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

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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”

 

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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. 

 

 

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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.

A Decades Long Tradition ...snowshoe softball in idaho

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Great Friends. Honest Competition. The Great Outdoors.

 

This is the experience of playing snowshoe softball in the mountains of northern Idaho.

 

 

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The winter of 2018 marked the 49th year of the three-weekend-long tournament and the 29th year for

my group, The Grinders. (Started by a college football teammate who also played hockey at Michigan

State …’Grinder’ is a term used to describe a hockey player who is relentless in their play and makes no

hesitation to stick their nose into the toughest spots on the ice.)

 

 

This is modified fastpitch with teams made up of many former high school, college and even a few

former pro athletes.   …I can let the cat out of the bag now.  A few years ago, my younger brother

Todd, who played five seasons in the Major Leagues, came up and played with us a couple of weeks

before heading to Spring Training with the Giants.  They would not have been too happy if they had

found out what he’d been up to ...and yes, he hit a couple of balls really far  : )

 

 

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Games usually end in good baseball scores: 6-4, 8-5, 3-2, etc.  The athleticism possessed by the players is neutralized somewhat by the

snowshoes and the snowy terrain.  But while the environment is challenging, we still see a good amount of quality action …double

plays, diving catches and close plays at the plate.

 

 

We started out as a group of young kids fresh out of college, full of energy and a nose for adventure.  We did find our share of

excitement in the evenings at one of the two watering holes that bookend the playing area.  Now, we are all fathers with families and

the weekends are quite a bit mellower.  About half of the group has retired in recent years, but still come up each winter to enjoy the

camaraderie. 

 

 

 

The club is now made up of two generations, with a couple of the original players’ sons (and a few of their former college teammates) playing side by side with their dads.  We have one player who has

achieved the title of Grandpa!

 

 

The friendships extend beyond just our club.  Many of the players on opposing teams are friends or acquaintances the rest of the year.  The games end mid-afternoon, then we all mix together later in the

day for food and a couple adult beverages.  A spin or two on the dance floor to the sounds of a local band is not unheard of, and of course, there is some good-natured trash-talk of what transpired on the

field earlier in the day.

 

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The thing about getting older is the realities of life come to the forefront.  This year we dedicated

our play to members of the families of some of the players.  One has a father battling cancer,

another lost his father-in-law a few days before the tournament started.  Perspective has a way of

taking off the pressure that we all seem to put on ourselves, even if it’s just playing recreationally.

 

 

Over the years we’ve won the title six times, while finishing second 12 times.  Yes, we know very

well what the Buffalo Bills and their fans feel  ; )   - Twenty-Eighteen marked the first time we won

the title in back to back years …I guess it took the second generation to help us sniff anything that

might be considered a dynasty. 

 

 

While winning is always fun, it’s the three decades old tradition of getting together with a lot of good folks, many of whom you only see once a year (though it always seems like you just talked to them

yesterday) that is the real joy of participating in the tournament. 

 

 

And it’s not just the players.  Wives, girlfriends, children, siblings, and other family members make the trek to the mountains to share the experience.  There is also a fair contingent of man’s best friend

attending the games …or at least enjoying playing in the snow nearby.  Its nice to have a furry pair of ears to scratch after you’ve had a poor at-bat.

 

 

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Without question, this is the event that I look forward to most each year.  Hopefully the body will

hold up and make a few more years of playing possible.

 

 

I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a unique experience and great group of people.  We often

look back at our childhood, high school and college days and find that many of our fondest

memories, and some of our most solid friendships, are those made playing team sports.  The

relationships built over these 29 years are iron clad and its beyond words for me to describe what

they mean to me.

 

 

Thanks for reading and allowing me to share the Snowshoe Softball Experience with you.  All the best for a great season mentoring the kids on the ballfields this spring; helping them create memories and

establish friendships they will hold onto for years to come.

Catchers Stance, In Relationship To The Batter …the effect on the success of your pitchers and your team

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Want to cut down on the number of wild pitches and past-balls for your youth baseball or softball team this spring?  Want your pitchers to be more confident and throw more strikes? Want to cut down on the number of runs your team gives up?

 

The solution is as simple as teaching your catchers proper positioning in relationship to the batter. 

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When a catcher has their arm extended to catch a pitch, we want their glove to be no more than 4”-6” behind the batter’s rear foot. Many youth catchers position themselves three or four feet behind the batter’s rear foot.

 

This extra distance results in more pitches hitting the ground before getting to the catcher than would occur if the catcher were positioned properly.  How many times over a season do base runners advance because pitches get past the catcher in youth baseball or softball?  (Not to mention that games take longer when the catchers are constantly running to the backstop.)

 

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When the catcher is positioned too far behind the batter it puts additional pressure on the pitcher. Simply getting the ball to home plate is a challenge for a lot of young pitchers. We don’t want to compound that by having our catcher further away from the pitcher than necessary. 

 

Having the catcher positioned properly helps older pitchers as well.  They can throw off speed pitches (which travel on more of a downward plane) with greater confidence, knowing the ball is less likely to bounce before getting to the catcher. Pitches thrown to a catcher positioned too far behind the batter tend to be higher in the strike zone.  Off speed pitches that are up in the zone usually get hit harder and farther.

 

For all levels of play, the closer the catcher can receive a pitch in relationship to the batter, and home plate, the better chance those pitches are called strikes.

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The pictures included with this article, of pro catchers, show the catcher’s positioning in relationship to the batter.  The other pictures, which may look familiar, illustrate the distance commonly seen between a youth catcher and a batter.

 

It is understandable that kids set up so far back - they don’t want to get hit by the bat. 

 

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We want to educate our kids on the swing plane of the bat, so they recognize they can confidently set up much closer to the batter knowing they will not get hit.

 

Get your catcher in their stance and have them fully extend their glove arm.  Stand in as a batter, so that your rear foot is only 4”-6” in front of their glove.  When working with a younger catcher, you can stand with the back of your rear foot even with their glove. Younger kids generally don’t have the strength to fully extended their arm when receiving a pitch, so they can be positioned a bit closer to the batter.

 

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Once you (as the batter) and your catcher are set up, slowly swing the bat.  The hands and the bat travel forward during the swing.  Your catcher will soon recognize they can set up close to the batter and the bat will not hit them.

 

When a catcher is set up in a proper relationship to the batter (as close to the pitcher as possible) it increases your pitchers’ confidence and effectiveness. They don’t have to throw the ball as far to get it to the catcher, they get more strike calls and the number of balls that bounce in front of the catcher and find their way to the backstop is reduced.

 

Teaching your catchers proper positioning will significantly increase the success of your pitchers, and your team, this spring!

Off Season Training Facilities …have we considered all of our options?

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Daylight savings time has come to an end and the wet, cold and dark days of winter are right around the corner.  Now we start to think about how we can help our kids improve their skills during the off-season.  The most prevalent options are 1. Hit in a batting cage, 2. Get involved with a local club team that runs off-season workouts, 3. Work with a private instructor.  Each of these has its merits and benefits.  However, we are not limited to these options.

 

Rent a Local Gymnasium                                                                                                                            

A gymnasium, approximately 90’ x 50’, provides a large space where almost any baseball skill can be practiced.  And renting a gym is inexpensive.  In urban areas, there are a lot of organizations that rent their gyms: public and private schools, boys and girls clubs and community centers.  Many communities have additional private and non-profit groups that have similar type spaces that are available for use.  Most of these facilities can be rented for $40-$80 an hour.  If we share that cost between a half dozen families, this option is affordable for most anyone. 

In smaller communities the options are fewer, but less red tape and the inherent trust from ‘knowing each other’ makes up for the lower number of options.  Most every community has a school or two with a gym.

Keep in mind that basketball takes up a major chunk of gym time, but through a little investigation and a few phone calls open time slots can be found and reserved. 

Note: You will find a full range of responses from gym administrators regarding this type of activity in their facility.  Some will say ‘no way’, some will have insurance requirements you may not be able to fulfill.  Others, when hearing that you want to get a group of little kids together to play, will welcome you with open arms and possibly have a lower ‘kids’ rate.

 

Objectives: Repetition and Fun

Repetition is a key factor in developing physical skills.   Kids in the 6-12 age group, more than anything, just need to play more in order to improve their skills.  There is a wide variety of drills and activities that kids can do in a gym setting and there is plenty of equipment designed for indoor play.  In addition to skill development, the open space afforded by a gym is more conducive for energetic kids and having fun versus the confines of a batting cage.

 

Equipment Needs

Below is a short checklist of items needed for running baseball and softball activities in a gym

Baseballs or Softballs Conducive to Indoor Use – One Dozen.  These are often referred to as ‘Safety Balls’. Safety baseballs cost $25-$35/doz., softballs are $5-$10 more.  Most sporting goods stores carry these types of balls and there are oodles of suppliers on the internet.  Below are two links.  The first was found by Googling ‘Baseball Safety Balls’. Through the second link you will find the brand name ‘Incrediballs’.  These are made of cloth and are very safe, but do cost about $10 extra per dozen:

Safety Balls - (Level 1 balls are very soft and Level 5 balls are moderately soft.  Level 10 balls are pretty hard and I would not recommend them for indoor use. Brands may rate their balls differently. The best thing to do is give a ball a squeeze and you can determine if it is appropriate.) </span>

Incrediballs  - these are balls made of tightly compacted cloth.  They are regular size and weight, but are a bit softer than what is ideal.  However, if you have limited facilities to choose from and there is push back regarding using 'baseballs or 'real softballs' this is an alternative that should be approved for use by the facility operators.

 

Batting Tee(s) - 1 or 2.  Your local youth league likely has a good supply of tees.  If the kids in your group are members, it is quite possible the league would loan you a couple.  You might consider purchasing a batting tee; there are many on the market for around $25.  A tee is possibly the best investment you can make for your young ball player.  Tees are used as a training tool by players at all levels including college softball players and Major League baseball players - Josh Hamilton Working Out Using a Batting Tee.

 

Whiffle Balls - 1-2 dozen.  These are used for hitting off the tee(s).  They are also what you would use for some fun game play by the group at the end of a workout (we still use a regular bat, not a plastic whiffle ball bat).  Whiffle balls sell for $10-$15/doz. and can be found at most sporting goods stores.  Standard whiffle balls do have a tendency to split, however.  The best quality ball available, and a much better investment, is a ‘Pickle Ball’.  These are much sturdier and often last for years.  Pickle Balls cost around $25/doz.

 

Throw Down Bases - These are easy to transport rubber bases that can be bought in a set from a sporting goods store or online.  A set of lightweight bases is around $15; heavier and sturdier bases are available for about $25.  These can be found at most sporting goods stores or on the internet.

 

Bats and Helmets - Be sure to instruct the kids to never drop a bat on a gym floor.  When they are done hitting off a tee, they are to set the bat down gently.  When you are playing a game, have the player hand the bat to an adult as they begin to run to first base.  Take good care of the gym and you will be welcome to come back again and again.

