Table of Contents - Articles



TITLE                               CONTENT     


Working Through Adversity                        r ...mindset dictates chances

Efficient Transitions In Practice                   …it starts with discipline in drills

5 Pitches at the Same Time!                       ...5 different pitches delivered the same way

Pitching Mastery                                's all in your head

Last Chance to Learn From Pros       7 of the world series

Cut Play / Get The Ball In Play                  ...understanding the difference

Runner Tagging From Third                      ...who is thecut off?

Bat Safety                                                       …don’t ask Ryan Braun of the Brewers  

Podcast                                                             ...practice planning and the pace of learning

'Playing Catch Practice'                                 ...the most important part of the day

Podcast                                                             ...practice structure and 'playing catch practice'

Was the Runner Out or Safe?                      ..."look for other runners"

Ride a Roller-Coaster                                    ...teaching kids how to slide  

Moon Your Teammate                                   ...pitchers fielding practice

Aren't We Playing Tag?                                 ...dealing with runners not stopped at a base

Saviors of the Game                                      ...utilizing parents as helpers during practices

Covering All the Bases                                 ...teaching kids to cover the correct base

Covering the Fundamentals                        ...things that go wrong in games that are rarely addressed in practice



Working Through Adversity ...a player's mindset dictates their chances

Athletic competition constantly presents adverse situations.  In these moments a player’s mindset dictates a great deal how they emerge.  It is easy to only see the possible negative outcomes.  Some athletes however, recognize that the possibility of a positive outcome still remains.  They keep their thoughts focused on, and direct their actions toward, the next moment or the next play, giving themselves a greater opportunity to overcome adversity and find success. 

In today’s NFL playoff game between the Seahawks and Vikings, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had a snap get past him in the shotgun.  If you are able to watch the replay, notice the calm that Mr. Wilson displays as he slides down to cleanly recover the ball and then roll outside the pressure of the rush, buying time for a possible positive outcome.

He found receiver Tyler Locket in the middle of the field who took the ball down to the Vikings’ five yard line setting up the game’s only touchdown (played in temperatures that never got above zero) leading to the Seahawks’ playoff victory. 

The adversity of the missed snap did not change Russell Wilson’s well-known championship mindset.  He took on the adversity, trusted the training that he and his teammates had gone through over the previous six months and gave himself, and the team, the opportunity to successfully emerge from the adverse situation.

As a resident of Seattle I feel fortunate that my children, and the children of our region, have the opportunity to grow up watching the play of Russell Wilson.  Constantly, week after week, he demonstrates the mindset and demeanor of a person who never allows a negative impede his efforts. 

On every play and in every situation his mindset, preparation, and no doubt the influence of his parents and coaches who helped mold his character while growing up, allows him to focus on the possibilities that remain, regardless of the circumstances.  His constant calm and certainty in his actions displays the belief that he can achieve a positive result.

Through our children’s participation in athletics, parents and coaches have the opportunity to teach children that life will constantly throw adverse circumstances at them.  By striving ahead and maintaining faith in the possibilities, good things can happen.  Having Russell Wilson to point to gives us a tremendous example to illustrate fighting through adversity and assist us in teaching our kids.

With our help and support, kids can learn to forge on and believe that something good can follow an adverse situation.  Not every such circumstance will end in a positive result, but some will.  Each time our children achieve that positive outcome, they become stronger and their confidence that they can overcome adversity in the future grows.



Efficient Transitions During Practice

…it starts with discipline in drills

NOTE TO PARENTS:  Any effective youth baseball or softball practice involves parents who help the coaching staff on the field during practice.  The info below will help a parent be a more effective helper.  The result is that your child will get more out of each practice and ultimately get more out of their overall experience.

A big time eater during practices is the transition between activities.  Maximizing efficiency in transitions starts with how we run drills.

Each drill needs to have a clear objective and clear points the kids are working on.  'Clear' means the kids recognize what specific actions, within the context of the drill, they are expected to execute exactly as instructed.

With the objective and focus points of a drill clear to the kids we next need to make sure the kids stick to the objective and focus points.

This means if they don't execute a focus point of a drill properly we stop the drill and start over making it clear to the player(s) that we are not going to allow the kids to 'go through the motions', but that the clear expectations we laid out prior to the drill will be enforced.

As our kids develop the discipline of executing the key points of their drills properly, and recognize we are watching and enforcing, when it comes time for a transition to a new activity, the discipline established in the drill will carry over to the transition...

"OK, you four line up behind first base, you four behind second base, you four behind third base.  No talking, no touching and eyes on the coaches who will be at the pitching rubber."

A command such as this will be followed and our transition to the next drill taking only a few seconds.

This is a direct result of our establishing clear expectations and discipline in our drill activity.


How Do We Establish Discipline in Drills?

Start by utilizing the coaching guide, practice plans and drills sections in the Baseball Positive website.

Before each drill:

     1.   Explain the drill

     2.   Make the objective clear

     3.   Point out the key action(s) of the drill.

We’ll use ‘Rundowns - Ambush’ as an example   (The link takes you to the Drills page of the site.  ‘Rundowns-Ambush’ is listed alphabetically in the Table of Contents.)


In this drill the base runner does not change directions.  The two defensive players close in on the base runner from both sides.  You will get the runner out on each drill repetition.  We are working on improving the actions of the drill

Objective:  Get the runner out as fast as possible using one or zero throw

Key Actions:

---> Both players get on the same side of the runner to create an unobstructed throwing lane

---> The player receiving the throw moves to a point 10’ off the base

---> After tagging the runner, the receiving player “Looks for other Runners”

If any of these actions are not executed we restart the drill.  The players will not execute these properly, especially early on.  By making it clear to the players that they Must execute these actions properly otherwise we start the drill over.

None of these actions require athletic ability.  Anyone can do these actions as expected.  These actions are required.

It is important to recognize, as a coach, that poor throws will be made and throws will be dropped.  These mistakes are not a concern.  These skills will improve over time.  Our concern of coaches is that the players properly execute the key actions correctly.


Focus on Actions, Not Results

A common mistake youth coaches make is they focus on the ‘results’ of the activity and give feedback on the results rather than focusing on what we are teaching.   We are teaching the kids to learn the actions of the drill.  The objective of the drill is for the kids to learn how to execute the actions.

Through the repetition of coaches or parent helpers) demonstrating that only the proper execution of the key actions of the drill will be accepted and if those actions are not performed correctly, then the players will have to repeat the drill.

After it has been established, in the first few practices of the year, that discipline in executing the key actions in the drills is required and we will not allow the kids to ‘go through the motions’, this will carry over to transitions between drills and activities.

The result will be the transitions between activities will run smoothly and efficiently and we will get more out of the limited amount of time allotted to practice time.


What is the Definition of a Successful Coach?

Being an effective and ‘successful’ coach is less about ‘knowing the game’ and more about establishing a culture of structure of, and discipline in, practice activities.  Important Note: now that you have read this article, do not allow yourself to think that suddenly things will magically work well.  Running a structured and disciplined practice is a skill, just like batting and throwing.  It takes time, repetition and yes, mistakes to develop a skill. 

Stick to your plan, do your best and when things don’t get frustrated when things go sideways, because they will.  Learn from each experience and as the season progresses you, your assistants and the kids will slowly and surely improve in transitioning from one activity to the next during practices.





Yu Darvish Throws 5 Pitches at the Same Time!

…actually he delivers 5 different pitches the same way


This video, which is actually five videos layered on top of each other, is of Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers starting pitcher, pitching to Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels. 

In each of the videos he is throwing a different pitch.  Given the fact that the videos are layered on top of each other, initially it looks like an everyday video of a pitcher throwing to a batter.  That is until he gets to his Release Point.

