GKLIVE.TV+ Ashley Looper, Staff Writer, Associate Writer Joel Karakaedos, December 9, 2023
In the highly competitive world of high school baseball, few coaches stand out like Coach Todd Fitz-Gerald “Coach Fitz”, the driving force behind the Stoneman Douglas high school baseball program. With a career spanning over 13 years, at Stoneman Douglas, Coach Fitz has not only produced successful players but has also nurtured character development, sportsmanship, and academic excellence in his players. Under Coach Fitz's leadership, Stoneman Douglas High School's baseball team has achieved remarkable success, claiming multiple championships and holding the top ranking in high school baseball for four consecutive years.
GKLive + had the opportunity to sit down with Coach Fitz-Gerald and see inside this great baseball development program. Here are the questions we asked Coach Fitz and his responses.
Question 1: Motivation and Inspiration
GKLive + "How do you motivate and inspire your players to reach their maximum potential and maintain a strong work ethic?"
FITZ - “I think number one is being about what do you want to be and what do you want to end up in your life doing, we all want to be professional baseball players, unfortunately 98% of players will be in the working world, I talk a lot about competing in the classroom or baseball field, giving it 100% effort all the time, and be a voice for them when things aren’t going the best and just let them know you are a good person and good player, and you can be anything you want to be if you can put your mind to it. I motivate every day through positive coaching, sometimes you have to redirect them, I used to think fear was a great motivator, but today's generation we are raising a softer generation, so we can’t be old school as much as we were, it’s more of getting guys to understand and believe that they can be in any moment and can handle anything that comes their way. I try to create a little chaos in practice with some things we do. I want to make them feel like they can walk on water, I have good kids that are driven and want discipline. I tell them every day, before your feet touch the ground, you have a choice and life is all about choices, when you put your feet on the ground are you going to be the guy who gets after it or the guy with your feet still on the ground. The bench is a great motivator for work ethic, and if you don’t have a good work ethic, then you’re going to end up washing out of the game. I don’t really have those kids in my program so they wash out if they are like that.”
GKLive + Coach Fitz believes that motivation begins with a clear vision of what players want to achieve in life. While the dream of becoming professional baseball players is common, he emphasizes the reality that most will enter the workforce. He instills the idea of competing not only on the baseball field but also in the classroom. Coach Fitz preaches giving 100% effort, being a positive influence, and helping players understand that they can handle anything life throws at them. His coaching style has evolved to adapt to today's generation, focusing on positivity and instilling self-belief.
Question 2: Team Cohesion and Culture
GKLive + "What strategies do you employ to build team cohesion and foster team culture?"
FITZ - “I promote mental health, every year is a different team, I evaluate the team and the returners and if they were good leaders and if they would be willing to take on the leadership role. There are different personalities and I try and foster it by and I want them to know it’s the safest place they can be, I try and foster the fact that a family who plays together is a family who stays together. They all eat together, I make them go to the beach and hangout, go to a buddies house and hang out, just to build the cohesive unit of being on the same page and team, the tighter we are together the better for us on the field, team challenge every now and then , and it’s your job as a coach to make sure everyone’s included, academics around school, see something say something, no bullying, and being a leader of the school”
GKLive + Coach Fitz values mental health and recognizes that each year brings a different team dynamic. He evaluates returning players' leadership qualities and emphasizes the importance of leadership roles. He fosters a sense of safety within the team, making it the players' "safest place." To build a cohesive unit, Coach Fitz encourages team bonding through activities such as eating together, hanging out at the beach, and visiting each other's homes. He believes that a close-knit team performs better on the field.
Question 3: Balancing Winning and Character Development
GKLive + "How do you balance the pursuit of winning championships with the importance of character development, sportsmanship, and academic success among your players?"
FITZ - “Respect factor for how they treat us and how we treat them, we don’t wanna disrespect the game , character is who you are when no one is watching, we uphold ourselves to the standard of excellence by doing things properly. It is important to be a good member of society and to play the game as long as you can.”
GKLive + Coach Fitz stresses the respect factor, both in how players treat the game and how they treat each other. He upholds the program to a standard of excellence, focusing on being good members of society. Coach Fitz believes that character is defined by one's actions when no one is watching, and this philosophy guides his coaching.
Question 4: Player Development and Tailored Coaching
GKLive + "What's your approach to player development, and how do you tailor coaching to individual player's needs?"
FITZ - “I make sure no one is left behind, ….”
GKLive + Coach Fitz begins player development by ensuring that no player is left behind. He tailors coaching to individual needs.
Question 5: Organizing Effective Practices and Game Strategies
GKLive + "Can you share your experience with organizing and executing effective practice plans and game strategies?"
FITZ - “I used to be by the book with the practice plans written down on the white board when they came in every day, but now it has changed to kind of more of a repetitive practice and we throw in different drills and different scenarios to get their mind going.”
GKLive + Coach Fitz used to rely on written practice plans but now follows a more repetitive practice routine, incorporating different drills and scenarios to keep players engaged and mentally sharp.
Question 6: Handling High Expectations
GKLive + "Being a top national program yearly brings lofty expectations. How do you handle such high expectations?"
GKLive + Coach Fitz attributes the program's success to a stable coaching staff with a shared vision. Trust and collaboration among coaches set an example for the players. The coaching staff's unity fosters a better environment, resulting in successful drills and player development.
FITZ - “I think part of a successful program is having stability in your coaching staff, I have a guy who has been a long time head coach who came over from another school, pitching school who has been with it for a long time, also a young guy who has developed into a great coach, we all have the same goal and vision, I don’t have to look over my shoulder and worry about stabbed in the back, we are all really good friends”
Question 7: Success Stories
GKLive + "With so many successful college and professional players you've been able to develop and move on, can you give an example of a player that has exceeded your vision of growth?"
FITZ - “I think because they have such tremendous respect and pride for the program, and maybe because they love me I don’t know, I know they are there for the program. In the home playoffs, in the dugout, I had 8 former players right there, is that normal no, would a lot of coaches allow that, no, but they built the foundation of the program, but to go back, I would say Carter Brady and his development process, my son Hunter, are 2 successful stories , it all goes back to the work Ethic and values. All players develop at different times, they desire to be great and they will be successful human beings. If you have 8 former players, 2 may be pro players, 2 minor leaguers, they always support the program, or even pro guys that come back. That’s why you coach … life long relationships.”
GKLive + Coach Fitz points to players like Carter Brady and Hunter (his son), who exceeded expectations through their work ethic and values. He emphasizes that players who desire greatness and are committed to hard work become successful not only in baseball but also as human beings.
Conclusion GKLive +
Coach Fitz embodies the spirit of a dedicated coach who not only builds champions on the baseball diamond but also shapes the character and future of his players. His coaching philosophy, emphasizing positivity, unity, and values, leaves a lasting impact on those who have the privilege of being part of his program.