Coaching Clinches, Incomplete Instruction and Bad Advice These are phrases we've heard and continue to hear on Little League and even high school fields. They may be remarks made with good intentions but could hinder a young baseball career and some could even threaten the health of a young arm. In this age of information it is curious for a coach to say those things and yet, we continue to hear them. Baseball Excellence is devoted to teaching sound fundamentals and providing advanced instruction that will fine tune your game and take it to the next level. Baseball is a game that supports continuation. Its offensive and defensive skills are required at all levels of play. It doesn't matter if a player is youth age, high school or college; with small differences the game is played the same way at all levels. There is a "right" way to approach the game. Our efforts are dedicated to encouraging you with that in mind. Join us, have fun and strive for "Baseball Excellence". Check out our instructional products at: The Baseball Excellence Online Store Our Newsletters and our Free Email Tip of the Week, are two great ways for you, your staff and players to develop their skills. ADVICE THAT COULD HURT A YOUNG MAN'S BASEBALL DREAM HITTING PITCHING FIELDING BASE RUNNING Keep your back elbow up Just meet the ball Never hitch your hands Squat to hit the low pitch A baseball swing is like a golf swing Roll your hands on contact Stride where the ball is pitched Drop and drive Fully extend your arm to 2nd base Sit down on your back leg Slow your arm down to throw a change Don't throw 3/4 Twist your wrist to throw a curve Take a big step back to gain momentum Rock and Fire "Push, Pop, Over the Top" Always use two hands (Some coaches never teach how to field the ball backhand) Field the ball between your legs (Instead of getting the hands out front and moving through the ball, let it roll between your legs, stop and pick it up.) Extend your arm all the way back to throw Charge the ball (What is the mental image you convey when you say 'Charge the ball'?) Throw from your ear Don't go until I send you Don't watch the ball while you run, let me be your eyes
That is not the definition of mental toughness. We will attempt to define it here. I am sure athletes of all sports may exhibit mental toughness but baseball demands it of its players on a daily basis. Before attempting to define it as it relates to baseball, we must ask the question, “Should youth players be asked to be ‘mentally tough’? The demands of the sport and the speed of the game increase as a player reaches each level, so mentally tough may not mean quite the same at age 10 as it does at age 18. It may not mean the same but the game is still there and it is played the same way, with modifications. So with modification, youth players should and can develop this quality. A wise and intelligent coach can help him. I find that in my attempt to define mental toughness that I tend to form a list. Players must learn to be coachable. The many skill demands of baseball require that players learn to listen, adapt and adjust. “Troubled” young players often face an uphill battle in this area. The nature of the game requires a certain recognition; acceptance if you will that occasional failure is inevitable. There is maturity and toughness in that recognition. The ability to adapt and change will often result in initial failure. Dealing with that kind of failure requires an inner strength. Example: An alteration in a pitcher’s mechanics, a change in a hitter’s bat path will often initially lead to failure. The ones who can learn and accept that kind of challenge are the ones who advance. No excuses. Face the challenge and do not use an excuse when you fail. Coaches can do a lot of good by not allowing excuses to creep into their practices or games. (One of the most common displays of the lack of maturity is the throwing of equipment when a player fails. Coaches, don’t allow that to happen. ) Desire to compete. Sounds easy when you say it. But it takes much more than paying it lip service. Will your players compete in tough situations as well as easy ones? This may well be the core meaning when we talk about being mentally tough. All of these admirable traits that are common in players who exhibit a quiet inner toughness can be fostered and assisted by the coach. We always talk about “teaching opportunities.” There are plenty of them in practices and games. Be alert to the possibility that you will be helping your players and contributing to their future.
Bob Watson, former GM of the Yankees, was once asked what he thought was wrong with baseball. He said the two things most wrong with baseball today are the strong emphasis on winning versus the emphasis on development of stong players at the youth level and the lack of good coaching at the youth level. We agree with that thought. Many, not all, Little League coaches are so caught up in the win at all costs philosophy that no thought is given to the development and health of the kids. How many times have you seen a big kid dominate a game because he throws hard. Yet when he gets to the next level, he disappears. Why? Could it be that he was never taught the proper pitching mechanics and when it came time to throw from 60'6' he was lost? He had an early growth spurt and threw the ball by everybody in Little League and the coach was satisfied with that-he won the game. We feel most Little League coaches have their hearts in the right place-but they just don't know how to teach pitching. They send their sons off to a two week camp once a year and think that's going to do the job. That's it, my son is now a baseball player. The fact is, baseball is much too hard a game to entrust to a couple of weeks of instruction. The body needs to build the right kind of muscle memory and that comes only from many repetitions and many drills. "Win at all costs." A few years ago Derek, Jack and I gave a free pitching clinic for our local Little Leagues. It was very successful and the turnout was large. At the time I was a coach in that that league (my son was 12). A competing coach, who was at the clinic, thanked us after it was over but he wondered what my motive was to help the players on rival teams. That is your win win win mentality in a nutshell. Why are you helping my son when he might beat you in a game? A few years ago there was a 12 year old pitcher in our league that twisted his wrist to put spin on the ball when he threw a curve. (This is a very common arm action fault in youth baseball.) He threw pretty hard and he must have put a ton of stress on his arm because on one pitch in a game late in the season he fractured his arm while throwing a basball! Little League admits in it's manual that the volunteer coach is it's Achilles heel. I just wonder why more dads don't try to learn more about the game. It would do a world of good for the kids. It would do a world of good for baseball.
A team that can execute sound, intelligent situational hitting will be a successful team. They move runners into scoring position and drive them in. To be a good situational hitting team the coach has to develop the proper mindset with his players. There is little room for "me, me" selfish players. Hitters must often give themselves up for the chance to score a run. Batting averages, whoa. Put those batting averages down. There are many more important elements of the game and these statistics often put unjustified pressure on the kids. Batting averages should not be the measure of a young player’s effectiveness or self-worth. They don’t have a lot to do with winning. Instead, look at how your players perform in certain situations with men on base. Do they move the runner over on a consistent basis? Do they execute the plays their coach calls for? Do they have consistent quality at bats? Do they hit the ball hard? RUNNER ON SECOND Let’s look at a game situation. The game is close and is being pitched well by both pitchers. Runs are at a premium. Your number 3 hitter leads off with a double. (It is very common for a hitter to be stranded when he leads off an inning with a double.) You decide not to bunt the 4 hitter. You would like to try for a big inning and yet you know it is imperative that the runner be moved over to third base. The infield is playing at normal depth. The hitter’s priority is to move the runner to third base. He must not think of personal batting averages. A fly ball probably won’t get it done. A ground ball to the third baseman or shortstop won’t do it. He must think of hitting the ball hard on the ground to the right side of the infield. The key to this approach is for him to look for his pitch early in the count. He should look for a pitch on the outside third of the plate. Look for location rather than type of pitch (fast ball-curve ball). With 2 strikes the pitcher has the advantage and the hitter is more likely to fail. The most important thought for the hitter is to get a good pitch to hit to the opposite field. Try to hit the inside portion of the ball, not behind or around it. He should look for the outside pitch until he has two strikes and then only concentrate on hitting the ball hard. If the ball goes through into the outfield, so much the better. But by hitting the ball on the ground to the right side, he will move the runner over to third base even if the defense throws him out. RUNNER ON THIRD The hitter grounded out to the second baseman and moved the runner over to third. He did his job. The ball could have easily gone through into the outfield. It was a win, win situation. Now there is one out and the runner is on third. The 5 hitter is up. What is his job and what is his mental approach? This is always a crucial situation in a game. The objective is to attempt to take advantage of every one of these scoring opportunities. Again, forget batting averages; think about scoring the runner. It is very important to have a quality at bat in this situation. The hitter should look for a pitch that he can drive into the middle of the diamond. If the infielders are playing in, he looks for a pitch that is up in the strike zone and is a pitch than can be driven into the "v" in the outfield (area between the left fielder and right fielder). The hitter has to know what kind of pitch he can hit for a fly ball, usually a pitch up in the strike zone, but always a pitch of his preference. If the infielders are playing back, the hitter now has the option of hitting a ground ball in the middle of the infield. The hitter must make sure it is a pitch he can drive. A third but not necessarily better option with the infielders playing in is to have the runner on third break for home on bat contact. This tactic should only be used with one out in a tie game or maybe when you are desperate to score. The third base coach should verbally communicate all options with the hitter and runner because the location of the infielders could change on each pitch. Be aware that good teams teach their middle infielders to play at a depth that is best for each player’s arm strength. The last option of course is a base hit, but the hitter should be most concerned about all other options to be a good situational team hitter. THE MENTALITY OF THE SACRIFICE BUNT From Little League to the Major Leagues all championship teams bunt and bunt well. The sacrifice bunt is a great weapon in certain situations and when called upon every player should be able to execute the play. First, the mind set of the sacrifice bunt: the player should understand that he is up there to give himself up and not attempt to bunt for a base hit. It is up to the coach to instill that philosophy in his players. Many young players don’t like the sacrifice bunt because it takes the bat out of their hands and doesn’t give them a chance to hit. The coach should explain to his players that baseball is a team game and personal statistics don’t come first. (It is a good idea to have all the players congratulate the hitter who executes a successful sacrifice bunt. That reinforces team play and demonstrates the importance of the sacrifice.) We teach the" pivot" method over the square around method. The pivot technique gives the player more mobility. It takes a little more time to learn but is superior. Have the hitter get in his batting stance but move up in the batter’s box so that his front foot is even or slightly ahead of the plate. This cuts down on balls bunted foul. As he pivots around, he moves his rear foot slightly closer to the plate than his front foot. Both feet should be open and toes pointing at the pitcher. He should bend his knees slightly and move both hands up the bat. His backside should be under his shoulders. Hold the bat level or bat head slightly higher than the hands; (not 45 degrees.) Holding the bat loosely helps deaden the ball. The batter should "show" bunt early (at approximately the time when the pitcher comes set) and then make every attempt to bunt the ball down one of the lines. Showing bunt too late makes it difficult to be successful. A sacrifice bunt is not a secret. If the pitch is an outside strike, bunt the ball down the first base line. (RH Hitter) If the ball is inside, bunt it down the third base line. Make every effort not to bunt the ball back at the pitcher. To bunt the ball down the first base line, point the knob of the bat in the direction of the third base bag. To bunt the ball down the third base line, point the head of the bat at the first base bag. Do not drop the bat head for any reason. That will cause the hitter to pop up and destroy any chance of moving the runner over. Instead of dropping the bat head if the pitch is low, the hitter should bend his knees until he is low enough to get the bunt down, like an elevator going down. Bunt strikes only. If the pitcher walks the hitter, so much the better. Bunt the ball before you run. It is a mistake to bunt and run at the same time. Let the ball hit the bat. Don’t go out and get the ball. It will come into the hitting zone. Concentrate and try to see the ball hit the bat. Bunt the top half of the ball. That will help prevent pop-ups. The two most common bunting mistakes are reaching out to bunt the ball and dropping the bat head on a low pitch. You see these errors even on major league teams. Practice bunting a great deal every day early in the season and then have your hitters bunt the ball 3 or 4 times in every batting practice before they hit. Bunting in batting practice before the players hit has a two-fold purpose. It practices the skill of bunting and it gets the hitters used to tracking the ball. SWING AT FASTBALL STRIKES What is the hallmark of a good hitter? Good hitters are aggressive and they swing at strikes. They usually don’t swing at bad pitches and are seldom fooled. They have developed the aptitude to swing at strikes. Looking for and getting a pitch the hitter can "drive" is the objective of almost every at bat. The process of getting good pitches to hit is understanding the fastball counts, awareness of the location of the hitter’s "best pitch", and gathered information on the pitcher. FASTBALL COUNTS What are fastball counts? They are the counts in an at bat when the hitter can reasonably expect a fastball from the pitcher. The fastball counts are 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 and 3-1. Six situations when the probabilities are the pitcher will come to the plate with a fastball. 0-0 is a unique count. Every pitching coach drums into his pitchers, "Get strike one." So the hitter can expect to see a pitch in the strike zone. He can look for " his pitch." On the other hand, major league statistics reveal that hitters who swing at first pitches are not often successful. What to do? Let the situation dictate whether or not to swing at the 0-0 pitch. The score, number of outs, the pitcher, the pitcher’s tendencies, the batter’s previous success with that pitcher, base runners and the primary factor- the pitch must be one the hitter can hit hard. 2-0 and 3-1 The coach usually decides if the hitter swings at the 3-0 pitch. 2-0 and 3-1 are the counts where the pitcher cannot get back to even with just one pitch. This is when he must throw a strike, almost always a fastball. Bases on balls kill the defense. This is the time when the hitter can really ‘zone’ in on his pitch. He can afford to take a strike out of his zone because the pitcher can‘t get back to even in the count with one pitch. He can shrink the strike zone and look for one pitch and one pitch only. He has his choice of strikes. ONE GOOD PITCH A hitter can usually expect only one good pitch in each at bat, probably not two. How well he does with that one pitch generally determines his fate. A good hitter knows his favorite area of the strike zone, the location where he can consistently drive the ball on a line, the area on the plate where he has the most confidence. It may be a pitch middle in, a knee high inside pitch or a high strike. (All hitters should be able to hit a fastball belt high down the middle.) LET YOUR BODY TELL YOU WHEN TO SWING The skillful hitter has developed this knowledge through his kinesthetic body awareness. Awareness that springs from long hours of consistently good batting practice and capable coaching. He has refined his batting stroke to the point where his body tells him if the pitch is a strike or a ball. He knows as the ball approaches the plate if his batting stance has to "break down" in order for him to hit the pitch hard. That is why there are so many check swings during professional games. The hitters start their stride and hands and at the last millisecond stop the swing if that pitch is not one they like. THE VALUE OF GOOD COACHING The skillful hitter gathers all the information he can about the pitcher. This is where the great coaches shine. The coach will discuss a pitcher’s game-time tendencies and pitches. What he may throw in a certain count, what types of pitches he throws and how his fastball moves; everything he knows concerning the pitcher’s history. The coach will discuss situations during the on-going process of the game. He will use the previous at bat as a teaching tool. It is necessary for the hitter to know what a pitcher’s best pitch is; his "out pitch." He must know what the pitcher’s best pitch is that day and what the pitcher’s best pitch is to him that day. Is he getting his breaking pitch over for strikes? Does his change up have fast ball arm speed? It all boils down to confidence. You start with talent. Thorough and diligent practice increases the skill level and knowledge increases confidence and a better chance for success. Be aggressive and hit your pitch. Don’t let it go by. Baseball like life has an aversion for wasted opportunities. BE AGGRESSIVE We feel the most important thing for young hitters is to be aggressive. In developing this mindset the coach should not criticize his hitters when they make an aggressive mistake. They are going to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. Even professional hitters do. They should however, be reminded when they let a fastball strike go by without a swing. They should also understand that looking at strike 3 is a mistake by the hitter, not the umpire. SQUEEZE BUNT The squeeze bunt is a great offensive weapon if the players are well instructed and if it is used properly. The element of surprise makes it a great play if a team is ahead by a run or two. It is as important for the hitter to acknowledge the sign for the squeeze as it is for the runner on third to see the sign. Use a simple set of signals to accomplish this. As an example, as the runner comes in to third base, the coach holds up both hands. The runner then holds up his hands as he looks at the hitter. It simply appears to the defense that the coach is holding up the runner and not giving a special sign. The hitter must acknowledge this sign by rubbing the end of his bat. No theatrics here just rub the bat head. This is extremely simple and effective if done correctly. The runner now knows the hitter will not hang him out to dry. The play is on. Remember that the hitter must bunt the ball. He does not have to be too fine with the location, just bunt it on the ground. When does the runner sprint for home? We have seen this part of the squeeze misplayed many times. The runner sprints for home after he has taken his primary lead and the pitcher’s FRONT FOOT HITS THE GROUND. Not before. Practice the squeeze bunt and don’t be afraid to use it in games. Remember the hitter does not ‘show’ bunt too early. The key is the pitcher’s front foot. Once that has planted he has committed and his arm action is at its peak.
