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Five Winning Strategies from USA Baseball's 18U Head Coach

As a young boy growing up in Southern California, it was easy for USA Baseball 18U manager Glenn Checchini to develop a passion for baseball. His most vivid memory is going to Dodgers games as a 5-year-old with his grandfather to watch Sandy Koufax pitch his final season in 1966.

“We sat in the first row, right behind home plate; I’ll never forget it,” Checchini recalled. “(My grandfather) made a big deal about it so I would remember. He did a great job.”

Checchini’s love of the game eventually led him into coaching. Entering his 31st season as head baseball coach at Barb High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Checchini has an impressive 826-186 record, 21 district championships, nine state titles and one mythical national championship.

In 2015, he was selected to manage Team USA’s 18U squad. Over the past two seasons, the team has won six consecutive gold medals in international competition, making Checchini the first high school coach to capture gold.

“I feel unbelievably blessed and grateful for getting an opportunity to coach,” Checchini said. “To represent your country, and do it in the game you love … it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Checchini offers five strategies coaches can use to create a winning team culture on and off the field.

Find Teachable Moments

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One day last year, after observing several players making fun of a child who had cerebral palsy, Checchini got the team together and asked, “You see that guy there? Anybody know what’s wrong with him?”

Someone said, “I think he has cerebral palsy.”

“Exactly,” Checchini said. “Here’s my challenge to you guys. Do you realize that guy was born that way?”

Checchini went on to explain to his players that they are lucky they have the ability to play baseball and should not make fun of others who have not been afforded that same opportunity.

The player who had started the teasing stood up, admitted his mistake, and apologized. Checchini believes moments like these are opportunities to turn a negative into a positive.

Create a Team-first Mentality

A team isn’t one individual, but a collective unit. Checchini uses motivational phrases like, “it’s not about you or me, it’s about we”, and other motivational quotes to stress this to his players. Being your best on and off the field is a mindset that should be taught from day 1 of each season. Not everyone can be a starter, but every player has a vital role on the team.

Stick To Your Rules

After a couple of players were late to the airport earlier this season, Checchini told the team any future violators would be left behind. The next day, two players failed to show up on time for the bus ride to practice.

“We left them at the hotel,” Checchini recalled. “We made sure they were secure and safe, but they missed practice. That set a precedent. It made believers out of the kids.”

Prepare for the Unexpected

Ball players, particularly those on travel teams, are constantly faced with unfamiliar surroundings, rain delays, and other challenges. Create a positive, no-blame policy. Instead of complaining about situations beyond your control, embrace them, Checchini says. As he tells his players, “be comfortable with the uncomfortable”.

Visualize Your Success

Before the 2016 COPABE Pan-American “AAA” championships in Monterrey, Mexico, this past October, Team USA’s goal was to win the gold medal without a loss. A day before the championship game against Cuba, the U.S. team suffered a tough 2-1 defeat to the Mexican team. The loss didn’t keep them out of the championship, but the players were noticeably down on the bus ride to the hotel.

Checchini reminded them they were still in the finals, and to remember the ultimate prize was to win gold. Assistant coach Brooks Badeaux then said, “I believe we’re going to score early, and win by five runs.”

Sure enough, Team USA struck first with three runs in the second, and cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Cubans to secure the championship, winning by the exact margin Badeaux predicted.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr. Photos courtesy of USA Baseball.

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