Art Of Peaking Baseball Teams At Ideal Time

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

LEWISTON, Idaho — One of the most fascinating subjects in baseball is how certain teams consistently peak late in the season just prior to the playoffs.

Since the playoffs are at our doorstep, Collegiate Baseball felt it was time to look at the ultimate system that allowed teams to peak at just the right time.

No coach in college baseball history was more successful than Ed Cheff, head coach at Lewis-Clark State, who led the program to 16 NAIA national championships.

He was with the Warriors for 34 years and amassed a 1,705-430-2 record for a .799 winning percentage before retiring in 2010.

“To get a team to peak late in the season, everything that has been done with a ball club comes into focus,” said Cheff.

“There are no shortcuts to success. A lot of hard work goes into successful teams which begins on the first day of practice. Ultimately, you are striving to have a hard-nosed team that is fundamentally sound in all phases of the game.

“You must have team chemistry, play a demanding schedule and learn how to win close games. I felt we had a good system that hit on all these points with precision.

“You can’t focus on a national championship from day one or through the season. That’s not the way to run a program.

“The reason we were successful late in the year is because of the buildup of experiences our kids went through which allowed them to peak consistently at the right time.

“You hope as a coach that all the goals you have set for your team in terms of interpersonal areas, baseball goals, etc. all come back into view late in the season.

“It’s an accumulation of doing all the right things that you think are right for your players from day one. If that involves winning a national championship, so be it.

“Having a tough schedule is important as well which hardens a team. We were fortunate to play some fine teams over the years and even made a few trips to Hawaii for tournaments. Having the toughest schedule you can for your kids is awfully important.”

Cheff said there are other important areas to consider.

“Sometimes as coaches, it is all about baseball, baseball, baseball. One of the things we tried to do with our players was have them understand that many areas contribute to a ball club becoming great other than just having a group of superb baseball players.

“In other words, they must have a respect and compassion for one another. Hopefully they mature off the field as well as on the field. Our goal was never to only make a baseball player the best he could be. We also strived to make each one a good person in the community and on campus as they matured.

“We found when players grew as a person in this way, the team would get better.

“I have never thought if we had more batting practice or took more ground balls and scrimmaged more that it would make us a team that could win the national championship.

“There were a lot of other factors involved in the relationship of the players and their maturity that allowed them to win a national title.

“It goes WAY beyond being just the best baseball player.”

Cheff said the maturation of team chemistry through the fall and spring was vital in his system.

“Team chemistry is really, really important and was a big thing for us. Having players deal with each other in a positive way was so important for success. You want players to respect each other.

“If you can earn your teammates’ respect for nine months, you have a pretty good chance to have a ball club that is close. There will be a lot of things that happen that go way beyond baseball and winning a national championship.”

Writing Own Legacy
One of the first things Cheff did with his teams each fall was have every player write his own legacy on a sheet of paper.

“The first team meeting, I wanted each player to write down how he wanted to be remembered by his teammates. This goes way beyond being the best shortstop or best pitcher. I want to know what sort of legacy each player will earn with his teammates.

“The answers were always intriguing.

“Then I would challenge all of our players to demonstrate mental toughness and positive reactions to negative situations. Can you get to that level in your baseball development? Can you demonstrate that you really care and believe in your teammates? You do that by sharing success.

“You talk about a great work ethic. We had a lot of guys who wanted to be the first to practice and last to leave. We wanted players who didn’t fear losing. If an athlete does everything he can to help a team win, yet had an intellectual understanding that things don’t always go right, that was important as well.

“During key games, it is important all players are highly focused so they don’t miss signs.

“All of this and more are so important in the development of championship level kids and people. In the end, each kid ultimately wrote their own legacy in our program.

“By the time we got to the national championship game, hopefully all of those characteristics that you want to be remembered by would be there. Having them focus on this from day one of the fall instead of how great it will be to win a national title or how horrible it will be to lose was a better option.

“I have always believed in the old adage of its not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. There is a lot of wisdom in that phrase.”

Cheff said volunteering in the community also was a key component of building championship teams.

To read more of this in-depth article, purchase the May 21, 2021 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.