To be successful, a hitter must always be aggressive in his approach. (Coaches should help instill this in all their hitters.) A young hitter learns to hit by swinging the bat, not by taking pitches. He is entitled to three good cuts. Don’t cheat him by making him take pitches. (Do away with that, “Take a pitch until he throws a strike” stuff.)Hitters should think that every pitch is going to be a strike. “Think strike and then react.” Be aggressive early in the count. Pitchers are trying to get ahead by throwing strikes, swing at those strikes. Hitters who find themselves always behind in the count are taking too many pitches. If a hitter is consistently behind in the count he will get a steady diet of off-speed pitches and pitches on the edge of the plate. If he will go to the plate with a positive, aggressive attitude, he will get more good pitches to hit. Hitting is a one-on-one battle with the pitcher. Statistically the pitcher has the better of it and if the hitter does not have the correct approach, he will not win many battles. The hitter must take a positive approach. He cannot be overcome by negative thoughts; a previous unsuccessful at-bat, crowd noise, umpires, poor weather, or poor field conditions. Negative thinking will cause a hitter to become tentative. A tentative hitter will usually be unsuccessful. He must learn to be mentally tough. He cannot become intimidated by any pitcher. A pitcher’s best pitch is his fastball. Coaches should attempt to instill in their hitters the mindset that no pitcher will get his fastball by them. That should be a primary focus. Understand that failure is part of hitting. Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times. Uncontrolled emotions after an unprofitable at-bat will hinder a hitter’s development. He must adjust mentally to various situations. He should come to understand that a winning at-bat might be simply hitting a ground ball to the right side of the infield to move a runner to third, or that executing a successful bunt will contribute to a winning team effort. He cannot let outside situations influence him. He must be consistent in his approach. He must strive to remain positive in all situations. A negative approach will breed negative body language and ultimately cause the hitter to lose the battle. It is difficult to teach a young hitter to stay in a state of controlled aggression and yet remain relaxed at the same time. Yet, that is what he must do. He must consider the situations before the ball is pitched but when it is, he must think of nothing at all. “See the ball; hit the ball.” How do we coach kids so they can develop these favorable characteristics? Here are teaching techniques we believe are important. Give constant and never ending positive reinforcement. Hitters fail and they should come to realize that it is part of the game. A young player does not need the coach or dad to moan and groan when he strikes out in an important game situation. In my opinion, a sure-fire way to stifle a kid’s aggressiveness at the plate is to display disapproval when he fails. Applaud strikeouts swinging and discourage called strikeouts. Do not let the umpire have an influence on your game. Swing the bats. Use game failures as teaching opportunities. We have said that many times and it is important. Talk about the game in the dugout and immediately after the game. You know, down the foul line in the outfield grass. Talk about missed opportunities and how a pitcher may have pitched to them. Always end on a positive note. Talk baseball. A coach’s enthusiasm will carry over to his players. To be a winning hitter youngsters can’t just go up there hacking. They have to understand the situation, what the pitcher may be trying to do, what the hitter should try to accomplish, what to look for in various counts; in short, how is he going to approach this particular at-bat. Young hitters cannot achieve this unless the coach makes it a part of his teaching process. Include dry swings, tee work, opposite field hitting, soft toss and offensive batting practice in your daily batting practices. You have to teach the game. A sound routine will greatly assist you. It is the routine above all, that gives young hitters the solid foundation to compete and compete well. When tight game situations arise, that routine takes over and frees the hitter to react; react with confidence bred from sound practices and sound coaching. How you coach and how you conduct your practices plays a vital role in your players’ development. The talent level being equal, all dangerous (big game) hitters have had the benefit of a great batting practice routine; including a coach who teaches and provides all the types of situational hitting practice. To develop mental toughness the coach must teach his hitters to be responsible for their own actions. (There are no politically correct “victims” in baseball.) He must teach them to react in a mature fashion after unsuccessful batting appearances. He must not allow any questioning, whatsoever of umpires. You know, “STRIIIIKEE!” and the hitter turns to look at the coach with a questioning look on his face. Do not allow that. One of my favorite sayings is, “Are you going to hit or are you going to umpire?” Or, “You hit and he’ll umpire.” Do not allow questioning of balls and strikes from the dugout. Teach your players that it is a form of begging. (Set a good example, Coach.) By staying above negative and distracting behavior, the effective coach gives his players much more than baseball instruction. He is providing a life lesson. Swing the bats. That is a mindset and if you have a team that is tentative at the plate, you can establish penalties to help them overcome their reticence. I coached a young high school age team one summer that wouldn’t’ swing the bats at fastball strikes for the life of them. It was like every coach who had gone before them had told them to take pitches. So, I installed a penalty. For every fastball strike they didn’t swing at, the player had to run 3 60’s and the team had to run 1. After two games they started to get it. The third game they scored 11 runs. It was beautiful. Every fastball strike, (and of course some that weren’t) was greeted by an aggressive hack. The poor pitcher didn’t know what was happening. Every time he threw the ball, a hitter was answering with a hard swing. Balls were being put in play all over the yard. I know some coaches will not eagerly embrace this view. Old habits die hard. “Let’s take a pitch; maybe they’ll draw a walk.” Or, many good hitting instructors instruct hitters to take that first pitch. My answer is that you as coach are trying to instill an attitude, a team approach. You are trying to teach young hitters to hit the ball. An aggressive approach to hitting will always be beneficial to your team in the long term. What about, “You have to take pitches to learn your own personal strike zone?” To learn your personal strike zone you have to swing the bat to see what you can do on certain areas of the plate. Learn by swinging, not taking. A swing and a miss is a good thing. It is a coaching and learning experience to use later in that at-bat or later in the game. Another old habit. Put aside the results for a while and focus on the fact that you are developing your hitters. “End on a good one.” Do away with that statement in batting practice. Give an equal number of pitches to every hitter and stick to it. And if a hitter doesn’t swing at a strike in BP, that counts against his allotted number. If you are teaching hitters to be aggressive and take responsibility for their actions, don’t break down and give in during BP. “This round is ten swings. That is all your get. Make the most of it.” That is also another step toward teaching mental toughness and enhancing concentration. Such a small thing that can yield such positive results. Do it and watch your batting practices improve. Teach a two-strike approach to your hitters. Two-strike hitting is actually situational hitting. The pitcher has the best of it and the hitter is in more of a defensive mode. Remember we have said we want our hitters to be aggressive early in the count because they will see more fastballs. But two-strike hitting will still come into play sometimes so we want to be prepared. Teach your hitters to think about what the pitcher has thrown to other hitters in this situation. Are his pitches always on the outside corner? Does he have a great curveball? Does he throw it in the dirt to try to get you to chase it? Teach your hitters to look away. Look for an outside pitch and just react, or (fight off) the inside fastball. You can’t expect to get “your pitch” (middle-in) in these situations so don’t look for it. Look to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. Shorten up your stroke. Many hitters choke up in two-strike situations or they shorten their stride or they don’t stride at all. The idea is to make contact, no matter how devastating a pitcher’s breaking pitch is. Expand your strike zone. Look a ball-width off the plate. Do not take anything close. Keep your hands back. You want to look fastball but you may get the breaking pitch, so keep those hands back and don’t commit too early. Look for strikes, not balls. Look for a fastball but anticipate a breaking pitch. Adjust down. Relax and see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. Once the pitcher starts his windup, mentally treat two-strike hitting as just another pitch. Put the ball in play. Hit it somewhere. Give the defense the opportunity to make an error. That can’t happen if you take strike three looking. Battle. Don’t give in to the pitcher. Fight off his best pitches. Teach your hitters to be fearless. Again, they won’t become dangerous hitters if you moan and groan when they strike out swinging. Develop, develop, develop. You can use a two-strike drill in your intra-squad games. Start each hitter with two strikes and he must put the ball in play to be successful. A foul ball is an out. (For the purpose of time management as well as mindset.) A winning hitter knows he can be successful in a two-strike situation. Think hard and long about how to improve your batting Practice routine. Give at least 60% of your practice time to this vital segment of practice. In past TOTW we have suggested ways to accomplish that. Dig them out. We also devote part of the Coaches Practice Planner to BP. A hitter will almost always get ONE GOOD PITCH to hit in at bat. If he fails at a plate appearance and he didn’t swing at “his” pitch, ask him what pitch he should have swung at when he returns to the dugout. You want to train his thinking process. Invariably he will know which pitch he should have taken a hack at. Let him know that you know as well. Watch every pitch your kids hit in BP and in games. A great coach can see the entire field at once so train your concentration and observations skills. Care about your kids. Don’t think of them in terms of what they can do for you in winning games; think about what you can do to help them improve. Teach from the moment you step on the field until you leave it. Come early and stay late. Spend time with a player after practice who needs extra help. A lot of great teaching can get done during these one-on-one sessions. A side benefit from this is that you will be fostering a player who will remember you his entire life. Kids don’t forget teachers who try to help them. (A rare commodity in this day and age.) Coaching hitters or baseball in general is not easy so give it your best effort of time and commitment. A coach should never let the opportunity to teach go by. The rewards are simply too great.
This is our view of the role of a pitching coach. The team with a knowledgeable and competent pitching coach will be able to compete in any game they play. Making sure pitchers don’t overthrow or throw too hard at the beginning of a session is an important job for the pitching coach. Young pitchers especially, may have their adrenaline flowing before a pre-game bullpen and have a tendency to expend too much effort too early. Not only is that not conducive to developing muscle memory for good mechanics it is not conducive to maintaining a healthy arm. Don’t throw with too much effort until the body is ready. It is important for pitchers to get the “feel” of their pitches early in the bullpen session. Overthrowing prevents that. Gradually build to full velocity. A coach should never make velocity a goal when a pitcher is pitching or throwing a bullpen. Velocity itself it not the goal. The goal is to improve mechanics to the point that velocity will take care of itself. He should never implore upon a pitcher to throw harder. Pitching coaches should prevent a “macho” attitude with young pitchers. I have seen young pitchers take the bullpen mound and begin firing as hard as they could. “Look at me.” I don’t believe that young pitchers should make velocity a number one goal. That focuses too much attention on the throwing arm and not on other important things; letting the body help the arm throw, gaining command and movement, and improving mechanics. Let velocity come in its own good time. I am not saying velocity is not a powerful tool. It is. But I am saying that it should not be the only focus of a young pitcher. You want to develop pitchers, not throwers. It is easier to develop pitch command and the muscle memory that comes with it when you don’t throw at full speed. And not throwing at full speed helps protect the arm while developing that command. It gives pitchers more opportunities to work on things. So pitching coaches should regulate that effort. A good coach helps the young pitcher understand the pitching process and gives him the necessary tools to compete. He helps the pitcher develop mental toughness. He becomes a confidant because he needs feedback from his pitchers. He must have the ability to communicate and he must do it with short phraseology that the pitcher can understand quickly. When a pitcher is throwing his bullpen session, he can’t stop to talk about pitching theory. He has to have a phrase at hand; a cue that will immediately help put his pitcher back on track. He understands what certain pitches are supposed to do and he teaches pitchers how to throw them and at the correct times in the count or in the game. The pitching coach learns to understand how a pitcher uses his own abilities. He learns what he can and cannot do. Everyone is different. He recognizes the faults in each of his pitchers and develops a plan to help them improve. He should stress the importance of side work as well as game work. He should introduce and monitor an arm care program for all his pitchers. He should be pleased with the progress a pitcher makes as opposed to relying on “stats” as a way to measure performance. The pitching coach should minimize the importance of the radar gun and its role in becoming a complete pitcher. Command, movement and mental toughness have high priority. Learn the key points of each pitchers’ delivery; balance, direction, landing, arm slot. He should see every pitch his pitchers throw; games and bullpens. Make his pitchers feel comfortable around him and show openness and a willingness to communicate. Demand conformity and 100% effort in all routines, drills and duties. Always keep the health of a pitcher foremost in mind.
