Jul 19, 2018
Sage Advice

Roosevelt High School entered the 2017 season with lofty goals, including a Class A South Dakota State High School Championship. The Sioux Falls school exceeded even its highest aspirations, going 33-0 and cementing a place in South Dakota baseball history as the first team in Class A to go undefeated. The skipper behind the team’s success is Head Coach Joel Sage, who was named the 2017 High School Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association.

How did Sage turn talent into a perfect season? To start, he’s always believed in forming strong bonds with his players. “My philosophy is to establish great relationships and understand what motivates my players,” says Sage.

He gains this knowledge and builds these relationships through daily conversations, not just about baseball but also about the players’ lives outside the sport. “I want every player in my program to have a great experience,” says Sage. “That requires getting to know them as people, helping them understand their role, and showing them that I care.”

Another part of his philosophy involves working hard to get everyone on the same page. “I want to make sure everyone is focused on the same goals and players are bonding,” Sage says. “To me, the teams that really stand out are the ones where the guys are very close, care about each other, and want to achieve the same things.”

One way he does this is through “Program Unity,” in which players from Roosevelt’s freshman/sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity teams support each other on days when multiple teams play at the same time. Through this program, as each squad finishes their game, they do their best to watch the remainder of the other games and cheer on their schoolmates.

For the varsity team, Sage feels one of the biggest positive changes last season was a spring trip to Florida — something Roosevelt teams hadn’t done before due to concerns about the cost and logistics. “The trip required a tremendous amount of fundraising, and that meant the guys spent even more time together than usual,” says Sage. “For example, they did post-game cleaning at the Sanford Pentagon after college basketball games. They also helped out at an air show. In addition to paying for the trip, these activities helped them bond as a team.”

Sage also works hard to develop leadership in team members. “I regularly talk with every player, but I have even more conversations with our top leaders,” says Sage. “We discuss leading both by example and through what they say. We want to cultivate their skills and make sure they are leading the right way.”

This emphasis on leadership manifested itself in the way Sage’s 2017 team approached each game. “The kids wanted to give everything they had to the game they love, and they stayed positive through whatever adversity came their way,” says Sage. “We helped them with this by remaining a calm, positive, and optimistic influence throughout the season.”

In addition to coaching the Roosevelt team, Sage has enjoyed success as the coach of multiple American Legion summer teams. These teams included players from several area high schools, which gave him extra insight into what inspires teenage athletes. “This was a chance to compete at a higher level,” says Sage, who stepped down from American Legion coaching at the end of the 2017 season to spend more time with his family. “Anytime you are involved in more games, you become better, not only at making decisions, but also at managing and motivating players.”

Looking back at his team’s perfect season, Sage is proud of the way his athletes worked toward a common goal. But he does not define success by wins and losses. “It was a record-breaking year and I will never forget it,” he says. “But I feel the same about the other teams I’ve coached, too. I have loved all of my players and I appreciate the time and effort they put into the sport that we all love.”

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