Kurt Russell has taken over the reins of the Dragons for the 2020 Pro League, having served as an assistant coach to Pete Torpy for the past few seasons. After helping to get the Dragons to the final last year, Russell hopes to do it all over again as they face fierce competition from the Wolves, Ravens and Lions rosters.
While two teams pulled ahead for most of the 2019 program, Russell notes this year’s competition looks wide open. “I feel like every team has a legitimate chance to make a run at the top spot,” Russell said. “There is going to be an abundance of quality pitching and the biggest challenge we will face as a team is finding a way to consistently execute at the plate and put up runs against it.”
Russell is no stranger to coaching players to overcome challenges, having coached in the Baseball WA winter programs for the last eight years. He’s also had coaching stints across multiple charter programs as well as the WA State Youth Girls and 16s teams.
As Russell continues to learn and further develop his coaching skills, he looks forward to this opportunity to lead the Dragons in another fantastic season and seeing what his lineup can accomplish. “My goal is to create a team environment where each member of my team is put in a position to get the most out of this program as possible,” he said. “As good as it would be to win the program, I need to put these young men in a position that will give them the necessary preparation to make a run at getting on a state team roster this year.”
Russell thinks the Dragons have a lot to offer and should be seen as frontrunners to compete for Pro League finals glory. “We have a really strong returning crew and we were able to compliment that group with the right pieces at the draft table,” he said. “The end result is a roster that won’t see us log jammed at any one position, which should allow me to get the most out of each player by keeping them in their primary positions for as long as possible.”
The Dragons will need to keep their eyes on the ball and focus on execution at the plate, which Russell thinks will be the main key to their success. The Dragons struggled at times last year to put up runs against quality pitching, which will be another challenge as the 2020 season gets underway. “We will have a strong defensive team and we pitch deep enough to hold teams so it will all come down to our offensive production,” he said.
Pro League is designed to prepare players for state team tryouts and other exciting opportunities in their future. Even for those players not looking to compete on the national stage this season, he hopes they leave the program as better athletes with more confidence to chase their goals.
Russell thinks the program will be especially important this year after the COVID-19 pandemic halted many sports and beloved Australian pastimes. “Personally, having the opportunity to be involved in this program goes a long way towards getting some normality back in my life and I hope the same applies to other participants,” he added.
Any chance to share his love of the game is well worth it for Russell, who wants to remind players that they will always be students of the ever-evolving game. “I love sharing my experiences and knowledge with kids in the hope that I can continue to progress their development so that in turn they can continue to play and love the game for as long as possible,” he said. “We need to find a way to continue to make adjustments and move with it.”
Russell encourages his team to learn from their mistakes to get better, and he finds coaching to be fun and inspiring, especially as he works to ensure players are enjoying themselves and don’t feel on edge. “I feel this is the best environment to get the most out of people as they are relaxed and will be more inclined to go out of their comfort zones,” he said.
No matter what this year has in store, Russell will always have fond memories of previous Pro League seasons, including last year when he witnessed the progress of Caitlin Eynon. “She was going through a batting slump in the back end of the program and we were working on a couple of things to help her get through that,” he recalled. “She kept working and making adjustments and was rewarded with three hits in the Grand Final including a home run.”
Having been mentored himself, Russell acknowledges the important role coaches play in the lives of athletes. He credits Jason Hewitt, Arnie Noel, Pete Torpy and Owen Reid for their significant impact on his baseball playing and coaching career. His passion for coaching gives him a lot to look forward to in the next few months, especially some of his favorite moments like when the switch flicks and a player finally gets something they have been working so hard at.
“Baseball is a very humbling game and it teaches adversity and how to respond and overcome it,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in coaching a sport that consists of life lessons that reach far beyond the game of baseball itself. Knowing that I am having an impact on the lives of the young men and women I coach and that hopefully I’m helping to shape them into better people as well as ball players is a really rewarding experience.”
Russell and the Dragons are gearing up for the 2020 Pro League to kick off in term three.