OK your team has just taken the field for their defensive half of the inning. How do they use that time? Do they walk onto the field or do they jog? Is the catcher in the dugout looking for his gear and does the pitcher have to warm up by throwing to the third baseman? Why can’t the right fielder find his glove? Why do these times in the game often look like a disorganized fire drill before every inning? Let’s go over some things your team should be doing in order to get the most benefit from their defensive half of an inning. Here is an all too typical youth baseball scene: The infielders walk, and sometimes it looks like they’re dragging, to their positions and the catcher is in the dugout getting his gear on. The middle infielders are together on the grass taking ground balls from the first baseman and they are flipping them to him. They are flipping them to him because they are only about 20 feet away. And they are using poor fielding and throwing mechanics. They just bend over and let the ball roll into their gloves because the first baseman just rolls the balls to them. The outfielders only get in one or two throws because of overthrows and missed balls and the fact they walked to their outfield positions and the fact that all three are playing catch together. The catcher, after finally getting his gear on walks up to the plate, takes one pitch and the umpire suddenly calls “Balls in.” The catcher throws down to second and the ball sails into the outfield where the center fielder who is not paying attention lets it get by him. The umpire says, “Play”. Are your players really ready to play? A team can get in important and needed game-type repetitions if they will take this time in the game seriously. If they have a plan. Here are some ways they can do it better and improve their pre-inning infield. All players should put their gloves in the same place in the dugout, every time. (the reason why in the next tip) When a player is left stranded on base his nearest position teammate should ‘pick him up.’ The means he should bring his teammate’s glove and/or cap with him onto the field so there will be no time wasted. How does he know where that glove is? Because everybody leaves their gloves in the same place in the dugout. (The nearest base coach can bring his batting helmet back to the dugout.) Everybody runs onto the field. Coaches have to reinforce this because the tendency in the late innings or when a team is behind in the score, is to drag a little bit. When do you most need your players to be alert and lively and ready? In the late innings. They have been sitting in the dugout so it is necessary for them to get the blood flowing. Jogging onto the field accomplishes that. It also looks like they came to play. What did Ralph Waldo Emerson say? “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” (I have probably overused this but I believe it is one of the great motivational quotes, one that should be tacked on your son’s wall.) They don’t have to sprint to their positions. A brisk jog is fine. You must have a bullpen catcher. Let me say that again. You must have a bullpen catcher. When your starting catcher is left on the bases at the end of an inning your bullpen catcher must go to the plate to warm up your pitcher. If you have 12 players on your team then this is a reserve player. He should have his mask and glove ready so he can jog to the plate when all the other players take their positions. This will get your pitcher 5 or 6 extra pitches, ones he needs. I have heard it said, “No body else on this team can catch our pitcher.” Why not? Aren’t you working with both your catchers? Aren’t you giving your reserves and younger players something to do every inning? Aren’t you coaching all 12 players? A reserve player goes to the dugout-side outfield foul line and plays catch with that outfielder. This gives all outfielders more throws because the center fielder and off outfielder can warm up, just the two of them. It is important for them to work on throwing accuracy. They are not doing this so they can just toss the ball around. It should be done with a purpose. The other reserve player after he jogs in from the coaches box picks up all bats and equipment and puts it in its proper place. The infielders assume their deepest positions to take ground balls from the first baseman. The second baseman is in front of the outfield edge of the grass behind the bag, the short stop is on the outfield edge of the grass in the hole and the third baseman is as deep as he can get on the outfield edge of the grass. The toughest play they will have to make may be the farthest so why not have them work on that play in between innings? What does it accomplish to toss balls twenty feet? The first baseman should throw routine ground balls briskly to them and they should use good fielding mechanics and make accurate sharp throws back to him. They should jog back to their positions and await the next throw. All three infielders should make at least one backhand play every inning. The ball doesn’t have to be thrown perfectly to their backhand side; they can just wait on the ball and get into a backhand position. Every pre-inning infield should be taken seriously. It is very common to see infielders clowning around and throwing balls all over the place. Teach them how to do it correctly. Players left to their own devices will invariably do it wrong or with poor technique. They have to be taught and then receive reinforcement. The pitcher gets about 8 pitches during his warm-up. He should throw all his pitches, 4-seam, 2-seam fastballs and change up. If he has a breaking pitch he should throw at least one. On a regulation field he should throw the last two pitches from the stretch. A coach should pay close attention to his players during the time before every defensive half inning. He should be alert for lack of hustle and poor fielding technique. It’s another one of those “Little Things that make a team better.” I use verbal reinforcement at the end of every offensive half inning. You can use your own but these are some of the things I say; “Bullpen catcher get out there”, “Mike, pick up Tommy”, “First baseman do you have a ball?” (I usually make sure they get one when they come into the dugout after getting the third out.), “Stephen throw ‘em all” (Reminding the pitcher to warm up using all his pitches), “Good throws guys”, “Hustle, Chad.” I’m sure they get tired of hearing me. I sound like a broken record but I refuse to let my players slack off even a little. Poor pre-inning infield is as common as poor youth batting practice. Do your team a favor and get them ready to play. You will see a difference.
Let’s put this article under the heading of Dugout Demeanor. It’s another one of those ‘little things’ that I feel add up to success on and off the baseball field. The last two decades of this century seemed to have embraced in sport, what I call the ‘Celebration of Mediocrity.’ It’s “Look at me. Look at what I did.” “I, I, Me, Me.” Every time a football player makes a tackle or a basketball player dunks one, he struts around as if he had just reinvented the game. Suddenly in the last few years, it has become vitally important for everyone to have his or her moment in the spotlight. I realize that some coaches will say that this is positive reinforcement and will fortify the player mentally. But enough already. Kids watch Sports Center in the morning and in the evening and at night. This is how the big guys act. Monkey see, monkey do. The celebration of excellence has become the ritual of the commonplace. Good or bad that is the way it is. So let’s take this prevailing attitude and rewind to a few years back when I first began coaching with Jack Grant. Clinton Johnston was a high school senior and I was in the dugout and Coach Grant was in the third base coaching box. The team was Post 39 American Legion. (Jack called the team the ‘39ers.’) Clinton hit one off the world; over the scoreboard, over everything. As he jogged around third base Coach Grant stood there stoically, with his arms folded. No one came out of the dugout to greet Clinton and no one cheered and yelled. In fact no other player even got to his feet. What’s wrong with this picture? When Clinton came into the dugout no one said anything of consequence; a couple of ‘atta way’s.’ So naturally the first chance I got I had to ask Coach Grant why. I said, “How come no body came out of the dugout to congratulate Clinton”? “That was a heck of a shot.” I will never forget what he replied. “They’re supposed to hit home runs.” He turned and sat down. Simple and to the point. That is what they have been trained to do. Hit the ball hard. My first reaction was to disagree with this philosophy. After all, I watch Sports Center too. He told me later that this was a rule on his teams. No one comes out of the dugout to celebrate after a home run. So I thought about this and I thought about it some more. Slowly I came to understand and agree with him. By this action he was allowing his team to rise above the commonplace. He was also reinforcing something more important than just a single act. He was strengthening the philosophy of team play. What a novel concept. I now realize how classy this is. “If you want to celebrate, applaud great defensive plays or a well-placed bunt or good situational hitting.” Here’s another phrase ESPN has turned into a cliché, “Old School.” Well, let me tell you; that is definitely Old School. Coach Grant did have an exception to this rule. If you hit a home run in the bottom of the last inning to win a game, celebration was allowed. A walk-off home run is something I have been witness to twice. And the celebration then, is very sweet. I came to realize that Coach Grant was teaching something else; how to stand up to peer pressure. That’s a worthy ‘life lesson’ don’t you think? It is so easy for a coach to let his players do what they want, to act the same as the players on every other team do. It is much harder for him to say, “There is another way. Let’s try this.” But when you think about it isn’t that what a teacher is supposed to do, give young people choices? Show them a different path?
There is an axiom in youth baseball that every team seems to experience 1 bad inning on defense in most games. It is an inning where the defense seems to fall apart, the pitcher can’t seem to get the ball over the plate, or he gets hit very hard. Things seem to deteriorate. You went into this “bad” inning with a lead and you come out way behind with a demoralized bunch of kids. Just being aware of that one bad inning will sometimes help. Earl Weaver once said that many times the winning team will score more runs in one inning than the losing team does in the entire game. Big innings are common throughout baseball, not just Little League. So let’s look at a plan to cut down on those nerve-racking innings. Get the first out of every inning. This is the #1offense killer. With one out it is difficult for the offense to do much more than play ‘station-to-station’ baseball. This is a priority for every defense. Attempt to get strike 1 one on very batter. If the pitcher can get the first pitch across for strike 1 he is in control and his chances of retiring that batter are improved. “Oh, those base on balls.” Don’t give runners a free pass to beat you. Let the opposing team hit the ball. This at least gives your defense a chance to make a play. The essence of baseball is the confrontation between the hitter and the pitcher. The pitcher should think “Here it is, I got it, here it comes.” My best against your best. Refocus after 2 outs. Many a game has been lost with 2 outs and no one on base. There is a tendency for the pitcher to let down after he has retired the first 2 batters. This should be a goal for every pitcher. It should be a goal for the defense as well. Coach, remind your pitcher to “close the deal.” Keep passed balls to a minimum. Concentrate catcher practice efforts on cutting down on the “Little League Run.” Wild pitches and passed balls score and put many a base runner in scoring position in youth baseball. If a coach is able to teach his catchers to block the ball effectively he will keep a lot of runs off the board. Throw to the base ahead of the runner. Do not throw behind him. Runner on 1st base, base hit to the outfield. Throw the ball to 3rd, not 2nd. Runner on 2nd, base hit to the outfield, throw the ball home not to 3rd. No one on and a sure double by the hitter, throw the ball into 3 rd. (There are a few exceptions.) This takes communication and back up by the pitchers and infielders. It also takes the ability to throw to the target by the outfielders. Don’t forget to back up each base. Don’t lose the game on a bad throw. Sometimes in a close game, especially in the late innings it is better to hold the ball rather than throw it and possibly throw it away. Don’t attempt those pick-offs and ‘trick plays’ in close games when runs are at a premium. With a big lead don’t play the infield “in” with a runner on third base. In that situation it is better to give up a run for an out. Make sure you have taught your first basemen the art of digging balls out of the dirt. Spend extra practice time on this. Position your defense to make plays up the middle. That is where the majority of balls are hit. There are exceptions late in the game. Your best athletes should play the ‘up the middle’ positions; catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second base, and center field. In 99% of all bunt situations get the out at first base. The defense is giving you an out- take it. Let ‘em bunt. Throw a strike. Teach your team that the game of baseball is played 'one pitch at a time.’ Not one out at a time or one inning at a time or one game at a time but one pitch at a time. This helps develop concentration skills. With a runner at first base it is important for the pitcher to concentrate on the hitter. Think of keeping the runner close rather than throwing over multiple times and trying to pick him off. The pitcher can step off or simply hold the ball longer before delivering to the plate. In crucial situations don’t give in to their best hitter. The pitcher should throw the pitch he wants to throw. Stay away from ‘fat pitches’ even when behind in the count. Make sure your pitchers sprint to cover 1st base on all balls hit to the right side of the infield. Make sure your pitchers backup the catcher on possible plays at the plate. With runners in scoring position your infielders should be aware that they must ‘lay out’ and attempt to knock down all balls hit in the holes to prevent them from going into the outfield. (Remind them to ‘knock the ball down’ before the pitch.) Infield and outfield communication is a critical skill. Don’t allow a routine out to become an adventure because the fielders failed to talk to each other. In a close game with the offense threatening to score a run or multiple runs it is imperative that the defense remain calm and focused on getting an out. Exercise “Damage Control.” Don’t panic with 2 on and no out. Take the outs as they present themselves. Play within what the game offers you. “Okay, we gave up 2 runs. Let’s stop it right there.” Focus on teaching the routine defensive plays at practices; ground balls at them, balls hit to their left, the backhand and slow rollers. Develop the mentality that all balls hit in the air will be caught. Play like you expect to win, not like you’re afraid to lose. Even when you emphasize these skills and this approach you are not guaranteed to stay out of damaging innings. That’s baseball. But having a plan and being prepared is an infinitely better way than saying, “they’re just kids.”
Baseball Excellence has used video for years to help improve players’ technique and performance. In the last few years technology has radically improved with the use of digital equipment. Cameras and computers can now do amazing things. We recently discovered the Pro-Trainer software designed by Sports Motion, Inc. This is fantastic stuff and you will hear more about it very soon. Below is an article by training guru Vern Gambetta. We are reprinting parts of this article with permission from Training and Fitness magazine. The Digital Difference "Today's low-cost, easy-to-use digital video cameras and software can make a blockbuster out of your training program. By Vern Gambetta Vern Gambetta, MA, is the President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems, in Sarasota, Fla., and the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning, and can be reached through his Web site, at www.gambetta.com Training & Conditioning, 11.9, December 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1109/digital.htm These days, video analysis has gone digital. The click of a mouse provides instant access to requested scenes. Baseball coaches can easily scrutinize a hitter's recent plate appearances, searching for flaws in his swing. Despite the new technology's advantages, many strength coaches and athletic trainers fail to recognize the vast potential of video in their jobs. Performance testing, baseline setting, rehabilitation programs, and program design can all benefit from digital video. It can even help motivate athletes. Don't be scared off thinking that digital video is only for techies. With little more than a one- or two-year-old personal computer and the same digital video camera that you use to record your child's birthday party, you can improve your athletes' performance. If you have the inclination and money, more sophisticated systems that feature specially-designed hardware and software for analyzing your athletes are also available. MAKING A RECORD The first use of video is for improving your testing program. As you've heard me say in these pages many times before, testing is an integral part of a performance program. Most testing focuses on quantitative outcome--how high the athlete jumps or how fast he or she runs. If the time or distance is acceptable, then it is labeled a good test. If the time or distance is poor, then it is called a bad test. I feel very strongly that we are missing something by not recording our testing efforts. Having a moving picture of the athlete improves testing in two ways: It provides a visual baseline and it allows us to more clearly see an athlete's technique and performance. Another important reason to record baselines is that, if the athlete is injured, you now have objective measures to use in bringing him or her back to full participation. Bill Knowles, ATC, CSCS, Director of Team Performance International in Vermont, uses video when rehabbing skiers, especially after ACL tears. He chronicles each athlete's progress and compares the videos taken during rehab to a pre-injury baseline video taken on the slopes and during off-snow training. He burns the video onto a CD and sends it to the surgeon, who can view it on any office computer. This allows the athletic trainer and physician to better discuss the athlete's progress and set goals aimed at getting the skier back to his or her previous level. FOR PROGRAM DESIGN Videotaping the athlete ultimately allows us to better assess his or her problems. Instead of knowing only that the time on the athlete's agility test is slow, we can review the test to see where the deficiency is. Is she not using her arms efficiently? Is she moving her head too much? Is her posture the problem? I also note what the athlete does well. If her feet are incredibly quick, but her arm movement slows her down, I'll design a program that takes this into account. I'll want to make sure that as she does drills that concentrate on arm movement, she will not lose the great foot quickness she already developed. Another idea is to use digital video in a narrow, focused application. For example, record the baseball team with the intent of analyzing only the mechanics of base stealing. MOTIVATIONAL TOOL Beyond using video technology to test athletes and design programs, I'm finding it is a great tool for motivation and teaching. The video allows the athletes to plainly see what I see instead of what they think happens. Being able to show them this works wonders for my athletes in many different applications. The video can further motivate by providing a sense of accomplishment. If athletes can see their progress over one month, one year, or even four years of testing, they will understand that their training efforts are sound investments. Going hand-in-hand with motivation is video's ability to be a teaching tool. I use videos of past athletes to show current athletes how to perform a particular workout. These unedited videos show people making mistakes as well as doing things correctly, which assures them that even the greatest athletes struggle early. Current video technology allows split-screen comparisons between a novice athlete and one with ideal technique. With the skilled performer on one half of the screen and the athlete in question on the other, he or she can evaluate what needs to be done. As exciting and thought-provoking as the use of digital video is, it is only a small addendum to what a coach can and should be doing. Video can back up your hunches, illustrate mistakes or problems, and motivate your athletes. But video can never replace the years of knowledge and experience you bring to the job." Baseball Excellence uses digital video evaluation for all aspects of the game. If you go to our Onlnine Store you can learn more.
