Tag Archives: Butler University

Harmon has Bishop Chatard Trojans paying attention to detail

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attention to detail.

Mike Harmon has taught his players at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis to pay attention to those during his 20 seasons as head baseball coach for the Trojans.

“Those 3-2 games come down to overthrows or not taking the extra base,” says Harmon. “I’m also a big advocate of multi-sport athletes.”

Chatard has won 13 state titles in football and one in boys basketball. The Trojans have also claimed 11 sectionals, seven regionals, one semistate and one state finalist finish (1973) with five sectionals and two regionals on Harmon’s watch as coach.

During the IHSAA fall Limited Contact Period, Harmon led nine or 10 athletes not involved in a fall sport (many Chatard baseball players are in football or tennis) in player development.

The Trojans will be work in the weight room until the next LCP (Dec. 9-Feb. 8).

Chatard was the first Indiana high school to have artificial baseball turf on-campus. Dave Alexander Field is heading into its eighth spring as a turf field.

“With turf, we will stay outside as long as we can,” says Harmon.

Chatard (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian and Roncalli).

CCC teams play home-and-home series for five straight weeks — usually on Tuesdays and Wednesday. Last year, a seeded postseason tournament was added.

Chatard last won the Indianapolis city tournament in 2011 and lost in the semifinals in 2019. The 14-team event is also seeded. In 2020, the city and county championships are slated for May 14 at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Manual and Indianapolis Shortridge. Chatard’s most-recent sectional crown came in 2007.

A Catholic school, Chatard is part of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis North Deanery along with Cathedral High School, Christ the King School, Immaculate Heart of Mary School. St. Joan of Arc School, St. Lawrence School, St. Matthew School, St. Pius School, St. Simon the Apostle School and St. Thomas Aquinas School. Harmon says more than a third of Chatard students come from ND feeder schools.

A college preparatory school, almost all Chatard students further their education past high school.

Several recent graduates have go on to college baseball, including Quenton Wellington (Franklin College), Matthew Annee (Wabash College), Henry Wannemuehler (Wabash College), Nick Casey (DePauw University), Lewis Dilts (Manchester University), Mitchell Ayers (Indiana Wesleyan University) and Drew Murray (Hanover College).

Current Chatard senior Patrick Mastrian has committed to the University of Michigan. Others are expected to go on to college diamonds.

Harmon considers helping place players who want to play college baseball a big part of his job.

“I coached in grad school at Butler for three years so I feel like I know (what colleges are looking for),” says Harmon. “We talk to our players as early as sophomore year.”’

A meeting is set up with parents and all involved are encouraged to do their homework on prospective schools.

Harmon says he will tell it like it is when it comes to dealing with college recruiters.

“I try to be honest with them,” says Harmon. “I tell them come out and watch them play.

“You don’t want to feed them a line of bull and it comes and haunts and you.”

Harmon’s coaching staff includes Joe Milharcic and Ken Menser with the varsity, Brian Harrison with the junior varsity and Coley Gaynor and Dave Whittemore with the freshmen. Cathedral graduate Milharcic is a Chatard teacher and has been with the program for 16 years. Chatard alum Whittemore also teaches at the school. Menser played at Butler, Gaynor at Ritter High School and Harrison is a Ben Davis High School graduate.

A 1984 Chatard graduate, Harmon is a former football head coach and baseball assistant at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis. He was on the football staff at Chatard for a decade and still helps the team on game nights. He is also in his 15th year as an assistant athletic director.

Harmon played baseball at Chatard for Tony Primavera, who was good at making coaching points.

“He really taught the game — things that didn’t show up in the box score like lead-off walks and two-out hits,” says Harmon. “He really talked the game with us.

“I appreciated him more after I played for him when I did play for him.”

Harmon played three seasons for Larry Gallo (now executive associate athletic director at the University of North Carolina) and one for Pat Murphy (now the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers) at the University of Notre Dame. Both had pitching backgrounds, but different approaches.

“(Gallo) was very family-oriented,” says Harmon. “He was always asking how things are going outside of baseball. He was a people person.”

“(Murphy) was hard-line and was about baseball 24/7.”

