I was 23 years old when I experienced my first professional fork in the road.
At the time, I was working for the facility I had trained at growing up. It was the place I envisioned a long term fit, but a lot had changed. My boss – my first ever mentor and the man who single handedly changed the trajectory of my baseball career – sold the company. It was under new ownership. The coaches who were once there had all moved on. The clientele of kids had changed. It wasn’t the place I had grown to love ever since high school. I started full time in May after graduating college. It took me six months to recognize I wouldn’t last a year.
One morning, I remember scrolling through my Twitter feed. I saw something that caught me eye: Driveline Baseball was looking for throwing interns. I had never considered the idea of an internship. All of a sudden, I was pretty interested. I had been actively following Driveline over the past several years. They made me rethink a lot of what I had been taught in baseball growing up. The idea of joining their team was pretty interesting. If I had learned a ton from the outside, I could only imagine what I’d learn from the inside.
Fast forward three weeks.
It was the first day of the 2020 ABCA Convention. My dad and I had spent the past 12 hours making the drive down to Nashville. In 2019, I attended the ABCA as a sponge. This year, I was there to find my next job in baseball. I had an informal interview lined up with Driveline. I had a list of coaches I wanted to talk to. Of those coaches, one is particular stood out. He had a profile picture that read: “Greatness isn’t a gift. It’s an obsession.” He also had a handlebar mustache. His name was Eugene Bleecker.
Over the summer, Eugene had published a book called Old School vs. New School: The Application of Data & Technology into Baseball. I had become familiar with his thoughts and ideas through Twitter. I was instantly curious, so I bought the book. It was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Page by page, I grew increasingly interested in Eugene and his training methodologies at 108 Performance. It was the first time I had ever heard of reciprocal movement, biotensegrity, or the science behind why the arm recoil works. It was fascinating – and I needed to learn more about it.
Thursday morning, I sent a Twitter direct message asking Eugene if he’d be at the ABCA. To my surprise, he responded pretty quickly and shared his booth number. I made the decision I was going to stop by and introduce myself. At the time, I hadn’t considered a job opportunity. I simply wanted to learn more about how he was training hitters and pitchers at 108. If I had loved his book so much, I had a feeling I was going to really enjoy talking to him in person.
Towards the end of the day Thursday, I had a decision to make. Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch was speaking at 5 pm in the Expo Theater. I had talked to Ron earlier in the day about a potential internship, so I thought it would be important to see his presentation. The problem was I hadn’t talked to Eugene yet. If I watched Ron’s presentation, I wouldn’t have enough time to. After giving it some thought, I decided to skip Ron’s presentation and head over to Eugene’s booth. I’d see plenty of presentations throughout the weekend. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to network with a coach I was interested in learning from
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
After waiting for Eugene to finish up with another coach, I finally had the chance to introduce myself. I started by asking a few questions about his book. An hour later, I asked my final question: “Do you have any internships?” He nodded and asked for my business card – which I assembled on my own 48 hours ago. Two months later, I was in Southern California working for him.
What started as a friendly conversation turned into a life changing work opportunity. It all started by asking the right questions.
Chris Voss – former FBI Negotiator and CEO of the Black Swan Group – put together a Masterclass I often find myself referring to. As a negotiator, Voss had to learn how to diffuse life threatening situations by studying the intricacies of human behavior. Of all the things he said, there’s one quote that resonated the most:
“Interesting people are interested.”
If you want to win someone over to your side in a negotiation, you have to first allow them to share their side. You do this two ways: 1) Asking calculated questions, and 2) Listening. Everyone wants to be interesting. Few are willing to take the time to show people they’re actually interested. Voss learned this first hand. He didn’t impose his will over the other side to win them over. He took the time to show them he was interested in what they had to say. He asked questions, listened intently, and repeated what they said to confirm he had been listening. He became interesting because he was first interested.
In many ways, this is how I got my foot in the door at 108 Performance. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always found myself asking more questions than answering. This is something I worked on in college. As a newspaper staff writer, I was constantly looking for ways to capture and share the stories of our students and faculty. This started with the interview process. I had to put a premium on the questions I asked during these interactions. Everyone has a story to share. Uncovering it comes down to asking the right questions.
When I was looking for a new job, I knew I had to rely on two things: 1) A public body of work, and 2) My relationships. At the time, I had been writing and documenting my experiences in coaching over the past year. I owned and operated my own blog. I had written a 37-page research paper in college examining practice style and verbal cueing differences in baseball athletes. If someone reached out and wanted to see an example of what I could bring to the table, I had several different examples. Where I lacked was my relationships. This is where Voss’ advice came into play. If I wanted to find my dream job, I had to become interesting to other people. I had to do what I learned as a journalist: Ask really good questions.
When I first met Eugene, I had a couple of questions on deck that originated from the book. I could have asked him anything, but I wanted to start with the book because it showed prior research. I had done some homework before we talked, and I wanted to make sure he knew. We could skip the initial fluff and get right into the stuff I wanted to learn more about. From here, I just kept the conversation going with questions. I asked him things he disagreed with, what he envisioned for the future of baseball, and what he would change if he could do it all over again. I related some of my personal experiences and described problems I struggled to solve.
To Eugene’s credit, I never sensed he wanted to rush me off or shoo me away. He was well established in the industry at that point. I was far from, and he dedicated an hour of his time to answer my questions. That was pretty cool. I didn’t start out looking for an internship, but after a while I couldn’t help but think about the potential for one. I mustered up the courage to ask – and I’m so glad I did. From that moment on, I knew in my heart that was the place I wanted to be. I was a nobody. For the first time ever, I felt like somebody – all because I mustered up the courage to use what I learned in newspaper: The answers you seek are the right questions away.
You’ll never know if you never ask.
If you’re young and just getting started in the business, I cannot emphasize how important it is to invest in your questions and listening skills
Don’t ask to talk. Don’t rush to say what’s next. Simply ask, listen, and prove to them you actually listened. Most people are open books – especially coaches. They love to talk and share stories. If you can get them going on something they’re passionate about, you have the chance to build a strong impression. This is the beginning of a relationship. If you play your cards the right way, these relationships turn into job opportunities. A few genuine relationships are worth more than any of the resumes you’ll ever send out. Combined.
As a player, we were once constantly looking for a competitive advantage to separate ourself from the pack. We must take this same approach as a coach. If you want a foot in the door, you need to differentiate yourself and build credibility. We need to prove ourselves trustworthy to others. This trust isn’t built by handing out a piece of paper. It’s build through your interactions with others.
Become someone that other people enjoy being around. If someone wants you in the room, they’re going to get you in the room. The easiest way to get in the room is by asking questions that stir interesting conversation. Make people think in ways they often don’t. Get them to ponder theories they never considered. Ask for their advice. Give them problems you’re trying to figure out. Inquire about resources that lead to breakthroughs in their career. The best way to learn is by doing. The second best way to learn is by asking. Both of these are completely within your control.
If you want to become an interestING person, take Voss’ advice and first become interestED in other people. Your work is only as good as the people that read it. If you want to start getting it in front of the right eyes, you need to start asking the right questions. Put yourself out there. Reach out to people you’re interested in learning from. Ask them questions that make them think. It’s the best way to make them think of you.
Your resume won’t get you your next job. The quality of your relationships will. These relationships aren’t built from bravado. They’re built through curiosity. If you want to make a memorable impression, ask memorable questions. It got my foot in the door.
It’s going to get yours in, too.