Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Clint Hurdle

An expectation is a special kind of belief, a belief about the future.
If a professional baseball pitcher gets in trouble in the first inning, does the manager have faith in the player’s ability to work out of the jam? The pitcher need only look over and see if anyone is warming up in the bullpen. First inning bullpen activity communicates an expectation that the pitcher will fail. Such an expression of no confidence does not promote performance at skill level. Admittedly, some pitchers might consider bullpen action as a challenge and rise to the occasion. But, in general, negative expectations promote lower performance.
If a college football player is told he is third string, the coach encourages third-string performance.
Negative expectations can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for a whole team. In the late 1980’s, an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns described their NBA team as “a ‘dream team,’ as long as management understands that it is going to take time to develop and mature.” Such “praise” told players that they were not expected to do well that season. Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons quickly squelched such talk and the team went on to make the playoffs.
A coach who continually gets into altercations with referees, who shouts that incompetent or unfair decisions are costing the game, establishes a low expectation for players, giving them an excuse to perform at a low level and thereby lose.
If a coach expects players to do well, players can thrive even if the coach’s expectations are based on inaccurate information. Clint Hurdle noted that St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog had an “innate ability to make the 24th guy on the roster feel as good as No. 1, when you know good and well you’re not.”
Expectations are an expression of commitment. Regardless of what we say or think about goals we are committed to achieve, what we’re doing right now is what we are committed to making happen in our lives. To know what an individual athlete or an entire team is committed to, simply look at their actions. Are they practicing? Are they training? Are they overweight?
Beliefs and expectations create the climate in which individual competitors and entire teams perform. Wise coaches stay alert to attitudes affecting performance. Coaches who promote positive attitudes are not only wise in training, they are winners on the field.

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When it was announced last night, just prior to the start of the Chicago Cubs – Pittsburgh Pirates game, that Pedro Alvarez would not be starting at first base and was being replaced by utility player Sean Rodriguez, I was amazed. It’s true that Alvarez is much more prone to making errors but it seems to me the team needed his fire power at the plate. Here’s a guy (Alvarez) whose 27 home runs led the team but whose 23 errors made him a defensive liability. Now I’m a big Clint Hurdle fan but I believe it’s possible that not starting Alvarez might have had a more important negative effect on team attitude. After all, here was one of their buddies who they played with throughout the entire season and when it came to the most important game of the year, their manager chose not to start him. But did they speak up and tell Clint how they felt. I doubt it. Because if they did, Clint would have viewed their behavior as infringing on his managerial ability to make decisions. And yet it was (in my opinion) this very “withholding” that affected their ability to focus on hitting the ball. This was especially true of Andrew McCutchen during the entire season. He must have been withholding something all season long or how else would you explain a .350 hitter batting just .300?

Very often when colleges and professional teams are looking for a new head coach they look for someone who is strong-willed, who is a take-charge type of guy and will instill the fear of G-d in his players. The Marine drill sergeant type who isn’t afraid to “kick a few butts” and will let the team know in no uncertain terms that it’s “my way or the highway.” This is the type of person a team should hire, right? Wrong!

The best head coaches are those coaches who have been through some type of adversity or tragedy in their personal lives that makes them have great empathy for their players. And that’s one of the most important characteristics a coach can have. When his players know he cares about them as human beings first and then as athletic performers, they’ll play their hearts out for him. And this is something a coach can’t fake. Either he has it, or he doesn’t. Here are three examples of coaches who have it:

Andy Reid, head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2012, his oldest son Garrett, died of a heroin overdose.

Cuonzo Martin, men’s basketball coach at the University of California, is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in 1997 while playing professional basketball in an Italian League in Europe.

Clint Hurdle, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, is a former alcoholic and has a daughter who has been diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome.

All three of these coaches have been highly successful and the primary reason is because they have great empathy for their players. They don’t want their players to fear them. But rather, they want their players to know they love them.

There are a number of reasons why the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in (and should win) the World Series. First and foremost they have some of the best players in major league baseball, including Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Pedro Alverez, Gregory Polanco and one of baseball’s top closers in Mark Melancon. But they also have the best manager in major league baseball: Clint Hurdle. Those managers who have had adversity in their lives, as Hurdle has, have the greatest empathy for their players. Hurdle genuinely cares about his players as human beings first and then as athletic performers. And his players know it. It’s something you can’t fake. And if you combine that with his vast knowledge of baseball, plus the talented ballplayers he has on his team…you have a winning combination.

I was interested in comments made about Clint Hurdle, National League Manager of the Year, in today’s USA Today: “…he de-emphasized pitching counts among starters so they would focus on going deep into games.”

Beliefs play an important role in determining how many pitches a pitcher can throw before his arm tires out. But keep in mind, it’s the pitcher’s beliefs, not the pitching coach’s beliefs, that affect the pitcher’s performance.

There are many examples on record where pitchers threw more than the limited number of pitches allowed today, and were no worse off for having done so. Though it’s true that there are many new pitches today that didn’t exist years ago, and some of them have been known to damage a pitcher’s arm. However, even some of today’s pitchers believe they pitch better when allowed to exceed the number of pitches normally authorized by the pitching coach, and go the entire nine innings.

Here’s an example of a Letter to the Sports Editor that appeared in The Kansas City Star, April 30, 2000. The writer wrote: “I hope Tony Muser (then manager of the KC Royals) and all of the Royals’ pitchers read about Justin Green, a pitcher for Cameron (Oklahoma) University who pitched all 17 innings in a game recently. The next day he worked an 11-hour shift at a restaurant and showed no arm problems. I think the problem in professional baseball is that the pitchers do not throw enough. A few innings in a game is all they usually throw and then they have to rest for five days. Relief pitchers do even less work, and for the Royals, most of their ERAs are awful.”

But even Green’s remarkable feat didn’t compare with a performance by two pitchers in the same game on May 1, 1920, at Braves Field, when both Boston’s Joe Oeschger and Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore pitched all 26 innings in a 1-1 tie. Two days later Oeschger was back on the mound again pitching part of another 19-inning game.


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