We’re geeking out on baseball for a few episodes here. Nathan Bliss sits down with Hustle & Pro to talk about youth baseball: the coaching, the tournaments, the umpires, and more. In this episode, we discuss the importance of learning the proper technique and how to coach with it to better develop athletes. We also talk about parenting goals for our kids, and Nathan’s take on the broken youth baseball tournament culture.
Enjoy this episode and other episodes of Hustle and Pro in our archives.
[00:39] Nathan’s baseball story
[04:17] Learning proper instruction for youth athletes
[11:04] In-game coaching
[15:12] Parenting and motivation
Resources within this episode:
- Nathan Bliss: Twitter @ Nathan_Bliss | LinkedIn
- Kelly Walker: Bio | Instagram @kelly_walkertexas | Twitter: @kelly_walker_TX
Connect with Lifestyle Frisco:
Welcome to this episode of Hustle & Pro. I’m your host, Kelly Walker. Today, we’re talking youth baseball from umpiring and tournaments and how we approach proper instruction and all that and more. Nathan Bliss and I are going to discuss it. So, welcome to Hustle & Pro, Nathan.
Thanks, Kelly for having me on, I’m really excited to be here.
Yeah, I’m excited to have you,. So, tell us why you’re here. So tell me, like: what’s your baseball story?
Yeah, so me, I think my baseball story is one written with just a lot of just love for the game and passion that was kind of born out of where I’m from. So I grew up in Nebraska, I think a lot of like a lot of people around the country, a lot of us got 13 channels growing up and two of them were TBS and WGN. So I grew up like a lifelong Cubs fan. Uh, you know, I’m a, I’m a middle child so always kind of riding the coattails of my older brother who was a much better athlete than myself. Um, so that’s kind of where my love began at Wrigley Field, 11 years old, Pittsburgh pirates versus Cubs game. And in April when it was 45 degrees and that, that wind was blowing off the lake and it was cold, but I got to sing “take me out to the ballgame” with Harry Carey and it just, yeah, that was just like, you know, I can close my eyes and just be there again. And it was great. So a lot of romance it’s a bit to me, with baseball.
See, I love that. Like, uh, I was thinking last night, knowing we were recording, I’m driving a kid home from a practice and I hit the right station and I hear the voice of the Rangers and I hear a game and we’re just like, we just get quiet and we listen. And my kid’s only, you know, 10. And so I still like want to prompt him and be like, “did you, did you hear what he just said there?” And I’m like, “isn’t it amazing how, first of all, a voice can take you back. Right. Um, or put you in a seat.” And I said to Jack, like, “isn’t it so cool that this guy, as we’re driving down the road, he can just, his words, I can see the plays happening.” I can see the game. I can see when he talks about Joey Gallo hitting the wall and like I can see it all happening, even as specific as he talks about, like, I don’t know if that was a splitter or it was hard to tell if that was a change, like how- the way that they can communicate a baseball game on the radio, like for people like me, I love it so much. And like I could just sit and listen to even just baseball on the radio. I think to a lot of people, especially females, they probably think that sounds insane, but I love that stuff.
Oh, me too. Me too. I, I, you know, Harry Caray was a fan with a microphone, uh, you know, and you know, like nostalgic voices, like Bob Eucker and Bob Costas, you know, I love watching those documentaries on the MLB Network and stuff like that. Just really harken me back to like where I first fell in love with the game. And honestly, a lot of cinema too. Like I’m a big Field of Dreams fan. I’m a huge, uh, major league fan and just, you know, the Sandlot, you know, in our game room at our, at our house, like those movie posters sort of align the walls. That and A League of Their Own for my wife, it’s her favorite movie. You know, things like that is, is really is where I started to grow in love with the game. Yeah.
Yeah. I was watching the news last night and there’s a lot of no-hitter talk happening now. Right. Like it is kind of weird, but it’s funny. And the softball pitcher that just pitched the perfect game. And the caption was, you know, “in a league of their own” and I’m thinking, I mean, that’s cute, but it’s like, come on that there’s so many more things, but, um, but it was awesome. Good for her. And yeah, there’s been a lot of baseball, pure stuff happening lately that’s been fun to listen to and watch
So much fun to like Mr. Rodon threw a no-hitter last night and, uh, you know, Musgrove really recently, uh, against the Rangers here. So, you know, it’s kind of the wellspring of, of that time. It feels like mid-April right now, although it’s, it’s, you know, maybe not the greatest beginning of the season for the Cubs, but that’s a different story. Yeah.