Anytime there are multiple players swinging at balls off a tee at the same time, they each must wear helmets; not to protect them if hit by a ball, but to protect them against injury from a bat.

 

Workout Activities and Drills 

Note: Diagrams and instructions for all the activities listed below will be added to the Coaching Guide over the next few weeks.  Additional content will be added throughout the winter and spring.

 

> Playing Catch Practice

 

> Drill Rotation:

  • Ground Ball Footwork – roll ground balls to the kids’ right and left from 20’ away.

 

  • Ground Balls, Fielding and Throwing to a First Baseman.  Instead of hitting the balls to the kids using a bat, throw the ground balls to them.  This is more accurate and eliminates flubs and misses 100%.  The person acting as the first baseman can be an adult or child.  I find using an adult to be best.  When a child is acting as the first baseman poorly thrown balls or missed catches slow down the flow of the activity quite a bit.

 

  • Side to Side Move and Catch – start with four balls, stand 20’ from the player.  Make a semi-firm shoulder level toss 5’-10 to’ their left, the player moves to catch the ball (then drops it off to the side), you then immediately toss the next ball 5’-10’ to their right.  Repeat back and forth.  The simple act of moving and catching and getting multiple repetitions improves skill and athleticism.  The older the player, the quicker you can run the drill.

 

  • Same as above, except you bounce the ball to the player, so they are catching near waist level.

 

  • Fielding Ground Balls Followed by a Short Underhand Toss - to a base covered by another player.  Position a player 20’ from a base and roll a ground ball approximately 5’ to the base side of them.  They move to the ball, field, and then continue toward the base executing an underhand toss to a second player at standing at the base.  Position yourself about 20’ from the player to whom you are rolling the ground ball.

 

  • Tossing Short Fly Balls – send a player off in a given direction, after they run about 10’ toss the ball another 10’-15’ beyond them.  The arc of the toss does not need go higher than 10’.  The act of catching while running (and getting many repetitions in a short period of time) is the objective. Run the kids back at 45 degree angles, in at 45 degree angles, straight in and straight back - don’t run them into a wall :)

 

  • Tee Work – set a couple of tees 15’ from a wall and have the kids hit whiffle balls (pickle balls are ideal) off the tee toward the wall.

 

  • Live Swings – position yourself 20’ from a batter and pitch whiffle balls, from a knee.  (I will post a video with detailed instructions on pitching technique that will turn you into a strike throwing machine.)

 

Pick out a few of the activities listed above, divide the kids into 2-3 groups and set up drill stations spread out around the gym.  Work for 3-4 minutes, and then have the kids rotate stations.  After they have gone through each station set up a new set of drills and run the kids though the rotation again.

 

>Scrimmage

After the drill session, set up a diamond in the gym and have a whiffle ball game for the last 20-30 minutes (there is nothing wrong with parents participating too).  A scrimmage also has developmental value.  The kids get additional swings, they experience performing in a competitive environment, get multiple opportunities to react to the ball off the bat, run the bases and deal with basic game situations.  It’s not real baseball or softball, but the kids are playing the game, getting reps and having a blast.  The mix of work and play will develop skills and further engrain a love of the game in your young ball player. In some environments it may be possible to scrimmage using “Incrediballs”.

 

 

Instruction

Let’s first put things in perspective.  We are not preparing for the Major League baseball season or to perform for college scouts next spring.  These are kids.  The simple act of playing and getting repetitions will help them improve.  It is not to say that getting some basic technical help is bad idea.  Below are some ideas for stepping up the level of learning in these workouts:

 

  • Get a coach from your league involved.  They have a child the same age as yours and live close by.

 

  • Many high schools now require their students to complete a given number of community service hours.  Recruit a player from the local HS Varsity or JV to join you at the workouts.  The kids love working with teenagers and look up to them.  Simply having their presence at a workout inspires and motivates young players.

 

  • The Baseball Positive website will be adding instructional content, drills and video throughout the fall and winter months.  Moving forward, this site will become a resource for everything you could need.

 

  • Some professional instructors are mobile, especially if they live in your neighborhood.  It may be possible to work out a deal for them to come to the gym and work with your kids.  There is some cost involved, but dividing that among the group makes the cost per family reasonable.

 

 

Get Involved in Other Sports and Activities

Getting your child involved with traditional winter sports or other non-sports activities during the off-season is very important.  It is not make or break time for baseball and softball careers at this age.  In fact, getting involved with other sports has many benefits:

 

  • Reduce the chance of overuse injuries.

 

  • A young body gains strength and increased coordination by going through the different movements required in other sports.

 

  • Many actions and techniques in other sports are similar to those in baseball and softball.  Experiencing these outside the baseball or softball environment will increase your child’s athletic aptitude. It is quite likely their chances for success, when they get back to baseball or softball full time in the spring, will be higher as a result of playing other sports.

 

  • Participating in other activities gives your child a mental break and reduces burnout.

 

  • Keep ‘em hungry.  Spending time away from one sport (or moving it down the priority list) for a while can be rejuvenating.  When the calendar turns and it is baseball and softball season again, following a break, our kids will find a renewed excitement and eagerness for playing the game.

 

Check Out the Coaching Guide

Batting is like Jumping …how to generate greater bat speed and power

Batting is Like Jumping.jpg

Note: this article touches on a couple other aspects of the swing beyond the leg action.  Those aspects are not explained in detail.  Additional aspects  of the swing are addressed in other Baseball Positive articles and videos.  Please let me know in the comments section if This article creates questions regarding the swing; I will reply and try to provide some clarification.

 

The energy for power and bat speed for the swing is generated by the legs.  When the legs are fully utilized, the initial action in the batting swing is much like Jumping.                                   

 

When a person jumps, they squat down, swing their arms back, then with a quick burst of energy, extend their legs while accelerating their arms straight- up. The first sections of this article describe the basic actions that create that burst of energy to produce a quick and powerful swing. 

 

At the end of this article, I share a very simple drill to help a young batter develop their ability to maximize the use of their legs in their swing.  The information presented prior to the drill gives some background on why this very simple drill is so valuable for a youth baseball or softball player.

 

 

 

HOW POWER FROM THE LEGS IS MAXIMIZED IN THE SWING

The difference between the jumping action and the swing is a batter doesn’t fully extend their legs in the swing as happens in the jumping action.  In the swing, a batter ANCHORS their back leg, which stops their leg extension mid-‘jump’.  The ‘stopping’ of the ‘jump’ is a key to transferring energy and momentum from the legs to the hands. (Anchor is discussed later in the article)

 

 

WEIGHT SHIFT

Stance - Jason Werth.jpg

The shifting of body weight in the swing is fairly subtle; there is much less movement in the weight-shift action than many people think - or teach; )  (I do not make any reference to Weight Shift when working with kids)

 

In a ‘traditional’ stance, and in many of the stances we see at the professional level, the batter starts with their weight pretty much evenly distributed.  Their torso and head are centered between their feet.  Some batters have a little extra weight on their back foot/leg in their stance.

 

From this Centered and Balanced position, a makes a slight inward turn with the front side of their body and shifts their weight slightly to their back leg - The Load

 

(I prefer using the phrase “Turn Back” rather than ‘Load’, when working with kids.  It is important that we recognize, in all our coaching communication, that kids have a smaller vocabulary than adults and have had less exposure to the terms associated with the game.  Many don’t know exactly what is meant by the term ‘Load’.   The phrase, “Turn Back” is a literal description of the loading action.)

Turn Back 3.jpg

 

From this loaded position, the batter shifts their weight forward, to where their weight is pretty much (again) centered between their feet….not forward (past center) to their front foot…the ‘weight shift’ is from back to center.

 

(In the 80’s, a more dramatic forward weight shift was taught by some high-level coaches; this trickled down to the youth level and from time to time I see coaches teaching this concept.  In previous decades the stride was taught; this continued through the end of the century.  Today you will have to look very hard to find a successful MLB batter who shifts their weight to their front foot.  Also, you will notice that few MLB batters stride.  These dramatic changes in the teaching of the batting swing have occurred over the past 15-20 years). 

 

The Weight Shift is from ‘back to center’, involving a minimal amount of forward movement.

It is during this slight movement, from back to center, that the batter is ‘Jumping’.  While it takes place in a small space, through this action a batter is fully utilizing the strength in their legs to generate power and energy for the swing. Many youth players are unaware of the importance of the legs in the swing and few, if any, are trained to maximize their legs in their swing.

 

The following information gives some basics on how the swing works. 

 

 

Anchor  2.jpg

ANCHORING THE SWING

The action of anchoring the swing has the batter driving the muscles of their back leg straight down against their back knee.  This driving down action takes place as the batter is turning their legs/hips (the action of “Switching Heels” is shown in a three videos below).   

 

(A teaching phrase used constantly in Baseball Positive instruction is “Turn Fast” - said with a lot of energy and emphasis.  Because most kids are not aware of the importance of their legs in the swing, or that the legs have anything to do with the swing at all, it is critical that we constantly talk ‘legs’.  When we teach, we want to put extra emphasis on our statements referring to the use of the legs.)

 

‘Anchoring’ the swing keeps the head and torso from moving forward past ‘center’ and aids in maximizing the transfer of energy and power from the legs to the hands.  Coordinating this transfer of energy, with the assistance of Anchoring the back leg produces bat speed and the acceleration of the swing through contact.

 

When the teaching focus is on Anchoring the Swing, we have our batter remain in the finish position of their swing.  Then firmly run our hand down the side of their leg, so they gain an understanding,  through 'feel’, that they want to drive down with the muscles of their back leg.  Recognizing ‘Feel’ is an important part of learning, and maintaining, proper actions of the muscles.

 

The end of the turn, the anchoring of the swing, is the end of the ‘Jump’.

 

The Leg/hip turn is accomplished by “Switching Heels”.  Watch the three videos below:  Albert Pujols and Mike Zunino blasting home runs.............and a Soldier doing an ‘About Face’.  ................This is included to demonstrate that the Switch Heels action is not  a ‘secret’ action for swinging the bat.  The Switch Heels action is basic Body Mechanics.

Albert Pujols, Switch Heels-   Four examples at:        0:260:340:440:53 Mike Zunino, Switch Heels-   Three examples at:        0:00-0:130:14-0:200:30-0:35

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                            Soldier, About Face: 0:00-0:10

 

 

 

 

f

 

 

At the end of the Leg/hip turn, the lower half of the body ‘stops’ right in the middle of the swing (see the Zunino Video at 0:09).  When the Legs/hips stop, the energy they produced has to go somewhere….it is transferred to the hands…this energy transfer is a key for maximum bat speed and power

 

The end of the turn, the anchoring of the swing, is the end of the ‘Jump’.

 

Watch this slo-mo video (0:35-0:50) of Nelson Cruz' swing. You can see the lower half of the body (legs/hips) literally stop...while the bat accelerates through the contact point with the ball.

