How To Effectively Hold A Runner At First Base ...it starts with state of mind

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THE SUMMER TOURNAMENT SEASON IS HEATING UP.  THIS INVOLVES A LOT OF KIDS PLAYING

LEAD-OFF BASEBALL FOR THE FIRST TIME, OR PLAYING LEAD-OFF BASEBALL WITH LIMITED PRIOR

EXPERIENCE.  THIS ARTICLE SHARES INSIGHT TO HELP OUR YOUNG PLAYERS EXCEL WHEN

DEALING WITH THE CHALLENGE OF HOLDING RUNNERS.

 

 

 

 

The pitcher makes a pick to first ......ohhhhhhhhhh, it gets past the first baseman and the runner moves up to scoring position...

 

 

 

Often when there is a runner on first, we are concerned about them stealing second.  We try picking them off and the next thing we know we've handed them the next base without making them earn it.  Or worse, the overthrow gets down the right field line and the runner advances to third on the play.

Success in baseball is often a matter of minimizing mistakes.   At the youth level of play, in can be argued, the result of the majority of games is not that the winning team 'won' the game, but rather the losing team 'lost' the game ...by making too many mistakes ...many of which are self inflicted.

A place where losing teams self-inflict many mistakes is attempted pick-off throws. 

The flip side to this situation is, many teams that win at the youth level, where lead-offs and stealing are just being introduced, do so by keeping the opposing team from running wild on the bases. ...how do they do it?

First, they teach their pitchers and players a proper mindset for making throws to first (and bases occupied by runners in general).  Then, with that mindset established, they practice throws to bases using fundamentally sound techniques.

 

 

MINDSET

Think of what we commonly call the throw to first base: “Pick-off Move”.  That long used phrase has morphed into the mindset that the purpose of this play is to generate an out – pick the base runner off first.  Too often this results in a pitcher trying too hard to ‘pick the guy off’ and firing the ball past the first baseman. 

The pitchers’ actions become too quick, undisciplined and out of control, which leads to poor throws.  Also, pitchers often try to throw the ball too close to the ground (where the first baseman would be in a better position to apply a tag).  “Hey, I gotta throw the ball down by the bag, so we have a better chance to pick that guy off.”

Let’s ask ourselves the question, “what is the objective of throwing over to first base?”  Are we really trying to generate an out? …or perhaps are we simply trying to ‘Hold the runner close’? …or disrupt their timing? …or to wear them down and slow their jump? …or create anxiety by sticking in their mind that, ‘Yes, the pitcher Will throw over’?

When I was a head coach in college we changed the phrase ‘Pick Move’ to ‘HOLD Move’.  Our objective was to re-set our pitchers’ mindset when they threw to first base.  We taught them that we are not trying to ‘Pick the Runner Off’, we are working to ‘Hold Them Close’.

 

 

QUESTIONS

1. What percentage of throws to first base result in an out?  I don’t have any stats, but I’ll suggest the number is less than 5%.    

2. At the amateur/teen level of play, what is the percentage of balls thrown past the first baseman? …I don’t have a stat on that either, but I will suggest that the percentage of balls thrown past the first baseman is higher than the percentage of throws that result in an out.

We taught our college pitchers to throw to first base at the first baseman’s belt level, not low to the ground, near the bag.  By practicing with this mindset, our pitchers became very good at confidently making catchable throws.

 

 

BASE RUNNERS PICK THEMSELVES OFF

Another question to ask (and this might be easier for those of us who were base-stealers in our playing days):  

When a base-stealer is Picked Off, was it a result of the pitcher making a quick and awesome throw, or was it a result of the Runner ‘Getting Themself Out’?  ie, they were ‘leaning’, or their first move was towards second base when the pitcher threw over and as a result they were late in getting back to the base?

We told out college pitchers, “Make consistently good, catchable throws to first base and give the base runner the opportunity to ‘get themselves out’”.  Given this new mindset, our pitchers learned to coolly and confidently throw over to first more frequently.  The more we threw to first, the greater the chances of the runner making a mistake and ‘getting their self out’.  …no we didn’t throw over a zillion times each game ;) but we wouldn’t hesitate to make back to back throws to first in base stealing situations and counts.

We did not keep stats on this, so I can’t say it produced more outs, but the occurrence of ‘throwing the ball away’ was very low.

Let’s teach our pitchers the mindset of ‘Holding the Runner Close’ on their throws to first rather than making a ‘Pick Off Move’.  And, through our teaching, give them the confidence to throw over more frequently. We will reduce the number of balls being thrown away, reduce the frequency of steal attempts and, possibly, generate more outs by giving the base runners more chances of ‘getting themselves out’

 

 

TECHNIQUE FOR (Right Handed) PITCHERS THROWING to FIRST BASE

Making consistent quality throws, for any position and most throwing sports for that matter, is based on good Footwork.  The process for teaching and training pitchers to throw consistently well to first base begins with Training proper footwork.

 

Step 1 – No Ball is Used

Pitcher comes to the set position, then makes a 90 degree turn (very low two footed hop) in the direction of their glove side.  In the process they separate their hands and bring their elbows up to shoulder height to a throwing (power) position.  At the end of the action, we want their feet to be wider than shoulder width and be able to draw a straight line from the tip of their right foot, through the tip of their left foot, to first base.  The line from their back elbow, through their shoulders, to their left elbow also needs to be straight towards first base.

More than likely the pitcher’s feet and elbows/shoulders will not be lined up properly in their first try and likely not in many subsequent tries.  The purpose of the drill is to train this action, so the pitcher is in a good throwing position and lined up properly to throw to first base, each time they execute the action…this is more than a one day process.

NOTE: this drill does not need to be done on the pitcher’s mound.  It can be done along one of the foul lines in the outfield (leaving the infield area for position players to work). Also, it can be done simultaneously be your entire pitching staff.

This action is executed over and over with the pitchers and coach checking their body alignment after each repetition. – Do ten reps of the action.  

 

Step 2 – Include the Ball

After doing this ten times without a ball, add the ball to the action, so the pitcher is finishing in a proper throwing position. – Ten reps using a ball.

 

Step 3 – Throw ‘to First Base’ From the Throwing (power) Position

Have your pitchers partner-up and stand the same distance apart as is the distance between the pitching rubber and first base.  The pitchers throw to each other, from the throwing/power position, with the belt level of the ‘first baseman’ as the target (NOTE: a first baseman is bent down some when taking a throw from the pitcher, lowering the target area slightly) – Ten reps

Establish a good percentage of quality throws before moving on to Step 4.  If time allows, do not advance to Step 4 on your first day of work.  Ideally we hold off on step 4 till our third workout.

NOTE: a key to throwing accurately from this distance is putting greater emphasis on the wrist snap and bit less emphasis on the arm generating the power behind the throw.

 

Step 4 – Execute the Entire ‘Hold’ Move

It is critical that we instruct our pitchers, in the early stages of training this skill, to practice the action at a Controlled pace….half to three quarters speed and with just a Firm toss to first base, not all out. – Ten reps

 

 

PROGRESSION OF SKILL DEVELOPMENT

It is critical that throughout the process we are constantly working to establish the mindset that our pitchers are developing their ‘Hold Move’, not a ‘pick-off move’.  We must monitor the pace of their actions.  Kids naturally want to show how good they are at physical skills; they will try to go too fast, too soon.  We Will have to remind them to work at a Controlled pace and explain to them that First they need to develop the muscle memory of the actions.  Then, after they have demonstrated consistency in executing the actions, we can start to speed things up …on days 3, 4 and beyond.

Our objective is, by the end of the second workout, that the players develop some level of mastery of the actions and have been successful in making fairly accurate, catchable throws to ‘first base’.

On subsequent days of work, based on our observations, we direct the players to increase the speed of their actions bit by bit.  It is likely that we will not reach full speed in the actions until Day 4 or 5.  The progression of the group depends a lot on their age, how quickly they grasp the concept that they are not trying to pick the runner off and their level of focus and commitment to learning.

Once our pitchers learn the steps, we can shorten the reps to five of each and knock it out in a few minutes.  Given that the workout doesn't take long, we can incorporate it into our daily pre-game work.  As time moves on, the action of making solid, accurate throws to first base becomes second nature ...and executing this action in games becomes routine.

 

 

STRATEGY

Accomplished base stealers are constantly observing pitchers, looking for cues and patterns in order to gain an advantage.  The simplest and most obvious pattern to detect in a pitcher is the guy who never throws over to first base twice in a row. 

At the youth level and the lower levels of the amateur ranks the vast majority of pitchers only throw over to first base one time before delivering the next pitch.  After a throw over, the base runner knows the pitchers next action is going to be to deliver a pitch.  They can extend their lead a bit, lean a bit towards second and their anxiety level (concern of being picked off) is diminished a great deal.  Being in a much more relaxed state allows them to stay lose, get a better jump and perform better in their dash to second base.

Given the above training we put our pitchers and players through, along with the 'Hold Move' mindset we've instilled, we can now have a pitcher throw over to first base twice in a row with confidence.  Sometimes we even throw over three times.  By demonstrating to our opponent that we will throw over multiple times in a row, the runner now has to stay on high alert at all times.  Also, taking a lead and diving back in the dirt multiple times tires a runner.  A tired runner with a heightened level of anxiety is less likely to try to steal, or be successful when they try.

The first runner who gets on base in a game (unless they are obviously not a base-stealing threat), we want to demonstrate to our opponent that we will throw over to first base multiple times in a row.  As the game progresses throw over back-to-back times now and again to maintain the level of doubt in the other team's runners.  When a player gets on who we know is very likely to steal, we throw over three times.  We don't want to do this for no reason or make it a constant, but throwing over three times in a row a couple times a game can really demoralize our opponents base runners.

 

 

TAKING THE HEAT

If you have ever attended a college or pro game where the pitcher from the visiting team throws over to first base multiple times, what happens?  The crowd Boooos.  Many just want for the game to move along.  Others understand exactly what the pitcher is doing, and by booing they put pressure on the pitcher.

At the youth level, our kids aren't playing in front of large booing crowds.  They are however, playing in front of the adult parents of the opposing team and the adult coaches of the other team.

When your pitcher throws over to first base two or three times and has done so against multiple runners, it won't be long until one, or many, of those adults will fire an unhappy statement towards your pitcher. Even the most talented and confident kids is subject to feeling intimidated by an older, larger adult.  The pro pitchers can handle this sort of pressure.  For kids. on the other hand, such comments can be very unnerving.

During the process of training our pitchers and players to confidently and effectively throw to bases occupied by a runner, it is absolutely critical that during that training we prepare them for the reaction they will get from the adults on the opposing side.

We want to be point blank about the fact that initially it might be a bit intimidating and they might want to stop throwing over to avoid the pressure ...and hearing the disdainful tone of the comments their way.

 

After establishing with our kids that they Will hear these comments, we want to teach them a mindset for dealing with them:

1.   The rules allow for throwing to a base multiple times; they are doing nothing wrong

2.   If the coach (or base runners) of the other team doesn't want us throwing over so much, they have the option to shorten their leads.  If they want to lead off, they are inviting a throw over Its their choice.

3.   Most importantly, we teach our kids to flip the situation and react to in a positive manner.  Rather than hearing the adult comments as a negative towards their throwing over, we instill in our pitchers that they have gained the upper hand.  Those adults are frustrated because that little kid on the mound is controlling of the running game.  And they recognize the control that kid is commanding is diminishing the chances of their team to succeed.  ....the more the adults on the other side bark, the bigger the smile on our pitcher's face and the greater the assurance that they are addressing the situation the right way.

Summer Tournaments, All-Stars Prep, or Just Summer Fun ...skill building drills for youth baseball and softball

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We are transitioning into All-Stars, the Summer Tournament Season and league sponsored Summer Ball programs….and there are times we simply want to get our kids off the couch and outside doing something active during their summer break from school. 

 

In many cases the time available to work on fundamental skills, or to spend time with our kids, is limited.

 

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 The ‘Ground Ball Weave’ and ‘Three Toss Fly Ball Drill’ are drills that are easily incorporated into your plans and at almost any location.

 

These drills run at a lightning fast pace and involve change-of-pace and change-of-direction in their actions.  In these two drills our kids execute sound fundamental skills, test their athleticism, and get massive repetitions …all in a short period of time.  And kids Love ‘em!

 

Make these fun drills part of a ‘Skill Building Warm-up’ routine before the start of practice or use them to get your kids ready to go right before the next tournament game.  You can do these at the park with your own child and their friends or make them part of game-day with your league’s summer ball program.

 

 

Ground Ball Weave - "21"

This drill has three players ranging laterally fielding ground balls, making a quick ball transfer, and executing an underhand toss to a teammate.  Each of the three players participating in the drill fields and tosses seven ground balls in about 60-90 seconds.

 

It doesn’t require a person with great baseball knowledge or coaching skill to run.  This makes it easy for most any parent to run. 

 

If you need an extra adult body, so to have all the players on your team working at the same time (in multiple groups), you can grab a family member or one of your players parents to help. 

 

The drill can be explained and understood in seconds and you can assure your recruit they can help and be back in the shade with their adult beverage in five minutes.

 

 

Keys for the drill to be most effective

The coach or adult running the drill wants to roll balls at a pace that challenges each player to move fast, but still be able to field the ball using good technique.  Usually after rolling balls to each player 2-3 times the person running the drill gains a sense for the right speed to roll the ball to each player.

 

While running the drill we want to be reminding the players of the fundamental skills they are working on.  We repeat three teaching phrases during each repetition of the drill: “Wide to Catch”, “Level Toss” and “Keep Moving”.  These are described in the drill diagram below.

 

 

Competition between teammates

Because we get through a round of the drill quickly, it can be repeated several times.  See which group can get execute 21 plays (or 12 or 9…) the fastest, then challenge the others to beat the winning group when you run the drill again.  Or time your one group and see if they can execute the same number of reps faster when running the drill again.

