“That Ain’t It, Chief!”

By Coach Ron Wolforth – 

 

Several months ago, my 23-year-old son, watching me struggle at some mundane household activity, jokingly quipped, “That ain’t it, Chief!” It made me laugh out loud. Not only because it was clever and his timing quite appropriate, but because some 45 years earlier, his grandfather said the very same thing to me.

 

You see, today’s geniuses on Twitter and other social media outlets apparently use the “that ain’t it, Chief” to slam or disparage a post they feel is inadequate or inept. I believe many of them even think their witty remark is an original. I assure you… it is not.

 

 

Around 1975 (my sophomore year in high school) my father began frequently referring to me as “Chief”. The inspiration for my new nickname came from the character, Chief Broom, in the Academy Award winning, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The character was a large Native American Indian who was in a mental asylum because he had schizophrenia. His only job was sweeping the floors in the hospital and, in the end, is the only character who escapes the evil of Nurse Ratched and the asylum.

 

My father was not the warm and fuzzy type. He was tough. He was blunt. He was no nonsense. 

 

This specific interaction, which is the nexus for our discussion, is seared into my memory because I was entrusted to accomplish/complete a number of specific tasks, and I failed to do even one of them properly.  When my father caught up with me to inspect my work, it elicited the following response: 

 

“That ain’t it, Chief. That dog won’t bite, let alone hunt. If you insist on this path, it will lead you directly to scarcity, lack, misery, mediocrity, and dependence. You must do much better. You will do better.” 

 

Ouch. I’ll admit, at the time I wasn’t completely clear on the “bite” and “hunt” references, but I knew I had failed… both my father… and myself… big time.  

 

To this day (several times a week in fact), when I catch myself falling short, I will say to myself, “That ain’t it, Chief,” reminding myself to start again and this time, to raise my game. 

 

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before, but this phrase is a perfect segue for a frank year-end discussion at the Texas Baseball Ranch®

 

So, I’m going to channel my best Edward Earl Wolforth and attempt to have that frank, no nonsense, heart-to-heart discussion that is often so valuable in our personal growth and development. I urge you not to think of it as a scolding, reprimand, rebuke, or even as a lecture from an “expert”, but instead, I’d prefer you view this as a heartfelt call to inspect your work, to be honest with yourself, and to right the ship if your ship has sailed off course.

 

To make my lessons more palatable, and therefore possibly more meaningful to the general baseball athlete who is 12-25 years old, I’m going to use stories and the experiences of many other athletes to pound home the logic and importance of regular self-assessment and self-reflection.

 

The Bauer Trifecta

 

 

Trevor Bauer #1: Stickem is the secret to Trevor’s success.   

 

“That ain’t it, Chief!”

 

While I do realize this type of substance almost certainly augmented his CY Award winning performance this season, Trevor Bauer’s rage to master is what got him to the mountain top.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, because of this sideshow playing out on social media and in the press, possibly thousands of young athletes and coaches may misinterpret and/or fail to grasp the true nexus of Trevor’s success. Jim Wagner (Throwzone, Santa Clarita, CA) and I were there when Trevor was 14 years old and throwing 78mph. Whatever one thinks personally of Trevor, there is no mistaking his passion, drive, and work ethic. Those are the primary reasons Trevor Bauer is a very successful professional pitcher, and not because he discovered the most appropriate viscid material for applying to the baseball.

 

 

Trevor Bauer #2: Myelination at game time and freedom of expression is the secret to Trevor’s professional success!

 

“That ain’t it, Chief!”  

 

Make no mistake about it, high level execution is the secret to professional success.  Period! No matter how boring or how flamboyant an athlete is, it will be his ability or his inability to execute at a high level on a consistent basis that will ultimately determine his level of success. The “antics” or lack thereof of any athlete or performer is primarily window dressing and ancillary to his/her ability to execute his/her skill under duress.

 

Yet, like the stickem… in my opinion… Trevor’s behavior between pitches or after the game gets undo weight and attention by young aspiring pitchers and the media. 

