By STEVE KRAH
Detailed planning and setting expectations.
It’s what Bret Shambaugh has done as a baseball coach and educator.
There’s a always a plan and things are done for a reason.
Shambaugh, who has coached at college, high school and youth level, and is in his fifth year as an English teacher at Pioneer Junior/Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind., shared his ideas on “Being Competitive on Game Day” at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12 as a guest of Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.
A 1980 graduate of Pike High School and Marian College — both in Indianapolis — Shambaugh began his baseball coaching career while attending Marian (1984-89) and later became the Knights head coach (1990-93) before serving one season as an assistant to Bob Morgan at Indiana University (1994) then serving as head coach at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (1995-97).
He has served as a high school assistant to Jake Burton at McCutcheon, Phil McIntyre at Indianapolis North Central and John Zangrilli at Brebeuf Jesuit.
There have been a number of youth baseball coaching jobs, including the Lafayette White Sox, Hoosier Diamond, Indy Jets and, most recently, the Mavericks (which is attached to the McCutcheon program).
John Shambaugh, Bret’s son, is a senior first baseman/left-handed pitcher at McCutcheon.
“As an educator I’m amazed that there’s a lot of different ways to be successful in this game,” says Shambaugh, 58. “I believe in having a philosophy.”
Shambaugh says the coach’s philosophy should mirror that of his administrators.
This can help prevent future issues.
“We thought that they hired us because of us, but we forgot we answer to them,” says Shambaugh.
Since 2005, Shambaugh has been working from a syllabus/playbook that lays out the elements of his program. He shares this agenda with his players and often tests them on its content.
With the Mavericks, he emails it on sectional week.
“One week from the time they’re eliminated from their high school (season), they have to know this chapter and verse,” says Shambaugh. “It’s no different than reading the first three chapters of a novel.
“That is to make sure all of us — myself, whoever I have helping me, parents and players — that we all speak from the same book.
“I — for whatever reason — have never been good in the subjective. I have measured everything my entire life.
“That’s the only way I could understand as a coach how I could be good for the player.”
If everything is measurable those who enjoy competition will strive to meet the stated goal.
“‘A’ students will strive to make A’s,” says Shambaugh. “They’ll do whatever it takes to make an A.”
The same is true for someone trying to make the team, a sophomore wishing to play on the varsity rather than the JV or a player who wants to make the everyday lineup.
Shambaugh says putting an objective in front of the players eliminates favoritism and “who do you know?”
In Shambaugh’s calculations, he figured out to be a high school baseball head coach it takes at least 21 hours a week 52 weeks out of the year.
“That’s the amount of time minimum you would have to spend as the head coach for your program to do it right in my opinion,” says Shambaugh. “Of course, most of those months, as head coaches, you’re not in-season. But yet you have to give your program 21 hours a week.”
On game day, Shambaugh wants no wasted second.
The plan takes into consideration what is done for home and away contests.
“I’m talking everything,” says Shambaugh. “How they will be dressed on the bus, for example.
“I always have a rule when travel, the only thing you don’t have on are your spikes because I don’t want you to trip getting off the bus or the van and not be able to play.”
As soon players in the dugout, they change into their spikes and go to work.
Shambaugh devotes practice time to these things so players understand that no second is to be wasted.
If players are trained to know what they’re supposed to be doing, there will be no need to worry about “down” time.
“Evaluate what you’re doing constantly,” says Shambaugh. “Wins and losses don’t necessarily determine what you believe is the best practice for your players and your assistant coaches. It can always be re-tooled to meet the ultimate objective.”
Shambaugh learned from former Lewis & Clark College (Idaho) head coach Ed Cheff the importance of practicing delays with his players.
“They’d show up for practice and he’d send them back to the dorm. He would practice the rain delay in the third inning. What are you going to do during that time?”
Shambaugh says the worst thing you can create for teenagers is dead time.
