Giving back to the game

by Jack Warren, Top Coach host

Getting 26 episodes into Top Coach has demonstrated one thing to me above all else – coaches want to help coaches. In all of my days in baseball, it has always amazed me that coaches are so willing to share their most closely held secrets in order to help others who would like nothing better than to lay a Mercy Rule beating on their team.

But that’s the way it’s always worked in baseball. You help me and I’ll help the next guy in line – and so on and so on. You don’t have to engage in industrial espionage to discover what Louisville’s Dan McDonnell really teaches his baserunners, because what he’s telling the 3,000 coaches in front of him at the coaches’ convention is what he teaches his baserunners. And he’s not alone. Hundreds of coaches every year get up in front of conventions and clinics, write articles for magazines and blogs, and produce videos for the express purpose of making other programs better. If you find a coach who’s unwilling to share his “secrets” so as to keep an upper hand, you’ll find a coach whose success will be short-lived.

When we first started the Top Coach website and podcast, I was a little unsure just how successful we’d be in securing the world’s best amateur baseball coaches because of a few reasons. One is their time. Other than a two month window in the winter when recruiting and practice time is limited, their schedules are jam-packed. The second is their willingness to share their “secrets” and publicly discuss their background and work history. Finally, there’s always the concern that if they haven’t heard of you, they don’t want to waste their time.

Well, 26 episodes into this venture and the guest roster speaks for itself. Indiana’s Tracy Smith right out of the box (thanks, Coach Smith for answering what turned out to be some weak cheese questions). Along the way we’ve had the sport’s heavyweights, including Mark Kingston, Andy Lopez, Rick Jones, John Savage, Paul Mainieri, Jim Schlossnagle, Scott Stricklin, and more. I must say, the hardest thing is cutting through the clutter that is a big time coach’s email inbox. Once you make it through that, I’ve found these coaches to be incredibly accommodating.

Frankly, I find it quite incredible to be driving down the road and have Rick Jones calling me on the phone to follow up on an email. Why do they do it? Because coaches want to do what they can to give back to the game that has given so much to them. Listen to the passion of Paul Mainieri or Andy Lopez when they talk about the guys that gave them their break or helped them out along the way.

Only a handful of these guys that I’ve interviewed have known me or our podcast before coming on the show as a guest, but I’ve not had a single coach refuse a request (or ignore it altogether) because they hadn’t heard of us. That’s not to say we’ve never been “Big Leagued”. But it wasn’t a coach. It was a media person who’s never raked an infield, filled holes in the mound, been on the recruiting trail for weeks at a time, or counseled young student-athletes about personal situations. For those who’ve been there, they understand the inherent importance of paying it forward.

One of the tenets of the current entrepreneurial manifesto is to “give it away”. Marketing gurus like Seth Godin and Dan Miller preach that helping others (“giving it away”) will pay exponential dividends. Coaches have understood this for a long time. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that when you’re starting out you will just be a consumer — and then only when you’ve “made it” will you begin to give back. Nope, giving it away or giving back starts at the very beginning. Let this be a habit you learn early on. Former Major Leaguer  Ryan Garko is in his first year coaching at Stanford. He already understands that he doesn’t know it all and soaks up everything that coach Mark Marquess can dish out. He also understands that there are a boat load of guys like him who want to make the transition from player to coach and while he doesn’t know it all, he’s willing to share what he knows.

Good habits start early. Learn from the big boys not only their practice and recruiting habits, but follow in their footsteps when it comes to giving back to the game.

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