 

Myelination is very important, especially in your daily training regimen. However, game time ostentatiousness and/or creating a social media brand vs. personal modesty and/or stoicism is a matter of individual preference, philosophy, and belief system. Trevor has always thrived on the drama/conflict, and much like Michael Jordan, relishes in routinely creating a straw man or antagonist to rail against. 

 

While this works very well for Trevor and Connor McGregor (and may even work for some others), most athletes will not respond well to the added angst and gnashing of teeth this deportment inevitably brings with it.  Most athlete’s struggle with the emotional energy of game time as it is without stirring up the hornets’ nest and ramping up the trepidation 2-10 levels. 

 

So before screaming at the opposition hitter or doing the McGregor strut off the mound after a strikeout, first know yourself and know how you best compete day in and day out. In my experience, less than 15% of the population would respond well to the added vitriol and acrimony that such provocative behavior will absolutely elicit from fans and the opposition dugout. So, when modeling successful behavior, proceed with caution. I strongly recommend each athlete first know themselves very well and purposefully create the routines, behaviors, and environment which fosters their best performance. Trevor has found his way, but his way very well may not be your best way. In fact, chances are great that it will not be.

 

 

 

 Trevor Bauer #3: Exceptional pitch design is the secret to Trevor’s professional success!

 

“That ain’t it, Chief!”  

 

In the past four years or so, Trevor and Driveline have really made pitch design a very sexy part of pitcher development. Now it seems every trainer, instructor, and academy around North America is taking pitch design out for a spin. (Pun intended.)

 

Full disclosure, I really like data, pitch design, and tinkering with deception and making a hitter’s life exceptionally difficult. At the Texas Baseball Ranch®, Jonathan Massey, Oliver Kadey (now with the Tigers), Randy Sullivan, and Flint Wallace all really enjoy using technology and objective data to customize our higher-level clients’ developmental planning. 

 

As much as I like looking at data, these four men like it even more. Probably if truth were told, our most junior training team member, Tyler Tompson, would also be very high on riding the data train. It obviously fits our staffs’ analytic and diagnostic side quite well.  

 

Yet, I maintain that “data” and “technology” are terrific servants but make horrible masters. Of the literal dozens and dozens of conversations I’ve had with Justin Verlander, Scott Kazmir, Barry Zito, and Chien Ming Wang, how many do you believe revolved around pitch design?  The answer: None. Zero. Zip. Nada. 

 

What were the only three topics of conversation? 

 

  1. Arm health 
  2. Recovery
  3. Pitch execution and adjustment

 

You see, if any pitcher’s arm health isn’t really sound… the design of his pitches becomes irrelevant.

 

If the athlete has difficulty recovering… the design of his pitches becomes less relevant.

 

If the athlete cannot regularly execute a specific pitch, the design of that specific pitch or of his repertoire is really a moot point. 

 

On the flip side, if these three areas are elite, designing a plan of attack seems almost second nature. Of course, you are then going to “adjust your dials” to maximize your impact. 

 

I suggest we make certain the foundation of our new home is exceptional before we become obsessed with the color and texture of the upstairs drapes. It’s not that drapes are not important, it’s that they are important when and only WHEN the other criteria are met.  

 

I see this very mistake made on a regular basis all over the world in almost every arena of performance. Everybody wants to be their arena’s equivalent to Dave Roberts (baseball), Phil Jackson (basketball), Bill Belichick (football), Hank Haney (golf), Yo Yo Ma (cello), Warren Buffet (investment), or Steve Jobs (industrial design).

 

Let me use a football example to make my point: 

 

A couple of years ago, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick sat down together for, what I thought, was an incredible joint interview. Together, they reinforced that, in their opinion, football games are won or lost almost exclusively by the execution in blocking, tackling, and decision-making by the QB, and not from schemes, formations, or play calling. Yet, what typically are the media “experts” on ESPN et al. constantly searching for and talking about? The latest offensive and defensive gurus with their innovative insights and play calling genius. 

I suggest that if you really want to be an exceptional football coach, you probably need to ignore the hype in the media and pay close attention to the insights of Saban and Belichick. 

