Tag Archives: Competition

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)

 

Coughenour stresses life lessons, competition for Eastern Hancock Royals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Teaching life lessons and emphasizing competition, Chad Coughenour is heading into his 13th season as head baseball coach at Eastern Hancock Junior/Senior High School near Charlottesville, Ind.

“My faith is a big part of who I am,” says Coughenour aka Coach Coke. “I try to teach the young men more about life than I do about baseball sometimes.

“We all live life.”

Coughenour talks his Royals about things like being on time, doing their job, learning from failures and successes, standing by their word and working hard.

“The things that make you a better man,” says Coughenour.

Recent Eastern Hancock graduate Clayton White is on the baseball team at Anderson University and other current Royals have college baseball aspirations. Coughenour is proud that he has sent more young men on to the military and to be policemen and firemen.

Among those going on to the service are Alan Clark (Army Reserves), Kris Cushing (Navy, Dwight Duzan (Navy), Dustin Pettit (Marines and Army), Steven Stunda (Army), Devon Wagoner (Army) and Pedro Wilkinson (Air Force)

Recent graduate Tyler Blattner (Charlottesville) and Easton Fields (Greenfield) are volunteer firefighters and going through fire school.

Jacob Low is a police officer in Terre Haute.

Coughenour graduated from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown in 1996. Life lessons were taught to him by Mountain Cats head coach Ken Keiper.

“He was a very moral man,” says Coughenour of Keiper. “He made sure everybody had a fair chance. It didn’t matter if they were a freshman or a senior.

“He made sure everybody was a part. He treated everybody the same and give them the same opportunities.”

Eastern Hancock players constantly get opportunities to compete — in practice and in games. There are thousands of chances during a school year.

Coughenour splits his team into small groups and has them compete for points in doing certain offensive or defensive skills. The group winner gets a piece of candy. Those with less points have to run.

The top three for a month get T-shirts — gold, silver and blue.

“The same kids don’t always win it,” says Coughenour.

The season champion receives a plaque.

The Royals averaged 16 to 17 players at fall practices, where they divided into teams and scrimmaged. Coughenour was the pitcher.

Some of the advantages to working as a team and not just the coach with a few players at a time is that things like bunt defenses and pick-off moves can be covered early and not just in the few weeks prior to the season opener.

In the off-season, there is school-wide conditioning program and also one that baseball players can use through a cell phone app.

“I give my boys off until after Christmas to hit the weight room,” says Coughenour.

In 2018, the Royals got off to a 1-7 start before finishing 13-15 and tied for second place in its first season as a Mid-Eastern Conference member. Eastern Hancock was the lone MEC school to beat champion Wapahani (1-0 in nine innings in Selma).

The rest of the MEC consists of Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc and Wes-Del. Union did not field a baseball team in 2018.

Before joining the MEC, Eastern Hancock spent a few years as an independent. Before that, the Royals were affiliated with the Mid-Hoosier Conference. Eastern Hancock was in the Big Blue River Conference when it split in 1989.

The Royals are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central. Eastern Hancock mugged with the sectional championship hardware for the only time in 1976.

With the help of athletic director Aaron Spaulding, Coughenour builds a strong non-conference schedule.

“We try to find the best competition around,” says Coughenour. “Our sectional is not an easy one.

“We’ve got to be ready for it.”

The Royals play Greenfield-Central, Heritage Christian and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter during the regular season and participates in the John R. Howden Memorial Tournament at Mooresville, which has also featured Indianapolis North Central and Valparaiso. Coughenour gave lessons to John Howden’s son Riley when the latter was in high school.

Eastern Hancock graduated 10 players last spring. Coughenour expects to have 31 in the program for varsity and junior varsity teams for the 2019 season.

“We’ve been growing,” says Coughenour. “My first couple years, we had 23 or 24. In lean years, it was in the mid-teens. The last three years, we’ve had around 30 kids.”

There’s also a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play close to 20 games in the spring.

Varsity, JV and middle school squads share the same on-campus field that was christened in 2010. The Royals played all of their 2009 home games at the Bandits Yard in Greenfield, Ind. (now site of Midwest Astros Academy), while the facility was being completed.

Coughenour coached the Bandits 17U team for five summers. He now coaches an Eastern Hancock summer team that plays in the Greenfield-based Babe Ruth travel league.

Those kids play their home games on the same field they occupy with the high school and middle school teams in the spring.

“We teach kids at a young age how to maintain it,” says Coughenour. “Taking care of the field is a habit. They have ownership in it. High school kids help the junior high kids.

“It becomes pretty seamless. It goes back to the service and building the tradition.”

Chad, who works as chief surveyor for the Hancock County Surveyor’s Office, has been married to Tiffany for 20 years. The couple have three daughters — Josie (16), Abigail (14) and Paige (9). Sophomore Josie and eighth grader Abigail attend Greenfield schools. Paige is home-schooled.

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The Coughenours (from left): Paige, Chad, Tammy, Abigail and Josie.

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The Eastern Hancock Royals pray prior to a game a few high school baseball seasons ago.

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Eastern Hancock High School head baseball coach Chad Coughenour (left) gets xxx to slide into third base in a 2018 game against Cowan.

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A.J. Muegge (left) rounds third base as Eastern Hancock High School head baseball coach Chad Coughenour points him toward home during a 2017 game against Knightstown.