Ahead Of The Curve with Jonathan Gelnar

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April 18, 2020  

John Savage- Head Baseball Coach, UCLA

April 18, 2020

Coaches vs. Covid


Today we’re joined by UCLA Head Baseball Coach John Savage. Through 15 seasons as UCLA’s head coach, John has established the Bruins as a consistent national championship contender. Savage helped UCLA reach college baseball’s pinnacle in 2013, as the Bruins won their first-ever NCAA baseball title. Under his guidance, UCLA has advanced to the postseason in 11 of the last 15 seasons, hosting an NCAA Regional in six of the last 10, including four-straight from 2010 through 2013.
Savage completed his 15th season as UCLA’s head coach in 2019. He is currently the third longest-tenured head coach in UCLA baseball program history and has gone 539-360-1 in the past 15 seasons.
On the show, we talk about steps he and his staff have taken to build the culture, we get into staff development, we talk about competitive situations in practice and much, much more. Here is John Savage!
Show notes courtesy of Zach Casto

Ahead of the Curve Live: John Savage (Head Coach UCLA)

  • When you develop your beliefs and become a head coach, trust yourself and be yourself.
    • Players will notice if you aren’t being your authentic self. 
  • As a head coach, be organized and delegate duties to assistants and trust them. 
  • Be present in the moment as a head coach. 
    • That allows for you to be the most helpful. 
    • Good pitching and catching will determine how good your team is at the end of the day. 
  • Organization, communication, and being a true team are crucial for the success of a program. 
    • Keep in mind that you need to know your players. 
    • This will allow for you to not go in and take away repetitions from the players. 
    • Hire coaches due to needs and allow for them to do their job and trust them to do it. 
  • Ensure that your coaching staff isn’t saying the weaknesses out loud to the team during practice. 
  • Also stay away from saying this because it could cause a wall to go up between you and the other coach. (Essentially be a professional). 
  • It takes time to become a good program. 
  • Different teams each year have different strengths and character. 
  • You want every single thing that you do to have a championship look.
  • The more you can teach guys to be part of that culture, the quicker the progress will happen. 
    • Good teams have good leadership. 
    • The players in quality programs know how to keep the culture where it needs to be.
  • As a coach it is important to model how the culture should be in order for the players to recognize what to do. 
  • Through time, the players will start to respond how the coaching staff will and how the culture wants the response to be.  
  • As a coach you want your players to be mentally tough and not focus on things they cannot control. 
    • You need to work on the individuals first before you can focus on the team.
    • This helps you learn the players first, and then focus on the team and players after that. 
    • Loyalty and trust of the coaching staff is crucial to have for a successful team. 
    • As a high school coach it is important to teach your players how to act, compete, and respond to adversity. (College coaches look for this along with academics and off the field character). 
  • “Good character makes great teams.”
    • At the end of the day, the best teams and athletes are consistent. 
    • “The game is supposed to be played a certain way.”
    • It comes down to how do you want your players to look and respond?
    • When you see something good or bad let the players know, but handle both situations in a respectful way in order for the athletes to not feel put down. 
  • “Timing has to be right for a coaching staff to give messages.”
  • You want rational messages, not emotional messages. 
    • “You want to keep building success not tear down success.”
    • “The game can flip on you quickly.”
    • Make sure every player on your team feels like they matter to the team. 
    • Example: Bullpen catcher helps the pitchers gain feedback before or during a game. 
    • “Players need to be ready when they get called upon.”
    • You want your players to walk with a sense of confidence. 
    • One negative player can feed upon to the rest of the team and hurt the culture. 
    • “Unless you help the player to make a change, they won’t do it.” 
    • Treat and care for others the best you can possible. 
    • The more we get to know our players, the more we can help improve their life. 
  • Make sure when you are working on improving mechanics, focus on one mechanic at a time. 
  • This allows for the player to not be confused and to have a clear understanding of what needs to be changed. 
    • “Present things to the player in order to build confidence.”
    • Talking to players and investing in relationships will allow for you and the coaching staff to understand how to handle each player in order to coach them the best way possible. 
  • You learn about how much to talk with players through experience. 
  • It is important to lead rationally and not let emotion take over decisions. 
  • “You can’t get wrapped up in the results in a game. You are taking blows in a game, so how you respond is important.”
    • You want rhythm and tempo to your team when competing. If you can control the flow of the game, then you are in control of the game.
  • Everyone’s developmental clock is different, so be patient. 
  • Sometimes you won’t have players develop until their Senior year. 
    • If you have players show that they are doing the right thing, then it will be easier for them to have the opportunity to reach their potential. 
    • Make defense a crucial part of your program. Players have to be able to defend well to play defense. 
  • Help your players find their roles. 
  • Whatever the player has shown that he can do then that will be the role. As they improve the role increases. 
  • Example: Jimmy can get a hit in pinch hitting roles, as he improves with defense he earns an opportunity to start and makes the most of it. Jimmy becomes a starter due to his hard work. 
    • Players have to learn how to be patient. It takes time to develop skill. 
    • Be honest and upfront in where the player is in their development so they understand their role. 
  • “You have to give players hope. You do this by giving opportunities.”
  • Example: If you are up 10-0, allow a player off of the bench to pinch hit and make the most of the opportunity. 
  • You don’t really know what you have until you play other teams. 
  • That is where you find the pulse of the team. 
    • If you don’t have Left Handed Pitchers then you will have to teach your Right Handed Pitchers how to pitch to get Left Handed Hitters out. 
    • Make the most out of what you have. 
    • “If you want to pitch in the Big Leagues, you need to have the ability to get the opposite handed hitter out.”
    • Put your players in competitive environments and watch how the player responds to failure in front of their teammates. 
    • It is during this opportunity that you can help teach the players how you would like them to respond to failure. 
    • Try to have enough of a competitive environment in order for the players to realize what they need to improve upon. 
    • The quicker you know your deficiencies the better off you will be. 
  • Players need to be versatile and have different tools in order to solve different problems. 
  • “You need to be able to hit 76 as well as you hit 86.”
  • As a coaching staff map out what the year will look like. The assistant coach that has the specific position will teach the staff what they would like to do. This will allow for the coaching staff to learn and to find out the best path of the team. 
    • The number one component part of a staff is loyalty. 
  • You want coaches who are just as smart or smarter than you on your staff. 
    • You need to be honest with your players. 
    • They will respect you more if you do this. 
    • You can’t take things personal, if you do then you will find yourself in a rut. 
    • Players must be able to commit to the rules of the team. 
  • You don’t know what you have until you have it. So be patient with the development of the player. 
    • There is always something that will surprise you with a player and will need to be worked on by a player. 
    • As a coach, don’t make a fool of yourself. 
    • Be a good role model to those that you coach. 
  • “If you are going to call pitches then you better see every bullpen.”
  • Rhythm, pace, and tempo is all about timing. 
  • Pitching and hitting are both based on timing. 
  • If you can’t pitch inside, then practice it. 
  • As a pitcher you don’t want to beat yourself. 
  • So in a game pitch outside until you have confidence to pitch inside. 
  • Pitchers need to be just as good out of the stretch as they are in the windup. 
  • It’s an old adage but it is so true.