 

I also humbly suggest that blocking, tackling, and QB decision-making in higher level football is very much the equivalent to arm health, recovery, and pitch execution for the professional baseball pitcher. 

 

Pitch design can be incredibly important after:

 

-The pitcher’s arm health is “solid” *

-The pitcher’s ability to bounce back to full functionality on schedule is “solid” *

-The pitcher’s velocity is “solid” *

-The pitcher’s fastball command is “solid” *

-The pitcher’s breaking ball sharpness/spin (deception) is “solid” * 

-The pitcher’s breaking ball command is “solid” *

-The pitcher’s change up deception is “solid” * 

-The pitcher’s change up command is “solid” *

 

*By the way, “solid”, in our view, refers to, at minimum, a medium competence. In other words, these areas are at least above average compared to their competitive peer group and are a strength instead of a constraint, limitation, or a weakness.

 

When those specific areas are in the plus column, pitch design can become a very helpful piece. If any of these are lacking, pitch design becomes less influential and a less effective use of your time.

 

Trevor is very good at showing and telling his fans and followers what he is working on.  While I think Trev sharing his insights and current work may indeed be very instructive and helpful, a vast majority of young pitchers are, in fact, far from ready for pitch design. 

 

As far as elite pitchers at the high school and college levels, there is absolutely nothing wrong with introducing some pitch design concepts and data measurements into their program. Athletes are indeed capable of working on several things simultaneously. However, when pitch design becomes an athlete’s primary training focus and his foundation is not substantial, frustration and uneven performance becomes the rule.

 

 

#4 4+ hours a day of Call of Duty, Minecraft, Fortnite, Ghost of Tsushima, or Grand Theft Auto has very little impact on my development as an elite baseball pitcher. Same thing goes for spending hours on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter.

 

“That ain’t it, Chief!”  

 

A few athletes, at first blush, may appear to get away with hours of videogames or social media, and they survive seemingly unscathed from negative effects or influence of that specific use of time.

 

I use the words “may appear” and “seemingly unscathed” for a specific reason. Primarily, because if we take the long view, no one, not one single athlete, can ever completely avoid the deleterious effects of these addictions. And make no mistake, they can be and often are “addictions”.  There is ALWAYS a cost for full-fledged dedication to those formats and, a majority of the time, that cost is substantial. 

 

The harsh reality:

 

-Poor or underachieving athletes who otherwise have little chance of reaching the pinnacle actually turn their backs on their slim chances of ascension when they fail to refrain from “drifting” and routinely engage in such a poor choice of time management. If they are going to have any chance, they must get locked in and avoid the compulsion of videogames and social media. 

 

-The average athlete greatly reduces his chances and opportunities of ascending past his competitive peer group by failing to maximize his time and resources. A vast majority of average athletes remain… well… average. Taking poetic license from Forrest Gump, “Mediocre is what mediocre does”. If most of your friends are spending hours on videogames and/or on social media, that should be enough in itself to get you to significantly reduce its role in your life. If you do what everyone else is doing, how then can you possibly separate yourself from the herd? The short answer is that a vast majority of average-skilled individuals don’t ever separate themselves from the herd, yet secretly languish in remaining commonplace and mediocre. It appears the answer remains hidden only to them personally. They can see the truth in others, but rarely in themselves.

 

-My harshest comments are saved for the exceptional and gifted athletes. By allowing your efforts, resources, time, and attention to be regularly highjacked by videogames and social media, you allow others less skilled and gifted to close the gap and often surpass your skill set. Congrats. You must be proud. 

 

But it gets worse.

 

Your equals in terms of talent and abilities can really put significant distance between you and themselves by choosing another path of discipline and definiteness of purpose. Again, congrats. Well done!

 

Nothing may be more common in competitive sport than the person deemed in his/her youth as having “great promise and potential”, only to falter and sputter because they thought they were simply destined for success and failed to truly commit to excellence and dedicated self-development. 

 

Personally, I think one of the greatest insults any person can get is being tabbed as having “potential”.

 

Imagine being tabbed as being “potentially” a good person… or being “potentially” a good son, husband, or father. Yuck!

 

I AM a good person. I AM a good son, husband, and father. 

