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Relevance – The Ruffnecks Program

The Ruffnecks program begins its 15th season in 2018.  That is a long time for youth baseball organizations where “Daddy-Ball” teams come and go, and the landscape for competition ebbs and flows.  Indeed other organizations throughout the United States and in our New England Region have longer histories, and are equally committed.  The Ruffnecks have not cornered the market on instruction or the development of baseball players.  We do not get all things right.  The challenge is to maintain relevance in a world where player and parent expectations are expanding more rapidly than the ability to deliver outcomes.  We believe that relevance sits squarely in the old fashioned axiom that ball players play ball.  And baseball is a TEAM game.

The purest moments in the Ruffnecks program are on display during the workouts of our newest 13U class.  It is there that all the unbridled hope, passion, and understanding begins anew.  We do not attract, nor do we select, the most “finished” 13 year olds.  We do our best to build a team and a class of like-minded friends and ball players.

Information Overload

Social media, websites, and easy access to information pose challenges to the most discerning player and his family.  Daily, we are bombarded with appeals to subscribe to recruiting agencies, pitching and hitting links, prospect camps, showcases, along with product pitches, evaluation tools, and more.  These same appeals target the aspiring athlete and their families. They also target vulnerabilities.  It is not unique to baseball, but since we are about baseball, these are our concerns.

Several parents (many with players who have finished the Ruffnecks program) have shared their experiences surfing websites, player rankings, team rankings, and more.  Such activities provide an interesting and entertaining use of one’s downtime.  It can also confound the brain.  Even parents who have played the game at high levels (in another era) find the amount of information overwhelming.  So how do we deal with it?

First, it is important to understand that this trend is not going away.  The clutter will likely only get worse.   The challenge to wade through the clutter will become more difficult.  So there is no need to ignore it.  But there is a need to manage it.  And there is a need to filter the noise, noise, noise.  In the end, it is rare that a showcase or a recruiting agency delivers a desired outcome.  The player must play the game.  The Ruffnecks deliver the opportunity for players to be seen playing the game… at a high level.

The Noise

Noise makes it difficult to concentrate.  It stands to reason that noise accompanying idle chatter among parents, players, and evaluators, also makes it difficult to sort out reasonable expectations.

We always ask the following question of our players, even at the youngest age: “What are your goals and aspirations as a baseball player and student?”  The most common answer is, “I want to play Division I Baseball and I want to go to a school down South.”  Whew!

So when the attention begins to increase around our program, usually at 15U, the noise gets troubling when some Division I schools begin noticing and expressing interest in some players but not others.  It is human nature to wonder “Why him and not my son?”  But such energy is misdirected.  The energy is better focused on how each player can find his own path to the appropriate place to play at the next level.

Our mea culpa is simple.  The Ruffnecks program is NOT an exclusive club comprised of Division I prospects!  We do not wave that banner, and we have great pride in the accomplishments of many graduates who have matriculated to excellent Division III and mid-level Division I schools of high academic focus.  To be sure, the Ruffnecks have had many wonderful Division I players (and draft picks), but those successes are not quantifiable, and we do not engage in what many programs do, which is to stake a claim of development to ANY player who has ever pulled on the uniform!  And by the way… most of our players end up playing somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line!

Instead, we strive each year to enhance our efforts to manage expectations while being advocates for our players.  And our reputation among college recruiters continues to rise with trust and integrity.  Our players play hard.  They play in the context of team-baseball.  They are seen and evaluated in that context.  And the most successful ones advocate for themselves.

Differentiation & Self Advocacy

So fifteen years into this experiment, we are still experimenting, while at the same time sticking to some tried and true fundamental principles.  First among those principles is that no one person, player, coach, is greater than the TEAM.  This message is underscored repeatedly.  At our Ruffnecks banquet in November, three speakers (none of whom had communicated with any others) spoke of the same values of teamwork and self-advocacy.  Mr. Stu Porter spoke at length with a marvelous illustration of self-advocacy and perseverance.  Dave Dombrowski spoke of team values and understanding.  While NY Yankees scout Matt Hyde also addressed why scouts and recruiters like watching the Ruffnecks… “Because this program plays team baseball.”

