BY STEVE KRAH
Jamey Carroll was a professional baseball player until he was 40.
Born and raised in Evansville, Ind., Carroll took to the diamond at Castle High School and the University of Evansville and was in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos, Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.
Logging almost 2,000 games at second base, third base and shortstop, Carroll gained the knowledge that has landed him a job as coordinator of infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year fraternal twins — Cole and Mackenzie.
As a coach of son Cole’s team, the Space Coast Thunder 12U travel ball team in Melbourne, Fla., Carroll also knows about youth baseball.
“I’m in the fire,” says Carroll while speaking at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville on “Guiding Gen-Z to Greatness.”
Carroll, 45, says the reason we play sports is for a sense of belonging and connection.
“It’s about belong to a group and being connected to people for a cause,” says Carroll.
It’s the memories made with teammates, coaches and more.
“That belonging and connection that I missed, that I couldn’t wait to be a part of again, is what I’m trying to create for my group,” says Carroll of the Space Coast Thunder 12U squad. “With the Pirates, one thing that can really motivate us is the belong and connection. To be motivated, do you feel like you belong and do you feel like you’re connected to who you are?”
In the audience were many of Carroll’s former teammates, including ABCA assistant executive director Ryan Brownlee, and his younger brother, UE head coach Wes Carroll.
“I guarantee you this weekend we’re going to talk about about something because we belong and are connected to something bigger than ourselves,” says Carroll.
Sharing a Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Parenting lesson he learned, Carroll says he watched one of his son — when he was 3 — climb the monkey bars. The boy got about halfway across, stopped and began screaming.
“The first instinct as a parent is to get up and go help them,” says Carroll. “The teacher goes, ‘Nope. Stay right there.’
“But he may fall. The first instinct as a parent: Go save and protect. The teacher goes over and says, “Hey, Bub. When your body’s ready you’ll go over” and turned around and walked away.”
A few days later, Cole went all the way across those monkey bars.
“When he came down he didn’t look at mom and dad and said ‘did you see what I did?’ I honestly can tell you I saw the sense of satisfaction … I just did that.
“He had his own sense of self pride.”
Who is Generation Z?
Give or take three years, it’s people born between 1996-2010. That’s about 72 million people in the world today.
Carroll says we live in a “SCENE” society. We want Speed (slow is bad), Convenience (hard is bad), Entertainment (boring is bad), Nurturing (risk is bad) and Entitlement (labor is bad).
“They’re willing to work hard but they want a reward,” says Carroll. “My son’s guilty of it. ‘Dad, if we go to this tournament do we get a trophy? Are we getting a medal?’ I don’t know, man. Maybe.
“We finished third place in a tournament. Parents want (a group photo). I don’t want to be part of a third-place picture. Get me away from it. What are we doing?
“Anything worth fighting for takes time. When it’s hard, that’s when we grow and learn.”
Risks and taken and those involved leave their comfort zone.
“We have this unique opportunity to bridge this (generation) gap,” says Carroll. “Do we know who’s in front of me? We want to do the drills. We can’t understand why they’re not getting things accomplished. Do we know their skill sets? Do we know their personality? Do we know their parents? Do we know the other coaches?
“Who’s in front of you is more than just a kid. It’s a person. We get to play baseball. It’s what we do. It’s not who they are. Get to know them. Belonging and connection.”
To motivate young players, coaches should get to know them and show that they care.
To get these youngsters to grow and learn, an environment is created where they will learn and will want to come back and play hard.
“Who is this about?,” says Carroll. “Is this about you as a coach or it about those kids?”
At a recent tournament, Carroll saw a kid swing at a pitch in the dirt then witnessed a father bang his fist against a concrete wall.
“Man, who stole your trophies as a kid?, says Carroll. “Why are you so mad at a team in ‘The Middle of Nowhere, Fla.,’ on a Saturday afternoon that means nothing?
“If you don’t win a game, you’re not a good coach. If you’re not a good coach, nobody’s going to respect you and you can’t walk around town.
“Get over the ego. This is not about you. We all had our chance. It’s not about us. It’s about them.”
Carroll says young players can be labeled for a position too early.