The point of watching this is to see that regardless of which type of pitch he throws the actions and pace of his delivery are identical; as is his release point. This is important for any coach or parent working with a young player to understand, so they can instruct that young player properly.

A pitcher does not change their delivery mechanics, the pace of their delivery action or their release point, when throwing different pitches.  The two things that are done differently are:


1. A different grip is used (has nothing to do with the delivery)

2. A different type of release is used (only involved the wrist and hand…no the rest of the body and arm motion in the delivery.


A very important note on the wrist/hand action.  Regardless of the type of release used the pressure exerted on the arm by the action of the wrist/hand is always DOWN.  There should never be a ‘twisting’ (laterally) action with the wrist/hand when throwing any type of pitch.

In a later series of posts and videos, which will appear over the winter on the Baseball Positive website I will go into detail about the pitching action, how to teach it to kids and how to teach the proper grip and release for various pitches.






Pitching Mastery

…it’s all in your head

What makes a good baseball/softball/youth sports coach?  Many believe it’s ‘knowing a lot’ or being a great tactician.   - Phooey.

Kids ages 12 and under have so much room for skill development and many are not to a maturity level where they are going to consume and digest tactics to the extent they can execute them properly and consistently in a competitive environment.

A ‘great’ youth coach (or a parent who can effectively give tips to their child) is one who implements simple drills and activities in their practices and workouts and runs those activities with:

-          A clearly defined objective

-          Maintain discipline so the objective is fulfilled each time

-          Create an environment where the kids get massive quality repetitions in a short period of time


Let’s take pitching as an example.  Go in the internet, find a book, go to a pro instructor, etc. and you can find dozens of fine points about the baseball or softball pitching delivery

But let’s set those things aside and talk about something anyone can teach, is simple for a player to focus on and execute and can have immediate and highly impactful results in improving the pitching skill:

The Head – “Keep your had still centered and straight throughout your wind-up, delivery and after releasing the ball.  That’s it!

Many pitchers who struggle with consistency, velocity and accuracy do not have their heads under control.  The body follows the head.  When the head is not under control, the head is not under control.

But Mark, I want to teach ‘em more than that; I want to give ‘em stuff that will make them better and help them be the best pitcher.  Oh, I understand, but not much else is going to provide much value until they get their head under control. 

And later after they do learn all that fancy stuff they will still need to have their head under control….and they will need to be reminded and they will need to make it part of their ‘mechanics checklist’ as long as they are a pitcher.

A few verbal reminders can help you help them while they are working out:

--- “Head straight”

--- “Head still and centered”

--- “Imagine you have a rope going from your nose to the catcher’s glove…and that rope is pulling your nose straight toward the glove”



Last Chance to Learn From the Pros   …game 7 of the world series


Here is something very simple for you and your child to look for when watching Game 7 of the World Series tonight.  Take note of the feet and head of the batters.



You will notice, in most cases, their feet stay in place during their follow through and after their swing is completed.  The primary exception is when they are protecting the plate with two strikes.  In this situation some will ‘reach’ for pitches out of the strike zone or get fooled.

Occasionally a batter will have some foot movement following their swing with less than two strikes, but it will be clear that they are balanced and in control of their body, which is the objective of any successful batter



We youth level coaches are constantly hollering, “Keep your eye on the ball”, which is important, but even for kids this statement soon becomes cliché and gets filtered out.  More important is for a batter to “keep their head in place”.  When the head moves the body has to follow.  Most head movement puts the body in a less than ideal position to execute a quality swing.

Notice the MLB batters heads remain very still (except for a slight downward tilt when following the ball to contact with the bat) throughout their swing and follow through.  Exceptions are, again, when protecting the plate with 2 strikes and when they swing and miss ….hmmm, maybe the head movement was part of the problem?




Notice that many batters have little or no stride.  A stride is not necessary for a quick and powerful swing.  In the past couple of decades many pro batters (and instructors) have eliminated the stride from their swing.  The stride involves movement.  The less movement, the less room for making a mistake. 

Striding is not bad, but it is not required.  The stride (or ‘step’) is a timing mechanism and is very personal for each batter. I strongly urge parents and coaches of kids age 12 and under to NOT instruct a young player to stride.  If you find they naturally want to stride, then that is (usually) OK and you leave that alone; unless they are losing their balance as a result.  The quick fix is to widen their feet in their stance which can eliminate their desire to stride.

Enjoy the Game!





The Second Baseman is NOT the Cut-off!   ...or is it a 'get the ball back into the infield play?

We are coaching our team at the local playfield.  There is a runner on second and our team is defending a two run lead.  The batter slugs a base hit over the second baseman’s head, the right fielder hustles over to the ball while the second baseman obediently moves into the outfield following the hit. 

The base runner coming from second nears third base and is being waved home as the right fielder picks up the ball and makes the 35 foot throw to the second baseman.

The second baseman turns and unleashes a throw toward home as the base runner barrels down the third base line.  With the runner close to scoring, the catcher is forced to move from home plate to receive a throw that has covered 100 feet and is now veering off target. 

The ball bounces ten feet in front of the catcher and off their shin guard as the runner from second scores… ”Hey that was pretty close, they might have had ‘em if that throw was on line”, we think as we watch the conclusion of the play.

However the play isn’t over.  During the long throw from the outfield, made by the second baseman, the batter advanced to second.  All the while, the pitcher stood next to the rubber, watching, hoping, praying that the runner at home would be out.  Then, in great disappointment, realizes that not only did a run score, but the batter, the tying run, is now standing at second base.  - luckily the catcher didn’t attempt a last gasp desperate throw to second base, which many times results in an overthrow allowing that runner to advance further.


Flash to Fenway Park in Boston.  Jacoby Elsberry of the Yankees singles to right field and Derek Jeter is attempting to score from second.  Red Sox Right Fielder Brock Holt fields the ball and fires it to Dustin Pedroia who has moved out to shallow right field in position to be the cut-relay man on a throw to the plate……..      …..waaaaaaait, whaaaaaaaaaaaa      …no, that’s not how it works!?  Pedroia isn’t the cut man to home on a single to right field.    …Mark, dude, what have you been smokin’?  That’s not how the game is played!

Ya, but….    That is exactly how we teach (or allow) our kids to play the game. 


In reality, Holt fires the ball past Pedroia (who is standing in the outfield) toward first baseman Mike Napoli, the cut-relay man (who is standing inside the infield diamond).  A decision is then made to do one of the following:

  1. Allow the throw to continue home in the belief that the Sox have a chance to get Jeter out at the plate.

  2. Cut the throw and redirect it to second base, to get Ellsbury who is attempting to advance on the throw from the outfield.  The decision to redirect the ball is after recognizing there is little or no chance of getting Jeter at home.

  3. Cutting the throw, holding it, and then flipping it to the pitcher.  In this case there is no play on either runner.  Each has stopped trying to advance (in Jeter’s case he either stopped at third base or scored easily and there being no need to risk a throw to home).

OR  if it is clear that Jeter is stopping at third and Ellsbury at first, there is no need to throw the ball to the cut-relay man, Napoli, in the first place.   In this case the required actions of the defense change.  What was going to be a ‘Cut-Relay’ play (on a runner trying to score) has now become a ‘Get the ball back into the infield’ play - the 4th option for the defense in this situation. Holt’s play now is to make the short toss to Pedroia, who turns and runs the ball in toward the infield.

Of course!     Now it’s clear!     We have seen each of those four scenarios played out dozens of times….often we see all four over the course of the single Major League game.

Now let’s go back to the game involving our kids.  Is it any different from the game played between the Red Sox and Yankees?  Not really.  We have our second baseman moving out toward the ball in right field and we (should) have a cut-relay player positioned inside the infield diamond. 

