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Teaching Baseball to Kids

Read how I fail so you don't have to.

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Outfield backups

Once the ball is put in play in baseball, it’s natural for everyone else on the field (hopefully except for whoever the ball is hit near) to watch the play. Players learn over time (sometimes a looooong time) to move as a unit no matter where they are. The takeaway for kids ages 7-18 is there isn’t ever a play where you can’t hustle and move somewhere to help back something up. Teaching them the correct spot to be in is (to me) secondary to simply getting them to MOVE! Once you have them moving you can move on to finer things like, being where they’re supposed to be.🙂

Outfield

Outfielders have the most ground to cover both making a play on a ball and backing up. They get unfairly criticized in SOME cases when they’re positioned specifically away from the line, and expected to back a play up down the line. There’s ways we can try to mitigate this as coaches, teaching them (it’s almost football season here, I can’t help but think about position responsibilities) a sort of priority list.

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OPENING_CEREMONY_1_LCO_8265543-600x402Coaches -we want to emulate teams where you want your kids to be, NOT where they are/were. Look to see how College or MLB teams handle aspects you have questions about. One thing I see all the time is complete lack of leadership by coaches who let or encourage classless chatter on the field. My argument has always been – show me a good high school program, college team, MLB team that chants to try and get inside opposing teams’ heads. I’ll wait.🙂

So what exactly does that look like? How do we teach our teams to act like squads at the next level?

What they do:
1 – Have fun in the dugout – even in the MLB!

2 – Help base-runners on base and lift up batters

3 – Pick up/build up/cheer on their own teammates in the field

What they don’t do:
1 – Try to make batters miss, try to rattle the other team at bat (no matter what situation)

2 – Try to make fielders miss balls, or distract defenders

3 – Try to put other team members down

I’ve never understood why a coach stands by while his entire defense screams SWING when a young batter is trying to hit a ball. There are only a few places this is ever done consistently – PeeWee baseball and girls softball. Why in the world would you want your team to look/sound like that? High School teams don’t sing chants or get batters to swing. College players don’t do that, and MLB players never do that. Don’t you want to emulate the next level and teach your players to start behaving like those already there?

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DO

fullwindup.com-Teach situational base-running in every situation. Teach it again, then remind them. Again.
-Teach them to be self-sufficient on the base-paths. They can’t be truly aggressive unless THEY understand base-running.
-Constantly check outfield depth and alignment. You’ll be more prepared to make a call, especially on third.
-Practice giving signs to base-runners.
-Understand who is at bat, who is coming behind him. There is no need to be super aggressive when you have good hitters coming to bat behind the runner. Vice versa also applies – be aggressive with hitters coming up that have been struggling.
-Know how many outs there are. ALWAYS.
-Know the score. ALWAYS.
-Watch the catcher warm up. Usually the catcher wants to show off his arm with a game like throw. Pay attention.
-Watch the outfielders warm up. Same thing. If a kid has a cannon, you can usually tell in warm-ups. Kids with cannons LOVE to show them off.
-Watch the infielders warm up. Who will get in front of a ball? Who won’t?
-Be respectful. If you’re up 8-10 runs, take it easy. Yes there are exceptions to that, pool play where runs scored matters, among other special circumstances. I’ve never been in a situation where showing class hurts you.

DO NOT

-Tell a runner to do something they’ll never ever do when kids get older. I see so many coaches telling kids to do so many stupid things on base that will get them easily thrown out as they get older. Teach them how to be good fundamental baserunners, if they’re quick enough to play games in High School then let his coach there unleash him. How many pro’s or college players do you see being complete idiots on the base-paths? I’ll wait while you check…
-Don’t play cat and mouse games. See above. Still waiting…
-Have all batters square around to bunt until they see a strike. Again, you’re trying to take advantage of young pitchers to win youth baseball games. Does that make you feel good to win kids baseball games being cheap? If so, you’re at the wrong website. If you’re trying to become a girls softball coach, just take the plunge and go away.
-Use the word ‘NO!’ It’s really really close to ‘GO!’.🙂
-Have a hitter square around to bunt then take a full swing. Ever. In tournaments that we play in if a batter does that he’s kicked out of the game – sometimes the coach goes with him. These kids are being taught to crash if they see batters squaring around and they don’t have reaction times of older boys/men. You’re being irresponsible and dangerous. Stop it.

helpful-baseball-drills.comThe message here is to teach kids and equip them with their own base-running knowledge. There are way way way too many coaches out there that try to win youth baseball games by themselves. Teach your kids to win, then let them do it the right way. I’ll take a team of self-sufficient aggressive base-runners over a cat and mouse coach that is doing everything he can to deceive and rattle 9-12 year old kids ANY DAY. Don’t be that guy.🙂

StanceYou might have visions of the kid you think will be a dominant catcher dancing in your head – throwing runners out, picking them off, calling games, etc., I did too. While there are great catchers out there at 9 years old there are a few things I learned last year that I’ll pass along that will help ah…temper those expectations. Hopefully those of you with much more experience will chime in with comments too.