 

 

THE LEGS POWER THE HANDS IN A STRAIGHT LINE

Half Way Miller 1b.jpg

 

(The following information is included to point out

what happens following the ‘jumping’ segment of

the swing.  Information on teaching these actions

is not included in this article.)

Half Way Miller 2b.jpg
Half Way Miller 1b.jpg
Half Way Miller 4b.jpg

 

The hands take the energy and power  created by

the legs to accelerate the bat to, and through, the ball. 

The path of the hands in the swing is, more or less,

a straight line.

 

The bottom hand ‘pulls’ the bat ‘half way’ towards

contact point.  The bottom hand ‘stops’

(is finished contributing to the swing) midway

through this aspect of the swing involving the hands. 

 

 

The top hand then snaps ‘all the way’, using a

‘skipping-a-rock’ action where the palm of the

top hand remains ‘facing up’ through contact. 

 

 

The wrists 'roll over' after contact is made.  This 'rolling over' action of the wrists happens naturally as the hands/arm extended in a straight line through the end of the 'swing'.  

Extension Straight Line - End of Swing.jpg

 

Note: the action of the hands in the ‘swing’ is not a circular, as one might think, but more of a straight line.   An efficient hitter doesn’t ‘swing’ the bat, they ‘snap’ the bat.  . ...the momentum of the barrel of the bat continues in a circular path.  It is this momentum of the barrel of the bat that takes the hands off the straight line.  

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

THE DRILL - ‘DEEP LOAD’

Deep Load 1.jpg

This is a modified version of the ‘Switch Heels’ drill shown earlier.  When the batter 'Turns Back' we have them exaggerate this action by turning back a bit more than usual and sinking their butt a bit resulting in a Deeper knee bend then normal.

 

From this Deep Load position, the batter Turns Fast and ‘Jumps’ to the ANCHOR position. 

 

The energy and power of the ‘jump’ is transferred to the hands, which accelerate in a straight line to completes the swing.  The ‘swing’ is completed when the hands and arms are fully extended at the end of the straight-line path of the hands.

Anchor  2.jpg

 

The ‘Deep Load’ is the key point of the drill.  When repeating the Deep Load Drill over and over, the batter becomes aware of and gains are greater sense of the feel of their legs in the swing.

 

 

When working with smaller and younger players it is important to recognize that they have limited strength in their legs and we are asking them to perform an action they have never done before.  They will not master this the first time they try the drill….or the second time, or the third time.  It is important to understand, when working with youth baseball and softball players, they are not going to ‘get it’ as fast as we might expect, from our perspective as adults.  In all our teaching, when working with young players, we must be patient with them…and with ourselves; ) --- the process of gaining some level of master of muscle actions is a weeks or months long process.

 

 

(STRIDE is not mentioned in this article.  Watch MLB batters; very few stride.  Many simply ‘Turn Back’ as described.  Some pick up their front foot and set it right back down.  -  I don’t teach stride and I encourage youth coaches to avoid talking about striding to kids age 12 and under.  When they get to their teens, there will be a few kids who can benefit from incorporating a small stride into their swing.)

 

 

 

 

The drill is executed while working off a tee, doing soft toss (watch this video - 1:35-2:00), or short front toss.(see the first set of pictures, found about half way down the page, inBatting Practice - A 12-Play Drill

Prior to doing the drill we want to prep the batter with a brief explanation of the concept that the legs initiate the swing action and that the legs are where the energy and power for the swing is generated.

The info presented earlier in this article provides some talking points.  The age of the batter dictates how deep the conversation will be.  In any case, this prep talk should not take more than about 30 seconds.  We want to give the batter just enough info to do the drill, then we get them working.  

After they have taken some swings (10-15) their muscles will need a brief break.   During the break, we can give them a little more insight about the importance of utilizing the legs in the batting swing. 

 

 

RESULTS

This, like most drills, is not going to magically make a batter a superstar in a single session.  This is an activity to include in a swing workout.  Over the course of time, the batter’s muscles will become trained to better utilize their legs, which will produce more power and bat speed.

Note: it is important, when working with an athlete of any age, to limit the volume of information we give them at any one time.  This is an easier strategy to follow if we go into the teaching session with the understanding that we are not going to see miraculous improvements in just a few minutes. 

Let’s Give Our Kids a Chance to Play a Lot of Positions …but not all in one day

Playing Different Positions - Benched.jpg

Should youth baseball and softball players work at a variety of positions or invest time in mastering just one or two? 

 

This is a long-standing question and subject of on-going debate.

 

There is a large contingent of folks who believe that, at the ages 6-12 level of baseball and softball, the game should be developmental, which in part means giving kids the chance to play as many positions as possible.  …I count myself as part of that group.

 

After nearly a decade of working exclusively with this age of baseball and softball players, I have seen quite a bit and learned a lot about how the game works at the youth level of play.  My experiences, observations, and many hours of conversations with parents, coaches, players and league leaders are the basis for my viewpoint on this subject.

 

In this article, I am writing from the perspective of Fall Ball in a Recreational League.  I believe these thoughts are also applicable to club/travel ball.  However, if a club/travel team has clearly communicated to a family, when their child joined, that they are going to put players at the position(s) the club chooses, we accept their decisions as a condition of joining.

 

 

 

TWO APPROACHES TO STRUCTURING FALL BALL

  1. Schedule a bunch of games (to ‘just have fun playing’) with no practices.  The line of thinking is practice is boring and games are fun, and the more the kids play the better they will get.
  2. Include an instructional period before each game.  When given a two-hour block to play, the first 30-60 minutes is to dedicated to teaching and the development of skills, followed by 60-90 minutes of game play.

 

 

 

CAN A PLAYER LEARN FROM JUST PLAYING GAMES?

When I coached at the college level, much of the fall was dedicated to scrimmaging.  Game play exposes players to many situations in a short period of time.  Players learn from dealing with these situations.  When mistakes are made, the coaching staff has the opportunity to teach.

It is important to understand, however, that much of that teaching is based on instruction that the players received in a drill/practice setting.  Trying to teach an entirely new concept, or explain the mechanics of a skill, to an inexperienced child in a game setting is difficult, if not impossible.

 

 

 

PRACTICE IS WHERE WE TEACH; GAMES ARE FOR REINFORCING WHAT HAS BEEN TAUGHT PREVIOUSLY

The reality is, a player needs multiple repetitions in practice to Learn a position.  Throwing them into the heat of a game, at a position they are not familiar with, is not the best way for a kid to Learn.  Most likely they are not going to fulfill the position’s defensive responsibilities correctly.  As a result, they get flustered and frustrated trying to figure out what to do at an unfamiliar position in a game environment.

Yes, we can give a player instruction in the dugout after an inning.  Chances are this is going to have limited success.  Likely, we will have multiple players who need feedback following each inning.  If a player has limited familiarity with a position, the 30-60 seconds we might have available to teach them is likely not going to be enough time.  Not to mention the interruptions of all the other dugout chaos going on around our discussion;)

The most effective feedback we can give in a game are reminders of things that we already taught in a practice setting.  A game setting is a difficult environment for teaching new content.

 

 

 

THE APPROACH TO PLAYING MULTIPLE POSITIONS

Something I see a lot in Fall Ball is kids moving to a different position each inning.  A player needs consecutive innings at the same position to get a feel for a that position.

Moving kids to different positions every inning during a game is not be the best approach for giving kids exposure to multiple positions.  Our kids don’t need to play a zillion positions in one day.  We have 5-6+ weeks in the fall to get them experience at different positions. 

My suggestion is to limit kids to 2-3 positions on a given day (and have them, during the pre-game practice, work at the position(s) they will be playing in the game).  I also suggest sticking to the same positions two games in a row.  Then in games 3 and 4 put the kids at new positions.

One thing to keep in mind is that the perspective of the game is quite different on one side of the field versus the other.  As best we can, when moving kids to different positions, we want to keep them on the same side of the field or move them to an adjacent position.

When shuffling nine (or more) players around there will be instances where one or two players end up being moved further than what is ideal when switching positions.  Also, a couple of kids, each game, will end up playing a position for just one inning. 

To ensure that we get each player a good number of innings at a variety of positions over the course of the fall we use a ‘Season Positions Log’ of the positions the kids play in each game.  Then work off that log as we plan position assignments for each game.   

 

Game Positions Chart.jpg

On the right are two tools for managing playing time, by position, for each kid on a team:

Season Positions Log.jpg
  1. Game Positions Chart
  2. Season Positions Log

.

The ‘Game Positional Chart’ helps us set up our player moves prior to the start of a game. 

 

We post the plan in the dugout when we first arrive at the park, so the kids can see where they will be playing in each inning of the game. 

Another benefit of this chart is the kids see when they will be sitting out.  The chart lets them know when they will be back on the field and that most kids are playing a fairly equal amount of time. 

Giving kids this information prior to the game lets everyone know where they fit into the plan for the day, and allows them to prepare their minds for where they will be playing.

 

 

 

NOT ALL PLAYERS ARE CREATED EQUAL

We want to take into consideration, when assigning positions, a given player’s ability to fulfill the skill requirements of a position.  While we want to give our kids an opportunity to play as many positions as possible, the fact is not all kids have the skills or strength required for some positions.  (This is not to say they cannot improve their skills…in a practice setting…and create more future opportunities for themselves.)

There are a few kids on each team who don’t catch the ball consistently; others don’t have the ability to throw strikes if given the opportunity to pitch, while others are not fast and agile or don’t have much arm strength or the ability to throw accurately across the infield.

 

 

CONSIDER THE EXPERIENCE OF THE GROUP OVER THE INDIVIDUAL

A very important question that we want to ask ourselves when making any decision in youth sports, ‘Will this decision have more of a negative impact on the group than the positives it might bring to an individual?’

As we move through our activities it is important not to sacrifice the experience of the group for a single player. In our well-intentioned effort to give every kid a chance to play each position, we can forget that having a player, who is not equipped with the skills required to play a given position, can negatively impact the experience of rest of the kids in the group (not to mention the umpire, players on the other team and the parents and siblings watching in the stands). 

We don’t want to take away from the experience of group by having  an ill-equipped player at a position that has a negative impact on the flow of a game.  We can still let every player play many positions on the field, but not all players can play every position. 

Let’s not forget that a kid can have a lot of fun, have a great experience and learn the game while playing 5-6 of the nine positions on the field.

 

 

 

THE FOUR CRITICAL POSITIONS ON THE FIELD

The four positions that not every kid can play:

1.     PITCHER - If we put a kid on the mound who cannot consistently throw strikes, a baseball game quickly becomes ‘17 players watching 1 player practice their pitching’.  This is not fair to the pitcher’s teammates, the other team, the umpires or the parents and siblings who are in attendance.  Most teams have 3-4 kids who are pretty good pitchers.  There will be a couple more who can do an adequate job.  Maybe there are 2-3 more who can, with some practice, pitch an inning occasionally.                                      

 

2.     CATCHER - A kid playing this position must be able to consistently catch the ball.  This position also requires a player with decent arm strength, some agility and have a good level of focus.  Few teams have more than four kids that they can put behind the plate.  In most cases only 2-3 kids can play this position a significant number of innings.  One unfortunate reality in youth baseball and softball is there is a limited amount of time for giving kids the practice time required to develop the skills of this position.  Quite a bit of practice is. needed to become adequate in the skills of this position.   When putting a player at catcher who does not have the minimum requirements mentioned we are, in effect, being disrespectful to the others involved in the game.