 

 

Run this drill most anywhere

Very little equipment is needed, there are no batted balls and not much space is required.  All you need are some balls and a couple of items to serve as markers.  Often when playing in tournaments we can’t find practice space or don’t have much time to get our players some skill work and keep them sharp.  This drill can be run in foul ground next to the dugout right before your next game starts; it can be run at the back end of a paved parking lot or any level, 100 square foot surface that is available.

 

 

Ground Ball Weave - 21---.jpg

 

 

 

Fly Balls - Three Toss Drill

The player catches three different fly balls in this drill, which takes 7-8 seconds per player:

      1.      Ranging Laterally

      2.      Coming in

      3.      Going Back

 

Ideally this is run with no more than 3 or 4 players.  Once each player has been through the drill, the time spent waiting for their next turn is spent catching their breath. If we start with a bucket of 30 balls, depending on the age and skill level of the players, we can get through 15-20 reps, before having to take a break and pick up the balls. 

 

The best situation for using this drill is as a station in a skills rotation.  During a five-minute stop at this station each player will get a chance to make a play on 20-30 fly balls.

 

 

Keys for the drill to be most effective

Coach makes low arcing throws – this is Not a drill to train kids to judge high fly balls; we are working on the skill of catching a ball while on the run.  Coach is a quarterback throwing passes to a receiver.

Use an underhand arm action when tossing – this is much more accurate than throwing overhand (see what is going on in the background in the video.  The Dodgers' outfield coaches are tossing fly balls underhand to their players; watch 0:30-1:05)

If there is a left-handed player in the group, and you have younger kids (nine and under), run the left-handed player in the opposite direction for the first toss. Otherwise they are making a backhanded play, which is much more difficult.

 

 

Keys for the drill to remain fast paced

   Most important – if a ball is not caught the player does not retrieve it; they get ready for the next toss

   Coach is constantly reminding the players to ‘sprint full speed’

   Have as many balls on hand as possible

   Limit instruction to two points:

  1.       Run full speed
  2.       Catch the ball away from your body -  reach out with the glove arm=

      …this is a repetitions activity, not a teaching activity.  Make a mental note of teaching points to share afterwards.

                                     

                                                                              

What is Going to Happen?

  • Coach will make inaccurate tosses - no big deal.  Tell the player, “Hey, bad throw, I’ll get better; keep moving”.
  • Players will miss catches - we clearly instruct them, prior to the drill, that when they miss a catch, to not stop to pick up the ball.  They are to get to the next starting point asap and get ready for the    next toss.
  • The rhythm and flow of the drill, the first time it is run, will be a bit clunky - any new activity is less than perfect the first time around.

 

 

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Your Kid Can’t Hit ...because their bat is too long!

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Here’s the pitch; a swing and a miss. OK, buddy you’ll get the next pitch …pop-up, Alright, good; we made contact on that one. Pitch number three: weak ground ball to the first baseman …out again.

 

Why do many kids take looping swings under the ball, pop up or hit weak ground balls to the opposite side of the field?  There are some mechanical reasons, but a major factor for many is they use bats that are too long.

 

When the discussion of bat size comes up the primary issue discussed is weight; length isn’t given as much thought (by parents).  Regardless of weight, the longer the lever (bat), the more difficult it is to control.  And while I am not a physicist (nor is it likely that many reading this are) I will suggest that a longer lever puts more stress (the feeling of weight) on the muscles in the wrists and arms. A longer bat feels heavier.

 

Why do kids want to swing such long bats? There are two reasons I am told by parents (and by some kids too):

1.    The older kids, to whom younger kids look up to, use a longer bat and little kids naturally want to be like the bigger kids (or older brother/sister).

2.  They think they need a longer bat to reach the outside part of the plate...not understanding that the sweet spot begins approximately four-plus inches from the end of the barrel.  If their reasoning was correct they would need a bat that reaches four inches, or more, beyond the outer edge of the plate (how to properly hit an outside pitch is another discussion).

 

The first step to improving kids’ success at the plate is to get a shorter bat in their hands.  Based on my experience working exclusively with the 12u age group over the past six years I feel the longest bat a 12u player needs is 29”.  There is the rare exception of the kid pushing six feet who might need to go up to 30”.  A good length for a Tee-Baller is 24” or 25”.  Most kids age 9 or 10 will do fine with a 27” bat.  Based on these two examples you can fill in the gaps based on your child’s age and size.

 

The most important factor in determining which bat is best for your child is to find one the feels good to them.  This means taking them to the store and having them hold and swing as many bats as possible until they find one that feels right.  The length of the barrel, width of the handle and distribution of weight along the length of bat varies, giving each bat a unique quality of feel.  While your child doesn’t have the experience of a college star or a pro they will get to the point during your visit where they will tell you, “I like this one best”.

 

Regarding the issue of weight, it is my opinion that most (if not all) bats on the market are too light.  It will be difficult to find a bat that is too heavy if you purchase one that is a good length for your ballplayer.  Bat manufacturers produce a good percentage of bats to serve the lowest common denominator (kids who swing with their arms and not their legs) resulting in them making very light bats.  I do not fault the manufacturers for doing this, however.  They are in the business of supplying a product that best serves the broadest aspect of the market.

 

If your child is receiving proper batting instruction that has them utilizing the strength of their legs to power the swing you will be hard pressed to find a new bat that is too heavy.  If finding a heavier bat is of interest, the place to shop is Goodwill or a second hand sporting goods store.  My 5’ 2” 85lb, 10 year old son swings a 27”, 22 oz bat that I bought for $5 from Goodwill.   I am not a cheapskate, but that is the only place I could find a ‘good’ bat for him.  I would guess the thing is 20 years old.  I am not suggesting you take your child to Goodwill and buy them an old bat, but if you want to find a bat that is a few ounces heavier that is where you have to go.

 

So here I am suggesting you ditch your kid’s bat and get them a shorter one; who am I?  …just some dude up in Seattle where it rains all the time and kids only play the game six months a year.  In order to better support the suggestion of going with a shorter bat I will extend the conversation to a few guys who were fairly accomplished hitters…

 

Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest batters in MLB history and a grown man who weighed 220-230lbs during his playing career started out his career using a 32 1/2 inch bat and did not go longer than 33 inches.  Barry Bonds (who was a great hitter regardless of what types of enhancements he might have used late in his career) swung a 33 1/2 inch bat part of his career AND choked up.  Babe Ruth is even quoted as saying that he would have been smarter to have used a shorter bat, which he did switch too later in his career.

Babe Ruth Preferred a Shorter Bat (click)

 

“…I should have known all along, that I could do better with a shorter bat. ...going to the shorter bat was one of my best moves, and I have wondered many times since why any player would bother with swinging a stick an inch or two longer than was absolutely necessary.”

Tony Gwynn used a Shorter Bat (click)

“…first 12 years of his career, he used a 32½-inch bat…”

 

 

How much should I pay for a bat?

Unless you are sure you have a child that is going to be a core member of the 11 or 12 year old All-Star team, I see no reason to spend more than $70 on a bat. There are many quality, name brand bats on the market for $50. There are more bats available the go well into the three digit range that have the space age trampoline technology that may perform a bit better.  Your family budget might make that an option to explore.

 

When it comes down to it, the person swinging the bat contributes the lion’s share to success.

 

A couple of years ago I worked with a kid and had him try a 28”, 22oz bat from the batch I picked up from Goodwill.  He ended up using it for his 12 year old season.  Many considered him the best batter in the league and he was using an old thing that cost $5.

 

Check Out the Coaching Guide

Drills --- Insight On Coaching Kids --- Practice Plans ...who is behind the baseball positive website?

 my younger brother todd is in the dugout, just to the left of bonds in the picture.

my younger brother todd is in the dugout, just to the left of bonds in the picture.

Sheesh…

…the Baseball Positive website has been online for years and I’ve never said hello to all the folks who have visited the site.  Thanks for stopping by; I trust the content has been useful.

Hello, my name is Mark Linden.  Baseball Positive was started in 2008.  After playing a bit of minor league ball in the Cubs organization as a middle infielder, center fielder and catcher, I spent eight seasons coaching at the college level. 

The beginning of my college coaching career is a classic example of being in the right place at the right time.  While visiting my family in Nebraska during Christmas of 1993, I dropped by the Wichita State Baseball offices (a four-hour drive south) to see if they might have an opening on their staff.  Fortunately, Head Coach Gene Stephenson was available to meet with me. 

Sometimes being young and ignorant has its advantages.  When Coach Stephenson came to the lobby of the Shocker offices, the baseball secretary pulled my resume out of their file cabinet.  Something tells me it had straight from the envelope into the file and Gene had never seen it.  Well, I was there and the 3rd winningest coach in D-I Baseball History took me into his office to talk.

During the first week of my January classes at the University of British Columbia, Gene called to tell me a spot had opened up.  Forty-eight hours later I had dropped my classes (I’d already earned a degree from Whitworth University) and made the 1700-mile drive to Wichita.

After spending two seasons with the Shockers, I moved on to assist June Raines at The University of South Carolina for a season.  The next five years I held head coaching jobs at Centenary College in Shreveport, La and Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon WA.

Those were great learning experiences.  Gene and June, between them, had a eleven College World Series appearances, four appearances in the championship game and one CWS Championship (Wichita State, 1989).  The greatest lesson I learned from these two legendary coaches was that keeping instruction simple was at the core of their success.

Later, in 2007, I found myself working as the colour commentator alongside Rob Fai on 1040AM Sport Radio for the Vancouver Canadians (minor league affiliate at the time of the Oakland A's).  Sean Doolittle was a member of the team....as a First Baseman.  He's an example of the guy who didn't make it as a hitter, switched to pitching and parlayed it into a Major League career.

Another streak of good fortune in my baseball experience is my 'little' brother grew up to be a 6'3'', 225 lb switching-hitting power hitter who played at LSU and became a first round draft choice of the Giants.  Todd started his professional career at the AA level in 2002 and was in the Big Leagues by 2005.  While following Todd's career, I was able to interact with professional players and coaches and gain insight on the game at its highest levels. 

Today when I see a player making their Major League debut and the camera shows their family and friends I understand the array of emotions they are feeling.  In August of 2005, I watched Todd working his way around the bases during his first game in San Francisco, scoring his first Major League run on a passed ball and going through the high-five routine as headed down the dugout stairs.

The feeling is indescribable.  I was sitting there thinking, that Really is Todd down there playing Major League Baseball [:o  ...I had always imagined what it would be like to play in a Major League game.  I never experienced it personally, but seeing your own flesh and blood doing it is pretty darn amazing.

A month or so later the fact he was playing in the Major Leagues stuck.  That was the day he became one of only a dozen players to homer into the upper deck at Dodger Stadium.  I still haven't made it there to sit in the seat where the ball landed, but it’s on my bucket list. 

While I never made it to the Big Leagues I was fortunate to play football in college as well as baseball.  Eastern Washington University offered a football scholarship when I was at Roosevelt HS in Seattle, but turned it down to attend Bellevue Community College and pursue baseball.  Assistant Coach Jake Cabell, who was recruiting me, was not happy when I told him I’d decided to accept a $300 scholarship to play junior college baseball over a full-ride to play ‘big time’ college football…my lower-middle-class family wasn’t so sure about the decision either, but was supportive.

Though having been drafted by the Cubs and Royals while at BCC, I felt I wasn't yet ready to play professionally and decided to continue my college career at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. My instincts seemed to have been correct when I wasn't drafted following my junior year. I'd developed into what is known in pro baseball as an 'organizational' prospect - a guy to fill a spot on a team, so the true prospects have someone to play with. 

 my boys and i.  aaron is a receiver in football.  eli is a skateboarder.  ...not every coaches kid plays  baseball.  just support them in what they choose to do.

my boys and i.  aaron is a receiver in football.  eli is a skateboarder.  ...not every coaches kid plays  baseball.  just support them in what they choose to do.

This type of player gets drafted after their senior year (the Cubs did get around to picking me again in the 31st Round) or is a guy with limited options or little desire to continue their education following high school or junior college.  I can remember, like it was yesterday, signing over that $1,000 bonus check to Whitworth, at the tuition window, following my first year playing professionally. ...most minor league guys don’t sign for $1,000,000  : )

That fall brought a return to the gridiron and the first of three seasons playing for the Pirate football team having a good level of success as a running back and co-captain for two years.  Being named captain is something I am proud of, but mention it primarily because I feel it illustrates the leadership and communication skills that are at the core of Baseball Positive's approach to Coach Training.

In 2002 the Whitworth University Hall of Fame committee came knocking.  Having played two sports no doubt helped; it was an honor to be inducted.  But, let's be honest, it’s a classic story of a 'big fish in a little pond', being that Whitworth was a member of the NAIA and had an enrollment of 1,100 (about a two-thirds the size of my High School).

That's the Cliff's Notes of the story behind an instructor of kids and their coaches.  Yes, there were some cool experiences along the way and while it all has value in what Baseball Positive teaches, the fact is very little of it applies to coaching kids who play on the small diamond.

Aside from the 'keep it simple' lessons I learned from Gene and June, most of what is shared in Baseball Positive's teaching comes from my experiences growing up (somehow the feelings and experiences from playing as a kid remain very clear), what I learned while studying Human Kinetics ('How to teach physical movement') at UBC, the influence of my Little League coach, Bud Burrill, and the hundreds of youth league coaches I've worked with over the years…

....thank you All-Stars coaches in 2008 who taught me that the pitcher is the cut to home on the 60' diamond (not the 1st baseman or third baseman), David Reyes who shared a key point taught to him by one of his youth coaches, "Ball First, Base Second" and Paul Lepley, 40 year veteran of Queen Anne Little League in Seattle, who is a master of teaching the game (and keeping it fun) to young kids. 

One little ballplayer that Paul worked with and watched develop his skills as a seven-year-old and beyond, was current Diamondbacks third baseman, Jake Lamb (whose father John played linebacker at Whitworth a couple of years before I got there).  I’d been in touch with Jake about working our summer camps while he was in High School, but we filled out our crew, so he was never associated with Baseball Positive …guess I blew that one, huh? 