Well, I mean, Rangers too, when you get, when you get a single wind at a time, it’s all good celebration. Yep. Okay. So, um, speaking of all that and kind of baseball peer stuff: so like I know that you say proper instruction is undervalued and things like organizations are overvalued. Tell me what you mean by, like, when you say organizations are overvalued. I do agree proper instruction is so important when we’re talking about youth. I mean, when you bring this back to kids and stuff, and youth, but, um, so tell me, like what, what do you mean when you kind of compare those two?
Yeah. What I learned pretty early on is that when I was sitting on the bucket, when my son was, you know, seven years old, eight years old, me just sitting there and telling him, “Hey, Zach, just throw strikes,” was not very helpful. And it wasn’t very helpful and it wasn’t very beneficial. You know, I, I started listening to podcasts and there’s a podcast that I found, uh, called Dynamic Velocity, um, and the Pitchabilities podcast, which is a gentleman by the name of Tom Oldham, who, uh, went to Creighton University, was a left-handed pitcher. And, uh, went into pro ball in the marriage organization. I started listening to this podcast when we lived in Omaha, Nebraska and Tom was in Omaha, Nebraska. And I was like, “wow, two plus two equals four.” Like that’s incredible. Uh, you know, and he just opened up this baseball school called Dynamic Velocity.
And when Zach was 10-years old, my oldest son, Zach, we, we started going there and, you know, my premise was, you know, me just sitting on a bucket, you know, yelling or telling my son, “Hey, just throw strikes,” wasn’t very helpful. So actually to learn, you know, sort of like a more systematic process for, in my, we centralize a lot of our training and focus on pitching just cause my son is left-handed and, um, you know, has a proclivity towards that. I don’t think that’s right for, in all cases. Uh, my son will be 14 in May. Um, but we focus on other avenues of the game, but we focus the majority of our time on pitching. So when I say instructions or instruction is undervalued and maybe organizations are overvalued, what I mean by that is extrapolating that idea out a little bit more. I think it’s important to learn the finer points of the game and to have somebody that has been there before, who has, uh, a background that merits you even spending money, uh, if, if that’s your choice, uh, with that individual to learn how to do something, and this, this is something I’ve personally learned the value of in my vocation in sales. That translated for me from being mentored by others that had been there before me to learn how to do that correctly. Uh, so it’s just basically applying that towards athletics as an endeavor or as an exercise. And, you know, I think that it’s, it’s going well, but I think growth is a continuum where you’re always on that path.
For sure. Yeah, yeah. Nobody’s ever done, especially when talking about learning or perfecting skills and things like that. Right. So then in your examples, setting on the bucket saying “pitch strikes,” um, I know I always joke when I hear parents or coaches yell, things like that. My daughter made a bad path the other night and the coach yells “don’t throw it at her feet.” I’m like, “Oh, Oh, that’s helpful. Like, that’s fantastic. She, she didn’t set out to throw it at her feet. Like she made a bad throw. So you just telling her that she did that really doesn’t really, -in-game doesn’t really help, you know?” Um, but you talking about that example, what’s a better way to approach it then like specifically? Like, are you talking mechanically specifically giving a correction?
So to get into specifics into pitching, I can do that, but to sit, take a step back for like maybe a moment. I think it depends on what your goals are. Yeah. So I think you, a lot of people get into youth sports for a variety of reasons. You know, I think it can be a great way to entrench yourself into community. And that can be a real aspect of, uh, as a function of being in a family context or being in a family and I don’t discredit or discount those. Um, yeah, so it just kind of depends on the motivations of the family and the individual.
Everybody has different reasons and goals and what they want to get out of, you know, their sport that they’re playing.