 

3.     SHORTSTOP - Requires quickness, agility, a strong, accurate throwing arm and a fair amount of instincts for playing the game.  Few teams have more than 3-4 kids who can play this position.  Putting a player at shortstop who does not possess a minimum level of competency in all these skills can disrupt the quality of, and flow of, a game.                                                          

 

4.     FIRST BASE - This is another position where we must put a player who can catch the ball…most every time.  This cuts the number of prospects to 4-6.  Of these, we are stretching reality for a couple of them.  Putting a player at first base who cannot consistently catch the ball is being inconsiderate of the other players on the team.  We want to get outs, so we can get back to batting!  :)   .                                 

 

 

Taking into consideration the different factors discussed here, when planning position moves, we can create an atmosphere where all the kids learn the game and get to play a lot of different positions.  These suggestions can result in a game with a better flow, more at-bats for everyone, more action, more learning and the experience is better for everyone involved.

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

Your Kid Cant Hit.jpg

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.&nbsp; 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 $60 on a bat. There are many quality, name brand bats on the market for $40. 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.

However, 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

What Does It Take to Get to the Little League World Series? …get insight from a coach who has been there

PacLL - NW Regional Champs.jpg

 

Robley Corsi, who I am fortunate to call a friend, took Pacific Little League (suburban Seattle) to the Little League Northwest Regional twice and advanced to the Little League World Series in 2014.  This VIDEO sheds some light on his approach to coaching kids and building a championship culture with the teams he coaches.

 

It Starts By Recognizing These Are Just Kids

Robley and I first met a couple of years before he took his team to Williamsport.  As we shared philosophies and our approach to teaching, I sensed immediately his unique combination of solid baseball knowledge, an understanding of how to connect with kids and his enthusiasm for helping kids learn and grow, and doing so in a fun and positive atmosphere.

Our discussions over the ensuing years usually centered around ideas such as creating a positive team culture and injecting encouragement into all aspects of teaching and interacting with young ballplayers.  We talked a lot about keeping instruction simple, while emphasizing the value of repetition and not investing too time on ‘advanced’ instruction.  My experience, at all levels of baseball, had been that the game is often over-coached.  Hearing Robley’s perspective was refreshing. 

A point that Robley tied in with almost everything he shared with me was that these are kids who, primarily, want to go to the park and have fun playing baseball with their buddies.

 

 

The Williamsport Experience

When I spoke to Robley after he and the Pacific Little League kids returned from Williamsport, I asked him about the interaction between the competing coaching staffs…..I was shocked by what I heard…and pleasantly surprised.

We constantly hear about overly competitive parents and coaches in youth sports.  Given that these were the top eight programs in the country, I assumed many found their way to Williamsport under the guidance of drill sergeant coaches pushing the kids to their limits.  I thought Robley would tell me his positive and encouraging approach was an anomaly.

It turns out that when the coaches compared notes on their journey to Williamsport the formula was pretty much the same for everyone.  The coaches recognized that these were just kids, and just because they may have better than average ability, they still had doubts, fragile emotions and needed to be constantly reassured they could work through the challenges they faced.  

When the discussions got around to how they taught baseball skills and how to play the game, the consistent theme was a belief in focusing on the basics, getting the kids a lot of reps and keeping the instruction simple.  And all the coaches emphasized how ‘keeping the game fun’, was a key component in their success.

 

 

Characteristics of a Little League World Series Coach

The VIDEO profiling Robley Corsi and Pacific Little League illustrates how a positive and encouraging environment, where the kids truly are the priority, can be the recipe for championship level success. 

The defining moment in the video, in my opinion, is at 1:23.  Robley is in the third base coaching box.  One of the kids on the team he is coaching smokes a ball down the third base line; a sure double.  The other team’s third baseman makes a beautiful backhand play, robbing the batter from Robley’s team, and throws him out at first. 

What is Robley’s reaction?  Pure joy and excitement!  Without hesitation, he’s pumping up the third baseman for making the play.  Robley’s first instinct is to acknowledge the great play, it doesn’t matter that the kid is on the other team.  He is taking joy in a kid experiencing and enjoying a big moment.  The chance to make a play like that doesn’t come up often…..to complete the play is a big deal to a young ballplayer.

What about the batter from the team Robley was coaching who was robbed of the double?   Robley’s comments to that batter aren’t shown in the video.  However, I suspect the conversation went pretty much like this… 

“Hey, you Smoked that ball!!!   You picked a good pitch and made a great swing.  The third baseman made the play of the year on you.  That’s baseball.  You can only control so much.  That was a great at-bat.  Grab your glove, set your mind on playing defense and before long you’ll have another shot at the plate.”

 

 

Takeaways From The Video

Coaching kids starts with being genuine.  Kids don’t expect their Little League Coach to be a baseball guru.  They understand that, in most cases, coaches are just the dad or mom of one of their friends on the team. (I recall when Cody Webster and Kirkland National Little League -another suburban Seattle league- won the Little League World Series in 1982.  When their coach was asked about his baseball background, his response was ‘I learned from reading a book on coaching baseball’.  Yes, he was just a dad from the neighborhood.) 

Players want a coach who maintains some level of communication with them as individuals, shows they care and does their best to help them get better at baseball.  We can best accomplish these things by going about our business being ourselves and not thinking that being a coach means ‘knowing it all’ or putting on some other persona.

 

Other points to take note of:

 

Keep Instruction Simple - these players are still just kids; they are far from mastering the skills of the game.  We can easily overwhelm them by constantly teaching more and more new stuff.  Often, we feel that, as coaches, if we aren’t giving them new and deeper instruction we aren’t doing our job.  Coaching is less about jamming kids with a lot of information and more about guiding them in their development by reinforcing the things we have already taught them.  Kids can attain a pretty good level of success with just the ‘A, B, and C’ of a skill and doing those basic aspects well.  Well-intentioned coaches often give too much information, which can result in player’s development stalling or even regressing.

 

Repetitions - when we keep instruction simple and organize practices that keep all the kids moving and ‘doing’, they develop and improve faster.  Talk to a coach in higher levels of any sport and a common theme is that repetitions has a greater impact on improvement then feeding an athlete a bunch of information.

 

Encouragement - baseball (and softball) is a difficult game to play.  Catching, throwing, and fielding a little ball and trying to hit that little round ball with a round bat is not easy.   Mistakes are made each time these young players take the field. Frustration and discouragement are common emotions during the process of learning to play the game.  Constant encouragement and positive reinforcement is vitally important to help kids through the many rough moments they experience on the ball field.

 

Perspective - give some thought to the idea that the game is about the kids.  Why did we choose to coach what I like to refer to as ‘Neighborhood Baseball’?  This isn’t travel ball or select ball; it’s a bunch of kids who share the same parks, schools and whose parents shop at the same grocery stores.  Our role is to teach them, not just about the game, but about working through struggles and adversity.  When we go into coaching Neighborhood Baseball with the perspective that it’s all about the kids, and doing all we can to make it a positive experience, we set ourselves up to gain the greatest satisfaction from coaching.

 

Fun - the results of study after study on why kids play sports, ‘having fun’ and ‘being with their friends’ are consistently at the top of the list (maybe do a quick Google search on the subject).  When asked why they quit sports, ‘not having fun’ is at or near the top of the list.  In all that we do, we want to keep in mind why kids chose to play in the first place.  They come out to play because they look forward to it being fun.

 

 

Each year only eight US teams and eight international teams make it to Williamsport.  Three million kids play the game.  In this VIDEO, we get an inside look at a coach who has taken a team to the Little League World Series.  Who knows, it just may help you get the kids you coach to Williamsport next year.  Most of us however, will not make it to Williamsport, but each of us can take something from this video, apply it to our coaching, and make a positive, life-long impact on the kids we work with. 

 

The Secret to Hitting a Curveball …and how to teach it to kids

Charlie Brown Batting.png

“It’s a curveball, and there is another swing and a miss!”

“He takes that curveball out of the yard; another monster blast!”

 

Why do so many batters struggle hitting a curveball while some seem to have great success against this pitch?  There is a simple approach to having success hitting the curve…

 

 

Let’s Start By Understanding The Curveball

I’ve spent 40 years in baseball as a player, coach and instructor.  In addition, I’ve had the good fortune of being around my younger brother, Todd, who played in the Major Leagues, which exposed me a bit to that level of play.  Over the years, I’ve heard a zillion conversations about how to hit a curveball. 

 

A couple of thoughts before we get into the ‘How to’ part.

 

Youth pitchers, as well as young teens and some high school age pitchers, are just beginning to learn how to throw a curve. Most don’t throw this pitch well on a consistent basis.

 

The advantage a youth pitcher has in throwing a curveball, good, bad or ugly, is the batters facing the pitch have seen very few curveballs in their lives.  A  pitch that is different visually, then a straight fast ball, is a strange and uncomfortable experience for a young batter.  Simply showing the batter a different look can make the curve an effective pitch as long as its somewhere near the strike zone.  But what about hitting the curve?  Keep reading.

 

I attended a baseball coaching conference years ago where I sat in on a discussion by a well-respected college coach who broke down the statistical results of curveballs thrown by pitchers.  I’m quite sure his numbers were not scientific, but feel they make the point and I believe most coaches at higher levels of the game would agree his numbers are pretty solid.

 

He said that a good curveball pitcher will locate, maybe, half their curves in the strike zone.  The other half miss the zone and a fair number of those bounce in the dirt.  Of those that are in the zone, about half will be good ‘pitcher’s pitches’ (at the knees and on the edge of the plate).  About half will catch a larger portion of the strike zone.  I will come back to these points in a bit.

 

 

Various Approaches for Training a Batter How to Hit a Curveball

Like most topics in baseball, and in sports, we can find a wide variety of ideas of how to address a given issue. Here are some examples of ways to address ‘How to Hit a Curveball’ that you may have heard:

  • Know the pitcher’s patterns, so to anticipate when a curve will be thrown
  • Factor in the game situation and what the batter and pitcher are each trying to accomplish, so to better anticipate the curve
  • The depth in the strike zone to best contact a curveball
  • Practice hitting the curveball to the opposite field
  • Set up a JUGS pitching machine throwing curves that are knee-high on the black and practice, practice, practice

Some of these, in my opinion, can be helpful depending on the age and type of player we are working with; some I am not personally a fan of.  In most cases, much of what is offered is beyond what youth baseball players can take on; or they  require more time than we realistically have  with our players, or with our own child.

The approach to teaching kids how to hit a curveball, that I suggest, is very simple and is the same approach that many MLB batters take when hitting the curve.

