Mid-Week with Yogi

Since it’s the middle of the week, I figured it would be a great time for some of Yogi Berra’s best quotes from his book “What Time Is It? You Mean Now?” to get us over the “hump”:

“If you don’t set goals, you’ll never reach them.” (p. 40)

“90% of this game is half mental.” (p. 45)

“Little things are big.” (p. 69)

“Paying attention to the basics – in baseball, it’s the fundamentals – is a little thing that’s a big thing.” (p. 70)

“You can observe a lot by watching – and you learn a lot too.” (p. 73)

“To me failure is just an opportunity to start again.” (p. 92)

“There’s a big difference between losing and failure.” (p. 117)

“I try not to get too upset over things I can’t control.” (p. 130)

“It’s deja vu all over again.” (p. 137)

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo




Don’t Be Chicken?

With the baseball season officially underway, I thought today would be an appropriate day to share an article penned by Matt Hickman in 2012 that discusses some of the most superstitious baseball players ever to play the game (see Hickman article).

I’m happy to say that #1 on the list is Wade Boggs. Boggs, a MLB Hall of Famer, is going to have his number 26 retired by the Boston Red Sox on May 26th and is only one of eight Red Sox ever to have this honor.

I mean what other players beside “The Chicken Man” have earned the right to have an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode made?

This kind of got me thinking, what are some of the strangest superstitions in basketball? It seems that baseball has so many more. It probably has to do with all the down time in the game but still basketball has a few.

We have all heard of players changing shoes or shoelaces at halftime and who can forget the 2007-08 Boston Celtics peanut butter and jelly pregame meal, but can you think of any others?

Please post your comments below and share what you or some of your players have done in the past!

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

When the Absurd Becomes the Norm

“All progress requires change, but not all change is progress.” — Dr. Josiah “Mort” Briggs, URI Emeritus, Professor of History

Dr. Briggs made this statement during a lecture in his “History of Science” course that I took. I am not sure why, but this always stuck with me. I remember jotting these words of wisdom in my notebook, but it has resonated in my mind ever since, ingrained for all time.

I am confident that it rings true in life and applies to sports as well.

I’ll give you an example. Anyone who has watched a lick of baseball in the last few years has noticed one dramatic change in philosophy: “The shift”.

How many times have you seen this recently?

Even tonight in the Boston Red Sox game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, the O’s shifted the entire infield (3rd baseman was almost behind 2nd base) for Stephen Drew with 2 outs and a runner on third base. Drew was batting .247, 12 HR, 62 RBI headed into this at-bat. What were the Orioles doing? Drew coudn’t be shift worthy with those numbers, right?

Don’t let the numbers fool you. Drew had an exceptionally better average with 2-outs and runners in scoring position. Drew walked, but if managers are doing it, it must have some value. Although I do not have the stats to represent the hard facts, I am positive there is validity to this defensive strategy.

More importantly, this is a paradigm shift in baseball. It is even more for remarkable for baseball where change is not something that comes easy for fans, teams or the MLB powers that be.

Previously, only the likes of Barry Bonds or David Ortiz would be respected (or feared) enough to totally change a team’s defensive alignment. Now this is not the case. Instead, the infield shift is being used as a tool to get any and all out. Whether you are a Hall-of-Famer or bat .247 (no disrespect meant Mr. Drew).

Even NESN play-by-play commentator Don Orsillo noted that regarding the teams using the shift, “it used to be one guy, now it’s like five guys in every order.” It seems as though it may only increase.

The question is, is this change progress?

In this case, I think it is. If it gets batters out…why not? Sure pitchers have to pitch differently (slower or inside to induce players to pull the ball to the shift) and certain infielders have to get adjusted to their new spot on the field, but if it works…why not?

This could be a huge boost for the defensive aspect of the game. The result in the long run could also be that maybe hitters will adjust (i.e. go the opposite way) after seeing shifts for an extended period of time. Only time will tell.

More importantly, “the shift” has proved that baseball managers who are notoriously “old school” have made the leap to develop new ways to get batters out. Kudos to them for a little outside-the-box thinking and not letting baseball’s unwritten rules get in the way of getting hitters out.

Rhode Island College Men’s Basketball Coach, Bob Walsh, held a Leadership Academy this summer where he challenged coaches to “challenge conventional basketball strategy and theory.” It was a weekend full of ideas, sharing and radical thoughts.

I don’t think any MLB managers were at Coach Walsh’s Dynamic Leadership Academy, but I think they are starting to get the message.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Refocus Your Focus: Real Stats

I recently read a great article by Gabe Kapler, former MLB player and Minor League Manager, on how current MLBers need to reexamine how they are looking at their individual performance. This reevaluation has to do primarily with looking at statistics differently.

In the article Kapler suggests that “Players simply need to stay in ‘baseball school,’ pay attention, keep an open mind and evolve with the decision makers.” Quite profound.

As a basketball coach, I started thinking is our profession thinking outside the box regarding statistics?

As basketball coaches (aka ‘decision makers’) and teachers, we tend to have that favorite stat that we always are interested in and focus on. For some it is field goal percentage, for others it is 3pt field goals attempted. Others have a defensive charts that tally deflections, shot clock violations, etc. The possibilities are endless and probably depend on our personal basketball journey (prior coaches, favorite teams/coaches, clinics, etc.).

For instance, I have known coaches at halftime or the end of the game, who go right to the rebound margin to see how the team was rebounding in a particular game.

The problem for me was that this statistic was most often very skewed. The reason why I believe this was because sometimes this category was very sporadic from game-to-game.

