Baseball Coaching – the RAPA Method – Repetitions, Accountability, Proofing, Attitude

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Red Sox Angels 8/10/2019 L12-4

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Baseball Coaching Clinic

Chris Williams, Boys Varsity Coach, Frontier

Jordan Branson, Boys Varsity Coach, Pioneer 

Sunday, April 14, 2019 

12:00 PM to 2:30 PM 

Frontier Regional High School Gym 


Coach Williams will focus on: structuring practices to maximize repetitions so kids improve and perform consistently, keeping it fun, and keeping kids accountable.  

Coach Branson will focus on evaluation and improvement of individual hitting, pitching, and fielding – finding strengths but also how to help kids improve technique and attitude.  

Register online:

Questions?  email John Heffernan

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3 Things I Learned From My Dad (and I Am Still Learning)

3 Things I Learned (and I Am Still Learning) From My Dad

John Edward Heffernan, III (February 10, 1934 – January 20, 2019)

The first thing I learned from my Dad is to do things you are interested in.  I learned many things from, many of which I still do, such as running, cross country skiing, building with wood.  He learned all these, many of them also were not popular at the time.  And he taught me that if you fall or make a mistake, learn from it, and get back up or try again.  

If you go by my parents’ house now, you see his handiwork everywhere – signs, cutting boards, furniture, rock walls, tables, and coasters and I’m sure many of you are proud recipients of these things.  

When I think back to my childhood, many memories center around my Dad.   Playing catch in backyard is one, which we would do for hours.  I realized later how hard that can be after a long day of work. He never pressured me to do team sports even though that was so important to him as a three-season varsity player in high school (baseball, basketball, and football) and a varsity football player in college for Northeastern.  Though I was not a big sports kid growing up, now I keep in shape running and coach team sports!  

He and my son Aidan were both big sports fan and they could talk for hours about sports.  While I am happy to know most of the players on my favorite team like the Patriots and Red Sox, Aidan and Dad would start with the Patriots discussing the pros and cons of different players and what kind of season they were having, then they would move onto other pro teams.  But it did not end there!  Then they would start on their favorite college teams.  Next came baseball and basketball!  

I also remember much Dad time in the finished basement on Gordon Avenue with Colleen (before Tim) hanging out playing Rummy 500, eating oranges on paper towels, and eating peanut butter crackers, Dad doing crossword with tattered crossword dictionary at his side, watching TV shows together like Laugh-in, Wide World of Sports, Wild Kingdom, and the Munster’s.  It was important time of just being together.  Not doing but just being.  

So, he taught me to love and just be with your kids. I was reminded of this even more by the photos that I found getting ready for the service.  Look at the Christmas photo on second page of the program.  There’s Dad just beaming at center of his family. 

I had always thought my own vocation of being a teacher was from the teachers on mother’s side, my mother and grandmother, but I realized just now from looking at photos of Dad with his grandkids and me as a kid that it came from Dad too.  

Looking at the photos of me and my Dad in France around 1961, that not all dads at the time played with their kids like that at the time.  Cousins reminded me today that he was the fun uncle with white hair that got down on the floor and played with them.  

When I got a text message (I was both dreading and expecting) to call my sister, I was checking out at the grocery store.  A very attractive young women starting to chat me up and I knew Dad was channeling me.  Dad was always popular with the ladies.  We were amazed how al the nurses treated him and called him “dear” and “honey”.  Even the hospice nurses at the end of his life (when he was no longer conscious) would say, “Oh, John, you are so handsome” or “John, your skin is so smooth.”   So even though he was a handsome man and popular with the ladies but always loyal. 

I was remined of that yesterday, when we observed two bobcats right in parents’ backyard for about an hour, a very uncommon occurrence.   They were at different distances from each other but moved together as a couple.  