I imagine you have special memories of your time in youth baseball/softball, youth sports or sports in general.  Making the experience of playing with neighborhood buddies, building life-long friendships and the 'small world' connections our kids are establishing by playing youth baseball and softball is the motivation behind Baseball Positive. 

The information shared on the Baseball Positive site, which is dedicated exclusively to the game played by kids ages 5-12, is an effort to achieve one goal: 'Kids have such a good experience that they Want to Play Again Next Year'. Hopefully some of site content is beneficial to you and your kids!

What Happens When the Bat And Ball Collide? …mind blowing video shows us

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“Keep your eye on the ball!”

 

You’d be hard pressed to find a baseball/softball coach or the parent of a player who has never uttered that phrase.  It is likely impossible to find a player who has never heard this instruction while batting.

 

But does a batter actually see the ball hit the bat?  Many experts say that it is physically impossible given the speed a ball travels combined with the speed of the swing.  And what happens at the moment of contact between the bat and the ball?

 

Over the weekend I spent some time taking some batting practice with the eight year old son of a friend of mine.  While picking up balls he found one that was coming apart at the seams and was ready for retirement.  He asked me what was inside.  Having wondered the same thing when I was about his age, I suggested he do what I did; tear off the cover to find out. 

 

He set to work on his investigation…which takes about an hour.  As would be expected he got a bit frustrated in the process, but we kept him motivated by saying there is a ‘Surprise’ in the center of the ball.  When pressed, we told him there was a little man in a spaceship living in there.  Initially he bought our story, but it didn’t hold long.  It did, however, keep his curiosity up to stick to his project.

 

I won’t give away what he found in case your child comes across a ball they want to take apart.  When this little boy did get to the ‘surprise’ he said, “This is so cool. I’m not gonna let this out of my sight”

 

The construction of a baseball, which is no longer a mystery to my young friend, can help us understand what takes place when the bat and ball collide.  The first video is truly mind blowing; you and your child will enjoy it (the magic moment is at 1:25 of the video)  …and your child just might gain a deeper interest in science.  Anything to peak their interest in learning, right?

 

The second video shows what happens to the bat at contact.  Again, very interesting and beyond what you might think happens.  What you can take away from the second video is why some players have so much more power than others.  We might think its about being big and muscled.  I am confident in saying that if we tested the grip strength of the best power hitters we’d find they are much stronger in this area.

 

When I was playing minor league ball they tested everyone’s grip strength.  We had a fairly skinny guy on our team whose grip strength was 25% greater than the rest of us.  That explained why he was a second round draft choice and could hit the ball so much further than the rest of us.

 

Enjoy the videos and share them with your child (and his friends) If you have an old ball laying around, sit down with your young ballplayer and take it apart.  It will be a lifetime memory; it has been for me.

What Ever Happened To Pick-up Baseball? ....or is it still alive and well?

Select and travel baseball has taken over our kids' (and families') summers; and the times of getting out and just playing for fun are a thing of the past? ...or are they.

 

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Recently I spoke to a guy involved with a local youth league and he told me the level of interest and the number of players involved has really picked up in the past couple of years...   I was shocked; and pleasantly surprised.

A few years ago I had a similar conversations and was hearing that the 'just for fun' summer programs that many youth organizations ran were dwindling in popularity.  The sense I was getting was that kids were either gravitating to select or travel ball in the summer, or weren't playing at all.

The highly competitive option is a good fit for a lot of kids and helps them work toward higher goals they have for their playing careers.  But its not for everyone.  I was concerned that more and more kids were just taking the summer off completely.

I am curious to hear about the health and level of interest there is around the country for league run, casual summer ball programs.  Are they gaining strength in your area?  Always been doing well?  Has interest been dropping off in your area?

Please share your stories.  Also, share strategies you have seen used to increase the popularity of a successful summer program.  Hopefully your stories and ideas can be helpful for leagues and organizations that are looking for ways to improve this summer option for their players.

Do You Know This Basic Baseball Skill? …how to catch a throw at first base

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Possibly the most common mistake and biggest misunderstanding in youth baseball and softball is the process of taking a throw at first base.  Kids think the first baseman prepares to receive a throw by standing in a stretch position (they don’t). This problem carries over to throws in a variety of playing situations including the basic task of warming-up. 

 

Well Known, But Often Misunderstood

Not only is this action misunderstood by kids, most adults don’t know how a first baseman takes a throw.  When working with their players, coaches either don’t teach the skill at all, or teach it incorrectly.  If you are one of those coaches, don’t sweat it, you are in the majority.

 

This very important skill is discussed below and illustrated in the video.  Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers is hitting into the massive shift used by the Houston Astros on May 11  For our purposes, watch 0:22-0:26 of the video that shows a first baseman using proper technique in his approach to, and set up at, the bag; and the footwork involved in taking a throw.  Don’t watch the ball, watch Astros First Baseman Yuli Gurriel.  The key point to note Is that Gurriel does not set up in a ‘Stretch Position’ when preparing for the throw.  He waits until the ball is on its way.

 

 

Cover the Base with Your Eyes

A first baseman doesn’t watch the ball when it is hit to another player.  They take their eyes off the ball and direct them towards the base.  Just like an Olympic sprinter looks straight at the finish line while running, the first baseman looks straight at first base while running to cover it. Their focus is the base, and the base only, until they get there.  Getting there as quickly as possible is important, so they have time to prepare for the throw. 

 

 

Set Up at the Base

After arriving at the base, the first baseman puts the heel of their throwing-side-foot against the edge of the center part of the base and sets-up in a ‘Ready Position’ (feet wide and square to the player who will be making the throw).  This prepares them to react to the direction of the thrown ball, and to move laterally in case the ball is off line and they have to leave the bag to stop the ball   -   poor throws actually do occur at the youth level from time to time  ; )

 

 

‘See the Ball Before Committing Your Feet’

When taking a throw, the rule for a first baseman is: ‘See the ball before committing your feet’.  A first baseman does not get into a ‘Stretch Position’ when setting up for a throw.  This takes place after the throw leaves the fielding player’s hand and the first baseman identifies where the throw is going.  If the throw is within reach, the first baseman steps towards the line of the throw. 

However, if the throw is not going to be within reach, they leave the base and make their best effort to stop the ball from going past them.  A ready position enables a player to move in a quick and agile manner to go after a poor throw.  It is difficult to move from a stretch position.

(Note: The action of repositioning the feet from a ready position to a stretch position can be difficult for kids age 8-9 and younger because of a lack of body strength and coordination.  In their case, we teach them to remain in the ready position throughout the play.  If they can reach, with their glove, to catch the ball; great!  …if they can’t, we instruct them to leave the base to catch the ball.  We establish their mindset using the teaching phrase: ‘Ball First, Base Second’.  Occasionally they will be able to move to get the ball, then come back to the base ahead of the runner.  In most cases the runner is safe…..but our first baseman has stopped the ball and prevented the runner (and runners on other bases) from advancing any further.)

 

 

The Experience of the Passive Observer

It is understandable why Kids (and many adults/coaches) stand in a stretch position in preparation to take a throw at first base. When watching a game as a fan, we follow the ball and don’t often notice what the other players on the field (first baseman) are doing.  We only see the first baseman catching the ball…in a stretch position. After constantly seeing the first baseman catching the ball with their feet positioned this way, kids think that is how the first baseman was standing the whole time.  

 

 

A Dose of Reality

As coaches, we want to teach that a Ready Position is used when preparing for a throw.  Anytime we see our players standing in a stretch position we need to correct them immediately.   Given the number of inaccurate throws made at the youth level, we want our kids to always be in an athletic position that enables them to easily move to stop offline throws.

 

The reality is, our kids won’t want to change this habit (right away) because the image of the first baseman stretching is branded into their brain. 

 

Thank goodness for technology!  We can pull out our phone and show them this video I have provided   : )  and prove to them that the pros  do not set their feet in a stretch position when getting ready to take a throw.   

Now that the process has been mapped out watch the video again (specifically 0:22-0:26)...it likely be very clear how to properly take throw at first base.

 

 

Improving the Quality of Play

Teaching our players the proper actions related to receiving a throw at first base will result in more throws being caught and fewer balls getting past the bag.  Also, let’s make it a priority to eliminate the practice of kids standing in a stretch position when preparing for throws in general.

The foundation of the game of baseball (and softball) is playing catch.  Teaching our kids to be in a Ready Position prior to each throw prepares them to move to catch (or at least stop) throws that are off line.  An increased number of throws caught, and a reduction in the number of balls that get past the receiving player, makes baseball and softball more fun to play and more enjoyable to watch.

 

Instructional Scrimmage …a win-win activity for every practice

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You are coaching a youth baseball or softball team and wrap up another game with more mistakes than expected.  You’ve done a good job getting your team ready and practices have run well, but the team’s efforts are not translating to games.  What could be missing in your preparation?

Many youth baseball and softball coaches run solid practices, do a great job teaching skills and taking their kids through drills, but don’t see that effort in practice translate to game success.  One aspect of practice that many coaches leave out is practicing playing the game.

Failing to include a Scrimmage as part of a practice plan may be the missing link in a team’s formula for success in games.

The first reaction to the idea of including a scrimmage in practice is that it is not a productive use of time; ‘the kids are just playing around and not getting better’.   That can be true if the scrimmage does not have a clear objective and is not structured properly.  On the other hand, if a scrimmage is structured and managed as a teaching tool, it can be the activity that ties everything together.

 

 

Three Benefits of Ending Each Practice with a Scrimmage

1.         Kids don’t sign up to practice baseball and softball; they sign up to PLAY

Kids understand the need to practice, but we can’t lose site of the fact that playing is what they really want to do.

There is much talk of the need to make drills fun and competitive to keep kids engaged.  However, in many cases, trying to instill these elements into drills detracts from their true objective, which is to get the kids the reps they need to develop their skills.  Ending each practice with a scrimmage provides fun and competition.

Knowing that practice will conclude with a scrimmage helps with discipline in drills and other practice activities. Players are more motivated to follow directions and move quickly between drills when they know doing otherwise scrimmage time.

 

2.         Players learn to translate skills to the variations speed of a game during scrimmage

Actual game situations can vary quite a bit from a structured drill environment.  The combination of the placement of the ball off the bat and the speed and location of the runners is unique for most every play.  Kids can master drills and skills in practice, but if they are not experienced in applying those to the unique situations and pace of a game they are not as prepared as they could be.

 

3.         Learning to coordinate as a unit on defense

Drills, as they should, break the game down into smaller segments.  Scrimmage creates an environment where all nine players must participate to ensure the defense functions properly regardless of what comes up over the course of a play.

At the youth level broken plays occur often.  When these circumstances come up in a scrimmage players learn to regroup on the fly and bring the play under control.  Early in the season players will be slow to cover a base, be in position to back up throws and get into position to execute a relay.  Through scrimmage they quickly recognize how each player contributes to defensive play.

In the scrimmage format outlined below, we maintain a fast pace that engages all nine defensive players throughout the activity.  On each play there will be mistakes; corrections are made and learning within the context of the game takes place. 

Our feedback during scrimmage is not limited to correcting and teaching.  On each play we also have the opportunity to acknowledge the kids doing things well.  When we point out what our kids are doing right, no matter how basic, we build their confidence. 

Specifics regarding feedback during a scrimmage are covered in detail following the next section.

 

Scrimmage Structure

1.         Nine on defense, one batter, two base runners

Players do not sit out waiting their turn to bat.  Extra offensive players are on the bases getting base running experience.  Including base runners on each play also requires increased decision making on the part of the defense; a big factor in learning the game. 

Later, after the players get used to the flow of scrimmage and making a quick transition from the conclusion of one play to the next batter, we can utilize the option of having only one base runner and an on-deck batter, who steps in to bat as soon as the previous play is over.

 

2.         Players don’t pitch during scrimmage

Scrimmage is not the place for developing pitching skills.  A coach pitches from 20’-30’ away (we still have a player at the rubber fulfilling the defensive responsibilities of the pitcher).   The closer the coach-pitcher, the higher the percentage of hittable pitches.  I urge coaches to pitch from a knee (instructional video: watch 0:38 - 1:20 for Baseball; 1:20 - 2:10 for Softball). 

Keys to maximizing scrimmage time is a providing a high percentage of strikes and limiting the amount of time between the end of one play and pitching to the next batter.  At the conclusion of a play our players quickly get back to their positions, receive brief feedback and then the coach pitches to the next batter. 

 

3.         Positions on defense

Early in the season we give players reps at a lot of different positions during scrimmage.  My philosophy is for kids to get experience at as many positions at possible.  But as the season progresses we need to be mindful of getting players reps at the positions they’ll most likely be playing on game day.

 

4.         Assistant coaches spread out on the field to provide feedback following each play

Position one coach between the third baseman and left fielder and they communicate with those two positions as well as the shortstop.  A second coach stands between the first baseman and right fielder focusing on the three players closest to them.  If an additional coach is available, put them in the area behind second base where they can give feedback to players in that area. 

The coach doing the pitching (usually the head coach) focus their feedback on the pitcher, catcher and batter. Comments to the batter should be limited to simple reminders of what has already been taught and trained ie, ‘turn fast’, ‘head in place’, ‘balance’, etc.  Scrimmage is not the place for detailed batting instruction. 

In our first few scrimmages we let many mistakes go because not much content has been taught.  As the season progresses, and the kids are exposed to more information, our feedback during scrimmage covers more aspects of the game.

 

5.         Use a batting tee for scrimmage (sometimes)

Because the objective of scrimmage is to get the players massive game repetitions in a short period of time, using a tee can help achieve this goal.  A tee guarantees a strike 100% of the time, which speeds up the pace of the scrimmage. 

When using a tee, we can change the relationship of the batter to the ball/contact point and have some control of where the ball is hit (pull, middle, opposite field).   

