At the end of last year the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association (KNBSB) appointed Brian Farley as successor to Jim Stoeckel as head coach of the Dutch National Team. Just a few days before their trip to Florida for the St. Petersburg International Baseball, he took the time to answer a few questions for Mister-Baseball.
Mister-Baseball: How did you become the head coach of the Dutch national team? Did you have to do an interview with the KNBSB or did they already know you good enough since you’re working with the Federation since years?
Brian Farley: Technical Director Robert Eenhoorn hired me without an interview. As you know, Robert and I had worked together on the Dutch National Team for many years so that we knew each other extremely well.
MRBB: You have worked with the Dutch national team before. What are the difference between being a manager, a bench coach and a pitching coach? What do you think will be the differences in coaching the Junior National Team and the Senior National Team?
BF: Bench coach and pitching coach are responsible for different specialist tasks during practice and games whereas the head coach is responsible for all that takes place. Assistant coaches are specialists similar to a Marketing Director or Financial Director in a business. The Head Coach is the General Manager. He needs to delegate to his specialists while making sure that the goals which are set are being met. His relationship with players is not as close as it would be if he were a Pitching or Hitting coach as he is required to make the decisions on who is on the roster and who is in the lineup. The differences between coaching the Junior or Seniors are mostly to do with the communication. At Juniors you are more involved with Instruction and Convincing players of the way to play. At Seniors there is more Discussing and Delegating involved in the communication. You should, in my opinion, create a culture where players and coaches at senior level feel comfortable sharing their knowledge with other to both coaches and other players. In the end, the Head Coach has to make the decisions but he should do so with as much information at his disposal as possible.
MRBB: One of the reasons because Jim Stoeckel is not coming back in 2011 was the fact that he wouldn’t have been available on a full-time basis. You are now a full-time national team coach. What does this mean exactly? What are you doing during the time when the players are with their club teams?
BF: It means that you have more time to get deeper into initiatives designed to help us to develop and improve our players throughout our system. Each player in our system has a personal development plan (PDP). Each is entered into our Talent Follow System and each is videotaped and analyzed on a frequent basis. We are also working with new ways to train using the latest evidence from the world of motor learning and skill acquisition. These initiatives are very time consuming as they involve research and trial and error to discover the best training methods and development plans. These things are only possible if you have people in full time positions.
MRBB: What can you tell us about your coaching staff and who is going to take over the juniors?
BF: Steve Jansen is our pitching coach, he is very well respected in his area and has done a great deal to invest in his own development. He was the Head Coach of Neptunus in 2010 and they broke all records in going on to become national champions. Tjerk Smeets is in his second year as coach. Tjerk is very bright and hard working which is a very desired combination for a head coach. He has taken over the job of hitting coach and done a great job for us thus far. Wim Martinus has been with the staff for a number of years and is our trusted 3B coach and throws the best BP on the continent. Last but by no means least is Ben Thijssen who is based in Curacao and is our main contact on the island. He has been with the National Team for many years and served extremely well.
The Junior National Team returns both Tom Geestman as pitching coach and Peter van Dalen as Hitting coach. Both performed extremely well during our two years together so I am certain the new head coach is pleased to have them back. The new head coach is Eric de Bruin, he was the former Jong Orange coach as well as successful Head Class Coach and highly capped international first baseman for many years. The Jong Oranje is in very good hands.
MRBB: In difference to many other national teams in International Baseball you have the opportunity to work with your players on a regular basis during the week all year long. What is on your agenda during the weekly practices?
BF: We cover many different things. Each practice will have different components based on the size of the group and the positions they play. We have both team workouts and specific group workouts. The team workouts will cover things like Situational Defense and Team hitting drills whereas the specific group will be focusing on areas of individual development shared within the smaller group.
MRBB: A few national team players like Orlando Yntema last year are not playing in the Netherlands. Since they obviously cannot attend the weekly practice sessions, do they have a disadvantage or are they receiving personal plans also to work on their own? How do you keep track of the large pool of players, which are in the minors or playing in different leagues around the globe?