The second important principle is cultivating self-advocacy.  We encourage players to speak for themselves and to manage the journey for themselves.  This, of course, includes the greatest of parental support… trust… Trust in the player and trust in the process.  But the successful journey is conducted primarily by the player who possesses clear speaking skills, ownership of his academic record, and a willingness to face his own strengths and weaknesses.  Players know better than anyone else.  They know the pecking order on the field, and they understand the vagaries of “fairness” inherent in the game of baseball.

To be certain, we have players who leave the program for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes we simply cannot deliver the goods.  But what continues to differentiate the Ruffnecks is a fierce adherence to playing for each other, challenging ourselves against noble competition and having the players conduct the journey.

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Questions & Answers About Ruffnecks Baseball

People have questions.  Each summer, between late June and August we field well over 200 new inquiries.   Interest in the program and Ruffnecks Fall Baseball registrations are growing.  Of course not all register and participate in order to become candidates, but folks want to know who we are and what we do.  As the program continues to evolve and garners more attention, the task of defining ourselves for prospective players and families actually becomes easier.  Why?  We differentiate ourselves.  We do so because we work tirelessly to refine what we do, and we deliver a quality and purposeful developmental path for serious baseball players.  Still, some folks get wobbly.  Some players become self-centered and less team-centered.  First and foremost, we are a team-oriented baseball program.  We are not for everyone.  The Ruffnecks journey is not always an easy one.

What We Do

We coach and develop.  We build teams that are part of a Program.  After all, the PROGRAM is the TEAM of teams.  Players in our program know the other players in the program regardless of age or level of play.  They know them as Ruffnecks.  Our coaches are involved with players at all ages.  Players from younger rosters may have opportunities to play with an older Ruffnecks roster during a given event.  The common bond is being a Ruffneck.

Of course, our players love to win.  Most competitive athletes do.  But we believe that winning is a byproduct of adherence to competitive and developmental principles and fundamental truths.  Sounds cliche or trite?  It is difficult to do.

We believe in teaching.  At the 13U level alone, we put four to five qualified coaches with our 13U team during the season.  Why? Because we teach.  Our older teams have three, four, and sometimes as many as five coaches working.  None are parents.  Is this excessive?  No.  Is this expensive? Yes.  Families who pay for travel baseball deserve to get value for what they invest in.

We coach to instincts.  We ask players to be instinctive ball players.  This takes enormous work, repetitive coaching, and sometimes tough love.  The players own the game, not the parents or coaches.

What We Do NOT Do

We do not recruit and solicit players; we prefer they find us through referrals and reputation.  We do not use “temporary” players, nor do we invite players to play with the Ruffnecks for a weekend or “just for this big tournament.”  You are either a Ruffneck, or you are not.  If we need to bolster a roster, we do so with younger players from within our system.

We do not run a 12U team to feed our development system; we begin on the full-sized diamond.

We do not have a solitary coach show up to the field to sit on a bucket, barely teaching or communicating with the players.

We do not build our 13U (entry-level) roster with the biggest, most mature players so that we can flex our muscles at 13; we look for athletic players and supportive families.  And we do not easily “kick players to the curb” who have been developed at 13u & 14u as long as they have put in the effort and can define a role for themselves.

We do not succeed with building every roster and developing every player.  We have our failures, to be sure.  There are players who leave the program, though our attrition is low.  When they leave, it is because we either could not help them further, or because they felt their baseball objectives may be better met elsewhere.  We are sometimes faced with difficult conversations.

We do not field “Showcase” teams; Our teams play great competition, wherever that takes us.

We do not have a magic wand to get players college scholarships.  Neither do we boast that we are a program designed for Division I players only.  We have solid players capable of matriculating to fine schools at all levels of collegiate baseball.

We do not do Parent-Coached baseball.  Parents are not in the dugout or on the field.  Period.  We do not ask them to keep the book.