Last night’s when we had dinner at his house, it was hard to see his iconic Red Sox hat nearby and not have him there.  But he was there in spirit.  Driving home from the grocery store the night he died, I felt an immense sadness but also a great sense of well-being as I witnessed the most amazing sunset clouds as if Dad was telling me that everyone was as it should be and that he had lived a long and full life.

Thank you for being here and I am sure many of you have similar stories and feelings I would love to hear.  

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John E. Heffernan III

John E. Heffernan III of Monterey, MA and formerly of Enfield, CT passed away January 20, 2019, at home, surrounded by his family, from glioblastoma. John was born on February 10, 1934 in Peabody, MA, the son of John E. Heffernan, Jr and Margaret (Mulligan) Heffernan. He graduated from Brookline High school in 1952 and from Northeastern University in 1957. He married Esther Terni on June 10, 1957. Together, they had three children, John, Colleen, and Tim.

John served in the U.S. Army in the Nike Missile System and as part of NATO in Verdun, France.  He was employed for many years as an underwriter for Traveler’s Insurance Company and later for SBLI.

John was a stalwart supporter of his children and positively delighted in his grandchildren.  Throughout his life, he enjoyed athletic activities (from playing high school and college football and basketball to recreational bowling, softball, running, biking, cross country skiing, golfing) and was an avid sports fan. He had a lifelong love of music, especially jazz, bluegrass and opera. He was a devoted crossword puzzle solver, enhanced by his great memory and fund of general knowledge. He spent many hours in retirement woodworking and building rock walls. Many are the recipients of his bread boards, tables, birdhouses, and window mirrors. John never hesitated to lend a hand to others and was much loved by all who knew him.

Over the last 2 months of his illness, his family was struck by his courage and equanimity in facing this last enormous health challenge. From his fall just before Thanksgiving, to the discovery of the tumor in his brain, then the decision to have the surgery to remove the tumor, and finally the decision to forgo treatment when left with disability and poor quality of life following the surgery, he was resolute and clear in expressing his wishes to come home. Over the course of the illness, he was touched by all the support he received from friends and family, humbly amazed and pleased by all the calls, visits, and cards. He felt loved and blessed and he was not afraid.

John was predeceased by his parents, his brother Paul Heffernan and his sister Jane Heavey.

He is survived by his wife, Esther, son John and his wife Dawn Heffernan, daughter Colleen and her husband Mark Robinson, son Tim, and grandchildren Aidan Heffernan, Gain Robinson and fiancee Anna Been, Sarah Robinson and Paul Heffernan, his sisters Sheila Dankese and Brenda Popeo, brother Gerald Heffernan, his brothers and sisters-in-law and many nieces and nephews.

SERVICES – At John’s request, there will be no formal services. The family will receive visitors 12:00-1:30 pm on Saturday January 26, 2019, followed by remembrances from 1:30-2:00 pm at Finnerty & Stevens Funeral Home, 426 Main St Great Barrington, MA 01230.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Monterey Library, PO Box 173, Monterey, MA 01245 or Solstice Farm/Beth Timlege, PO Box 731, Monterey, MA 01245.  To send remembrances to his family please go to

The family wishes to sincerely thank Hospice Care in the Berkshires for their compassionate care and support during the last stage of John’s illness.

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Scoring Youth Baseball Errors, the Role of the Glove, and Ordinary Effort

As an assistant coach and team scorer for my son’s 11U Cal Ripken Tournament Team, I stumbled into some interesting issues around the scoring of errors.  I recently did a great deal of research to try and make sure I was scoring correctly. Scoring errors has a subjective component so there is is really no such thing as scoring correctly but I wanted to be as accurate as is possible and I wanted to make sure I was scoring according the actual rules and guidelines rather than my own personal notion of what a baseball error is.

The main sources of controversy I ran into were:  1) if a ball that drops in in the outfield can be an error and 2) if every ball that is handled with problems is automatically an error in the infield.

For both questions, it is helpful to know about the baseball concept of ordinary effort.