The difference is, in the youth game, played on a 60’-70’ diamond, the PITCHER is always the cut-relay man, not the first (or third) baseman as is the case on an 80’ or 90’ diamond.  Why the difference?  There are two primary reasons:

1.    Most smaller diamonds provide very little room between home plate and the backstop.  (On a larger playing field, which has the backstop quite a ways behind home plate, the pitcher has the responsibility to move behind home to back up a throw.  This is not necessary in the game played on the smaller diamond.)

2.    On most 12U teams the pitcher is one of the best athletes on the field.  (At this level of play it makes sense to get the ball in the hands of one of our best athletes as often as possible.  Also, making the pitcher the cut-relay player simplifies things for the players and coaches.  The pitcher is the cut-relay player on throws from all fields.  ---> In the game played on the larger diamond the first baseman is the cut-relay man on balls hit to right and center fields, while the third baseman is the cut-relay man on balls hit to left field).


The other difference is the universal misunderstanding, at the youth level, between a ‘Cut-Relay’ play and a ‘Get the ball back into the infield’ play. 

Here is the key to identifying the difference between a ‘Cut-Relay’ play and a ‘Get the ball back into the infield’ play:

  • The runner from second stops at third (or is clearly going to score easily and there being no reason to make a throw in that direction) - we then have a ‘Get the ball back into the infield’ play. – The outfielder tosses (or hands) the ball to the middle infielder who then runs the ball back into the infield (while maintaining constant attention on the base runner(s) ) and gets the ball securely to the pitcher.
  • The runner, who started at second, is attempting to score and there is some possibility we can throw them out at home - we then have a ‘Cut-Relay’ play.  And on this play the outfielder does Not throw the ball to the middle infielder (who has run out to the outfield).  The outfielder throws the ball past the middle infielder to the pitcher (who is the cut-relay man, standing inside the infield diamond). 


Below is a drill diagram (with explanations of each player’s responsibilities) on a ‘Cut-Relay’ play.

Also below is a diagram for a drill to train our kids (through doing, rather than telling) how to run a ‘Get the ball back into the infield’ play.  NOTE: in this diagram the ball is hit to the center fielder who is throwing the ball to third.  The situation being a base hit with a runner on first, who may possibly try to advance to third on the base hit.


Drills for these and every common situation in the youth game, for each playing level, can be found on the Baseball Positive website (those not yet included will be added as the site matures). 







Cut-Relay Play; Runner Tagging From Third …who is the cut off? 

The Little League World Series is in full swing.  Some interesting human interest stories are developing and we are seeing some stellar performances on the field.  However, we are watching kids and there have been a good number of plays that have not been executed perfectly reminding us that even though these kids have accomplished much to get to Williamsport, they are still just kids.  

There is little doubt that all these teams have had their struggles along the road to the Little League World Series and all have likely benefited from mistakes made by their opponents

I was on hand to see one of those mistakes.  In most instances this single play would have occurred with little or no notice.  Even given the circumstances I suspect most observers did not recognize that this ‘mistake’ was easily avoidable…and, like many such instances in this world wide tournament, may have changed the lives, memories and potential memories of many kids and parents.

This play took place in the Washington State Championship Game involving Pacific Little League (the Northwest representative in this year’s Little League World Series tournament).

Pacific Little League advanced to the championship game through the losers bracket (yes, most if not all of the Little League World Series Teams we are watching did not get there without a loss or two along the way), which required them to beat their opponent twice in one day in order to advance to regional play.

It was a tight game with great pitching and solid defense.  The teams found themselves tied 1-1 going into the 5th inning.  In the top of the fifth, Pacific had a runner on third base with one out.  The Pacific batter hit a fly ball to right field.  Deep enough for the runner to consider trying to score after the catch.  The ball was caught and a strong throw made towards home plate.  The runner broke a few steps towards home, but determined it was not worth the risk and stopped.

The throw ended up landing a few feet up the third base line and about ten feet in front of the catcher, who did a nice job moving off the plate to get in front of the throw.   Unfortunately it was a long tricky hop and bounced off the catcher’s chest and kicked away towards the third base dugout.  The base runner remaining alert, dashed home with what proved to be the winning run.


Pacific went on to win the game 2-1.  In the second game, the winner of which would move on to regional play, Pacific won 12-2 with the game being stopped because of the mercy rule.  Pacific won the regional and advanced to the Little League World Series with the honor of representing the Northwest Region.   

What would have transpired if that play between the right fielder and catcher had gone differently?   Possibly the runner would have ended up stranded on third base.  Possibly the defensive team would have scratched out a run and won the Washington State Championship, won the Regional, and THOSE kids, coaches and parents may have enjoyed the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to Williamsport and the Little League World Series.

But we (they) will never know.

The play resulting in the throw bouncing off the catcher could have, should have, been executed (Coached) differently.  If it had been, well…


A key point to recognize in this situation is the runner at third had initially decided not to attempt to score on the play.  The runner advanced home after the defensive team lost control of the ball.

What was missing from this play on the part of the defense?  There was no ‘Cut-Relay’ man between the right fielder and the catcher.  If at cut-relay man had been available for the right fielder to throw to, there would have been a throw of approximately 80 feet caught and held by the cut man.  The runner would have stayed at third, the cut man would have delivered the ball to the pitcher and the situation would have been two outs, runner on third and the score still tied 1-1.

So what could have been done differently to prepare the defensive team?


Their first mistake was teaching defensive responsibilities applicable to the game as it is played on a large (90’) diamond.  Cut-Relay plays are structured differently on the smaller (60’) diamond.  Many coaches do not recognize that some aspects of the game are executed differently on the smaller diamond.  Not only are the field dimensions different, but the skill sets of the players at each given position are different than the players at those positions at higher levels of play.  Also the proximity of the backstop to home plate is very different, which is an important factor in how defensive players are utilized on this play.

I watched the coach of the team opposing Pacific throughout both games.  It was clear, based on how his kids played and how he ran his club, that he was an outstanding coach and one with an extensive background in the game.

In my years of working at the 12U level I have seen a common mistake made by the ‘best’ coaches – those coaches who have played (and possibly coached) at advanced levels on the 90’ diamond.  The mistake is they bring elements of the game played on the larger field to the smaller diamond that do not translate to the youth game.  

This team was running its ‘Cut-Relay’ defense as is done on a 90’ diamond.  On base hits to the outfield and a runner potentially scoring from second (this came up quite a bit in the second game when pacific LL scored 12 runs) the pitcher would break toward home plate to back up throws and a corner infielders were (supposed to be) serving in the Cut-Relay role.   


In the game played on the smaller diamond the Pitcher serves as the ‘Cut-Relay’ player on all throws to home from the outfield.  Here are the reasons why:

1…The pitcher, who is likely the best or one of the best athletes on the field, is handling the ball at the center of the play.

2….Most youth size diamonds have the backstop positioned about 15’ behind home plate. Given that much of that space is taken up by the catcher and umpire, there is really no place for any player to get in position to back up a throw.  (On this critical play in the Washington State Championship game, the pitcher ended up standing at against the back stop up the first base line.  He couldn’t get behind home plate; there wasn’t room.  So there stood one of the best athletes on the field, removed from the play.)

3….The first and third basemen, who likely also pitch and play other positions (as is the case with little league rosters that are limited to 12-13 players) do not get the repetitions and experience in practice to establish the ability to recognize, interpret and react appropriately (which one is the cut man and which is not; and where do they stand as the cut man?).  With the pitcher serving as the Cut Man 100% of the time on throws to the plate, all the decision making is eliminated.  And in practice there is only one play to learn, practice and master.


The moral of the story is to simplify our teaching at this level and to teach our kids how the game is played on the smaller diamond. 

Below is a diagram of a drill that is run on a MINI DIAMOND.   This gets the kids a large number of reps in a short period of time.  They learn all the elements of the play: movement, positioning, communication.   After a few days of learning the play, then run it on a full size field. 