Now a veteran coach himself, Harmon enjoys talking the game and knocking around ideas with guys like Rich Andriole, Phil Webster, John Wirtz, Dave Gandolph and John Zangrilli. The first four are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Mike is married to Roncalli graduate Karen Harmon. The Harmons have three children. Emma Harmon (20) is an Indiana University sophomore. Elaina Harmon (16) is a Roncalli junior. Andrew Harmon is in sixth grade. He is a ballboy for Chatard in football and batboy in baseball.

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Mike Harmon has been the head baseball coach at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis for 20 seasons. (Bishop Chatard Photo)

 

Harber sees movement as key for baseball players

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Harber was a left-handed pitcher at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins system. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played five minor league seasons.
He has taken his experiences as an athlete, student and 17 years as a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance (he works out of the Carmel location) to help athletes in many sports, including baseball.
Harber shared his knowledge on “Assessing the Overhead Athlete” at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.
The pyramid for “ideal athlete” development as Harber presents it has movement at the base with performance in the middle and skill at the top.
“Every athlete should have a wide range of movement,” says Harber.

Movement involves the ability to squat, lunge, bend, extend along with single-leg stability, shoulder mobility, trunk stability and rotary stability.
“It’s everything Greg works on in his program,” says Harber. “It’s everything a strength coach works on.”
Performance includes speed, strength, power, agility, endurance, reactivity and quickness.
Skills are sport-specific, such as working on throwing mechanics or taking cuts off the tee.
“Where we get out-of-balance is when we focus too much on the skills and the performance and not enough on your fundamental movements,” says Harber.
“This movement becomes dysfunctional when you have poor range of motion, or a lack of stability.”
Harber says among his goals is to minimize injuries and maximize potential.
“You can’t make the team if you’re stuck in the training room,” says Harber. “You’re not going to help the team if you can’t stay healthy.
“Your durability is more important than your ability.”
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a difficult condition.
“Everything you do in life is managing risk,” says Harber. “You guys took a risk, getting out of the house, getting in your car and coming over here. You could have got into an accident.
“What did you do to minimize that risk? You put your seat belt on.”
Harber says the system as it currently stands does not work in players’ favor.
At 43, Harber came up before travel baseball became what it is today.
There was some American Legion and Connie Mack ball in the summer.
“You guys play 50, 60, 70 games a year right now just in travel ball,” says Harber. “On top of that comes your high school season. Then you may take three weeks off in August right around tryouts for the next travel ball season then you go play fall ball.
“It’s too much. Your bodies can’t handle that at this age.”
Harber says most pain — outside of direct blows or trauma — will seem
to appear suddenly.
“In fact, it’s been building up for years,” says Harber. “Your body is able to compensate and adapt.
“The day that your pain shows up is simply the day that your compensation ran out. Try to start thinking of pain as a request for change. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’”
Harber presented findings from the American Journal of Sports Medicine:
If a pitcher pitches while fatigued, there’s a 36 times increased risk of injury.
• Pitchers lose 6-18 percent of rotator cuff strength after one game.
“Recovery is important,” says Harber.
• Pitchers lose 3-4 percent of rotator cuff strength over the course of one season.
• Throwing more than 75 pitches in a game yielded a 2.5 times greater chance of shoulder pain.
What is the cumulative effect (according to the AJSM)?:
• Pitching for greater than eight months out of the year results in
five times as many injuries.
• Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in three times as many injuries.
• Pitching showcases and travel leagues significantly contributed to increased injuries.
• Throwing more than 600 pitches per season yielded a 3.5 times greater chance for elbow pain.
In addressing performance, Harber notes the following:
• The peak age for a baseball player is 27.
“It’s not 18 or 21,” says Harber. “It takes time to develop these players.”
• Typical MLB pitcher is 6-5, 250 pounds.
• Starters 200-plus innings per year.
• Starters throw 3,500 pitches.
• There make 30-35 starts.
• They throw 35 bullpens.
“Injuries are going to happen,” says Harber. “Every pitcher has been hurt, is hurt, will be hurt at some point in their career.
“To be able to withstand that, you have to train. You have to manage that fatigue. You have to recover. All that stuff’s important.”
Harber also talked about the importance the Central Nervous System plays in the whole equation.
“Central Nervous System is king,” says Harber. “It controls everything.
“Without proper motor control, your nervous system doesn’t feel safe.
If it detects a threat it will not give you freedom of movement. It will not let you put force through a joint.”
CNS grants strength and mobility.
“Potential strength is always there, but the brain won’t give it to you if it feels vulnerable,” says Harber. “The brain is always asking itself, ‘Is giving you more strength right now a good idea?’ If the
answer is no, you aren’t getting it no matter how much you want it.
“Your nervous system will only let you go as fast, hard and heavy as it knows you can slow.”
Harber says there is no such medical definition for a “dead arm.”
“It’s the nervous system,” says Harber. “Your brain detects an instability somewhere and it’s not going to let you put force through that.”
Addressing mobility (the ability to move or be moved freely and easily) and stability (the resistance to movement) can help diagnose many issues.
With poor scapular stability, the body locks down the thoracic spine and should range of movement.
When there’s poor core stability, the body locks down the SI joint to find stability/strength.
If there’s poor mid-foot stability, the body collapses the arch and up the joint to create a rigid structure to push off of.
“You were born with all the mobility in the world,” says Harber. “You earn stability and we mess it up along the way due to poor posture, past injuries and faulty movement patterns.
“I’ve got a 7-month old baby at home. He’s like Gumby. I can bend him, and he won’t break. He’s trying to figure it out developmentally.
“I can stand him up and he becomes a Starfish. He locks out his legs and
his shoulder blades. That’s his body trying to create artificial stability.”
During a five-year period of working with youth players while in Atlanta, Harber collected data and found a number of players with shoulder mobility asymmetries with at least a 6 inch difference
between the right and left.
The number of asymmetries went up as the players got to be 16, 17, 18.
“Why?,” says Harber. “More games. The more you throw, the more imbalances are going to happen.”
On top of that, older players are beginning to get into the weight room, lifting heavier loads and getting tighter.
“If they don’t have somebody addressing mobility and stability along the way, they are going to create more issues,” says Harber.
A joint by joint feet-to-fingertip assessment (going up the kinetic chain) includes:
• Foot stability.
• Ankle mobility.
• Knee stability.
• Hip mobility.
• Lumbar stability.
• Thoracic spine mobility.
• Scapular stability.
• Shoulder (gleno-humeral) mobility.
• Elbow stability.
• Wrist mobility.
“Mobile. Stable. Mobile. Stable,” says Harber. “They stack on top of
each other.
“When that pattern is broken, injuries happen.”

