During the past few days, we talked about Situational Awareness, and the importance of young baseball players understanding their responsibilities depending on the situation. It’s one of the three pillars that separate the great youth baseball players and teams from everyone else.
While writing that post, it became obvious to me that there’s another aspect of awareness that needs to be covered: Self Awareness.
When a player struggles with situational awareness, mental toughness and discipline, the problem can often be traced to a lack of self-awareness.
Let’s take a closer look at what self-awareness is, how it impacts performance and how coaches can help their players achieve an accurate level of self-awareness that allows them to be a productive member of the team.A player who is self-aware understands his strengths and weaknesses and embraces his role... Click To Tweet
What is Self Awareness?
Self-awareness is a clear understanding of who you are. In this case, it’s acceptance of an accurate representation of one’s self as a baseball player.
Understand that this isn’t easy for anyone, no matter the environment. We all want to be better. We all desire to be the best. We all dream of others seeing us as the star or the greatest in our field.
Self-awareness, though, cuts through what we want, hope and dream about. While we can still want those things, self-awareness allows us to see clearly how we can best contribute right now based on our strengths, weaknesses and role.
Knowing Your Strengths
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of knowing your strengths…
Example #1: The Speedster
The easy example here is a young baseball player with blazing fast speed. They think they are a power hitter. Everyone wants to be a power hitter. As a result, they are overly aggressive at the plate and hit too many pop-ups and fly balls.
When this player doesn’t embrace his strengths, he hurts his performance (and his team). By hitting the ball up in the air, he’s making it easier for the opposition to get him out.
Through self-awareness, this young player can leverage his natural ability. He should be selective at the plate because a walk is often the equivalent of a double or triple when he easily advances. When he puts the ball on the ground, he reaches base far more often than when he hits it in the air.
Example #2: The Power Hitter
On the flip side, you have the power hitter who doesn’t fully understand just how powerful he is. He’s too selective, takes too many walks and watches too many strikes go by.
It’s all about risk and reward, and with a power hitter there is often great reward when he swings. When a power hitter embraces his strength and gets more selectively aggressive, good things will happen far more often.
Knowing Your Weaknesses
As we did above, let’s look at a couple of examples related to knowing your weaknesses…
Example #1: The Slow Plodder
The complete opposite of the speedster above, this is the slowest hitter on the team. He has average power, but makes a lot of contact and is overly aggressive.
As a slow runner with average power, we know that the likelihood of an out when he puts the ball on the ground is very high. Particularly as the level of competition goes up, the odds of an out increase.
This young player needs to understand his weakness. By being overly aggressive and hitting a lot of ground balls — particularly to the right side — he is simply playing into the hands of the opposition.
This player has three main options for increasing his odds to reach base and help his team:
1. Be more selective at the plate. A slower runner with average power who puts the ball on the ground is decreasing his odds of getting on base by being too aggressive. By being more selective, not only will he be more likely to hit hard the fewer balls he swings at, but he’ll reach base more frequently via the walk.
2. Focus on line drives. This takes repetitions, but a high groundball rate with average power is a sign of a flawed swing. It’s more important than ever that a player like this hit the ball hard and to the outfield.
3. Hit the ball to the left side. Now, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be a dead pull hitter. Such a batter can be taken advantage of with offspeed pitches. However, if a batter routinely hits the ball on the ground the other way, it is hurting their ability to get on base. By focusing more on hitting the ball up the middle and pulling balls that are middle-in, a slow runner can put more pressure on the defense and increase his odds of reaching base.
Example #2: The Average Arm
At lower levels, the successful pitchers are those who throw the most strikes. As the kids get older and more refined, those strikes will get routinely hit hard if they become predictable.
A pitcher with an average arm needs to understand this. He can’t just stand on the mound, throwing as hard as he can, hoping for a different result. “As hard as he can” simply isn’t hard enough in this case.
One of his strengths is the ability to throw strikes. As a result, he can hit locations. So he needs to leverage his strength and make up for his weakness.
