INDIANAPOLIS–As 2018 began, nearly 6,000 baseball coaches from around the country and around the world gathered in Indianapolis to network and learn through the variety of presentations and programs at the American Baseball Coaches Association's annual convention.
But Saturday's meetings began with an announcement that could potentially have long-lasting significant effects for many coaches who will never set foot on the ABCA convention floor.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch lead off the Saturday session talking about his coaching philosophy which centers around a need to continue to learn and grow.
“If you still coach the same way you did five years ago, someone in your league has passed you by,” Hinch told the assembled coaches.
Fittingly, Hinch also talked about USA Baseball and the ABCA’s new partnership to provide additional educational resources for coaches. With this agreement, the two organizations will work together to provide teaching tools to help coaches learn and improve their craft. The two groups will also work to set up community clinics for youth and travel team coaches around the country, which will be taught by local high school or college coaches.
The program hopes to raise the level of education and training for coaches at the grassroot levels of the game. There will be free educational resources aimed at helping everyone from a first-year recreation league coach to coaches who are moving up into coaching the high school or travel ball.
"We want kids to be multi-sport athletes, but the goal is to get players to fall in love with the sport. That's what this is all about," Hinch said.
At its most basic level, the hope is that this program will help grow the game at all levels, as it helps coaches do their jobs better while also helping kids enjoy the game more.
"Volunteer coaches are the backbone of our sport and any youth sport," USA Baseball's Chief Development Officer Rick Riccobono said. "Those volunteers are what makes everything possible."
The hope is that by helping less-experienced coaches learn better techniques on how to work with players and to make the game and practices fun, it will help keep kids playing the game, which grows and builds the sport.
Already, USA Baseball has set up free online courses at usabaseball.education/training aimed at helping coaches at all levels-the classes range from Hinch teaching catching and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expounding on baserunning to ABCA-member coaches helping explain how to lay out an effective practice plan.
Those classes are already being used by Baseball New Zealand to teach its coaches as well. Other baseball national federations are in talks to use them in the future.
But in the U.S., an even bigger effect may eventually come from the coaching clinics USA Baseball and the ABCA are working on developing. The idea is to have the top coaches in an area, whether they are high school, college or travel ball coaches, devote a few hours of their time to run a free coaching seminar for less-experienced coaches. USA Baseball and the ABCA will provide the materials and follow-up resources to support the coaching clinics.
"We talk about this often in our national offices. Don't ever get confuse impossible with very difficult. This is difficult, but we have so many people on board," ABCA executive director Craig Keilitz said. "I think it will make a significant difference in our game. We will see vast improvements."
"We're asking coaches to give three hours of their time. This isn't about big league ballparks and Southeastern Conference stadiums. It's about 'how can we make high school fields home base for the area's baseball community?' " Riccobono said. "You don't need all those amenities to have a good developmental session."
The new partnership is yet another step in USA Baseball's growing role as the coordinating driver of amateur baseball in the U.S. In recent years, USA Baseball has announced the Pitch Smart program to establish guidelines for youth pitcher workloads. It's also worked with the National High School Federation to get pitch limits adopted virtually nationwide at the high school level. It has developed the Prospect Development Pipeline series to help provide free events where players can be scouted. And it now certifies metal bats as meeting standards it has laid out.
The ABCA is also reaching out more and more to coaches at younger levels with a new full-time youth liaison brought in to help work with those coaching younger kids.
Although neither USA Baseball or the ABCA have announced anything publicly about further steps, the logical progression of these increased education efforts would be to eventually have a certification process, something that amateur baseball in the U.S. lacks. That is notable because certification has become the norm for many other youth sports.
Basketball, soccer, football, gymnastics and swimming all have certification programs for coaches. And once they have completed their education, they are given a certification that stamps them as adequately trained.
That's a potential future step, but for now, the two organizations have announced a significant step towards trying to give coaches easy access to tools to become better coaches.
"I hope this grows into a formal education where you graduate to different levels," Hinch said. "We can get there, but the first thing you have to do is to get coaches embraced in investing in themselves. And it's about giving them a platform to do it."