 

 

 

The Secret

First, we must recognize that even the best MLB batters rarely hit a well-located curve ball for a base hit.  So, the answer to the question, ‘How do you hit a (good) curve ball’ is……….“You Don’t”

 

A batter who is successful in hitting the curveball doesn’t swing at the well-located curves.  They let those pitches go by, even if they are going to be called a strike.  A good batter understands that hitting a well-located curve ball, in most cases, ends up as a ground out.

 

So what is the Secret?  “How do you hit a curveball?”.    …….Let the good ones go and swing at the bad ones.

 

Yep, that’s it……seriously. 

 

Again, he best batters in the world don’t hit a [good] curveball very well.

 

 

 

Identifying a ‘Hittable Curveball’

Success in hitting a curve starts with seeing the spin of the pitch.  This is not easy to create in a practice setting by a youth baseball coach or player.  However, we can at least explain the difference in the look of the fastball spin versus that of the curveball spin.

 

A fastball has greater RPM.  It’s spin simply looks like a ‘blur’; there is no distinctive spin to identify.   A curveball, on the other hand, has a lower RPM and an angled ‘spin’.  It has a much different look when seen from the batter’s perspective.

 

Rule of thumb…when the batter ‘sees spin’ (this is also applied to a slider) and the pitch is coming in belt high or lower, chances are it will ‘break’ out of the strike zone or to a point in the zone where making contact will likely result in the ground out mentioned earlier…..a good batter let’s this pitch go by.

 

When the batter ‘sees spin’ and the pitch is coming in above the belt, that pitch, more than likely, is going to be a ‘hanger’; a pitch that is easier to hit and will be at a point in the strike zone where the ball can be hit harder and further.  Also, when a pitcher throws a curveball that starts out high like that, they have not produced good ‘down leverage’ at release point (forgive me for getting technical) and the pitch will have less break. 

Front Toss.jpg

 

Note: when I am working with young batters and their coaches/parents, I suggest they dedicate their practice time hitting pitches at belt to belly button height, be it off a tee (video), during soft toss (video), wiffle ball batting practice (video - watch 0:39 - 1:22) or front toss (picture). When batting in a game, we instruct our batters to anticipate a pitch being higher in the zone and when they get that pitch we want them to be very aggressive in swinging at those pitches. 

 

Following this rule is simpler for a novice batter who has not gained the ability, comfort level and confidence in seeing and recognizing the spin of different pitches.

 

Few youth pitchers can consistently command their pitches low in the strike zone. In most cases a batter at the youth level of play will see a pitch or two in the middle to upper part of the of the strike zone in most at-bats.  Having our batters practice the majority of their swings on pitches higher in the strike zone will result in them developing the habit and discipline for swinging at pitches in this area, and the ability to hit them well. 

 

If you have access to a JUGS pitching machine (many indoor batting facilities have cages you can rent that have JUGS machines). Set up the machine to throw ‘bad’ curveballs where the majority of the pitches are coming across the middle of the plate at belt to belly button level. 

 

Instruct your batter(s) that this is the curveball they want to swing at (not the ‘good’ curveball that is crossing the outer edge of the strike zone at knee level).  We want to have our batters seeing and practice hitting the ‘bad’ curveball that comes in higher in the zone and with less break.

 

(One of the catch phrases in baseball, in recent years, is ‘Pitching to Contact’.  This refers to a pitcher getting batters to hit well-located pitches and getting themselves out.  It takes a lot more pitches to strike a batter out than it does to get a batter to hit the ball into an out.  This is a concept we might like to share with our pitchers, while reminding them that in most cases they are subject to being pulled off the mound by a pitch count rule.)

 

In a perfect world, we would have the ability to throw live curve balls to our player(s) in a practice setting.  This is ideal because they get valuable reps at ‘seeing spin’ and developing the discipline of swinging at the ‘bad’ curveballs and letting the ‘good’ ones go by.  Even if we are unable to throw many hitable pitches, there is value in this exercise; giving them reps in seeing the curveball spin.  All said, I wouldn’t count on this option too much.  Most youth baseball coaches aren’t practiced in throwing curves.  And for most, this is going to result in quite a bit of arm soreness the next day: )

 

 

 

Simply Put

Preach to your kids: “Let the good ones go; swing at the bad ones”   …that is ‘How To Hit a Curve Ball’.

 

Teaching Catching & Throwing Skills …it’s all about the feet (are we ‘Coaching’ or ‘Allowing’?)

 

 

 

 

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken is quoted as saying when talking about youth baseball, and I paraphrase, “I can show up at the park, watch the two teams play catch and the majority of the time tell you who will win the game”.

 

Feet, Feet, Feet

Most teams do not Practice Playing Catch enough or do it properly.  In our Coach Training Programs, Baseball Positive teaches play catch ‘with your feet’.  We tell kids, “You don’t throw the ball with your arm, you throw the ball with your feet”.  Yes, there is a bit of hyperbole there.  The point is to emphasize proper throwing technique, which involves moving the feet towards the target.  This generates power and momentum.

Accuracy is also improved by creating a good straight line towards that target by Moving the Feet. After throwing the ball, the payer doesn’t stop, but allows their momentum to continue on towards their target for a step or two, “Follow Your Head”.

Receiving a throw is about the feet as well.  The majority of throws do not come straight to the player receiving the ball.  Usually throws are off to one side or the other.  The concept we teach is, Move the Feet to take the hands to the ball.  ‘Move Your Feet to Catch and Reach Forward to Catch’.

 

 

DRILL: Catch, Tag & Throw

A great catch and throw drill is what we call, ‘Catch Tag & Throw’  This is done on the four bases in the infield, or can be run using throw down bases anywhere…the outfield grass, a parking lot or any available patch of ground that is relatively flat.

The ideal number of players for running the drill is five.  Given that many teams have 12 players, the drill is often run on two separate diamonds with six players in each group.  Maximum would be eight (two at each base). Doing the drill with more players results in too much standing around.

The drill is exactly what the name suggests.  A player at a base receives a throw, makes a tag on the side of the base a runner would slide into, then throws the ball to the next base…

…but it’s not that simple.  The actions described must be executed following specific expectations; these expectations must be policed by the coach, which, in the beginning takes some effort.  When players do not execute properly, the coach stops the drill, re-teaches the proper action, then re-emphasizes expectations.

 

 

Set-up

Position one player at each base, plus an extra player at the base the drill will start from.  Tell the players not to think of the bases as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Home; think of each as a generic base.  The players stand on the side of the base the throw is coming from (so to not be in the baseline of the ‘runner’).  DO NOT have players straddle the base.

When young players straddle the base they have a tendency to lock their feet in position and not Move Their Feet to get in a proper receiving position to catch off-line throws (which describes most throws kids make).

Each player must have at least one extra ball in their pocket and/or set a few extra balls a near the base (outside the ‘catching and tagging area’, for safety reasons).  The kids will not be perfect in this drill.  They Will miss throws…we want an extra ball to be on hand so the drill can keep moving – NO chasing overthrows!

Coach stands in the middle of the diamond, so to be in close proximity to each base and be in position instruct the players – coach will be very busy : )  - also, the coach wants to have a few spare balls as well.

 

 

Receiving The Throw

IMPORTANT – Teach your kids, “There is no such thing as a bad throw”, “It is the responsibility of the receiving player to make every throw a good throw by ‘Moving Their Feet to Catch’” - this nixes the common, whiney excuse, “Well, Darryl made a bad throw (snivel)”    

(yes, I know; if a kid launches the ball 20’ over the receiving player’s head, it’s a bad throw…  the kids will get the point - after they question every conceivable scenario where they couldn’t possibly catch a throw: )  )

 

The receiving player Moves Their Feet to square their body up to the throw and they Reach Forward to Catch.

The action of Moving the Feet to Catch is one of the three objectives of the drill.  Each time a player does not execute this action correctly (even if they have made the catch), STOP! The drill and re-teach the expectations for a proper action in receiving a throw.

 

 

 

 

Making The Tag

Once they catch the ball, the player Moves Their Feet taking them back to the base, so they can apply a tag – on the runner side of the base.  This includes ‘1st base’ (remember, the bases are generic).  The player tags the ground, right in front of the base, where the base runner would be sliding, with their glove (and with the ball in their glove).

Demonstrate this to the players, be very specific of where you place your glove and make it clear to the kids that making the Tag in this exact spot is what this portion of the drill is all about.  Emphasis: the player MUST touch the ground with their glove and MUST do so directly in front of the base where a runner would be sliding.

If the tag is not done properly STOP! The drill and re-teach the expectations for making a tag.   “Kids, if you don’t get the tag down properly, the runner is going to be safe!!! - getting the runners out is the whole point of playing defense”

A very common action of kids when first learning this drill is swiping at the air, kinda in the vicinity of the base. 

Note: when working with younger kids at the Coach Pitch or Machine Pitch level, you may choose to allow them to tag the base with their foot.  Some kids at this level of play, at least early on, are not familiar with the difference between a force out (tagging the base) and a tag play on a runner sliding into the base.

 

 

Throwing, And Following The Throw

WATCH   0:45 - 1:10

Often in this drill, and in similar drills, kids will try to execute the actions too fast.  The action that gets left out when is Moving the Feet to Throw….they catch the ball and just wing it with their arm…arms get sore and possibly injured.

(The catalyst for me creating this drill was watching kids throwing the ball around the infield with poor mechanics …and my memories as a shortstop, getting a sore arm from trying to go to fast [show off], while throwing with only my arm.  Not only does throwing incorrectly lead to arm soreness, arm-only throws are off the mark, more often than not.)

After making the tag, we want the kids to move to a position where they are balanced, with their feet under them and with the glove side of their body facing the next base.  Then they shuffle their feet (Move Their Feet) towards the next base, throw, and allow their momentum to continue towards the next base After the throw – Follow Your Head (the head is the ‘steering wheel’ for the throw.  Keeping the head pointed straight at the target before, during and after the throw increases throwing accuracy in a huge way).

Once the player has completed the throwing action, including maintaining their momentum towards the next base.  They keep moving and jog to the next base to replace the player they just threw to.   That player will be leaving the base and moving on to the next one.

Each time a player does not execute the throwing action correctly (even if they have made an accurate throw), STOP! The drill and re-teach the expectations for a proper throwing action.

 

 

Duration

The best time to run this drill is right after the kids have completed Playing Catch PracticeWe want their bodies to be hot and their arms good and warm.  The throws in this drill are made with 100% effort.  Run the drill until each player has made 5-10 throws.  This takes 2-3 minutes…..when the players are familiar with the drill and have practiced it. 

The first time you run this drill set aside 15-20 minutes to teach it and for the kids to try it.  It’s not pretty the first time you run it.  Allow 10 minutes the next couple of times the drill is run.  Moving forward, we schedule five minutes for the drill in our practice plan.  This accounts for the time required to get the kids in position and for the coach to review the objectives of the drill:

  1. Move Your Feet to Catch
  2. Make a proper Tag
  3. Move Your Feet to Throw

 

 

 

This Drill Takes A Lot of Effort On The Part Of The Player

 

Most kids watch a lot of baseball and softball on TV and many see older players play in person. They are observing throws going straight to the target the majority of the time.  So what gets beaten into their subconscious?  ‘When I am playing, all I have to do is stand there and the ball will come to me (and if it doesn’t, it’s not my fault/responsibility).

