Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of attending the ABCA convention in Chicago, the I-70 clinic in Greenville, Illinois, and the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association clinic in Lombard, Illinois. It is the first time I can remember that I attended three clinics, and while I admit it was a bit overwhelming to imagine incorporating all of the great ideas that were presented, I am going to summarize some of the best and most innovative ideas from each of the clinics below.
Andy Lopez, Head Coach, University of Arizona
Coach Lopez wrote the first book I bought when I became a head coach, so getting to hear him speak was very exciting. Coach Lopez is a very engaging, and demanding of his players. After hearing him speak, I understand why he gets the most out of his players. The greatest takeaway from his speech for me was the using kids as demonstration. I have done this in the past, but he talked about having freshmen watch the bullpens of their seniors to see what it takes to be great. This can be applied to many other aspects of the game, not just pitching.
Mark Senk, Head Coach, Stony Brook University
It would be hard to argue with the success that Coach Senk has had at taking Stony Brook from DIII to the College World Series last year. The best drill he talked about was putting a tee at first base and third base (with protective screens to the home plate side of them), having the player at 1B working outside tees (for RHH) and the player at 3B (again for RHH) working inside tees while the batter at home plate hit live.
Butch Thompson, Pitching Coach, Mississippi State
Coach Thompson was an incredibly engaging an entertaining as a speaker. After hearing him speak we will be throwing all of our bullpens with a string about 18 inches off the ground. This allows your pitchers to focus on one thing, getting the ball under the string and working on the top half of the ball.
Justin Stone, Elite Baseball Training Facility
Justin is one of the best clinicians on hitting that I have seen. He gives a pretty similar presentation every time I see him talk, but each time it reinforces the absolutes of hitting that I should be teaching. This talk reinforced the concept of a scap-load and pointing the back hip pocket to the pitcher while resisting the upper half of the body in the “hitting position.”
John Cohen , Mississippi State, Head Coach– Hitting Drills
Even though it took him a while to get to the hitting drills (trust me, I didn’t mind, he is incredibly entertaining to listen to), he did give a few great drills as well as concepts for hitters to think about. He simplified the hitting process by saying “hitting is the act of transferring weight from back to front on time.” This is a great cue for young hitters. He also gave a great drill where you put a helmet up against the outside of the hitter’s back foot. When they swing, they should not hit the helmet. If they hit the helmet, they are not transferring their weight effectively. If them miss the helmet, they are transferring their weight correctly.
During his speech on practice organization, the best idea I took away was having a different “challenge” each day after throwing in practice. The example he gave was having your catchers have to block two balls each and keep them inside a circle around them. Do this while the whole team watches to try to create a pressure situation.
Brad Mills, 3rd Base Coach, Cleveland Indians
Coach Mills is an incredibly passionate baseball man, and many of the qualities that made him a major league manager came out during his presentations. I feel like with such a knowledgeable baseball man speaking to me, my biggest takeaway shouldn’t have been something so simple, but sometimes it is the simplest things that make people great. He talked a lot about personal accountability including being on time. It was obvious to me that we should start on time, and should hold players accountable for being on time. What struck me, was his insistence that you be done on time as well. If you plan for practice to go two hours, then practice should go two hours. You owe it to your kids to take your word, just like they owe it to you to be on time.
Perry Roth, Assistant Coach, University of Alabama Birmingham
The thing I liked most about Coach Roth’s two speeches was his attention to the process over the results. The process scrimmage they run is very innovative and gives teams points for things like hustle, blocking pitches with a runner at third, advancing on dirtballs, and taking quality at bats.
His zone hitting concept was also unique. They divide the strike zone into five zones. Their hitters then look the pitches in certain zones based on count and the pitcher.
Jacob Goebbert – Houston Astros Minor League Outfielder
I coached against Jacob when he was in high school. He was one of the best high school players I have seen, and a great person as well. He did a great job for what I would assume was one of his first public speeches to a group a coaches. His “bill of the cap” rule for line drives right at you was very good. The rule is, if there is a line drive at you and the ball goes over the bill of your cap, you will probably have to go back on it, if the ball stays under the bill of your cap, you will probably need to come in. I do not accept this as a perfect rule, but I intend to try it out to see how it works.
Travis Kerber – Elite Baseball Training Facility
Watching Travis’ presentation was like watching the pitching version of Justin Stone (this is a good thing in my opinion). His talk reemphasized the reality that pitching and hitting have many of the same mechanics, especially with the timing and sequence of the body. He gave some really good warm-up drills for helping to create separation between the lower and upper half while throwing.
I have never attended three clinics in a month before, and the amount of information was quite overwhelming. When I started writing this post, I intended on summarizing every speaker I heard this January. Shortly after starting, I realized what an undertaking that would be. There were many other excellent speakers at each of the clinics, but I would not be able to summarize them in a reasonable amount of time.