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November Practice Coaches' Survey

Compiled By: Austin Alexander & Joey Haug - December 2, 2010

The South Carolina High School League declared November to be a month full of baseball for prep programs. Unprecedented, it got our state's diamond guys on the field for a strong spell of good weather. We contacted a handful of coaches that have a collective 10+ state championships in their pocket to weigh in on what they did like versus what they'd change, if anything. Enjoy there responses from some of our state's most respected head coaches...

Diamond Prospects-What were your thoughts going into this period? Did your mind change during the month?

      - For me, there was lots of uncertainty. It was a new horizon for high school baseball in the state. To me it was like being handed the keys to a car for the first time. You know you want to drive it, you just have no idea where you are going with it, or who is going to go with you, but you know you are going somewhere. I had no idea what we were going to get out of it as a team, and as a program. The biggest thing for me heading into the period was I wanted to end it feeling like we had accomplished something, and it was of value to us. To some degrees it was, but not in the way that I originally anticipated.

      - I was skeptical but at the same time glad that we were getting some time to get a chance to get most of our guys together and set the tone for the spring. As the fall went on I felt better about what we had going on to get our throwing program in and our team defense in.

      - My thoughts going in were...GREAT!!! It gave us a calendar similar to the colleges. I think it was a great experience for our club. We were able to get much of our team fundamentals covered; we usually cover these areas in January and February in extreme weather conditions.

      - I was sort of skeptical about the practice at first because I didn't know how the kids would react, but they enjoyed it and we got the most out of it that we could. Yes, as soon as I saw that the players were excited to get on the field, I was energized to help them out.

- I was looking forward to the 3 week period as an opportunity to evaluate our players so that our coaching staff can identify strengths and weaknesses heading into the season. 

- I was not a big fan going in. I thought weather would be cold and sessions would not be very productive. After 3-weeks is up: It turned out okay. Weather was great and we did get somework done. It was very productive for young players who are not in the program yet, and allowed us to watch them "play the game" for 3 weeks.

     -  Because it is my first year, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to install my system and get our players used to how practices would be run. We would be able to see where tweaks needed to be made in what we did going into the spring. I think the practices were outstanding and gave us a jump start before we begin in late January.

     - I think it's a lame attempt to "pacify" all sports except football. How can we "practice" without knowing who our players will be? Also, what happens when your "players" are in football and basketball?

     - I really did not want to do it. My thoughts did change once we got into it.

Diamond Prospects-What were the pros and cons of the November unlimitedpractice for the 3 week period?

- Pros: Getting on the field with your team to refine skills for the upcoming year. Being able to go over defensive situations instead of talking about them in person or on paper. We hit with wood all fall, so it allowed some of our younger players to gain experience with wooden bats that none of them had before practice. It was great too, because we really put an emphasis on baserunning this fall because a few games changed with baserunning miscues last year. Cons: Football playoffs and basketball starting. At a small school, you have some players not out there because ofthose two sports.

     - Pro's: With the exception of two rainy days we had great weather. Unlimited number of players is a great plus, and no restrictions on time was a bonus. Personally thought that the kids benefited from this new period more than we as coaches did. Normally we do not get a lot of time with 7th, 8th and 9th graders until try-outs begin. The new period allowed us the chance to see them on the field and interacting with the older players. Also, it's early February before we ever see any opportunity to scrimmage or go "live speed" and this period allowed us to do that in a controlled manner. To me that was the biggest pro of this whole thing. More kids got more work than they normally would. Naturally, because of this we have a much better idea of where we are heading in to the season. Con's: Where can I start and how long do I have? #1 - TOO MANY KIDS!!! As long as a kid had a physical, he could participate. No restrictions on who could be there made some things tough. Having to have an "open"practice for anyone made getting some things done a little tough. For instance,we did a BP on the field one day, we had other rotations involved, but all of the kids got 8 live swings on the field and it took us about an hour and a half to run through all the kids on the field. That only happened once. Getting everyone a decent amount of reps was real tough. #2 - Uncertainty of whose arm was ready to go. This made for no opportunity to scrimmage live with pitchers because you had no idea if the kid was ready to throw live or not. We had some kids who were coming off playing since last February that really needed some down time, and some who had been off for months who wanted to let it all hang out.
 #3 - Three weeks and then Bang!!! Back to 2 kids per day. Nothing more as a team for two and a half months. What ever we did, I know that we will have to start back over again and review. #4. - Not being able to make cuts at the end of the three weeks. I would like to be able to do this if they continue to allow this period. I think its better for the kids than three days of try-outs in February. At least this way we are giving them three solid weeks of time to compete for a spot. IF you could make cuts then you head into the winter with your team picked. #5 - My biggest problem with this is what we gave up in exchange for this time. We lost 7 players a day, got three full weeks of practice, and received two kids per day to supplement this. Those are my main cons, but I could go longer.