“It may not happen but once or twice during the season, but are you ready for it?,” says Shambaugh. “Teenagers and parents will always react to your leadership. If you always appear to be in-control and in-the-know they’ll run through hell in a gasoline suit for you.
“If you’re not, that’s when the armchair quarterbacking begins.”
Shambaugh also says negativity should be saved for practice and not used on game day.
“I don’t think anybody lost on purpose,” says Shambaugh. “I don’t think the batter took the called strike three with guys on second and third and you’re one run down in the last at-bat. Your pitcher didn’t throw the gopher ball on purpose. Your shortstop didn’t take the ground ball through his legs on purpose.
“When we’re negative after the game, I don’t think it works. Positivity goes a lot further than negativity. It took me a long time to learn that.”
Things can be addressed at practice and no one else is around but the players and the coaches.
For Shambaugh, practices are always crisp.
Since leaving college and going into youth baseball coaching, he has learned that boring practices are a major reason players are quitting the game before they become teenagers.
Shambaugh has observed many youth practices where one player is hitting and the rest are standing around.
“When we practice with teenagers, we keep them moving,” says Shambaugh. “Whatever you are trying to accomplish on that given day, keep it crisp.”
Shambaugh says out-of-season is the time when teaching is done with individual players.
For players to know what is expected of them, objectives are written and explained.
Baseball is driven by numbers. It’s no difference than a grade-point average or the percentage of accuracy on a test.
“I believe in players knowing what those numbers are on a regular basis,” says Shambaugh. “It’s important. You can do that in the out-of-season.
“What’s the out-of-season for? To get better. Are you doing anything game-like to get better? If we don’t have written objectives for them, they’ll do what they’ve always done.”
In exit interviews with players last summer, Shambaugh told some to get 100 game-like swings three days a week. Infielders were told to field 100 grounders and throw to first base or start the double play. He also asked players to run 15 60-yard dashes for time.
Shambaugh wants his players to appreciate fitness 365 days a year.
“Teenage athletes, especially for the sport of baseball, have no idea what true fitness is,” says Shambaugh. “I agree that multiple-sport athletes, especially here in the Midwest, have some advantages.”
There are also disadvantages since the in-season athlete is focused on the next game and not so much on improving fitness.
In evaluating high school baseball, football and basketball program, Shambaugh sees a lot of natural ability but not a lot of fitness.
Shambaugh says coaches are careful with building fitness because they don’t want to take too much out of an athlete’s legs.
“If a baseball player doesn’t have his legs, he can’t hit,” says Shambaugh. “He’s anemic. He can’t move defensively.
“At the high school level, baseball pitchers play shortstop in the game they’re not pitching.”
Shambaugh says an athlete can train year-round for fitness.
“Nobody ever drowned in their own sweat,” says Shambaugh. “At least I haven’t heard of it.”
Coaches should have a written plan in what they want their players to do as an athlete in fitness.
With the Mavericks, Shambaugh has measured progress for his players in speed and strength.
“Serve those who want,” says Shambaugh. “We can hold it against players when they don’t show up. It will take care of itself over time. When players don’t want to get in the work, they won’t be on that roster or they won’t be in that lineup.
“I’ve never worried about who wasn’t there. I only wanted to serve those that were in front of me.”
Shambaugh also has written objectives for the pre-season.
“What do you want to accomplish (on a given day)?,” says Shambaugh. “Make sure your players know.”
Scrimmages allow coaches to immediately identify strike throwers and aggressive players.
“Baseball is a game that needs played,” says Shambaugh. “You won’t win any games probably on the gym floor or the batting tunnel.
“If it’s me, I’m going to scrimmage. For me to make a qualitative decision, I need to see guys perform.”
All things are game day-related. Runners are placed on the bases to create situations during batting practice. Hitters are expected to move the runners with hits or sacrifice bunts. Runners must read the ball in play. The defenders must do their jobs.
“Do they know what your expectations are in writing before you get there?,” says Shambaugh. “Because those are your coaching moments. You knew what your job was and you didn’t do it.”
Again, fitness is part of the equation.