Exactly. So for, for us, it’s a little bit more of a, of a pursuit to where, uh, baseball has taken my son into higher levels. It’s part of the motivation of why I wanted to live in the DFW area of the country. Is I, I do think that this is a hub for some of the most competitive youth sports that you can find anywhere. So for us, we tend to take a bit more systematic approach to development because, you know, in order to compete at the highest levels in this city, if, if you don’t, you will, from a results perspective, that’s probably not going to go very well for you. So breaking that down into something like an exercise, like pitching, instead of me just yelling on a bucket, “Hey, Timmy, just throw strikes,” Tom, for example, his methodology was very specific. So he broke down the elements or the phases of the delivery, hip load, hip lead, hip separation delivery, and follow through. And each one of those have cues that you can give an athlete in order to move down the mountain or perform more optimally, as opposed to me just saying, “Hey, just throw strikes,” which isn’t, which is actually isn’t very helpful to an athlete. So-
No, ’cause they know that, I mean, they know they’re out there to throw and the, you know, “relax and throw and just, just play catch with the catcher,”- all those cliche things. Like those aren’t really helpful things when they’re actually needing to fix something to get the ball to be in strike.
That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. So, and then it’s just through repetition and different constraint systems and other sort of, you know, approaches to training that athlete to perform that task better, you know, that then doing those things. Uh, so I, I know I’m centralizing a lot on pitching, but this applies to other disciplines of youth sports and baseball and softball as well: pitting, fielding, you know. There, there’s, there’s better ways and better approaches to where you can actually teach and instruct as opposed to an uneducated approach to that, which I think often is just, you know, the more norm of what I see. Yeah.
And some of that, from my perspective goes from parent coaches versus more professional coaches that you mentioned who have played the game at a higher level. You see a big difference there too. And I mean, parent coaches is what we have when we all start out, because that’s what we do. You’re not going to have higher level coaching at, I don’t know, five, six, seven, eight, whatever. My kids weren’t really allowed to choose stuff until they were 10 to get more competitive with things. But you coach. So I’m curious from your coaching perspective, um, like what’s your take on like in-game coaching on the spot versus getting it all, like, that’s practice time. Like how, how much are you correcting and vocalizing when you’re coaching in-game situations?
Yeah, just for context, our, our team Lightning Elite is a, you know, a majors ball club here in Dallas that the composition of the staff is his dad’s of players. I
So it’s a very competitive level, even though it’s made of coaches.
Right. And over the last two seasons, I think our record is somewhere around 66, 28 and 4. So one thing that we have prioritized is skilled level, you know, talent identification. Uh, and then I know a lot of the families on our, because you know, the composition, our players is really from all over the metroplex. So it, it makes in week practice together a challenge for us. So we prioritize maybe doing that one time together, but a lot of the athletes in our team get a lot of individualized instruction, throughout the week separately, and then coming together more on the weekends and things like that. So
You do have to use the time that you’re with them, even if it’s a game and warmups, but you have to use that to constantly be coaching. I mean, you’re not sitting back like manager-style and just watching. That’s right. You have to be hands-on with them.
That’s right. Because it is difficult to replicate in game scenarios in a instruction environment.
Fall in game scenarios is so important. Yeah.
You can’t feel the pressure of a four-to-four ball game in the bottom of the last half-inning with the tying or winning run on second base and you’re the guy on the mound with the ball. Yeah.
And you can’t, you can’t force the quickness of some of those decisions, unless you’re in-game. Like you can do a rundown drill or a bunting drill all day in practice. Right. But when it’s coming at you unexpected in a game situation, that’s a whole different way to respond. That’s right. I mean, you need to have practiced it. Obviously. I know what you’re to do if you didn’t practice it over and over and over and drill situation, but until you’re in in-game scenario, you can’t like fully like get better at it. Right. I mean, right.
I have a tip for people out there for this, because there would be a lot of scenarios over the last couple of seasons where we would be unclear as to exactly what happened in a game where you can’t visualize it – unless you can. So we’ve prioritized video a lot. We have a GoPro set up that we just simply put on the fence. And, you know, there was a play earlier this season where we were unclear exactly what the athlete or the one of our players was doing on a, on a line drive scenario to the outfield. Well, when we went back and watched the video, it was very clear, uh, as to what it was. So that really helps a lot to where if they can visualize it and if they can see what they did, it is much easier for them to be able to know what to do when that scenario comes up again. So that’s one thing I would say is like, if you have the resources to do this, you know, spend some money and some energy on being able to take, take video, because it’s, it’s really good for those athletes to be able to not only connect the mental picture of what happened in those scenarios and what they did to the actual picture.
