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Alex Cora: Caring Coach, Champion Coach

06.06.2019

Impact

Thank you to Kirkland & Ellis for supporting our first
HUDDLE UP! Event.


Alex Cora
paused his game day preparations on a chilly Wednesday in May to share his coaching philosophy, approach to motivating players, thoughts on the differences between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and the need for balance in sports and in life with Positive Coaching Alliance supporters, partners, board members, and staff. 

This conversation was the first of a series of PCA’s HUDDLE UP! conversations with Boston’s beloved sports leaders presented by the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis.


Alex Cora with Kirkland & Ellis and the World Series Trophy.

Through the course of the conversation it became clear that Alex Cora is determined to make a difference. Alex Cora brings the same commitment to understanding and helping meet the needs of people in post-hurricane Puerto Rico to understanding and helping meet the needs of his players on the Boston Red Sox. Cora is a championship coach, and the model of a caring coach.

In Fenway’s Dell/EMC Club, ninety-eight people enjoyed a quiet Fenway Park, a delicious sandwich buffet, and the opportunity to hear from the manager of the reigning World Champion Red Sox. The huddle began with a welcome from PCA-New England’s Executive Director, Beth O’Neill Maloney, who talked about how #CoachesMatter, how the Red Sox exemplify PCA principles (see sidebar), and how Alex Cora’s success in 2018 was built upon his inclusive, honest, innovative approach to managing the team built on his unwavering belief in the members of the team. Maloney focused on a quote from Eduardo Nunez who said that Cora “made me feel better than I am” and encouraged coaches of young athletes to recognize their power because when a coach communicates that they believe in their players, even more than their players believe in themselves, that builds players’ confidence.


PCA Trainer Erik Johnson, former Boston College Women’s Basketball Coach, and Managing Director of the Bulfinch Group

Next up was Erik Johnson, PCA Trainer, former Boston College Women’s Basketball Coach, and Managing Director of the Bulfinch Group. Johnson gave the audience a slice of a PCA coach workshop demonstrating how a PCA-trained coach brings out the best in their players with positivity. Instead of criticizing a young athlete after a mistake, Erik modeled ways coaches can communicate that they believe the young athlete can do better, giving the young athlete both the correction and the confidence they need to be better.

Third in the order was Alex Cora. Introduced with the Red Sox “Wall of Wins” video from 2018, Cora remarked that he was seeing the video for the first time in three months, and that the video helped bring him back to that time. In response to questions from WBZ-TV/CBS Boston’s Dan Roche, Cora reflected that while last year’s road to the World Championship was an almost Disney-like experience, this year’s road, after a slower start, would almost mean more because it would be achieved by the team grinding it out.

The first question for Alex Cora was about the two planeloads of supplies he arranged to bring to Puerto Rico. Cora described himself as feeling “useless” after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, until he signed with the Red Sox as manager, and asked for a planeload of supplies. When the Red Sox won the 2018 World Series, Cora asked to go back with another planeload, plus the trophy. Through the conversation, it became clear that Cora, who describes his coaching style as demanding and relaxing, had so many lessons which would be invaluable to anyone who coaches young athletes.

  • Understand the positive impact of caring, and helping others. Cora described the 2018 season as “bookended” by the delivery of two planeloads of supplies to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. That kind of caring and helping others can give a team a sense of a greater purpose, and create a caring culture.
  • Help your players relax, be themselves, and enjoy the game.
  • Understand when and how to coach the player. Cora related that the night before pitcher Ryan Brasier had struggled in the 9th inning and that he had deferred talking to him until he could reflect, watch film, and hear what Ryan thought and felt. The lesson for youth coaches? Don’t just jump in “in the moment” to critique, stop, think, watch film (if you have it), talk to the player and see what the player thinks or feels before you coach them.
  • When a player struggles, be patient. Cora talked about how coaches were patient with him, and how he did that for his players, including, in 2018, with Jackie Bradley Jr.
  • Be honest. Cora values honesty – he did as a player, and he does now as a manager.
  • Competition motivates players. Cora related how his players are motivated by periodic, competitive “player of the day” contests, competing for the title with extra effort and enthusiasm.
  • Incentives motivate players too, even in the MLB. Incentives, or goals to work towards, can also change a player’s behavior. Cora described Rafael Devers last year as swinging at every pitch and walking once a month. Cora wanted him to be more selective at the plate and take an occasional walk. So when Cora figured out that Devers loved Chipotle, he offered him a Chipotle gift card for every walk—Devers started walking more, and Cora paid up in gift cards. Though Cora confessed he had to abandon that approach when he saw that, with all that free Chipotle Devers, started moving more slowly.
  • Learn from others. Cora related how he has learned something from every coach or manager he has had or worked with, from his father to AJ Hinch.
  • Find Balance. – Cora talked about the need for balance in life and sports, an important lesson for sports parents. Referencing the story about how on the morning of his debut as an MLB manager, Cora smilingly recalled how the press asked him what he had done that morning and he replied that he had bought diapers for his then one-year old twins! While he appreciates the passionate fans and media in Boston, Cora counselled that it is “nonstop” and you have to turn it off and “shut out the noise” to focus on family and life outside the game. That lesson is an important one for parents and families trying to balance multiple kids playing multiple sports with family life.
  • Value Family. Cora spoke admiringly about all that his brother Joey, who is an Infield and Third Base Coach for the Pirates, and his mother, Iris Amaro, who raised him after his father’s death when Cora was just 13, and who remains a source of strength for him.


New Balance’s Joe VanBuskirk, PCA-NE Board Member, presenting Alex Cora with NB/PCA pullover.

New Balance’s Joe VanBuskirk, a PCA Board Member, presented Alex Cora, a member of the New Balance family of athletes, with a New Balance pullover with the PCA logo on the sleeve, in appreciation for his genuine caring and commitment to the people of Puerto Rico, and sports done right.


Ethan Goldman and Vinh Bui, PCA National Double-Goal Coach Award winners with Alex Cora.

Positive Coaching Alliance recognized two New England coaches, basketball coach Vinh Bui of Shooting Touch and New Mission High School and soccer coach Ethan Goldman of Boston SCORES, who are among just 50 coaches selected from among thousands nationwide as PCA National Double-Goal® coaches for their exceptional commitment to and care for the young athletes they coach.


Harvard basketball Coach and PCA National Advisory Board member Tommy Amaker with Alex Cora.


Caring can lead to championships.

THANK YOU.

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