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Friday, May 31, 2013

LESSONS LEARNED FROM CHUCK TANNER

The first full spring training I was lucky enough to have Chuck Tanner, who'd just managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to victory in the 1979 World Series, mentoring me. Chuck laid out a three-pronged approach for me.

The first aspect was physical: make sure that everything about your players -- their legs, their core, their arms, their hands -- is in shape.  All the baseball activities -- taking ground balls and fly balls, batting practice, were a part of that conditioning. We sometimes had the guys take upward of two hundred swings a day, toughening their hands and their muscles.

The second of Chuck's keystones was the fundamentals.  All those "routine" plays, all those pieces that get executed hundreds of times over the course of a season -- they all needed to be practiced mercilessly.  The way you make those fundamentals sound is to do the right thing over and over to the point where it becomes automatic and you can make the plays by pushing that figurative button that allows you to execute them. As a result of that kind of preparation, you won't get bogged down by those routine plays.

The third and final preparation that Chuck convinced me was a crucial part of spring training was also the most important: you want to walk out of spring training mentally strong.  Part of this mental strength comes from players having a good baseball IQ.  If a player doesn't understand the rationale for, say, moving a runner over or guarding the line, he's not going to be as big of an asset to the club as someone who understands all parts of the game.  The litmus test is if you can look at the scoreboard and have it tell you what you should be thinking.

The second part of the mental side, the more critical aspect, is getting players to understand that "mental toughness" is something they can acquire.  If they decide to make something important, then they can make it happen.  It's all about making a choice -- you can be tough, you can play through a minor injury, you can get through a slump.  It's all about control and knowing that you possess it, but it's your choice whether or not you activate it

From "One Last Strike" by Tony La Russa