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This week we are with former high school baseball coach, high school English teacher, podcaster and podcast coach Joe Ferraro [ https://www.damngoodconversations.com ] of the 1% Better Podcast and the “Damn Good Questions” virtual course. We discuss the importance of communication on and off the field and the power of asking good questions in our player development, recruiting and as a life long skill beyond the baseball field.
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Transcript with Joe Ferraro:
Hi everybody. It’s Bryan Eisenberg and I am with the incredible Joe Ferraro. And I wanted to get together with Joe today because he brings a very unique perspective on a problem, on a situation that I’ve been seeing more and more of, or become more aware of I guess partially because of his podcast as well.
Is the challenge that student athletes and families have with asking questions, with great communication skills on and off the field. And the reason I asked Joe to come here and answer these questions for us is very simply, so one, Joe has been a 20 plus year English teacher, and teaches speech.
Secondly, he was a baseball coach for over 20 years. A high school baseball coach. He has been a podcaster for what was going on in what nine, 10 years now as well? Yeah. Yup. He’s hosted his own “1% better podcast”, as well as with his baseball coaching friend, Kevin Wilson, his podcast. So he brings that experience.
Now he’s an incredible podcast coach who has actually done amazing things. Cause I’ve watched one of the people that he’s worked with and I’ve seen the development from it. So obviously he knows how to improve that skill with, Patrick Jones and his podcast in baseball and then he’s also a parent. Which is interesting.
Cause I, don’t know if you knew I was going to throw this at you, but I remember you posting about having that silent sideline kind of game. And I think all of that brings into this very important skill, communication, questions. So recently I’m at the the batting cage facility when Sammy is working out.
And I’m in there and I’m watching one of the minor leaguers and he is just taking some very careful swings. And so I asked him a question. I said, Hey, I’m curious, what is it that you’re trying to feel? What are you working on? And he goes ahead and he tells me that he’s working on trying to prevent himself from drifting, whatever it is.
So what ends up happening, a few minutes later he joined two high schoolers who are in the middle, who are about to start their, group work in their rounds of hitting. And so that they’re going through their flips, they’re going through machine toss, all of that. And I’m watching the whole time.
And these two high school athletes are spending quality time with, first of all, he teaches lessons at the facility too, they did not ask him a single question about what he was doing. Or what did he see that they were doing? What do you think is preventing these kinds of students who obviously want to get better from stepping out of that comfort zone and asking that question.
I ask myself that all the time, Bryan, I wonder about it, right? Because I refuse to believe it’s the lack of curiosity. The best answer I can come up with in short, is an atrophied muscle. Almost scar tissue and all the ways the symbolic and the literal ways of just over time, holding your tongue. We as adults were in the meetings, right?
And we can have a sidebar about how important meetings are and how inefficient they can be. But how often at the end of a meeting, does someone either literally or metaphorically, elbow, someone, and say, don’t ask a question. We’ve got to get outta here. I got don’t ask. I don’t believe in that. I just don’t believe in it.
And if we’re practicing it there, the bad habits, it comes as no surprise to me that now are our teenagers who were trying to figure this whole thing out. Aren’t comfortable doing it. So that’s the first swipe I would take at it. And I think it’s a repetition. I think it’s, making it safe.
It’s making it comfortable. It’s knowing that there, there are no such thing as stupid questions. There are questions that can be better than others, right? Those are all true. There’s a lot of cliches that are true there. And I think that’s the place.
So let’s, dive deeper into that particular part.
Where do we start making it safe and comfortable to ask more interesting questions?
But without giving you a political it all starts in the home. I do think that’s where we got to think about it right at the dinner table and the conversations and things like that. But then it’s got to go into the classrooms where I think there’s like almost an overcorrection on Twitter and Facebook where now people say.
Schools only teach memorization. I don’t see that. I think that there are some classes that leaned towards memorization. I do think the best among amongst the teachers are open and asking questions, but the system is still set up in a way where being correct is just exponentially more rewarded than being wrong but curious. So I think there’s some reshaping that can go there. But I’ve tried it in my classroom now. I’ve done a warmup. I had a conversation with Brian Levenson, intentional performers podcast, and he challenged me on air. I think you heard it. Yep. blend your worlds, Joe. If you’re going to preach it on the podcast and you’re going to do it in your home.
