Ruffnecks – The Game We Teach

The year is 2020, and quakes and tremors in Major League Baseball awaken us.  We are shaken to consider and question several things about our game and national pastime.  What game we are teaching to Ruffnecks players from 13 years old to 18 years old?  Do we teach the game the way it is no longer played?  Is it even the national pastime anymore?  Let us begin by examining what the Ruffnecks program is doing in the coming months.

Winter Workouts

Harvard Bubble

The Ruffnecks program conducted organizational Winter Workouts in February.  For our players, especially the high school players, this was “Spring Training” for a high school season that may not happen.  Sessions are repetition-oriented skill and drill work.  We conduct full field workouts in the spacious facilities of two prestigious Division I programs in New England:  Boston College and Harvard University.  Our sessions begin at 6 o’clock in the morning on Sunday mornings.  Once a week from February to March.  When they are over, our players have a solid foundation.  Along the way, we gather as a program, “kick the dust off,” and get to work on positional preparation and skill work.  Younger Ruffnecks (13U and 14U) integrate into the drill work at the speed and intensity of the older players for several of the sessions.  The 13s and 14s also have their own TEAM session on select Saturdays.  We allocate considerable financial resources to our Winter Workouts.  Some outsiders may believe it is not necessary.  We consider it a cultural and developmental opportunity to do something relevant and special.

Between a dozen and twenty Ruffnecks coaches and adjunct coaches attend our Winter Workouts.  They instruct, hit fungos, banter, and join in the preparation for a baseball season that runs from March until August… almost 6 months.  We have great admiration and respect for the Ruffnecks players who get up early on Sunday mornings (some as early as 4am) to get to Boston College or Harvard to work on baseball skills.  A great many of these athletes play multiple sports, including winter sports.  Some may have had a basketball game or a hockey game on Saturday.  Yet they show up to Sunday workouts.  Inherent in the experience is what college baseball might be like for those who aspire to play at that level: Early morning lifting sessions; early morning or late night practices using indoor facilities; planning schedules around academic obligations.  This is at the heart of the Ruffnecks experience

What We Teach

To Play the Summer Game!

We teach that there is no substitution for regular work and repetitions.  There is no way to get better at the skills required for baseball than by practicing baseball skills.  Of course focused players use strength training, speed training, nutrition, and more to become better, stronger athletes.  But baseball skills are honed by baseball activity. It helps to conduct that activity under the close watch of sound coaches who are willing to work, help, critique, challenge, and more.  What we try to build is a baseball mind-set, a culture where baseball is spoken, observed, and shared.

What else do we teach?  Well everything we do is aimed at building a mindset that baseball success is built on doing little things well.  “Make the routine plays routinely.”  When we get into our seasons we teach to move runners over.  We teach that playing for one run is just as valuable as hitting a 3 run home run because it helps the team in the moment.  We teach that hitting the ball hard is important.  We teach that bunting is good… that there are several ways to score runners from third base with less than two outs… just do your job.

Relevancy

Baseball in general, and our world of youth, travel baseball, is in a state where we must determine what is relevant.  The Major League product is not the game we teach, even though the analytics filter into batting cages, clinics, showcases, and more.  Replay reviews and the slow pace of the MLB game are simply not relevant to what we teach.  Frankly, neither are analytics, though they can be a useful tool.  Umpires are actually pretty fair, and try to be good, so why argue about the strike zone?  Nothing beats a skilled player who “makes the plays.”  The game is supposed to be a great sport to pass the time.  We can play it almost every day (when the weather is good).  We do not need to analyze every aspect of spin or exit velocity.  And we certainly should not be using technology to steal signs.  Picking up signs and sharing with teammates is part of the game, but that leads back to talking, thinking, observing, and understanding the game, opponents’ tendencies, along with doing your part as a player.

So beginning in February, Ruffnecks players get up early, take reps, get through that pre-season arm soreness, and ready themselves for their school and summer seasons.  For the coaches, it is time to work on fungo calluses and talking the game with the kids who want to be good at it.