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  • Writer's pictureJoCo Baseball

Baseball is a Team-Over-Self Game

Something that I have noticed over the years is how selfish a lot of players have become. Stick with me here, because I don't think this is going to go the direction you think.

Many pro players can be seen by millions of kids celebrating (sometimes excessively) their successes. The bat flip after a homerun, the trash talk after a strike out, the double celebration dance. Kids see this stuff and want to be just like the players they admire. However, what kids don't see is the endless days of training, the high school/college slumps at the plate, the all out sacrifice of the body and full use of the mind to even make it to the highest level of the game. This has created a generation with a culture of kids chasing moments that they can celebrate to show off their moves or say some "cool" trash talk phrase they heard online.

On September 8, 1998, Mark McGuire became the single season homerun record holder hitting

his 62nd homerun. He hit a hard line drive over the left field wall. As it sailed over, he was already rounding first base (IYKYK), pumps his fist in the air and continues his trot around the bases. He was congratulated with a handshake from every Cubs infielder as he rounded the bases. He saluted the crowd as he rounds third bas with a smile on his face, high fiving his coach. He was greeted at the plate by a hug from the Cubs catcher as he touches home to seal the record and then proceeds to have his entire team celebrate his success by jumping on him as his son runs out to jump in his arms. What a beautiful moment to celebrate individual success.

Now let's contrast that with the MLB today. In game 3 of the 2022 World Series, Bryce Harper goes to the plate with 1 out and the score tied at 0 with a runner on first. He his the first pitch a mile into the right field bleachers. On contact, he stays near home plate watching his ball fly. As it cross the fence, he flips his bat in the air and jogs around the bases doing various fist pumps and celebratory gestures. He should be celebrating that hit. It was beautiful and gave the Phillies the 2 run lead over the Astros. One teammate greets him at the plate (the next batter), the man on deck gives him an elaborate hand shake that looks like a Fortnite dance. And that's it; that's all the congratulations he got from his team.

There is nothing wrong at face value with either of these, but let me tell you how this translates to youth sports. Kids today see plays like Bryce Harper's play and now every youth coach in the nation has a new challenge. Kids not exploding out of the box on contact. I'm not a fan of the bat flip either, but that more of a sportsmanship conversation and not the focus here. My generation saw Mark McGuire still run out of the box and not celebrate until his coach told him the ball went over the fence. Today's generation sees Harper and thinks that they should watch any ball that they think is hit well that they don't have to hustle to beat out. "Bryce Harper did it, why can't I?" This translates into players giving themselves up on balls they think they have no chance of beating. It's a mentality issue.

The mentality issue is one of not playing fundamental baseball. We were taught in the 80s and 90s that you sacrifice yourself for your team. I try to still teach my players that in 2024. But the mentality shift from 100% effort at all times and sacrifice yourself for your team to I don't have to hustle because I hit the ball well has translated into I don't have to hustle because I didn't hit the ball well enough. This toxic mindset will keep spinning players out of control until they start getting down on themselves for making mistakes and not letting mistakes go. It's a result of not leaving everything on the field on every play.

Bad habits and bad mentalities like the one described above are just one example of the issues we coaches see every day from players playing for themselves. Another area is positioning. I have seen players not play hard as a way to rebel against the coach for putting them in a position they didn't want to play. Instead of kids learning that if you want to play a different position you have to give everything you have to the position you are given, players are now taught (on and off the field) that it's ok to not give your best in that position because you don't normally play that role.

Other poor, sometimes maliciously defiant decisions are made by players when they are chasing their own success over team success. "Harper doesn't bunt, so why should I? I hit bombs too." Because your coach gave you the bunt signal, that's why. Sacrifice is not always laying out for a baseball. Sometimes, it's laying a bunt on the third base side to move your teammate into scoring position. Don't want to get out? bunt better and get faster. Coaches mostly expect a sac bunt to be an out. It's a bonus if you beat out the throw. Not swinging to cover up the steal on a hit-and-run because you don't like the pitch is selfish. Players that put their team first gladly sacrifice what they want to do for what the team needs them to do.

Let's not forget the players who don't get in the starting lineup. I see it on teams all over the country. Young players that aren't quite ready to be in the starting lineup, but will sit on the bench pissed off at the world because they think they should be on the field. Well, sometimes there is a reason that a player is on the bench and it may just be that the coach made a decision based on the game plan with the opponent. Substitutes have a role to play in baseball that is just as important as the guys on the field. Your team is only as strong as the weakest link on the roster. If you are a mentally weak player and get mad about being on the bench, that negative attitude will destroy morale in the dugout and get into everyone's head, causing your best players to make stupid mistakes. If you don't like sitting the bench, put in the work outside of practice, take advantage of every opportunity at practice, and go outwork the problem. Give the coach a reason to never take you out of the lineup. But this is the one that I'm going to loose most of you on. Parents have to STOP running to your player's defense and yelling at the coach about playing time. That is setting a worse example for your player about life than any amount of bad habits they pick up from the MLB. Are you going to go to your son's job and tell his boss that he's being unfair to your baby because someone else got a promotion because you think your son deserved it? No. Not one person that I know has ever done that. But I have seen first hand how many parents will yell about their son's playing time and argue about why they aren't getting it. I get that everyone is sensitive to favoritism in baseball. But favoritism has become a copout for people to justify their child not putting in the work they need to be better.

I have had one interaction in 15 years of coaching that a parent came to me understanding the problem and agreeing with what the coaches were seeing and asking for a genuine solution to fix it. That just happened in 2024. That is not the norm. Players need to honest about where they are and put in the work to be better. If your team is better off with another player in your position, then at game time it should not surprise or upset you that you are a sub.

We have to get back to teaching players the mentality of team over self. All of the above stems from that mentality shift. Parents and coaches need to be teaching this. Baseball is 90% mental. Your thought process and mental approach to the game is actually MORE important than your baseball IQ on the field. Both are required to be an elite level player that makes it to the next level. Humility, sportsmanship, team-over-self mentality, high baseball IQ, strong work ethic, continuous development (including fundamentals), killer instinct, and laser focus are all required to make it to the next level. Baseball is so much more than being good at catching, throwing and hitting. To make it a career, you have to make it your life. If you want a different career, that's ok too. Baseball can still teach you skills to be the best at whatever you want to do, but you have to buy into the culture.

See you on the field,

Coach Mike McAllister

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