Most scrimmages have the coach pitching, but it’s important to recognize the tee as an option.  Also, when we are short coaches, using a tee with a coach at home plate instead of pitching, with their back to the defense, they can keep their eyes on all the action.

 

Team development needs and which point of the season you are in dictates how much time is invested in scrimmage.  Early in the year scrimmage may be only 15-20 minutes, giving each player one time to bat.  As the season progresses, scrimmage time can bump up to 30 minutes with each player batting multiple times. 

 

Making an Instructional Scrimmage a Powerful Teaching Tool

Below are guidelines for setting up and running a productive instructional scrimmage.  This is not a complete list, but the fundamental aspects of play that a youth team wants to be executing by the latter parts of their season.

Rules for Teaching

  • Only correct what has been taught and drilled in practice
  • Be on the lookout for things the kids do correctly and acknowledge their accomplishments.
  • Keep comments directed towards actions, not results

 

Focus Points for Teaching

  • The teaching and reinforcement points that your coaching staff is concerned with depends on the age of your kids, their level of play and the amount of content that has been taught and drilled in your practice sessions.

 

Common Physical Mistakes and Addressing Those Mistakes

  • Errors and other physical mistakes are going to happen often.  Kids know when they have missed a ground ball or made a poor throw.  We want to help our players learn from their mistakes, so how do we address them?  Use action focused talk when giving feedback.  Examples:
  1.           Keep your feet moving through the fielding action and you’ll make that play next time.
  2.           Follow your head after the throw and it will be straighter next time
  3.          “Reach forward to catch” and you’ll make that play next time

 

 

The Primary Goal of a Scrimmage is Improving Team Defensive Play

Often in youth baseball games, when the ball is put in play, many of the players do not move.  The fact is that each player on defense has a role on every play and needs to be moving.  Scrimmage exposes kids to this fact multiple times in a short period of time. 

From the time the ball is put into play until it is returned securely to the pitcher at the play’s conclusion it is usually handled by 3 or 4 players and sometimes more.  At our level of play, managing the ball as it moves around the field is a challenge.  Base runners add to the complexity of the defensive responsibilities.  In a game (and scrimmage) there are no do-overs, so the players are pressed to make decisions quickly while executing the physical requirements as well.

The points below are few and brief, but constitute the core aspects of team play that we are working to improve in our scrimmage.

Identify the Situation

  • Number of outs
  • Location of runners
  • The bases a force out can be made

 

Movement

  • Three B’s: Play the Ball, Cover a Base or Back-up a Throw
  • “Cover the base with your eyes”
  • Players must move quickly and with purpose the moment the ball is put into play
  • Keep the ball moving at all times

 

Dealing with Base Runners

  • Conscious of all options for getting an out
  • Stop the runners by getting the ball to a point on the field where they see they are at risk if they try to advance
  • Quickly and securely get the ball back to the pitcher at the conclusion of each play

 

Communication

  • Catcher calls out what to do with the ball when it is in play
  • Infield echos to the outfield what to do with the ball
  • Fly balls between two players

 

Relays

  • Positioning of the cut-relay player
  • Communication between players involved in the play
  • Throws:
  1.   Outfielders always ‘hit the cut’
  2.   Cut-relay player footwork: “Move Feet to Catch”, “Move Feet to Throw”
  3.   Recognizing when to not relay the ball (runners either stop or are safe the majority of the time in relay situations)

 

 

Teaching and Feedback - Individual Skills

The primary objective of the instructional scrimmage is to keep things moving.  Given this goal, a scrimmage is not the place for detailed teaching of individual skills.  Our comments are limited to quick reminders of aspects of the skills that have already been taught and trained in drills.  It is likely we will identify aspects of skill technique that need further work.  In these cases we make a mental note and address those needs in an upcoming practice(s).

Batting

  • Lower Half Turn
  • Head in Place
  • “Let the ball get to your feet”

 

Base Running

  • Aggressive on balls hit to the outfield (always looking to advance two bases)
  • Proper technique running to and through first base
  • Don’t watch the ball; put attention on the base (or base coach)

 

Fielding Ground Balls

  • Get to the ball quickly (‘Charge the ball’, etc.)
  • Footwork
  • Reading hops
  • Hand and glove position

 

Fielding Fly Balls

  • Drop step
  • Beat the ball to a spot or running through the catch
  • Extend the glove arm to catch (catch the ball away from the body)

 

Throwing Technique

  • Move feet to power the throw
  • Keep head straight and pointed towards the target
  • Momentum to continue towards the target following the throw
  • Wrist snap for better accuracy

 

Proper Type of Throw for the Situation

  • Underhand toss on short distance throws (more accurate and easier to catch)
  • Was a throw necessary?
  1. Could the player fielding the ball carry it to the base before the runner arrives?
  2. When the runners stop trying to advance, a defensive player can run the ball in or run it to a point close enough where a sure throw and catch can be made

 

Missed throw

  • “Ready Position” - be prepared to “Move feet to catch”
  • “Reach forward to catch”
  • “Ball first, base second”
  • Wait until the ball is on its way and is accurate before committing to a ‘stretch position’

 

 

Developing our players’ skill and knowledge through drills and the teaching of the finer points of batting, pitching and fielding are important parts of any well planned practice.   Adding a scrimmage to the end of each practice makes the day’s learning the complete.

 

More information is found on Scrimmage page of the website. 

A Great Part of the Sports Experience ...the interesting things you see during your travels

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Yesterday I put on a pitching clinic for a local league at Garfield High School near downtown Seattle.   It had been years since I'd visited Garfield.

Pulling into the parking lot I found a world famous name in front of me: 'Quincy Jones Performance Center'.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that this 79-time Grammy Award Winner and music industry icon, who who worked with Michael Jackson, among other legends, had helped out his Alma Mater by building this venue on its campus.

Jones' family wasn't all about music.  His father, who moved the family to Seattle following WWII when Quincy was 12, had been a semi-pro baseball player in Kentucky.

Another musical legend also attended Garfield HS; Jimi Hendrix.

it was a great day working with all the kids, parents and coaches of Seattle PONY baseball; and walking the same grounds as two of the most famous people in the history of American music.

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Want To Run More Productive Practices and Develop Better Players? …..make this one simple adjustment

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Great coaches give keep their players moving constantly and maximize the number of repetitions in skill development activities in each practice.

How do they do this?

They chuck away their bat and deliver balls in drills by rolling, throwing and tossing the ball.

 

A key to skill development is repeating the same good actions over and over and over.  For this to happen we need to consistently deliver the ball to the same spot.  What percentage of the time can we, using a bat, hit a ball ten feet to the second baseman’s right while standing at home plate?  What percentage of the time when rolling the ball from 20’ away?

 

When using a bat, we shank the ball, pop it up, line it past the player or hit it too wide.  Gosh, sometimes we even swing and miss  [:o  And what do these errors by the coach, in delivering the ball, do to help our players get the reps they need to improve?

 

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College and pro coaches run fielding drills every day without a bat, why don’t we do the same in youth baseball and softball?

Dodgers Outfielders - training drop step and going back (in the background) - Watch 0:30-0:50    

 

A theory that I have is many of us show up early to the park to watch a college or pro game and see the coach standing at home plate hitting balls around the field to their players in pre-game warm up.  We then make the mistake of copying this warm-up activity when running drills in our practices.

 

An effective drill session has 3-4 groups of players on different parts of the field, with coaches running drills by rolling or tossing balls to their players.  These drills are run in compact spaces, they are fast moving and, most importantly, the plyers are getting mass repetitions and repeating fundamentally sound actions.

Cardinals OF - low liners - Watch 0:00 – 0:20

 

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When I was coaching in college, driving to high school games to scout players, I went past hundreds of youth practices.  In almost every instance the same thing was going on:  a coach at home plate, with a bat in their hands and the entire team spread out around the field with most of the players standing around waiting while one ball was being hit by the coach.

 

I would see this having just finished a college practice where our coaches had been rolling and tossing balls to our players in many of our drills.  Just the other day I drove past my local high school where the girls softball team was practicing.  And there it was again!  Fifteen or 16 girls standing around, waiting, while the coach stood at home plate hitting a single ball around the field.  While doing this, there was a bucket full of balls sitting right next to the coach…..not being used.

 

A misconception about ground ball drills is the ball needs to be delivered fast.  Developing fielding skills is more about footwork, timing, and angles then the act of catching the ball.  (Through repetition, the players will develop the hand-eye coordination for catching ground balls.)   I constantly see youth coaches in practices hitting rocket ground balls to their kids.  These kids are still trying to learn basic fundamentals….and working to overcome an understandable fear of the ball.

Rangers      1:00-1:07 (can’t see coach; based on pace of ball and accuracy, can tell its being rolled)

                    2:58-3:11 - tossing fly balls

                    3:45-4:00 - batting off a knee from pitchers mound (same concept: Compact Space, Accuracy and Reps) 

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We want to deliver balls in such a way, so the players have time to work on their approach to the ball, get their feet and bodies in a good fielding position and have a good chance of cleanly fielding the ball, so to then work on transitioning to make a throw.  When the primary thing on their mind is the possibility that their teeth might get knocked out, executing good fielding fundamentals is not going to make it up the priority list.

 

A few years back I watched a TV interview with Brendan Ryan, who was the Seattle Mariners’ shortstop, and at that time regarded by many as the best defensive shortstop in the game.  This was during spring training and he was still recovering from an arm injury.  The sportscaster asked him, “Brendan, how do you get any work done when you can’t throw?” 

 

Having been a shortstop, and having instructed fielding for years, I wanted to jump through the TV screen and hug Brendan when I heard his response.  He said, “Paul (Silvi), I can do everything.  All fielding and throwing skills are based on footwork.  I do all the drills, I just don’t finish with a throw”.  He went on to say, without being prompted, “You know, Paul, I see youth coaches spending way too much time teaching hands, when they need to teach kids how to use their feet.  Paul, my feet make my hands work

 

When running most ground ball and fly ball drills, have the coach positioned 20’ or 40’ or 50’ from the player, depending on the drill, and roll, throw or toss the ball.  Tell the players in advance what actions they are working on and where the ball will be delivered. Then repeat the drill, with the ball going to that same spot 5-10 times for each player.   Once that set of reps is completed, move on to another drill or change the current drill by alerting the players that you will next be delivering the ball to a new spot.

Twins - Sano footwork in OF - Watch 3:50-4:15; 4:55-5:10

 

Some coaches will say, “But in a game, the ball comes off the bat, comes at them fast and they don’t know where the ball is going to be hit”.  

Correct! But this is not a game. 

This is practice and we are helping kids develop skills.  Skills are learned best when the same action is repeated over and over.  We want make the most of our limited practice time to develop skills, so that when game time comes our players are equipped with the skills they need to perform as well as they can.

Yankees, DP Turn - using a machine (same concept: Accurate delivery, Quick pace, Massive Reps) - Watch 0:15-0:35

 

Let’s run our youth baseball and softball practices like college and pro coaches.  Let’s ditch the bat and roll, throw and toss balls in many of our drills.  We will get a lot more accomplished, the kids will keep moving, having more fun and will get better at the game!

Herding Cats …can the Tee-Ball experience be improved?

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Baseball?   Hmmmmmm.....yes, there are bases, and the players are hitting the ball with a bat, but really, Tee-Ball is a bunch of kids in the park playing a different version of tag.

Sports, especially baseball, are very different when played by 4-6 year olds.  The soccer folks have figured this out; baseball has been slow to figure this out.   When was the last time we saw a youth soccer game comprised of 4-6 year olds that had two sides of eleven playing against each other?  No, they are playing 4 against four on an itty-bitty field.  Many youth baseball organizations continue to have teams of 12-14 kids, with all of them playing in the field together.

How much action are those six outfielders having?  What is the experience like for this young of a human when asked to sit still for 5-10 minutes waiting for a dozen teammates take their turn to bat?  We are fighting human nature to ask a 4-6 year old to sit and watch other kids play, but not be allowed to join in.

What is the logic in mimicking the game played by mature teens and adults and having teams of a dozen or more players and stashing half the team in the outfield where few balls are hit (at least early in the season)? 

Let’s give the idea of making Tee-Ball a game of 6 v 6 a chance; played with kids at the four infield positions, pitcher and catcher. l.

These over-sized rosters create additional problems on the offensive side of the game.  When we watch the game played at higher levels the players sit patiently on the bench waiting for their turn to bat.  We take the game to the Tee-Ball level with delusional thoughts that our little tykes can do the same.  Rosters of ten, twelve or more makes the players endure what is an agonizingly long wait, for a very young child, to get a chance to bat. 

Let’s re-evaluate our antiquated approach to how Tee-Ball is structured.  Could it be that the current structure has resulted in a significant number of players leaving the game, out of boredom, long before they had an opportunity to learn what baseball is all about?  Have we been losing the opportunity to fill more rosters at the higher levels within our leagues as a result of how the Tee-Ball level is currently operated?  

 

Cut Back the Number of Kids on a Team

Tee-Ball with six kids on a side makes a lot of sense.  Teams can be organized with seven on a roster, figuring that on many days we will lose one player to the sniffles, etc.  On days where all seven show up, the extra player can be placed in center field (which is about 10 feet behind second base).  The extra player, in this scenario, would only get stuck in the outfield one time per game, assuming we rotate defensive positions each inning.  

Almost all the game action is in the infield.  When a ball does make it to the outfield, our little infielders are more than eager to run after it.  These little bundles of energy are dying to run around.  Chasing the ball into the outfield is a major bonus for them.  

With fewer kids on the field, each player has a legitimate opportunity to participate in each play.   It also makes it easier for each to learn and gain a basic understanding of the game when each is playing an actual position, rather than standing among a mass of bodies.   Having a bunch of kids spread out in ultra-shallow outfield depth waiting to accost the infielders each time the ball is put into play is not an environment for learning.

 

More Reps and Limited ‘Dugout’ Chaos

When we make the change to six against six Tee-Ball, the kids learn more, have more fun and a higher percentage will return to play again next year.  The league administrators I have talked to over the years name increased retention as a top priority, if not the #1 goal, for their league.  Let’s look at a few ideas that can improve the Tee-Ball experience for the players (and the adults too).