As coaches we are fighting against this engrained notion that catching a throw involves nothing more than standing in place an holding the glove out.

 

 

In this drill we are asking kids to go against their preconceived notion of ‘just standing there’.  Suddenly their world is turned upside down.  We are asking them to Move 3’-4’ away from the base to Catch, then Move 3’-4’ back to the base, bend over to Tag, then Move Their Feet 3’-4’ feet to Throw, and then keep their momentum going by Following Your Head after the throw. 

…”c’mon coach, can’t I just stand there? And if it’s a bad throw...I can blame Darryl”

 

It will take a couple of sessions for the kids to get into the concept of Movement.  However, after a few rounds of Catch, Tag and Throw they will come to realize how much better they are catching and how much better they are throwing…..and when we find we are good (or improving) at a task, it becomes FUN and we are motivated!

 

 

 

 

 

Discipline

In the world of coaching (and parenting) the subject of discipline is constantly on the forefront.  We usually think of discipline regarding the child.   Hold On…..the fact is, most of the time, it is the Adult/Coach who is short on discipline. 

In coaching we will lay out expectations for a drill, but then we slack off in enforcing those expectations.  When we announce the expectations of a drill, we then want to police those expectations…100%.  If we Allow our players to do things incorrectly we are not coaching.

Note: I am not big on sayings, but here is one I picked up from an old college football coach that, IMO, is the foundation of how a great coach goes about their business, “You are either Coaching or you are Allowing”.   When a player executes incorrectly, we either Coach them, immediately, to do the action right…..or we Allow them to do it wrong.  

This statement really forces us coaches to ‘look in the mirror’ and ask ourselves how good of a job we are doing.  Btw - this perspective is for All coaches, including newbies.  You don’t have to be a baseball or softball guru to enforce expectations in a drill.  Before each drill we explain the objective and then call the kids out when they don’t execute the objective.  It takes some extra effort early on, but soon when the kids recognize that we don’t let things slide, they perform better and coaching gets easier – a little bit, at least  ;)

 

 

Not The Only Throw And Catch Drill

There are many similar Catch and Throw Drills out there (BP has others as well). Why do I like this one best? 

Simplicity… There is nothing fancy - just Catch, Tag and Throw.

There is no thinking or need to ‘learn the drill’, the kids just throw the ball from base to base.  Catching and Throwing are the most fundamental skills of the game.  As baseball and softball coaches, our #1 focus is to teach and train these skills, passionately, all day every day. 

 

 

What Is The Purpose of The Tag Aspect of The Drill?

We include the tag to make kids work a bit harder.  It takes a lot of energy to bend down and stand back up quickly, right in the middle of all the Moving.  Also, this action gives separation between the two key skills: the catching action and the throwing action.

Teach it. Do it. Police it.  …and watch your team’s catching and throwing skills improve tremendously in a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

 

Wiffle Ball Batting Practice ...a cornerstone for your team’s success this summer

batting - kid.jpg

 

We are in the heat of tournament season. Youth organizations like Little League, PONY, Dixie, Cal Ripken, etc. are in the midst of state and regional tourneys.  Travel ball teams are playing in tournaments most every weekend.

 

An ongoing challenge when playing in a tournament where every field is being used for games is finding an open space large enough to take batting practice and finding time to get all our players the reps they need without wearing the team out having kids standing in the sun shagging balls.

The simple answer is Whiffle Ball Batting Practice.  A bit of background...

 


 

                  Larry Walker

                  Larry Walker

Ignorant American

And I thought I knew every little secret and trick about baseball…...no, not really.  Fortunately along my way through life I was exposed to many wise mentors, coaches, business people, etc. and constantly heard this phrase in one form or another, “Be careful not to allow yourself think you know everything and close your mind to learning and growing, especially in your areas of expertise”.

 

 

                  Fergie jenkins

                  Fergie jenkins

So back in my 30’s, when I knew everything ;)  I was playing semi-pro ball in British Columbia, Canada (I married a Canadian gal and had been living up there for a year or two).  Prior to the start of one of our first games at Burnaby Park, the guys went down the left field line with a big bag of wiffle balls and another big bag of tennis balls and started taking batting practice.  Not to just one guy, but four or five  guys were hitting at once.

 

 

                 Justin Morneau

                 Justin Morneau

I had never seen anything like this before and, as with many things that are new to us, thought it looked pretty silly. I mean, these are accomplished college, ex-college and former pro guys hitting wiffle balls and tennis balls? You gotta be kidding me.  ….and like any good ignorant American, I shook my head thinking, “Well, that’s Canadians for you”.

 

 

Looking back now, after having lived in BC, Canada for a decade, I realized how foolish I was at that moment.  First, Canadians are incredible ball players with their share of Major League Baseball MVPs, All-Stars and Hall of Famer, Jergie Jenkins. Second, that pre-game batting practice routine, that I was shaking my head at has become a central part of Baseball Positive’s teaching and programming.

                                    Joey Votto 

                                    Joey Votto 

 

No, I was far from knowing it all and hope to keep my senses for the rest of this lifetime to remain open to learning from others.

 

 

 


 

 

 

It’s Not the Same as Hitting a Baseball!

As I stood there watching my new teammates, and the other team doing the same down the right field line, not only did this look strange, but the primary thought that went through my head was, “That’s dumb, hitting those balls isn’t the same as hitting a baseball”.

I am not sure I fully figured it out that first season, but the more I participated in this pregame routine and in the years since, as I’ve incorporated this in my coaching instruction programs, I came to realize that the purpose was not ‘hitting the ball’ per se, but to work on  developing and maintaining the SWING.  The SWING is the most important component of the exercise.

 


 

Reps, Reps, Reps         (Wiffleball Batting Diagram and Description)

How is this beneficial to a youth baseball or softball player?  First and foremost, more than one player can hit at a time….wiffle balls are not dangerous like baseballs (I am not a fan of using tennis balls with kids because they are harder, travel faster and could cause an an injury) so more than one batter can hit at a time, which gets the team as a whole, many more reps.

Simple Logistics: whiffle balls don’t travel very far (a kid who crushes a wiffle ball is lucky to hit it 100’), so you don’t need a large space.  Because they don’t travel far, they are easier to retrieve and get back to the Batting Practice pitcher(s).

The batting practice pitcher is in little danger of being injured by a line drive, so they can stand closer to the batter(s). A shorter the pitching distance means more accurate pitches, resulting in more swings and more quality swings. Plus, no protective screen is required.  No lugging around extra equipment!

Wiffle balls won’t break a window.  If there is no place to hit that is far from cars and homes a team can still  get in a good batting workout without fear of damaging property.

Finally, when hitting Whiffle Balls, the batter gets to see pitches straight on, just like a game.  I see many coaches and parents hauling those pop up ball nets for kids to hit into off a tee or soft toss.  Tee work ands soft toss are tremendous tools for swing work, and should be a part of every player’s swing development program, but a player also needs to see live pitching straight on, especially right before a game.


 

 

Whiffle Ball Batting Practice - A Cornerstone of Your Summer Team’s Success

WATCH   0:40 2:20

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, a great advantage of Wiffle Ball Batting Practice is it is efficient.  In tournaments there is not always a lot of time to prepare before or between games.  When it’s blazing  hot outside we don’t want to wear our kids out standing in the sun too long.  In whiffle ball batting practice, all the players on a team can get 20-25+ quality swings in 10-15 min.

And during the week, between tournaments, Wiffle Ball Batting Practice is something coaches and parents can do with kids to keep them sharp and improving. Most of us have limited  time available once work and other personal and family obligations are taken care of.  If you can find 60’ of open space, multiple young ballplayers can get a lot of live swings in a short period of time.

Grab some wiffle balls and give it a try.  After a few days of getting a feel for pitching a wiffle ball and seeing the volume of quality swings ballplayers can get in Wiffle Ball Batting practice you will be a convert just as I was.  Incorporate this into your child’s and your team’s summer routine and watch the positive impact it makes on their stats, the scoreboard…..and in the amount of fun everyone has playing this summer.


 

Final Note

Whiffle ball batting is a year round strategy for getting batters massive repetitions of quality live swings.  Come winter/indoor season we can have a group of 12-16 players in a gym; half hitting and half chasing balls.  Switch ‘em up every couple minutes.  In an hour everyone gets hundreds of live swings.

 

 

 

 

How Do We Protect Our Kids From Being Injured By a Swinging Bat? …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.

 

 

 

Bat by Barrel 2.jpg

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...

http://m.mlb.com/video/v34700033/nymsea-elias-whiffs-eight-over-5-13-innings/?c_id=mlb

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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How to Get Your Child Out of a Batting Slump ..…question: are kids even eligible to be in a slump?

 

The majority of pre-teen hitters can't really get into a slump…

Why?
 

 

Still Learning the Swing
Until a batter has learned the fundamentals of the swing, trained their actions to the point they can execute them with some level of consistency and have a rudimentary understanding of the swing, they really can’t be considered 'eligible' for a ‘slump’?

Poor results from at-bats and less than desirable statistics…..are those signs of a slump?   Or might they be indicators that a youth baseball or softball player is still learning how to swing the bat properly?

 

The Term ‘Slump’ …an easy way to sluff off accountability?
Associating (and speaking) the term 'slump' with 12U kids opens the door for making excuses and losing confidence. The word Slump can become a crutch or justification to explain away a less than desirable performance.  

 

Giving It Their Best Shot
Batters who haven’t established a somewhat sound, fundamental swing are just up there giving it their best shot - again this describes many 12U players (and quite a few players in their teens). 

Along with struggles for results-oriented success, a young batter is also dealing with their emotions and sometimes find it difficult to remain motivated. This can further effect a player’s confidence and focus while in the box. 

The following discussion shares some points that can be helpful in teaching kids perspective on the challenge of batting
in a game.

 

 

Mental Perspective We Can Share With Our Batters


1. The Pitcher Is Your Servant

When a young batter considers the possibilities of where a given pitch might go, what thoughts could be going through their mind?  They could be thinking of many things.  The most important thought for a young batter is, ‘The pitcher is required, by the rules of the game, to throw the ball through the strike zone (if the pitcher doesn’t do this, the batter doesn’t have to swing and ultimately may be awarded first base).

Mindset: the pitcher is not my ‘opponent’, the pitcher is my ‘servant’.   The rules of the game require the pitcher to serve the ball to the batter through a space (the strike zone) that is fairly small.  

We want to talk to our batters about this fact constantly, pointing out that the pressure is on the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter, ‘to serve you’.  Then we expand that conversation to the fact (poor umpiringaside) that before the ball is pitched the batter already knows where they will be swinging…the strike zone is not a real big space, relative to where the pitch might possibly go.    