Pitching at the higher levels is all about keeping the batters guessing and off balance. Even when a pitcher doesn’t throw particularly hard, he can change location and speeds to become far more effective.
I like a locational approach — when a pitcher can hit his spots — of moving in on the hands and low away. Always around the plate, but never down the middle. High pitches where the batter can extend his arms are normally a bad idea unless the pitcher can throw hard.
Keep the ball down unless on the hands. Change speeds frequently so that the batter can’t time the pitch properly.
Knowing Your Role
A player who is self-aware knows his strengths and weaknesses. Now it’s important that he is comfortable with his role. Otherwise, he can be a negative drag on the team.
Here are a few examples…
Example #1: The Star Hitter
Understand that knowing your role is an issue for players of all ability levels, not just those at the bottom of the lineup. I see this repeatedly for the better hitters, too.
Let’s say that a team relies on a couple of main hitters to provide the offense. One of those hitters is very selective. He takes strikes and walks frequently. As a result, not only are the runners in front of him often stranded, but he is as well.
While a selective approach isn’t always bad, it is when the selective batter is one who gives you the highest probability of a big hit. With each taken strike, an opportunity to advance runners multiple bases is lost. Even walks, in this case, are only acceptable if the opposition isn’t giving him pitches to hit.
This hitter needs to understand that his role is to swing the bat. His team needs him to be swinging. Of course, he should still only swing at strikes, but he needs to limit strikes taken and hit the ball hard.
Example #2: The Weak Hitter
Everyone wants to be the star. But it’s important that everyone is honest with themselves about their ability, especially when they are one of the weaker players.
Let’s consider the final batter in the order as an example. There are two outs with no runners on. As the final batter in the order, the team’s best hitters are coming up.
The weak hitter needs to understand his role here. He needs to do everything he can to reach base to give the batters behind him an opportunity to knock him in.
What we often see here, though, is a lack of self-awareness. The batter is overly aggressive, swinging at bad pitches.
In reality, this hitter should be extra patient. Unlike the star hitter, taking a strike isn’t a bad idea. He wants to prolong the at bat and give himself the best chance possible to reach base.
Example #3: The Star Fielder
As the star fielder, the team needs this player to step up and take charge. He needs to be a vocal leader. He can’t be passive.
Sometimes, though, this player lacks confidence. He blends into the background as just another player.
When it’s crunch time, this is the player who needs to want the ball. He needs to help the other players know their responsibilities, and step in to command the field.
Example #4: The Fill-In
As coaches, we’ve all been there. A player on the team is a below average hitter and fielder, but he’s always the first asking you to pitch, play shortstop or hit at the top of the lineup.
This is a typical case of poor self-awareness.
While a fill-in should work hard and not necessarily be satisfied with his role, he needs to accept his current place. He can’t mope and complain. He needs to do everything he can — even when he’s not on the field — to be a positive contributor to the team.
By embracing his role, the self-aware fill-in is a positive voice in the dugout. He cheers on his teammates and keeps his own head up when things aren’t going his way. He doesn’t beg for a role he hasn’t earned or complain about the positions he is asked to play.
Helping a Player Achieve Accurate Self Awareness
Developing a team of 11 players with full self-awareness is no easy task. Here are a few things a coach can do…
1. Explain the task of determining playing time.
Make this an exercise so that players see the difficulties of assembling the lineup. Particularly if you have playing time minimums, give the kids a lineup card and have them determine who starts, who subs and when.
It’s not easy! With 11 players, four players typically share time. With 12 players, six would share time. How should that time be distributed?
By giving the players the (hypothetical) opportunity to assemble a lineup, they need to start accounting for abilities the way the coach does. While they may not always agree with you, this exercise can help them understand how these decisions are made and why.
2. Explain how lineups and positions are determined.
It’s important to have a clear process for determining lineups and positions. It shouldn’t be a mystery that is constantly changing every game.
I have a model that I follow for assembling a lineup. It’s largely based on prioritizing those who can hit, make contact and get on base most frequently.