 

Leave the ‘P’ word for other people.  It is a seduction. It is a distraction. It is a crutch.  I think it is an insult. 

 

Your mantra every day should be:

 

My arm health is exceptional. My recovery is exceptional. My velocity is exceptional. My command is exceptional. My stuff is exceptional. My consistency is exceptional.

The only “potential” I’ll accept is potentially one day being in the Hall of Fame. The rest… I’m deep in process at achieving and in being. 

 

My advice is to learn to dislike the term “potential” or “promise”.    

 

In short, as I stated previously, no one, not one single athlete, can ever completely avoid the deleterious effects of these addictions.  There will ALWAYS be a cost for full-fledged dedication to those formats, and a majority of the time, that cost is substantial.

 

Bottom line: If being an elite college pitcher, a professional pitcher, or a Major League pitcher is your objective, then your daily behavior and use of time MUST reflect that goal. Far too many hope good things will happen, and then constantly “drift” in their energies, efforts, and dedication. Their behavior tells a different story. 

 

Behavior never lies.  

 

 #5 Complaining, whining, bitching, moaning, pouting, and handwringing because of poor performance, bad breaks, injustice, unfairness, inequity, bias, or just other people being mean.

 

 “That ain’t it, Chief!”  

 

News Flash: The world has never been fair. Not for one single moment. And it won’t be fair tomorrow either. The truth is the world at large is mostly a mean, nasty, apathetic, and uneven place, and it will frequently knock the wind out of you and sit on you if you let it. Your parents and your community generally attempt to bring out semblances of equity, fairness, and justice, but even those efforts are often skewed, shaped, manipulated, and uneven. Human beings are far from perfect, therefore, so are our efforts in this regard. 

 

If you are to succeed at the highest levels of competition, you simply must choose not to be a member of the typical, reactionary, scared, timid, fearful, and bellyaching herd. 

 

  • You “thinking” and “expecting” great results without long, arduous, dedicated hours of purposeful practice, failure, and persistence through that failure is simply foolish.

 

  • You thinking that somehow you are the chosen one that will ascend without sacrifice, adversity, pain, discomfort, frustration, and disappointment is absurd.

 

  • You thinking that expressing negative emotions, routinely having negative self-talk, and/or lamenting and then marinating in your current adverse circumstances somehow is a productive response and will be helpful in turning things around is absolute lunacy.       

 

Instead, work hard at being optimistic. Commit yourself to being determined. Work diligently at being confident. Dedicate yourself to being forward-looking. Devote yourself to being cheerful and enthusiastic. Carefully watch your self-talk and intentionally keep it positive. Direct your thoughts and emotions to what you want to see more frequently. Celebrate what you want to see more of. Let the negativism, pessimism, defeatism, and the cynicism flow down you like water on a duck’s back. Never let it infect, shape, or corrupt you. 

 

So, the next time you hear or read the phrase, “That ain’t it, Chief!”, first, I hope you smile and think of Chief Broom and Ed Wolforth. Then, I hope it will remind you to constantly inspect what you expect and, when necessary, to raise your game. 

 

Have a very Blessed, healthy, and productive 2021.

 

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

Important TBR Updates

 

  • Our last “Elite Pitchers Bootcamp” until the summer is January 16-18 (MLK weekend).  This is a great opportunity to get an edge on your competition going into the 2021 season.  Only a couple spots are still available.  For more information or to register go to www.TexasBaseballRanch.com/events.

 

  • The presentations from our Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp are now available for purchase and online access.  There are 17 total presentations covering all aspects of pitcher development.  Details can be found at www.CoachesBootcamp.com.  

 

  • Athletes continue to be excited our “Ranch Remote” training. It’s a program for people that would still like to get access to, and ongoing instruction from, the TBR staff but prefer to avoid travel due to the virus or other limitations. Click here to get more information on this NEW, hyper-personalized training option. Space is limited in this program and we only have a few spots open currently so if you’re interested, don’t delay.

 

Please call (936) 588-6762 or email us: info@texasbaseballranch.com
for more details or to sign up for any of these options.  

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