Tag Archives: Mental Skills

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

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Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

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New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

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With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

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Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

Mercer moves to Indiana; Hall speaks highly for their time together at Wright State

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer has been hired as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University after enjoying success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Mercer’s 2017-18 WSU season included NCAA Division I baseball’s first-ever full-time mental skills coach in Diamyn Hall.

Hall, 24, is grateful for his chance to serve with Mercer.

“It was an incredible opportunity to work with him because I learned a lot of things about business and player development from our conversations throughout the course of the season,” says Hall. “He’s a mastermind when it comes to understanding how to bring on staff members with multiple strengths in specific areas.

“He provided me with the freedom to incorporate the mental game in many new and innovative ways throughout the course of the year. I appreciated it greatly because I like to incorporate the mental game in a unique fashion, different from most traditional ways.”

Mercer gave Hall responsibility and let him use his creativity.

“I’ll never forget his message to me when I came on staff in the fall: I’m going to give you the freedom to apply whatever you feel necessary. But, at the end of the day, I expect you to get it done in the best way possible,” says Hall. “I’m very excited for him, his wife and his newborn. He will be a great father because he embodies the definition of working hard, toughness and doing the right things in order to achieve success and dream goals.

“Anybody that knows his story and has gotten to know him understands that not only has he earned this, but he deserves it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be one of the best head coaches in the country very soon. I’m extremely confident he will take Indiana University to an even higher level.”

Mercer, an Indiana native, spoke highly about Hall to IndianaRBI as the Raiders were making a push toward the Horizon League title and a berth in the NCAA Stanford Regional.

Looking at the numbers, Wright State improved in many categories from 2017 to 2018 with the addition of the focus on the mental game.

In batting, the 2017 Raiders (38-21 overall, 23-5 in the Horizon League) hit .260 as a team with 519 hits, 37 home runs, 26 triples, 106 doubles, 339 runs scored,  228 walks, 431 strikeouts, a .349 on-base percentage and went 130-of-161 in stolen base attempts. In pitching, WSU had a staff earned run average of 3.70 with 16 saves, 423 strikeouts and 192 walks.

Compare the 2018 offensive stats and Wright State (39-18, 22-6) was better in batting average (.294), hits (574), home runs (42), doubles (120), runs scored (435), walks (268), strikeouts (325), on-base percentage (.394). While the Raiders stole fewer bases, they had a higher success rate at 110-of-128 (85.9 percent) than 2017 (80.7 percent).

Crediting the mental game, Horizon League Player of the Year Gabe Snyder went from hitting .289 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles, 49 runs batted in and .570 slugging percentage in 2017 to .359 with 15 homers, 20 doubles, 73 RBIs and slugged .668 in 2018 — his fourth season at Wright State. The 6-foot-5 lefty-swinging first baseman was selected in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

What will Hall do moving forward now that Mercer is gone to IU?

“I will go back to my individual improvement process and re-evaluate last year and find the areas that need to be improved on with the mental game for the 2018-19 season. In order for our players to continue developing their mental game, I must hold myself accountable for continuing to improve and develop my coaching strategies, teachings and processes.

“I learned a lot this past year and I’m very excited to get back to work.”

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Wright State University head coach Jeff Mercer (left) brought in Diamyn Hall (right) as NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach in 2017-18. Mercer recently took the head coaching post at Indiana University. (Wright State University Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is introduced as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University. He came from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

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Diamyn Hall, the full-time mental skills coach for Wright State University baseball, shares his knowledge with a Raiders player in 2017-18. Hall is working now to improve on his methods and teachings for 2018-19. (Wright State University Photo)

It’s been a groundbreaking year for the mental game at Wright State, but Raiders are not done yet

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2018 NCAA Division I baseball season has been groundbreaking for the field of mental skills.

For the first time ever, a D-I baseball program — Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio — has brought on a full-time mental skills coordinator.

WSU head coach Jeff Mercer (a graduate of Franklin Community High School in Indiana) brought Diamyn Hall in to help his players with this sometimes-overlooked aspect of athletics.

Hall spoke to IndianaRBI.com about the subject at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in January.

“My goal is to continue to push the field of mental conditioning to a point where every college baseball program eventually has a mental skills coach, a mental skills coordinator or something along those lines,” says Hall. “Because it is one of the most important facets of the game.

“There has been a lot of success, a lot of growth and a lot of development but we still have a lot to do to reach our ultimate goal of reaching a championship.