The only element that is added is full distance throws, which they work on each day during  PLAYING CATCH PRACTICE.

The second Diagram shows the defensive responsibilities of all nine players for Cut-Relay plays to home when the ball is hit to various spots in the outfield.

  PITCHER - Always the cut man on throws to home from the outfield. INFIELDERS not playing the ball (going to the outfield to help) - cover a base INFIELDER RESPONSIBILE FOR GOING INTO THE OUTFIELD - “Move Towards The Ball” OUTFIELDERS not playing the ball - break towards the ball; once they see they are not going to be making a play on the ball, break towards the infield anticipating where they may be needed to back up a throw. OUTFIELDER PLAYING THE BALL (Fast, Slow, Fast) - Get to the ball as FAST as possible…..SLOW down to field the ball..…move the feet FAST toward the target to maximize power in the throw. CATCHER --- move to your ‘Position’ which is one step in front of home plate……communicate to the defense where the throw is going, then communicate with the cut man (Pitcher) where to throw the ball once they receive it.    


PITCHER - Always the cut man on throws to home from the outfield.

INFIELDERS not playing the ball (going to the outfield to help) - cover a base


OUTFIELDERS not playing the ball - break towards the ball; once they see they are not going to be making a play on the ball, break towards the infield anticipating where they may be needed to back up a throw.

OUTFIELDER PLAYING THE BALL (Fast, Slow, Fast) - Get to the ball as FAST as possible…..SLOW down to field the ball..…move the feet FAST toward the target to maximize power in the throw.

CATCHER --- move to your ‘Position’ which is one step in front of home plate……communicate to the defense where the throw is going, then communicate with the cut man (Pitcher) where to throw the ball once they receive it.



Bat Safety.jpg

How Do We Keep Our Kids from Getting Hit By a Bat?        ...…don’t ask ryan braun of the brewers


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.  There is another situation that can also result in serious injury that is entirely preventable: getting hit by a bat swung by another player.


Below is a set of 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 league’s activities and keep this from ever happening to one of your kids.




RULE: All players are required to hold the bat by the barrel when moving from place to place.  The only time a player is allowed to hold a bat by the handle is when they are preparing to swing^ at a ball. 


^There are only two instances players are allowed to swing a bat during a league sponsored activity:   

 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 


3. When multiple batters are swinging a bat (whiffle ball batting, tee work, etc.), no batter is allowed to move from their designated swinging spot until all participants have set their bats down.    

 4. 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.



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.

Bat Safety(2).jpg

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. 

Bat Safety(3).jpg

In this instance Braun was the third batter scheduled to hit and Segura was scheduled 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.  He knew he as the third batter and twenty feet from him he could see the lead-off batter in the on-deck circle.  He should have been well aware that the second batter would soon be coming up the stairs onto the field. 

Bat Safety(4).jpg

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. 

Bat Safety(5).jpg

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); and the pros are cool.

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


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



Batting Pros Carry the Bat by the Barrel...

See the video from: 0:15 – 1:10…

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















Coaching Youth Baseball and Softball

…practice planning and the pace at

which young ball players develop


Winning Youth Coaching.jpg

How did you feel following that last loss?  Or maybe it was a win, but you feel less than fulfilled knowing your players didn’t play up to their capabilities.

Disappointed in the quality of your practices?  Looking for insights for better communication with parents, your players or the coaches you work with?

Craig Haworth’s Winning Youth Coaching podcasts and website addresses these and many other topics.   Subscribe to his weekly newsletter and learn from top achievers in the youth sports world.

Recently I had the privilege of being a guest on Craig's podcast. We talked about practice planning and the pace at which young ball players develop skills and learn to play the game.

'Playing Catch Practice' …the most important part of the day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







…practice structure, playing catch practice, batting practice and more   

Recently I was invited by Jason Oates, host of a podcast for coaches, “Whistle and a Clipboard”, to be a guest on his show.  Jason’s show features coaches who share their experiences in the coaching world. 

The show has coaches from a variety of sports at a variety of levels.  However, Jason’s primary objective is to reach youth coaches and give them a resource for improving the experience they provide for the kids they work with.

This show focuses primarily on practice structure, but also touches on other points such as teaching aids, perspectives on what it means to be a youth coach …and even a book recommendation.

Give it a listen. Also, while you are on Jason’s site you will find dozens of other podcasts.  I am sure you will find the site beneficial.  This is a great show to listen to during your commute!         Link to the show










Was the Runner Out or Safe? …but what about the other runners?

Look for other Runners.jpg

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…

Seen this before?  I can assure you this happens in every youth baseball and softball league all across the United States, Canada and across the globe.  But 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.

We need to get into the brain of a young player to find out.  This is often difficult since our brains are grown up, have experienced the world and the game much more than our players.  We also struggle to address this and many other common mistakes kids make because we make the mistake of approaching our practice plans and teaching priorities from and adult perspective and not that of a kid’s.

Kids see the world much differently than adults.  First, for them the world still pretty much centers on their personal experiences.  Next, the focus on the current moment, the ‘now’, is very strong in a child.  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 and the moment.

This brings to the common scenario mentioned above.  Finding out if that base runner was safe or not on the ball the first baseman caught is really important to that child.  And they are very interested in the answer.  Also, our first baseman knows the base runner from school and knows them in that environment.  It is new, and interesting, to suddenly meet 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.

It’s as simple as that.  And it’s as detailed as that - from the child’s perspective.

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

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 and any other runners on the base paths advance yet another base.

So what can we do?

Simple, we add the concept of, and teaching phrase, “Look for Other Runners” into our drills.  And we stay firm in our teaching that as soon as a play is made on a runner or at a base, that part of the play is over and the player needs to look towards the middle of the infield (toward the other three bases) and move into a throwing position, so to be prepared to make an immediate throw if any of the ‘other runners’ are attempting to advance.

Some drills that will train our youth ballplayers in the habit of ‘Looking for Other Runners’ are found below:

After your players have been exposed to this concept in a few drills we can apply the habit of ‘Looking for Other Runners’ to each instance of a play being made on a player or at a base in every drill and during scrimmages.  Ultimately these habits will carry over to our games.

Based on my observations I will suggest that making ‘Look for Other Runners’ a habit in our players, the result will be shaving two runs a game off our opponents score.





Teaching Young Baseball and Softball Players

How to Slide …it’s as easy as riding a roller coaster

Sliding - Copy.jpg

Sliding is not always an easy skill for young baseball and softball players to learn.  Many do not generate a lot of momentum when running and momentum plays a big role in a successful slide.  There also is the requirement to lean back and to drop down.  While these actions may not seem like much to the adult doing the teaching, they are relatively foreign to a young ballplayer.  We need to recognize this and understand that some kids will need to time to get acclimated to the idea of trying to slide.  On the other hand, some kids are eager to start sliding.  These eager kids need to learn to slide properly - and safely.

 Note: In these drills, the kids are going to spend a lot of time on the ground.  In the early spring when the ground can be wet and cold (especially in the north) we need to pick an appropriate day to teach sliding.  If we have to do it on wet ground, be sure to do so at the end of practice, so the kids can jump right in the car and get warm.  Grass is the best surface on which to learn to slide; damp or wet grass creates much less friction on those little legs and butts.

In the summer, and in the warmer south, the ground can get pretty hard and dry.  In such an environment we definitely want to practice sliding on grass and it is best to heavily water down the sliding area, so the kids don’t get their legs torn up.



All players sit down on the ground with both legs extended straight out in front of them.  Then tell them to tuck one foot under their knee in order to create a ‘number 4’ with their legs.  The standard feet first sliding style is called a “Figure 4 Slide” or a bent leg slide. 