In 2007, the notion of ordinary effort was specifically defined in the MLB rules. [1]

Ordinary effort refers to the effort that a fielder of average skill at a specific position should exhibit on a play, with due consideration given to the conditions of the playing field and the weather. Umpires must use that standard when calling infield fly plays, and the official scorer uses it to judge what constitutes an error, a wild pitch, a passed ball and a sacrifice. [2]

Let’s get back to the first question of if the scorer can give an error if an outfield fly ball is not handled and it appears that the fielder could have gotten the ball.  The answer is yes according to the MLB rules for errors and the MLB definition for ordinary effort above.

It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer’s judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error.  

So we can see that a ball that does not touch a glove can still be considered an error, specifically an outfielder that could have caught a fly ball with ordinary effort – that is if an average fielder at that level considering the weather and field conditions –  should be scored as an error.  I did not score these as errors very often because it is pretty common for outfielders to play it safe to some extent at 11U but did charge a few when, it my judgement, it was clear that the ball could have been caught with ordinary effort.  I don’t think this comes up very often in Major League Baseball because it just does not happen often.  [There was a controversy about it when it was charged in one case and it was appealed by David Ortiz and was overturned.  [3]  However, I would say in this case the MLB ignored their own rule book.]  So I suspect there can be a mistaken belief that only a mishandled (dropped or bobbled) ball that comes into contact with the glove can be error but that is not what the MLB rules say.   Another clear counterexample of this is a ball that goes under an infielder’s legs which I would almost always consider an error with the exception of a very bad hop.

In the above case, I got pushback for charging an error.

I also got some pushback from not charging errors for balls that did come into contact with a glove. Again, there seems to be a belief that a ball that comes into contact with the glove and is problematic for the fielder has to have an error charged.  This also is not right.  The scorer has to judge whether the ball was playable with ordinary effort.  In our last game of the season, another coach thought my son should have charged with an error.  He made a dive for a hard-hit ground ball at shortstop.  He stopped the ball but did not quite come up with it in time for a throw.  It was a ball that an average infielder at his level would not have made, that is, not playable with ordinary effort so I did not charge an error.  Of course, it’s easy be a parent in cases like this and give your own kid more leeway but I believe would make the same call for any diving (or leaping) catch and that seems to be where most scorers draw the line.

I think the difficulty is being consistent.   There is a tendency to give defense some leeway especially at this level but that makes it harder to be consistent in my experience.  Note that the official MLB rules actually say to favor the hitter when in doubt.

Rule 9.05(a) Comment: In applying Rule 9.05(a), the official scorer shall always give the batter the benefit of the doubt. A safe course for the official scorer to follow is to score a hit when exceptionally good fielding of a ball fails to result in a putout.

Some scorers give a lot of leeway with hard hit ground balls but what constitutes a hard-hit ground ball exactly?  This wording in the MLB rules seems to allow some judgment for scoring a hit for a hard hit (or very slow) ground ball.

The batter reaches first base safely on a fair ball hit with such force, or so slowly, that any fielder attempting to make a play with the ball has no opportunity to do so.

Once again, there are some grey areas that make the judging of errors subjective.

The rule about considering ordinary effort is a good one and encourages players to go for great plays rather than playing it safe and I believe that is why it was put in place – though I could not find the specific history of the concept of ordinary effort.

The whole notion of evaluating kids especially on fielding percentage (putouts/chances) is suspect anyway for a number of reasons and parents, coaches, and kids should not get worked up about it in my view.  For one, different positions have different levels of difficulty with shortstops specifically and third basemen to a lesser extent having higher error rates due to the difficulty of their positions.  [4] Also, fielders who are quicker or more aggressive – both good things – are going to have more chances to make errors. Lastly, the subjective nature of scoring errors is going to make comparing and judging these numbers challenging.