RYANHARBER

Ryan Harber, who pitched at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins organization, has been a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach with Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance for 17 years.

 

Schreiber looks for Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons to be in ‘overachieve mode’

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Purdue Fort Wayne head baseball Doug Schreiber has been defining the culture for his Mastodons.

With the help of PFW assistants Brent McNeil, Ken Jones and Gordon Cardenas, attitude will be at the forefront.

“We’re going to have to be in overachieve mode somewhat,” says Schreiber, who was hired at PFW in July 2019. “We’re going to be looking at players to play a little bit above their skill level.

“To be able to overachieve, you have to have the intangibles. You have to have the proper attitude and outlook. We’re recruiting attitude and that’s going to be a big focus.

“We want to make sure guys understand that having a positive attitude, a maturity level and a passion to play is the foundation of the program with respect, work ethic and trust being some of the cornerstones of what we’re trying to build.”

Schreiber says he makes few guarantees to his players. He doesn’t promise them he’ll add 10 mph to their fastball, get them drafted or even give them a starting position.

“One of the things I think I can guarantee is that if you don’t have the right attitude and the right mindset, you definitely aren’t going to overachieve and play above your skill set,” says Schreiber. “You are probably going to play below your skill set.”

A head coach for 20 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind., — 18 at Purdue University (1999-2016) and two at McCutcheon High School (20018-19), Schreiber knows that Purdue Fort Wayne may not be the biggest school with the very best facilities.

But the Mastodons are NCAA Division I and expect to be competitive at that level while playing home games at Mastodon Field and training in the strength & fitness area inside the Hilliard Gates Sports Center.

How does Schreiber and company recognize the intangibles during the recruiting process?

Stuff on the mound, bat speed and range in the field are fairly evident. It’s not as obvious with other attributes.

“It’s tough.” says Schreiber. “You do have to spend a little more time. In some of the recruiting opportunities, you just get a quick look.”