We don’t instruct them which leg remains straight and which gets bent.  Each player will naturally pick the leg that is most comfortable to slide on.

Ideally the coach is on the ground with the players while instructing.  The coach starts out with their legs straight out and does not tuck their bent leg until after the kids are done getting into their figure-4.  We don’t want them to copy the coach and possibly not pick their most comfortable leg to be the bent leg. 



While sitting in the figure-4 position we have the kids rest their hands on their knees.  Then we all pretend we are on a roller coaster going down a big, steep drop.  Everyone throws their arms up over their head and yells “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”. 

This is silly-time for the kids and they love it.  Repeat this 3-4 times and really egg them on to be loud and have fun with the exercise.



This is the important step.  We are still playing roller coaster, but now as the kids throw their arms up and yell we ask them to lean back at the same time and continue leaning back until they are lying flat on their backs.  When they complete this action their arms should be extended above their heads, but not allow their hands to touch the ground.

 Repeat this 3-4 times…or more if they are having fun.



Set out three or four bases, all on a line about 15’ apart.  Bases can be a cone, a throw down base, a cap, hoodie, etc.  Break the kids into 3-4 groups and line them up about 50’ from the bases, and get ‘em ready to run!

 (Ideally the kids practice sliding with no shoes on; socks don’t get caught in the ground.  Catching a cleat while practicing sliding can cause a serious leg injury!  At worst have the kids wearing sneakers – NO CLEATS ALLOWED!!!  There has to be advanced planning and communication with parents if the kids are going to need to bring an extra pair of shoes to this particular practice.


Teaching Points While Running the DRILL:

1.  Stay on the kids to run as fast as they can and to keep running full speed into the slide.  This is very important.  The more momentum they have the easier it will be to slide.  Part of the sliding action involves leaving the feet and dropping down on the bent leg and butt.  If a player drops straight down it is going to be painful.  The more momentum a player has the less impact there is from dropping down because the impact occurs at an angle more parallel with the ground.


2.  Constantly remind the kids to start leaning back during their last couple of steps prior to the slide.  This lean lowers their hips closer to the ground and gets the body in a better angular position for sliding.  This action, combined with momentum greatly reduces the impact when the legs and butt meet the ground.


3.  Stay on them to remember to throw their arms up while leaning back.   And to keep their hands off the ground throughout the slide.  Many ball players (of all ages) slid on the side of their bent leg hip (there is not as much padding on the sides).  A base runner wants to land squarely on the bottom of their bottom, where there is padding. 

This makes for a softer landing, but also enables the player to keep their hands up off the ground.  When a player leans to the side during a slide they invariably put a hand down to help break their fall.  Unfortunately it sometimes is their thumb breaking the fall.


4.  Keep the foot of the extended leg off the ground.  The slide takes place on the bent leg with the extended leg and foot off the ground.  This is serious business for safety reasons.  If a player allows the lead foot to touch the ground and a cleat catches, if the ground doesn’t give something in the leg has to have to give. 

The lead foot should make its impact with the side of the base the player is sliding into, not the ground.  Again, momentum (along with leaning back) is a big key in helping the sliding player keep their front foot off the ground throughout the slide.  The good news for those players who don’t build up much momentum is that if the front foot does catch the ground there isn’t much force involved and a much lesser chance to cause any damage.

I have no science to back this up, but my observations are that kids weighing less than 60 pounds are light enough that the chances of suffering a significant injury is pretty slight.  The point is, let’s teach kids how to slide when they are young, so they can develop good technique before their bodies get bigger and heavier.






Moon Your Teammate ...the secret to fielding success for a pitcher

Pitchers Fielding Practice.jpg

You may find yourself with a nice pitching corps this spring, but if they can’t complete a play when the ball is hit to them, what is the net value they bring to the club?

Stop by a practice of the local college team or, if you are fortunate enough to attend Spring Training, stop by the pro’s practice field and you will find the pitchers working tirelessly at fielding all types of balls, making throws to all bases, as well as covering bases and receiving throws.  Throwing consistent and effective strikes is the most important attribute of a pitcher, but they must also be adept at fielding their position.

A pitcher’s fielding skills are even more important at the youth level of softball and baseball because the batters hit fewer balls out of the infield and a higher percentage of balls are hit to the pitcher.  As coaches planning our practices, including pitchers working on their defensive skills is always near the top of the priority list.


MLB Pitchers and Managers Talk About Pitchers Fielding Practice (click)



Basic Fielding Mechanics

Fielding mechanics for a pitcher are pretty much the same as for infielders.  However, they differ somewhat because of their position’s unique relationship to the bases. In many instances, which will be described in more detail below, the pitcher has their back to the bases when fielding the ball.  These include comebackers when the ball needs to be thrown to second base, bunts and many balls that are hit in the space between the foul lines, the pitcher and the catcher.

One absolute when fielding a ground ball is to “Get Your Feet Wide Apart” (or the shortened phrase, ‘feet wide’).  Most of us have heard (and used?) the phrase ‘get your butt down’ in reference to fielding a ground ball.  The better teaching phrase is ‘feet wide apart’.  When a player gets their feet wide apart their butt naturally gets closer to the ground.  Many young players (eight or nine and under) will squat their butt down while keeping their feet close together.  This puts them in a very un-athletic position.

With the feet wide apart, along with the constant reminder to use two hands, a young softball or baseball player will find themselves in a pretty good position to field the ball.


“Turn Glove Side”

When a pitcher fields a ball with their back to their target ‘mooning their teammate' we want them to turn to their glove side, 90 degrees, in order to get into a proper throwing position.  Proper throwing position is defined as the glove side of the body facing the target.  To further illustrate, left-handed pitchers turn clockwise, right-handed pitchers turn counter-clockwise.

This is easier said than done.  Kids tend to want to turn to their throwing arm side requiring a 270 degree turn in order to line up the glove side of their body toward their target.  They do this because, in the process of turning in that direction, they face their target straight on, which for a child gives a greater sense of security in the action.  That action however, is inefficient. 

It will take a couple of days before players new to the action of “Turning Glove Side” get comfortable with going from having their back to their target to their glove side facing the target and never facing the target straight up.

Note: This phrase is most commonly used when working with pitchers.  However, it comes up in many other aspects of teaching defensive play.  An example of another circumstance where this action, and use of the teaching phrase, “Turn Glove Side” is used, is when relaying a throw.


Fielding a Ball has Three Phases

There are three phases to fielding a ground ball.  The focus of each phase is the player’s footwork.  Often fielding instruction overemphasizes the fielding position at the moment the ball is caught as well as hand position.  Brendan Ryan, considered one of the Major League’s finest defensive shortstops in recent years, is quoted in an interview saying, “My feet make my hands work.”  

Catching the ground ball is only the middle phase of fielding.  Successful execution of turning a ground ball into an out includes: 1. Approach, 2. Catch, 3. Throw.

In the approach to a ground ball we want our players to aggressively and quickly go after the ball.  However, a key to fielding success is the fielder to slow down in the final steps prior to catching the ball in order to have their body under control and balanced when attempting to catch the ground ball.

A key to catching the ground ball cleanly, assuming the player has come under control to get in a fielding position is to get their feet wide apart (which gets their butt and hands closer to the ground) and, in the case of most pitchers’ fielding plays, centering the ball between their feet.

The final phase of fielding is making the throw.  Fundamental to making a good throw is footwork.  First the player wants to have the glove side of their body facing their target (it is the movement of their feet that establishes this).  Next they want to create power for their throw (a lot of which comes from their legs) by shuffling their feet towards their target.  After making the throw, we want our players to allow the momentum created by moving their feet to continue straight towards the target.  We tell our players to ”Follow Your Head” which illustrates the concept of continuing toward the target after the throw (instead of immediately peeling off to the side in order to get back to their position for the next play).