Keeping in the coaching spirit of this month’s Newsletter, we want to emphasize an important point. By preparing your players properly at practice, you will without doubt win your share of games. There is very little magic a baseball coach has at his disposal during a game; no special plays, no tricks and no assured influences. No special pre-game pep talks will influence the outcome of a game. No rah-rah stuff. Your players have to play against the game. A ball will be hit to them or they will find they must hit a ball; there is no way to kill the clock or avoid the inevitable. The game must be played out. And that is the beauty and at the same time, the difficulty of baseball. All nine players must play both offense and defense. They must have skills in all areas of the game. The way to win baseball games is to make the routine plays. And that is what a coach should practice; over and over. It is how he utilizes his time at practice and how he teaches that makes all the difference in the world. What are the routine plays and how do I teach them at practice? Catch and throw. Each player must have the ability to field the ball and throw it accurately with sufficient arm strength. Without doubt, the most under coached area of the game and the most important. They don’t draft designated hitters. Infielders must field the four types of ground balls; ball hit at them, ball hit to their left, ball hit to their backhand and the slow roller. These plays should be practiced everyday until they become automatic and can be made without thought. Outfielders must catch every routine fly ball; no exceptions. This is not a difficult skill but you would be surprised how often a kid will misplay a routine fly ball because of lack of hustle. Outfielders must field routine ground balls and cut off balls hit to their left and right. Outfielders must come in and go back on fly balls. They must develop the skill of “tracking” fly balls. The coach must be able to trust the game to his catcher. (That is why we devote so much ink to catching skills.) The pitcher must be able to throw the ball over the plate in the area he wants. He doesn’t have to have blazing speed or trick pitches. He must throw the ball so the hitter will offer at it. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It is. We coaches sometimes make it way too complicated. If you are a coach who tries to trick hitters or is afraid to have your pitcher throw the ball over the plate, your team is not able to make the routine plays. You haven’t coached them properly or you haven’t used practice time wisely. I have written before about an opening day game when Stephen was 13. His junior league team started the season off with a perfect game; 21 up and 21 down. Was our pitcher overpowering? Hardly. He only struck out 3 batters. But that left 18 plays to be made and those kids made every one. That was the focus of our pre-season practices; making the routine defensive plays. I used every drill in the Practice Planner. On offense, the hitters must be able to bunt, move runners over and hit in situations. That has to be practiced. All players must learn to run the bases correctly; from leading off to good running form. Players don’t have to be fast to be good base runners but they must learn and practice technique. Okay, what is the one device a coach has to assure his players will develop and improve so they can be effective in game situations? To our subscribers who have renewed over the years this may seem like old hat, but I feel the importance of this next statement should be emphasized and I don’t see coaches doing it during their practices. And the pre-season is a good time to go over it. Most of these skills can be practiced during Batting Practice! What? I thought BP was just for hitting. If all you’re doing during BP is hitting, you are wasting a lot of precious time. Coach Grant, when he was scouting for the Diamondbacks once told me that there were very few high schools on the east coast of Florida that ran Batting Practice properly. That is how easy it is to get away from doing things right. Why is there one “right way?” The model for using BP time wisely is the way professional teams do it. And it’s been done this way for untold years. There is no need to reinvent the game. Youth and high school teams can do it the same way and reap the same benefits. A side benefit is that your practices will develop a routine and become interesting at the same time. Kind of cool, huh? Our Practice Planner goes over this but let’s go over it in a little more depth. After a light jog, stretch, form run and throw. (Do not ever skip this step.) You do want you team to look, act and move like baseball players, don’t you? (15-20 minutes) Spend the next 15 minutes on a defensive skill. During the pre-season you may devote more time here. There are just some things you must spend more time on. Take at least one and a half hours for Batting Practice. A good sequence is to go from Tee work, to soft toss, to opposite field hitting to BP rounds and (at least twice a week) to situational hitting with a base runner. By using a base runner, the coach can teach those skills as well as situational hitting at the same time. The coach who is pitching or feeding the machine, can add realism by pitching from the stretch and occasionally step off or make a mock pick-off move. This keeps the base runner on his toes and helps teach him the proper times to go on a hit and run or bunt. What are the defensive skills that you can work on during BP? Let the catchers and pitchers hit in the first round so they can throw their bullpens. Hit ground balls to the infielders during BP. Each infielder can get 25-30 ground balls a day if you do it this way. The beauty of this is that other things are going on and so much can be accomplished in a short period of time. If you have a screen, you can set it up in front of second base and the infielders can practice their footwork and feeds on double plays. All this while a hitter is hitting on the field. The timing of the fungo is critical to keep the infielders from having to dodge two balls hit at them. Do it this way: the hitter hits his pitch and at the instant the ball is batted the fungo coach tosses his ball in the air and hits a ground ball to his infielder. As he tosses it, he can see where the batted ball went. The pitching coach allows 3-4 seconds before feeding the machine again. Don’t machine-gun the balls. Give the infielder time to field his ball and allow the hitter to get set. All batted balls must be allowed to go into the outfield. The infielders must concentrate on fielding balls from the fungo coach only. This is an important rule. Murphy’s Law says that the second the infielder stoops to field a batted ball; the fungo coach will hit his ground ball, with less than desirable results. The infielders throw the ball back to the fungo coach on one hop. This is a learned skill. There should not be an extra coach to catch balls from the infielders. They are too important and are needed elsewhere. The infielders put enough air under the ball so that it takes a nice, easy bounce to the fungo coach. The reason for this is three-fold; tossing the balls frees up other coaches, prevents throwing overuse and keeps the infielders facing the home plate area for safety. If they threw over to first base they would be vulnerable to a batted ball. Outfielders break on every ball hit during BP. Just 2-3 steps to develop the skill of tracking the ball. They should learn to concentrate on the hitter. The way the hitter swings the bat helps the outfielder know where the ball is hit. Base running is practiced during the situational hitting phase and coaches are needed to teach the base runners. Put one in each coach’s box. After batting practice spend 10-15 minutes on a skill that includes conditioning. We use Quarterbacks and base running. This is much more time- efficient that simply running sprints. Include a skill with your conditioning drills. Save your skull sessions for rainy or wet days. You have to have these sessions and you don’t want to ruin your baseballs. There you have it. Try it, you’ll like it. Every coach who has tried this way of practice has seen positive results. We have never received negative feedback from coaches regarding this type of baseball practice. The trick is doing it correctly. I am always totally amazed when I walk by a baseball field and don’t see batting practice done this way.
Perhaps every young man who’s put on a baseball uniform has had a dream to become a major league baseball player. It is the pinnacle of success in this great game and you couldn’t reproach anyone for having that dream. We all need our dreams but this article is about reality, the experience of day in and day out baseball. There is a road young players must take to become major league ball players. And it is a long and difficult one. Let’s look at what it takes to go through a minor league season. Many people don’t realize the demands placed on players in the minor leagues. We are going to examine what players who have made it to high A Ball (specifically the Florida State League) experience. After the excitement has worn off they come face to face with the real challenge of professional baseball- the daily mental and physical grind. Day after day in which the games eventually run seamlessly together. Most of the players are unprepared for the long hours and days of learning, practicing and playing; and failing. These are players who were top dogs before. They were used to hitting .450 in high school or .400 in college. The pitchers blew the ball by everybody in high school. They all had .0-something ERA’s. No more. Now the hitters only hit .270 and many pitchers get rocked. And there is little time to rest, to reflect, to relax. The days are endless and the grind goes on and on. The hitters are facing top pitching prospects day in and day out. They’re hitting against 92 mph fastballs and devastating breaking pitches-with wood bats. What’s that old joke? “Dear Mom, having fun, hitting the ball really well.” A month later she gets another letter. “Dear Mom. They’re throwing curve balls-be home soon.” The pitchers now have to face the best young hitters in the country. There are no easy outs and there are no easy games. Every college had easy games on its schedule. There are no patsies in the Florida State League. Every team has its rosters filled with outstanding players. In the Florida State League the players play 140 games, from April to September. Not counting the occasional rainout they get maybe ten Sundays off. People with real jobs don’t work that much. Many college players are unprepared for the rigors of a minor league season. They now play more games in one season than they did in two seasons in college. (High school players play maybe a 30 game schedule in the spring and then another 40 in the summer.) And while these new minor leaguers are learning their craft they have to confront failure everyday. That can mentally wear a player down after awhile. It can be difficult to adjust. And you can add the daily stress of each player trying to do his best, knowing that there is always someone behind him that could move up to take his place. Whoever said, “Baseball is like life, you play it everyday” knew what he was talking about. Remember our articles on developing mental toughness in your players? Now is when they are going to need it. Now is when they find out if they really love the game. Remember our article on what scouts look for and how important it is for a player to have a good attitude and make up? Will their dreams of childhood be enough? Are the beautifully manicured fields, the irresistible baseball smells, the excitement of the games going to be enough to sustain them? For a successful few it will. There are only 750 major league players in the world. I have unrestrained respect and admiration for a young man who wants to turn his baseball dream into his profession. Folks, it’s really hard. A Day in the Life Let’s look at a typical day in the life of the average minor leaguer. This report is from the perspective of the Vero Beach Dodgers, a long-standing asset in our community. Every organization has its own way of doing things but we will examine the Dodger way. What immediately impressed me was the structure the Dodgers have set up for their players. They have a fixed procedure and things are done that way every day- no deviation from the routine. (Remember our article, The Power of a Routine?) The following daily routine is performed at home games. Away games are not quite as exacting because of travel and available facilities. The players arrive at pre-determined times on the field beginning at 1:35 PM every day. That means the early arrivals have to be in the locker room at least by 1PM.. Beginning at 1:35 each hitter gets 5 minutes of individual instruction. The Dodgers call this daily “Hitting Maintenance.” A coach works with each player off the hitting Tee. They work on some area of their game that needs improvement. One hitter may have a problem with balance, one may have a tendency to lean forward on outside pitches, and one may have trouble adjusting to hitting with the wood bat. This instruction takes place in the batting cages. Those waiting their turns hit off tees into the nets, on their own. Every hitter has some area in which he can improve. These 5 minutes are devoted to that. You can give quite a bit of meaningful instruction to one player in 5 minutes. It doesn’t’ sound like much time but on a daily basis it is quite a lot. It is a lot of time for the coaches too; to spend 5 minutes with each individual player. “Hitting Maintenance” takes about one and a half hours for all the players to get their turns. Then at 3 PM everyone spends 15 minutes stretching. This is also a structured routine. They do it the same way every day. They have a strength and conditioning coach who guides them. Next, comes the long toss routine. The position players pair off on one foul line and the pitchers on the other. The long toss routine is also very organized. Instead of counting the number of throws, the players are timed by the coaches. They use a stop watch. They begin throwing from 60 feet. They throw for 4 minutes. Then they back up to 90 feet and throw for 3 minutes. Then it is 120 feet for 3 more minutes. They throw at less than maximum effort, putting a slight arc on the baseball. At all times they work on good throwing mechanics. (There aren’t many professional players with poor arm actions.) At the end of 10 minutes the infielders come back in to 60 feet and throw to each other very briskly, moving their feet and getting the ball out of their gloves as quickly as possible. The outfielders remain at 120 feet and throw to each other, one-hopping the ball. (This drill reinforces staying behind the ball and not letting the hand flop off to one side. If the hand doesn’t remain behind the ball and if they don’t have a 4-seam grip, the result will be a ball that does not travel on a straight line.) The pitchers come in to 60 feet and do flat ground throwing. They don’t use catchers; they throw to each other. This is time when they work on the “feel” of their pitches. And they work on their mechanics. They throw this way every day: 5 fastballs from the windup, five breaking pitches and 5 change ups. Then they throw 15 more from the stretch. One pitcher in each pair acts as a catcher and they switch every 5 balls. The pitchers throw at about 50-60% of full velocity. They do this every day, even if they had pitched in a game the day before. They are always under the watchful eye of the pitching coach. He will make occasional suggestions as to their mechanics. The pitchers take longer than the position players so while they are completing their routine, the position players play pepper. What impressed me as I watched their day was the positive way the coaches taught the game. Think back to your school days and remember your best teachers. It was like that. Those coaches are highly motivated and dedicated to helping these players reach the next level. And you know what? The coaches have to have a working knowledge of Spanish. I watched Manager John Shoemaker working with a Latin hitter in the batting cages. The player was having a hard time keeping both of his hands on the bat as he completed his swing. It was a bad habit that John was trying to help the hitter break. After every soft toss, Coach Shoemaker would say, “Dos manos, dos manos. Bueno” until the hitter got it right. Never Give In is NGI in any language. Next, at about 3:45 they perform their outfield-infield drill, every day. (I’ve used those two words a lot; every day.) The reason the Dodgers do this (another buzz word) is “ball maintenance.” They want their position players to stay involved in the physical and mental “flow” of the defensive game. Coach Shoemaker calls it “taking care of the ball.” They want them handling the baseball as they would in games. (We have been telling you how important catch and throw is.)This drill is done at “game pace” and it is fun to watch. Starting with the left fielder they hit fungoes to each outfielder so they can get all the plays they will have to make in a game. Every other day they practice their “double relays”, 4 times, once deep down both foul lines and deep into each gap. Then as they take their infield, the pitchers take up backup positions in foul territory at third base and behind the plate. They begin their infield drill with “infield in” and progress to “one and cover”, double plays long backhands and slow rollers. It is similar to most pre-game infield drills but on some days they may do a little more work on one aspect or another. I noticed that the players worked very hard on fielding technique, throwing accuracy and velocity. Everyone hustled and game speed was observed at all times. After outfield-infield the coaches put the players through 15 minutes of some fundamental such as lead-offs or 1st and 3rd base running, double plays or run downs. At about 4:30 the portable batting cage is rolled out and they take batting practice. They break into three groups with the catchers hitting first. That way the catchers can go down to the bullpens with the scheduled pitchers. In the first hitting round they do situational hitting. With a runner on first: 2 bunts, 1 hit and run, 1 hit behind the runner and one “get in” from third base. The hitter then gets 5 swings to hit to the opposite field. The hitter then becomes the base runner. The Dodger situational hitting drill is similar to the one we teach. They hit several more rounds with a decreasing number of pitched balls. When the outfielders are not hitting they are in the outfield “breaking” on every batted ball. This is not just “shagging balls” time. They break 2 or 3 steps toward every ball whether they catch it or not. This is how outfielders develop their tracking skills. They learn to see how every ball acts off every type of swing and they learn how to get a “jump” on the ball. When the infielders are not hitting they take ground ball fungoes from the coaches. The shortstop and first basemen take ground balls from the third base-side fungo coach. The second and third basemen take ground balls from the first base-side fungo coach. This is done that way so that the infielders can take balls that are the same approximate angle as they would come off a hitter’s bat; so their footwork and throwing angles are the same. The pitchers that are not throwing a bullpen stand on the warning track in the outfield and shag deep fly balls. They take Batting Practice until about 6:15. Then they go into the locker room to get dressed into their game uniforms. They take the field at about 6:30, do some individual stretching and light throwing, a base stealing drill with one of the coaches acting as the pitcher and then get in some dry swings to get loose and fortify their hitting mechanics. (This is done in the outfield grass.) The pitcher throws his bullpen at about 6:40. The pitchers throw their bullpens in a similar fashion to the way we teach. They establish command of their pitches one at a time, fastball first. They throw ½ from the stretch and the pitching coach watches every pitch they throw. Then they get a drink of water and play baseball. The games begin at 7 PM and last until 9:30-9:45. Whew, their day is over right? Wrong. After the game the players pay a visit to their strength and conditioning coach for an hour of lifting in the weight room. Coach Shoemaker likened their day to a 3-11 shift- a long 3-11 shift. The players must also get in their specialty drills, such as catchers blocking balls in the dirt or hitters taking extra batting practice. When do they do that? They have to find the extra time. These drills are outside the everyday routine but they must find the time to do them. So the next time you go to a minor league game and the home team commits 4 errors and makes a few mental mistakes, show a little tolerance. These young men are learning their craft and failing is an integral part of learning. Tip your hat to these guys and show them some respect. They earn it every day.