(see ‘Throwing Strikes in Batting Practice’ at the bottom of the page)

 

How cool is that?! 

 

As a batter, I know, prior to each pitch, about where I will be swinging.  I know and the pitcher is required, by rule, to throw to that space.   This thought may seem a bit simplistic, but its big news for a young batter.  Sharing this perspective, constantly throughout the season, can increase a batter’s confidence when they view the challenge of batting in a game.

 

 

2. Batting is the Most Unfair Thing in Sports (9 v 1)

Let’s educate our youth baseball and softball players (and us weekend warriors still slugging it out on the adult softball and baseball diamonds) that batting is the most unfair thing in all of sports.  It’s not a fair fight; its 9 against 1! 

A batter can get a perfect pitch every time, make a perfect swing every time and hit the ball on the screws every time and still be 0 for 4 at the end of the day. The stats say it was a bad day, but it may have been the best day of hitting the ball in the player's life*.

So the pressure is off; you aren’t expected to get a hit.  We understand there is a chance you will get a hit. We want you to get a hit; you want to get a hit, but we all understand the odds are against you.  Go up there, put a good swing on a good pitch and run like crazy to first base …and the odds just might work in your favor this time around.

Teach batters that much of what goes into getting a hit, getting on base, driving in runs, etc. is out of their control. The batter is in control of three things:

  1. Their thoughts
  2. The pitches they swing at
  3. Their swing

Let’s direct our talk, to our kids, towards the three points above: thoughts, pitch selection and the swing.  Then back up our talk with constant encouragement.

 

                        

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*An Often Used Cliché That Is Incorrect:   “Even the Best Batters Fail 7 out of 10 times”

Great hitters do not fail 7 out of 10 times.  They ‘succeed’ (square up the ball and hit it hard) six or seven times, each 10 at-bats; half or more of those well hit balls turn into an out.  Batters that ‘succeed’ (square up the ball and hit it hard) three out of ten times probably have an average of around .160

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3. The Swing Zone

We have established:

  • There is little mystery in where the swing needs to go
  • The odds are against the batter ….always have been, always will be; for every batter, every time up

 

Q: Where does a successful batter have their thoughts and focus?  

A: That small area where the swing takes place; specifically the path of the hands and bat from the launching position (hands near the shoulder) to contact point    ….this space is the Swing Zone.

At the youth level, while some pitchers throw different types of pitches, many don’t locate them well.  Regardless of what type of pitch a pitcher throws, the pitch still has to be a strike.  Thinking of what the ball might do on the way to the strike zone takes away from the batter’s focus on executing a good swing.

The batter can’t make a hit happen; their input is limited to putting a good swing on a good pitch.  Thoughts of what the ball might do after the ball leaves their bat interferes with the quality of a batter’s swing.

Batters who have consistent success keep their thoughts and focus in ‘The Swing Zone’.

 


Using the term Slump is Cliché …Let’s Toss It Out

We often hear baseball commentators make reference to this or that player being in a slump.  Pro players, over the course of a 162 game season and hundreds of at-bats, do have ups and downs in their production, they have hot streaks and have times when they struggle.  They Do have slumps.

It can be easy to attach that term to a young player who goes a couple of games without getting a hit.  Perhaps, unintentionally, we are offering an excuse or crutch to a young player by tossing out this easy to use cliché …or possibly we are trying to numb some of our own disappointment?  The reality is, in most cases, our young player simply has more to learn and needs more practice in developing the skill of swinging the bat properly and effectively. 

Until that time, we have the opportunity to simply, ‘Love Watching Them Play’   …the video at the top of the page, specifically, 8:35-9:10, has some pretty good stuff for a parent and youth coach.

 

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Throwing Strikes in Batting Practice

In batting practice we must not ask our batters to swing at poor pitches.  How do we pitch more accurately in Batting Practice?

 

  • Baseball Positive YouTube Channel re: ‘Pitching Batting Practice’   ...watch, 0:00-4:00 (the pitching action is demonstrated 2:00-4:00; there is more info beyond 4:00, but primarily more repetition of the same info)

 

 

 

 

 

  • Baseball Positive YouTube Channel re: ‘Soft Toss’

 

 

 

                        --- A lot of good stuff top to bottom

                        --- Delivering Strikes:  top of the page: Video Part 3  -  0:39-2:22

                        --- Short Front Toss: approximately a third of the way down the page is a series of four pictures.  See the set up for Short Front toss.  The pic is of a high level team that has access to a                                  lot of equipment; you can take the concept and modify the set up for a youth team/player.

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Was The Runner Out or Safe?  

..…but what about the other runners?

 

 

Your shortstop makes a slick play, straightens up, makes a strong, accurate throw to first; it’s a close play.  The first baseman immediately turns and looks at the umpire wondering ‘was the runner out or safe?’  But that is not all, the runner is the first baseman’s classmate at school and they strike up a conversation…

…all the while the runner at third base races home to score another run for the opposing team.

Seen this before?  This is a common occurrence in youth baseball and youth softball games in the US, Canada and across the globe.  Why does it happen?  How many bases and runs does a youth baseball or softball team surrender each year because of this common mistake made by young ball players?

 

 

<watch the first baseman's eyes @ 0:39 of the video>

 

 

What is a Young Person’s Thought Process?

We need to get into a kid’s brain to find out.  This is difficult since our brains are grown up and have much more life experience than our players.  We also struggle to address this mistake effectively, and many others, because our approach to instruction and prioritization of practice content from an adult perspective and not that of the young minds of our players.

Kids see the world much differently than adults.  First, the world still pretty much centers around them as individuals and their personal experiences.  Next, there is a passionate interest in the current moment, the ‘now’.  While they are aware that the game extends beyond their position on the field, and the play that just happened, they usually are not thinking beyond their small space of experience and the current moment in time.

This brings to the common scenario mentioned above.  Finding out if that base runner was safe or not, is really important to that child.  Building and maintaining social relationships are important and stimulating to a child.  Our first baseman knows the base runner from school and knows them in that environment.  Meeting them in the context of a real game is an exciting experience.  Meeting this classmate where they are both wearing ball uniforms and participating in a structured environment, different than the one they are accustomed to at school, is unique and there is a natural urge to want to ‘document’ the moment in a social exchange.

Of course when everyone starts yelling, “The runner is going home! Throw the ball home!” our young baseball or softball player is reminded there are more things to be concerned about than the umpire’s call and socializing with their classmate. 

They snap out of their moment, turn to home plate but it is too late…or there is just enough time to make a reckless throw that the catcher misses, resulting in their classmate advancing to second base.

 

 

So What Can We Do?

We add the action and concept of, and the teaching phrase, “Look for Other Runners” into our drills.  At the conclusion of any drill that involves make a tag on a runner or a force we Add, to the drill, the action of Immediately coming off the base, shuffling a couple steps towards the middle of the infield, in a Power Position (throwing position with the elbow raised to shoulder level) anticipating the possibility of making another throw.

We must stay firm in our policing of this action after it is added to our drills.  We judge the action by the level of aggressiveness the player moves away from the play that was just made and if they are fully ‘cocked and loaded’ and ready to throw, “Looking for Other Runners”.  Initially, it will be difficult to get the players to fully complete this additional action because they know, in the drill environment, that they will not have to make a throw….it’s just an added action.

Remaining consistent and firm in our expectation of this added component of the drill is the key to establishing this important habit that will pay dividends repeatedly over the course of a season.  It will be necessary, from time to time, to take a moment to demonstrate the action, so the players understand clearly what it means to put the play that just concluded behind them and prepare their mind and body to respond to other possible plays on the diamond.

It is important to acknowledge that, Yes, most of the time there will not be another play.  We want to teach the importance of establishing the Habit of being Prepared to make another throw, because at some point, if not multiple times, in each game there will be a need to make another throw.  Another result will be a runner thinking about advancing to the next base, but seeing your player immediately prepared to make a play on them, that runner makes the decision to stay put. 

When we see this happen in a game, it is important to point this out to our players; possibly right then, or at the end of the inning when everyone is back in the dugout.  A big part of cementing a new teaching point is showing the players where it made a positive impact in a game.

 

 

 

Drills to Train the Habit of ‘Looking for Other Runners’

  • Receiving Throws:                                  Tag Play (at Third Base) - ‘Skill Building Warm-up’ page
  • Catch, Tag, Power Position:                    Playing Catch Practice’ page
  • Catch, Tag & Throw, Mini Diamond:    Skill Building Warm-up page
  • Catch, Tag & Throw, Full Field:             Team Drills page

After our players have been exposed to this concept in drills where this action is a primary objective of the drill, we apply the action of ‘Looking for Other Runners’ to every instance where a base-runner is tagged or there is a force out at a base.  This applies to our scrimmages in practices. 

When incorporating this added action to other drills, f time and bodies are available, we can put am extra  player at another base on the diamond.  At the conclusion of each drill repetition, this additional player calls for the ball and the player who concluded the original drill, doesn’t just go through the action of “Looking for Other Runners”, they get to make a throw to the other base. The added player receives the throw, makes a tag on an imaginary runner ….and then they come off the base “Looking for other Runners”. 

Ultimately these habits carry over to our games ….these good habits will make a difference in our team’s ability to control runners and will shave a run or two off the final score of our opponents in many of our games.

 

 

 

 

 

Overthrow at First 1.jpg

Pick-off Throw To First Base

oooops, the throw is headed down the right field line

 

One aspect of Pitchers having trouble throwing to first base is Mindset.  Think of what we call the move to first: “Pickoff Move”.  The long used phrase ‘pick off’ by coaches (and players saying it/thinking it themselves) has morphed into the mindset that the purpose of this play is to generate an out – pick the base runner off first.  Too often the result is pitchers trying too hard to ‘pick the guy off’ and firing the ball past the first baseman. 

 

The pitchers’ actions become too quick, undisciplined and to some extent, 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 chest level, not low to the ground, near the bag.  By practicing with this mindset our pitchers became very good at making catchable throws consistently.

 

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

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 Their Self 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 I can confidently say that the occurrences 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 we will reduce balls being thrown away and possibly, in the process, generate more outs by giving the base runners more chances of ‘getting themselves out’

 

 

Technique For (Right Handed) Pitchers Throws 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).

 

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 chest area 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

 

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

We put our pitchers through this routine for two workouts.  It is critical that throughout the process we are constantly working on establishing the mindset that they are working on a ‘Hold Move’, not a ‘pickoff 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 will 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Game Day Check List …identifying fundamental flaws in your team; planning your next practice

 

Our teams and players are not executing well in the early games of the season and it can be a bit frustrating.  What can we do in our upcoming practices to make the greatest strides in developing our kids’ skills?  While saying, “Work on the things that we are struggling with” seems obvious, the question is how to ID those and which ones to prioritize.

Below is a checklist of items (that are common flaws in our play) to look for in the next couple of games to help us come up with some points to address in upcoming practices.

