BY WENDY M. DODD | PHOTOS BY BOB THOMPSON, THOMPSON BRAND IMAGES
If you want to be a champion: train like one, play like one, walk like one. This is a mantra Coach Ryan Pryor lives by. Coach Pryor, a seasoned ball player with a coaching career spanning 25 years at every level of the game, boasts an impressive resume that includes multiple district, regional and state titles he lead his teams to win throughout those years. Pryor was featured in ‘Health Beyond Medicine’ in 2008 for his fitness experience and development of the Pocket Personal Workout Game.
With a deep passion for finding a diamond in the rough when it comes to kids, Coach Pryor’s approach to teaching players stretches well beyond the traditional methods of pitching and batting practice. Pryor believes baseball can also provide a much-needed opportunity to learn lasting life lessons that will help further each child’s potential in the game of life. On a beautiful day in Wesley Chapel, Resident Magazine sat down with Coach Pryor for an exclusive look at how an uncle’s opportune encouragement and a father’s deep-rooted guidance, helped initiate a lifelong passion for baseball and encouraged one man’s desire to instill that in others.
Established in September of 2016; The Ranch is a 5-acre haven for kids of all ages who aspire to learn the necessary skills and discipline involved in becoming a great ball player. With seven batting cages, a pitching arena hosting 7 bull pens, multiple drill fields, conditioning corral and 300 foot long toss throwing lanes, The Ranch has all the necessary amenities to assist players in reaching their highest potential in every area of the game.
RM: Tell us about your family and where you grew up.
CP: My father, Jack Pryor, was a Colonel in the military, so I grew up as a military brat. I went to three different high schools and we lived in a number of different states, traveling back and forth from the east coast to the west coast and the mid-west. I have a sister, Michelle, who is two years younger than me. My dad played baseball in college and was on the 1963 State Championship Team at Fresno City College with Tom Seaver, who was a Hall of Fame pitcher in the big leagues. He also coached at the minor league and division 1 collegiate level. So growing up as a kid, I was always around baseball. Since my dad was a big baseball guy, it was just kind of natural that I was going to follow suit playing the game. I grew up playing all the youth levels, in high school and in college.
I come from a large family on my mom, Sherryl’s side, the Garcia family. My Grandfather Delmar Garcia had 7 brothers and 6 sisters, and one of his brothers had a big cattle ranch out in California that we used to visit during the spring to mend fences and brand cattle along with whatever else needed doing, all while have good times on the ranch with family.
RM: Tell us about your family now; your wife and kids.
CP: I met my wife Liz in Lennox Massachusetts in the summer of 1995. I was a baseball director for a large camp called Camp Mackeenac, and Liz was working at a gymnastics camp called Belvoir in the same area. She was a coach there and had competed in rhythmic gymnastics for Great Britain at the World Championships. She actually competed against Nastia Liukin’s mom, who was No.1 in the world at the time for rhythmic gymnastics. We happened to meet at a pub that summer and shortly after that summer I found my way to England to get married and coach the British National baseball team. My oldest daughter Alexis, who is now fifteen, was born in Manchester UK and my youngest daughter Addison was born here in the US. She’s is three, and a firecracker (laughs). In July, Liz and I will celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. That’s definitely been a journey. Living in one country, making that transition and the culture shock that goes along with it. Learning to understand the culture, then coming across the pond and getting to know this country.
RM: When you look back on your life, what is one experience that helped shape or change the way you see the world?
CP: In my senior year of college, I was ready to tap out and just throw in the towel. My Uncle Jeff knew I was having a tough time. One day he pulled me into his office, and to this day it still makes my hair stand up. He said to me, “Ryan, I know you’re having some hard times. I want you to know I have a lot of respect for you. I’m truly proud of you and everything that you’re doing. You’re earning your way, you’re working your butt off and you’re not going to quit now. You’re going to finish this, I know you will. You’re too close, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to finish this.”
That moment my life changed. Somebody took notice and spoke up. He saw potential in me, and he saw a future.
Literally, that did change my life. It made me a lot stronger going into my adult life. When I look back at what I did and what I accomplished, I was like “man, how did I do that?” Judging by the high school days, I wasn’t supposed to go to college, I wasn’t supposed to earn a master’s degree or have a business. That just wasn’t my future, but it panned out. I think my biggest pivotal moment was my Uncle Jeff saying, “Look, you’re good enough”. I take that experience into everything I do with the kids I now work with.
RM: What are you most proud of in your career?
CP: A lot of people think about the accolades, and I’ve won a lot of championships and medals, but I think my biggest success is really the ability to see the potential in kids.
