Many troubling issues in youth sports have been around forever and it is understandable that they will never go away. I often wonder though, if there is anything being done to help ease some of the unfortunate situations that come about. Two of these issues that I am dedicated to improving so that coaches learn how to coach baseball in the best ways possible.
When to Coach and Bring it!
The best coaches realize that creating, maintaining, and performing the fundamentals are the keys to team and individual success. One of my favorite sayings from an unknown author is, "Doing something right and doing something almost right is the difference between success and failure." In baseball, fundamentals come down to four basic ingredients catching the ball, hitting the ball, throwing the ball and running the bases. Teams that do those things the best, win.
Almost every practice I watch involving baseball teams, I notice players warm up with little or no coaching being done at the start. Coaches are talking to each other or dealing with everything except what the players do at this time. What coaches do not understand is that the first 15 to 20 minutes of practice is that when players play catch, run, swing bats and prepare for that days workout, habits are formed. In this warm-up period, players may have thrown, swung and caught the ball incorrectly a combined one hundred times or more. Wow - with players reinforcing a motor skill that many times, it becomes very difficult to ever change that habit. Often, those repetitions are far and away the most times players will perform a skill at a given practice. Multiply those repetitions by the number of practice warm-ups over the course of the season and a case can be made that many players are reinforcing a bad habit most of the time.
When coaches who do not teach during warm-ups, which as mentioned are when the fundamentals are being formed, they are letting their players down. Simply put, there is no more important time for coaches to coach then during warm-ups. It is easy for coaches to "coach" during games but what separates good coaches from average coaches is the ability to focus on the fundamentals during warm-ups. It always amazes me to see coaches get upset at players for errors and strikeouts when they are not being taught by the coach, or at least with the correct teachings.
By the time players reach the varsity baseball level they usually can perform the basic fundamentals, so strict observation of their warm-ups are not as mandatory. For levels below that, coaches should be alert to players' actions during these times. It is paramount that coaches observe and coach during their team's warm-up period. With this in mind, here are some tips for doing this:
1. Make warm-up time the most important time of practice by emphasizing it through your attention to detail and with the most "praise" of correct fundamentals at this time.
3. Coaches should especially focus on the mechanics from the ground up. The footwork of throwing, fielding, hitting, and running are crucial for all that follows, and then observe the upper body actions.
4. With hitting, focus on balance the most. I always tell kids that they should swing the bat and not let the bat swing them. Setting up properly will allow the upper and lower body to coordinate and give them a chance at the correct swing path.
5. Remember, the warm-up time the most important time of practice, so emphasize it through your attention to detail and with the most "praise" and "critiques" of correct fundamentals at this time.
6. Having players perform drills slowly at first until they are done correctly, then gradually increasing the speed of them is best. For example, there is no reason to go to quick-hands, throwing drills before kids know how to catch the ball correctly.
7. Patience and persistence by the coach will be necessary. Coaches may have to repeat themselves constantly, but good coaches do not allow players to get away with incorrect habits in any of these areas.
8. Use of a positive voice tone with statements like, "Remember, how I showed you to do it," or "˜Don't forget what we are working on."
9. Many kids are more visual learners, so coaches should either demonstrate or have other players, who are doing it correctly, demonstrate. Bringing pictures of the correct way is useful, too.
10. Recognition of players who warm up correctly and those that appear focused on doing things correctly is always good. Praise with enthusiasm, it will lift the players' enthusiasm and self-confidence.
11. Handing out little rewards for players who work the hardest in warm-ups, as opposed to the star of the games, can help stress the importance of warming up correctly.
12. Adding little competitive contests that attest to the right fundamentals can increase the work on an area without boredom setting in.
Coaches Training on How to Coach Baseball
I may have gotten ahead of myself with this first suggestion for how to coach baseball. Coaches can only teach the fundamentals during warm-ups if they are trained correctly to know what to look for. I often hear parents complain that their child's baseball coach is not very good. Sometimes, this is just a way for parents to justify their child's lack of improvement or success. That is a topic for another day. Often though, I believe parents have a legitimate gripe. I have been around youth baseball enough to have recognized their point.
In defense of coaches, especially volunteer youth coaches, they do not have a chance because they have not been trained properly on how to coach baseball. It takes time, study and experience to see the fast-moving fundamentals of baseball and to be able to recognize good habits from bad. It takes time to develop good coaching skills and time to develop a "good eye" for sports skill recognition. I played major league baseball, but that did not make me a good baseball instructor. What made me a good instructor was putting in the time to study the fundamentals of the game by observing and working with ballplayers. Only then did I get to the point where I could observe when the fundamentals were being done correctly.
I certainly do not want to discourage adults from coaching and it is an admirable thing when adults volunteer to help kids. But, they must do a little homework to know the up to date teaching and skill techniques. The way things were taught years ago is outdated.
Of course, some parents have unrealistic expectations of their kid's coaches. Many expect volunteer coaches to be experts at the game and with dealing with kids. However, in defense of parents, they should expect that coaches have a good understanding of the game and a coaching manner that is respectful of kids and that their knowledge is adequate for the level played.
Learning how to create a learning environment begins with this
Organizations, leagues, and schools need to do a better job of training coaches to learn, recognize, and fix players' fundamentals. Coaching training for how to deal with youth should also be done. Requiring coaches to attend one pre-season coaching clinic is not adequate. Leagues that want kids to have a positive baseball experience should have mandatory pre-season and on-going training for coaches.
This may seem unrealistic but with the ease of passing information these days through the internet, there is no excuse for a lack of on-going training. At the least, leagues could require coaches to watch videos, read instructional books and suggest on-line informational sites for baseball fundamentals and for how to work with kids in a positive coaching manner. Most of this information is available for free so there is o excuse for it being costly.
When coaches sign up to coach, they could be required to sign a pledge that they will follow up with the suggested training. Continually helping coaches understand the game and how to treat kids in a positive, fun and self-esteem building manner would benefit all and provide kids with the positive experience they deserve. Even if a handful of players have more positive experiences because of the extra coaching training, it would be well worth it. It would definitely help decrease the negativity that often exists between coaches, parents, and players.
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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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