Because of NCAAA rules, coaches don’t get spend as an inordinate amount of time with the prospective student-athlete. That’s where they rely on the players’ coaches (high school, travel, junior college).

Schreiber said the vetting process also includes the answers that come from casual conversation.

The Mastodons staff has learned how to read body language. It’s something they pick up on when watching a recruit when they or their teammates are struggling and it’s something they can see in players on the roster.

“We can’t see what’s inside their head, their heart or their gut,” says Schreiber. “The best way you have at least a clue on what’s going on in there is their body language.

“It definitely is a red flag when you see some disrespect and those types of things.”

It’s important because there are only so many roster spots available (up to 35 with 11.7 scholarships at the D-I level) and coaches have to get it right.

“Within their baseball life, we’re going to have compassion for them as individuals with anything that’s going on in their life,” says Schreiber. “But we just don’t have time for them to feel sorry for themselves.

“It’s a tough enough game that if they start to feel sorry for themselves, that’s the beginning of a negative attitude. They’re going to start making excuses, blaming other people or not taking responsibility. We have to have student-athletes that are mature enough and coachable enough to be able to handle adversity and persevere through those types of things.”

Schreiber says human beings have negative thoughts. What are done with those are the key.

“Do you act out on them?,” says Schreiber. “Do you voice your negative opinion? There’s all kinds of things that can get you in trouble.

“We have to teach them how to channel those negative thoughts into some positive action and positive thoughts.”

Schreiber also puts stock in mental development. With that in mind, he will have his players in classroom settings taking part in open discussions on life skills.

Topics will include “a winning mentality vs. a whining mentality” plus leadership, team unity and much more.

Prior to taking over at Purdue, Schreiber served as an assistant at Ball State University (1991-92), Butler University (1993), the University of Notre Dame (1994) and Arizona State University (1995-98).

That’s why he values his experience at McCutcheon. When he went into coaching, he thought he would be at the high school level — something his father — 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber excelled at for 39 years at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.

“I had the opportunity to keep staying at Division I,” says Schreiber. “It  just kept working out.

“To (coach) at McCutcheon, where (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton had built the program up to such a high caliber was a great experience.”

Working with high school student-athletes, Schreiber learned about patience.

“I feel like I became a better coach by coaching younger players,” says Schreiber. “Those are the players we’re going to be recruiting now.

“Getting in-tune with how they communicate amongst each other and with coaches, parents and everything was an important piece of it, too.”

After his coaching tenure at Purdue, Schreiber went into an academic job at the school then got his real estate license, but never got into that field too heavily with his coaching position at McCutcheon.

I knew I wanted to continue to coach,” says McCutcheon. “I looked into few opportunities, but when this one (at Purdue Fort Wayne) came forward it was something I was very, very interested in and was very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”

“Staying in Indiana was important to my wife (McCutcheon guidance counselor Sarah) and I. We had visited and done some things in Fort Wayne. I’ve recruited over here.

“Fort Wayne is a great city. It’s got a lot of everything, but it still has the small Midwest town feel.”

The Schreiber have purchased a home in Fort Wayne, meaning the coach does not have the long commute he had when he first was hired.

“Other than that, it’s been smooth and thoroughly enjoyable,” says Schreiber of the transition. “Everything has been quality. I’ve got great support from our athletic director.”

Mastodons AD Kelley Hartley Hutton was head women’s volleyball coach for 15 seasons and 13 years as Senior Woman Administrator PFW. She was a four-year player at the University of Toledo.

“She understands the coach’s perspective,” says Schreiber. “We’re into having the best student-athlete experience possible. She gets it from both ends (coach and athlete).”

Staying in the state also allows Schreiber to keep his well-established network of high school and travel ball coaches. There’s also the junior colleges in the region.

This fall, recruiting has included plenty of looks at junior college players, who tend to be more mature physically and mentally.

“That’s not to say we’re not interested in high talent high school players as well,” says Schreiber. “We’re going to try to stay very strong in Indiana — players that have gone on to junior college and those from high schools.”

Ideally, most players will be on-campus for four or five years, giving time to mature and grow into leadership roles.

“There’s a always a little bit of a learning curve,” says Schreiber. “Ultimately, our base is going to be four-year players with a good mix of junior college players.”