Moon Your Teammate

There are three most common fielding plays made by a pitcher during which we want the pitcher to point their backside to the target (‘moon your teammate’) when fielding the ball.

1.  The comebacker when there is a runner on first

2.  Bunt/Topped Ball on the third base side; fielded by a right-handed pitcher***

3.  Bunt/Topped Ball on the first base side; fielded by a left-handed pitcher***


In these situations we instruct the pitcher using a combination of, or all of, the following teaching phrases while running a pitchers fielding drill:

Quick to the ball

--> addressed above

“Chop feet”

--> Telling them to shorten their steps and come under control just prior to fielding the ball. 

(Once players demonstrate a high level of consistency, this phrase can be dropped from the mantra the coaches use during the drill…and be the unspoken part of the teaching phrase, ‘Quick to the ball’.)  Note: remind players of this action as necessary.

“Feet wide”

--> This statement also refers to the action of stepping across the path of the ball, so that their backside is facing the target (‘moon your teammate’) with the ball centered between their feet.

(As players become consistent in executing these actions this statement can be dropped and these actions are implied in the next teaching phrase, “Pick up both sides of the ball.”)  Note: remind players of this action as necessary.

“Pick up both sides of the ball”

--> With the ball centered between the player’s feet, the glove hand swoops in and secures one side of the ball while the throwing hand swoops in and secures the other side of the ball.  Using both hands makes it difficult for the pitcher to take their eyes off the ball.

(In a situation when the pitcher has to move a distance to get the ball while the runner is heading to the base at full speed and all the action is taking place behind the pitcher the tendency is to rush to field the ball.  Usually this is done with just one hand and often it is the glove hand. When using only one hand it is easy for a player to look up at the play and take their eyes off the ball. I think we all can recall watching a young player repeatedly poking at the ball with their glove and failing to pick it up.)

[This is a critical action to teach and re-teach.  Patience is in order; remember our goal as coaches is to see steady improvement in skills over the course of the season.  Instant gratification, on the part of the coach, is not part of the deal when working with young kids ;) ]

“Move Your Feet”

--> If a player fails to shuffle straight towards their target, have them go back and run the drill again.  DO NOT let the players slack on the execution of this critical aspect of the throwing action!

“Follow Your Head”

--> addressed above

<em>(Once players demonstrate a high level of consistency, this phrase can be dropped from the mantra the coaches use during the drill…and be the unspoken part of the teaching phrase, ‘move your feet’.     Note: remind players of this action as necessary.

As the season progresses the teaching mantra during pitcher’s fielding drills can be simplified to:

1.  "Quick to the Ball"

2.  "Both sides of the ball"

3.  "Move Your Feet"

Note: I am serious about the coach ‘chanting’ this mantra of teaching phrases during each repetition of the drill.  When I first joined the Wichita State coaching staff and observed their pitchers, which consisted of many drafted and future pro players, I observed legendary pitching coach Brent Kemnitz barking similar phrases repeatedly throughout their pitcher’s fielding drills.  At first I found this odd and childish (considering the talent level of the players).  Over time I recognized this verbal repetition, in conjunction with the players’ disciplined repetition of the actions, resulted in near flawless execution and stellar play in the tensest of moments during game competition.


***When a left-handed pitcher approaches a ball on the third base side of the field, and will be making a throw to third base, the glove side of their body is already facing the target, so they run strait at the point they will field the ball.  There is no need to ‘turn glove side’ in this situation.  The same is true when a right handed pitcher is approaching a ball on the first base side of the field and will be making a throw to first base.




DRILL: Pitchers Fielding Practice – Three Groups

This diagram illustrates a drill that involves all twelve players on the team.  It keeps everyone constantly active and moving for ten minutes and when run periodically throughout the season results in a team collecting a high percentage of ‘easy’ outs.

The drill involves three coaches, stationed at home plate, each working with their own group of four players who rotate from their particular pitching position and the base they are working with.  After the groups work for 3-4 minutes at their particular base/station, they rotate and work at a new base/station.  They will rotate a second time after another 3-4 minutes.  At the conclusion of the drill each player will have made multiple throws to each base and received multiple throws at each base.

The actions in the drill are very elementary.  The challenge of the drill, early on, is keeping the kids in each group focused on their activity and not getting distracted by the other groups that are working along side them. 

The key of the drill is that the players throwing the ball, "Follow Their Throw" and rotate to the base they threw to, and for the the kids catching the ball at the bases to quickly rotate to the pitcher's position AND to roll the ball safely into the coach running their group.

Note 1: This diagram involves fielding bunts on the first base side.  The drill layout can be flipped so that bunts are being fielded on the third base side.

Note 2: When running this drill the first time or two it is advised to only have two groups (of four) rather than three.  Set up another station away from this drill with the final group of four players working on another skill.  When rotating move the groups in and out of the pitcher defense drills.

When this drill is run with three groups working side by side there is a lot going on.  Kids with no experience in such an environment can get flustered pretty easily.  However, after getting used to the environment by running the drill with only two groups the kids will be fine doing the drill with all three groups.

Pitchers Fielding Practice - Three Groups 1-5, 1-6, 1-3 (bunt) page 1 of 2 pub.jpg
Pitchers Fielding Practice - Three Groups 1-5, 1-6, 1-3 (bunt) page 2 of 2 pub.jpg

Aren't We Playing Tag?  ...what kids are really thinking


Runner at First Base

“Nah, nah, you can’t get me!” This is the challenge the base runner at first base offers to the pitcher as he returns to the mound at the end of the latest play between two teams of 10 year olds.  The base runner moves a bit further off the base, far enough for the pitcher to think, “I could throw the ball to the base and we might be able to tag ‘em out!”

The base runner increases the temptation by doing a little back and forth dance.  The pitcher first retaliates with a series of pump fakes in an attempt to scare the runner back.  The kids are no longer playing baseball, it has evolved into a game of the base runner baiting the pitcher into risking a throw to get him out.  It’s become a game of tag within the context of a baseball game.

A few moments later the base runner is at third, having succeeded in tempting the pitcher to make an ill-advised throw that, Surprise!, got past the first baseman.


Runner Between Bases

A base runner finds herself between bases when a defender has the ball in their hands.  She may have arrived there as a result of a base running error or she may be aggressively attempting to get an extra base, instinctively knowing that if she can force a defensive player to throw the ball there is a good chance a mistake will be made. 

The base runner is saying “Ha, ha, you can’t catch me!”  The response of the defensive player is, “Oh, yes I can. You just watch!”  However, the defensive player hesitates just long enough that her throw arrives at the base the same time as the base runner.  The ball gets away from her teammate allowing the base runner to advance to the next base.  It is not a stretch to imagine that the throw to the next base the runner is advancing to, arrives late, is misplayed, and the base runner to go on to score.



Let’s step inside the mind of a child and look at these two scenarios from their perspective.  They know they are playing baseball or softball, but in these particular moments they view the situation, consciously or subconsciously, as another variation of the schoolyard game of tag.  Playing tag is a big part of a kid’s life and few other activities invoke their competitive juices or produce more giggles and great fun for kids.

Also, we must understand that a kid’s world is very much focused on the here and now.  Each moment in their young life is very significant.  When looking at these situations from their perspective it becomes easier to understand the importance of them getting that out.  They are less able to rationalize the risk-reward of the situation as an adult would.  Therefore they are inclined to try and get that runner tagged out now, rather than looking ahead to the next batter and a new and safer opportunity to record an out.



The first step in our effort is to help them view the situation in the broader context of the game.  This begins with pointing out to them that “The runner is going to be safe A LOT” over the course of a game.  Ask them how many runs are scored in a typical game?  Next ask them how many times runners have to be safe in order for that many runs to be scored?  The final question to ask is “How many times is a ball thrown past a base each game?”  