Why are you not bringing it to the students in the classroom? And it struck a chord with me and now I’m not Joey Podcast to them, but I am saying, Hey, let me ask you a question before we get going today. Let me give you a minute or so come up with any question you want to ask me about teaching. It could be about baseball.
It could be about music, the super bowl. You’re going to ask me one question, and then if I judge the room a little bit i’ll say. I’ll ask you a question or you can ask me a question. Trying to just have that as part of our daily routine. And that may sound silly to people, but it’s not easy. I give them the analogy of starting the snowblower.
You don’t start dying and that doesn’t resonate with you in Texas, but you’ve been in New York long enough to know what that’s all about. It’s if you don’t start that snowblower once or twice during the off season, there’s a lot of sludge buildup in there. So getting it started. Asking a bad question to get to a better question.
I think those are baby steps that can have exponential results and returns.
Now it’s got to start I agree with, the parents, I think that’s such a critical skill and I’ve got some great stories behind that but, let’s put on your baseball coach hat for a minute. Kid just finished his baseball game.
They get into the car. What kinds of questions are safe to ask or comfortable ask maybe you had a great day, maybe had a bad day, but where would you start if, this was your son today, right? How, can a parents start asking better questions?
I want to answer that, but I want to, you just jog my memory on that moment at the end of a game or before a drill where the coach, and I’ve done this, we say, Hey, anyone have any questions?
Like he explains the drill and all of a sudden he goes, does anyone have any questions? Now you’re basically processing his question right there. He gives you four seconds. If you don’t raise your hand in four seconds we’re, off to the next drill. It’s just, that’s gotta be, we’ve gotta set that norm, right?
Wait time is a real thing. And even veteran coaches and teachers do not give enough time. I have a interview I recorded recently and I shared it with my wife, a little exclusive access before it goes live. And my my partner in the conversation pauses is a lot. So I ask a question and then there’s maybe five seconds.
She’s are you going to edit that out? I say, no, I don’t think I am. I think this is going to be evidence of a deep question that he’s never been asked before, and we’re going to let that kind of norm settle in. So that’s the first thing you make me think of. In the car I think some people listening to this may have heard this already, but I think it’s supposed to start with, I love watching you play. Now that’s not a question, but then. And move from there to what was the most fun part of today’s game? Nothing dad, we lost three, nothing. It’s not fun. Yeah. But I loved watching you play was there anything about the loss that you took from and we start there, right?
We don’t start with commentary.
All right. We can acknowledge where, the circumstance is. Like one of my, one of my good friends, his son had his first high school game yesterday and he was texting me during the game. I wanted to hear how it was going on. I I’ve been watching through social media, we’ve connected person number of times.
And of course he goes oh for two, and he sent me a couple of videos and I share it with with Sammy and stuff like that. And he’s okay it’s gonna, it’s gonna be a rough one. I know what that ride home was going to be like. Okay. And of course Sammy’s looking at and he just got to get out of his head.
He’s just way too early and stuff like that, but you’ve got to create that comfortable environment. And like I said, I think it as a baseball coach now, and you’re asking the parents to almost be a partner in development today because they are, that’s the reality. It’s not what it used to be when we used to play in the streets and all our friends were our partners in development today. It is the parents. If there’s one thing I’ve been called, that’s been curious, how can they be an enable the curiosity from their player about that game? About going oh for three, that’s going to help them get better.
Yeah. 📍 📍 There’s two things that come to mind. I think number one, we often want to give our take. It’s exciting. There’s something in the brain. I don’t have the research, but there’s something that if we have an opinion, we have to share it. And if we think they’re dropping their elbow, we need to tell them. That’s what we think.
But there’s another nuance to that, which is if we really believe that let’s not open with it. Let’s ask some questions, but the footnote there is we can’t play the annoying teacher game, which I’ve played many times been guilty of it. I raise my hand and say, I’ve done this. I’ve been better at it. Where we try to ask the pupil to guess what’s in our head.
So that’s not a fair, curious question. That’s a question which is essentially a fill in the blank.
It’s a leading question.
Yeah. You might as well say, I believe you dropped your elbow, your front elbow, your back elbow or your right knee. Which one was it. Like because at that point we’re not curious.