COACHING PRINCIPLES We are always writing articles about the great profession (avocation) of coaching. It has become a passion to contribute our views on coaching baseball. Let’s look at, and review, some of the things that will make you more productive and valuable coaches who have development of the kids foremost in mind. Understand and believe that what you are doing gives you the power to support the continuation of this great game. You can make a difference. Have a plan for each and every practice. Baseball is life- practice every day. If a day goes by and you didn’t have a practice, you should feel guilty. NGI-Never give in. A coach must continue to teach, even when some of the players look like they aren’t ‘getting it.’ Teach right up to the last out of the last game of the season. A few years ago, very late in the season, I watched a Vero Beach Dodger game. The Dodgers had a losing record and many of the players were just ‘playing out the string.’ They knew their career in professional baseball was coming to an end. The best prospects had already gone up to AA ball. That is a very tough time for a player and a coach. But it shows who the good coaches are. John Shoemaker was teaching in that game as if it were the first game of the World Series. “Shoe” still had his enthusiasm and was giving it his best effort. It would have been so easy to slack off in those dog days of August.(An update: John Shoemaker is now the skipper of the Dodgers AAA team in Las Vegas.) Stop watching baseball games on TV as a fan. Watch them as a coach and a student. Use these professional and college games as learning experiences. Try to imagine what you would do in game situations. Look at fielders’ techniques and pitchers and hitters mechanics. Tape the games and watch them in slow motion and frame advance. Turn the sound off on the TV and try to identify the pitches. That is a good method and you will be surprised at how easy it is. Spend extra time, after practice, with those players who need it the most. Don’t be influenced by what parents and other coaches say to you or about you. Believe in what you are doing and stay on the path. Believe me, if you are doing a good job you will not be popular. You will be respected, but not popular. If you try to please everybody you will wind up pleasing nobody. You must have control and you must use discipline. Be yourself. Coach within your own personality. Don’t try to copy someone else. Use other methods from coaches that you admire but ultimately you have to be yourself. Have integrity. Keep teaching the important values even when they are not fashionable. Stand by what you say. If you penalize players for missing practice, penalize all of them, not just the weaker players. Don’t set arbitrary rules to enforce them at your whim. Understand that you can make a difference in a young life. That is your reward. That is why you coach-not just to win. Have a goal of making your players just a little better than they were the day before. Develop the attitude that if they are not getting better, they are getting worse. Teach your players to respect the game. How they act on that field is a direct reflection of you, the coach. Have them hustle at all times, keep their shirttails in, wear baseball caps, maintain good behavior and listen to you. They way they practice is the way they will play in games. If you coach your son try to honestly evaluate his talent and put him in the position where he will do the most good for your team. I have seen many a coach’s son who never was and never would be a shortstop. Guess where he played. Take coaching seriously and give it your best effort. If you want your players to take you seriously, take the game seriously. Become a student of the game. Players can use the off-season to get better. Coaches can too. Teach your players appropriate behavior during games. Don’t let them question umpires’ calls or cheer against the other team. Teach them how to stay focused in the dugout. Give each player some responsibility. I feel that early in the season you will have to stay on top of this. Establish the way you want them to act and keep on them until you get the desired results. Demand respect from your players. You will find you’ll have to earn it. Become a positive role model around your players. Don’t smoke in front of them. They are going to emulate you. You have an obligation to set aside your personal peccadilloes for the time that you area coach. ‘Knowledge is power.’ Put your ego in your back pocket. Be confident that you are operating with the proper motives. Don’t belittle other teams and other umpires. It is important that you make your players understand the fact that the techniques you are teaching them may involve failure. If a player is having a measure of success and performing a certain skill incorrectly, he must understand that when you change him he will fail until the new skill becomes part of his ‘muscle memory.’ For instance a pitcher may throw very hard and be successful. No one can hit him in Little League. However he may have poor mechanics that could hinder his development as a pitcher. It is your job to help him change those mechanics. The player will fail at first so you should be there to help him grasp that fact. How a player deals with that adversity determines his future. Learn ways to keep your team focused in games. You want them to stay involved. That is part of the learning process. This is a very tough element of coaching. I saw an ad in a baseball magazine that drove that point home for me. Pictured were 3 high school players in the dugout. The balloon caption over the first player read “What color is athlete’s foot? The 2nd caption read “Gee, it hurts when I do this (He was bending his hand backward.).” The final balloon read “Look, girls. ”The title of the ad read, “Coaching is Hard.” You get the point. Do you remember those dugout responsibilities we posted in a past Tip of the Week? Make sure you give each and every player something to do. Ask them questions to keep them involved in the game. Constantly move your infielders and outfielders around during the game. This keeps the defense alert as well as preparing them for different situations. Set a high standard. Don’t go down to another teams’ level if that team has poor coaching. Stay away from that ya ya stuff. We believe a youth coach should take the approach that he is teaching all his players how to move up to the next level. That is what he should want for his players, to keep going up the ladder. If he coaches a junior league team the next step is high school. If he coaches high school the next step is college. This is where integrity comes in- that player who is having success now but might have a bad mechanical hitting flaw. If you don’t help him change, he will not go on. You, the coach, are aware of the problem. It is your duty to help him. It is very easy to ignore it. He is doing so well now. We are winning with his little drawback. Ah, let the next coach worry about it. This takes some determination and strength of purpose on the part of the coach. He not only has to get the player to buy into what he is doing but he must convince the parents that he is right. It is definitely much easier and much more popular to just let it alone. Coaching is not for everyone but it is a very rewarding and noble pursuit. If you decide to do it, it is more gratifying to do it right.
Going up to the regulation field? Good base running is one of the least-taught aspects of the game. The first week of the season take the players through all the possibilities at each base. Begin at home plate and walk them around each base. (See your Practice Planner.) • Teach good running form; Run with the head up. Relax the muscles in the face. (Any tightness in the face will translate down into the neck and shoulder muscles, restricting movement.) Run on the balls of the feet with the toes pointing straight ahead. Use the arms as levers. Run with a pumping motion of the arms, chin to back pocket. Run with the elbows close to the sides. Do not let them move from side to side, away from the body. Cup the hands loosely. Foot speed is dependent on arm speed. The faster the arms pump back and forth, the faster the feet will move. Run with the shoulders level. Run with the body leaning forward slightly. Make form running a daily routine. The different exercises emphasize good form and help develop speed and power. (Practice Planner & Complete Practice Video) Use game situations to teach base running. (You’ve heard that before.) Emphasize taking the correct leads at each base so that every potential situation may be applied. For instance, the correct primary and then the three-step walking lead at third base puts the runner at a favorable distance to score on a wild pitch or be able to get back to the bag in time to tag up on a fly ball. Teach the technique and then tell them why. If you can’t explain something clearly then you don’t know it and it would be helpful to go back and learn more about it. That is what teachers do. Teach correct sliding form early in the season. Players and coaches should concentrate on the opponents pre-game outfield-infield drill. Look at the players’ arm strength and throwing accuracy. Knowledge of how well they throw, how they use their cutoffs and their athletic ability can be used on the base paths. Emphasize good base running when you run your situational offensive batting practice. One of the benefits of a sound off-season strength and conditioning program is to improve the speed of your players. Plays at a base are often decided by inches. Any edge a base runner can get is valuable. (These little things add up.) To develop good base running instincts, players have to play a lot of games. Schedule as many as possible during the season. (But don’t neglect practices.) Base Running Do’s, Don’ts and Various Situations. When running from home to first and the ball is hit into the outfield, always make an aggressive, full- speed turn at the bag. This puts pressure on the defense and can cause a hurried throw or bobbled ball. It also shows how much you want to succeed. Always run full speed on the bases. Play like you want to win. If you have singled and there is a runner ahead of you trying to score, read the throw from the outfield to the cutoff man. If it is over his head, go to second base. If you are on base in a bunt situation, make sure the ball takes a downward angle off the bat. Always touch every base. Infielders have been known to drop balls. This is especially true when running to first base. Many times you will see a youth player stop midway along the first base line because he grounded out to the pitcher. Run. Make your players run full speed through every base; every time. Always slide on close plays at second, third and home; at first only to avoid a tag. As a hitter, run full speed on all fly balls. Outfielders have been known to drop balls. Lack of hustle in that situation is a cardinal sin. On all hit and runs, take a quick look at home (about half way- 3 or 4 steps after your primary lead) to see the angle of the ball off the bat. “Read” the ball in the dirt and make the determination to advance. Be 100% sure of scoring from third on a passed ball with one or no outs. With two outs you may take more of a chance. Slide hard at second to break up the double play. Go straight into the bag. Do not try to interfere with the fielder. On plays at the plate slide late and slide hard. On strike three, be aware of a wild pitch or passed ball so you may advance to first. Time and time again I see young hitters strike out and then hang their heads while the pitch gets away from the catcher. The coach is yelling and screaming and many kids showed no sign of comprehension. They are too engrossed in their failure to take advantage of the defense’s miscue. That’s an example of baseball immaturity. Or it’s an example of weak coaching. Or it’s an example of immaturity because of weak coaching. Don’t get tagged out easily. Force the rundown. Don’t slow down as you reach first. Break down after you cross the bag. Don’t get picked off on a hit and run. Don’t be passive on the base paths. Aggressive base runners put pressure on the defense. Don’t make the first or third out at third base. You are already in scoring position at second. Don’t clap you hands at third base in an effort to distract the pitcher. That shows a lack of class. Don’t take unnecessary chances on base running that may take you out of a big inning. On a base hit a good time to attempt to take the extra base is with two outs and an average hitter on deck. With one or no outs it may be too reckless. The score and the situation in the game will determine that. Base runner on first: 1. Find the ball. 2. Get the sign. 3. Determine the number of outs. 4. As you take your lead, watch the pitcher’s back heel. (If it comes up, that is the beginning of his pick-off move. If his front leg lifts, he is going to the plate. RH) Base runner on first, go halfway (depending on fly ball depth) on medium fly balls so that you may advance if dropped. If there is a base runner ahead of you make sure he is advancing before you go to the next base. If the pitcher makes a mental error and begins his delivery with the wind-up, you have a free pass to steal the next base. Go the instant he begins his step back. On first, with a left hand pitcher take a shorter, one-way lead; right, left, right. With two outs, take a two out lead at second; out and away from the base line. On second base, watch the pitcher and listen to the third base coach for guidance. On running from first to third determine the location of the ball, the arm strength of the outfielder and the game situation. On any base the runner should never take his eyes off the player with the baseball. He should not let his concentration wander. On first base the runner should concentrate on the pitcher’s back heel. We mentioned that before but we want to stress the point. If that back heel lifts off the ground he must throw over or step off. Take the correct primary leads every time. If you do that you will not get caught flat-footed and will not be susceptible to a pick-off move. You will always have the balance to get back. Don’t leave the base to begin your primary lead until the pitcher toes the rubber. This is a no-brainer but we have seen mounds where the rubber becomes obscured by the clay and is difficult to see. We played against a pitcher once who set up in back of the rubber and acted as if he was in fact, toeing the rubber. Since he was not, he was free to do anything he wanted (as an infielder could). He almost picked off one of our runners this way. Our runner left first base and took his primary lead, thinking the pitcher was on the rubber. So make sure the pitcher toes the rubber before leaving the safety of a base. Track the ball out of the pitcher’s hand all the way to home plate. (The third base coach can simply remind his runners to “track the ball.”) When on second base concentrate on the pitcher and let the third base coach give you direction as to the whereabouts of the middle infielders. (Coach Grant uses the phrase “Plenty of room.” That means to the runner that he can safely take an extra shuffle step. If he sees the beginning stages of a pick-off attempt he shouts, “Back!”) Before you take your three-step walking lead or your five-step walking lead at third base, make sure the pitcher is going to deliver the ball to the plate. Don’t go walking down the line out of your primary lead at the pitcher’s first movement. He can throw over to third several ways. Time your walking lead so that your right foot (last step) lands at the exact moment the ball enters the catcher’s glove. When your team is behind, don’t take unnecessary chances on the base paths that can take you out of a big inning. It takes no talent to hustle. A great deal of time should be spent teaching sound base running; both in practice and as the games are unfolding. Primary and secondary leads, three step and five step walking leads should actually be choreographed. They are that exact. This accuracy allows the base runner his best chance of either getting back to the base safely or advancing to the next base quickly. Spend a lot of time teaching these valuable skills. Professional baseball has gotten away from emphasizing good base running. I’m sure it is related to the power game that is now played. But youth coaches can get a real edge if they will teach and demand first-rate base running.
