Reds give back with clinic for youth coaches

April 8th, 2024
Third-base coach J.R. House, who was a scholastic star in baseball and football, speaks to local youth coaches.Cincinnati Reds

In partnership with USA Baseball, the Reds Community Fund hosted an annual Coaches Clinic prior to the Reds vs. Mets game at Great American Ball Park on Sunday. The format featured four members of the Reds coaching staff who presented to more than 60 youth baseball and softball coaches.

Hitting coach Joel McKeithan, pitching coach/director of pitching Derek Johnson, third-base coach J.R. House and bench coach Freddie Benavides each shared expertise in their respective fields, while making sure to relate to a broad range of coaches. After each presented to the group, the attendees were able to ask questions and for coaching tips specific to their age groups and players. At the conclusion of the event, the coaches received tickets and gift cards for the game.

While it might seem that an MLB coach’s focus wouldn’t translate to youth baseball and softball, all four guest speakers confirmed that the foundation of their teachings pertains to all levels of the sport.

Derek Johnson: "The building blocks for an 8-year-old are still many of the same building blocks for an MLB player."Cincinnati Reds

“That’s what you try to do when you go to a clinic like this, try to simplify all the things that you still think about in terms of what we’re doing with our Major League guys,” Johnson said. “And the cool part is, most of them still apply. We’re still trying to say the same thing to our guys. Even though they’re at the highest level, we’re trying to simplify for them as well. The building blocks for an 8-year-old are still many of the same building blocks for an MLB player.”

While each coach touched on aspects of the game related to their role, much of the advice centered around pillars for playing any sport. Building team chemistry, instilling confidence, knowing your players and sticking to the fundamentals were some of the areas of emphasis.

Johnson played a video clip to kick off his portion of the clinic, and it’s the same clip he shows Reds pitchers every Spring Training: a one-on-one battle scene from the movie “Troy.”

“Every time we play the game, every pitch that we throw, every at-bat that we take, it’s me versus you, it’s pitcher versus hitter,” Johnson said. “I think with that, you start to see what the framework of coaching is built around: We have to teach these kids how to compete. It’s the most important thing we can give them. There’s so much information out there, all kinds of data and new things. But none of that stuff really matters unless we can get our kids -- whether they’re 8 years old or 28 years old -- to compete as hard as they possibly can.”

Attendees were able to ask questions and for coaching tips specific after each presentation.Cincinnati Reds

The Reds Community Fund is one of many organizations nationwide that teams up with USA Baseball for clinics to support current or aspiring baseball and softball coaches at all levels. These programs aim to create a higher standard of coaching education and enhance the ability of coaches to better serve their athletes, their teams and their communities. The clinics provide a hands-on learning experience for all coaches focused on some of the key fundamentals of the game, as well as practice planning and team management.

“The Reds have been an outstanding partner for USA Baseball’s Community Clinic series,” USA Baseball director of coaching development Andrew Bartman said. “Providing a free-of-cost learning experience in a Major League facility, in addition to complimentary game tickets, is a phenomenal way to engage local youth coaches.

"The Reds’ coaching staff brought MLB wisdom with teaching points that translate to any level of the game. Educating youth coaches with best practices in turn provides a better experience for their players, raising the probability that they will keep playing our great game. Community clinics also support the USA Baseball Coaching Certification pathway, an outstanding resource which is free for coaches of all ages.”

Bartman’s experience as a youth and collegiate coach helped tie the event together. He urged the group to focus less on “mechanics” and more towards keeping kids “athletic.” He also referred to baseball and softball as “crock pot sports in a microwave world,” emphasizing the importance of coaches to help illuminate the nuances and beauty of the game.

This year’s clinic featured another special guest, Scott Yelle from the Jackson Yelle Family Foundation. The foundation honors Scott’s son, Jackson, who passed away following a tragic hit-and-run accident in April 2023. The Elon University club baseball player and his dad had a goal of visiting all 30 MLB ballparks and made it to 12 before Jackson’s passing. To continue his legacy, Scott is on an emotional journey to visit the other 18 ballparks.

Scott and his family wanted to make something positive out of a tragic situation, so they began looking for an organization to partner with that was compatible with the mission of his foundation: to support and give young men and women the chance to develop and be great citizens in the future. When someone mentioned the MLB Nike RBI program, Scott did his research and knew RBI was the perfect fit.

He arrived at Great American Ball Park Sunday morning to join the Coaches Clinic after spending Saturday at Truist Park in Atlanta. At each ballpark stop, Scott is presenting a $1,000 gift to a local RBI program which he did in Cincinnati during the clinic.

Scott Yelle (fourth from left) presents a $1,000 check to the MLB Nike RBI Program.Cincinnati Reds

“You all are helping to develop their skills on the field, but what really hit home for me was the ability to help the people and not just the player,” he told the coaches, many of whom are also parents themselves. “You have a unique opportunity to help shape and mold the young men and women you coach. Teach them adversity, how to overcome tough times, how to be a great teammate, and how to make sure you include the players who might not be as good. All those things are life skills that will impact them for the rest of their lives.”

The Reds presented Scott with a memorial brick in Jackson’s honor that will be installed outside the ballpark near the Reds Hall of Fame. In addition, Scott presented the game ball at Sunday’s game.

To donate, visit the Foundation’s website at Donations beyond the $18,000 will go toward the Jackson Yelle Family Foundation’s efforts to support causes that provide resources/financial support to help young people “live their best lives” #justlikejackson.