OVER COACHING IN YOUTH BASEBALL
When a batter swings and misses on the first pitch, how many of us have seen all the batting coaches in the dugout and even the bleachers yelling out instructions? You’ll hear shouts of “elbow up,” or “elbow down.” Or you might hear “Billy, get closer to the plate” or “Billy, step back from the plate.” We all hear this one, usually with two strikes: “Billy, choke up on the bat.” How about a coach or parent having the batter call time out after two strikes so he can switch bats? The grown up will convince the player that the bat he is using is either too heavy, or in some cases, too light. I may be wrong, but I truly believe one of the worst things a coach or parent can do to young athletes is to over coach them. When I was coaching years ago I hit a hot streak and won about four championships in five years. Everyone thought I was an incredible coach. I was a lot younger than I am now, enjoying all the attention and fanfare. Unfortunately, my maturity was lacking and I foolishly decided that I reinvented baseball myself and began changing the way I coached. One of the things I did was deviate from my regular practice routine. I started to practice offense one day and defense another day. As you could imagine this didn’t work well at all and I learned a hard lesson. I also learned from this experience that in youth baseball you are much better off under coaching the kids rather than over coaching them. I’ll give you a couple of examples. I remember once we were playing a team outside our league and the coach put two coaches in the stands with walkie talkies while another coach in the dugout fielded their comments with his own walkie-talkie. Since then, most leagues are not allowed to have any electronic devices in the dugout. I was amazed that on almost every pitch they were on the walkie talkies moving their fielders twelve inches one way and eight inches another way. It was mind boggling. I also remember a game where the coach would move players to different positions on each batter. For instance, when the opposing team’s power hitter was up, he might switch the shortstop and put him in centerfield. Besides wasting time during the game, a player can never get comfortable in one position. This too was truly ridiculous. There are loads of resources out there. There is so much content available in the form of books, videos, and articles that are easy to get on a computer or smart phone. Today most parents have a better chance of becoming a successful coach or baseball parent than they did years ago. I know parent/coaches that spend a good part of their daily train commute educating themselves on coaching their own kids. You have a choice to pick and choose the techniques and philosophy that make sense to you and develop your own coaching personality. You are allowed to take bits and pieces from coaches you admire, but it drives me crazy how coaches will complicate the great game of baseball for kids twelve and under. I remember coaching an All Star team and my assistant was amazed that I only had three defensive plays on first and third situations. I asked him how many he had and he answered proudly “We have twelve defensive plays for first and third situations.” I told him I have enough problems remembering my own coaching signs. How does a ten year-old know all twelve plays? When it comes to coaching youth sports, how about doing it with the K.I.S.S. principle? Keep It Simple Stupid! We are better off keeping all the coaching signs and defensive signs simple and spend more times teaching fundamentals to these kids. I used the same coaching signs for years. I would convince my team that it doesn’t matter if the other team knows when we are bunting or when we are stealing. The fact that we all practiced the correct fundamentals gives us a better than 50% chance we would be successful. And we were!
Here are a few suggestions to keep the game simple and not over coach your team, and your own kids.
1) Don’t overdue it with the most expensive equipment. You can give a person the best scalpel and surgery equipment in the world but unless he is a talented surgeon the equipment won’t make any operation a success.
2) Keep your baserunning signs simple, really simple. When I knew that my teams were going to have a hard time with the signs, I only used a few, and added another as the season went on.
3) Keep your defensive coaching to a minimum as far as positioning the players or having first and third defensive plays.
4) Use the “Progression Method.” For instance, if a player strikes out trying to bunt, but made contact with any of the pitches, emphasize that at the team’s next practice with positive reinforcement.
5) When your players are in the batter’s box, no one in the dugout or in the stands are allowed to yell out instructions. This should be done in practices.
6) Keep practices shorter rather than longer. If you prepare and are organized, your practices should last no longer than 60-90 minutes.
7) Stick to the fundamentals and do it in a fun way. With the resources available you have an endless amount of hitting and fielding drills that include both fun and skill-building.
8) Pep talks should be kept to a bare minimum. Too many of us turn into Knute Rockne with 10, 11, and 12 year-old kids. Just give them a quick talk before and after each game and always bring out the positives no matter how bleak a situation may end up.
Baseball is really a simple game. It gets complicated by leagues, coaches, and parents. I can’t help but remember the great Willie Mays when he was asked the question about what makes him so great. The person asking the questions looked like he was waiting for the “Holy Grail” answer for baseball stardom. Willie was going to let him and the public in on his secret. Willie smoothly answered the question. “When they pitch the ball I hit it. And when they hit the ball I catch it.”
You have to love Willie Mays. Let’s keep baseball simple!