I was recently on the road and had an opportunity to catch up on some of Coach Ron and Jill Wolforth’s audio CDs that Inner Circle members receive once a month on a variety of topics. I highly recommend becoming an Inner Circle member for those of you wanting to stay up to date on Coach Wolforth’s philosophies and to hear him and Jill discuss some of the most cutting edge topics in the game. The topic of this blog comes from one of Coach Wolforth’s discussions on his Inner Circle audio CDs.

In the past, I have written blogs addressing some of the ways to become a truly exceptional baseball athlete—because if you simply do what others do you are going to get what other get. Generally, that is not something you want, since the majority of athletes who play baseball never make it to the next level (that next level could be high school varsity, college, or professional). The philosophy of being unique and different than the majority applies when talking about a person’s analysis on the game of baseball.

I have a unique perspective on baseball given that I played the game for many years, both at the college and professional level, and I have been involved with the training and preparation side of baseball for over 10 years with Oates Specialties. I am fortunate to have spent countless hours with some of the best and most progressive baseball minds in the world.

Due to my baseball background, many people I interact with want to talk about baseball. It seems as though the majority of the small talk I find myself involved in is about baseball. Yet I find something very interesting about these discussions: the lack of depth that self-proclaimed baseball fanatics have when it comes to their knowledge of the game. These “baseball junkies” can tell you all about what happened in last night’s game, or a certain player’s stats, or new contract, or a team’s minor league prospects, but they can’t tell you a thing about the intricacies of the game. They don’t understand how 90+ mph fastballs are generated, or what makes a breaking ball sharp. They can’t engage in conversation about why a certain hitter is in a slump, or how a player can belt a 400+ foot homerun. Their knowledge is shallow. They like to rely on the “Wow, he’s a freak” approach without any analysis.

But for those of you athletes and coaches who want to be exceptional you should not be a fan of the game. You need to be a student of the game. A student of the game has tried to understand the specific movements that baseball athletes make to produce 90+ mph fastballs and 400+ foot homeruns. A student of the game has tried to understand mechanics and has tried to figure out why some movements are more efficient than others.

What is the primary difference between a fan and a student? I think it is the level of appreciation for what elite baseball athletes are able to accomplish. A student of the game knows about the work that it takes to get a hitter out or to get a base hit. A student of the game knows how difficult it can be to field a ball in the hole and to throw it across the diamond to get the runner out at first. This is because the student of the game has either attempted these feats for himself, or has been around numerous athletes attempting to perform those tasks. The student knows the hours it takes to try and master even the most basic tasks.

A fan of the game does not know these things. Fans often underestimate the skill it requires to do some of the most “basic” and “routine” tasks on the diamond. Fans show their lack of appreciation by booing, heckling, and bad-mouthing athletes who fail to succeed. I don’t think you will find too many students of the game booing or heckling struggling athletes. Because students understand how hard the game of baseball is. Students know how hard athletes work. I have been heckled and booed for my performance on the diamond. You will never witness me doing it. I fully understand what the athlete is going through and what he is attempting to do.

Back to my over-arching point of this blog: if you want to become an elite, exceptional baseball player or baseball coach you need to be more than a fan of the game. You need to study it like you would any other topic you are attempting to master. A player’s stats, or contract, or the outcome of last night’s game is great if your goal is to be able to master the “water-cooler” talks with other fans of the game. But if your goal is to make it to the next level, you need to be studying the game. You should be watching elite athletes with the purpose of learning from their specific movements. You should know what your swing or pitching motion looks like on film and be able to describe it. You should be reading everything you can about baseball specific conditioning and training. When you watch a baseball game you should be thinking, analyzing, and contemplating aspects of the game beyond the comprehension of a mere fan.

If you feel as though you have to dumb down your baseball discussions with others in order to discuss what they want to talk about—then you are probably on the right track. You are on your way to becoming a student of the game.

Until next time,

Brian Oates