4 keys to success for youth baseball coaches.
Coaching a youth baseball team can be one of the most rewarding experiences there is – for both players and coaches.
Players that are lucky enough to end up with the right coaches in their youth are far more likely to have long term success in baseball. Knowledge is key to being a good baseball player just as much as many other walks of life. Even better, they will make memories that will last them a lifetime – no matter how long they end up playing the game. Altogether, baseball enriches the lives of everyone that the game touches and youth players feel the game the most. Being a part of this storied tradition is great for kids of all ages.
Coaches can get a ton out of youth baseball as well. At all youth age levels, coaches realize that they are a role model in their players’ lives and a tremendous sense of pride can come from this. Additionally, with the right instruction, coaches can watch players improve their skills in a matter of moments. And, best of all, working with kids is just downright fun. You will remember all the fun they have just as much as they will – and you’ll enjoy their presence, too.
But, with all of that said, we have to acknowledge that coaching youth baseball can be trying at times. Without the right tools, practices can get out of hand quickly, focus among players can be nonexistent, and the game of baseball can become underappreciated by youth who would otherwise love it. That’s why we are bringing you four “must-haves” that should be taken care of before you arrive at your first practice.
1 Have the Right Expectations
With youth baseball players, the coach’s expectations can play a significant role in how the team ends up working out for the season. If expectations are too high, coach is going to end up disappointed and this may end up rubbing off on the players in a few different ways. However, if coaches aren’t expecting enough out of their players, they may end up boring their players with a less than challenging practice. Let’s take a look at a few dimensions that coaches should think about before they start to create their first practice plan.
- Age: Of course, kids of different ages are vastly different from each other in a variety of ways. Energy levels change, baseball goals change, and even the player’s own expectations for practice change. For example, an 8 year old showing up to practice is going to be a bit more “puppy dog”-like than a 14 year old. They’re just naturally going to have less control of their body and less focus-able energy. But that’s okay. As a coach, you can devise practice plans that cater to different age groups by using different drills and games.
- Skill Level: With youth players, you will get a wide range of skill levels – even within the same age group. Some bodies will be growing faster than others and some players will be growing used to themselves quicker than others. Being bigger, faster, stronger, and more skillful at a younger age doesn’t guarantee future success, though, because everyone learns at a different speed. This means it is important as a coach to monitor your expectations on how quickly kids will pick up new drills and skills as well as their existing abilities.
- Fun vs. Work: It’s always important to remember that we are indeed talking about kids here. Certainly, they do show up to practice with the idea that they are preparing to get better at baseball. However, they’re still kids. They want to have fun. For that reason, we recommend finishing off practices with competition games that leave kids all amped up about baseball. That way, they will feel like they had a great time at practice and want to come back for more. During drill sessions, too, it is important to keep things lively and energetic so nobody is getting bored mid-practice.
2 Bring the Right Gear
While this may seem like an obvious point to some, it can very easily be forgotten. Having the right equipment is hugely important. Without the right tools of the trade, you and your team won’t have anything to work with and everyone will stand around twiddling their thumbs! Here are a few of the absolute basics for running a practice that you need to have around:
- Baseballs: You might be able to get away with having just one bucket of balls at practice but we’re pretty much willing to call two the minimum. With one bucket, you may not have enough balls left over to do defensive work while other players hit. You also may find that your drills don’t get to run on long enough without have to do a “ball party” everyone couple minutes to start the drill over and collect more balls. Either way, it is always nice to have enough balls around to not worry about running out. When you factor in the cost of replacing baseballs you may want to consider a game of count the balls after practice.The type of balls you get will probably depend on the level you are coaching. For kids 7 and under you will want balls specifically designed for t-ball. These balls are softer for player safety. The next choice is between leather baseballs and the less expensive synthetic baseballs. When making this choice the age of the players, the level of competition, and the team budget should all be considered.
- Bases: If you’re going to a field that you are unfamiliar with – or you already know that it doesn’t have bases – you need to bring some bases along. Even if you do know that there will be bases at your field you may want to bring along some bases for the purpose of having two diamonds to use! Throw down bases will work for any youth level and they’re pretty cheap so they are always a good choice. You should also make sure the bases you get include a pitching rubber. Every play on the diamond begins on the pitching rubber, after all.
- Hitting Tees: While it may seem like an archaic piece of technology, there is no substitute for the hitting tee. Even Big Leaguers use tees. In fact, some of them say it is their most important tool for maintaining their swing. For that reason, we recommend keeping a tee or two around for every level so that hitters can work on their swing without needing anyone to toss them balls. This is a good way to maximize drilling for hitting when you only get to have a few coaches around.
- We also have a post on recommended products that you can check out if you are looking to go beyond the basics.
