CSULB Coach Cautions Parents: Raise Men, Not Just Ballplayers

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Mike Steele

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ve probably figured out by now that Lefty plays for a travel ball organization called MIT. What you might not know is that while MIT officially stands for Mentoring, Instruction and Training, my wife and some of the other MIT moms often joke that it should really stand for “Men in Training” (because of the important life lessons our kids are learning through baseball.)

Looks like the MIT moms are onto something . . . at least that’s what CSULB’s pitching coach, Mike Steele, would say. Mike, who was an All-American pitcher and outfielder in college and a 29th-round draft pick and 3-time All-Star in the minors, has spent the last 10 years as a pitching coach—first at Michigan State University and then within the Pittsburg Pirates organization.

Now that he’s at CSULB (go Dirtbags!) I reached out to him and asked for one piece of advice he could give to parents of youth baseball players. And his no-nonsense response went a lot deeper than that. Parents, this is a must-read!

COACH STEELE: When it comes to coaching kids in sports, I have always stuck to the idea that there are no magic, fool-proof answers that I, as a coach, can offer. Here’s why: Any answer a kid comes to that is not his own is not HIS answer, it’s mine.

Yes, I am in the business of developing players to reach their full potential as athletes and to perform to win. But that doesn’t mean I give hitting or throwing lessons and ask athletes to conform to my idea of the right mechanics.

That’s because I think there’s a difference between training a player and developing one. When you train a player, your focus is on the correction of external behaviors like hitting or throwing mechanics. When you develop a player, you do it from the inside out.

I think that’s a critical distinction to make – and one that speaks to a deep-seated problem in amateur sports that too often pulls players (and their parents) way off track.

Here’s what I want parents to know: Your kid does not have mechanical problems.

And that means your kid does not require mechanical fixes. (I’m talking about kids 18 years old and under, here.) Furthermore, if you take a kid to a pitching coach when he is young and weak and inexperienced, you can start building a base of flawed thinking – that his attitude, concentration and effort are not the important focus. Rather, it’s physical mechanics that need to be corrected.

This could not be further from the truth!

If you think you can buy your kid a delivery that will ensure his success, you’ve been sold a lie. You’re being preyed upon by someone who wants to profit from your insecurity as a parent. Just think about the amount of “answers” that are sold to you and your kid – the products and DVDs and philosophies – all designed to squelch your fear that your kid will not get a spot on his high school team or a scholarship to college or play in the major leagues.

But here’s the real problem you should be focusing on: Your kid is weak, inexperienced and not athletic enough.

Does that mean your player doesn’t have a future in sports? Not necessarily. It just means he needs to develop.

How? I am a major proponent of kids playing multiple sports. I want kids who have COMPETED, not TRAINED. I want kids who have TRANSFORMED, not CONFORMED.

Think about the difference between the way we grew up and the way our kids are growing up. WE PLAYED OUTSIDE! No matter the game or the weather. So our athletic development was based on our ability to compete in many sports or games that were unorganized. Never did we go to someone and learn how to throw. And if we did play organized sports, it was for a short duration.

Sports were not a means for us to gain a future. They were fun. And they taught us how to compete, problem-solve and work hard. Through sports we learned how to be part of a team. We learned how to become men.

What’s wrong with an 11-year-old pitcher? He doesn’t get the ball out on time? He doesn’t get to his back side?  He doesn’t get the arm up in back? He can’t repeat pitches or deliveries? Sure, all of the above are probably true. But is that because someone didn’t sit him down and teach him how to manipulate his body into some kind of fabricated pitching delivery? NO. It’s because he has not thrown a ball for a long enough period of time to have screwed it up enough to actually come to HIS own answer on how to do it right.

I learned how to pitch against a brick wall with tape outlining one of the bricks. That’s how I learned to hit my spot. I would go throw till I couldn’t lift my arm and then do it again the next day. I would also ride my bike over to the high school and stand at home plate and see how many balls I could throw over the fence. Then I’d pick them all up and do it again.

So what’s my best piece of advice to parents? Take your money and buy a bucket of balls and tell your kid to get on his bike, take them to a field and throw them as far as he can. Then run, pick them up and do it again.

Do I think mechanical correction is ever needed?  Sure, but in its own place. Do I think there are youth coaches who can help and inspire players? Absolutely! But please don’t think any of that will guarantee your player success.

They all aren’t going to college. They all aren’t going to the big leagues.

Yes, your player may be talented enough to make it to college or pro-ball in spite of mechanical correction. But I promise you that I have coached enough of those types of players who need to be completely redeveloped because they never learned how to compete and figure things out on their own. Most of the time, those players – despite their talent – ran out of time to redevelop. And their college careers ended because of the flawed thinking that if they just fixed their delivery, they would be a good pitcher…please!

Likewise, in the pros, I tapped enough kids on the shoulders and told them that the Farm Director wanted to see them because their careers were over. Not because they weren’t talented enough, but because they were stuck in the FIXED mindset of delivery and mechanics and not the GROWTH mindset of figuring issues out on their own.

So, what CAN parents do? How about playing catch with your kid every day and making him hit you in the chest? How about putting him in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so that he learns to compete? How about not giving him any answers and telling him to put in the hard work and figure it out himself? How about making him do chores around the house to earn his own money to pay for his equipment or summer ball? How about raising a man, instead of raising a baseball player?

Think about it this way: When your son is 30 years old and is married and in the work force, would you want to be able to say: 1) He played baseball in college but his marriage is a wreck and your grandkids are a mess and he can’t keep a job. Or 2) He is a good man. He loves his wife and he is responsible. People trust him, and he is going to be successful because he works hard, is honest and accountable. He can handle adversity and is a rock for his family and work.

If your answer is #2 (and I hope it is) hold your kids accountable for their actions. Make them CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES: Attitude, Concentration and Effort. Develop leaders based upon character, not baseball statistics or showcase rankings. Raise men through sports.

Or, you can keep giving $90 dollars an hour to someone who will teach them that they are not really the problem, their delivery is. That if they perform badly in a game, it wasn’t because they were overcompensating or aiming the ball or broke down mentally. It was because they just need to do the delivery they were taught and that as long as they use this arm band, go to this throwing program, play for this team (for $2,000) or go to this high school, they will be successful.

I just don’t believe the goal for kids is submission to the correction of their external behaviors. I think what’s actually required is a tilling of their souls.

Of course, this is just my opinion and I have learned through 11 years of marriage that I am not always correct. But I have a major struggle with the lack of maturity and toughness in kids coming to college and even pro-ball. By the time they get here, it’s too late to pick up the pieces for some of them.

I think we live in a culture that lacks GENUINE, AUTHENTIC MEN! And I suggest we use sports to develop a few more of them.

Coach Steele’s suggested reading:

Inside Out Coaching – By Joe Ehrmann

The Legacy Builder – By Rod Olson

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