1  -  Start each inning with runners on first and second base.  Why not?  This is not pro baseball; it’s not high school baseball; in fact it doesn’t closely resemble the game our 11-12 year olds play.   With two kids on base and a third player batting we are  left with only three little monsters to manage in the ‘dugout’.   In addition to limiting the number of kids in the dugout, by starting each inning with two players on base we are getting more kids involved in the game.  Those on the bases are gaining valuable game experience.

2  -  Kids love to hit the ball and run.  By cutting in half the number of kids on a team, we double the number of times each player gets to bat each game.  More chances to bat means more fun, excitement and anticipation on the part of the players.  Double batting opportunities increase skill development.  Greater skill development improves the experience and increases the desire to return and play baseball the following year.

3  -  Fewer kids on defense allows each player to handle the ball more often.  Confusion is decreased by eliminated unneeded bodies running around creating chaos.  In this new environment the opportunity for the kids to gain a better understanding of the game increases exponentially.

 

The Batter

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A common scenario at the Tee-Ball level is the game being played by three kids: The batter, the pitcher and the first baseman.  This is a result of many players’ inability to hit the ball past the pitcher.  Below are a few simple strategies to improve batting.  When our batters put the ball in play on the first swing or two and most of the balls are hit beyond the pitcher, the game moves faster, more players are involved in each play and everyone has fun and learns the game.

Swing the bat with the legs  -  The power in a batting swing comes almost entirely from the legs.  Most children only use their arms to swing the bat.  his is the most important skill to teach in Tee-Ball.  This article explains teaching kids to use their legs to power their batting swing.  The article is for kids a few years older than Tee-Ballers.  Utilize the technical and teaching points; leave out references to a 'batting workout', 'checkpoints' etc.  That stuff is over the heads, attention span and interest of Tee-Ball age players.

Distance the Batter Stands from the Ball on the Tee  We want the batter to stand one bat length away from the tee stem.  Extend a bat from the tee stem to the batter’s hip (while they stand straight and tall).  .

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Batter’s Box Design***  Make a perpendicular line on the ground across the batter’s boxes.  Use grass paint, line chalk, or anything you can come up with to make this line.  Set the batting tee so the stem is lined up directly over the top of the line.  Each batter places their front foot on the line when getting into their stance.  This creates the ideal relationship between their body and the ball at contact.  Note the relationship between the ball and the front foot in the pictures.  Cntact is generally made when the ball is even with the front foot, give or take a few inches.  (Also not that each is turning their legs to swing the bat.)

Incorporate (I will suggest mandate) the practice of utilizing this line across the batter’s box in all practices and games across your Tee-Ball program.This simple practice will make a greater impact on the quality of PLAY in your at the Tee-Ball level than any other single factor.

Positioning and Alignment of the Feet  The batter’s feet, at this stage of development, should be parallel with home plate.  Help the batter position their feet properly.  Point out to them that we want to be able to draw a straight line from the toes of their back foot to the toes of their front foot and have that line go straight out to the pitcher.  The feet need to be slightly outside than the width of the shoulders (not just ‘shoulder width apart’). 

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Tell your Tee-Ball players to stand with their feet ‘wider than your knees’.  When they look down at their knees they should not see their feet directly below their knees.  Note: you will notice that most every child will prefer to stand with their feet close together.  This is because, at this stage of physical development, the legs don’t have the strength to comfortably stand with the feet wider apart.  The kids can develop a level of comfort standing this way, but it will require you to remind them (literally) over and over every day throughout the season.  It is important to stick to this constant instruction.  When the feet are wider apart, a batter is more balanced and is better able to utilize their leg strength, which is a critical factor in an effective swing.

These final points, along with standing the appropriate distance from the tee stem (#1) and correct positioning of the front foot (#2), will give our little sluggers the best possible chance for success.  Increased success on the part of the batter equates to more activity and participation for the kids on defense.

Hand Position and Grip  Hands should be held even with, or slightly above, shoulder level.  Both elbows need to be bent to some degree.  We want the top hand/wrist and bat to create a 90 degree angle.  This will put the barrel of the bat over the back shoulder producing the ‘classic’ bat position in the stance.  The bend in the elbows and wrist set the batter up to maximize their strength and whipping action when swingingNote: kids who do not maintain the bend in the elbows and wrist as described are usually dealing with a strength issue and likely need a shorter bat.

Grip: Right handed batters have their right hand on top when holding the bat; left handed batters have left hand on top.  The hands need to be together; no gap between the hands.  As long as kids are relatively close to the prescribed grip and hand position, just let them work with hand position they come up with.I will address batting and the swing in a lot of detail as we move through the fall and winter.

 

But We Can’t Find Enough Coaches

Who coaches Tee-Ball?  Answer: regular parents from our neighborhood.  It is understood that not every parent can run a team because of conflicts with work and other prior commitments.   It is understood that there are some parents who have little interest in being involved beyond dropping their kids off and picking them up.  It is understood that some parents have multiple siblings and are juggling schedules.  However, there are parents who do have the time available to run a team.  And it should be clearly communicated to the other six sets of parents that they are invited, wanted and needed to participate in as many practices and games as possible. 

It is important to work towards the creation of a mindset and culture at the Tee-Ball level that we are all coaches.  Ideally, each player has a parent participating in each practice resulting in a 1:1 adult to player ratio.  (Before Tee-ball practices begin in 2014, the Baseball Positive Website will provide just the right amount of information to help any parent be an effective coach or helper parent for their child’s Tee-Ball team.)  We can establish rosters of seven per team and find a coach for each; the soccer folks have shown us it can be done.

Tee-Ball players are the future of every league.  Putting in the time and energy to create a Tee-Ball program where every player has a great experience is an investment that will strengthen every league, and the game as a whole, in years to come.  The path to the greatest success for Tee-Ball is playing the game with six players to a side.

 

Assign An Experienced Board Member a Tee-Ball Director

Tee-Ball has the largest number of participants in most leagues.  These players are the future of the organization and their parents will be the coaches at the league's higher levels in the coming years.  We want the Tee-Ball program to be well organized and head-ed up by a person with experience as an administrator for the league  It can be argued that the Tee-Ball Director holds the most important position in a youth baseball and softball organization.  

 

Recap of Key Points

  1. Create teams of seven players

  2. Eliminate the outfield positions on defense

  3. Structure the batting environment for optimal success

  4. Make the Tee-Ball program a top priority of each league

  5. Every Tee-Ball parent is a coach

Saviors of the Game ...Parent Helpers

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Great numbers of youth softball and baseball players leave the sport each year because they say the game is not fun. The game is not the issue; it is the experience kids have participating in the game.  A large part of participation is practice. The primary reason practice is not always fun for kids is that much of their time is spent standing around…not playing.

Structuring practices that minimize standing around and maximize playing is paramount to the future health of the game. Getting more adults involved in practices is a simple solution to the epidemic of boring practices. The parents of our players are an untapped resource that can help make practices lively, active and fun again, and turn the tide of declining player participation.

The idea of coaches having parents help with practice can conjure up resistance from both sides of the equation. Why is this? Coaches want to be sure their teaching message remains consistent and clear, while many parents feel they don’t know enough to be helpful.

Let’s start by establishing an honest perspective of the activity we are involved in; 12U is not high level baseball and softball. Intricate and detailed teaching is not required for our kids to develop skills and learn the concepts needed for them to succeed. Parent Assistants do not need great softball or baseball knowledge to be helpful on the practice field. The only requirement is a willingness to jump in and participate.

Many will do so when they receive a sincere and enthusiastic invitation from the head coach Many of us resist bringing parents in to help in fear that we will be ‘found out’ – we don’t want to them to learn that we don’t know everything. For those of us with limited experience, our credibility is not in danger if we tell the other parents up front that we are not grizzled coaching vets. We are simply volunteers who made a large time commitment to run the team.

Credibility can be a greater concern for those of us who do have a fair level of baseball or softball knowledge. We tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to prove we are good coaches. Keep in mind that most parents are just regular folks with limited experience in the game. Those parents that choose to participate will be appreciative that we made the commitment to invest so much time in their kids.

Having parents on the field helping with drills does not degrade our authority or our position as leader. Parent helpers are assigned to ‘basic commodity’ activities. The more complex teaching areas such as rundowns, relays, batting, pitching etc. remain under our direction. The key is to utilize parents to help run activities where mass repetition is the primary need. Also, there are many non-teaching activities to which they can be assigned that will help a practice run more efficiently.

 

Non-Teaching Activities for Parent Helpers

Backing up Throws During Playing Catch Practice (warm-up) and During Drills   We want to maximize each minute in practice by having kids constantly active and working on skill development. Arguably the biggest time waster in practice is kids chasing after poor or misplayed throws.

Kids age twelve and under, and especially those age 10 and under, miss dozens of throws every practice. Incorporate a couple of parent helpers whose primary (or only) job is to position themselves behind any area of a drill where a ball getting past a player will take away from the flow of the activity. Those helpers carry 4-5 balls with them at all times. When a ball gets past a player, their job is to immediately get a new ball in the player’s hands, so the activity continues with minimal delay. As time permits those parents retrieve balls to maintain their supply.

Catching Throws   There are many, many activities that run much more efficiently when there is an extra person to catch throws. This can be at a base or assisting next to a coach who is running a drill. Having an assistant, relieving a coach from the need to manage balls coming back in at the end of each drill repetition, frees up the coach to focus on teaching and keeping the drill moving.

Shagging During Batting Practice   Any balls the kids aren’t playing directly off the bat are collected by a parent helper. The idea that position players shag balls during batting practice is a misnomer. Shagging steals hours of potential skill building opportunities from our kids over the course of a season...also, “it’s really boring”. At the college and pro levels the position players do not shag, they spend their time playing balls off the bat. The pitching staffs of higher level teams do the lion’s share of shagging.

Throwing Ground Balls and Fly Balls During Batting Practice   Yes, you read that correctly: throwing ground balls and fly balls.  When throwing a ground ball or fly ball, accuracy is significantly higher than when using a bat.  There are no fouls, shanks and swings and misses when tossing the ball.

Between batters and during any lulls in live balls being hit by the batter, a parent helper throws ground balls to infielders.  Another helper can stand behind second base and toss fly balls to an outfielder during stoppages in balls being hit by the batter.  Balls can be delivered underhand or overhand; underhand is often more accurate and easier on those old muscles and joints. Fly ball tosses only need to travel 30’ and don’t need to be higher than 15’; the objective is to give the outfielder a high number of accurate, catchable fly balls.

 

Video of a highly efficient workout

– all balls are thrown by the coaches: watch for 10 seconds at each of the following time points: 2:25, 2:40, 5:00, 5:30, 6:45

 

We must do everything we can to structure batting practice, so that all twelve kids are constantly participating in skill building activities.

Keeping kids focused on their skill area during BP   A well-structured batting practice is a “12 Player Drill”. Players not hitting live at home plate are involved in the following activities: hitting balls off a tee while on deck, playing balls off the bat while in the field and reacting to balls off the bat as base runners. Another group of players is positioned down the right field line hitting whiffle balls pitched to them (off a knee from 15’) by a coach/parent. Other kids in the ‘Right Field Group’ spend time working on their pitching and/or catcher skills.

These activities do not take place simply by telling the kids to do them; it requires supervision and constant re-direction to keep them focused on their assigned activity. A few strategically positioned parents with simple, but specific instructions can greatly increase skill building productivity during batting practice.

 

Parents Helping Run Simple Drills

There are many basic skill activities where the primary objective is repetition moreso than in-depth instruction. One of the most basic formats of an effective practice is having small groups rotating through a series of drill stations.

 

(The coaching guide section of the website will grow throughout March.  You will find suggestions of where parent helpers can assist in a variety of activities.)

 

When working in these basic skill activities it is important to emphasize to parents that they only want to perform the very basic task you assign them; they will be surprised to learn that most practice activities are not complicated. It is also important to be clear that they should not do or say more than what you ask.  Occasionally a parent gets over-eager in their desire to help.  Remind them that the messaging originates from you and the parent helper is simply reiterating the message. Forewarn the parent helpers that the kids will make mistakes and not be perfect in their actions. It is important the parent helper only communicate the key points prescribed by the coach for the given activity and not start free lancing.

Don’t be overly concerned if parents don’t do things exactly right. Keep giving them pointers throughout the year based on your observations. They will learn, improve and become more valuable over time. Keep in mind that the kids will not be scarred for life if a helper does not run an activity perfectly.

Getting parents involved and prepped will take some time during the first few weeks of practices. Investing the time and effort early on will pay dividends in skill development and the level of fun experienced by the kids over the course of the season.

COACHES: ITS NOT WHAT WE KNOW ...it's what they understand

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How is your spring going for you and the team you are coaching? If the flow of practices and the pace of the kids picking up what you are teaching is a bit less than you had anticipated or hoped, I want to share one thought with you that may be helpful in your mindset in coaching the kids…

…....
“IT’S NOT WHAT WE KNOW, IT’S WHAT THEY UNDERSTAND”
…....

Volunteer youth baseball and softball coaches go into their task with a level of knowledge and experience across the spectrum from those who have played and/or coached at the HS, College, or Pro level to those who never played and may not have a deep understanding of the game.
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Not having a high level of experience or knowledge is not necessarily a negative, while having a tremendous amount of knowledge or experience is not necessarily a benefit.

Those with little background can find it easier to follow the lead of knowledge source – such as www.baseballpositive.com ;) …while those with a significant background in the game sometimes struggle with bringing that information down to a level of communication that the kids can consume, digest and convert to their play on the field.
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The objective of the Baseball Positive website is to assist coaches at both ends of the spectrum, and all those in between, by providing a consistent teaching ‘language’ that is clear and consumable by the kids.

Throughout the pages of the BP website we utilize the same Teaching Phrases and Words that have a specific meaning, making it easier for kids to Understand what they are being taught.


