Riddoch teaches more than baseball in Eugene

EUGENE, OR-- For Eugene Emeralds manager Greg Riddoch, "life is good" is more than just a t-shirt slogan. It's his personal mantra.

"Life is good … I'm doing all the things I love to do," he laughs.

For Riddoch, that means blending all of his passions into one: teaching, sports psychology, mentoring, and coaching.

Luckily for the Ems manager, his prior experiences help him manage all of these roles. A former big-leaguer for the Cincinnati Reds, he's also been a substitute teacher, high school teacher, private coach, a manager for the San Diego Padres, and even a graduate student in Educational Psychology. And as a father of two and grandfather of four, he knows kids.

"Kids are my passion," he says with a smile. "I never grew up myself."

As a student of psychology, Riddoch sees a connection between thought patterns and becoming a better ball player. He makes this clear to his players, teaching them sports psychology. But unlike a textbook, "I have the on the job training," Riddoch noted.

As a manager, he connects his players with the mental strategies and his own experience.

"I ask my kids, 'what's your plan?'" Riddoch said. "Goal-setting is key."

Riddoch connects his minor league players with resources, such as speakers who talk about the importance of goals, values, and focus. "I'm on them all the time about their values," he says.

Riddoch's approach to managing is consistent organization-wide with the Padres. The locker room is decorated with the organization's mantras, creating a common language for offense and defense for the players. Again, the element of goal-setting and planning stands out.

"It's our organizational philosophy," says Riddoch. "If you want information to be articulated from the top to the bottom, there has to be a plan."

A longtime educator, Riddoch sees just about everything as a teachable moment.

In his office, he hands me a glossy photograph of a young boy in the outfield of a major league baseball stadium. The boy's gaze is focused on a distant point: it's Riddoch in a Padres uniform talking to three ballplayers.

On the bottom right of the photo is an inspirational poem, one stanza of which reads, "There's a wide eyed little fellow/ Believes you're always right/ And his eyes and ears are open/ And he's watching day and night/ You are setting an example/ Every day in all you do."

Riddoch had just finished a goal-setting session with his pitchers, and gives me the handout. I'm immediately struck at how thorough it is, with a seven-step formula for goal-setting, assessment, and recalibration.

Riddock's a realist at heart.

For example, Step D reads: ‘Goals should be modified … based on the degree of progress being made. If little or no progress has been made, the goal set was probably too lofty.'

Riddoch is also a proponent of note taking. He gives players steno pads to keep records of their patterns, feelings, and strategies. According to Riddoch, psychology is the "study the nature of human nature, and what people do in specific situations, especially under stress." The notebooks turn those stressful situations into a data mine for players.

"If you start writing it down you see specific behaviors in certain situations, and you can predict behavior … in that situation again. If you go back over those notes, you have a competitive edge over anybody else."

From that information, players can break down their playing into concrete elements, such as saying, ‘here's what my goals are tonight.'

Outfielder Dan Robertson is a fan of the notebook.

"In the heat of the battle, in the heat of competition, you can't really remember the things that you do. As much as I can, I try to write in it, and try to understand that it's about the process, about becoming better, and being able to accept the things that you do."

The Employee Assistance Program, coordinated by Karesky, creates smooth transitions for players. But working with such an intellectually curious coach also makes a big difference for players. "(Riddoch's) a student of how it applies to baseball," Karesky said.

For young players so early on in their careers, the challenges are numerous. As team psychologist Ray Karesky notes, "To some degree, a lot of them are on their own for the first time. They're having to transition into becoming professional baseball players. You're far away from home, you're traveling on buses every day, you don't have your support network."

Student, teacher, mentor and planner: it's clear that Riddoch's players benefit from his experience and pedagogy in equal measures.

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