“Players are always looking for ways to get better. That comes from the types of players that Mercer recruits.”

Hall, who was born in Dayton and went to Centerville High School, explains why the plan has worked and continues to work.

“We’ve gone about implementing the mental game in a multitude of innovative ways,” says Hall. “We have provided systematic approaches for each individual player to continue to grow and unlock their potential through their minds.

“Our players have taken persistent accountability in improving their mental game and using it to their advantage on and off the field.”

Hall says that having all Wright State coaches — Mercer, Nate Metzger, Matt Talarico, Alex Sogard and volunteer Jacob Burk — on-board truly creates a dynamic learning experience and reinforces the importance of the mental game within the culture of the baseball program.

Mental skills training is extremely valuable whether a player is red-hot or in an 0-for-the-month slump.

“The mental game has the ability to enhance your performance no matter where you are at that point in time,” says Hall. “The preconceived notion that most people have about the mental game is that it’s only needed when you’re struggling. That’s false.

“The goal should be to continuously work your mind as much as you work your body.

“Having intentional focuses on an individual basis with each player who does want to get better at that point in time. That’s the key.”

The roster that Mercer has created calls for every player to be ready to play every single day.

“Our guys who are not playing everyday, we still want them prepared when their name is called,” says Hall. “If you’re a guy who is not playing everyday we still want to have you focusing on a certain set of things that allow you to be ready when you do get your opportunity. One thing I say a lot to these guys is: ‘be prepared before your name is called.’

“Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”

A big part of the mental game is maintaining laser focus.

“Therefore, all of our players need to be focused every single day,” says Hall.

How do you stay ready?

“You have to make sure you’re taking quality and mindful repetitions in whatever it is you’re working on,” says Hall. “Make sure you’re doing everything on-purpose with purpose.”

Hall notes that the baseball season is long and it’s easy to catch yourself going through the motions.

“It’s a matter of minimizing those times you go through the motions, making sure everything is intentional and with a purpose,” says Hall. “We want the guys who are not playing game-ready every single day.”

Hall breaks down the WSU team into three groups of players: superstars, stars and X-factors. He says most teams have stars, X-factors, role players and guys who have no chance of getting in the game.

“Every guy on our roster has a chance to get in the game,” says Hall. “This is the beauty of our roster. I’ve never seen a roster so stacked from head-to-toe.

“That’s the true definition of depth.

“It’s being focused at all times regardless of the situation. In my opinion, we have two full Division I teams within one team. Any of our guys who are not everyday guys could go to another Division I baseball program and start right now.”

Hall, just a few years ago, was playing against elite level competition such as LSU, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Arkansas and more.

Just three three years ago, he went 5-for-5 on MLB Network with a home run shy of a cycle. It was the day before he tore his ACL.

Hall stepped off the field last spring. In his last three college season, he played two at Grambling State University (2015-16) and one at Georgia Southwestern State University (2017).

Hall sees the merits of having a mental skills coordinator for an entire athletic department, but the numbers are more favorable if they integrated into a particular program.

“If a school has a mental skills person who works with every team they can be successful, but mental skills are so important that they need to be integrated on each staff — in my personal opinion,” says Hall. “It’s a manageable ratio. I can be more impactful with 35 people than I can with 300.

“I can build true relationships with 35 players versus building true relationships with 300 players.”

He has been kept busy being wherever players are working on their baseball skills as much as possible.

Hall also makes himself available to them 24/7. He is just a call or text away.

“These guys are learners so they’re using these opportunities to the best of their abilities,” says Hall.

By building relationships, Hall can know how best to get his message across.

“Every guy learns at a different rate,” says Hall. “Every guy takes in information a different way.

“I have to understand that. How do I deliver this to him to make it impactful?”

Hall is always striving to answer these questions: How can I be the most efficient? How can I be the most effective?

He also doesn’t want to engage in information overload.

“I believe it’s more effective to give a little information at a time while giving them the best information that I know from my experience,” says Hall. “I strive to give them the best information so they will remember it and it will stick.

“It’s about effective information implementation.”

So far, so good in this groundbreaking year.

“But we still have a lot more progress to make in striving to reach the ultimate goal of reaching a championship,” says Hall.

For more of Diamyn’s stories and podcasts, click here.

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Diamyn Hall is the mental skills coordinator for the baseball team at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.