Also, giving parents a different way to approach certain things from a coaching standpoint. I’ve taken my own life lessons and experiences, I essentially bottled it. I came up with this magical formula that seems to be working. In five years, every kid that has come through our program has made his or her high school team. Kids that were cut their freshman year and then came to train with us went back and made their team the following season. Who’s to say that kid won’t end up going to college now because of baseball? Through baseball they’ve leveraged an opportunity because they didn’t quit. They had someone believing in them, pulling and tugging at the potential that’s there. I think through my experiences I see things in people that others might not. Whether it’s in sports or just life, I have a knack for getting the best out of them. I think that’s probably my greatest success. My accolades aren’t really success, they were just things that happened because of the process.
Starting the The Ranch is something I’m really proud of too. We started the business six or seven years ago in my garage, doing private lessons out of it for two years. We ran a summer camp out of our house one summer and we were full every week. We always talked about having a ranch; a haven for kids to come out and fish, skip rocks and do things they don’t normally get to do. We have kids that come out here who’ve never seen a live horse before. They get to be kids as well as get to learn something that they are passionate about.
RM: What is your coaching philosophy?”
CP: You have to start by developing a relationship of trust, then we can we communicate through boundaries and discipline. I hold the kids accountable to high expectations. When they mess up, they understand the consequences and why there are consequences. For example we discuss the word RESPONSIBILITY and it’s meaning to them. Then I explain that it is your ABILTY to CHOOSE your RESPONSE therefore you have to own it. You choose to hustle or not, just like you choose to have a great attitude or bad attitude.
I use some of my military skills as well; I was responsible for a whole platoon and millions of dollars of equipment. When we trained, we trained with a purpose. Not that baseball is a life-threatening situation, but the principles are the same. You have your buddies back; you’re holding each other accountable and running that ‘team’ concept through your individual skills.
With the troubled kids I’ve worked with, they know I’ve kind of lived it. I was a street kid and I can talk on their level. I’ve done it, I was that guy. For the kids I coach, I will go to bat for them and I’ll stick up for them if necessary. You have to do the right thing for the right reasons. Sometimes that is what a kid needs, someone to stand up and say to him or her or maybe to his or her parents “you aren’t going to do that anymore”.
In youth sports, sometimes the relationship between a parent and kid can be exhausting and even volatile. Most kids don’t want to listen to their parents especially when the parent is the coach or is hyper involved. Sometimes parents cheer the kids on but not in the right way. For example, “Come on Johnny get a hit! Come on Mary. Bases are loaded!” That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. Then, some parents want to become the coach when the kid gets in the car right after a game. That kid knows what happened in the game; they just played it. They don’t want to have a complete analysis during the car ride home. They just want mom and dad to love on them. We help to teach parents a better way to navigate the relationship and we’ve had a lot of success with a program called ‘Play Big Parents’. If they’re coaching we have some guidelines that will help them to have a much better relationship and lines of communication with their child. Otherwise it can get to the point where it’s just tug of war.
RM: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
CP: I was very, very close to my Grandfather Delmar Garcia and my Grandmother, Gloria. She would always bless us with holy water. My Grandfather was a hard worker; he worked as a Truck driver for over 30 years. We’d spend summers with him and he taught us how to catch lizards with straws and a lot of country things. It’s funny, after he passed, he still stayed with me. He’s still with me today. When I have days where I’m tired, he pushes me. I remember one time I was rolling up a hose at my house, and I didn’t roll it up all the way. I turned and took one step, and I heard him say, “listen here, if you’re going to do the job, do it right.” I turned around, and I went back and rolled the hose up (laughs). Bottom line, you have to put the work in and short cuts don’t work!
RM: Why did you choose to create a baseball and softball ranch instead of a traditional training camp facility?
CP: My coaching philosophy is very old school. I have a lot of old school methods, and when I say that I mean no short cuts. If you think about back in the day, like in western movies and like my Grandfather, people had to work hard for everything. Daily life was hard. To be a great ball player, you have to get up every morning, even when you don’t want to. There is work to be done; if you don’t do the work the harvest doesn’t come in. The harvest is your success; hitting great, striking guys out and to see the velocity on your pitching go up. Your harvest is in direct proportion to your work. You can’t have a million dollar dream on a minimum wage work ethic.