In scoring youth baseball, we need to think about what the statistics are for.  It is going to be problematic if we are using them to evaluate kids and share this with parents (beyond their own kid’s stats).  If we are using them to inform our decisions as coaches and we can take off our parent hats and think solely as coaches, that can work. For example, we might look at on base percentages (OBP) when we make up our batting order.  Personally, I like to share good stats with kids during and after the season is over to highlight things they did well.  But we need to realize that there is a subjective aspect to scoring, especially errors, and that scorekeepers, as long as they do understand the definition of errors and ordinary effort are doing their best to score accurately in order to help the kids and the team.  There also needs to be a realization that scorekeeping is hard, especially when there are lots of substitutions to contend with or when there is a lot going on in big plays.





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Can Coaches Teach Motivation?

I have been helping out at my son’s Suburban basketball team, mostly scorekeeping, but I did substitute for a coach one night.  I was working with the “bigs” on close to basket shots feeding them a pass with the kid turning and shooting and then rebounding and shooting again if they missed the first shot.  I noticed that the kids, especially the tallest kids, were not super motivated to jump, rebound, or to get the second shot in.  The two coaches have been noting the same things and discussing it with the team.  After they had a lackluster performance during yesterday’s game – not jumping, not rebounding well, not moving towards passes, etc. – one of the coaches basically told the team yesterday that he can’t coach motivation.

In my owning coaching, especially in baseball, I have definitely thought the same thing.   But I starting thinking about my Heffernan Fly Ball challenge experience.   I have been seeing more and more in my own coaching how what we practice and the drills we make up affect the kids when they come to games.  This is expressed well with a phrase I read in a Cal Ripken baseball coaching book, “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” (Ripken Jr, Ripken, & Lowe, 2007)

I was an assistant coach two years ago on a 4/5/6 Cal Ripken baseball team.  The coaching was very good especially on teaching baseball fundamentals and diagnosing hitting, pitching, fielding issues.  But the team was in a slump.  The team hit a nadir during one game when kids were missing lots of fly balls, making a lot of mistakes, and not hustling.  The lowest point came when the coach’s twins got into a physical altercation on the bench.  However, the other coaches’ attitudes bothered me more than the kids attitude.  The coaches were really yelling out when kids made mistakes and showing their displeasure when it happened – especially with their own kids.  I got to wondering if that was inadvertently increasing the pressure on the kids, which has the side effect of causing more mistakes, which further decreases confidence and causes even more mistakes.  This whole process, I was wondering, results in a hard to correct negative spiral.  I think this especially true in baseball when the spotlight is really on the player fielding, hitting, and pitching.

And was this really all on the kids like the coaches were saying?  I recall one of the coaches saying the same thing as the basketball coach – that they could not teach motivation.  While there is some truth to that and some kids are motivated despite what coaches do, as a teacher, I knew that adults can strongly influence all aspects of teaching and coaching, including social-emotional factors.

I learned from many years of training and performing with my two whippets in the dog sports of agility, obedience, and rally is that proofing can be the hardest part.  My dog Wyatt was great at home but it was much, much harder for him in actual trial setting, especially in the less action oriented sports like obedience.  Dogs can find it difficult to transfer their knowledge and their training to different locations, different equipment, and to busy or distracting environments.  Dogs can also be super sensitive to their handler’s changes.   Increased nerves can translate to the handler being slightly different – even though we are not necessarily aware of it.   What’s this all have to do with the fly ball issue the team was having in baseball?

Well, one of things I really liked about the baseball coaching on this team was that drills were turned into fun games and contests.  I later learned that this a big part of the Cal Ripken coaching philosophy.  I had a chance to lead a practice one day when the head coach was unavailable.  The practice field is opposite an ice cream stand where we would sometimes take the team after practices.  I got the idea to make a team challenge for fly balls that would increase pressure (but in a enjoyable and not a stressful way). The kids got the “proofing” but in a fun way.  Increasing the pressure in a fun way can help kids handle game pressure and also have more fun playing in actual games. As a team, the kids had to get a certain number of points to get various levels of ice cream – 100 points was a small cone, 125 was a small cone with sprinkles, and 150 points was a medium cone, 200 was a medium cone with sprinkles.  I then made a system for getting points.