And I still don’t think we should ask a question four seconds into the ride. That it, that tries to identify the biggest flaw that our hitter made. But I think if we can start with a posture of asking questions, we are genuinely looking for and not what were you looking for in that two oh pitch sarcastically, but eventually we can get to a question like that.
What was your approach at that at bat? And I think as you mentioned, Kevin Wilson, timing is everything too, right? Dan Pink’s says, everything is timing but, when we ask those questions, it’s something we have to be cognizant of as well.
Let’s assume you know, the kids now start to get curious, asking questions about his development.
All great. Recently talking to a college coach and he’s telling me about a kid who calls him and starts asking him about the program and all of that. And he’s listening to the phone call and the kid is literally reading like that stock thing from the from the recruiting service.
And he just wants to hang up the phone.
What would you say is your recruiting and playing time philosophy?
And his number one goal, just like apart from that. When he gets on the phone with the kid, he wants to know their personality. Cause he wants to know if he can make them laugh. Cause if they can laugh together on the first call, that means the next two years in his junior college, they’re going to have fun together because at the end of the day, you’re going to spend a lot of time together.
You want to know that you’re enjoying this person when you come off with no personality because you’re reading a script, there’s a problem. And that happens in all the workforce as well. How, do we help that, student athlete going through this recruiting process to find those better questions, to identify where those questions should come from?
Those, I’m going to separate. I’m going to say, where do the questions come from is one way to think about it. And I think what questions are they? So let’s just start with a clean piece of paper. How many of our young people are coming to the interview, the conversation with questions written down?
I don’t like the word script, but I do the word preparation, right? So I don’t want to put in the hands of a 17 year old student athlete. You have to be on the fly, like some podcast hosts, we’re going to wing it. I don’t think that’s a recipe for success. So I would not be afraid to take a piece of paper and write down six questions you have for coach.
And then where divorces from, script is when do you ask those six questions? When you deploy them? And I think that’s the organic nature, right? So if he starts talking about playing time and you have written down, coach, how do you determine playing time? I think there’s a great moment to weave it in, but it takes some time you go to the, you go to your room, you take a walk, you put your notes app on and you write down.
If I wanted to know anything about this program, what would I ask? And then you come in armed as the student athlete. I don’t think most of the people listening. I don’t think they thought even to that level, which is not rocket science, but by all means it’s helpful. I write down certain questions, word for word.
I almost never asked them that way, but I do. I’ve said this before. I sometimes dream of the question, I’m going to ask to try to polish it and in the moment it comes out a little different, but I want to have it there. The second part of your question about. How do you prepare for it? And where do you go at different sections?
On my notes for a podcast, I actually have physical different regions. So I’m asking questions about mindset, literally up here, behavior, language. And then over here, I actually have something that baseball players will know. I have blow out material. So if the game’s 12, nothing, the announcers have to know what to talk about.
If, I run out of everything, I’m curious about, I’m going to ask these crazy questions over here. I don’t often get to them, but I’m over prepared that way. So that. I actually am using something that maybe some of your fingerprints rubbed off on the sense of a mind map idea or in very, basic one that has some different rooms, if you will.
Interesting. So now, I’m going to have you put your parent hat on. As I mentioned, when we first started you, have your, kids doing athletics and I noticed soccer is not necessarily your game, but you’re at your your daughter’s soccer game.
And it’s what do you call it? It wasn’t silent sideline. Was it?
One day they experimented with it silent sidelines.
Can you share with everybody? What is it that, that you saw and heard there? And it also like internally as this curious, question person what did you want to come out from that?
What’d you learn from that experience?
So for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a simple concept. It’s one or two games a year. We’re going to ask the parents not to say a word. I think it began as some type of social experiment where we would just see if the comfort level or the performance of our student athletes improved.
Some communities I think have taken it to an extreme and do it all the time. Some have never heard of it. I think what I learned is that I love a good experiment. So I was all in. Especially considering my daughter had some success and I was finding myself getting roped into that same trap of if I could only say the right seven words, it would spur her on to be better.
My son, who’s not interested so much in athletics is playing rec league basketball right now. And it’s a conversation for another day, but he’s not skilled at the game. But he’s hustling and having fun and I’m finding myself more relaxed than ever. So I bet if we had more time, we can unpack a bit of.