Examples of Teaching Phrases:

“Move Your Feet”
“Ball First, Base Second”
“Turn Fast”


All the best for a great spring helping the kids learn and grow their love of the game!
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Mark Linden - Director, Baseball Positive - marklinden20@gmail.com

 

'PLAYING CATCH PRACTICE' ...the most important part of the day

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“Hey kids, grab this bucket of balls and go loosen up your arms. We start practice in 10 minutes.”

When we say this to our team we are effectively saying, “Hey kids, go spend some time on the most important skill in the game, unsupervised, with no structure and then we’ll practice.  And when we practice, you guys will screw up throwing and catching, the drills will be a mess, I will get frustrated and yell at you and our practice will fall apart.”

‘Playing catch’, ‘getting loose’, ‘warm up’, that time honored ritual at the start of any day at the ballpark is the downfall of youth baseball and softball.  Because it is not valued at the level that it should be and teams miss this daily opportunity to improve their ability to play the game well.

Playing Catch is the essence of the game, it is the foundation of everything we do on defense, but do we put a proper value on that time? Do we work at it?  Do we establish and maintain discipline in the activity?  Do we have a plan for what we want to accomplish? 

I am stating, emphatically, that the activity of playing catch is the most important ten minutes we spend at the park.  We want this be the most focused, mostdisciplined and hardest working part of a practice; not just for the kids, but for us as coaches.  It is the one time during practice that our full attention is on the task at hand.

Let’s start by changing our mindset of this activity.  In most instances playing catch is called ‘warm up’.  Hey guys and gals, lets ‘warm up’.  Coaches, please, let’s take the phrase ‘warm-up’, pull it out of our brain, stick it in our hand and chuck it as far away from the baseball or softball field as possible.  At least in its use in relation to playing catch.  If we use the phrase warm-up, let’s use it to refer to warming up the body (through exercises or appropriate skill building activities - see the ‘Skill Building Warm-up’ page), not warming up the kids’ arms.

From this point forward let’s approach the playing catch segment of practice as a Drill.  The term ‘drill’ sets in the mind of a player that the activity is meant to develop skills; and for us coaches it is a structured, discipline and supervised activity that has clear objectives.

There is a “Playing Catch Practice” page on this site.  Unfortunately it is one of the least visited pages (technology is great, these websites give the administrators so much information of what is going on).  The fact that this page is one of the least visited is my fault.  I did not put enough emphasis on the need for every coach to not only view that page, but to study it and apply the principles and activities.

The first thing we want to master as coaches is running a great “Playing Catch Practice” routine - every day.  If our kids do a great job of playing catch at the start of each day, we will find that the rest of the day operates much better than we might have imagined. When our kids play catch with a purpose each day, as the season progresses, the quality of our team’s play skyrockets in a positive direction.  But don’t take it from me, listen to Cal Ripken Jr.  In his book he states (and I paraphrase), “I can walk into a ballpark, watch both teams playing catch before a game and from that simple observation tell you who is going to win the game.”

“Playing Catch Practice” is an activity that is conducted with the utmost seriousness, has absolute focus and is the part of the day that everyone, including the coaches, is at their very best and working hardest.  Each participant must have a clear understanding of what they are trying to accomplish in each action and in each segment.  Each participant must be disciplined (with the coach maintaining that discipline throughout) in every action.

For the benefit of the kids, the game and the blood pressure of all coaches, please take 10-15 minutes to look at the “Playing Catch Practice” page right now.  And refer back to it often throughout the season and beyond.  If we coaches place the utmost of importance on this single aspect of practice we will see the quality of our teams’ play improve beyond our greatest expectations.

Prevent Injuries From Swinging Bats …be like the pros, carry the bat by the barrel

 

 

As a parent, what is your greatest fear for your child when they are playing baseball or softball?  Getting hit by a thrown ball?  A line drive hitting them while pitching?   Taking a ball in the teeth from a bad hop? 

 

 

 

Each of these scenarios can potentially result in a serious injury, but are considered to be ‘part of the game’ and are not entirely avoidable. Getting hit by a bat swung by another player can be avoided by training our kids to always carry the bat by the barrel

 

 

 

This video is of an incident that happened during a major league game a couple years ago.  Ryan Braun is swinging his bat, not in the on-deck circle, but near his teammates in the dugout.  This is a grown man who has spent his life at ballfields interacting with teammates.  Even with this experience it is possible to get into your own world as a payer and forget for a moment what is going on around you. 

 

 

 

If this type of mind fart can happen to a grown man, a pro, it certainly can (and does on a daily basis)  happen to a young perosn. Any of us who have spend much time around a youth baseball players have seen a player swinging the bat randomly somewhere on the field and its clear they are not considering the possibility of another player, or sibling, friend coach possibly walking by and being in range of being hit on the follow through of a swing.

 

 

 

 

 

Below are simple rules that Baseball Positive maintains during its camps, batting classes and team workouts and, knock on wood, bat injuries have been avoided.  Implement these rules in your team's and league’s activities and prevent this from happening to one of your kids.

1.   Hold the bat by the barrel when moving from place to place.

2.   When a bat is pulled from a bat rack, equipment bat, etc. the player immediately grabs         the bat by the barrel.

3.   When a bat is picked up off the ground, it is picked up by the barrel.

 

 

Also:

When multiple batters are swinging a bat at one time in close proximity to each other ie a batting station during practice  (whiffle ball batting, tee work, soft toss etc.), no batter is allowed to move from their designated swinging spot until all participants have set their bats down.  All players move in and out of the batting station together.  If balls need to be picked up; all batters stop their swings and pick up balls together

No player is allowed to toss a ball up in order to swing at it i.e., ‘pitch to themselves’, play ‘golf’ with a bat and a ball that is on the ground or any other such bat swinging activity not clearly defined by a coach/adult.

 

 

 

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There are only two instances players are allowed to hold the bat by the handle and swing the bat:   

1. When standing at a spot that is designated by a coach/adult for working on the swing i.e. whiffle ball batting, batting tee, soft toss, etc. 

2. When standing at home plate during batting practice, a scrimmage or a game 

 

 

 

 

Simply laying these rules out does not guarantee the kids’ safety.  The coaches and adults involved with a baseball or softball activity must take a hawkish approach to enforcing these rules all day, every day, all season.  We should only see kids holding a bat by the handle when they are getting ready to hit a pitched/tossed ball or when standing at a tee.  Any other time we see our kids around the ball field they either do not have a bat in their hands or a carrying it by the barrel.

 

The incident (shown in the video) involving of Ryan Braun and Jean Segura never should have happened.  There is an on-deck circle for a reason; it is a designated safe place to take warm up swings.  All players and coaches know to be careful when walking near the on-deck circle and to walk wide of the in-deck circle when passing. 

 

In this instance Braun was the third batter scheduled to hit and Segura was batting second.  Braun wanted to start getting loose early and chose the top stop of the dugout stairs as a spot to take a few swings.  You would expect that he would be conscious of the fact that the second batter in the line-up would be coming to the stairs soon, not to mention the fact that any player or coach from the teams could walk by.  But players do get in their own world at times think about the job they have to do.  The top step of the dugout with a bat in your hands is not a good time to go zone out.

 

What makes this incident worse is Braun didn’t just take two handed swings that would keep the bat relatively close to his body.  He swung the bat straight back behind him, in line with the stairs, with one arm.  This sent the barrel of the bat nearly six feet behind him into the dugout where he knew there his teammates and coaches were located and might possibly be close by.

No player at any level of baseball has any business standing at the entrance/exit of the dugout swinging a bat.  If Braun was that anxious to loosen up he could have walked down past the end of the dugout and stood where he could see the rest of his teammates and they could see him.  The rules laid out above can’t be levied on a team of Major League baseball players, but most are followed using the common sense of a professional who has been around the game their entire life. Unfortunately, in this case, a grown man failed to use common sense resulting in an incident that jeopardized the career of his teammate.

 

Turning back to our kids; in order for these rules to be followed and for them to stick we must put ourselves in the minds and shoes of the kids. 

First, young children still see the world almost exclusively through their own eyes.  They are the center of the universe and their immediate wants and desires can override common sense and rules.  Second, kids see the handle as being the only option for holding a bat (and holding can quickly turn into swinging).  Finally, children (and most adults) don’t immediately change their habits the first time they are told.  We must be diligent in helping them establish the habit of holding the bat by the barrel whenever they are away from a designated swinging area and carrying their bat. (We adults must also establish this same habit when we have a bat in our hands; kids take their cues from us.)

 

How do we motivate our kids to establish the safe habit of always holding the bat by the barrel when carrying it from place to place?  Let them know that is how the pros do it (and point this out to them); the pros are cool  : )

Many kids want to emulate the pros and most want to look cool.  When implementing this rule we do so, from an adult’s perspective, to maintain a safe environment for the kids and we do so, from a kid’s perspective, because holding the bat by the barrel is cool.

Starting today, let’s teach our kids how to be cool …and remain safe.

 

Batting Pros Carry the Bat by the Barrel...

See the video from: 0:15 – 1:10…

Watch how the batters hold the bat immediately following striking out.  This is an example of how the pros carry their bat when they are not batting.  The proper way to hold a bat, when not batting, is by the barrel.

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Overthrowing The Pitcher At The End Of A Play ...a simple way to eliminate this common mistake from youth baseball and softball

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A common mistake made by youth teams is mishandling the ball while getting it back to the middle of the infield after a play has ended. 

The definition for 'end of the play' is when the base runner(s) have stopped running hard and attempting to advance to another base.  Making a wide turn and/or dancing around baiting a throw are not examples of attempting to advance.

After the play has ended there is no reason to risk making an overhand throw.  We train our players to 'run the ball in'.  When moving the ball to a teammate, the options are to hand the ball off or make a short underhand toss.

Mishandling the ball while getting it back to the middle of the infield and in the the pitchers hands not only costs the defense by allowing runners to advance further than they had planned to; it also delays the game and extends the length of the game.  A big part of making youth baseball more fun for everyone involved is to keep the game moving along at a quick pace.

 

 

Hey Umpires and Board Members - let's take baiting out of the youth game

Let's eliminate baiting from the youth game.  We've seen it happen over and over.  A play ends, the ball is back in the pitcher's hands, but a base runner is dancing around 10 feet of a base, daring the pitcher to try to get them out by making a throw.

The temptation for the young pitcher is often too great to resist.  They make the throw, the ball gets past the base and the runner takes off.

All the while, the other two dozen kids are standing around waiting, doing nothing.  The parents, coaches and umpires are waiting.  This game of 'I dare you' slows the game for everyone and is not baseball.

As leaders in youth baseball, we are constantly working to make the game a better experience for everyone.  A big issue with the game is the pace being too slow.  Eliminating baiting speeds up the pace of the game.

 

How is This Implemented?

The board agrees to empower the umpires to use their judgement in determining when the defense has successfully gotten the ball in to the pitcher, effectively ending the play.  At that point the umpire hollers, "TIME!".  ...then calls for the next batter to get in the box and hit.

Simple...

Let's keep the game moving.

Struggling To Prepare Your Team For The Season? Not Enough Time? Can’t Get A Field? …how to prioritize your practice activities and holding a championship level practice anywhere

Coach - Cartoon.jpg

 

Poor weather is a huge problem for many youth baseball and softball coaches prior to the start of the season.  In many urban areas, limited space makes it hard to get field time to hold a practice.

 

These issues are real.  The start date for the season is real as well.  This article helps coaches step outside the box and establish a new mindset towards practices. 

 

You will find links to drills and videos that will help you to run great practices regardless of any challenging circumstances you are facing.

 

 

 

No Field Required

The most important thing to recognize, in order to get more practices in is that a baseball field is not required to hold a Championship Quality practice.  Any flat space works ie a patch of grass using throw down bases (or any marker to represent a base) and using cones to mark out drills.  

For years I've heard folks remark about the difficulty in holding practices.  When I ask the reason, I'm usually given one of two reasons:

  1. Can't get a field assignment
  2. Weather

 

#1 - A baseball field is not needed - example: when Wichita State University resurrected  their program in the late 1970's.  They had no baseball field.  The team practiced in a grass field.  Five years later they were in the National Championship game.  After a decade of existence they won the National Championship.

Watch from 1:00 - 1:40 of footage of the team practicing  ...the first minute, leading in, is pretty inspiring; it shows highlights of their National Championship win.

 

#2 - When its wet or drizzling, practices can be held on a concrete school yard....the Baseball Positive website has dozens of drills that don't require a grass or dirt surface.  Many neighborhoods (urban and suburban) have an elementary school with a covered basketball court (less so in the sunbelt states).  This is a place to hold a practice if it’s raining hard.  When I coached my son's eight-year-old team, I told the parents we would never cancel a practice.  We'd either be at the park (when it wasn't too wet) or at the elementary school.

 

Rain/Wet Day Practice   

Skill Building Warm-up   

 

 

 

Drill Prioritization

The following drills and activities don’t cover it all.  They do address  the core fundamentals of the game and will give your kids what they need to develop their skills and be competitive on the field.  The Baseball Positive website has a lot more drills, if you want more. 

 

Whiffle Ball Batting

Pitching Wiffle Balls (video):

watch 0:38 - 1:23    

Many coaches feel that their kids need to feel a real ball coming off their bat.  More important is the kids get as many swings as possible.  When using wiffle balls, multiple kids can be hitting the ball at the same time.  We get a lot more swings in a shorter period of time.

 

 

Receiving a Throw at a Base

On the surface this may not seem like a high priority.  Keep in mind that most outs (other than strike outs) require players to catch a thrown ball at a base; something that most  teams don’t teach their players or practice

 

Infield Base Coverage

Note: run this without a pitcher (I need to update the diagram)

How often, when a ball is put in play, do we have players just standing around?  This drill trains player that no matter where the ball is hit they have a responsibility.  Additional drills are on the website to train outfielders and to address more detailed situations.  The there are 9 players on the field, and only one ball.  The question we want to ask our kids is, “What are you going to do if the ball is NOT hit to you?”

