Point Loma Nazarene University Baseball
Education: South Carolina, Cal State-Fullerton
Email: dkokoris [at] pointloma.edu
The moment you first realized that you might like to make coaching part of your career?
Ever since I can remember, I knew I wanted to coach baseball. Early in my Little League career my coach moved me to catcher because of my limited foot speed. It was a blessing. The move revealed a broader and more encompassing view of the game, thus sparking my love affair with baseball. As the catcher I got to touch the baseball every pitch which kept me involved and focused on the game. Catching gave me a front row seat every time a ball was put in play. Each play sparked a quest in me to discover the ideal strategy to complement what I observed. I learned to handle a pitching staff. I prided myself on being able to get the most out of each pitcher based on their stuff and personality as a competitor. I was very thoughtful as to where and when I set-up my target as well as how I chose to communicate with each pitcher. I did everything in my power to help them find their ideal mind-frame to execute each pitch.
After my Little League playing days concluded, I decided to get a job on the field crew and as a score keeper for my Little League (luckily the fields were exactly two blocks from my house). I prepped fields before and after games and kept stats in the press box during games. I kept this job into my High School years, score keeping virtually every game of the season. The league had very intelligent managers, each running their team in a unique style. I was exposed to match-ups and how certain teams just have certain team’s number. I analyzed each player in the league and would rank and re-rank them constantly based on their tools and skill set. I was fascinated by the game, its strategy, and its personnel.
Outside of mentors, talk about one way you’ve learned some aspect of coaching.
I learn by watching games. Whether it’s watching college games, locking-in on high school or JUCO games while I am recruiting, or charting old World Series games, I firmly believe each game tells a story and there is something for me to learn as a coach. The number of variables in each game are plentiful, influencing the game in a number of directions. Each level of baseball presents its own variables such as the players in the dugout, the playing field, the weather, and the various philosophies of any given team. The game is trying to tell all of us something every time it is being played. Locking in pitch by pitch allows me to connect with the unique story of that particular game and enhance my baseball knowledge.
I also love watching all D1 college baseball games. Each region plays a completely different brand of baseball. As an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, I worked for the baseball team. I was exposed to the raw strength of the SEC. Next stop was Cal State Fullerton where I earned my MBA. However, my primary intention for enrolling there was to learn the game from their legendary coaching staff. Fullerton is a member of the Big West, which has baseball fields with true dimensions, speed up and down the lineup, savvy ball players who think the game, pitchers who paint corners & change speeds, and small ball strategies to maximize a lineup that possess only a handful of power bats.
After earning my MBA, I was asked by coach George Horton to follow him to Eugene, Oregon to assist in the resurrection of the University of Oregon baseball program. My role was as an administrative assistant. The PAC-10 [now PAC-12] is like a buffet, with teams of every strength and style. It was the most well rounded of all the conferences I have seen.
I have been known to purchase DVDs of old World Series games and sit-down to chart every pitch of the series. I love seeing how a starting pitcher uses his stuff to attack a lineup multiple times.
I learn a ton from watching games while recruiting. I take advantage of every opportunity I get to watch a game, and I make sure I get there from the start before first-pitch and stay to watch the last out. I pay attention to as much as possible, finding a narrative for each game. The energy on the field, the pieces at work, how players perform in certain moments, how they respond to each play of the game, and much more are all things I take-in. I look in the dugouts to see what type of energy is coming from the bench, and what type of investment they have in their teammates as well as the overall game. Each game has a story line, it is my responsibility to listen to what the game is telling me to decipher it. When the game is over, I make an effort to talk with both team’s coaches and some players in order to cross-check my notes and learn from them. Sometimes my observations match their perspective of the game, more often they reveal key pieces of information that give me a more complete view of the story.
If you could go back to your rookie coach self and give one piece of advice, what would it be?
It would be to invest in and develop my “mental game” as a coach. There are so many reasons this is important and it took me a while to become aware of them and their impact.
When I refer to “the mental game” I am referring to a series of peak performance practices I had the pleasure of learning from Ken Ravizza while earning my MBA at Cal State Fullerton. I was able to petition the board at CSUF to allow my concentration to be in Applied Sport Psychology. This permitted me to take numerous classes under Ravizza, to accompany my on-field education, watching him work with the Titan baseball coaches and players firsthand. The mental toolbox he equips players with allows them to frame their mindset in a confident manner, be in control of themselves (thoughts, emotions, physical body), slow the game down, and play baseball one pitch at a time. His teachings bring out the best in player’s performances. It is very clear that “the mental game” has always been an enormous part of the Titan’s success.
Name one new thing you want to accomplish this year?
One new thing we wanted to accomplish this year is developing complete pitchers. I believe this begins with a pitcher’s understanding of the game of baseball, their role in it as a pitcher, and understanding the art of pitching as how it applies to them. When pitchers have an understanding of the greater purpose to the team, and as to how their particular skill set can contribute to helping us, it leads to both their understanding of how to take responsibility for their careers as well as them acting daily on the requirements mandated to develop their skills.
This year we set out to develop the complete pitchers by teaching them the game of baseball and the art of pitching. Their understanding of the game of baseball, their role on the team, and discovering themselves within the team model has led to some special development. They have done a great job holding themselves accountable & taking ownership in developing their craft daily. As a staff, we have seen increases in fastball velocity, consistency of pitch command across the board, and an ability to execute pitches in the most crucial of situations during the game.
Your dream lunch date. One coach. Any sport. Any level. Who is it?
As a college pitching coach, ideally, I want to sit down with another college pitching coach who is a master of the craft. My mind immediately gravitates to Dave Snow. I have heard from several legendary coaches tell stories of Coach Snow’s seemingly magical knack for preparing and motivating players to perform beyond their perceived ability. For me this is the greatest compliment anyone can give a coach.
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