Baseball coaches often fall into the trap of trying to change every bad habit that players have at the first baseball practice or two. They forget how difficult it is to make just one muscle memory change. Additionally, when kids receive so much instruction and expectation, they become overwhelmed, immediately. Coaches should learn to focus on one thing at a time, giving kids a chance to focus on making one change at a time. In general, it is best that coaching focus begins with players' lower half of the body.
Coaches have no reason to raise their eyes above players' feet at the first few practices, because the feet give players the base for performing all baseball skills. Incorrect feet positioning and incorrect footwork make the upper body actions much tougher to perform, if not impossible. Once players balance and alignment is off even slightly, bad habits often follow, and that balance and alignment begins with feet positioning. Coaches should pay great attention to the feet at the beginning. Once players have correct alignment, balance, and footwork, coaches can move on to upper body actions.
As with most baseball coaching tips, recognizing the wrong way to do things is the first thing, before making suggestions on fixing them. Following are the most common mistakes youth players make, when hitting, throwing, and fielding, along with suggestions to fix the problems. It is worth noting that sometimes it is necessary to have players practice things in the opposite way, even though that may be incorrect too, in order to meet in the middle with the correct way.
Of course the first fix at every baseball skill is coaching players to play on the balls of the feet, not flat footed, done with the correct positioning of the players head, with a slight lean forward.
Hitting lower-half mistakes
Penguin stance some batters point both feet out and away from home plate, as a penguin, making it more difficult to concentrate their power and meet the ball out front of home, with the rear foot pointing towards the catcher.
Open or closed stance an open or closed stance may work for advanced baseball players, but it usually leads to hitting mistakes for young ballplayers. Teaching players to hit with an even stance, with both toes equal distance from home plate (parallel) is best.
Weight not centered on inside of feet this takes a little keener coaching eye, but it is best that players not only adhere to the two above suggestions, but also to have their weight on the insides of their feet, as if they were pinching their knees together. This helps players keep their lower half energy bottled up until swinging.
* The distance between player's feet in the batter's stance is personal preference, as long as the basics of balance are present.
Throwing lower half mistakes
The main culprit here is a lazy turn of the rear throwing foot, when setting up to throw. When the front shoulder does not have a chance to point at the target or remain at the target as they step and throw because of incorrect rear foot action, throwing fundamentals and accuracy go out the window. Every throwing mechanic starts with correct feet alignment, so it is crucial coaches pay attention to this initial foot action. A ninety-degree turn of the rear throwing foot sets the stage for everything to follow.
Landing heel first with the throwing stride foot also leads to imbalance and direction issues. Having players practice by landing ball of foot first is best for keeping a closed front side, too.
Fielding lower half mistakes
As kids tend to spend less time with fielding, this is often an overlooked aspect of the game, with great footwork the whole key to fielding success.
Fielding begins with players getting to optimum balance position in ready position, along with optimum distance between the feet, so they maximize the first step to any ball hit their way. This foot position is different than hitting position and more like a basketball player guarding someone, as the feet will angle out slightly to a natural position, as when walking. Nowhere is the head position more important in baseball than with fielding as it allows players to get to balls in all states on the ground and in the air and to be under balance to throw the ball, after fielding, in the quickest manner possible.
As mentioned, only after players become proficient with their footwork should coaches raise their eyes to other body parts.
After playing major league baseball, Jack Perconte has taught baseball and softball since 1988 and offered valuable coaching training too. He has helped numerous youth players reach their potential, as well as having helped parents and coaches navigate their way through the challenging world of youth sports. Jack is one of the leading authorities in the areas of youth baseball training and coaching training advice.All Jack Perconte articles are used with copyright permission.
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