“I’ve baseball players tell me for years, ‘Coach, I did not join the track team,’” says Shambaugh. “I’m sorry. It’s either that or the pool guys. (Players have) got to be in shape. All my years coaching, I never had a pitcher come up lame. That’s because we ran.”
Shambaugh asks players to do things that are difficult because baseball is a difficult game to play.
With in-season practices, Shambaugh challenges his players when they’re tired.
“It’s easy to play when you’re fresh,” says Shambaugh. “But baseball is a marathon.”
High school players play close to 30 games in seven weeks and also have take care of homework and — maybe — a part-time job.
“That’s a grind,” says Shambaugh. “Guys get tired.”
All things game day-related and the team scrimmages for three innings a day.
Once again, fitness is important.
Shambaugh says that timing is everything.
Teams might win their conference, in-season tournaments or rack up 20 wins, but the focus for the high school coach becomes winning the first game of the sectional and advancing as far as the team can.
“We’re building up momentum,” says Shambaugh. “We want to be good for that first game of the sectional.
“I would start my planning three weeks out. Get you (No. 1 pitcher) ready. Do you really know what your best lineup is when he pitches?
“Do I like what I see? Are we getting done in practice what we need to get done? Are our kids positive? Are we fresh? Do we have the right mindset? Does everybody understand what we’re looking to accomplish? Otherwise, why be disappointed when you get beat the first game of the sectional?
Once the team reaches the post-season, everyone involved knows the plan and everyone is all in.
“Just give me the baby,” says Shambaugh. “I don’t want the labor pains.”
In the postseason, everyone should know the objective is to win.
“Now your stats don’t mean donkey squat,” says Shambaugh. “No matter what it takes, we’re going to win. It’s not going to matter what gets the credit. It doesn’t matter what substitutions we make. We’ve got one objective.”
To Shambaugh’s way of thinking, the summer is the start to the next season.
Most coaches will want their athletes to play in the summer and will guide them to teams that are appropriate for them.
“Tuning it out is dangerous,” says Shambaugh. “I believe in the exit interview and not just for seniors, but everybody who was involved.
“I know the athletic director or the principal is going exit-interview me. I want to hear from all of my people.
“If I’m a good listener and they’re being conscientious, I’m going to learn. It also builds ownership in the program.”
Shambaugh says coaches should follow and support their players in their accomplishments away from the team.
“They get a big kick out of that when their head skipper or assistant coaches that don’t have any summer accomplishments are at the ballpark or become aware that they did something that was pretty cool,” says Shambaugh. “It is amazing if an adult gives a teenager positive information.”
Shambaugh marvels that many high school coaches don’t consider the summer as part of the out-of-season. In many places, basketball and football coaches are involved with their players at that time of year.
“Baseball players probably play for someone else in the summertime?,” says Shambaugh. “Why can’t you have open fields in the summertime even if it’s just two days a week?”
By reaching out to players out-of-season, coaches will know who might be considering not coming back for the next season and who might be thinking about joining the team for the first time.
Shambaugh says it will pay to support football and get those players pumped for their season.
“Football controls the numbers,” says Shambaugh. “They have 35 to 50 guys involved with their program.
“Getting along with the football staff and program really benefits a baseball guy.”
With all that, Shambaugh wants his players to have fun and he wants to know what makes them tick.
“It can be about the X’s and O’s, but it’s always about the Jimmys and Joes,” says Shambaugh. “You can have this technique or that technique or you can get involved with your people so that they know you’re in it with them. Everything you’re trying to do is on their behalf.”
Bret Shambaugh has coached baseball at the college, high school and youth levels. He shared some of his thoughts at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics Jan. 12. (Steve Krah Photo)
Bret Shambaugh has coached baseball at various levels since 1984, including being head coach at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Marian College (now Marian University) and high school assistant jobs at McCutcheon, Indianapolis North Central and Brebeuf Jesuit. He talked at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics Jan. 12. (Steve Krah Photo)