Purdue Fort Wayne also participates in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, where students from several surrounding states get a break on out-of-state tuition. That allows Schreiber and company to take a little wider look while keeping Indiana as the recruiting base.

PFW is currently a member of the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). The Mastodons are joining the Horizon League in 2020-21. The league currently features Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, University of Illinois-Chicago, Wright State and Youngstown State.

Schreiber says geography is one factor for the switch.

“Student-athletes are missing a lot of class because of the distance,” says Schreiber. “We do create things with scheduling in the spring that allows them to minimize missed classes.”

That includes moving classes away from late in the day Thursday or altogether Friday and taking more online classes. On the road, there is quiet time for study on the bus and in the hotel. With some long road trips ending on Monday morning, a premium is placed on time and priority management.

“It’s going to benefit them from an academic standpoint,” says Schreiber of the move to the Horizon.

With Schreiber’s hiring, the Slicer quotient doubled for the Mastodons. Doug is a 1982 LaPorte High School graduate. Mastodons senior first baseman Travis Upp, son of current LaPorte head coach Scott Upp, got his diploma at LPHS in 2016.

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Doug Schreiber is the head baseball coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne (Ind.) (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.

Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.

In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.

Bellak presented “Simplifying the Approach for High Output Offenses” during an American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).

The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.

“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.

He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.

“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.

“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”

Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.

“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.

“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”

Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.

“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”

No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).

“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.

“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”

Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.

Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.

Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.

Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.

Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.

“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.

For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”

Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”

It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”

Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”

Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”

Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.

“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”

Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”

Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”

As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.

“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”

There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”

“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.

“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.

“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”

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Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

Indiana Wesleyan’s Benjamin affirms priority of coaching communication

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin has been the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University since the 2016 season.

His Wildcats have gone 123-105-1 overall and 62-47 in Crossroads League play during Benjamin’s tenure with a CL tournament title in

2016 and a 2018 CL Regular Season Championship leading to two NAIA Opening Round appearances in 2016 and 2018.

A big part of the culture revolving around the IWU program involves improving communication each year.

Benjamin, who was head coach at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., for eight seasons, winning eight championships before taking over in Marion, addressed communication’s impact on coachability at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“Guys come in on Day 1 and they seem very coachable,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin says coaches may notice some players that are a little standoffish or hard to influence while others are coachable throughout the entire experience.

In many cases, players have a personal instructor, adding more voices to the room.

“You’re trying to navigate all those variables,” says Benjamin. “The vision is the allow the player to play competent-unconscious.”

That vision comes with a set of values.

The first is asking open-ended questions (coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach and player to player) and minimizing statements.

Why is this done?

“I’m trying to develop the awareness and self-awareness of the player by asking him an open-ended question.

 “By slowing things down, conversations with players become much more of a dialogue instead of a one-way statement.

“You know a lot more about your players because you’re getting a lot more feedback.”

The player is given a chance to do some self-discovery by answering the open-ended questions.

Benjamin says if a player doesn’t have awareness (knowing what is going on around you) and self-awareness (knowing what you are experiencing), they cannot effectively implement information.

“If anytime they’re stuck  they’re looking for a statement, they will have the inability to self-diagnosis pitch-to-pitch during competition.” says Benjamin.

“It’s Strike 1 and they look down to third base and say, ‘Coach, what now?’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to talk to yourself.

“Most young players talk to themselves in statements instead of open-ended questions. Most statements are negative and not positive and solution-driven.”

Benjamin has found that as players develop they ask themselves open-ended questions, they find a solution the vast majority of the time.

“The coach is there as a sounding board, a facilitator, a counselor, awareness raiser and available when the player gets ‘stuck’ to offer a suggestion,” says Benjamin, who wants his players to own the process.

“If they own it, the ceiling is them. If I own it, their ceiling is me. If their ceiling is me, they’re never going to hit a curveball because I couldn’t do it.”

The relationship becomes a partnership.

“It’s not a threat and it’s not a power struggle,” says Benjamin.

The additional value of communication helping coachability is the coaching staff being aware of the person before the player. Assistant coaches are vital in this area as the front lines of knowing the room.

“There’s death in the family,” says Benjamin. “Girlfriends, adjusting academically, or something going on in the home.