1 – regular catch

2 – running catch

3 – shoestring catch

4 – diving catch

I added a point for an accurate throw back to me.  I also made a time limit, which was both practical but also a way to subtly increase the challenge to more closely simulate the pressure of a game.

I hit the fly balls to the kids and had them record their own points as a team – hopefully increasing their ownership and excitement in the drill.  Well, it certainly increased the kids’ motivation and they immediately bought into the idea and were encouraging each other.  One of things I noticed right away was that kids were really hustling to get to the ball, which had been a real problem in practices and hence games.   There was a marked decrease in the number of errors and a marked increase in good catches.  Some kids (see discussion of inadvertent side effects) were doing diving catches when they were maybe not actually needed (my own son being the prime example).  However, they were so into it they went for and earned the highest point level and we had a fun time at the ice cream stand.

I thought it went well and I was hoping some of it might transfer.  When the next game rolled around, I reminded the kids before the game of the fly ball challenge, specifically that they could catch and it could be fun and they should show the same hustle they showed during practice.  I was blown away by the huge difference in the fly ball fielding. Kids were running to balls and not making any errors!  I used the same challenge last year when I was a head coach of my own grades 4/5/6 Cal Ripken 40/60 team with similar results.

Getting back to basketball, I wondered about ways these kids could be more motivated, especially the bigs.  I did notice the team was super motivated when the coaches were occasional creating contest drills.  Would more contests help this team be more motivated, jump more, hustle more, etc.?  Well, I did not have much time but I tried to think of way to make our turn and shoot drill into a contest.  Many of the “bigs” were super lackadaisical about getting their rebound shot in.  I said if they missed a certain number of second shots, they had to do a lap.  Meanwhile, I did explain about “game speed” and perfect practice makes perfect.  But I think that talk needs to backed up with drills that expressly show the kids what is meant.  When I added the lap thing, the kids immediate perking up and got exciting but there was an inadvertent side effect of them slowing down and really setting up that second shot, which I did not want.  So as coaches we have to really watch for these inadvertent side effects.

I see this a lot when one part of the drill is the focus but we don’t look at the second part.  One of example of this was a drill we did when one kid shoots and the second rebounds.  In this case, the coach was focused on the shooting part but not the rebounding part and I saw that at rebound kids were walking with the ball and not even dribbling or passing after the rebound.   We certainly don’t want the kids traveling after the rebound but was what we were inadvertently teaching.  We have to always be thinking of what it should look like in a game and how drills should teach game speed and desired game behavior.

I am still trying to think of way to design the drill to make the whole thing fast including the rebound shot, if any.   Maybe have two teams, one on each side of the basket, complete to get the most shots (which might include second or subsequent shots) in a certain amount of time.  Then the kids would be motivated to make the whole process as fast and as accurate as possible.

So I think we as coaches can help teach motivation by how we structure our practices and drills.  However, I still agree that “you can’t teach height.”

Ripken Jr, C., Ripken, B., & Lowe, S. (2007). Coaching Youth Baseball the Ripken Way. Human Kinetics.


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Microbiome Diet

Having had lots of difficulty reducing my weight on changing diet and exercise on my own, I have been trying one of the microbiome diet books inspired by friend Beckie. The pounds started coming off right away and I seem to have settled in at around -20 from my start weight, about 10 more than I weighed in my 20’s when I was running marathons and could eat anything. Feels great – everything feel easier especially running, lost 3 inches on waistline and had to buy new pants and underwear. It’s quite a bit of work but worth it I think. I am sure it’s good to eat microbiome friendly foods but I would guess the weight loss is mostly from cutting down on carbs, fat, sugars, and fatty meat. Lots of tasty plant based recipes.