I had 4 kids I thought would be decent catchers. One was a lineman type – big, but deceptively quick. 2 of them were physically the same kid – big, physical, fast, great arms – but vastly different mental makeups. The last one was kind of an odd choice, he was my starting shortstop/number 1 pitcher. My theory was I wanted kids who I thought could learn the position, and let my best athlete join in too.

Going into the season, I canvassed every coach I knew that had gone through this ‘first year’ of real baseball. They all said you need to treat catcher as a top priority. I took my 4 catchers and got them signed up for catching lessons locally from someone I trusted. The instructor was an EXCELLENT communicator and worked with them 6 sessions. Here’s a few sections on what we went over.

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Pros:
Base-running – The kids absolutely love leading off and stealing just like MLB players. They think they’re big-shots and they have a blast. Starting them early will hopefully develop base-running instincts faster. I say hopefully because there are coaches who’re ruining solid baseball instincts by sending every kid in every situation and not teaching situational base-running. If winning 9 year old baseball games is your goal, I guess this is probably the wrong place for you?
Real baseball – It’s very close to real baseball. I see the argument that playing the game at this age will help them get used to this style faster.

Cons:
Pitching – Not sure if this is a con or not, but at the minimum it’s another stress on the athlete that wasn’t otherwise there. Holding runners on CAN take away from concentration, but again, it’s a skill a pitcher will have to develop anyway. The argument I consistently hear is that this 9 year old (and sometimes 10) should be just to let the pitcher worry about pitching. I haven’t noticed that this is a huge deal to pitchers at 9 years old. They adjust pretty fast.
Catching – This is probably my biggest concern with modified HS rules. Catcher development is being stunted at 9 years old with mod. HS rules. They will not throw runners out at second base, (at best EXTREMELY rarely) lots of times coaches won’t even have them throw down to second. If your focus is on development, and you still have your catcher throw down no matter what, it’s better than nothing. I don’t think it helps confidence levels with the catcher, and if anything I think it might lead them to being lazy with that throw since they know they can’t throw the runner out. The throw to 3rd is different, and gives the catcher a better chance to throw out a stealing runner. Still not great because of the lead (especially at second, the lead is generally bigger) but at least a chance.

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Lots of Dads want to coach baseball. This is a great, healthy thing that I highly recommend to anyone that is even thinking about doing it. Some of the best memories I have playing baseball were on teams that my Dad coached. Being a coach is tons of fun, and can be rewarding – but I’ll be brutally honest here: If you want to be a great coach…it takes TONS of work.

I’m heading into my first season as a full-time travel coach. (this just means we aren’t playing in a recreation league- I’m not getting paid.) I challenged the players and their parents in our initial meeting last fall saying;

I’m going to hold everyone to a higher standard next year – players, parents and coaches. If I expect more out of your kids, I’m going to expect more of out all the coaches too.

I’ve taken that very seriously and have put in more time and organization into this team than I have my entire sports coaching career. Is that the answer for everyone? No – not at all. I just wanted to make sure that this team won’t fail because the coach wasn’t prepared or knowledgeable. I wanted to start day one with the type of attention to detail that I’d want my players to have on the field.

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All your bases are belong to TY

If you want an indicator (there are many, and this isn’t the only one) of a good coach, watch the team run bases. Good youth teams have kids that don’t need to be told every detail, they’re already anticipating them. Good base-runners aren’t necessarily fast; my best base-runner isn’t the fastest on the team. He’s constantly putting pressure on the defense and TAKES his opportunities from the other team. He’s always looking to take the next base, but he’s not reckless. He anticipates things and never hesitates once he’s made a decision. It’s almost like he has an attitude when he’s on the base-paths – like a tiger pacing in a cage dying for the opportunity to be free.

Ty Cobb ran the bases with this mindset:

I say this: I ran the bases hard at all times, and I’m proud of that…I saw no reason why the base-runner should be a hunted thing, a rabbit chased by wolves. When his team was at bat, he was supposed to be on the all-out attack. But it wasn’t working that way when I broke into the game—just the contrary. I wanted a clear shot at the bag, under the rules, and I went after it. I have dozens of spike scars, from my ankles to my thighs, to show for that point of view. I also left a few marks of my own around the league

– Ty Cobb

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