 

(Mini Diamond – super tool  )

 

 

Underhand Toss

This is a Major League Skill.  Big League players throw the ball underhand many times each game….when throwing short distances.  The game played on the small diamond has many more instances requiring short distance throws. And many kids don’t realize that tossing the ball underhand is even an option.

 

20’ ground balls

Reps, reps, reps.  Accomplished fielders get massive reps.  This fast paced drill gets kids many reps in a short period of time.

 

Infielders Throwing Across Rotation

We don’t need to limit ourselves to using just the three bases laid out on the infield for running our drills.  Throw down a couple of markers to represent first base.  Now we can have three groups of kids working at the same time, significantly increasing our reps….and greatly eliminating down time between reps.

 

 

Toss Drills (fly balls)

Reps, reps, reps.  There it is again.  More important than learning to judge fly balls is the need to catch a lot of fly balls.

 

Three Groups Drills

Pretty standard concept.  Set up three stations in your infield (this infield can be in a cow pasture in a rural area, or a concrete school yard in an urban area --if a ball field is not readily available--  using throw down bases) and get the kids moving.  The sample diagrams get your brain moving.  From these examples you can come up with additional set ups addressing your team’s needs.

 

 

Playing Catch Practice

Let’s step outside the box of how we perceive ‘warm up’ at the beginning of practice.  In this activity we give all our kids pitching reps, then a dynamic throwing session as a position player, then wrap up with a skill activity.  This 15-minute session, once a team has gone through it 4-5 times, gets a ton done in a short time.

 

 

 

Short on Time?

Condensed Practice Plan

Pre-practice - Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15 - Skill Building Warm up

0:15 - 0:30 - Playing Catch Practice

0:30 - 0:45 - Drills / Team Defense Activity

0:45 - 0:60 - Batting Practice using Wiffle Balls*

* When using wiffle balls, multiple kids can bat at the same time, which results in getting more work in, in a shorter period of time.

 

The structure of a complete practice (as well as a couple dozen practice plans) is found HERE.  The above plan is a modified version of full practice.

 

 

Instant Results

It is very important to recognize that kids are not going to Get It right away.  Each drill or activity usually takes three sessions before it starts to run smoothly. 

Day 1:

We get a, “Whoa, what is going on?”, response from our kids and a lot of chaos.  OK, that is what is going to happen, so we don’t get overly concerned.

 

Day 2:

Kids perspective, “Oh this is that thing we did the other day”.  They now know what to expect, but they still need time to grasp the flow of the activity.

 

Day 3:

Now the kids are familiar with the activity and have had some repetitions.  The third time we run an activity is when it starts looking something like we expected.

Moving forward -  this activity can get started quickly; the kids know what is coming up.  The activity flows efficiently; the kids know the routine.

 

But I don’t have time to do all these drills over and over. True, IF we are determined to run zillions of different drills and activities.  However, if we pick out 7-8 drills/activities to repeat throughout the season, the coaches and players get really good at each activity and we become a lot more productive.

But the kids get board doing the same stuff over and over.  I’ll suggest that when activities have a good flow, the kids are constantly in motion and see themselves getting better, bordom is not an issue.

 

 

 

Keep it Simple

I was fortunate to assist at Wichita State University in the mid-90’s during its heyday of multiple College World Series appearances.  The thing that struck me most about that experience was how plain vanilla the practices were.  All the players knew the structure of the activities and knew what was expected.  The amount of quality work that was accomplished each day was beyond anything I had experienced in all my years as a player.

Working with kids is challenging enough.  When we limit and simplify our practice activities, we can be better coaches, our kids are better able to develop their skills, and everyone enjoys their time on the field much, much more.

Will Your Child Succeed As A Hitter This Spring? …a step-by-step approach to building the swing (part 1 of 3)

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Is your ballplayer going to maximize their potential as a batter this season? What can you do to help? What does it take to get ready?

Take them to the batting cages and crank up the pitching machine or get out to the park and throw as many pitches as your arm can handle.  This is the way to get a player ready to be a hitter, as most people believe…pitch, pitch, pitch, swing, swing, swing. 

The fact is however, swinging at live pitches is the last step in getting a player ready for the season.  Developing the swing and/or getting the swing back in shape is a step-by-step process that begins with drills to develop muscle memory and working off a batting tee, working up to taking swings against live pitches. 

The information in this article, the first in a three-part series, guides a beginner or novice player in their learning and preparation, while it serves a fundamentals checklist for a more experienced batter.

 

 

Live Swings

Kids, of course, want to immediately start whacking away at live pitches. Swinging at live pitches is the ‘Icing on the Cake’ of the process.  The primary function of live swings is for a batter to get their timing down.

Prior to getting into live swings, a batter wants to establish consistency in the fundamental aspects of their swing using a tee, soft toss and short front toss drills.   This doesn’t mean we can’t let our kids have some ‘fun time’ swinging at live pitches, but we make that the last part of the batting session, with no instruction.  Again, live batting is for timing, not for teaching.  Feedback given to a batter during a live session is limited to reminders of points they have learned in the controlled environment of muscle memory drills, tee work, soft toss and front toss.  (Instruction points for live swings will be noted in the final two parts of this series.)

 

 

 

Tee Work

 

High School, College and Pro batters put in a lot of time working on their swing using a batting tee (it’s a good idea that youth players do the same).  The tee is a life-long training tool for baseball and softball players.

 

Show your young batter 30-40 seconds of this video featuring former MVP Josh Hamilton working with a tee.  This is an important education for kids; to understand that the tee is not just for Tee-Ball, but is, in-fact, a training tool used throughout one’s playing career.

 

 

 

Tee - Stance.jpg

 

Two important points when working with a Batting Tee:

 

1.   Stance*** in Relationship to the Tee

  •       Front foot even with the tee stem/ball
  •       One bat length from the ball (not bat and arm length)

            

2.   Each Swing has a Purpose

Make one aspect of the swing the focus for a series of 8-10 swings.  Take a brief rest break (spend 20-30 seconds picking up balls), then switch to a different focus point.

 

 

 

The five points below establish the three foundations needed to move to more advanced drill work: Using the Legs, Head Control and Balance.  These are covered in detail in the following sections of the article.

  1. Turn Back, (Load), Turn Fast (Legs/Lower Half of the Body)
  2. "Switch Heels" - same as number one, but with a more specific focus
  3. Head in Place/Head Down
  4. Feet in Place - at the conclusion of the swing (always full speed) ...are feet still in place? or did the batter allow the momentum of the swing force them to move one or both feet to a different spot than where they were during the swing?
  5. Centered and Tall - complete the swing (always full speed), then confirm the head, torso and hips are straight up and down (tall) and centered between the feet.

 

The first two points are physical actions the batter addressing in their swing.  They are pretty much the same.  The difference is, #1 is a general focus of the entire lower half; #2 is a specific action that creates the leg/hip turn.

The other three are ‘checkpoints’ after the swing.  These three points are characteristic of any fundamentally sound swing.  Many swings made by young players are missing one or more of these three elements.  The simple act of correcting these points can significantly improve a batter’s swing (over the course of a few workouts) with no technical instruction given.  At the completion of each swing, the batter checks to see if they executed the focus point.  If not, they make a more determined effort in their next swing. 

To accomplish any of these points, the batter is forced to execute a better swing.  The adjustments are not made because of a deep understanding of the swing or a conscious technical change.    By consciously working to achieve one of this points at the conclusion of the swing, the body will naturally produce a better swing.  In some cases the swing will improve after just a few repetitions. In other cases, improvement will be seen after 2-3 workouts.

 

Two final points

  1. The batter and instructor evaluate only the quality of achieving the objective, the single focus point.  The result of how well the ball was hit (if it is hit at all) is not something we evaluate at this point.
  2. Do not discuss other flaws in the  swing; likely there will be many.  Remember, developing the swing (or shaking off the rust) is a step-by-step process.   

 

The adjustments are not based on instruction or thinking.  The batter simply attempts to fulfill the single objective.  The value in this is the batter is improving their swing without thinking through the swing based on the verbal instruction from the coach/adult.....which often leads to confusion and/or frustration.

This 50-swing workout is plenty for one day.  After the tee work, reward them with live pitches, but I suggest we make this part of the activity ‘fun time’ with no instruction.

If our player struggles during the live session, that sets us up for selling the value of the tee work, “Hey, its early, we’ll keep working on the tee and soon you’ll be hitting the ball better”.

 

 

***Grip and The Back Elbow

These two aspects of the batting stance are misunderstood and often viewed as ‘fixes’ for a batter who is struggling.

The most important thing in the grip is to have the hands together.  Right hand batters have their right hand on top; left handers, left hand on top.  The popular myth is that a batter lines up their middle knuckles.  For some batters this works well.  Other batters line up their middle knuckles with the first knuckles (where the fingers meet the hand).  Most batters’ knuckle alignment is somewhere in between.  Somewhere between knockers and box

Batting Grip - Mauer mid.jpg
Batting Grip - McCutch mid.jpg
Batting Grip - Trout box.jpg

 

 

“Keep Your Back Elbow Up” is often heard from helpful parents and coaches.  Elbow placement in the stance varies from batter to batter.  There is no magic in having the back elbow up in the stance.  The idea of a batter wanting to keep their ‘elbow up’ originates, as I understand, from the fact that this position makes it easier for a young child to support the weight of the bat when holding it prior to starting the swing.

Batting - Back Elbow - Altuve down.jpg
Batting - Back Elbow - McCutch mid.jpg
Batting - Back Elbow - Bryant mid cropped.jpg
Batting - Back Elbow - Trout up.jpg

 

 

 

 

Fundamental Focus Points to Begin With

Turn Back 3.jpg

1.   Lower Half Turn (“Turn Back, Turn Fast”) …see ‘Batting is Like Jumping', six posts below

 

The legs initiate the swing action and provide the energy and momentum for the swing itself.  Many kids do not

realize the legs are part of the swing; not to mention their importance. An action to focus on during Tee Work (soft

and front toss as well) is the "Switch Heels" action.

 

 

Before working on this action during Tee Work, first we want to train the muscles to perform this action by doing

the no-bat Switch Heels Drill (to develop muscle memory in the legs):

 

Anchor Altuve - Copy.jpg
  1. Get in a batting stance (a good stance has the feet set a few inches outside the hips)
  2. Place hands on hips (all muscles in the chest, neck shoulders and arms remain relaxed during this drill).
  3. Have an object, which is even with the batters front foot and in the center of the strike zone, for the batter to look at throughout the action (keeping the head in place during the drill is very important, though difficult at first for most kids).
  4. The batter slightly turns their front knee back, resulting in their front heel coming off the ground. (Many batters have some inward turn of the upper body as a result of this action).  Head remains fixed on the object referred to in #3.
  5. The batter then quickly drives their front heel down and back (the front foot finishes at approx. 45 degrees…there will be some variance from person to person)

 

...while executing this action with the front heel, the back heel turns up (in an actual swing, involving a bat, many

batters finish entirely up on the toe of their back foot)

 

This drill is simple to execute and repeat.  A batter can repeat this action 10-15x in a minute.  If practiced daily – yes

a minute is a big time commitment ;) - in just a few days, a young batter begins to  FEEL their legs to powering the

swing action.   This drill is also done prior to a batting practice session..

 

 

2.   Switch Heels Drill

Take a set of swings with this action as the focus point.

 

Watch these videos of Albert Pujols (:00, :40, 1:35) and Mike Zunino (:03-0:18, 0:31) crushing Home Runs.  The action of "Switching Heels" is very clear.

 

 

3.   Head in Place / Head Down  

Batting - Head Down LoMo cropped.jpg

Head facing the ball on the tee prior to the swing.  Complete swing (always full speed) while keeping head looking at contact point (top of the tee) after the ball has been hit.

Movement of the head is a common flaw for kids when swinging the bat. A player can get top notch instruction and have a great mechanics, but if their head is moving the value of everything else is out the window. The body follows the head, when the head moves it throws off the whole swing.

Mastering the ability of power generation and completing a full swing, while at the same time keeping the 'Head in Place' takes some time, but a youth baseball player or softball player can accomplish this...and many can achieve a good level of mastery in a couple of weeks.

There second element in the foundation of a good swing, along with the Legs, is The Head.  Before anything else, to build a fundamentally sound swing, a batter needs to 

  1. Generate energy and power with their legs
  2. Keep their head in place

 

When “Head in Place” is the focus during Tee Work, the batter has their Head Down, facing the ball, in their stance.  After hitting the ball the batter wants to then be looking at the top of the tee.  Its simple for the batter to check if their head moved …either they are looking at the top of the Tee following their swing or they are not.

(Note: Keeping the head down until the conclusion of the swing is a ‘drill/focus point’ for a set of 8-10 swings.  This is not something a batter does during a swing in normal circumstances.  When executing a quality swing, the momentum of bat extension takes the back shoulder past the head forcing the head off contact point.  However, a high level batter has their head down at contact an for a few brief moments after the ball leaves the bat.)

 

 

4.   Feet in Place 

Batting - Feet in Place.jpg

A lack of leg strength is a reality for most youth baseball and softball players – and kids in general.  Often when completing a swing, young players lose balance and reposition their feet (this is not to be confused with ‘stepping in the bucket’ prior to the swing). This repositioning of the feet to regain balance, following the swing, is generally a result of one, or both, of these factors:

  1. Using the upper body (primarily the shoulders) to initiate the swing action
  2. The momentum of the bat in the final stages of the swing

When a batter feels off balance at the end of their swing, we ask them to keep their “Feet in Place” and make every effort to re-balance themselves without repositioning their feet.  When this adjustment is made it sends a message to the muscles that balance is the goal.  Through repetition, the muscles learn to be more balanced and effective during the swing.

