College Baseball

What College Baseball taught me about Youth Baseball

Now that my undergraduate college days have come to a close, I have reflected on what I learned over the last four years. While it is impossible for me to decide which activities and organizations that I was involved in truly brought about the most personal growth for me, there are some lessons that I know I learned from college baseball and not anywhere else. Aside from the life lessons that an older pitcher taught me (like “be who you are” or “never prank a prankster”) I learned three things in college that are applicable to youth baseball.

First, always make sure that the game is fun. It sounds simple, but so often we glorify the sacrifices and hard work of the great players that we forget to make baseball enjoyable. My sophomore and junior year, I was so obsessed with working hard that I forgot the reason why I played baseball. So, for two years baseball was work instead of fun.

Even though I have not received real at-bats since my junior year of high school, I still like to go to the batting cages to hit. Too often, I see parents that are overly critical of their kid’s hitting, which is not fun for the kid. Anyone who is watching can see that the child is not enjoying his time at the cages. Coach Nicollerat often talks about the life lessons that baseball can teach. Discipline, teamwork, and attention to detail can be learned through baseball, but enjoying the game should always come first. As a coach, think about what you you’re your players to learn and how you want your players to look back on their experience. Try to make the game fun as much as possible. At his baseball camps, Coach Nicollerat has transformed mundane pitcher fielding practice drills into fun mini-games for the kids.

Secondly, appreciate the time that you have playing. In high school and college, I played for some coaches that were not very good. I did not like these coaches and I let my dislike for the coach ruin baseball for me. While I was playing for these coaches, I could not wait to move onto the next team or the next season. I did not appreciate the opportunity that was placed in front of me. Knowing that this season would be my last, I wanted to play so badly. When it was freezing cold, or we were up ten or down ten, I wanted to play. Before our games, I would routinely tell our coaches that I was ready to come in relief. This probably did not earn me any extra innings, but I wanted to make sure that our coaches knew that I wanted to play and I was ready to play. Back in high school, I did not appreciate how special it is to get to play baseball. When we played Vianney at home during my senior year, I remember telling Coach Nicolerat that I was essentially indifferent as to whether I pitched in the game or just threw a bullpen session. That attitude could not be more different the one I had this year as I begged to get in during a freezing cold blowout in non-conference game. If I could go back in time to high school, I would change my attitude.

Third, I learned that the mental side of baseball is indistinguishable from the physical side of the game. The mental part of baseball is often discussed, but I disagree with most people about how to implement mental skills. Many coaches will players believe that there is a spectrum and you can line up closer to the mental side or closer to the physical side. I used to think that I was on the physical side, but now, I realize that there is almost no difference between the mental and physical side of the game. In college, my coach told me to forget about my mechanics (the physical) and just concentrate on relaxing (the mental). I thought that the mental side was completely unimportant and I had a flaw in my mechanics. For example, I realized that in high-pressure situations, I would lean towards third as I threw the ball causing inaccuracy. I was able to recognize my problem and correct so that I could pitch effectively even tough spots. Was that a mental problem or a physical problem? Like almost everything in baseball, I think that they are so interconnected that to try to differentiate the two is a waste of time. So coaches should never assume that one of his player’s problems is purely mental or purely physical, because it is likely a combination of the two.

Unfortunately for me, I learned these lessons the hard way, and only learned them in the second semester of my senior year. Had I learned them sooner, I would have enjoyed playing much more than I did. However, once I came to those three realizations, it helped me have the most enjoyable season of baseball of my life, and hopefully, these lessons can help make every baseball season an enjoyable for kids.

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