Why use the word ingredient? Let’s use the analogy of baking a cake. Since I’m on a low-carb diet I am always thinking about sweets. What ingredients do you use to bake a cake? You might use water, flour, sugar, baking soda, eggs, flavoring, yeast, etc. What if you left out the sugar? All you would have would be flaky bread. If you left out the yeast you would have nothing but a flat pancake. Just as you bake a cake from scratch so you build a baseball practice. With baseball practice you can leave out an ingredient or two but there are two things every practice should have; a stretch, form run and throw routine and Batting Practice. No baseball practice can be complete without those elements. Why? Stretch With a sound stretching routine you will prepare your players for the rigors of practice, increase flexibility and guard against the risk of injury. Stretching is the key to maintaining flexibility (how far and how easily you can move your joints- range of motion.) Flexibility is one of the keys to good posture. A regular stretching routine also can reduce pain and discomfort, particularly in your lower back. Flexibility exercises can correct muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances can eventually lead to injuries such as pulled muscles. Muscle imbalance also contributes to clumsiness, which in itself can lead to injury. So stretching also helps increase a player’s athleticism. Stretching promotes blood circulation. It improves mental alertness. It improves coordination. And it simply makes you feel better. Have we sold it to you yet? Don’t skip the stretching. After a light jog to elevate their core temperature and get the blood flowing, perform stretches designed to get the entire body ready for play. Start at the top and work down. There is a routine in our Coaches Practice Planner. Please do not skip this step. Novice coaches may think that it takes too much time and they may want to gloss over a good stretch routine. Stay on track and spend the time; at least five minutes, preferably eight to ten. Execute each stretch slowly. Hold each position at least 10-15 seconds. This is a steady pull, not a bouncing motion. It doesn’t matter the age group of your players. Stretch daily, from the fingers to the toes. Form Running Form Running is one of the most important tools a coach has at his disposal. And yet we see very few teams using this exceptional training routine. These exercises emphasize good running form and make the players utilize all the muscles that they need to run well. They are specific to the primary running muscles, they emphasize proper carriage of the arms, and proper knee drive and leg marching action, and the coordinated proprioceptive and dynamic balance required for shifting weight from one leg to the other. The ankle and hip joints go through considerable ROM with normal running stride, and each of these joints is exercised through a similar or greater range of motion during these drills. Baseball players have to have explosive speed and the ability to stop on a dime and execute very difficult, often seemingly improbable defensive skills. Their bodies demand movements unique to this sport. Form Running helps them prepare. “Let’s get right to throwing. We don’t need to do those silly-looking exercises. Besides we only have so much time anyway. We’ll stretch but we ain’t doing that other stuff. We’ll run ‘em after practice.” Perhaps that’s the prevailing attitude on many baseball fields everywhere. More’s the pity. Five to eight minutes and you are helping your players build strength, become more coordinated, increase flexibility and agility, develop good running technique and walk and move like baseball players. How intense should this routine be? We had a student come to us for a short time last summer. He is a great kid with a marvelous make-up and a lot of potential. The first day we did our stretch and Form Running he was bending over at the waist and sticking his fingers down his throat. I know he was concentrating very hard and trying to do everything correctly as we taught him. (Wouldn’t you like to have nine players like that?) And he was not used to the Florida heat and coupled with his excitement and desire to do well he had to take a short break. The first time you run these drills you will probably have some out-of-breath and maybe sore players. That will only serve to illustrate how important they are and how much work is needed to get them into ‘baseball shape.’ Here is our routine. The exercises are run in the outfield grass with the foul line as one boundary and second base as the other. Running is done at ¾ speed. Players all face the same way. Attention to correct form is critical and coaches must constantly reinforce good technique. Run with an athletic posture with heads up. What’s an athletic posture? It can be described as a hitting posture; bent slightly at the waist, eyes straight ahead, on the balls of the feet and flexed at the knees. Look at a point on the fence to remain oriented. Divide the players into two flights; the second group goes after the first group reaches about half way. This gives the coach a better opportunity to observe and help each player. Coaches must demand full conformity with these drills. This is ‘team time’ and there can be no clowning around. Players must be made to understand how important these exercises are. Young players will look awkward when first attempting these drills. Coaches should take great pride in watching them improve as the season goes on. Secondary Lead and steal- after the correct primary lead players take three shuffle hops and run ¾ speed into the outfield. Attention is to good form and the correct leads. Running back, they face the same way they did initially. Besides the running, this first drill reinforces the correct techniques used in the primary and secondary leads. After a time the correct leads becomes second nature to the players. Side Shuffles- Face the same way. Shuffle, sliding heel to heel. No crossover strides and don’t click heels. Run with an athletic posture on the balls of your feet. Keep your eyes fixed on the fence. This works the hip flexors and groin muscles. Karaoke’s- facing the same way, run sideways with a step over the leg and then a step behind. Keep your eyes fixed on the fence and use your arms to help with balance. Balance, agility, athleticism are all benefits of this exercise. Walking Karaokes- Walk through the Karaoke movements while taking large exaggerated steps. Stretch those legs. Quick-step Karaoke’s- short, quick karaokes. This is quite difficult at first. Backward Run- run backwards, lean forward and extend the legs out with each stride. Stay oriented on the fence and don’t look behind you. Run in a straight line. Running backwards is an important exercise. Emphasis with most drills is on running straight ahead. Running backwards works muscles not used any other way. Butt Kickers- in normal running position take short choppy strides trying to bring heels into the rear with every running step. Power skips- Like a regular skip except the emphasis is on a power movement up. Put a lot of air under the feet. Pump arms in conjunction with legs driving up; opposite arm, opposite leg. Walking lunges- (Butt busters)- these are done like lunges in strength training except go at least sixty feet staying low without coming up or resting the arms. Reach out with the legs. This is a very difficult and demanding drill. Straight sprints- all-out sprint for 90’ with emphasis on correct running mechanics. Run from a secondary lead. Station a coach at the halfway point and with exercises 4 and 5 have the players turn around in mid-stride and finish by running backwards; they make the transition at the midway point. Running backwards help prevent hamstring pulls. Throwing This is another everyday part of baseball practice. After the stretch and form running have the players pair off and throw together. Half the group lines up on the outfield grass in front of the foul line. Don’t allow them to step all over the foul line. (Bad luck) Begin at thirty feet and gradually move back to one hundred and twenty feet or so. Take about ten minutes to complete this part of practice. Throw with a limited arc and do not put a lot of air under the ball. No ‘casting.’ Use good throwing technique. One-hop the ball if necessary. Coaches keep an eagle-eye on the throwing and make immediate needed corrections. Don’t let bad habits creep in. Every player on a baseball team must know how to throw a baseball. This is where good habits are reinforced. This vital ten minutes is used to concentrate on accuracy, building arm strength and endurance, good throwing form and getting an instant 4-seam grip on the baseball. Summary This first set of routines should be the beginning of every baseball practice. If you really want your team to show improvement over the course of a season then these are the tools to begin with. I would rather see a coach place as much emphasis on this part of practice as any other. Stretch, Form run, throw and throw correctly; a formula for success. BATTING PRACTICE This is the second of the vital routines. This is not merely one coach throwing to one hitter; it should be a planned, orchestrated part of practice that includes the training of many skills. In the March issue of the Baseball Excellence Newsletters we also covered Batting Practice. We’ll touch on these points here. Sixty percent of baseball practice should be Batting Practice. And I think the key question is, “how do we utilize this time so that we: Get in as many quality repetitions as possible. Keep all of our players busy and learning. Practice defensive skills as well. Practice other offensive skills, i.e. Base Running. We approach BP this way; go from Tee work, to soft toss, to opposite field hitting to BP rounds and (at least twice a week) to situational hitting with a base runner. Begin the first round by bunting at least twice. When you add Situational Hitting to BP you may cut the number of rounds and/or swings in each round. Situational Hitting initially will take a lot of time so you may want to spend an entire BP on these skills. (They are covered in the Practice Planner.) Situational Hitting involves the important skills of bunting, bunting for a base hit, the squeeze bunt, hit-and-run, hitting behind a runner, hitting a ground ball into the middle of the infield and hitting a fly ball deep enough to score a runner from third base. And you are working with a base runner as well. He is practicing his leads at all three bases, reading and reacting to the batted ball, and reading and reacting to the pitcher. (Can be a machine) Batting Practice Routine If you don’t have batting cages you can do it this way: Divide the hitters into groups of 4 or 5, depending on the number on the team. Your catchers and pitchers can hit first so they can get in bullpens or skill work. First player hits- 3 bunts, 10 swings. Second player is on deck taking dry swings. Third player is hitting off a tee and fourth player is hitting soft toss. The Tee hitter retrieves any foul balls that go over the back stop. Four rounds are a good number, 3 bunts-10 swings, 10 swings, 8 swings, 4 swings. The hitters should practice hitting line drives into the ‘vee’ of the outfield. Do not allow them to pull or lift everything. On the days you don’t incorporate Situational Hitting hit fungoes to the infielders. The procedure is outlined in the March Issue or is on our Online Store. The coach on the third base side of the field hits ground balls to the SS and First baseman. The coach on the first base side hits ground balls to the second and third baseman. This gives the players game-like angles for their ground ball work. The infielders field fungoes only. They let all other balls go into the outfield. This is for safety purposes. You don’t want players to have two balls hit to them at the same time. Infielders do not throw across. They throw back to the fungo coach so that the ball lands and takes one hop. This is a learned skill. The other coaches are needed elsewhere, the players won’t throw too much during a practice and they remain facing the batter for safety purposes. The Outfielders Okay, everybody is busy but what about the outfielders? Aren’t they just standing around, picking their noses? NO! Have a bagman in centerfield. All balls that go into the outfield are thrown to him. Throwing to the bagman affords each outfielder the opportunity to practice throwing technique and accuracy. Use good throwing technique. The bagman has the opportunity to improve his catching skills. Breaking on Fly Balls One of the most difficult skills in baseball is learning to track a fly ball. It takes practicing innumerable fly balls to become proficient at this skill. Instead of just standing around in the outfield, players practice breaking on every pitch. They learn to concentrate and see the ball off the bat. The hitter’s swing will tell the outfielders in what direction the ball is hit. They are to break in that direction. The ‘break’ doesn’t have to be a long run, just a few steps to get an idea of where the ball will come down. Only the player closest to the fly ball makes the catch. Bunting, hitting skills, base running, ground balls, throw and catch, tracking fly balls; not bad for an hour plus of Batting Practice. It all goes into the category of time management.
The pitching coach should observe his pitcher carefully during the course of a game. Since the game is played one pitch at a time the coach should observe every pitch he throws. These are the things we look for when our pitcher is on the mound in a game. What is his demeanor? Is he keeping his poise? Does he display self-confidence? Does he keep that positive demeanor when he gives up a few hits, or his teammate makes an error? In big games is he relaxed? I went to the mound in a championship tournament game this past summer after our centerfielder committed an error allowing two runs to score. Our pitcher had lost his focus and was lamenting the error. His eyes were very wide and I could see he was quite tense. I asked him to hold out his arm and I felt the underneath side of his forearm. It was as tight as a guitar string. Those tight muscles were restricting the flexibility of his wrist, flattening out his pitches and affecting his velocity. I had him massage it to loosen it up a little and told him to focus only on hitting the glove. To ignore the consequences of the pitch; “Hit the glove.” Nothing else matters. It is very easy for young pitchers to get caught up in the moment and lose their focus. I saw several instances of it in the LL World Series as well. When that happens, pitchers lose their ‘looseness.’ (For want of a better word) They have a tendency to overthrow and their fastball flattens out, making it more ‘hittable.’ It is the pitching coach’s job is to help keep his pitcher loose and relaxed- often a difficult job in big games. Humor is a great tool. It can serve to put the moment in perspective and take some of the burden off the pitcher’s shoulders. I often see coaches take themselves so seriously that all perspective is lost and they themselves become tense and overbearing; as if their actions could control the outcome of the game. A word of advice to young coaches- “Act like you’ve been here before.” Any negative emotions or body language will be immediately picked up by your players. Help your pitcher succeed; don’t hinder him. Are his pitches staying down in the strike zone? When a pitcher has his mechanics working well, his arm will be up at shoulder height and his pitches will be released on a downward plane. His front shoulder will be closed at landing and he will have good movement on his pitches. The two most dangerous times in a game is early on and in the later innings. Early in the game he may be overthrowing and his mechanics will break down, - causing his pitches to come up. It is, in my opinion very important for the coach to monitor this time in the game. Just telling him to get his pitches down will not be beneficial to him. That’s like saying, “throw strikes.” Don’t you think your pitcher is trying to throw strikes? Look for the root cause and a trip to the mound may be called for. There is nothing wrong in going to the mound early in the game to settle your pitcher down. But have something constructive to say. And say it in a calm, gentle manner. He may just be nervous so remind him to breathe properly. Even if you pinpoint the cause of his problem and he understands your instruction there is no guarantee he will settle down and be effective. When that happens make a mental note to address the problem for future games. In the later innings fatigue may be the reason for a pitcher to lose his effectiveness. It is important that the coach understand that time in the game as well. Fatigue will cause pitches to come up and lose their effectiveness. Look at his balance point. Is it consistent with his delivery early in the game? Is he rushing, trying to ‘get it over with’? Rushing and an inconsistent balance point will impede his regular arm action with the result being a low arm slot. The arm will not get to shoulder height and pitches will be up; either up in the zone making them hittable or up out of the zone. All pitchers, from LL to the major leagues struggle with release points and rushing at times. If the pitching coach will address them immediately he will give his pitcher a better chance of staying on track. Look at his face. If he is tiring there may be signs in his facial expression. Is your pitcher getting behind in the count? Is he struggling to get ahead? Consistent 2-0 and 3-1 counts are a recipe for disaster. This may be the result of the factors we have mentioned earlier. My suggestion is to give him a chance to get back on track but have your bullpen at the ready. Does your pitcher demonstrate a reluctance to throw strikes after giving up a few key hits? It is important for the coach to know the difference between a physical cause and a mental one. After giving up a home run or a big hit does your pitcher come back with strikes or is he inside-outside, off the plate? You are looking for fear; fear and even lack of heart. This is the one time I will visit the mound and be forceful with my pitcher. First I go through my mental checklist; are his mechanics good, has he been effective earlier, what is his pitch count, does his ball have movement? If I can rule out the physical then I go to the mound to see what my pitcher is made of. Questions I have asked in that situation are:” Do you want to come out of the game? Are you afraid? Are you hurt? Do you realize what you’re doing?” “Then it’s time for you to grow up and compete. Show me what you’re made of. Bear down and throw strikes.” (It’s the one time I say “Throw strikes.”) A coach has to have a little amateur psychologist in him. And he has to say these things at the right time and in the right situation; and at the right age. (LL age is probably too early?) I believe that if you have a pitcher with talent but lacking in the ‘heart’ department it is your responsibility to point it out to him; to help him understand what it takes to compete. This can be shaky ground for a coach so it is important to get to know his pitchers well. Not all personalities will respond to this approach. But a player must learn to compete in order to advance. Successful pitchers are mentally tough. The coach can help him. There is an old saying; “Yeah he throws great bullpens but he doesn’t do so well when he pitches where the grass grows all around the mound.” Pay attention to your pitcher’s rhythm, his tempo. It should be consistent throughout the game. I have seen pitchers slow down their delivery in dangerous situations and the results are often poor. I can recall a playoff high school game last year where the pitcher lost a game because he slowed his rhythm. Throughout the game his tempo was 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; a nice free flowing delivery. Late in the game with a runner on third base he pitched from the windup and dramatically slowed his delivery; 1--2--3--4--5. This inconsistency caused his command to suffer, resulting in two bases on balls and an eventual loss. His body didn’t understand what was happening when he reached his balance point and he couldn’t get his arm into his normal arm slot. Is he doing this from fear or is he thinking too much? The coach should pay close attention to this anomaly, especially at crucial times in the game. Is his breaking pitch sharp or does it roll? Rolling curve balls often get hit very hard. Be alert for that fault. The reminders/ cues I use are to tell him to make sure he throws ‘over his glove.’ The lead arm should be high and throwing the curve over the glove helps it break. The other cue is to tell him to ‘see the release of the curve out of the corner of his eye.’ This will help him get the pitch down. He might need to be reminded not to slow his arm down as well. The pitching coach plays a vital role in the development of his pitching staff. Game situations provide a great classroom. Pay attention.