“Nobody on the coaching staff should ever be surprised about what’s going on in a player’s life; it gives you a clearer picture of all the influences in that person’s life when they enter training.”

As a coaching staff, There are typically two individualized meetings a week in which, as a staff, we go down each name on the roster discussing who has what needs that we may be able to meet through various aspects of the program.”

The Indiana Wesleyan staff has players focus on one objective at a time (approach, plan or skill). By showing restraint, they can avoid information overload.

“It is impossible to play unconscious and knowledgeable if we’re carrying all these different things into our performance time,” says Benjamin. “If you’re trying to balance two or three different things, it becomes impossible to execute one.”

At IWU, that one thing for a player might take the entire fall. They focus on the objective, they achieve it and then they move on.

Benjamin desires the coaching staff to over communicate with each other, to be open and always seeking growth.

Benjamin admits that investing in assistants development was not a strength earlier in his coaching career.

Having operated during the first half of his career with just one volunteer assistant, who worked during the day, Benjamin’s ability to understand the value and importance of investing into his assistants was behind. “The last two years, I’ve grown in the ability to delegate, mentor, and invest daily in our assistant coaches.

By doing so, the atmosphere and the productivity is up.”

Benjamin looks to provide a safe atmosphere for his assistants to ask questions.

“That’s how we get better,” says Benjamin. “We talk about players needing to be coached-up, but so do coaches.”

“As a coaching staff, we have blind spots. But if we ask each other open-ended questions, it’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity to grow.”

Benjamin says, “In coaching, time is maybe the most valuable aspect.”

As a coaching staff preparing for this Fall training season, Benjamin and his staff noticed that the areas in which we failed the most in coaching, was coaching a player inside too tight of a time restraint.

Benjamin says a coaching session must provide clarity by the coach and the player, because that often requires time, coaches needed to decide when the best time was to address a coaching opportunity.

Because it negatively impacts trust, the idea is to avoid “Drive-By coaching.”

IWU coaches witnessed this the most in the side cages during Batting Practice rotations.

Rotations may be 8-15 minutes depending on the day.

If four hitters arrive in the side batting cages with limited time, then we found ourselves making a lot of statements since we did not have the time capacity to create the amount of clarity as you would in a different segment of training, early work, or post work.

Now, if we get a coaching opportunity in the cages, we ask ourselves if the player has the foundational awareness and self-awareness to find a solution in the limited amount of time without transferring ownership of the hitter’s development.

If there is not enough time to effectively coach that player in that session, we will act on the coaching opportunity post practice or early work the next day.

“We want to create opportunities for growth so there’s time to land that plane,” says Benjamin.

Practices for the Wildcats are divided into training zones and performance zones.

Training zones entail many reps and a lot of teaching.

“Nothing’s really being measured,” says Benjamin. “It’s a zone where you can make mistakes and experiment.”

Benjamin notes that baseball players in general are training now more than ever.

“Guys are hitting all the time. They’re training all the time,” says Benjamin. “They become really, really good at training.”

That’s where the performance zone comes in, where there is competition with some kind of award or consequence.

“You have to win,” says Benjamin. “We’re transitioning from the training zone where you’re allowed to think, to the performance zone where you shut this thing (points to head) off, get unconscious and just try to win the moment.

“You just try to go beat the other guy.”

This fall, a typical Wildcats practice has three competitions (performance zones) and one learning moment (training zone), in addition, early work is designed as a training zone.

IWU also emphasizes peer-to-peer competere.

“It’s the Latin word for competition and it means to strive together,”

says Benjamin. The personal best comes out by competing with another person.

It does not happen overnight, but it can be healthy for two players to be vying to be the starting shortstop.

It’s often been found that one wins the job and the other ends up starting, too, perhaps at second base or third base.

“Competition is an opportunity and not a threat,” says Benjamin. “We have to have competition. It’s the only way we’ll find out what our personal best is.”

Benjamin invites players to join the IWU program based on three factors — humility, motor and skill.

“They have the confidence to say ‘I’m really good’ and the humility to say ‘I need to get better.’ That’s vital.

“In psychology, they say your self-confidence shows up before your self-awareness does.”

Motor means the ability to work hard with intention each day.

“Skill can always be developed if the first two exist.” says Benjamin.

