NFL kicker David Akers once said, “You’ve got to have camaraderie and chemistry in order to have a performance that gives you victory.” This quote is every bit as true when it comes to baseball. Games aren’t won with one player. In order for a baseball team to compete at their highest level, every player needs to be cheering on their teammates and create an “in-it-together” culture throughout the dugout. This article will break down the attributes of this chemistry.
Chemistry or Talent?
Chemistry and talent are two completely different things. No matter if you’re at the youth level or in the Majors, there will be differences in talent. Some players are simply better at baseball. However, what makes it interesting is that the most talented team doesn’t always come out on top. This is where chemistry comes in.
In basic terms, chemistry is the psychological interaction between two individuals. The more experiences they have together, the more comfortable they become with each other. Teams with great chemistry are more in tune with their teammates, which has the potential to enhance everyone’s ability on the field. On the other hand, if you only had talented people and no chemistry, the team might fall flat when it comes to working together positively and effectively.
Here Duke Baxter, Creator of Dominate the Diamond talks about communication within the team.
You Need a Decent Amount of Both
Despite the opening section praising the presence of chemistry, it is important to understand that you need BOTH chemistry and talent to win. Chemistry is great, but without players that understand how to play, pure talent can still win games. With this being the case, I urge youth coaches and players to organize practice in a way that teaches players the fundamentals and improves their ability while also adding a competitive side that keeps the players rooting for their teammates. You can’t focus solely on chemistry or solely on developing talent. You need to create a healthy mixture between the two.
No matter what sport you’re involved in, it’s important to recognize there will be some selfish players. As a coach, the key is to get these individuals to become team players. This transition will be witnessed by unselfish plays being portrayed on the baseball diamond. Teams that readily display unselfish plays are more worried about whether they won or lost the game than their individual performance at the plate.
One such example of an unselfish play is bunting a runner over. For example, say the situation is in the latter innings and there is a runner on first with no outs. The player up to bat can bunt the runner into scoring position while essentially sacrificing his at-bat. This move will give the team a better chance of getting the run in. However, it can be difficult to tell a young kid to basically take an out on purpose in one of their 3 or 4 at-bats in the game. The thing is, this is the crux of team baseball. Great teams understand the situation at-hand and aren’t afraid of becoming “WE” players instead of “ME” players.
Knowing where Your Teammates Are
As I mentioned earlier, team chemistry can increase on-field ability. The more you play along side your teammates, the comfort level will increase in unison. One area where you will see this often is between second basemen and shortstops. These two positions are going to have numerous opportunities throughout a game to make an out at second base or turn a double play.
Although the professionals make double plays look ordinary, they are not truly that easy. They require each player to know where there teammates are at all times and where they like the ball delivered. Ultimately, this form of chemistry is a by-product of repetition.
Capitalizing on Bad Starts
Over the course of a season, there are going to be games where the starting pitcher just doesn’t have it. For one reason or another, they are struggling on the mound. Despite young athletes having the potential to let one bad start create two bad starts and so on, chemistry amongst teammates establishes a culture where it is the next starter’s job to pick that player up and get the team back on the right side. This will not only increase the team morale, but also increase the confidence amongst teammates that one loss isn’t going to linger!
One element that can lead to a downfall of any sports team is “egos.” Simply put, sometimes when players experience success, they start to develop an ego. They think they are better than their teammates and don’t necessarily need to take instruction from anyone. On teams with great chemistry, egos are non-existent.
Although it’s vital to have confidence in sports, it’s completely possible to have confidence without an ego. Players with egos think they are the ones that have to come up with the clutch play, whereas teams with chemistry believe any player on the roster can make the play. If you want to be a great team, check the egos at the door!
Kansas City Royals
Throughout history, there have been countless examples of successful teams exhibiting the elements of team chemistry. One of these, in particular, is the 2014 American League Champion Kansas City Royals. Coming into the season, or even entering the playoffs, no one expected the Royals to finish within a game of being World Series Champions. However, the key is they believed inside their own locker room.
They understood the task at hand and each player had faith in every single one of their teammates. They were a young team with no apparent advantage over any other team besides their great team chemistry and lack of ego. The Royals did have a few young players with huge potential like Eric Hosmer and Yordano Ventura, but these guys displayed “confidence without an ego!”
Encouragement and Perseverance
Chemistry, to me, wouldn’t exist without these two key words: encouragement and perseverance. Possessing chemistry isn’t something that happens overnight. It is a result of players consistently encouraging their teammates on the field and fighting through the difficult times. Even at the youth level, baseball is truly a game of ups-and-downs. You’ll have one game where you go 4-for-4 and then another that results in multiple strikeouts. Just remember it’s not about what you personally did, but what the overall team accomplished!