The Leyland Letter

       One of the best things about working on a staff where everyone has goals of developing as a coach and person is you get to share resources.  Early last week one of the other assistant coaches I work with sent me one of the coolest things I have gotten the chance to read.  It was a letter from Jim Leyland to a pitcher who, by the quick research I did, was probably about to experience his first Major League camp.  Leyland, after a seven year absence from managing, was about to take part in his first with the Detroit Tigers.  About a month and a half prior to pitchers and catchers reporting, Leyland sent a letter to players introducing himself and his expectations.  The letter is littered with great sport psychology messages and is no doubt influenced by Leyland's time with basebal sport psyc legend Harvey Dorfman.  Here are a few of my favorite nuggets from the letter:

1. Wanting to Be a Winner vs Realizing What It Takes to Be a Winner
Everyone who participates in sports wants to be a winner.  Nobody goes into a game saying, "Boy I hope we lose," or "I sure do want to play poorly today."  Leyland mentions "great preparation, dedication, discipline, and the desire to be the best."  I love all of these adjectives.  Understanding what they are and their importance is essential to being a winner.

2. Telling Players They Are Good
About halfway through the first paragraph Leyland makes the comment, "Maybe some of you don't realize how good you are yet but I do."  The fact that a Major League manager felt compelled to say that to players going to Major League camp is great for perspective.  If these guys need to be reminded or helped to realize how good they are, then how about the players the majority of us coach?  They probably could use a reminder from time to time or someone to believe in them.  One of the coaching lessons sport psychology teaches is that our expectations for individual players affects the way we coach them and ultimately how they develop while under our watches.  Do you tell the players you coach they are good?  Better yet, do your actions show that you think they are good?

Wow!  I love everything about the second paragraph.  So many times we tend to worry about the teams or players we are competing against.  How are they preparing this offseason?  When the games come, what are they doing?  Who do they have on their team?  Who is pitching?  "Who cares?" is the message Leyland sends, and I couldn't agree more.  A while back I wrote that mentally tough baseball players approach every game the same way.  The opponent is irrelevant.  The game is what we play.  While that may come across as cocky, I don't believe that it is.  My thought is only that getting caught up in the opponent takes away focus from the task.  Having a plan is important, but the focus should be on what you are doing instead of your opponent.  That is huge to me.

I also really like what Leyland says about nerves and how he wants his players to be "totally relaxed and having fun."  It's okay to be nervous, but how you react to nerves is key to performance.  Then, even at the Major League level, relaxation and enjoyment are important.  "Playing freely" is a phrase I like a lot.  Pete Carroll is big on it, and its roots are in The Inner Game of Tennis.  I want players to feel so prepared for competition that they are able to enjoy it.  This is something I think is easy to lose sight of but is crucial to sports.

4. Knowing Who You Are and Staying True to Yourself
The start of the third paragraph talks about how Leyland is as a person and manager.  He mentions a couple of adjectives that describe him and his imperfections.  The key here is Leyland clearly knows who he is at the point in his career that the letter was written.  That is HUGE for any coach.  There are many ways to be successful as a coach, but self-discovery and being true to yourself are very beneficial.  Trying to be someone you are not can be sniffed out quickly by players and contradicts everything we teach them about knowing who they are as athletes.

5. Remembering How Hard Baseball Is
Leyland makes a comment about halfway through the third paragraph about his admiration for the ability the players have and realizing how hard baseball is to play.  This is great to me.  Sometimes as coaches we forget how hard it is to play the game of baseball.  We think to ourselves, "How can Johnny not hit every ball hard after all of the excellent coaching I have given him?"  Well, he can't because it isn't possible.  If it were that easy, everyone who plays would be good.  Although I think it is very important to have standards for your players, let us not forget our own trials and tribulations as players (at any level).  Most of us are trying to help pass along the great lessons and experiences the game of baseball has given us.  Let's help players to deal with the adversity they will surely encounter and help them to enjoy the great game by creating realistic expectations for performance.

Those are a few of the takeaways I got from The Leyland Letter.  What about you?  Were you drawn to something else?  Do you hate something Leyland says?  I want to hear about it.

Here is the Letter:

Here is a link to what appears to be the original site to post the letter with thoughts from the recipient Jordan Tata:


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