The answers they give are irrelevant.  We know in advance the numbers they give will be fairly large.  The key to this exercise is they verbalize the common reality that runners are safe quite often, many of them come around to score …and a fair number advance around the bases and score, in part, as a result of overzealous efforts on the part of the defense.  They get caught up in the mindset of playing tag at this moment instead of softball or baseball.


How the Game Works

The basic objective of the game, when an out cannot be recorded, is to stop the runner(s).  If we cannot get the runner out in a given situation, the next best alternative is to stop the runner from advancing to the next base.  This is usually accomplished by throwing the ball to the base ahead of the runner, but can also be accomplished by running the ball to a point in the baseline ahead of the runner.

The next objective is to securely get the ball to the middle of the infield and in the pitchers hands.  When the ball is located inside the infield diamond it is a threat to a runner standing on any base.  When the pitcher has the ball, they have control of the game and can choose to move the game along by stepping on the pitching rubber and looking ahead to the next batter.

Our challenge as coaches is to make pitching to the next batter the mindset of our players, instead of engaging in a game of chicken with a runner at a base who is baiting them to attempt a reckless throw. A key perspective to teach our kids that once the runners have stopped at a base, our job on defense has been completed.  …Now it is time to get to work on the next batter.

One of the greatest challenges of working with young kids is trying to see things from their perspective.  (This is also one of the great joys, because, in these moments, we get to be kids again.)   Before we can successfully teach them we need to start the conversation from their perspective, then guide them to make better decisions based on how baseball or softball are played.





Saviors of the Game  ...Parent Helpers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Non-Teaching Activities for Parent Helpers

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of a highly efficient workout

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


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

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

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


Parents Helping Run Simple Drills

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


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


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

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

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





Covering All the Bases  ...often stated, rarely practiced

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The expression, ‘Covering All the Bases’ is commonly used in our culture.  Generally it is used in reference to the planning or preparation of an activity.  All aspects of a situation or issue have been considered; we are all set, there will be no problems.  However, there is one part of our culture where the literal translation of the expression is routinely missed …on the youth baseball field!   

Gosh folks, we are involved with a game from which this well-known expression was borrowed, but we are failing in to make it happen where the expression was born.  One of the most common mistakes made in youth baseball and softball is players not covering their base or covering the wrong base.


The Wanderer

Our club is on defense, a ball is hit to the outfield and a runner is attempting to take third base. The outfielder or shortstop is ready to throw the ball to third, but nobody is at the bag to take a throw.  It turns out our third baseman has wandered 20 feet away from the base to get a better look at the outfielders chasing the ball.  When the third baseman recognizes they are needed at the base to take a throw, it is too late.  The result is a confused semi-back pedal toward the base, eyes darting from the player with the ball, to the runner, to the base, and back to the player with the ball.  Given that the third baseman is somewhat in the vicinity of the base the player with the ball hurls it in hope that somehow an out can be made. In the end the runner is safe, the throw gets past the base and rolls up against the dugout fence as the runner continues on to score.


Two Peas in a Pod

The opposition has a runner on first base; the ball is put into play somewhere other than to the second baseman or shortstop.  Lickety-split, both of those players run to second, anchor a foot on the base, extend their gloves, and battle to gain position to take a throw.  Their unfortunate teammate with the ball sees a blur of bodies, which includes the base runner, and is pressed to make a decision to hold the ball or chuck it on a wing and a prayer that someone might catch it.

The expression, ‘Covering All the Bases’ is commonly used in our culture.  Generally it is used in reference to the planning or preparation of an activity.  All aspects of a situation or issue have been considered; we are all set, there will be no problems.  However, there is one part of our culture where the literal translation of the expression is routinely missed …on the youth baseball field!   

Gosh folks, we are involved with a game from which this well-known expression was borrowed, but we are failing in to make it happen where the expression was born.  One of the most common mistakes made in youth baseball and softball is players not covering their base or covering the wrong base.


The Wanderer

Our club is on defense, a ball is hit to the outfield and a runner is attempting to take third base. The outfielder or shortstop is ready to throw the ball to third, but nobody is at the bag to take a throw.  It turns out our third baseman has wandered 20 feet away from the base to get a better look at the outfielders chasing the ball.  When the third baseman recognizes they are needed at the base to take a throw, it is too late.  The result is a confused semi-back pedal toward the base, eyes darting from the player with the ball, to the runner, to the base, and back to the player with the ball.  Given that the third baseman is somewhat in the vicinity of the base the player with the ball hurls it in hope that somehow an out can be made. In the end the runner is safe, the throw gets past the base and rolls up against the dugout fence as the runner continues on to score.


Why Do These Mistakes Occur Over and Over?

In the pursuit to best prepare our kids for the season, it is commonplace for us to go straight to working on ground balls, fly balls, pitching and batting.  We fail to make time to train and drill our players on how to play the game properly.  So what to do? How do we train our players so, come game time, we avoid situations where a base is left uncovered or a base (usually second) is covered by two players? 

First we need to address the mindset and perspective of the player.&nbsp; Next we need drills that help them learn and develop the discipline and instincts to fulfill their base coverage responsibilities at game speed.



Know what you are going to do if the ball is hit to you” - This phrase has been used for generations and is well intended.  Baseball and softball are thinking, situational games and it is important for each player to be prepared when the ball is hit to them.  The problem in this statement is that we are forgetting the other eight players.  How much time do we spend teaching our players what to do when the ball is not hit to them?

“Baseball is a Game of Movement” - We talked about players going to the wrong spot on the field when they don’t have the ball.  However, they often don’t move at all.  If the ball is not hit in their vicinity, many young players just stand and watch.  It is important, early in the season (maybe in the first five minutes of the first practice), that we inform our players that Baseball is a Game of Movement, then reinforce this fact constantly during each practice and game throughout the season.



The drill that follows is very elementary, easy to set up and only takes a few minutes to run.  We create a ‘Mini Diamond’, which consists of bases laid out in a 20’ square.  The outfield is a good place to set up a Mini Diamond.  We put four infielders at their positions, then roll a ball to one infielder.   The crux of the drill is the other three infielders executing ‘what to do when the ball is not hit to them’ – cover their bases.

Note:  While this is a simple drill, it won’t be until day three that it starts to run fluidly.  This and any drill is not going to run smoothly the first time.  Day one a drill is introduced and the players get a sense of what they are supposed to do; on day two the kids have some familiarity with the activity and it runs a little better.  It is not until the third day that a drill begins to function somewhat as it is intended.  Having realistic expectations of how a drill is going to run is very important in order for a youth coach to keep their blood pressure at a safe level.

Before looking at the drill diagrams and explanations, let’s establish some rules, concepts and teaching phrases regarding the responsibilities of the four infielders each time the ball is put into play.  (In a later blog we’ll address the responsibilities of the pitcher, catcher and outfielders and expand deeper into team defensive movement responsibilities in a variety of situations.)

Teaching Phrase: “If you aren’t playing the ball, cover a base” – Its one or the other.

Concept: ‘Four minus one equals three’ - One infielder gets the ball, the other three cover a base.

Rule: The third baseman and the first baseman have one base; the shortstop and second baseman have two bases

  • Each of the middle infielders (SS and 2b) has a base on their left and a base on their right.

  • If the ball is hit to their left and they aren’t playing the ball, they sprint to, and cover, the base on their left.

  • When the ball is hit to their right and they aren’t playing the ball, they sprint to, and cover, the base on their right.

Concept/Teaching Phrase: “Move towards the ball” – this applies to the shortstop and second baseman. The idea of moving toward the ball (rather than away) gets them started in the direction of the base they are responsible to cover. (Later we will apply this concept to the pitcher with regard to their movement responsibilities.)