     - Pros: As stated earlier it gave us a chance to evaluate some new guys and some younger kids, and set the tone for the spring hopefully. Cons: Obviously not having everyone is hard and also it is not mandatory but voluntary. It also is nice but I would like to see us move those three weeks to the beginning ofthe season in January.

     - Pros: Longer time to evaluate players, able to put players in different spots, able to teach the finer points of the game. Cons: Pitchers are not ready to pitch competitively in November so we had to do controlled intrasquad with a coach throwing. It didn't afford us the opportunity to see how kids reacted to true live bullets.

- Pros: We got to implement fundamentals, routines and team concepts. Cons: Since it was open to the school, we had too many people out there at times that took reps away from returners.

     - Pros: Covered team fundamentals, got a chance to see "try out" guys for 3 weeks (practices and scrimmages). Cons: Would like to be able to cut/select team.

     - Pros: We got to see young players. Cons: Going back to work with only two players per day. It seems like take two steps forward and now ten steps back.

     - Pros: We were able to get our "pitching routine" established. Cons: Arms that were beginning to "get ready" now must be shut down

Diamond Prospects-How did you use the November period with your team?

     - We are very fortunate that we have the majority of our returning players in class so our pitchers' arms were in shape. This allowed us to play 9 intrasquad games over the 3 week period. We played three 7 inning games each week, and ended week 3 with the Bearcat World Series. We had traditional practices the other 2 days per week and gave the players the weekends off. This gave our players approximately 30 AB's and our pitchers threw 8 - 10 innings each with strict pitch counts.

- We put in our team defense and got our younger guys used to practicing at a higher level. Having played and coached at the college level we used a lot of our time to intrasquad and hold a fall world series at the end of the practice period.

     - We tried to incorporate as many team drills as we could. Every day we had individual sessions by position. Every day we did a team defense with all the kids there. After we were done with that we would send the young guys to hit in the cages, while the older guys had a BP scrimmage at game speed.  That is what we did almost everyday. It was the best way to handle 50 plus kids for two and a half hours each day.

     - I used it as a time to teach our players our system and teach them my expectations for how practices will be run in the future. We put a heavy emphasis on individual player development. We did a lot of fundamental work.

     - We used the fall to initiate our throwing program and weights, go over fundamental base running/bat handling,and a few controlled scrimmages.

     - Drills for position players.  We started our throwing program under supervision. Defensive B.P. Base running reads. We also moved players to different positions "just to see".

     - We worked on offensive and defensive situations, as well as baserunning and conditioning with our team.  

     - 1st week and half-- individual work.The rest of the time we worked on team fundamentals and intrasquads.

     - Just let pitchers try and get ready.

Diamond Prospects-How much affect did fall/winter sports hinder the amount of players that you were able to work with in November?

     - We were missing about four guys. I would think it would be a real hindrance to small schools that have guys playing several sports, which I think is good. In the end this may make some athletes choose which sport to focus on specifically, which is not something that I see as positive. These schools probably also had coaches who were still in the playoffs with football so I don't know that they got much work in.

     - We missed three varsity players due to football playoffs. We were able to get all JV and Middle School football players out. We did miss some Middle School Basketball players. We did have the majority of our returners working out.

     - Being at a smaller school, it affected us quite a bit, but most of our middle school student-athletes were able to come out and practice after their football season was complete.

     - Very little. I only have a few players who play other sports, but I can imagine it would at smaller schools.

     I don't see any negatives with the 3 week period other than having a few players not able to participate do to basketball.

     - A ton due to the limited number of athletes at our school.

     - Not very much at our school-we did miss a few football players at first and a few basketball players after football finished, but not enough to matter.

     - Football playoffs kept a few kids out,but we were glad they were having success on football field. Winter sports, not really sure.

     - For us very little. We lost a Friday practice the first week due to a Varsity football home game taking place so close to our field. But we went longer on Election Day to make up for it. We had three kids playing football that missed the first week, but they were there the last two weeks. Winter Sports- none for us.

Diamond Prospects-Did your players like it?

     - I think they did. They worked hard the whole time and seemed to really compete each day, which was good. I think they would like to see fewer kids there and more opportunities for themselves eachday.

     - I think so. The attitude and effort levels were outstanding and they felt like we improved individually and as a team.

     - Yes, they did because anytime the players get on the field, they like it. A few of them didn't want to leave practice each day.  

     Our players loved the break from our conditioning work to have an opportunity to get on the field.