The Ranch itself kind of sets the tone for those ideas to take hold in the kids. It’s dirty and it can be stinky out here. You have horses and animals; you’re dealing with the elements, the heat and the mosquitoes. You’re not in a comfortable air-conditioned, cozy setting. Kids come out here and they work hard. Kids come out here and they fill up wheelbarrows. They load up buckets with rocks and carry them as part of their training. We have them rake leaves; it’s as much their facility as it is mine. The kids know they need to look after The Ranch. There are things we expect from them, like putting their equipment away because how they leave their space is important. I also liked the concept of being in the environment where you can do everything. You can drill. You can work on your defense and your offense. You can work on running or on your mental game, and there’s enough space out here to be able to do all of that.
RM: If you could tell parents one thing, what would it be?
CP: The best way a parent can help their kid is to love on them. To love on them in a way where they have an open mind to their educational and instructional development. Sometimes what happens is parents will fall prey to travel ball, social networks, clicks or leagues and that can hold their child back developmentally in some cases.
RM: What new projects do you have in the works?
CP: I’ve spent a lifetime developing skills and methods for teaching kids baseball, and honestly it’s really effective. The biggest project we have in the works is that the content we teach will soon be available online. We’ll have online courses and webinars where you can get a huge amount of valuable information, worksheets, workbooks and free downloads. We’ll be working really hard on that over the summer months, preparing to launch it in August or September. The value in that is that more people can use The Ranch as an educational resource. Leagues can use our resources for their volunteer coaches, drills for t-ball and how to run a parent meeting. All those things are going to be on the webinars and will lead you into these structured online courses that you can purchase and take at your own speed.
RM: Talk about some of the community engagement that you do.
CP: We’ve done things like Spring Flings and Fall Festivals at elementary schools; we get involved with that by providing information. We do Relay for Life yearly and we donate several sponsorships of $200 or $500 to Youth Leagues each year.
A dream of mine is to be more actively involved with childhood and adult cancer. My Mother is a cancer survivor and my Grandfather Garcia passed away from cancer. One of my students, Grant, who I started coaching five years ago, his mom passed away two years ago after a long battle with cancer. Her name was Julie Parker, and we had become good friends over the time I spent coaching her son. She loved baseball and she loved watching her kids play ball. I made her a promise, as long as Grant was with me, as long as he wants to play, I’m going to help him get as far as he can go. I told her, I am in his corner and I will never leave.
I discussed with Julie prior to her passing the idea of starting up the Julie Parker Foundation. At some point in my journey I want to raise awareness and provide a legitimate scholarship fund for kids who have a family member or parent with cancer so that we can take on some of that burden. We’ll take the kids, pick them up and let them have some fun. If softball or baseball is something they enjoy, we can provide that here at The Ranch.
RM: Thirty years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
CP: I read an analogy in Tony Robbins book I believe, about where the richest place on Earth is. Where is the richest place on earth? Is it Fort Knox? Is it this or that?
No, the richest place on Earth is the cemetery.
The cemetery holds businesses that were never built, books that were never written and poetry never spoken. The idea is that the potential was buried and the value was lost. Whatever you’re going to do… Baseball… Life… Put it all on the table.
I have a monster goal. What I want to do is become the leading educator of information and processes for youth baseball and softball. I’ll be working on the vision and growth of the online courses so that people all over the world have access to the high level of training techniques that we use here at The Ranch. I want to share that legacy of “if you want to play like a Rockstar, you need to train like a Rockstar.” Our vision is to be the go-to company when you think of youth education and instruction for baseball and softball. You’re going to look to one place and it’s going to be to the Rockstar LEARN IT & TEACH IT Certification Program.
Responsibility, opportunity, ability and results, those are just a few of the life lessons Coach Ryan Pryor will inspire in your player as they train at Rockstar Baseball and Softball Ranch in Wesley Chapel. A positive attitude and a supportive presence early on in a child’s life can make all the difference in the paths they choose to take and Coach Pryor takes this fundamental outlook and transforms each of his players into the best possible version of him or herself.
The Ranch is a reflection of those inspirational moments with family, the inspiring words and mentoring from his Father, Mother, Grandfather and Uncle Jeff at those crucial moments, which lead Coach Pryor on this journey to it’s opening last September. It’s about supporting your community and bettering your community. It’s going that extra step to help those that may need a little more support in life. Each child comes to Rockstar Baseball and Softball at The Ranch to learn more about a sport they love and in the process, they gain meaningful life skills and learn to become a more well-rounded ROCKSTAR!
To begin training like a Rockstar this summer, check out Summer Camp (Ages 5-12) and our High School Summer League/Training program (Ages 13-18) at www.rockstarball.com or contact Coach Pryor at 813 992 1030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org