The Infield Base Coverage Drill, when run consistently over the course of the season, only requires a few minutes.  It can easily be incorporated into any practice.  The best time to run the drill is during the ‘Skill Building Warm-up’ portion of practice.   It can also be incorporated into a team’s pre-game routine.

By making this simple drill part of our on-going training routine, come game day, We Will Have All Our Bases Covered.

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Covering the Fundamentals this enough for a youth baseball or youth softball team to be successful ...what might be missing?

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It’s the first week of practices leading into a new season and we are eager to get started developing  our baseball and softball skills of a new group of players.  So where do we start?  Fundamentals, of course! 

After playing some catch we line up a group of kids in the infield and start whacking balls at them; we get another group in the outfield to get some fly ball work.  Then it’s time for batting. We number off the kids, get the first one up there to hit and send the others out in the field to shag.  We wrap up our first practice with some base running.

Throughout each practice we work to keep the kids active and focused, while sharing a few tips to help them improve their skills and mechanics.

At the end of the first day we get our staff together to discuss our first impressions of the club.  Who stood out?  Did we identify kids who look like they are going to need some extra help to catch up in their skill development?  "Oh my, did you see that one kid? …looks like that could be our shortstop!"

Over the next few practices we continue working on skill development and start to get an idea where the kids fit in positionally.  Oh yeah, and we can start to identify the pitching prospects.

Things are now getting exciting. We run some drills, get in some scrimmage time to see how the kids respond to game situations and make time to get those pitching prospects practice throwing to a catcher.

Fast forward to our first few games.  We know the other kids around our youth league and have determined we have the talent to be in the top half of the league standings; maybe be considered a contender for the league championship!?

At the end of the first week we find ourselves 1-2.  Each of the games was less than well played (by both clubs). While we are disappointed, we remind ourselves and that it is early and the team will come together.  We also have made note of some of the mistakes the team has made and make sure to cover those in the next practices.

Mid-season rolls around and we find our team two games under .500.  We can’t figure it out.  Our kids are more talented than many of the teams, but often it seems we made ‘dumb’ mistakes leading to many of the loses.  The coaching staff decides to have a mid-season meeting to discuss the progress the team is making and try to identify ways to improve its performance in games.

In that meeting it is agreed that we have a talented team, we have worked on the fundamentals every day in practice, spent a lot of time on batting practice and gave our top pitchers plenty of work throwing to a catcher, but something is missing.

The kids keep making the same mistakes.  Even though we point those out and tell the kids what they need to do differently in the situations causing us problems.  We have even taken time away from skill development time in practices to go over the mistakes that were made in the games.


Time to rewind…

Does this story remind you of a baseball or softball team your child played for or you coached?  A team that isn't reaching its potential as a result of repeated mistakes on what seem to be very basic plays and situations.

We all have watched our share of youth baseball or youth softball games and recognize that the games are played less than perfectly.  In some cases we chalk that up to them just being kids.  In other cases we find ourselves scratching our heads thinking, “Gee, they should be able to do that better”.

Let’s look back to the first half a dozen to a dozen practices.  We worked hard on all the fundamental skills: fielding, batting, pitching and base running.  What could we have done differently?  What else could we have worked on?

Below is a list of situations that are quite common, many of which come up in most youth baseball and youth softball games.  The question to ask ourselves is how much time have we dedicated to working on these common situations that often result in mistakes on game day. 

It might be that we hadn't thought of practicing these things.&nbsp; Or maybe we felt they weren't worth the time...because we had more important things to work on?


----> Errors made on 10’-20’ throws.  How many times did our kids, when very close to a base, fire the ball overhand and the player on the receiving end was unable to react to the velocity of the throw, or the player throwing tried to lob the ball resulting in an inaccurate throw?


----> Players covering the wrong base.  Have you ever seen both the second baseman and the shortstop covering the second base bag at the same time?  The player throwing to the bag makes a poor throw, because they were not sure who to throw the ball to, not to mention the fact that a third player, the base runner was, charging toward the base. 


----> There is a golden opportunity to throw a runner out at a base, but nobody is covering.  This is very common at third base. A ball is hit far enough into the outfield that the runner at first tries to go all the way to third.  As the play develops the third baseman wanders out to the area between third baseman shortstop watching the outfielders chasing the ball. Then suddenly, but after it is too late, they realize the an outfielder has the ball, the runner is heading toward third, but it is too late for the third baseman to recover and get into position to take the throw and make a play on the runner.  Then there is the ball hit between the second baseman and the first baseman.  They both go for the ball. After a brief wrestling match, one of them comes up with the ball and there is still enough  time to throw the runner out at first, but there is nobody at the base to take the throw. 

Then there is the ball hit between the second baseman and the first baseman.  They both go for the ball. After a brief wrestling match, one of them comes up with the ball and there is still enough  time to throw the runner out at first, but there is nobody at the base to take the throw. 


----> Getting stuck in a stretch position to take a throw; even when it's not a force play.  You can picture this one.  When getting ready to receive a throw, the player at the base gets in a big long stretch position and reeeeaaaches as far as they can for that ball (but they sure as heck kept their foot on that base!),  Unfortunately the ball is just a bit too wide and it gets past them.  Is there something they could have done differently in order to stop the ball?  Could we have, somehow, trained them in advance to respond more appropriately in that circumstance?


----> Ball hit back to the pitcher; an easy out, but...  How many times have we seen an error made on a throw to first base from the pitcher (and the runner was only half way between home and first when the ball was dropped or went past the first baseman)?  How many times did our pitcher field a hit ball, with a runner on first, and throw to first base for the out, while the runner on first advanced to second base...who later scored?


----> How many times do runners advance on overthrows each game?  …while the outfielders are picking daisies or just standing and watching when they could be backing up those throws?  Imagine, if we dare, the difference in the outcomes of games if all overthrows were backed up and the runners were prevented from advancing.


----> A play is made on a runner, then the defensive player stares at the umpire while the other runners advance.  We have all seen this happen.  The toughest one is when the first baseman, after taking the throw turns and looks at the umpire for the call (or maybe the base runner happens to be a friend from school and they strike up a conversation) and while this is going on the runner at third heads home and scores.


----> The second baseman (or shortstop) gets the ball from the outfielder and hurls a moon shot to home trying to get the runner attempting to score.  Let's break this down.  There is a base hit to the outfield, the runner on second is attempting to score, and the outfielder throws the ball to the middle infielder (shortstop or second baseman) who then throws the ball to the catcher.  Let's call this a 'standard' youth league relay play.   Now think of the last High School, College or Pro game you watched (or consider all the games you have watched at these levels).  How many times did you see a middle infielder run out to the outfielder, on a single, where the outfielder threw the ball to the middle infielder, who turned and hurled the ball all the way to the catcher?


----> A ground ball passes five feet to the side of an infielder who didn't react ...because they were looking at something other than the batter when the pitch was thrown and/or when the ball was hit?  How about the easy pop fly to the outfield that drops in for the same reason?


 …and finally, two miscues that happen often, but never should:

----> The runners have stopped advancing (‘the play has ended’), but while getting the ball in, it is thrown past the pitcher resulting in the runner(s) advancing another base.

----> The ball makes it safely into the pitcher, the pitcher is two steps from the pitching rubber, but there is a base runner dancing around 5’-10’ from the base baiting the pitcher. The pitcher is thinking, “I can get ‘em out”.  The next thing you know they make a throw to the base and sure enough the ball gets past the infielder and the runner(s) is off to the next base(s).


In upcoming posts I will share solutions to these situations through drills, brief points to discuss with players and some basic 'rules' to implement.  Our players can be trained to overcome the examples listed above.  This can be accomplished without compromising the development of the 'fundamental' skills of the game.