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How a book club within Maryland baseball has helped create a culture of development

The Terps focusing on topics outside of baseball has been refreshing.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Rob Vaughn has been with the Maryland baseball program since 2013 but took over as the lead man in 2017. While his title is head coach, he sees his role as more than a baseball coach. He isn't just building better baseball players, he’s building young men to become better people.

For just that reason, a couple of years ago in the offseason, right around Christmas, Vaughn presented a list of books for players to choose from and read. It was the start of the Maryland baseball book club.

Vaughn and his coaching staff are big readers themselves and believe reading and retaining the information from good stories are invaluable for anyone, particularly a student-athlete.

“Reading these books is kind of not even necessarily for baseball, but more so for life in general,” junior first baseman Maxwell Costes said. “A lot of these books that Coach Vaughn has had us read, it’s not even that I take them as a way to make myself a better player, but rather make myself a better person.”

When you walk into the Maryland baseball locker room or you view its Twitter profile, the first thing you see is the team’s mission statement. It reads:

“We are a character and leadership development program that trains people, students and players to do it better than it has ever been done before.”

There is no mention of the word baseball, and that’s for a reason.

“This is not something we pin up on the wall in the locker room and never talk about,” Vaughn said. “This isn’t like some cool thing we did one weekend, it’s who we are. It’s what we believe in.”

For Vaughn, one of the best ways to build character is to learn from successful people who have come before you, in all walks of life. That’s why he decided to present the team with a slide show a couple of years ago of 10 books and instructed his players to pick a book and read it over Christmas break.

He wanted guys to highlight interesting tidbits and send them in the team group chat to start a conversation on the topic. According to Vaughn, that went fine. However, there was a way to improve how the guys retained the information.

“The thing I’ve come to realize as we go through this is people learn differently,” Vaughn said.

The Terps coaching staff began to suggest podcasts and audiobooks for those guys who weren't big readers. They also began to tailor the books they suggested to players’ individual needs, instead of assigning books to the whole team, with there being plenty of overlap.

“If you just assigned one and say ‘Hey everybody, go read this,’ it’s probably going to land with five people, five people are going to hate it and everybody else is going to be somewhere lukewarm in the middle,” Vaughn said. “So it’s been a lot more like, what are some of the struggles, what do we see or maybe these are some of the guys that need to lead us next year.”

One summer, Vaughn got together a group of players he envisioned being the core leadership group for the following season and gave them the book “The Captain’s Class: The Hidden Force that Creates the World’s Greatest Teams” by Sam Walker to prepare them for leadership roles.

One of the original books assigned to the team was “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, a book centered around how to discover the why in what you do and how to inspire others to do the same.

Vaughn said he has received calls from recruits’ parents saying, “How in the world did you get my kid to start reading? He’s never read a book in his life.”

A more recent book a bunch of current players have read is “It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life,” by Trevor Moawad. Pitcher Sam Bello, outfielder Tucker Flint, assistant coach Anthony Papio and Vaughn read through the book at the same time and met every week to discuss the next chapter.

Costes read the same book and it resonated with him just as much.

“The biggest one [takeaway] for me was one of the chapters he talked about inner ad campaigns,” Costes said. “The idea of being able to talk to yourself in a very neutral mindset.”

After every chapter Bello read, he would share a few quotes in his family group chat so they could get a sense of what he was reading and also learn themselves.

“For me honestly, I’ve always had trouble reading books,” Bello said. “It would just be hard for me to read and keep up with it. I read “It Takes What It Takes” and now I just read; I mean I’m probably on my fourth or fifth book this year and I’m reading them for fun.”

Once a book is read it doesn't just go back to the shelf to collect dust. When players are struggling at the plate, on the mound, or even outside the game, they will go back to these books to remind them of the lessons learned.

While the book suggestions are more tailored to individual needs now, the players don't keep the good stories to themselves. Both Bello and Costes said they constantly recommend books to other teammates, and even friends not on the team.

Sometimes a player will come to the coaching staff to recommend a good book too, instead of the other way around.

All of these books relate back to one thing: mindset.

“These guys are all talented, they’re all good baseball players. The separator is mindset when the bullets start flying,” Vaughn said.

That mindset has allowed this iteration of Maryland baseball to completely turn its season around by taking it one day at a time and putting themselves in a position to earn a NCAA Tournament bid with just a few games to go.

A team that was once five games below .500 and near the bottom of the Big Ten standings has climbed its way to fourth with a 21-14 record.

“Baseball is a game that’s very, very close to life because it’s such a mental game,” Costes said. “You’re going to have to take however you live as a person and apply it to the game.”

In the foreword of the book “It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life,” star NFL quarterback Russell Wilson writes, “The mind is a critical piece of all of our greatest moments. In the sports world, we train our muscles to be strong so that we can be at our best when the critical moment arrives. I also choose to train my mind. If we never train it, then it won't be the best it can possibly be.”

With the critical moment coming down the stretch of an abbreviated 2021 season, Maryland baseball will be ready thanks to a culture Vaughn has fostered, with every turn of the page bringing a new day and a new lesson in baseball and life.