While each point discussed here is are a high priority, it can be argued that “Feet in Place” is most important.  When doing this, a batter maximizes the power in their legs and minimizes unnecessary body movement during the swing.  A batter who executes a swing with the combination of:

  1. Legs Turn Fast
  2. Head in Place
  3. Feet in Place

…will find it difficult to have a poor swing.

(Note: in each swing the batter wants to turn their legs/lower half at full speed and swing the bat full speed (most of the swing effort is made with the legs and hands/wrists).  The faster the swing action, the more accurate the swing – this will be addressed in the next two parts of this series.)

 

 

5.   Centered and Tall 

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When in their stance, a good batter’s head is pretty much centered between their feet. At the end of their swing, their head is still centered between their feet.  In addition to their head, a batter’s torso is also centered, while their posture is ‘tall’ (head, torso and hips aligned, vertically, with the back knee, at the conclusion of their swing. 

Many young batters are bent over at the waist during, and following, their swing. Others allow their torso to ‘sway’ forward during the swing.  The torso of accomplished batters  is centered, straight and tall at the conclusion of their swing (some stronger batters may have slight tilt back at the conclusion of their swing).

 

 

 

Practice Session

  • Switch Heels Drill 15-20x
  • Take 10 swings each, following the five focus points above - for a total of 50 swings
  • Live swings (just for fun)

 

 

 

The Next Step

The path of hands is added to our workouts once the batter has gained some level of proficiency in using their legs and establishes some consistency in the focus points mentioned in the article.  

Since there is more to learn and practice, the swing will have some flaws.  In the next two articles in this series hand path is covered along with utilizing Soft Toss, Front Toss and Swings Against Live Pitching.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Batting - Front Toss.jpg
Batting - Soft Toss 2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly Balls Three Toss Drill …multiple skills, fast paced, lots of reps, fun

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How can we improve out players’ fly ball catching skills in a short amount of time?  The ‘Three Toss Fly Ball Drill’ is part of the solution. It is great for infielders as well as outfielders; is challenging and fun.

 

This is a drill that is run at a lightning fast pace.  The player is moving at full speed throughout.  The pace, coupled with the changes of direction, conditions, builds agility, and develops a variety of catching skills. It applicable to any age ...including teens and high school players.

 

The player catches three different fly balls in this drill, which takes 7-8 seconds per player:

  1. Ranging Laterally
  2. Coming in
  3. Going Back

 

Fly Balls - 3 Toss Drill -.jpg

Ideally this is run with no more than 3 or 4 players.  Once each player has been through the drill, the time spent waiting for their next turn is spent catching their breath. If we start with a bucket of 30 balls, depending on the age and skill level of the players, we can get through 15-20 reps, before having to take a break and pick up the balls. 

The best situation for using this drill is as a station in a skills rotation.  During a five-minute stop at this station each player will get a chance to make a play on 20-30 fly balls.

 

Keys for the drill to be most effective

  • Coach makes low arcing throws – this is Not a drill to train kids to judge high fly balls; we are working on the skill of catching a ball while on the run.  Coach is a quarterback throwing passes to a receiver.
  • Use an underhand arm action when tossing – this is much more accurate than throwing overhand
  • If there is a left-handed player in the group, and you have younger kids (nine and under), run the left-handed player in the opposite direction for the first toss. Otherwise they are making a backhanded play, which is much more difficult.

 

Keys for the drill to remain fast paced

  • Most important – if a ball is not caught the player does not retrieve it; they get ready for the next toss
  • Coach is constantly reminding the players to ‘sprint full speed’
  • Have as many balls on hand as possible
  • Limit instruction to two points:
  1. Run full speed
  2. Catch the ball away from your body – reach out with the glove arm

…this is a repetitions activity, not a teaching activity.  Make a mental note of teaching points to share afterwards.

                                                                                                                    <SEE THIS DIAGRAM ON THE BASEBALL POSITIVE WEBSITE>

 

What is Going to Happen?

  • Coach will make inaccurate tosses – no big deal. Tell the player, “Hey, bad throw, I’ll get better; keep moving”
  • Players will miss catches – we clearly instruct them, prior to the drill, that when they miss a catch, to not stop to pick up the ball.  They are to get to the next starting point asap and get ready for the next toss
  • The rhythm and flow of the drill, the first time it is run, will be a bit clunky – any new activity is less than perfect the first time around.

While We May Know Baseball As It’s Played on a Full-Size Field …are we prepared to coach the small diamond game?

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The Game Played on The Smaller Diamond is Different

 

Folks who know the game as it is played at higher levels (HS, College, Pro) now find themselves on the smaller diamond coaching their kids' teams. 

Does this knowledge translate to teaching the game to kids?  Is there a need to modify the approach to coaching youth baseball and its skills?

The answer to these questions are, ‘Not Really’ and a definite, ‘Yes’.

 

 

 

It is important to recognize that the game played on the smaller diamond is much different than the one played on 90’ base paths.

 

 

 

Ballfields - Wrigley.jpg

First, these are little kids, not teens or grown-ups.  Their bodies are not as strong as ours are - or were :)  Their understanding of baseball clichés and ability to grasp complex concepts is limited. 

Our knowledge of the game played on the full-sized diamond, coupled with decades of basebalisms collected in our brains, it is easy to forget the perspective of the kids we are working with.

 

 

We want to catch ourselves when we ask them to perform physical actions their bodies are not entirely equipped for and when talk of the game making assumptions of the kids’ knowledge and understanding. 

Most of these instruction mistakes are unintentional and the adults working with kids are unaware that what they have said was not grasped by the kids.  After a decade of working with youth level coaches, I see these communication snafus occur on a regular basis.

 

 

 

 

Effectively Communicating to Kids

We want to be sure the terminology we use can be grasped by our young ballplayers.  An example is the concept of a batter making contact with the ball where the they can maximize strength and power.

At higher levels of play common statements are, "Let the ball travel", or "Let the ball get deep". ...travel where? ...get deep relative to what?  These statements easily go right over a kid's head.  Another way to communicate this concept, so kids can understand is, "Let the ball get to your feet". 

This is a literal statement.  Contact is made, give-or-take, when the ball is even with the front foot (with some variance on inside and outside pitches).  A youth player can see where their feet are.  The reference of the ball getting to their feet enables them to clearly understand where they want to make contact.

A statement commonly used when teaching fielding is, “Get your butt down”.  Is that really what we want the kids to do?  If they squat their butt down, while their feet are close together, is that what we wanted our fielder to do?  …the thing is, if they do squat down in that manner, they are 100% fulfilling what we instructed   : )

The teaching phrase for fielding a ground ball, used by Baseball Positive, is, “Feet Wide to Catch”.  A good fielding position involves the feet being wide apart.  When a player gets their feet wide apart…..their butt goes down toward the ground.

Talking in literal terms is the cornerstone to effectively communicating baseball skills to kids.

Throughout the BP website there are ‘Teaching Phrases’ that have a clear and literal meaning. You’ll find the same words and phrases come up over and over. These are not absolutes; they are terms I feel comfortable with.  If you have a different word or phrase you prefer, use what flows best for you. 

The key is consistency in the terminology we use when instructing.  By using consistent terminology for common, fundamental actions, we can be sure our kids truly understand what we are teaching.

 

 

Physical Capabilities of Kids

This is a game of explosive movements requiring a good amount of body strength to perform them well.  Pre-pubescent bodies are much less powerful than those that are well into, or have gone through, puberty.  For most of us coaches, that stage of life is a distant memory.  We’ve been moving through the world with big strong bodies for so long, it is likely we’ve forgotten what it feels like to try to pitch, field a ground ball, or swing a bat using the body of a little kid. 

A common mistake made by youth baseball coaches is explaining and demonstrating skills from the perspective of how they are executed by an adult body, rather than the perspective of a kid’s body.

 

BATTING

An example of our familiarity with our adult strength is when teaching kids the loading action for swinging a bat.  For a child, this action requires a of leg strength and effort.  It is easy for them to ‘just skip it’.  Many kids do not use a loading action prior to their swing.  We don’t want to make the mistake of jumping ahead to teaching other aspects of the swing without first teaching the load.

(The action of the load, for most batters, involves a slight inward turn of the front knee, and for some, the front shoulder as well. A slight weight shift back accompanies this inward turn.  The teaching phrase that Baseball Positive uses when working with batters is, “Turn Back”; this is literally what a batter does when they load.)

The purpose of the load is to prepare the legs to initiate the swing.  For most kids, it never occurred to them that the legs are a part of the swing.  First, we make them aware of using their legs, then get into the process of training the use of the legs.  It is a process of constant emphasis and reminding.  However, after a few weeks of pounding it into their heads, significant improvement in a young batter’s swing is clearly visible, because of them using their legs - “Turn Fast”

 

Fielding - Feet Wide, Reach Out - Jeter.jpg

FIELDING

A fundamentally sound fielding position, with the feet wide apart,

hips low to the ground and hands extended, is difficult for many

kids, if not impossible, to execute.  Recognizing this allows us to

adjust our expectations. 

 

 

Fielding a ground ball - Kid Version.jpg

 

 

Presenting our instruction with an upbeat tone, “We are working

towards getting in this good fielding position every time”, rather

than gruffly saying, “If you are going to be any good at fielding,

you have to get into this position”.  The way we express our

expectations, not just in our words, but also how those words are

delivered, has a significant impact on how our instruction is received. 

We want to demonstrate, in our messaging, that we recognize the

physical challenges our players are facing.

 

 

PITCHING

Finishing the pitching delivery properly, on a firm, but flexed front leg with the arm accelerating down, concluded with the chest over the front knee, requires a good deal of strength in the legs and core.  Most young, growing bodies are short on the amount of strength required to finish their delivery using a fundamentally sound action. 

A specific body type to be aware of, is the kid with a long, lean frame whose bones have lengthened out faster than their muscles’ ability to move those longer bones effectively. 

Given these realities, it doesn’t mean we don’t instruct our kids to work towards a good finish, we just do so with the understanding that they may not execute the action exactly the way we have in mind.

 

 

Differences in How the Game is Played

Beyond our expectations of their physical performance, and their capability to follow our teaching, it is important we recognize that the game is slower and that positional responsibilities are different, in some instances, on the small diamond.  Below are examples:

  • No need for the catcher to run down the line with the batter - at most parks (urban ones for sure) the perimeter fence is only 20'-25' beyond the base.  We don’t need the catcher running down the line to cover a possible overthrow at first base.

 

  • The pitcher breaks for third on balls hit to the left side of the infield - at this level we have runners on first and second a lot.  These runners are not that fast.  Double plays are rarely turned.  Getting an out, any out, is a big deal.  Training our pitcher to break for third, cover the base and prepare to take a throw properly, is a priority.  When planning team infield drills incorporate plays that involve the pitcher and third base (first base as well).    ---> Drills involving the pitcher on balls hit in the infield    A team that practices having the third baseman and shortstop making throws to the pitcher covering third will get a good number of 5-1 outs and complete a few 6-1 plays over the course of the season.  We also train our pitchers, when they field a ball that takes them to the third base side of the rubber, to feed the third baseman for a 1-5 put out.

 

  • The second baseman covers first – there are more than a few instances where the first baseman fields the ball and is not in position to get back to first base before the runner. Coaching youth baseball on the small diamond includes training the second baseman to cover first base when not fielding balls hit to their left. In cases where the pitcher reaches the bag first, the second baseman continues beyond the base to back up the throw.

 

  • The pitcher is the cut-relay to home on All balls hit to the outfield - reasons:          

                  1.   Usually, the pitcher is one of the best athletes on the field; we want them handling the ball as much as possible

                  2.   Unlike 90’ baseball, the pitcher does not back up home plate. In most cases, there is not enough room behind home plate for the pitcher to get enough depth to properly back-up an over                                        throw.  If we  send the pitcher back there, the backstop ends up doing most of the backing-up

                  3.   Kids play a variety of positions at this level; at the very least, they play positions other than pitcher.  That fact, coupled with limited practice time we have at the youth level, results in kids                                not getting the reps needed learn the nuances of each position.  Making the pitcher the cut-relay player on 100% of the plays to the plate, simplifies learning and execution.

 

  • Outfielders back-up bases on every play.  Even at the 12-year-old level, outfielders are not that far from the infield.  When they are not chasing balls in the outfield, they need to be sprinting to the infield to back up throws to bases.  This habit is developed through drill work.  Simply telling them they are supposed to back up bases in not gonna do the trick.  If you are new to this level, you will soon find out how important it is, on every throw to a base, to have a player backing-up  : )

 

  • The underhand toss is used a lot more often.  On the smaller diamond, players are much closer together. Also, there are runners on base in higher numbers, setting up a lot of force out opportunities.  Given these two points, each game has many situations calling for short throws. The underhand toss is more accurate and easier to catch when throws are made from a short distance.  Kids need to be taught how to execute this throw and it needs to be practiced throughout the season (see 'Pre-game Practice' - plug this work in on game day).  I urge coaches at every level of youth baseball to incorporate drills, using the underhand toss, into each practice.  Btw – you might be surprised  by the number of kids who don't know that tossing the ball underhand is even an option.

                                                                                         

 

Let’s Do This

Coaching a team that plays on the smaller diamond may require some learning on our part before we get started.  We will also need to file away some of our baseball knowledge and save it  a few years until the kids we are working with get older.

We can scale back our teaching of skills to simple points and consistent terminology.  By doing so, we’ll find our kids learning quicker and enjoying more, the process of developing their fundamental skills.  The kids we work with will improve and their understanding of how to play the game will increase, but they still won’t look like pros …or even young teens. 

More important than anything we teach this year, we want to create an environment where the kids enjoy themselves and gain a positive feeling toward the game.  Our primary goal for the season when coaching at this level, from my perspective, is for each player to walk off the field on the final day of the year thinking, “I want to play again next year”.

Next year they will be bigger, stronger, their brains will have a greater level of maturity, they will better understand how to play the game…..on the small diamond.  And hopefully, together through our efforts, we will contribute to the increase in the percentage of players who play the game long enough that there will be a need to learn how to play the game on the big diamond.