Championship Coaches Corner
With Coach Tim Hopley – Portsmouth High School
This summer I am excited to bring to you a series of interviews conducted with coaches that have won championships recently in hopes that you are able to learn from others who were able to win the last game of the season. Some of them have done this multiple times.
The first interview was conducted with Coach Tim Hopley who I have gotten to know over the years and stayed in contact with as our teams were recognized for our back and forth battle of the national consecutive win record. Since Portsmouth High School Baseball’s streak was snapped Coach Hopley has continued to put his team in a position to win the championship year in and year out. This year was no different. They were able to win another state title. If your counting that is five in the last six years!!!
I am continually amazed at his ability to reload instead of rebuild. I hope you enjoy the Championship Coaches Corner and pick up some nuggets of knowledge for your program and are able to gain some insight into great programs across the country.
Coach Justin Dehmer: What is your baseball/softball background? Resume? Talk about your program.
Coach Tim Hopley: I graduated Portsmouth High School in 1988 a day before winning a baseball state championship. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the school would win another baseball title. In between there were a lot of lean years. The year before I took over (1996) the team finished winless at 0-18, and we lost our first 12 games my first year. Slowly things started to turn. A two-win season, a couple three-win years, another two wins, then a five, a 12, an eight and then four straight 10-win seasons during which the program won its first playoff game since the ‘88 season. In 2007 the schools’ enrollment had dropped below 1,000, allowing all PHS sports teams to finally play on an even playing field against schools our size. The shift in classification coincided with the steady improvements the program had begun to make, and results were and have been historic. In our first season in Class I (‘I’ for Intermediate, later changed to Division II for schools with enrollment between 650-1,200) we won the regular-season title but lost in a lightning-delayed quarterfinal game spread over two days. That defeat would be the last one for over four years and a National Record 89 games. We were fortunate enough to win four consecutive State Championships along the way (2008-2011) – sending a staggering 18 players on to play college baseball (including seven Division I scholarship players). Just six days ago the program added it‘s fifth State Championship in six years with an unexpected run to a title behind a team without one player currently committed to playing college baseball. It’s been a wild ride, indeed.
Coach Dehmer: What are some of the biggest factors in your success?
Coach Tim Hopley: Talented players with an unmatched work ethic. I firmly believe that our success is directly tied to the fact that our best players have been our hardest workers. They’ve been the guys who showed up early and stayed late. They’ve been the guys who included everyone. They’ve been the off-season organizers, the ride-givers to younger players, and the unquestioned leaders, carrying themselves and representing our program with excellence in mind at every turn. Along the way they’ve mentored, encouraged, and ultimately have left a blueprint of sorts for how Portsmouth High School baseball should be played and the price you must be willing to pay to achieve the success the program has enjoyed. They see the players before them reach unprecedented levels of success for a New Hampshire high school program, guys like Chris Anderson (Minnesota/2006) and Mike Fransoso (Pittsburgh/2013), two former PHS players who have been drafted professionally in the last eight years. And they know from having seen it first-hand that those guys didn’t get to where they got without paying the price of doing extra work everyday.
Coach Dehmer: What role has the mental game played in your success? How have you implemented the mental game in your program?
Coach Tim Hopley: The mental approach has been a huge part of our success. We realize we’ve been very fortunate to enjoy the success we’ve had over the past 6-7 years, and almost everything we go through mentally is geared toward living in the moment. There is usually only one time all season when we discuss the past, and that’s at the very beginning of the season. And we never discuss the future. Taking care of business in the present is all that matters because you can’t skip steps. Looking behind or ahead just takes your mind away from what’s important – getting better today. Because generally speaking, if you take care of today, tomorrow will work out favorably.
Coach Dehmer: I couldn’t agree more and that is what I feel was the biggest similarity between our two programs. The ability to live in the present, to take care of today, pitch by pitch as a 1-Pitch Warriors! Great advice Coach.
Coach Dehmer: How have you created a program of excellence? What advice can you give to others about making those strides from good to great?
Coach Tim Hopley: Attention to details have been a huge area of emphasis for our program. From ‘little things’ like proper angles on backup positioning to the way we approach each aspect of practice – defensively, offensively, and specialty situations – we constantly strive to be prepared for anything. As any coach knows, however, that’s usually easier said than done. Ultimately we have to pick our battles daily, addressing individual areas each day until it becomes natural. And this holds true on all three levels of our program. Our assistants and sub-varsity coaches are teaching the same things to freshmen as we are to fourth-year varsity players. Terminology, approach, technique – it remains the same across the board. Ultimately, however, there needs to be a buy-in from our student-athletes. The first impression we try to make is how important the details are to the big picture and how you can’t skip steps in the process. Each thing you do in any aspect of the game affects another aspect, which, if not paid proper attention, can lead to costly mental mistakes. In a nutshell, we sweat the details.
Coach Dehmer: What are the things you love most about coaching? What keeps you motivated?
Coach Tim Hopley: I love the ‘grind.’ Game days are great and all, but the grind of everyday practice, the unseen work that goes into the end product is the part I like best. And what fuels that is fear – more specifically the fear of failure. The thought that someone out there might be working harder than we are is what drives me, personally. We pride ourselves in being prepared – both physically and mentally – for any situation. And when you’re dealing with high school kids, that’s an enormous challenge on a daily basis, but it’s also one that pays dividends in the end.
Coach Dehmer: What is your favorite practice technique, drill, or game that you use at your practice that others can use right now within their program?
Coach Tim Hopley: There are a lot of things we do daily that I like, but one of the biggest is the way we’re able to get a high number or quality swings in a short period of time. We generally have four hitters swinging at once, two from a turf cutout at the backstop (with a square screen between them), one with a batting tee and Smushballs into a sock net outside the backstop, and a fourth in a cage just beyond the leftfield fence. We typically hit twice per practice, with each ‘station’ serving as a different point of emphasis each time. For instance, in the cage we may be working on middle/away swings, while the tee/sock net hitter is working one-handed swings designed to keep the head of the bat up and their hands inside the ball. Meanwhile the two hitters on field might be working bunting at one and situational BP at the other. Some days, all of our swings may come from a coach ‘flipping’ (underhand from 25 feet) where we’re concentrating on driving the ball away or squaring it up. It varies, but there are generally 3-4 types of BP that we’ll use during the year with each designed to increase our hitters’ comfort level in any situation.
Coach Dehmer: Coach Hopley I want to thank you for your time and wish you all the best in your continued strides for excellence at Portsmouth High School. Thank you for sharing with me and other coaches today.