A lot of hard work must be done in order to improve your baseball skills, especially when a player has aspirations to play at the next level post-secondary. But, we must remember that these kids are still students — and you can’t make it to graduation without good grades. When we have our kids in these elite baseball programs, there is a fine line on how much dedication toward their baseball development is possible without sacrificing their academics. Fortunately, teams like the Sudbury Voyageurs have programs in place to make sure their players get the most out of baseball and the books.
JG Larocque has been a coaching mainstay for the better part of two decades, currently acting as the head coach of the 18U Sudbury Voyageurs program. On top of this, Larocque has been a high school health and physical education teacher for the past 18 years. “I have found a lot of my teaching theories have come into play as a coach and vice versa,” Larocque said. “Not every player/student learns the same way and my teaching has really helped me find new ways to reach each player.”
Exams are a time that all of us can empathize with as we get older — a stressful, sleep-deprived period as we try to remember all that have learned. Balancing this with the extra-curricular that is elite travel ball is even more challenging from a time-management perspective. “What I have learned is that students need physical activity,” said Larocque. “A few years ago we set up a program where students would have PE class and then head to Math class. Students' EQAO scores went up by about 30%. The Math teachers obviously did a great job in class but just to show you how much the brain lights up and is better prepared for learning with physical activity.” Countless studies have also supported this conclusion, leading to significant progress instead of burnout with your head in the books. “We keep reminding players that they are student-athletes, not athlete-students.” This motto is one that Larocque stands by with his team and his students.
At the Sudbury Voyageurs facility, it was imperative that there would be a space for the players to go over what would make them successful in both baseball and in life. Larocque explained, “We always tell players to calm down, relax, stay focused etc...but we seldom give them the tools to do these things. The 15 minutes prior to practice is used to give them the day’s game plan and tools to help them in life.” This planning stage for their time management skills and coping mechanisms is valuable, and undergoing this mental exercise creates a healthy habit to get the Voyageur students on the right track.
One of the main elements of achieving academic success for Sudbury players is to find a great school where they are able to continue their baseball journey. This is why Larocque and his fellow coaches give valuable information to the players’ families, giving them the information required to make an informed decision and how to plan accordingly. “From prior experience as a College player and other coaches we have surrounded ourselves with we have given each family a presentation to explain the process from grade 9 (freshman year) to grade 12 (senior year).” This presentation includes what program they may want to take, which schools have that program, grades, how far away from home they may want to travel, whether money has been set aside, and countless other factors. Learning critical information first-hand from someone who lives and breathes baseball earns the players’ and parents’ trust — that the coaching staff are looking out for the players as they push for greater feats in the future.
One of these players who has been affected by the Voyageurs program is 18U shortstop, Gavin Roy. “My schedule in the fall and winter is very busy, I try to play as many as possible to become a better athlete. I have team practice 4 times a week and individual lifts every day.” Adding onto this, he also plays high school volleyball and hockey a few times per week. Currently taking a victory lap at St. Charles College and with 1 more season with the Voyageurs, Roy is looking forward to the next stage. “Academics are very important to me and completing tasks on time is a big thing for me,” Roy added. “The best way to balance my school work with everything is to make sure when I have the time to finish my assignments, I do finish them.” Roy is currently looking at a sport management degree as he said he would love to work with a professional sports team one day.
High school baseball is a great time to spend your teen years. With the elite programs being year-round, the players need to actively plan in order to get their studies in, and the coaches have to be aware enough to encourage it as well — as is apparent with Gavin Roy’s development. Larocque and the Sudbury Voyageurs coaching staff fit that role perfectly, displaying enough empathy and social intelligence to fill a ballpark. “What I have learned from all this is that coaching/teaching is all about relationships,” Larocque said. “You can know everything about baseball and are amazing at the X and O's of the game but if you can't communicate your players won't get it. If you can build great relationships with all of your players you are definitely on to something.”