If we see skill in our student athlete, we’re more inclined to do X, Y, and Z. I love that part of it, but what was troubling quite, soberly was the reaction from some of our parents. And it’s easy to say let me point the finger. But I, as I told you, I’m the experiment. I want to see what happens.
People thought they were being unjustly treated as parents, we paid money. This is ridiculous. Why can’t I cheer? I can’t believe this. And some were like testing the boundaries to see if they can get away with saying things. If we can’t as adults, at least try something to see how our student athletes react.
It’s troubling. So that one or two games that she went through, I don’t know. She said that she kinda liked it. She didn’t say it was the, game changer, but I watched some of the parents and guardians and they weren’t able to do it. And, that’s, I think symbolically really where we’re at where it can be troubling.
I want to wrap up one, one question. It might be a two-parter. I’m sitting by the outside cages watching a practice they’re doing live abs and I’m with a parent, a friend of ours that we’ve known since we first moved to Texas and Sammy played with their kid in little league.
And they had just come back from baseball camp at Vanderbilt. And she’s a teacher as well, middle school teacher. And the biggest thing that she took away from there was like certain little disciplines. So for example, like he won’t wear his hat anymore at the dinner table. Or that we push in the chair when we’re done eating because that symbolizes we’re done and she’s so she’s brought that closure type thing to the classroom. I’m wondering, and you mentioned this kind of like at the dinner table and, we see it all across the country, across the world today at the dinner table, everybody’s with one of these, how do we, as parents enable our kids to break that habit and spend that time, practicing that skill so that this will be the, second part of the question.
These skills go way past baseball on and off the field. They go way past the recruiting. These are life skills.
How do we, as parents break the habit of this to occupy our time and to get that joy of asking questions?
We know from the research that even if the phone is out, even if it’s upside down and silenced, Adam Grant and others have presented some, research that says it, it destroys or can destroy a conversation just by its mere presence.
Now that doesn’t mean that I’m perfect at it. And when you look in classrooms all across the country today, and you think, should we have a place to put cell phones, should we insist on them being away? There’s a lot of policy there that has to be weighted through. I think once we’re in our own home everyone’s up to their own comfort level, but for me it’s just a non-starter right.
The phone has to be somewhere else. On a charge, we have a ledge we call it our utility closet or shelf and we charged the phones there. So it’s a simple thing, right? Because if we’re not setting the environment and the expectations, we don’t have a real great shot at having those conversations over my left shoulder here, there’s a sign that says to be where your feet are.
Student made that for me. And the phone is the most literal violation we can have, because we’re here, but our head is in Ohio, because someone just texted me. It’s just the most violent abuse of it. So we can’t attempt anything at the dinner table or here it’d be like me texting while I’m talking to you.
It’s just, it just doesn’t allow for where we want to be. So that’s the ground level. And then I think just slowly but surely we’re going to sit here for X amount of minutes and our family. We could eat a little bit longer. I can tell you that we’re fast eaters, not healthy on any level.
We should probably take a little bit. Hey. We’re going to eat for 30 minutes now, that’s not always easy for athletic families. So there’s gotta be some real considerate things. But I guess the way that I would frame it is, whatever you’re doing, it’s gotta be done with intention, on purpose, for a purpose. So maybe sit down with your partner and say, what is it that we want out of this dinner table?
We are allowed to say as parents, no phones, even if you that’s the thing. I think sometimes we think we’ve let it gone on so long. You can start tomorrow. If I want to change my cell phone policy in my classroom tomorrow after 23 years, I can do it. There’s nothing wrong with learning and saying, it’s gone on too far.
Let’s do it. My bad. I was the culture leader. I didn’t have a great culture with the phones. Let’s start tomorrow.
One of my favorite old time quotes is love is giving someone your undivided attention.
And I think that is such a, key piece to it because if you truly want to show love within the family, let’s just, let’s leave the phones out of it, or it, clicked to me when I would be playing catch with Sammy outside that I’d leave the phone because that was our time. Interacting. That was where the best conversations that we would ever have, happened during catch. And so I think that’s a great place to start. Now, obviously asking these questions, as we said is we’ll start at home, we’ll start at the dinner table.