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Rich Benjamin is the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. His first season leading the Wildcats was 2016. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Meyer uses many tools to assess Butler hitters

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Meyer coaches hitters at Butler University.

The NCAA Division I program trains and plays at Bulldog Park, which is less than eight miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Meyer uses auto racing metaphors when explaining the way he develops Dawgs hitters.

Like racing owners put their money in the car, baseball coaches are invested in the players.

Meyer says goal in player development is to make the athletes the best they can be within the framework of the team. Assessments are done to know the strengths of each player. One player might be known for his power and another his speed.

“We want to know the tools we’re working with,” says Meyer. who shared some developmental concepts at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler. “It’s our responsibility to assesses and know what their strengths and weaknesses are and then to read the dashboard as to what’s going on with them. If it’s a mechanical problem, we go back to their movement screening. Maybe they’re mentally clouded.”

There’s schoolwork. On the baseball side, there’s personal instructors, high school and travel coaches and even family members putting in their two cents worth.

“There are a lot of people in these guys’ heads,” says Meyer. “It’s our job as coaches to de-clutter.

“We want to simplify and get the entire pit crew on the same page. We’re all invested to make these guys better. If it takes a call from me to (a given player’s) coach back home who he worked with all summer to get a better understanding of the things they worked on, that’s fine by me.”

Meyer says it’s important let players’ talents shine through and not try to change everything about them.

“You guys kept guys on your team for a reason,” says Meyer. “It’s OK to let them fail because then they’ll come crawling to us looking for help.

“Everybody is on the same page and there is a trust that is built into that.”

Certified by OnBase University — an educational organization dedicated to the study of how the human body functions in relation to baseball and softball — Meyer puts his hitters through a battery of tests to learn their movement patterns.

These tests determine an individual’s deficiencies and strengths.

“If I know how his body works, I can coach him better,” says Meyer. “I can give him exercises to improves his deficiency or I can coach around it.

Meyer is currently in the process of putting together individualized hitting plans based upon physical abilities and limitations.

Players also have their vision tested by Dr. Joe LaPlaca of Ares Elite Sports Vision.

“We all know how important eyes are to hitting a baseball,” says Meyer. “(A player) may not be able to pick up a breaking ball because his depth perception or convergence isn’t as good as some other guys.”

A test for power that correlates to exit velocity involves the scores from doing vertical jump, seated chest pass and a lying overhead medicine ball throw. Borrowed from golf, Meyer says this kind of testing is just coming to baseball.

Butler uses Blast Motion, Rapsodo and other devices to assess players.

“With technology, it forces us as coaches to think a little bit differently,” says Meyer. “We have to truly understand what each individual player needs.

“But if we don’t understand how their body moves, all this data doesn’t do us any good.”

The Bulldogs also go through a VARK assessment for athletes. This tells how they learn the best — Visual, Aural, Read/White or Kinesthetic.

“It’s important for us to know how these guys learn,” says Meyer. “(Player A) learns differently from (Player B) who learns differently from (Player C).”

Knowing this, gives coaches different avenues to reach players.

“With some guys it may be beneficial for us to just talk one-on-one,” says Meyer. “Some of them have to see a video. Some of them would rather read it.

“The more we can reach our players individually, the better chance they have to develop.”

Individual swing goals involve activating the kinetic chain as considering hip and spin activation as well as core stability, rotation and anti-rotation. The idea is to move efficiently.

Butler hitters go through a series of exercises and drills, including banded load, PVC series, fungo hit, tee work, front toss and live focus.

An example of a focus of the day would be the 3-plate drill (plates set up at varying distances from the mound of pitching machine) for rhythm and timing and a 2-plate off-speed drill for pitch recognition.

The offensive goal at Butler, which plays Illinois at Grand Park in Westfield at 5:05 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, is to become a team of run producers.

A formula gauge this production is total at-bats over runs scored plus runs batted in minus home runs. In 2019, Butler’s rate was 2.9.

Meyer says there must be selflessness up and down the lineup to help the team win.

Meyer is a volunteer assistant at Butler (the NCAA currently only allows for two paid assistants at the Division I level and will soon be voting on adding a third paid position).