And all the things going on they didn’t see exactly because of their position, their perspective on the field. I mean, other sports have been taken advantage of film forever, right? I mean, my gosh, that that’s half of football, I feel like, practicing and preparing for games and stuff is film. And, um, I’m sure at the highest levels they’ve been doing it in baseball for a long time. But yeah, it’s sort of this newer trend in youth sports is, is here’s film. All my kids’ teams now: our club soccer, like everything is always there’s film available after the game. And it’s just sort of how much you take advantage of that. If you go back and watch, if your athlete watches, if your coach has sessions with you or not, I mean, everybody can use the tool differently, but it is a really valuable, really valuable tool.
Yep. Absolutely. I couldn’t advocate for it more.
You talked about parents earlier and like parent motivations. And I talk about this a lot because we see a lot of parent expectations around here. And it’s not that that has to be a bad thing because I feel like when the, when the circumstances are right and your kid has certain amount of desire and talent to get to be a high-level player, great. Like that should be something you go after. Um, I think the kid has to want it so much more than many of the parents realize that around here that the kids don’t, you know, if it’s too much, if they’re burnt out for whatever reason, uh, they’re not probably not going to achieve all the things the parents have in mind for them, because you just, there’s not going to be the effort, right, on the field. So, so when did you guys sort of make those decisions? Like your, your son’s almost 14, right? Um, like how early on were you like, “okay, we’re going to develop him as a baseball player.”
Yeah. There has to be mutual buy-in at some level, uh, and interest on the part of the athlete. Um, because I think one of the best things I’ve learned through just instruction is that the athlete has to become their own best coach over time. Like you can’t force it upon them. Yep.
Cause it cause the best ones have to do more above and beyond you can’t just show up practicing games. Right. We all know that the best ones are doing their own stuff all the time. Right. And that the athlete has to become their coach.
That’s right. And we tell the boys on our team all the time. Like “if, if you want to show up and put out on Sunday and Saturday and Sunday, you have to prepare Monday through Friday.” I’m not saying that’s easy. Uh, you know, these, what students go through today, uh, can be a bit of a sort of like, uh, uh- that’s difficult to do structurally when you just think about dynamics inside the home and you know, how that all works and incorporates. But at some level there has to be buy-in from the athlete to make sort of that buy-in on their own a priority, I think. But as a parent, you make that I think, available to them. And if, if you have those resources and then- you know, I I’m of the mind, too, that YouTube and resources like that are fast becoming the great equalizers. You know, my son benefits greatly and I think a lot of athletes benefit greatly from, from learning from tutelage, from people like Trevor Bauer, for example. I couldn’t advocate more for people to, is, are there things about his personality that turned people off? Absolutely. Is he brazen at times and brash? Absolutely. You know, some of that stuff comes from the marketing side to where, you know, he’s, he’s doing that too much- yeah, exactly. And it attracts a lot of eyeballs, but if you actually listened to some of what he advocates for for pitching and on behalf of athletes, there’s a lot of really great, valuable content in there that you can extrapolate out and athletes then can take that into their own context and apply a lot of that methodology.
And sometimes you have to just be willing to accept some of that, um, harsh personality stuff knowing, um- I mean, I think of so many of the greats that you think of, uh. They all have character floss and they all might not want to be someone’s living in your household, raising your child. Right. But they can give you a lot of really good insight on how to be a better athlete or develop a skill in that sport. Right, right. Yeah. Um, I do think it’s important that when we talk about like parent motivations, there’s a, there’s a level for everyone, too, you know, which is the beauty of what the communities that we live in. Like if playing in the majors is not something for your 13 year old, there’s still a lot of good rec ball where if your goals are just to have fun with kids your age and be on a baseball field, we can still do that. Right. Um, and so I do think that’s important for parents to realize that sometimes we hold too tightly to, “Oh, we got to play at the highest level. Um, because I played at a high level and my kid should too.” We see that link football and, and soccer and everywhere, but, um, a lower level might not be the end of the world for your kid, if that’s where they want to be.
That’s right. Yeah. I’m actually not certain it’s not better because I have a fundamental difference of opinion about the structures for how travel baseball operates. The way that it lends itself to, with how these tournaments are structured isn’t really real. You know, for example, like at the major league level, they have 162 games that they played. That’s a pretty healthy sample size to be able to ascertain which team is superior in that season.