It can start in the car. But this is a future career skill, not only for our student athletes, but for the parents as well. We know that the better you are at asking questions, you tend to move higher up in, in your job, you get more managerial opportunities. We talked about that reading more books as well. It’s that natural curiosity. So let, me start with one suggestion for everybody. If, they just want to improve how they ask questions, they should jump to your, “Damn Good Conversations” course, because I think you do a great job in a self-paced course to teach some of that.
But if you’re your parents just like me, we’re just like you, and you’re looking for other resources. You just want to get started being better at this and really doing it because you want to give your kids that future. What’s the first place you’re sending them?
First of all, thanks for the plug for the course.
I do believe in it and then there’ll be some modules in that would help you made me think of something a moment ago that I think would be really helpful on my show. I have 40 minutes, 60, if I’m lucky with someone that I really admire that I’ve never met before. So I want to build rapport as quickly as possible.
I want to make connection. I’ve often thought that the conversation is great, but the conversation is in service of connecting. If we have our loved ones with. We don’t need the high velocity questions all the time that I speak about this is something you just made me think. So when I’m on the show, I’m trying to get to the point in an artful way with velocity, direction and speed.
When I’m with my daughter, Charlie, or you’re with whoever’s listening, you’re your sons and daughters. Sometimes it’s helpful to take the scenic route. So how about that glove? How’s that glove working out? Not I noticed you dropped something three days ago. Or what you, what do you think about that pizza place?
And we slowly build and we come around the bend. So I think conceptually that can help. I think it was Seth Godin. Once you said, if you’re chopping vegetables and your son is helping you, that’s a great time for conversation because you’re doing something mindless almost like the yarn and think.
What I’ve done with my students, I think could work wonders for people who are just getting their sea legs with questions, simply focus on improving the first word of your questions. So replace is, are, do, and can with what, why, how. Possibly when. We can get much, more sophisticated from there, but if you just eliminate yes or no questions, and you just ask questions that start with what, it’s a complete game changer for people who are a little bit rusty with asking questions.
So I think that’s a great place to start in the last piece. In the course, I talk about asking questions like a poker player. All that means the short version, the TLDR, all that means is begin with the end in Stephen Covey and others grant Wiggins. So what are we trying to accomplish? If I want to hear how Sammy’s enjoying his summer league baseball, it seems like the best thing to do would be say, how are you enjoying your summer league baseball, but not always, sometimes it might be much more effective if you ask him to share his favorite memory from this.
Or what’s the best summer ball team he ever played on? Meanwhile, he’s playing this year, Sammy, what’s the best team ever played on. And then when he says, wow that team we played, we went down to we went up to Dallas and blah, blah, blah. We did all this. And then now you have a way into the next question, which is like, does coach Smith do any of that. Now coach Smith is more of a, now we’re rolling because you have a frame of reference. You’re not in a hurry because it’s your own son and daughter. And now you can go to that route.
Okay, the wrap up. I’m going to put you on the spot here.
If you had to ask a question from everybody who listened to this, what would that question be?
You want me to ask the audience a question?
My question would be, what is the one thing from this conversation, the one idea, the one technique, the one concept that you’re willing to give a try to? That’s what I would ask. I would say, what is it that we said that, although it may not seem totally comfortable.
What are you willing to try today?
That’s what I would ask.
Thank you so much again, if people want to find you where, can they find you at?
If their twitter people, it’s at Ferraro on air, F E R R a R O on air, but I bought the domain, damn good conversations dot com. I swear. It’s the harshest cuss word I use, but it’s just too good to avoid.
So don’t be scared off. If you go there, you’ll see some nice high quality, glossy photos of me. And you get a lot of free resources. It’s meant to be a place where you can learn without buying anything. I heard someone recently say never buy anything from me until you test out the free stuff. I really liked that because we want to give out some things and see if it’s something that’s a fit for you.
So don’t buy anything from me unless you like the free stuff. How about that?
I love that, it’s similar to the philosophy I always had. You serve your community first ’cause at some point your, community will serve you back when you need them.
I hope your listeners know how generous you are. You certainly been incredibly generous to me in all the ways, and I haven’t found a way to work that into this conversation.
So I don’t want to be remiss to leave that out. So I, know you live that and I appreciate you having me on
Thank you so much.