if that’s a product of knowing how hard this game is but I’m not a pusher and I don’t believe in pushing kids too hard and a lot of parents want me to do that and I can’t go that direction. I see the joy come out of kids really fast sometimes when you push them too hard. I’m not that way. Some parents, they want their kids to be pushed and pushed. I can’t go that route.
I agree and I see so much punishment. “If you don’t make this throw, you’ve got ten push-ups or we’ve got to do ten sprints.” I feel like that’s a waste of practice time. If the kid makes an error, I’m going to hit him another ball and try to teach him the right way to do it. There’s no punishment. I don’t want to take the fun out of the game for the kids.
Marty, this is a given for you. Sam and I have discussed this briefly over the past but what is your view on kids throwing curveballs? You would have to describe kids, what we mean by kids maybe on that one.
Everybody asks, “What age do you think a kid should throw a curveball?” Ideally, when they’re done growing but that’s 21. They want to have it before then. My next answer would be when they start shaving, but even then, that may be senior year. I went with that should be your eighth grade graduation present. You can throw a curveball, at least play with one. When you try out for a high school as a pitcher, they’re going to want to see one. That’s when I start teaching it and let them flip a few off. It’s knowing the mechanics of it, why it curves the way it does. Everybody points to the curveballs on being so dangerous. It’s not the most dangerous pitch. The slider is the most dangerous pitch. Curveball is in all form, angle but a slider is force and a twist. Those are the guys that get hurt. I’ve seen a lot of coaches say, “We won’t throw a curveball because it’ll hurt your arm so let’s throw a slider instead.” They’ll say, “We’ll throw a cutter instead,” but the cutter turns into a slider and there’s your most dangerous pitch. That’s basically it. It still comes down to the individual kid that’s stronger that can do it. My son was very fortunate. When he started throwing it, he could throw it early and had a good one, but our catcher couldn’t catch it. That kept him from throwing it. That limited to how much he could throw it.
Sean, what are your views?
My view on that is my favorite pitcher that I ever caught threw a fastball and changeup and this was in college. He didn’t even throw a curveball or a slider. It was so easy to get guys out with him because we were just mixing shakes. A pitcher would shake his head and get it on the hitter’s head. Even though he only has two pitches, the hitter might think he’s got four or five pitches because he’s shaking his head so many times. You hear so many different things but as far as teaching goes, I pretty much agree with Marty on what he said. You also hear other guys like, I remember hearing something from Barry Zito the other day and how he said he starts throwing curveball when he was ten. There’s going to be people out there that are going to go that route. It mostly depends on the kid and how strong he is and how developed he is, how much knowledge that he has for those pitches.
I will teach a kid at any age to throw a curveball. Ten, nine, I emphasize they’re not supposed to but I’ll teach him because someone along the line is going to teach him and they’re going to teach them the wrong way. Their body won’t let them do it most of the time but I want them to know at least how it’s done when they finally do it.
I’ll teach someone at any age. A lot of times kids, unless they have a fabulous arm, they’re done pitching when they’re thirteen or fourteen anyway because they’re not going to pitch in high school. I will say, “You throw your whole career and not get a chance to throw a curveball. I don’t like that.” I’m the opposite. If the kids don’t have high school potential, I don’t mind teaching it to them. The kids that have the potential, they’re the ones that hold off and like Sean says, “I go by fastball, change up with that kid.” I tell everybody, in my mind, that good changeups are the hardest pitch to hit in baseball over a curveball. It’s hard when your kids see the Little League World Series and they’re seeing these twelve year olds and it seems like every other pitch. With that in mind, I tell them, “If you’re going to throw it, 10% of your pitches is all can be the breaking balls.” Kids fall in love with them because the batters usually can’t hit them so now they’re throwing it in every other pitch. That’s when it becomes dangerous. I know from personal experience, I threw a curveball when I was young. The more my arm got tired and I didn’t feel like I had my fastball, I went to the curveball mark. It was very effective but pretty soon, I’m throwing three-quarters curveballs and I blew my arm out when I was fourteen. I got a feeling it had something to do with that type of experience.