And that’s a dedicated player who that’s their job. Right.
So every game for them is one, 162nd of a, of the sample size. Yeah. Well, the way that we do it, it’s always one out of three. We have these really constrained sample sizes where it’s only a weekend. We played some pretty, pretty well, let’s say, ranked teams just this past weekend and we didn’t have success. So does that mean now that we’re not a very good baseball team? I actually would argue not. Um, because that’s, I don’t think that’s a large enough sample size to be able to draw any large scale conclusions.
No, it’s not because it’s, especially in game like baseball, when you’re starting pitcher makes a world of difference in where you are in that rotation. And so, yeah. Uh, three-day weekend where you’re only allowing that rotation to happen maybe once, um, or the help of one, one or two players can make or break you sometimes. So, yeah, I agree that it’s, but what if, so, what are you saying though? Okay. Get a bigger sample size to determine what, like rankings? Is that what you mean? Like-
I think a better way to do this. And I think what I would say is there are a lot of entrepreneurial minds venturing into our game. And what I think is going to happen over time is there will be disruption of this sort of pervasive tournament culture into different formats. And I think this is going to start to matriculate up first in larger metropolitan areas like your Dallas’s and Phoenix’s, and let’s say larger metropolitan areas in Florida where entrepreneurial mindset will entrench itself in a way where, like, in Dallas, I know if there was mutual interest amongst the teams that play at our level, I think a better way to do what we do would be to formulate some sort of league to where we could get a larger yeah. And if we wanted to have a playoff or a tournament type of activity at the end of that, I think that would be great.
Yeah. Um, but you know, if we could mirror, maybe what’s done at the high school level where, you know, they have a, uh, you know, a district or a competition amongst those that are, you know, geo located in a similar fashion or something like that than over a larger sample size, a champion is crowned and then they play it off at the end. Right. I think that is a better version of baseball, as opposed to, you can have two really great Saturday games and then Sunday morning you can go up against the stud and you’re packing your bags at 8:30 in the morning, wondering “what just happened?” Right. And, and, and, and what happens to athletes as they walk away from that deflated or feeling like they were unsuccessful.
Like we’re cheated sometimes too. And you’re like, “wait, but that team should beat that team or, or what happened?” You know, the littler kids think something went wrong. Yeah,
Yeah, exactly. Like a nine-year-old, you know, experiencing something like that, that will start to gnaw away at their psyche. And what happens to that person that has gone through that experience for years and years and years when they’re 13? Well, I can tell you what some of them do: they quit. And should they quit? Yeah. Are ours a bad, yet? I, I would argue they’re probably not
Not. I haven’t gotten to the high school level yet, which there is this huge gap in baseball to get kids, to stay active and interested in it ’til high school. Yeah. And then it’s like around here, it’s super competitive to even make your high school team and all that. But there is this strange drop-off of kids in that middle school age range. And maybe that’s part of it is that when they get to the level you’re talking about and they’re on tournament travel teams, it is super hard to consistently feel good about. Yeah. Like
I don’t blame them. I don’t, I, I think that, that, that is a function of, at some level, the system. Now, I don’t think you can always shift-blame, necessarily. I’m not trying to blame shift, but I, when I am saying is I think in the future, those I could even argue that it will be beneficial for those that have, like, let’s say a first mover advantage mentality towards moving to more of these types of systems. And we’re already seeing some of this with what five-tools doing and, and some other organizations that are moving and seeing opportunities for, for this sort of like, let’s say, pervasive tournament culture to be disrupted. So, you know, if, if I had different motivations, I would probably try and, you know, move in that direction myself, just because I see such an opportunity to do it better. Yeah. I agree. Um, I mean, anytime something feels broken, there’s hopefully somebody stepping in to fix it. Yeah. And maybe just restructure. It might be time for that.
All right. Thanks for your insight, Nathan. And I know we have more to talk about, so let’s wrap up this part of our conversation and call it Part One. And next week we’ll pick up with Part Two of this conversation with Nathan Bliss on youth baseball. So, thank you all for listening to this episode of Hustle & Pro. We’ll see you next time.