Accountability, Adaptability, Adjustment, Assertiveness, Character, Courage, Competitiveness, Confidence, Composure, Dignity, Determination, Ethics, Endurance, Goal Setting, Honor, Humility, Humor, Integrity, Loyalty, Leadership, Obedience, Passion, Patience, Resolve, Self discipline, Self control, Sportsmanship, Time management skills, Teamwork, Strength (mental & physical). These are all imposing words and phrases but what parent wouldn’t want his child to grow up and live by them? Most sports activities inherently teach such attributes as teamwork and determination. But baseball is unique in that it can often mirror life itself. The great length of baseball seasons and the mere fact that failure is an innate part of the game offer coaches and parents opportunities to teach many more of life’s admirable virtues and skills. Most psychologists and pediatricians tell us that parents should begin teaching virtues to their children at birth. For this reason we feel that it’s primarily the parents’ responsibility and not that of the youth coach. However youth coaches should always seek opportunities to teach, not just baseball skills, but “life skills” as well. We have found that some coaches spend too much time on the “life skills” and not near enough time on the baseball skills. Others make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on winning without teaching much of anything. We believe that the youth leagues should operate like the professional Minor Leagues where winning is important but secondary to player and character development. In our opinion, youth coaches should spend 90% of their time teaching hundreds of “baseball skills” before, during, and after all practices and games throughout the season. Many of the life skills are taught by the game itself, thus the popular saying “Baseball is Life”. Most of these skills are best taught by a coach’s example. In the words of Fran Tarkenton; “Leadership must be demonstrated, not announced.” At Baseball- Excellence we don’t care for the “trash talking”, “in your face” attitudes that have filtered down from professional sports. We believe that today’s youth players need to learn how to win and lose with class and dignity. These virtues will serve them well both during and when their playing days are over. A youth coach should constantly remind himself of the three reasons parents sign kids up to begin with. To have fun To learn the game To learn life skills associated with the game. A coach should be ever mindful of the opportunities to teach young players Life Skills. Practices and games afford multiple occasions for coaches to ‘show the way’ as it were. Following are some examples of player behavior and the coaching opportunities that are quite common during the course of a season. “End on a good one.” Have you ever said that or heard it? Of course we’re talking about batting practice and Johnny just took a poor hack at his last pitch. So the coach says, “End on a good one” and gives him another pitch. We believe that a coach should give each batter the same number of swings. And any pitch that is a strike that is not offered at counts as a swing as well. To be effective hitters must learn to become aggressive. They must develop an inner strength as well. This simple routine, if adhered to, will make better hitters and teach some lessons as well. You don’t always get a second chance in life. Teach kids to take advantage of the opportunities as they get them. “Coach, that mound is terrible.” How should a coach interpret that statement? I look at it as a pitcher giving me an excuse for a poor performance. “The other pitcher is using the same mound, son. No excuses.” Do not allow excuses to creep into your players’ language. Remember NGI? Coaches must Never Give In to the path of least resistance. You will find plenty of these types of phrases (excuses) if you look for them. They are born of human nature and perhaps encouraged because our schools no longer help parents teach virtues and life skills. (Our opinion.) So the coach should be alert for them. Another area where coaches can help players is to instill in them the desire to compete. You want players that will compete when the game is on the line and you want them to compete over the long haul of the season. Allow your players to fail. Don’t go off half-cocked when they make a mistake; strike out, make an error, or make a mental mistake. If you will use these failures as teaching opportunities and don’t berate players, you will be well on your way to building a mentally tough team. A virtue that will enhance their adult years. Demand commitment from your players; commitment to the season, commitment to practices, commitment to a time schedule. It is so easy to say to yourself; “I don’t feel like practice today. Mom, can I skip practice?” NGI, coaches. Use humor as a coaching tool. Nothing is worse than a youth coach taking himself too seriously. Take the game seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. Patience Patience is one of the more useful Life Skills. Just being around the game of baseball will instruct one in the virtue of patience. Rain delays, batting slumps, extended innings, lopsided losses and periods of seeming inactivity (to the uninitiated) are all part of the game.In this fast-paced world and “I want it right now” culture, baseball can provide a welcome respite. Coaches must learn patience when working with their players. Their development depends on this. Instant success does not exist in baseball. Its skills do not come naturally and must be taught and reinforced. The EROC will not approach the game this way. He will look for immediate results and not focus on small improvements. The great coach will always notice and approve of development. Determination We are working with a player right now as his season is winding down. He has the terrible fault of keeping his front elbow high as he initiates his swing. This causes him to be late on almost all pitches and causes his bat head to drop below his hands. He has been hitting this way for years and no one has helped him. I showed him the correct way and gave him a drill to help but so far he has not been able to carry this over into games. Remember, a coach cannot make a player. He can only give him good information. It is then up to how determined this player is and how great is his aptitude. Personally, I question this player’s desire and determination. I am not sure if he will work hard enough in the off-season to become a good hitter. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so. He’s a great kid. But sometimes the parent may want it more than the player. Character, Class, Composure, Restraint That little home away from home, the dugout is a wonderful milieu for teaching Life Skills. What kind of dugout does your team have? Does your batter come back to the dugout after striking out and throw his bat and helmet? Does he complain about the call? Does your team yell and jeer when your opponent makes an error? Does you team jump up and down, cheer and wildly celebrate after a 12-11, sloppily-played game victory? Do they have chants in the dugout designed to intimidate or distract the opponent? Is there constant prattle and a total lack of paying attention to the game? Do your team and coaches beg for strikes and constantly question and taunt umpires? Would This Be A Better Way? Here are a few suggestions for you to use: To help players develop maturity do not allow the throwing of equipment for any reason. Teach them to be accountable for their actions. “You play and he’ll umpire.” End of story. There will be no questioning of calls in this dugout. (Set that good example, coach.) Teach the game from the dugout. Teaching opportunities abound as a game unfolds. Treat every pitch as a teaching opportunity. If a coach is teaching the game the dugout will become a much more orderly place. The trick is to ask questions of your players. The asking of questions keeps the coach in control. Teach class behavior. Not only teach it and demand it, try your best to play teams of that same ilk. You learn so much more about the game and this way. As Stephen’s American Legion season was winding down last July, they played a team from Jupiter, Florida. This was as classy a bunch of kids as you will ever see. They were very well-coached and knew how to play the game. Nothing whatsoever was heard from their dugout- no jeering, no chants; they were all very involved in the game. They won the first game handily and by a large margin. When they were up by a big score, they did not try to steal, bunt or hit and run. A play that stuck in my mind was in the later innings. They had a runner attempt to go from first to third on a single. Our throw had him beat by at least ten feet. The base runner did not try to take our guy out with a hard slide. He knew he was beat and he gave himself up to be easily tagged. No one was going to be hurt on a meaningless play. That, my friends is maturity class and effective coaching. Every basball game your kids play has importance and meaning. It is not just about the win or loss. Hidden in that pitch-by-pitch struggle are life’s lessons to be taught and learned. But you have to pay attention to recognize them. The Doting Parent There is a situation that we have seen that can inhibit the growth and maturity of a young player. It is the parent who is blind to his son’s shortcomings and skills shortfalls. After observing so many doting youth parents the past 41 years I now understand what my dad meant when he said "youth sports doesn't build character, it reveals character". He never coached me but as a parent he always supported the coach (even if he was wrong). If I complained about the coach or team he was quick to side with them. My complaints often fell on deaf ears; kind of "guilty until proven innocent". However when I displayed poor sportsmanship or copped an attitude, I paid the price when we got home (my dad never heard of time outs). Today I am thankful for this because it helps me see the other side. My advice to youth parents is to love them but don't spoil them. Parents should be teachers and not meddlers. They should teach their kids not just how to play but how to think and fend for themselves as well; how to act independently of mom and dad. Teach them interpersonal skills (how to communicate and interact with others). Teach them how to work through adversity. How to correct mistakes/flaws (on their own) during games. How to "think on their feet". How to learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. We have all seen the parents that were blinded about their kid's ability. The ones that always made excuses and blamed others for their kids short comings. Unfortunately these parents teach their kids to do the very same things. This is prevalent in every sport today. It is real. Learn from these folks. You have to work very hard not to be like them. These folks are responsible for the term "daddy ball". These folks often feel like they are entitled to "take" because they give so much of themselves to their team and league. Coaches that coach their own kids need to treat theirs just like they are someone else’s while on the ball field. Demand that they set the example in effort and behavior only (not end results). They need to earn their playing time because of what they are and not who they are (they will appreciate this later). This will gain the respect of all teammates (and parents). This will make them "coachable" at the high school level and beyond. Nobody loves their kids more than I love mine. But I never "over sold" them when talking to others. In fact I usually "under sold" them. People get tired of hearing how great you think your kid is! (Talk about theirs or the team.) Doting parents often shorten their kid's baseball future too. Because of their infatuation, they see few faults in their player. They only see that their 10 year old is batting .524. They don't see that he is striding in the bucket and dropping his hands during his stride. They get caught up in the moment (if it's their oldest son, they don't know any better). As a result Johnny hits the "brick wall" on the 60/90 fields when he faces pitchers that change speeds and locations at will. Many parents of 7-12 year olds have thought "he might" go on to play Major League baseball only to find out that he never even tries out for his high school team. In fact, half are out of baseball by age 14. I have seen parents allow their kids to get away with too much, all in the name of "FUN". Some seem to even worship their own kids, all in the name of having a positive experience. Youth baseball should be fun and a positive experience for EVERY PLAYER. But there will be ups and downs. It is extremely positive to learn how to give your best effort to the teams’ cause; to lose and work through tough times individually. In fact it is sweeter to work hard, prepare for and beat a great team that beat you last time. It is sweeter when you work through a batting slump and start hitting well again. It is sweeter to advance to a world series than to enter ones that are "invitational". These are lessons that many parents are preventing their kids from experiencing. Many times they intervene too much and too soon. Many up and quit, start their own team and hand their kid the starting shortstop position and number three spot in the batting order. He will probably have more fun (in the beginning) but what life skills will he learn from this (in the end)? Life’s Lessons and Skills. Every year I come to love baseball more. I love to be in the middle of it coaching, and I love to stand back and watch our youth grow up and learn this grand game. We can have oh, so many positive influences on the young people we teach. Not to be cheered by praise, Not to be grieved by blame, But to know thoroughly ones own virtues or powers Are the characteristics of an excellent man… Saskya Pandita
It’s knowing that the best team doesn’t always win, but the team that plays the best that day, always does. It’s knowing that it’s OK to lose, strike out, make an error or get shelled (as long as you learn from it). It’s putting your arm around a teammate that had a bad game (or didn’t get in) and sharing a similar past experience. It’s leading by effort. It’s dodging the credit and limelight occasionally. It’s other people talking about how good you are. It’s when you beat another team and they still talk highly of you. It’s when umpires and other teams are happy to see you succeed. It’s respecting everyone. It’s delivering a hard, clean hit on a running back and then helping him up. It’s calling a two shot penalty on yourself. It’s sincerely shaking hands with the umpires after the game that they cost you. It’s keeping your composure when you are pitching a no hitter. It’s keeping your composure when you are getting shelled and walking batters. It’s reminding yourself to stay positive when you realize your team is about to lose. It’s showing class regardless of the outcome of the game. It’s business as usual after making another great play. It’s a conscious effort not to show someone up. It’s never making excuses or blaming coaches, teammates, the mound, umpires, the ball, fans, etc, even if it’s their fault. It’s the joy of competing, not just winning. It’s just after the Army Navy football game. It’s a youth coach that provides his discipline in a fair and consistent manner. It’s a youth coach that provides constructive criticism through positive reinforcement. It’s never criticizing, complaining or condemning. It’s an attitude of “I will just have to give a little bit more” since my teammate committed a costly error. It’s feeling great after playing well and beating a better team 2-1. It’s feeling great after playing well and losing to a better team 2-1. It’s what you can give to your team, not what your team can give to you. It’s NOT John Rocker, Randy Moss, Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, or WWF Smack Down Wrestling.