We do not run multiple teams at a given age level.  We field one team per classification.  No “B” teams.

We do not keep statistics.  We don’t care about them in the context of the program or the competition we play.

Of course, there is plenty else we probably don’t do… some of which we might consider… some we prefer to leave to others to figure out.

The Landscape

The New England Ruffnecks stand out at a time when there is considerable confusion regarding the options for baseball instruction, participation, and development.  There are literally hundreds of options for a boy graduating from the Little League diamond to life on the Big Diamond.  “Daddy Ball” teams, facility-based teams, “scout” teams, and loosely defined “college prospect” teams litter the landscape, often making claims that simply can not be supported.  New offerings and teams crop up each year, often formed by parents, coached by parents, or led by parents with the ability to rally a group of kids and families.  Some of these programs enjoy short-term success, and some are sustained only as long as those parents or coaches have a child in the program.

Of course the Ruffnecks are not the only choice.  There are several other fine programs working hard with good players.  But thoughtful families must navigate the landscape carefully and deliberately.  The good choices are not simple and certainly not plentiful.

Our Objectives

Field #3 at the NEBC

The Ruffnecks keep our objectives simple: At the younger ages we prepare players for high school varsity competition.  From 15U and up, we are a college development program.  Indeed, at our core, we are a college development program first and foremost.  We care about a player’s academic record.  This does not mean that every 13 year old who enters our program will go on to play college, but it does mean that our curriculum is designed along that track.  We attract good players who become better, and eventually many of them become very good players.

We believe in a steady addition of “new blood” and consider new candidates for every roster, every year.  However, we are increasingly selective.  Rosters expand as the teams get older and roles become more defined.   We do not take players who cannot contribute.  Players play.  We encourage multi-sport athletes and believe they are among the best baseball players in the long run. As players grow through the system they develop a self awareness about themselves as student-athletes.  This means that they begin to realize what kind of ballplayer they may become at the next level and what colleges and universities are realistic for their futures.  Ruffnecks rosters are assembled with four criteria as the principle determining factors:

  • Age & Graduation Class (HS).  Is the player young for his class or age appropriate?
  • Ability (Talent)
  • Projected Role
  • Positional Needs.

Scope of Activity & Support

Financial security has been established over the course of 13 years through the generosity of several benefactors.  This financial strength provides opportunities, and a scope of activity that is unsurpassed in our region.  The manner in which our teams travel, the amount of travel, practice opportunities, games, and role in the development and planning of the New England Baseball Complex (NEBC) in Northborough require support well beyond what tuition sustains.  Our teams play all over the country.  Our ability to play and practice at home on the synthetic surfaces of the NEBC further differentiate our program.

Understanding the Culture

Seniors at Dinner

We sense that players and families, once they are past the transition to the big diamond at 13 and 14, come to realize that there are really very few programs focused on development and travel at our level.  We do not claim to reinvent the principles that have guided baseball development for years.  We only try to adhere to those principles.  Our rosters provide depth and talent and are built to compete.  They are larger than most.  While we care that all our players play, we are more concerned that they discover and carve out a role for themselves.  Accordingly, most players used to being on the field all the time must adjust their expectations. The physical and mental demands of the Ruffnecks program are significant.  We undertake a rugged schedule at ALL levels.  We work hard to attract good, dedicated, professional coaches.  For players who prefer to enter showcases, attend college prospect camps, or do other events to give themselves exposure to recruiters, we are NOT the program.  We still believe that there is value in playing with a team, as a team, and in the context of team objectives.  Individual skills and talents are best developed and displayed within the framework of team competition – one level at a time.

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Important Notices

(Updated Sunday, July22 at 9:00am)

Elite 8 at Brown University. 
Sunday, July 22 playoff game is canceled.


July 23 - July 25
15U/16U Ruffnecks
at AP Classic
Springfield, MA

Ruffnecks Gate Passes & Fanwear

Ruffneck GATE PASS (for NEBC) Available Above.

2018 Ruffnecks Fall Baseball

Go to Fall Baseball Page

Follow @neruffnecks on Twitter

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