3 Have the Right Attitude
This may seem like a bit of pressure but good practices start with good coaches. And when we say “good coaches,” we aren’t talking about extreme knowledge of the game or experience at higher levels of professional baseball. All it takes is the right amount of energy and engagement coupled with a little bit of preparation. So, to speak to projecting the right mood to your players, there are a few keys that we like to point out when it comes to attitude for coaching:
- Be honest: Kids are nature’s lie detectors. They know if you aren’t feeling it that day or just don’t want to be there in general. Nothing can be worse than taking on a youth coaching job that you aren’t excited for. You’ll end up herding cats if you don’t bring enough energy to practice so make sure you are in the right mindset right from the start. Additionally, don’t try to lie or otherwise fool the kids. If they had a bad practice as a group, let them know in their post-practice meeting. If their effort during the game was outstanding, tell them so! This way, you will be helping them to begin to understand not only how to play the game – but how to play it the right way.
- Be prepared: If you are winging practice, the kids will know. Have a practice plan set up before you even leave for the field. Bring your team together at the start of practice and give them two or three simple points to focus on for the whole day. These can be things like “Always keep your eyes on coach while he is talking” or “Always run between drills.” Then, tell them what the plan is for the day so that they have a better idea throughout practice what they should be looking forward to. Run through your practice and meet up before everyone leaves to summarize the day.
- Have the right amount of energy: Now, this is something that can be a little difficult to figure out if you are a new coach. For the kids, having a coach show up that drags down their energy levels will make practice boring, unproductive, and, worst of all, unfocused. This works in the opposite direction, too, if coach is faking too much energy. The kids will see right through this and not be as engaged. For these reasons, we recommend showing up and having honest, concentrated energy that directs kids were their focus needs to be. Everyone will appreciate a fun and applied practice with the “right” amount of energy.
4 Teach Quality Right Drills
Last and – you guessed it – not least, the right drills need to be laid out for a practice. Identifying the right drills early in the season can be a little difficult when you don’t quite know your kids yet, but you should make sure that you adjust to your players as you learn their tendencies better. Pay attention to their skills, types of drills they do and don’t like, and what types of drills seem to help them the most. Here are a few ways to think about the drills that you have in your practice plan:
- Is this drill time consuming?: When you make a practice plan, it’s all about efficiency. If a drill seems like it will take too much time explaining and teaching the drill rather than actual skills, it probably doesn’t belong in the plan. Additionally, if it seems like there is a lot of downtime in the drill as far as kids standing in line and having to set up equipment and re-set up equipment, it may not be the best drill either.
- Does this drill clearly work on specific skills?: When you look at a drill, ask yourself: Could I clearly tell my players what they should be getting better at while they do this drill? If the answer is no, you may want to rethink that drill. Also, you may want to focus your attention on drills that are good for your specific group of players. As we alluded to earlier, this may be difficult early on in the season when you don’t quite know your players yet, but we encourage you to pay attention and find out what they need quickly.
- Is this drill appropriate for their age?: As we know, different age groups come with different skill sets. This means that we need to find drills that are right for our players. For instance, running a drill to practice turning double plays probably isn’t great for 5-6 year olds who are just barely figuring out how to catch and throw consistently. On the flipside, running relay races at the end of practice probably isn’t suitable for 14 year olds. Know what age group you are working with and plan your drills according to what they need.
- Try to minimize the time that players spend waiting and watching. This is an area where it helps to have a couple of good assistant coaches who can help you run multiple stations or instuct multiple position groups at the same time.
- Establish a routine. This doesn’t mean doing the same drills every day, but it does mean setting expectations for how practice flows. Even at 9-10 year old players can get used to a routine for things like stretching and warming up their arms.
- Break practice up into managble sections. This is especially true for younger age groups that have shorter attention spans. T-ball players are not likely to focus on anything for more than a few minutes.
- Try to make it fun. It’s important to remember that baseball is a game and kids sign up because they like to play it. After finishing a drill that the players don’t paticularly care for it is agood idea to mix in something competitive that keeps them engaged.
Prepare to Prepare
The main idea behind all of these points boils down to three words: Prepare to prepare. Practice is preparing for a game – but it is your job as coach to make sure players have a quality opportunity to learn and grow during practice. Coaches must understand their role as facilitators to learning for these young men and be prepared to give them what they need during practice.
So, as you may have noticed, all four points that we made don’t even involve actual tips for during practice. We talked about having the right expectations which, of course, happens before practice. We mentioned that you need to have the right gear which can only be done prior to a practice. We spoke on making sure your own attitude is in the right place to keep the players’ attitudes where they need to be at and how that attitude adjustment must occur before practice even begins. And we noted that you must plan the right drills for your age group which, naturally, happens before practice. That’s why if we had to give any coach advice, we would simply say these three words: Prepare to prepare.