I stay out of the pitching conversation more times than not. I don’t know enough about it. Now that you’re getting more and more players that are throwing curveballs in their age, I’m trying to teach our hitters not to even swing at them. Generally speaking, they’re not going to be a strike. I’ll tell the guy and say, “The only two pitches that you can hit in baseball are fastball and a mistake. You’re not going to hit a good changeup. You’re not going hit a breaking ball.” If you hit the fastball when you get it or you hit the mistake when you get it, then you don’t need to worry about anything else outside of that.
[Tweet “The only two pitches that you can hit in baseball are fastball and a mistake.”]
Are your twelve-year-olds strong on those ends?
No, we’re still fastball, changeup. One is because Marty has a big influence on them. All of our pitchers work with Marty on an individual basis. I’m a proponent of letting coaches coach. That’s his job. That’s what we have to have him do. When he tells me they’re ready, they’re ready. That’s to the extent of that conversation.
Fundamentally, a kid has good arm action and a good changeup, the curveball’s going to come relatively easy at some point when he does get stronger. I always tell them, “It’s something that ace in the hole you have in your pocket that you’re going to have later if you can get out guys out fastball changes.” At this age and now we have that third pitch, when you get to be a freshman, you’re going to be so much ahead of the game.
That was my favorite way to try to call pitches for game two in college if I didn’t have the luxury of calling pitches. I tried to get to the lineup one time with just the fastball and the changeup so that second time around, nobody’s seen that curveball yet. If I can do that, we’re in a great position to win that ballgame.
Sam, what’s your favorite baseball movie?
I have to go with Bull Durham mainly from the pitcher-catcher aspect, relationship and just the way he carried himself through that movie and through the game. I wish I could still be playing right now. I played until I’m 40 years old. My body’s just had enough. Some of his one-liners towards the young pitcher on the mound and he’s had that experience. We talked about pitcher shaking him off. He’s still hearing what’s coming. There’s a bomb in the right field. That one definitely sticks out in my mind, the grind of playing the game and being in the Minor Leagues too.
I like A League of Their Own a lot. Even though it was women but I thought it was very realistic for the baseball scene. The clubhouse banter and off the games stuff. That was very realistic to me and so I like that. The other movie, it wasn’t a great movie, but something I still use to this day is For The Love of the Game with Kevin Costner. There was always that with the movie but almost stop in his mind with and he would say, “Clear the mechanism.” I always try to tell kids of that scene where each pitch is independent of the previous one each play. After every pitch, you have to clear the mechanism. Clear your mind before the next piece of action. I always liked that from that movie
Bad News Bears. I can almost recite every line to that movie and I haven’t seen many movies to begin with but that one is top of the list.
Marty, you have a favorite?
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. It had all the great African-American movie stars in that movie but it was based on the Indianapolis Clowns, the last Negro League team. There are five or six players in that movie that I played with because I played on the Indianapolis Clowns for that one year. There’s a little bit more to that story. I was like, “It wasn’t all that great.”
We’re back to Marty. We’ve got a couple more questions.
What is the best advice you give to youth baseball coaches?
The important part is don’t hang your hat on the wins and losses. Getting back to what Marty said, they take care of themselves. Too many teams nowadays, especially in the Travel side, they’ll practice December through March and then once the game start they don’t practice anymore. What happens is they get away from what they try to develop and what they try to teach and then repetition-wise, you can have a kid who takes 50 ground balls every day at practice. Once you get outside to play a game, that second baseman may get two ground balls during the game. All of a sudden, in the course of three weeks, he’s gotten six maybe ten ground balls during the games and he hasn’t got any repetition. Baseball is the game that is based on improvement through positive repetition. The biggest one is don’t lose track of the practice getting out there and getting them to feel groundballs, getting them to feel fly balls and all of that stuff and reiterating the skills that you work on the winner.
Know your players. I got a whole team of individual personalities; introverts and extroverts. Now that I’m coaching girls, it’s a lot more emotional but it’s knowing how to deal with each player individually. Some you can yell at, some you have to give them a warm fuzzy and that’s how you get the most out of them.
It would be my two points if we get outside and practice as much as you can. Once the season starts as everybody always wants to just pick up games that kid might get more out of a practice and knowing where he’s supposed to be in certain situations or getting those extra reps that you’re not getting because you’re just playing those games.