NOTE: Remember, we don’t need a baseball field to practice baseball.  Most any flat open space can be used to practice and develop skills.  This includes batting; batting practice can be done using wiffle balls.  The good thing about using wiffle balls for batting practice is that multiple players can bat at the same time…increased swings = greater development.

 

 

COMMON FLAWS CHECK LIST

Batting

 

  • Swinging to early – “Let the Ball Get to Your Feet” and “Head in Place”

(swing and miss, lunging forward, hitting ball off the end of the bat…making contact too soon)

        

  • Head Movement (pulling the head pulls the swing out of the path of the pitched ball)

 

  • Movement in the feet (watch the conclusion of the swing…feet movement at the end of the swing indicates a batter who is likely off balance during the swing)

 

 

  • No Load – “See Ball, Turn Back” (standing like a statue while pitching is delivered and heading towards home plate) - watch 1:22 - 2:15

 

 

 

 

 

 

Receiving Throws

·        Failing to “Reach Forward” when receiving a throw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Receiving a Throw at a Base

·        Force Play - Standing in a stretch position Before the ball has been thrown

·        Tag Play

1.      Not standing on the side of the base the ball is coming from (note: at the youth level - 12U, we do not want to teach players to straddle the base.  They often become anchored to this spot and fail to leave the base to stop off-line throws.  Straddling a base is something players age 13+ are taught)

2.      Not following the RULE: “Ball First, Base Second” when a throw is off line …not “Moving Feet to Catch".  A common mistake young players make is thinking they need to keep a foot on the base when receiving a throw.  In the picture below, David Wright concedes the fact that the runner is going to be safe (we need to explain to the kids that runners are safe A LOT over the course of a game) in order to move off the base and stop the ball.

 

 

 

Throwing

·        Failing to “Move Feet to Throw”  - Watch 0:45 – 1:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

  • Failing to utilize the Underhand Toss on short distance throws and not executing the action correctly - the first baseman runs with the ball to create momentum, guides the ball by gently extending the tossing arm LEVEL then CONTINUES to run toward the target AFTER tossing the ball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fielding

  • Getting in front of the ball too soon.  Footwork (and keeping the feet moving throughout the action) is the key to fielding.  When a player gets in front of the ball too soon their feet stop working, which leads to problems.  ...in the third replay of Durham's error (shot from above) you can clearly see that Durham 'gets in front of the ball' when it is barely half way to him, then he is stuck with nothing to do but wait; he has no rhythm with the ball and inevitably the ball goes through his legs.  ........a fielder wants to stay slightly to the side of the ball (and maintaining some movement with their feet) until they are about to field the ball.  They 'get in front of the ball TO FIELD THE BALL', not any earlier.  The fielder moves their feet leading up to the fielding action and keeps their feet moving through the fielding action......"The fielders feet makes their hands work.'

·        Back peddling on fly balls and pop-ups (insert drill link)

 

 

 

 

Base Running

·        Eyes on the ball rather than the base (when running to first base). Drill Diagram   

·        Improper route when advancing multiple bases. Drill Diagram  

 

Relays to Home

·        Using the SS/2B instead of the pitcher as the cut-relay player. Drill Diagram

 

 

In conclusion, regardless of what we choose to work on let’s make our greatest effort to limit the time we are talking to our kids and having them standing around listening.  Let’s run practices that are dynamic and have the kids moving and Doing the majority of practice time.

 

Head Games ...the key to successful athletic performance

 

How do we give our child or the players on our team an edge in developing their skills?  What is the latest technique, gadget or drill that can help them improve their performance?  Whatever it is, we will find it, buy it, use it…

 

 

When researching resources for improving youth baseball and softball skills we find oodles of drills on YouTube, tons of devices that surely will make the difference.  We often forget that the most fundamental things can be the most important aspects of improving performance.

 

 

What would you guess to be the single constant in all successful athletic actions?  I am suggesting that control of the head, while not the first thing that comes to mind, is an absolute must.

 

 

 

 

Watch elite athletes and you will see that they have minimal unnecessary head movement.  While their bodies are gyrating, and moving all over the place doing unbelievable feats, all the while they have great head control.  

 

 

You may have watched athletes or an athletic person move and you would say to yourself, “I don’t know what it is, but I can ‘just tell’ that person is a good athlete”.  The thing that gave you that sense was their head control.

 

 

Head Straight - Hudson.jpg

In order to be precise in an athletic movement, and precision is an absolute must when attempting to throw a pitch across a 17” wide plate or to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely, head control is a factor that must be part of the equation for success.

 

 

 

 

Faulty Tendencies

When swinging a bat, or swinging in any sport, the youth athlete often is thinking of what is going to happen, what the result will be.  The eagerness to ‘see what happens’ takes them away from a focus on the required action needed to get the desired result. 

 

When throwing the ball, or making a throwing action in other sports, the tendency of the youth athlete is to ‘pull’ with their shoulders and head in an effort to generate power, rather than ‘drive’ with their legs.  (Most youth athletes are unaware that most energy and effort in their throwing action comes from their legs.) 

 

Simple fact: when the head moves, the body follows; then the head stays in place the body has a good chance of directing its actions towards the what an athlete is trying to achieve….in our case, make an accurate swing to contacting the ball or making an accurate throw.

 

The youth athlete (and the pro athlete at times), in the midst of the action, moves their head toward where the result will take place.  This movement of the head takes their body off line of where

 

 

C’mon, Give Me Something That Will Really Make a Difference

There is a lot of good instruction information out there, there are some good solid drills and even some of the devices on the market can play a productive role in helping a youth athlete succeed.  However, much of these helpful resources are limited in their capacity to help a youth athlete if they have fundamental flaws in their movements.   Too much head movement is one of the most common flaws kids have.

 

 

 

Correcting this issue starts with awareness; we must point out to kids that they successful athletes have masterful control of their heads.  In this article, there are plenty of picture to show the kids.   Next, when working with the kids in a practice setting, we adults want to be very disciplined in our feedback regarding head movement.  Not only do we want to point out when the young athlete makes unnecessary head movement, but we also want to praise them when they do a good job of head control….we humans enjoy a little praise every now and then.

 

I am not big into ‘sayings’ but one that I feel says it all, in a very succinct way, with regard to teaching skills to youth athletes, “If you aren’t coaching, you are allowing”.  ….think that through a bit; I find it, as a coach, a very impactful statement.

 

 

Finally, as mentors to children working to improve their physical skills we must not forget that making adjustments in body movements doesn’t happen instantly.  It is a process that requires days, weeks and sometimes months. 

 

Remain patient and encouraging while our athletes make adjustments in their actions and work towards developing good habits and discipline.

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Two Things To Help Our Kids Improve: Tee, Time  …no we're not talking golf

 

A post in the archives under the 'Parents' tab, “Baseball is Like a Piano” discusses a key ingredient for our young softball or baseball player to have the best possible experience: working on their skills away from team organized activities.  Just like alearning to play the piano, a youth ballplayer needs to practice at home.

 

 

Batting Tee

Aspiring young piano aficionados have equipment at home to practice on, the young ballplayer needs equipment to for practicing at home as well.  Fortunately the equipment needed by a youth softball or baseball player doesn’t cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.  What is the key piece of equipment for our young ballplayer?  - a Batting Tee. 

 

A batting tee can be found at the local sporting goods store for around $25.  It doesn’t need to be fancy, just something that will support a ball so a kid can take a whack at it.  A ball isn’t even required; a rolled up pair of socks can serve as a baseball or softball.  I know this to be a fact because as a child I hit socks off a Tee in my bedroom (I am not sure if my mother was aware I was swinging my bat in the house).

 

Batting is said to be the most difficult action in all of sports.  This statement refers to hitting a live pitch, but as golfers know, hitting a stationary ball off a tee is not that easy either.  Why is hitting a ball (moving or stationary) so difficult to master?  Because the primary movement in swinging a bat (or club) is rotating the lower half of the body.  When was the last time we (or our kids) rotated the lower half of our body in our daily activities?  Unless we are a dance instructor it might be difficult to remember the last time.

 

Kids run, jump, skip and climb.  These and other daily activities involve the leg muscles working, more or less, in straight lines.  Then we hand them a bat and ask them to hit a ball, an activity that requires the lower body to rotate, an action they rarely or ever execute in their day to day activities, and we wonder why they struggle.  Yeah, but we tell them to ‘keep your eye on the ball’ and to ‘line your knuckles up’ and to ‘raise that back elbow’.  Unfortunately these things have little, if anything, to do with the actual swing itself.  “The legs swing the bat” and when the legs swing the bat, they rotate.

 

Making a $25 investment in a Batting Tee can do wonders in helping a child develop their batting skills

 

Video of Josh Hamilton working off a tee...most every MLB player employs the use of the tee in their daily in-season swing routine as well as part of their off season routine.  Tees aren't jsut for Tee-ball, they are a tool used throughout a successful baseball career.

 

 

 

 

Time

The second thing we can give our young ballplayer is our time.  Gosh, we brought them into the world, then signed them up to play, the least we can do is spend 10 minutes a day tossing the ball back and forth with them – just 10 minutes a day!? 

 

The most fundamental skill in softball and baseball is playing catch and many kids do not do this enough to develop a minimum level of competence in order to execute a throw or a catch in their team practices or a game.  Not only do their muscles need repetition, but also their eyes.  The more repetitions a child’s eyes get seeing a ball flying towards them the more skilled their brain will become in matching up the ball with their glove.

 

The good news is that we don’t have to travel far in order to play catch with our child.  In most cases walking a few steps out our front or back door is all it takes to find a spot to play catch.

 

One of the aspects of softball and baseball that makes these games so popular is the social component.  Conversation is a big part of the baseball and softball experience.  Players socialize in the dugout and they socialize while playing catch.  

 

Understandably, in today's busy world, it can be difficult to find time to hold an extended conversation with our kids.  Another contributor to the problem is finding a scenario where we can gain and hold our child's attention. However, many parents report that the time spent playing catch with their child is the time they have their most in depth conversations with them. 

 

While playing catch a child is ultra-focused on the person they are playing catch with – in this case its mom or dad.  How many other activities can give us our child’s undivided attention?  It is also reported by many adults that, when looking back on their childhood, some of their most vivid memories of spending time with a parent are from the time they spent playing catch.

 

There are the two things we parents can do to help our kids get the most out of their experience playing baseball or softball.  Get a Batting Tee for them, so they can work on their batting skills (they don’t need a partner to do this) and give them few minutes of our Time each day.  Get them swinging the bat more and let's start playing catch with our kids; we just might find we get to know them a little better in the process.

 

Check Out the Coaching Guide

Your Kid Can’t Hit ...because their bat is Too Long!

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.  The 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 nine 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.  We can't 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’ 4” 105lb, 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 $60 on a bat.

 

There are many quality, name brand bats on the market for $40. 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.

 

However, 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 coaches considered him the best batter in the league and he was using an old thing that cost $5.

 

Check Out the Coaching Guide

 

 

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