The Microbiome Diet Plan: Six Weeks to Lose Weight and Improve Your Gut Health


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Denmark Travel For Kids

We are traveling to Denmark this summer and I have been compiling  list of possible places to visit especially for families.  Thanks for Jane for some of these links!

Denmark’s best beaches | Find your perfect beach in Denmark

Experimentarium | VisitDenmark

Top attractions in Denmark for kids | Find and book attractions for your family holiday in Denmark

Unique places to stay in Denmark | Stay somewhere different on your next visit to Denmark

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

Moesgaard Museum | Forside

HIGHLIGHTS in Aarhus | VisitAarhus

The walk over the bridge | Bridgewalking


Tivoli Gardens – Tivoli

20 Most Beautiful Places in Denmark



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Wyatt of Dodge City – 1/28/2002 – 1/18/2017

Whippet NATCH C-ATCH Wyatt of Dodge City, AV, CD, RAE, SC, NA, NAJ,  O-ECC,  O-NJC, S-EJS,   S-EAC, O-TG-E, S-TN-E,  TNE-600, WV-E, HP-E, CGC “Wyatt”


1/28/2002 – 1/18/2017



Wyatt came to us when he was about a year old. I did not want a dog but my wife insisted and she choose Whippets because of what she read about them in a book about dog breeds. He came from the whippet rescue organization. He was very anxious especially when left alone and we had many challenges figuring out to handle him together. We eventually got a second dog, Patriot, to help him with his separation anxiety. One of the things that helped him the most was running with me, something that remained my favorite activity I did with the dogs. Wyatt would always look up at me with his big anxious eyes and check in when running every 10 seconds or so, something I will always remember.


My wife and I found out about Whippet activities such as racing and coursing and starting going to events such as racing. Despite a lot training, Wyatt would never run clean, getting over stimulated and going after other dogs when racing instead of the lure. He did some coursing but we eventually stopped that too though Patriot ran well.


I turned to agility, obedience, and rally for Wyatt. Wyatt was an incredible dog to train due to 2 factors. He loved to work and he was very smart. The challenge with him was anxiety and getting him to show what we could do at an event rather than at home. Even though he was trained to the utility (highest) level in obedience, I could never get him to put together a leg in advanced – usually failing the dreaded out of sight stays and downs. I ended up content to train obedience at home. He would follow me around the house until I did our nightly training routine.


But our favorite activity was agility. The feeling of high-speed teamwork with your dog was incredible. Wyatt was like a sports car, so fast and responsive, but also susceptible to crashes! Patriot was slower but much more dependable but not as exciting to run. After working through years of contact issues, we eventually earned our CPE championship and I set a goal of getting a second agility championship in NADAC (NATCH), which includes the very difficult Chances class, where a dog works at a far distance from the handler. It took 8 years but we eventually earned out NADAC championship. But out favorite class was tunnelers where Wyatt always qualified and had one of the fastest times. We had a rhythm in tunnelers that I could always depend on and it was a beautiful thing to experience. See the video to see what I mean.


Wyatt was not generally a super cuddly dog but he made it known that I was his person. He did well with Aidan when he came along. He eventually developed heart issues and arthritis and enjoyed retirement especially sleeping in the sun on our grassy lawn and going for shorter runs and later only walks. Towards the end of his life he got finicky and it became a challenge to keep weight on him and get him to take his pills. We let him sleep with us for the whole night his last year and I would carry him up to our bed and he would settle in for the night with his head on my leg.


He was my first dog and we had a strong bond. In spite of having not the greatest conformation (build),  he was super accomplished earning 66 dog titles and 2 agility championships including the very difficult NATCH title, I will always remember his unique character and the little things he did every day.   These pictures and videos show that better than I can tell.





Posted in Aidan, Dawn, Dog | 1 Comment