[Tweet “The minute they feel like they know more than you, you’re in big trouble.”]
You get a team of twelve-year-old boys. Each one of them is coming from a different background, different experience. There might be another sport and they’re just playing ball to have fun and start yelling at them, screaming at them, they aren’t going to have fun anymore.
One of the things I always try to tell coaches is it’s different for us because we have so much experience and we’ve made baseball and softball a study of our lives so we know quite a bit. I try to tell a lot of the coaches to stay ahead of the experts. By the experts, I mean the parents and even some of the players. By staying ahead, you have to study. You have to learn more and more so you’re ahead of what the parents know because the minute they feel like they know more than you, you’re in deep trouble. The credibility can go quick and once you lose your credibility with the parents, it’s going to be lost with the kids because it’s going to be voiced at home. You can start out maybe not knowing a great deal about it but you have to keep studying throughout the season and tell people or you can find stuff online. It’s so easy now that there’s no reason to not come up with new drills and new ways of working on things. Just watch how the professional coaches deal with things and even watch the coach on the opposite side of you. That’s your coach and sometimes they might have a method or two that you like and you can learn from them. Go into it with the thought that, “I’m going to keep learning.” I feel like I keep learning from all the coaches I watch. I’ll learn and pick up a little something here and there and give it a try. You got to never stop learning. Try to stay ahead of the rest of the people out there if you can.
I want to thank everybody partaking in our podcast. It’s been a real pleasure and I hope we can do it again. Maybe we can make this a little more of a regular thing and we can share ideas and I hope people are enjoying. I’m going to pass this around each to guy to mention a little something about where they can be reached and anything else they want to plug. We’ll start with Sam.
I certainly want to thank Marty and Sean as well for spending a lot of time here and they’re great with what they do. Getting them involved here and hearing some of their ideas and responses was a great experience. Hopefully, our listeners enjoyed it as well. I’m at Diamond Edge Academy. I don’t go very much outside of the four walls but you can see us. You can find us at www.DiamondEdgeAcademy.com. Phone number is 630-601-7171. We’re here for cage rentals. We’re here for private instructions, group instruction, whatever you may need.
Marty, anything to add?
Nothing more than just what I do as far as being the pitching instructor. Working on a lot of softball girls. I coach a 16U Softball Team, Taylor Made Titans, come to a tournament and winning a tournament near you.
You can reach me through Sam. Other than that, I run the DuPage Hounds. We’re growing a couple of teams each year. I’m looking forward to the start of the season. One thing I should have added as far as advice for coaches. Being a catcher, it’s one thing to not overlook in practice is making sure those catchers are getting some repetition because it is one of more important positions on the field and it’s overlooked during a lot of practices. Feel free to reach out to Sam and contact me and I can take care of your catchers.
Next time we have you on, we’re going to talk a lot more about framing, throwing and blocking and all those fun things that catchers have to do, the dirty things they have to do. We will get to that in the future, so we hope everybody tunes in again for that. Marty, next time we’ll talk more about our pitching mechanics and there’s so much more to talk about in baseball and that. We want to thank everybody and as always, we have a story after our podcast we’d like you to tune in for. I can be reached at www.BaseballCoachingTips.net. We look forward to our next podcast. Sam, it’s been a pleasure.
As always, Jack. It’s good to have some company with us as well.
I would like to mention that Marty’s son, Kyle Kobernus, runs the strength and conditioning facility which is a gorgeous place that people should come out to. I’m sure he works with athletes of any sports. If you’re interested in strength and conditioning, we invite you to the Diamond Edge and we will have Kyle on as a guest also. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Our story is both humorous and motivational. I found out later that my college coach used this on a number of players. One day in practice, I was fielding ground balls. I missed one ball and my coach put his bat on the shoulder and slowly walked out to me at second base. He said, “Jack, why did you miss that ball?” I said, “It took a bad hop, coach.” He paused a second and he said, “Yes, it did. We can go into any dorm on campus and find somebody that can catch the good hops.” He put the bat back on his shoulder and slowly walked back to hit more ground balls. The point was made. Good is not enough when better is possible and expected. Thanks a lot for listening and we look forward to you the next time. Please tell your friends and teams about us. Good luck.