“I speak from experience,” says Carroll. “I was an outfielder on all of all-star teams until I was 13. I wasn’t fast enough when we went to the big field to play center field anymore so I moved to shortstop. I got to play shortstop until I was 40 years old.
“We don’t have a right to tell a kid he’s only an outfielder, he’s only a pitcher until we get to a certain point where they’re mature enough to show us who they are. We don’t know. Who are we to decide?”
Carroll says coaches should consider whether their feedback is positive or negative the message they are sending with their body language and tone of voice.
“We talk all the time about how these guys have to risk and create and be able to handle failure and yet when they steal a base we’re the first ones to jump up and ask, ‘What are we doing? Why’d you do that?’
“The thing that gets under my skin is when you’re sitting there and hear ‘Throw strike!’ Wow. No kidding? ‘You’ve got to make that play.’ ‘Why’d you swing at that pitch?’”
Instead of being Coach Obvious, Carroll suggests that they show the player something that will help them throw a strike or swing at the right pitches.
“This game is already hard enough,” says Carroll. “We don’t need to add more to it.
“Did you create that play in practice that he can make it?”
Carroll says the coach should figure out ways to get the player to understand.
“Can we do that?,” says Carroll. “No. It’s their fault.”
Carroll wants to know if coaches are building perfectionists.
“If what we say doesn’t match our actions now it’s causing fear and anxiety inside of a player who doesn’t even want to mess up,” says Carroll. “We had a 9-year-old (on first base) that could even run to second base after a ground ball. Why? Because he was afraid to mess up. Why was he afraid to mess up? His dad was all over him all the time.
“Is that building belonging and connection? Is that creating memories? We can do all the drills we want. How are we speaking to these guys?”
At the same time, Carroll says coaches can talk too much.
“Are we giving too much information?,” says Carroll. “When you talk too much you’re interrupting the body’s ability to learn.”
It helpful to be specific, instructive and constructive.
It was a “nice pitch” but was nice about it?
“Maybe you give a tip?,” says Carroll. “When you just give ‘attaboy’ and you don’t give anything behind it, you’re creating a reliance on the coach. I don’t know what I just did, but (the coach) is happy.”
Carroll says its best to keep the focus for players external rather than internal (‘Make sure you load on that back side. Get your hands up. Make sure you spread.’)
“We give them 10 different things to think about and create that hazy focus,” says Carroll. “We see the ball yet we don’t see it.
“Do we have the ability to go external? Give them outside targets. Hit the ball in the gap. Are we guiding them to the answers or are we just telling them?”
It’s a matter of teaching by the coach and learning by the player.
Carroll has studied the findings of Frans Bosch, an authority on athletic movement.
“It’s not about learning a move and trying to perfect it, says Carroll. “It’s our job as coaches to put them in a learning environment where the brain eliminates what doesn’t work to get to what does.
“We’ve got to be able to create some sort of drill that gets them through every single thing so they know this works compared to that doesn’t work.”
Coaches can run practices where all plays are made perfectly and players “feel good” or are challenged to do things the right way to “get good.”
Carroll talks about “The Gap.”
Carroll says that if players are successful at a task — ie. fielding ground balls — and are successful 80 percent or better, they become bored.
“Did we get them any better?,” says Carroll. “If they fail 50 percent of the time or more, they go into survival mode. Are we learning? They just want to get out of there.
“Each player has a different gap. Do we know who’s in front of us?”
Carroll says building the sense of belonging and connection leads to confidence which leads to trust, focus and performance — concepts explored by Dr. Michael Gervais and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
Carroll says that coaches can create the process, but asks if they know the player.
In closing, Carroll quoted author Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
“We have this ultimate opportunity to influence a whole group of people,” says Carroll. “They are not jewelry to be shown off. They are human beings that play get to play baseball. Please don’t lose sight of that.
“We had our chance. Now it’s there. Let them have it.”
Jamey Carroll, an Evansville, Ind., native, played in the big leagues until he was 40. Now 45, he is coordinator of infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a youth baseball coach. He spoke at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville on “Guiding Gen-Z to Greatness.” (Minnesota Twins Photo)