BF: We remain in constant contact with the entire group under consideration for our team. This is done primarily through emails and occasionally telephone calls. All information they need to know is communicated properly including our expectations for their winter workouts. We also have Ben in Curacao to oversee our operations there. We track the performance of players through contacts within the specific organizations as well as sites where statistics and up to date info about the player is available. The internet is a great tool in managing the demands of having players overseas.
MRBB: In comparison to other European countries, the Netherlands have a relatively large pool of Minor League players. However they are usually not available for the national team during the summer tournaments. How do you keep track of their performances? Is it difficult to keep a balance between the Minor Leaguers and the Hoofdklasse players, as the pro might take a spot in the national team lineup, which is held by a Hoofdklasse player during most parts of the season?
BF: As mentioned above, we keep track of players through contacts and internet sites as well as direct email contact with the player himself. As for choosing players, there are many variables which go into choosing a roster for a tournament. Availability of professionals is an issue we have to deal with but their availability does not automatically mean that they are better than a player in the Netherlands. Many of our players here have professional experience as well but they also have the advantage of experience playing in tournament baseball which is much different than pro baseball. That experience should not be underrated. Other important variables include depth at a certain position as well as how familiar a player is with our system and culture. The bottom line is and will remain, does this player give us the best opportunity to win and if the answer is yes then we take him regardless of where he plays.
MRBB: You’re involved in Dutch and European Baseball as a player, a coach and a scout since 1988. Has the sport changed and what are the major differences since then?
BF: Both have improved a great deal from when I first arrived. Dutch baseball has benefited from the return of many very good baseball players including three major leaguers in Milliard, Faynete and Eenhoorn. These players have brought a knowledge of the game back which was missing. Eenhoorn has had the biggest impact with his professionalizing of the National team. There are also a lot of other people who have invested their time and money to further their development in the game and that is paying dividends as we speak. We have also seen the emergence of other European countries in that past years. Italy remains very competitive with us and the gap between us remains very tight. Germany has likely shown the greatest improvement and has emerged as a team to respect. They have shown they have the potential to beat anyone in Europe. As for the biggest differences, I would say that the development of the baseball academies in The Netherlands and other European countries is likely the biggest difference maker. We are finally able to offer our best talent a chance to train at better facilities, more often and with the best coaching available. This is, in my opinion, the best formula for success.
MRBB: If you had the opportunity to change anything in European Baseball, what would it be?
BF: I would get more funding from government to put money into the development of fundamental skills such as throwing and catching at younger ages. I am amazed how few children in Europe possess this fundamental skill. If these skills are not developed early in a child’s life, then the potential for the child to develop later is seriously and permanently retarded. It should be mandatory for all children to learn how to throw and catch from the ages of 5 to 9. This would increase our talent pool dramatically and result in the likely increase in the number of children who play both baseball and softball. This larger base would then allow for us to have a greater selection of ballplayers climbing the pyramid to top baseball, making European baseball a continent which could compete with any other. As the great Martin Luther King once said “I have a dream”.
MRBB: What tournaments are on the calendar for the national team next year?
BF: World Port Tournament in late June and the recently announced World Championships in September.
MRBB: What does the Netherlands need to do to make the next step and win a Baseball World Cup or the World Baseball Classic?
BF: I don’t know if a World Baseball Classic is possible at this stage given the level of competition we face but we will certainly play each game with the mindset that we are going to win it. The World Championship is something that we have been close to doing but have come up short in the semi finals. We will need to work on what I call the three A’s. Attitude, Adversity and Adjustment. Attitude is the belief in yourself and your teammates that you belong here and deserve to win. Dealing with Adversity is the ability to stay in the moment and respond in a positive way when things go wrong and believe me things will go wrong. Adjustment is the ability to handle everything the opponent throws at you, baseball is a game of adjustments as the game and tournament progresses. If we can manage to do these three things effectively then we stand a chance in any game regardless of the opponent.