Our Take on ‘Former Navy Seals Being Brought in to Drill’ Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects


An interesting article from Dejan Kovacevic this morning, entitled ‘Pittsburgh Pirates Clueless About Winning’ is our topic.  When the local ball club puts together a losing skid of epic proportions, one should expect an article which addresses the core of the organization.

The article talks about  the Pirates’ Kyle Stark putting together a team-building exercise at Bradenton. Here is an email from Stark to the staff which was sent in June:

Sent: 5:22pm Thursday, June 28, 2012


So what do we need to get done in the second half?

Over the last four days, we’ve reconnected with our WHY — turning boys into men so that we can re-bond a city with a baseball team and change the world through baseball. We’ve refocused and clarified our HOW — relentless, systematic and cohesive. All of these discussions have been tied to the ‘one thing’ that we need to move forward in the second half – we’ve trained them up, now we need to help them trust it and transfer it on the field. Which brings us to our WHAT …

As we talk about turning boys into men and developing them as PROs, this requires a few key characteristics. Those characteristics match our PRO values and are vividly captured by Bernie’s story about Olympic thrower Mac Wilkins and his views on what makes an Olympic champion. Mac explained that gold medal winners live by three golden rules — Dream and be creative like a Hippie. Have the discipline and perseverance of a Boy Scout. Be crazy and take risks like the Hells Angels. …

1. Dream like a Hippie — PASSION — Elite people have big dreams, are driven by those dreams, and believe that they can achieve them.

2. Prepare like a Boy Scout — RELENTLESS — Elite people have extreme work ethic, train exhaustively to get better, and prepare fully so they can be their best when their best is needed.

3. Trust like a Hell’s Angel — OWNERSHIP — Elite people trust their preparation, own their strengths and weaknesses, know what they do best and build conviction around it, and compete with reckless abandon.

The biggest impact we can have in the second half is developing more Hell’s Angels. We are really good at working before games. We excel at developing Boy Scouts. However, men play in the Big Leagues and that requires the reckless abandon of a Hell’s Angel. This is a mentality that is developed. It is a harder mentality to develop with less control, more gray area, and less science. However, it is the separation between good coaches and great ones, good development systems and great ones, and good organizations and great ones. Training guys to unleash what they’ve got is an art and needs to be our WHAT in the second half.

As you do some research on the Hell’s Angels, you come across three main qualities that set them apart and symbolize their mystique:

1. Swagger — There is an extreme confidence in themselves, their brothers, and what they’re about. They carry a chip on their shoulder and dare others to knock it off. They have an edge. Do our players have an edge? Do we have an edge? What are we doing to develop that edge?

2. Reckless abandon — Not only do they have an edge, but they live life on the edge. They’re described as free-spirited, which can be defined as somewhat irresponsible. They risk. They have no fear. They have a care-free and “care-less” attitude. You could argue that on one hand they care so much about who they are and what they do, but on the other hand they could care less in some areas such as what others think of them, of potential risks, of probabilities, etc. They’re more focused on possibilities than probabilities. They’re not consumed or swayed by what others think. They sell out to their purpose and live life fully and in-the-moment (“this pitch”). There has actually been a leadership book written about this approach to life, i.e. living life, experiencing it, and learning from your experiences. Their name comes from World War II fighting squadrons known for their extraordinary and dangerous feats of aviation. Do our players play with reckless abandon? Do we have reckless abandon? What are we doing to develop this mentality?

3. Bound by brotherhood — At the end of the day, they are fiercely loyal to each other. It is about the group and the bonds that exist between members. They can fight with each other, but someone external better not say anything negative about them. They love each other. Are our players bound by brotherhood? Are we bound by brotherhood? What are we doing to develop this bond?

As the calendar turns to July, we are selling out and committing to this approach. We’ve trained them. We need to train their trust now. Our focus should be on developing Hell’s Angels. That requires …

– Building confidence (helping players know what they do well, perfecting those traits so we’re not just working on weaknesses, speaking greatness into them, etc.)

– Encouraging risk (pushing players beyond their comfort zones, putting them in risky situations, viewing the risk as success rather than its result, celebrating risk taking, etc.)

– Going alongside them (being a ‘guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage,’ asking questions rather than giving answers, celebrating aggressive failure and the lessons that come from it, etc.)

– Adding chaos and intensity to our training (get them out of their comfort zone, add stress, add competition to the work day, etc.)

– Preparing them to compete rather than training all the time (get the focus on the competition, shift our purpose to preparation rather than working a physical technique, outward focus rather than inward, etc.)

– Getting them outside of themselves and into the team (care about someone else, take care of each other, have each other’s back, etc.)

For this to happen, we must get out of our comfort zones and flex our own Hell’s Angel muscle. We must be extreme in our commitment to these ideas. This is ultimately about developing a mentality and a culture where this becomes our identity. A culture of risk and less control is unsettling for us control freaks! However, it is the answer to letting skill out and WHAT we need to do in the second half.

LB and Bernie will be following up with more details as we move forward. Sell out and commit to this. Coach with swagger, reckless abandon, and bounded by brotherhood and we’ll see those same traits in our players.

HOKA HEY — It’s a good day to die!!!

It’s a very well written piece considering what has happened in the 2012 Pirates season, and when read from an objective view point – not as pro or anti – Dejan makes some very interesting commentary that must be considered.  Here is the story. 

I choose to focus on just one aspect that I have some background with in my career.  It might bore the shit out of you, so feel free to peel off anytime you like.

The Pirates will work with an organization composed of former Navy SEALS in order to accomplish a few different objectives.

The Bucs have worked with this group before – in spring training, as well as extended spring training. Stark outlined his goals, which aren’t in the article, but are on Dejan’s blog along with more detail.

The number one of the four objectives (and we can’t tell if they are ranked in any order) is below. Go check out Dejan’s blog at the Trib for the other three objectives–here is the link.

"1. To give our guys a unique training experience to reinforce various lessons we stress all the time pertaining to leadership, team building and mental toughness (confident and calm under pressure)."

We find this to be comical.  Personally, I have trained with SEALS in Panama.  In my line of work, I currently work with former Navy SEALS.  I find them to be the second best – next to Army Rangers, of course – people I have worked with in my life after the military.

But I also have learned this from facilitating team-building for a large number of years.  Not everyone is into team-building.  Not at all.    I’ve heard people moan and groan about doing a ropes course, a zip line, and making a boat that will float out of cardboard.

“Kumbaya” isn’t for everyone.   For some people, it freaks them out so much it can bring them to emotional frustration.

Many of you will say, “Well, the Pirates organization could benefit from the conditioning, and the players can benefit mentally from such an exercise run by former Navy Seals.”  Let me tell you what – I entirely agree with you.    And personally I would charge you a lot of money for such a program.  It’s not discussed, but the price tag on this would interest me.  Especially when considering how many of these players will make the big leagues.

But my point is this:  doing things that put people outside of their comfort zones is risky shit.  We use a “challenge by choice” approach, but people have paid me some serious cash to conduct team-building, so if they don’t want to be challenged, it’s duly noted and I back off.

The company pays just as much attention to those people who choose not to be challenged as those that excel at such exercises.

We might be wrong, but this exercise the Pirates are undertaking hardly seems optional.

We trust that a player isn’t pushed into an injury situation, it just seems like the type of headline that would captivate DEADSPIN:


It also makes us curious if the Pirates are keeping a scorecard on the team-building program, because anyone that knows anything about team-building, knows there isn’t a scoreboard.  What if a prospect fails miserably at a certain aspect of this training?  Do the players know up front that there are no repercussions?  We really hope so.