     - They liked the opportunity to "get going", but did not like to shut it down.

     - I think our guys liked it and saw it as chance to get some good skill work in.

     - From our surveys all players saw some positives. Many are excited that they will not have to freeze to death in January/February doing team teaching...It is done!!!

     - Yes.

     - Seemed like it.

Diamond Prospects-What would you change about the November practice rules?

     - I would move this period to the front of the season and allow teams to get those extra days in starting in January and keep the start dates the same for the season. As coaches we take a lot of heat about arm care but we really don't work with rules that allow us to help keep guys in shape. After November, we are relying on guys to do this on their own and then jump into the season like always. If we added this time at the front of the season it would give us time to work guys up to full speed before the season starts.

     - NOTHING!!

     - Two things for me: Get rid of it altogether, in exchange for 7 players a day again. I get roughly 50 kids for three weeks. 38 of those fifty kids were in our program last year. If I had 7 players a day per week, then I could work with up to 35 a week. There are about 20 school weeks from the beginning of school to the start of try-outs. You do the math there. Allow us two kids per day, and three full weeks of practice anytime between the first day of school and 7 days prior to tryouts starting. This would give coaches the chance to choose when you wanted to use your three weeks. I, like most I have talked to, would use these weeks in January and get much more out of them.

     - For me, it's all about getting our guys ready to play this season. These three weeks were nice, but in the grand scheme of things, are not very useful for getting our guys ready.

     - Every school deals with the same main issue: Getting pitchers ready to throw. Three weeks in November do not do that. Two kids per day does not help you do that. Seven players a day does. For example, let's say that I have eight guys who I think will have a chance to pitch in some capacity this season. With two kids a day,I can get to everyone, but only two will get more than 1 day a week with us.What happens when they have to throw to a catcher? Now you have 1 pitcher per day. Leading into the season we like for our guys to get at least two pens per week for a minimum of three weeks. That's not going to happen for all eight of those guys, so a few are not going to be as ready as they were a year ago. But no one at the SCHSL understands or cares about that. They want to do what is easiest for them and easiest to monitor.

     - I would move spring 3-weeks to January with only one week off before season starts. We have 69 days until baseball tryouts/season starts. Just when you get a feeling that your players are getting better, we have to go back to only working with 2 players per day. It's very discouraging for young players who have no chance to interact with a coach again until February.

     - Maybe have an open season from October 1st until the 3rd week of November? You can practice for three weeks during that time because I have a feeling in the future that the northern schools of the state are going to be affected by inclement weather at some point.

     - I know we can't make it tryouts, but I wish we did not have to open it up the entire student body.

     - Allow nothing but arm conditioning from Thanksgiving until the season begins, or change the dates from November to January.

     - I would move it back to October when pitchers are able to throw live.

Diamond Prospects-Are there any other remarks you may have regarding this topic?

     - I have talked to several coaches at different schools in different sports and everyone is saying the same things. Let us work with as many kids during the school week as we want all year. Give us dead periods, where you cannot do anything sport specific, but allow us to work with the kids. As it is now, in baseball, our kids to get attention have to pay someone to work with them when they have coaches who want to do it for free. But we can't touch them. No more than two kids a day. It would be really easy to do. Every sport can work with their players during theschool week all year long except for the following:
Winter Sports: August and September
Spring Sports: November and December
Fall Sports: March and April
How hard is that to manage?

- Overall, I thought it was a great idea. If you look at football's spring practice, depending on when the school has it, they run into the same problem with spring sports playoffs and region meets. Just like anything, let's look at the pros and cons and see if we can improve and make it better for next year.

- I think it was beneficial, but in my opinion the old "7 players per day" workouts were more ideal. It is impossible to do what is needed with your pitchers by only having 2 players per day in the offseason.

     - I think the rule is a move in the right direction and that is always a positive but as with anything it needs tobe revisited to seek what is best for the players.

- As good as it was, I would still like to have our 7-on-1 back, so we can get pitchers ready in Jan. 2-on-1 is not going to help us much.

- The concept would be better if we still had 7-on-1 with players after school hours or move our 3-weeks to January and only have one week off before season starts. Winter and Fall sports are over and now anyone who is interested (winter sport athletes excluded) could come to workouts. The concept is okay, but the timing is way off for spring sport schedules. 

- Make it equal for all seasons...do away with "spring" football and let them do it during March. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

- We will now have individual player meetings during December to address goals and improvements as they prepare for the season.

- Our hope is that the SCHSL continues to allow these 3 weeks in the fall.

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DP Note: Diamond Prospects surveyed a dozen prep coaches in order to produce this survey...