By explaining clearly how you determine the lineup, players will get a better understanding of where they stand, why they hit where they do and what they need to do to move up.
As for determining positions, be clear that you want to put each player in position to succeed. Not everyone will pitch, catch or play shortstop. And if you did give equal time at each position, no player would master a position.
Some physical tools are important for each position. For example…
- Pitchers need to throw strikes
- Shortstops need a strong arm
- Catchers need to stop the ball
- Outfielders need at least average speed
- First basemen need to keep the ball in front of them
While these things are important, situational awareness may be even more so. Since the roles and responsibilities need to be understood thoroughly, it’s why I only assign a couple of positions per kid.
So first, the players need to be honest with themselves about their physical strengths. Do they have the foundation for being a good third baseman? Then they also need to be sure they know all of the responsibilities to master that position.
3. Explain the various roles and how each is important.
Not everyone is going to be the star, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s impossible to have a team of 11 kids who think they are the star and end up with a happy and successful team.
A team is like a puzzle. Each piece has its purpose and needs to fit together perfectly.
Speedsters need to put the ball on the ground, get on base and cause havoc on the bases.
The best hitters need to be selectively aggressive, not allowing strikes to go by.
The weaker hitters need to find any way to get on base.
Outfielders need to embrace that role and be the best possible outfielder they can be.
Bench players need to support the players they are sharing time with while continuing to fight for more playing time.
4. Explain the ways you can contribute positively to the team.
A good team is far more than simply pitching, hitting, running, fielding and throwing better than the other team. Hustle, awareness, mental toughness and good teamwork are all equally important to success.
No matter your role, you can always hustle.
No matter your role, you can always maintain a positive attitude.
No matter your role, you can always support your teammates.
No matter your role, you can always work to get better and improve that role.
5. Sit down one-on-one with each player.
Explaining this in a group setting is great, but it’s even better to have one-on-one sessions with each of the players.
Describe your thought process as a coach. Explain the strengths and weaknesses you see in the player. Help him understand how you think he can best contribute to the team. Ask him how he thinks he can contribute.
Be very clear about all of your expectations. Based on the positions he’ll be playing, make sure the player understands his responsibilities. If he will be sharing time, explain why, how else he can be a good member of the team and what he can do to increase his role.
Allow the player to voice his concerns and desires. If he wants to play another position, be realistic about what is possible and explain what he can do to earn time there.
6. Have Kids Self-Assess
Hand out a self-assessment sheet to each player. Allow them to rate themselves on various skills. Then have them list out their three main strengths and three main weaknesses.
While they may not always be honest with themselves, it forces them to look at what they’re good at and “less good” at.
7. Assign two main positions to each player.
As mentioned earlier, I don’t employ an “everyone can play everything” philosophy. By moving kids around constantly, it doesn’t help anyone. Kids aren’t able to master a position, and more mistakes are made. No one ever feels comfortable.
Based on skill set, I will assign an initial two positions (not including pitcher) to each player. They will master those positions. They will understand the roles thoroughly for each one. They will be prepared and will be put into positions where they can best succeed.
This doesn’t mean that a player can’t earn time at a new position if he shows that he can take on another role or another player fails at his responsibilities. But I feel that more than two positions can be overwhelming.
8. Make statistics public to the team.
While this can be a sensitive thing, it’s important that stats are public to the team. There is nothing to hide.
Particularly if you have a system for establishing a lineup, the stats should also make it clear why you bat each player where you do in the lineup. Additionally, the stats should back up why certain players start and others share time.
Be clear that stats don’t always tell the entire story — especially in small sample sizes — and other factors will come into play (be clear about what those factors are!). However, having objective reasoning that can support your decisions will only help!
Self-awareness is important, but it’s often difficult for young players to achieve. However, when you have a team of 11 self-aware kids who all understand and embrace their roles, you’re set up for a happy, successful season!
Any thoughts on this topic and how coaches can help their players be more self-aware? Let me know in the comments below!