Were we really this good, average or bad on a game-to-game basis? Possibly. Was the team were were playing either this good, average or bad on a game-to-game basis? What about the eye test? Makes you wonder if there is a better way to evaluate such a common statistic such as rebounding.

Well surely the opponent and their personnel matters. However, these up and down statistics were usually a direct result of something else I thought.

I found that some factors that gave the stats a slanted may have been: the opposing team was not pursuing the ball on the defensive or offensive end very well, the ball bouncing was our way (or not), we were simply taller or short than our opponent, there were lots of turnovers which limited shot attempts, or the fact that one team had one of the premier rebounders in the conference/nation who covered up many of his/her team’s rebounding deficiencies.

These factors among many others, are the reasons why I believe that the rebounding margin was not necessarily a true reflection of how well a team actually rebounded. I believe that rebounding margin has as much to do with other factors and not necessarily only rebounding technique, which is a better indicator of true rebounding prowess.

Whether you agree with my conclusion or not, as a Head Coach I never really focused on total rebounds (although that is important and locks up your defensive possession) but rather rebounding technique, i.e. defensive blockouts and offensive pursuit.

My definition of a ‘defensive blockout’ is making contact on each shot by the opposing team while I defined an ‘offensive pursuit’ as having our players taking at least three steps towards the offensive glass.

The result is much more process oriented rather than results oriented. As long as we were making contact or crashing the offensive glass, good things were bound to happen. That was much more of a better indication of our rebounding effort and general skill level than the rebounding margin.

Of course in the flow of the game it is very difficult to gauge defensive blockouts and offensive pursuits with limited staff. However, observant assistants and head coaches can surely get a gauge on the team’s overall effort level during the game (i.e. “Eye Test”) and use film after the game to get a more definitive number to present to the players.

Although getting these numbers are much more time consuming than merely getting a stat sheet from an SID, it will undoubtedly give coaches and players a more accurate glimpse into what is actually occurring on the court. This is important to be able to emphasize any aspect of the game and will reinforce the coaching staffs message. Remember film never lies.

Moreover, each player may get rated on a percentage during the course of a game or practice on how many times they actually execute what coaches are stressing in their program (i.e. in regards to rebounding technique Player A makes contact 70% of the time on defensive end). This is another great tool that can have a true impact on your program by showing your players how being accountable can have impact on teammates, how practices are conducted, morale of the team and ultimately the outcomes of games.

In addition, focusing on statistics for each team in the same category (i.e. rebounding technique), coaches may be able to get an even more analytic view of which team is more disciplined in certain areas of the game.

As Kapler reminds us, coaches too must be thinking of how to evaluate. For instance, if Coach A only sends three players to the offensive glass, while Coach B sends all five players, the number of course will be skewed in favor of Coach B’s squad. However, creative forethought can balance out these variables that coaches use based upon their program’s x and o philosophy.

Kapler continues, “imagine a husband taking out the trash everyday and feeling pretty good about handling his obligation. Meanwhile, his wife thinks, ‘I wish that lazy bum would wash the dishes once in a while!’ If expectations aren’t discussed regularly, they become mismatched. And we are in that place now in baseball.”

Likewise, basketball coaches must be sure to communicate with their players of how they will be evaluated so there is no ambiguity or questioning of what the coaching staff feels is important in their program. This will give the players a feeling of confidence that the know what is important, what will be stressed and how that will relate to playing time. It is the foundation to building accountability in any legitimate program.

Just as important, the coaching staff must come up with the appropriate innovative metrics of how to accurately evaluate their team so they are getting an accurate measure of whatever statistic they wish to emphasize.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Baseball’s “Old School” is Finally Refreshing

Although I usually discuss basketball topics, a few things happened in sports this week that deserve special notice.

First, the Major League Baseball players union, which is notorious for backing its players, did not protest the Ryan Braun steroid suspension. The lack of support for Braun reiterates that really for the first time the players who weren’t using steroids are being listened to more than the one who were using.

This is really a stunning paradigm shift for a union that was so anti-drug testing (just 10  years ago), for it to be doing what is best for the image of the game and not just the players.

Even more remarkable is the mutual admiration that seems to have built up between Yankee and Red Sox fans recently.

The “love fest” all started when the Yankees sang “Sweet Caroline” in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in April.

This weekend marked the first time that the Yankees returned to Boston since belting out Neil Diamond’s classic.

Well, Sox fans returned the favor by singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” this past Friday as a thank you to the city of New York for their support during the Marathon tragedy.

These were great gestures by both Yankees and Red Sox fans alike.

More improbable than either of these acts was the standing ovation that the Sox fans gave Mariano Rivera as he made his way to the bullpen on Saturday on his way to another save against the Sox. Even in a loss, Sox fans gave Rivera a well deserved applause for his career achievements and dominance against the Red Sox.

If anyone were to predict these kind gestures years ago, they would have been admitted to psych ward.

Amazingly, it happened and I am sure Derek Jeter will get the same respect when he returns to Fenway after he gets off the disabled list.

Even more amazing is that this happened in baseball. You know, baseball. Yes the sport that won’t fully use instant replay or that takes up to a minute between pitches. You know, baseball. Yeah them. Well kudos to MLB for getting this one right.

It just goes to show you that in sports, just like in life, anything is possible.

In an era of instant gratification and a “what have you done for me lately” attitude, it is nice that the MLB players union and Yankee/Red Sox fans honored the game this way.

Refreshing to see the “Greater Good” being carried out in MLB.

I think that’s an “old school” train of thought, a school of thought that baseball is usually criticized for.

However, in this case, “old school” was the right school of thought.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo