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Coaching Lessons from Down Under

America’s pastime no longer belongs only to the United States; it’s a game now enjoyed all around the world.

One country in which baseball is becoming big with young players is Australia. However, the sport is still lagging in popularity to cricket, which is the traditional summer sport “Down Under.”

Differences abound about baseball culture in the United States and Australia. Scott Ney knows that well. He coached for a number of years in the United States before moving to Australia where he has now coached young players for five years. 

“Simply speaking, baseball is more of a ‘cult’ here, and more ‘in the blood’ in the U.S.,” said Ney, whose son, Ewan, plays for the Greenway Giants in Cherrybrook, New South Wales. “There is a very small group of elite players where it is their primary sport. There are then a number of other players who get out and ‘have a go’ and a bit of fun.”

There are certain aspects of baseball in the United States and Australia that Ney likes. He said he enjoys the competition factor from both countries, but Australians are highly competitive by nature. However, kids and development are still stressed in Australia.

“From what I have seen and heard from others, it appears that the Aussie system may be a bit more integrated — where clubs are affiliated with the high performance and this generally protects the kids from overuse of arms,” Ney said.

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Ney really likes the programs the United States have in place for young players to focus and excel. He noted that Australians suffer from a lack of numbers and solid competition, which is certainly holding them back.

“On our recent trip to the U.S. where my son played on an elite NSW (New South Wales) travel team through NxtGen Baseball — run by a couple of Aussie born ex-major leaguers Trent Oeltjen and Ryan Rowland-Smith — the kids performed very well against slightly older and better trained teams. But they were definitely not outmatched,” Ney said. “They were able to raise their games against the stronger competition. However, the issue is that in Australia we would need to fly a couple hours to get similar competition here. In the Bay Area, they are getting it every weekend from the squad next door.”

Ney said the main emphases for youth baseball players in Australia are fundamentals and sportsmanship. Also, keeping it simple is a major teaching point.

“I’ve tried to teach the younger kids a few simple tips from Day 1: warm-up well and as a team, get your mind in the right place and do things with a purpose, field the ball with your feet — move and get behind it, hit with your hips, do the dance every pitch — get yourself down into a ready position each pitch, balance at the plate, and when you swing, swing hard. 

“As a coach, I’m proud to see the ones I taught as beginners doing the right thing to this day. Even better, when I yell to a 15-year-old to ‘do the dance’ and they break into some swing moves then into a ready position. Keeps it fun, but they know the drill.”

Ney has also witnessed some subtle differences in how parents in the United States and Australia deal with teaching winning and losing. The longtime coach stressed there is no such thing as winning without losing. Kids need to learn both sides of the emotions of the game.

“Adults should not abuse their position to talk down to or publicly point out flaws or make opinions of kids,” Ney said. “I come from the school that you celebrate the differences, work to the strengths of each child, and teach all kids that it is a team game and they respect their teammates and competition. It is our responsibility as adults and parents, and if you have respect for the game, this should be second nature. Just watch elite Little League at Williamsport and the behavior of the kids, coaches and parents.”

From GameChanger and Greg Bates.
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