The summer of 2016 is when Meyer joined head coach Dave Schrage’s staff at Butler. Before that Meyer was director of baseball operations for five seasons at Tulane University in New Orleans. He also coached at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and Otterbein (Ohio) College, where he was a three-year starter at second base. He is a native of North Royalton, Ohio.

Brian and Ashley Meyer have a son named Walker.

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Butler University hitting coach Brian Meyer (left) talks with Harrison Freed during the 2019 baseball season. (Butler University Photo)

BRIANMEYER1Brian Meyer is the hitting coach for the Butler University baseball program in Indianapolis. Meyer employs many tools help the Bulldogs. (Butler University Photo)

 

With refined plate approach, Freed takes off at Butler, lands in Giants system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Freed began making an offensive jump in the summer of 2018 and the baseball continued to jump off his bat during the 2019 season at Butler University.

The righty-swinging outfielder worked with hitting coach Stu Pederson (father of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson) while with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwoods League summer collegiate season, hitting .291 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 61 runs batted in and 53 runs scored in 63 games.

“I got more confident as a player and a hitter,” says Freed. “I knew my talent could get me where I am today.

“I made a lot of adjustments working with (Stu Pederson). I did a lot of work to build off what I was doing in the summer with (Roundtripper Sports Academy instructor Chris Estep and Butler hitting coach Andy Pascoe, who had played for LaCrosse during his collegiate career at the University of Evansville).

“(Estep) is an interesting guy. He knows a lot about hitting. He gave me a lot of wisdom. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best in the business.”

This past spring at Butler, Freed earned first team all-Big East Conference selection, second team Perfect Game/Rawlings College All-American, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second team All-American and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings second team all-region honors while posting a .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts).

Freed says he refined his approach at the plate.

“Instead of going up there and looking for what I want, I’m looking for what I’m going to get,” says Freed. “I’m looking for extra base hits and finding a way to get to second base.

“Launch angle is a word that gets tossed out there. But it has to be natural. Personally, I don’t like launch angle. It creates something before the swing it’s something you can’t always control. If the pitch is down and you try to swing under the ball, it’s not going to work. You have to be able to pick and choose which balls you’re trying to hit in the air.

“I normally drive the ball out of the park when it’s belt-high or above. If it’s down, it has to be something over the plate. If it’s up and away or up and in, I have a better chance.”

His first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Freed’s stat line read .306/2/4/14/8 in 2017 and .240/4/12/37/23 in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Freed played for the Cal Ripken CollegiateDalto Baseball League’s D.C. Grays with a line of .330/7/9/29/16.

He arrived at Butler at the same time as head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Freed of Schrage, who has led the Bulldogs to marks of 31-20, 34-30 and 26-26 in his three seasons in Indianapolis. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Freed impressed the San Francisco Giants enough that they selected the 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate in the 13th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He is currently trading off between left field and right field for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes.

The 21-year-old went into the last day of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League regular season (Sept. 2) hitting .269 with seven homers, 15 two-baggers, 26 runs batted in and 28 runs scored in 47 games.

Salem-Keizer has made the playoffs, which begin Sept. 4. After that, Freed expects to come back to Westfield to work out at Roundtripper with the expectation of going to a winter rookie camp or two in California or Arizona. Another Giants minor leaguer, Dalton Combs, has also trained at Roundtripper.

Focusing on baseball for now, Freed says he plans to finish his finance degree following the 2020 season.

The youngest son of former collegiate golfer and Kokomo business owner Mike and Zionsville chemical engineer Jane Freed and younger brother of Louisville area medical salesman Jackson Freed (who played baseball at Franklin College), Harrison played two years with the Westfield Rocks and then with the Indiana Mustangs from age 11 to 17. As an 18-year-old, he spent the summer before college with the Indiana Blue Jays. He also played for coach Kevin Christman’s San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team for three years.

Ryan Bunnell was Freed’s head coach at Westfield High School.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Freed of Bunnell. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Among Freed’s Shamrocks teammates were Ryan Pepiot (who went on to Butler and is now pitching the Dodgers system), Milo Beam (who went on to play the outfield at Purdue University) and Max McCool (who went on to pitch at Indiana Wesleyan University).

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Harrison Freed hit .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts) for Butler Univesity in 2019. (Butler University Photo).

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. He is a righty-swinging outfielder. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)