Catching is such a difficult position and is so important that a teams’ catcher must possess certain attributes of leadership and mental toughness. The question is simple but the answer is involved. Can I trust the game to him? If the answer to that is yes then you have a good starting catcher. You have something. Does he have the skill and techniques he needs to make your pitching staff look good? 1. Blocks balls in the dirt. 2. Keeps strikes in the strike zone. 3. Awareness of how to receive certain pitches-“stick” the low strike, catch the high strike close to his body, catch the high fastball without letting it tick off the top of his glove. 4. Throws every ball back to the pitcher briskly and hits him in the chest. Does he have the awareness to control the tempo of the pitchers and thus the game? 1. Works fast when the team is ahead. 2. Aware of how to slow things down when the opposing team is mounting a rally. 3. Aware of critical times during the game. 4. Does he know how to talk to each pitcher when they get in trouble? Is he tough enough to stay in the game with small hurts? It breaks up the tempo of a game for a coach to have to go out there every time he takes a foul ball on the inside of his thigh. Is he still and quiet back there? Is he soft back there? Can he receive the ball? Can he quarterback the defense? 1. Directs players on bunted balls. 2. Reminds players of outs and the various situations. 3. Displays leadership qualities. Does he work hard in practice on his throwing and footwork? Does he display toughness and courage on plays at the plate? Does he display confidence to the rest of the team? Does he always hustle after foul pop ups even if they appear to be out of play? Does he always hustle after wild pitches even if they are meaningless or late in the game when he is exhausted? If the answers to these questions are yes then you have a starting catcher.
How You Act Is Learned Behavior. Those of you who saw the LL World series a few years ago may have grumbled, “They’re doing what the major leaguers do on TV.” “They’re inner city kids.” Or, “They’re just kids, let’em have some fun.” This stuff was on every network and talk shows were spawned over the Harlem kids’ behavior. But I didn’t hear anyone say; “the coach is responsible.” What is the name of that recently published marketing best seller? “It’s About The Brand, Stupid.” Well, “it’s about the coach…” He is the one who sets the tone. He is the role model. He is the leader. He is the teacher. He must show the way. What if the parents don’t instill appropriate behavior in their kids? Then it is up to the coach. I thoroughly enjoyed a statement made by Tony Gwynn. “There is only one way to play the game. And it’s the right Way." The coach is responsible for teaching the “RIGHT WAY.” When on the baseball field practice or games, the coach is the one who is accountable for his players’ actions. He must be a role model. He should be held responsible. There is nothing more unfortunate when kids show unsuitable behavior on a baseball field and the coach just shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Whatareyougonnado?” “They’re just kids.” If a coach is going to teach respect for the game then there are things he must do. Kids, being kids may act in unpredictable ways and the coach should keep them on track and provide an environment of learning and stability on the baseball field. Discipline is not a dirty word. Discipline as it relates to order, control and restraint. One of my pet peeves is not tucking shirttails in at practice. I coached a group of high school kids this past summer and I must have said “tuck your shirts in” at 10 practices. Their HS coach did not require his players to tuck’ em in and I had to sound like a broken record more times than I cared to. It’s a shame when ‘tuck in your shirt’ has to become a NGI situation. But I know this kind of directive will help them and maybe carry over into games and maybe even life. It is so easy to give in; to leave them as they are, to not say anything. And that is what some school teachers and parents do. Consequently kids are sometimes left to their own devises and their behavior can become negative. You can take a few behavioral problems on a team and you will have a mess. These kids always will bring a team down to their level. Over the years I have listed the many “Little things” that coaches must do to build a winning team. The coach is responsible for teaching them. Back to the LL World Series; just as the Harlem kids displayed poor behavior, the Kentucky team was the opposite. They showed poise, pride and respect. Teach Teach the responsibility of coming to practices and games on time. Teach your players respect. Besides teaching respect for your teammates, coaches should also teach respect for the game and for oneself. They should exhibit good sportsmanship, don't allow offensive language, cheating or fighting. Make sure your players understand the difference between aggressive and hostile play. Aggressive play is playing physically within the rules with the intent to win and do ones best. The coach is a role model here. Don’t abuse, berate or constantly question umpires’ calls. Monkey See- Monkey Do Modeling is a credible concept. There have been studies in the behavioral sciences regarding this method of influencing people. People can be influenced simply by observing other people. Why? One study observed three points. “First, people can be influenced very easily. Just by watching what other people do, we can acquire new ideas and behaviors. Second, modeling seems to be a dominant way that people acquire new behaviors. Whenever we are in a new situation, we almost always look around to see what others are doing. Third, the whole process requires very little thinking on the part of the observer. Indeed, modeling is faster if you simply copy the model rather than try to figure out everything that is going on.” Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Therein lies the problem. A youngster sees (or thinks he sees) a player do something on TV and he immediately takes it to the practice field. He sees Gary Sheffield wrap his bat and he copies that style. How many young hitters have you seen try to copy Ken Griffey Jr,’s rhythm movements at the plate? Or worse, how many kids have copied Griffey wearing his baseball cap backwards? If a coach allows his players to freely emulate what they see others do then they are shirking their responsibility as a coach. Coaches live in a “Never Give In” world and to allow his players to succumb to peer pressure is to give in. A coach has a philosophy of teaching and often young players’ are at odds with his approach because they have emulated someone else. (Peer pressure is almost always negative.) Why don’t kids copy their coach? (I suspect because he is trying to teach them something that is difficult.) It is much easier to imitate success without having to go through the painful process of learning a baseball skill correctly. The coach cannot give in-ever. And the great coaches never do. Want a standard with which to measure a good coach? Watch him speak to his team. All eyes will be on the good coach; teacher, communicator, mentor. If you observe the average coach speak to his players you will see eyes wandering; and talking among the players. Classroom or baseball field, the best are easily recognized. So you wanted to be a coach. Beside that wonderful farmer’s tan you have, you carry quite a responsibility.
Effective communication is essential for a coach. It is important for him to have a set of vivid, consistent verbal cues that reinforce in the player’s mind the correct physical and mental methods and techniques. These little phrases should be short and concise. They should give the player a clear mental picture that he can remember and call on when needed. A coach can use these at practice and in games where brief, precise phrases are needed. After a short time these buzz words become engrained in the player’s mind. Some of these the players will remember for life. Most of the following phrases are Coach Grant’s and some are universal.There are also gestures with his hands he uses in certain situations. We’ll give you these as a model. You may want to use others that you develop over time. The point here is that you use something. This is a very effective teaching tool. “Say thank you coach.” Coach Grant says this to a player when he has been given instruction that helps him succeed. For example a player taking batting practice may be dropping his hands and popping up 4 or 5 balls. The coach will go over and correct his fault. The next pitch, the hitter ropes a line drive. Coach will say “Say thank you coach.’ The player will say, “Thank you coach.” This helps the player remember the instruction the coach had just given him and helps reinforce the correct technique. It also reminds the player that the coach is there to help him and wants him to succeed. “Plenty of room.” The Coach uses this phrase when there is a runner on second base and he is letting him know to take an extra slide step towards third. There is no danger from a pick off attempt from the middle infielders. This allows the base runner to concentrate on the pitcher only. He knows the coach is looking at the middle infielders. He also uses this phrase when a fielder approaches a fence to catch a foul fly ball. It lets the player know he can keep going toward the fence and he doesn’t have to take his eyes off the ball. “No doubles.” This is a call to the outfielders, usually late in a game or with nobody on and 2 out. The players move into a position that cuts down on the possibility of a ball rolling all the way to the fence. “Even with the bag.” A reminder to the third baseman in a bunt situation. “Yes yes-no no in the middle.” A Reminder to the second baseman and the shortstop with a runner on first base. If a ground ball is hit to one, the other tells him where to throw the ball. “No no” means throw to first; you don’t have time to get the runner coming in to second. “Yes yes,” means to throw the ball to the other middle infielder at second base to get the force out. “Throw the ball out front.” (With physical movements showing the right way.) A young player who has a certain mechanical throwing problem such as a low elbow or ‘launching’ the ball too close to his head instead of ‘out front.’ “Stay on top of the ball.” Another throwing or pitching fault. The player’s hand comes off the side of the ball. “0-2 Smart.” A verbal cue to the pitcher to remind him to throw the next pitch up and out of the strike zone. Never let a hitter beat you on 0-2. At times late in a game with a weak hitter at bat, coach will say ‘0-2 smart’ and make a wipe-off sign across his chest. The pitcher blows the ball by the hitter for strike 3. This works well when the opposing coach is observant and after a while has figured out what 0-2 smart means. “Get your butt under your shoulders.” A verbal point in correcting a common bunting fault. “The game is played one pitch at a time.” A teaching tool to keep the team focused on the game. “Close the deal.” A reminder to a pitcher that he has 2 outs and needs to refocus on that last hitter in the inning. Many a game has been lost with 2 outs and no one on base. “Play the game on your belly.” A reminder to a player to ‘lay out’ and give his best effort to catch the ball. “The game is not played on your knees.” See above. “Hurry!”(At the top of his voice.) A cue to a base runner, letting him know that there will be a close play at first base and he can make it with extra effort. “Break up a double play.” An obvious reminder that the runner must go hard into second base when a ground ball is hit. “Banana that.” An odd sounding phrase to an infielder to remind him to take a ‘banana route’ to field a slow hit ground ball. I have used that when hitting slow rollers to a group of youth players. They will talk to each other and giggle a bit. Guess what- they all take a banana route to the ball. “Through the ball!” A verbal cue to an infielder as he approaches a ground ball. “It offends me that you talk while I’m talking.” I love this one when you are talking to your team and a young player can’t stay quiet. Try this - it shuts everybody up. “You play, he’ll umpire.” To a young player who was called out on strikes and had that questioning look on his face. “Way to hack.” Words of encouragement that lets a young player know that he just took a good hard swing (and miss) at the ball. Also a reminder that he be aggressive. “Stick it.” A reminder to the catcher to firmly hold the pitch in the strike zone instead of letting the force of the throw take the glove out of the strike zone. “Freeze on a line drive.” A reminder to base runners. “Way to battle.” The hitter is fighting off 2 strike pitches. “Above your hands.” The batter just swung and missed a high pitch. The coach can also place his hand above his head as a silent observation. “Good at bat.” Stated encouragement to a hitter who may have had a quality at bat but didn’t get a base hit. “Look for something “up” you can drive.” A runner is on third base, the infield is in and the coach wants the hitter to drive the ball into the outfield where a fly ball will bring in a run. ”Find the outfielders.” To remind the runner on second to locate the outfielders’ positions. “Be hard back there.” With runners on base or 2 strikes on the hitter and a curve ball the next pitch, the coach is reminding the catcher to block the ball in the dirt. Words have power. They have the power to teach effectively. You will want to use your own phrases, but whatever they are, use phrases that paint vivid mental pictures, are short and sweet, are easily understood and get your message across. “When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” …Cicero
Here is a youth baseball scene we can all identify with. I have made this mistake, as I’m sure many of you have. Runner on third and the ball gets past the catcher. Your base runner waits for your call and you scream “GO, GO!” The runner tears off for home and is … “TAGGED OUT” by an eyelash. The folks in the bleachers moan and groan and we silently blame the umpire or the slow-footed runner. Who should we really blame? Ourselves, of course. We haven’t taught our players how to run the bases. By that runner having to wait for our signal that eyelash turned from safe to out. Teach your runners how to “read the ball in the dirt.” They should track the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and react immediately if it hits the ground. And here’s the rest of the Tip- don’t say anything. Ouch- that’s hard to do. You bet, but the player has to make up his own mind whether or not to go. If he waits for you to tell him it may be and quite often is, too late. Teach them that the responsibility is theirs, not yours. There is no sign, verbal or otherwise, for a player to advance to the next base on a passed ball or wild pitch. To be truly effective the player has to make the decision. For you control freaks, like me, this will come hard. But it is teaching the right thing. (Old habits are hard to break.) You have to practice this technique. You can do it when you have situational batting practice. The runner on third ‘reads’ every pitch. This same rule applies for runners at first and second base. It is critical for runners at second. You do not want them to make an out at third base. So teach them to make the decision. Keep in mind that when you are the third base coach you should constantly be looking for teaching opportunities. I have always felt that youth coaches should be allowed to occupy both coaches’ boxes. They are great places for coaches to teach the game- a very under-coached part of baseball. You will have to give the kids the freedom to make mistakes. They are going to make a few so don’t condemn them when they do. You are working toward the day when you have a team of intelligent, aggressive base runners. For players on a regulation-size field it is very important that they take the correct leads. The runner on third must take a 3-step walking lead when the pitcher is pitching from the stretch. He takes a 5-step walking lead when the pitcher is pitching from the windup. After his primary lead the walking lead will take him 25- 28 feet down the third base line. From there he can “read” the ball in the dirt or quickly return to the safety of the base. When the runner first arrives at third base the coach can say things like, “Take the correct lead, the backstop is very close so make sure you can make it, it’s your decision.” But he should not say “go.” I knew a coach once that used “go” and “no.” Well, no sounds too much like go. You don’t want to create confusion at a critical moment like that. If you are observant you will notice relevant things. Maybe the catcher is slow getting to a passed ball. Maybe the pitcher doesn’t sprint to cover home. Those are things you should communicate to your base runner. Armed with vital information and the capability to take the correct leads he will do fine on his own.
In the past we have talked about how important a routine is for athletes and baseball players in particular. The nature of the game of baseball does not lend itself to the extremes of emotion. A more steadfast approach is justified. Approach baseball the same way, every day and every game. An established routine helps players stand up to the rigors of the summer grind of 50 plus games. In fact Coach Grant always felt that a part of his job was to instill in his players how long a baseball season is and prepare them for it as if they were to advance. Get Up For the Big Game? We had an interesting question some time ago on our discussion board. A member asked, “How do I get my players “up” for a big game? I took it to mean, “How do I prepare my players to get emotionally ready to play in a big game? What can I do to assure that they will play well?” I thought about that a while and my answer was that you shouldn’t get baseball players all fired up. It‘s not like a pre-game football locker room where a coach has his players jumping up and down, ready to “kill.” Side Note: We are fortunate to have a great football coach in Vero Beach, Billy Livings. Billy has a consistently excellent program and Friday nights in Vero Beach are an event. They seat over 5,000 fans every week. I have had 2 season tickets for 10 years. Battles are waged in divorce courts over Vero Beach High School season tickets. Billy always has some outstanding pre-game speech to motivate his players. He has a knack for defining a moment. Once before a playoff game the players were in the locker room, totally on edge, waiting for Billy. You could almost smell the anticipation and apprehension. Billy waited quite a while. Then at the last moment he walked into the room with his assistant coaches and slowly looked around at his team, nodding his head. The room became very still and quiet. Then, in his Alabama country drawl he simply said, “Well boys, I think we have enough to lick that team.” He turned around and walked out. The players went crazy. I think they would have run through a wall for their coach. That is football. The same approach doesn’t work in baseball. A more even keel is called for. In football, you play against another team. In baseball, you play against the “Game.” The ball is hit to you; you field it and throw it. The ball is pitched to you; you swing at it. The pitcher attempts to hit his target. It doesn’t matter if you are playing a great team or a poor one. It doesn’t matter if it is a big game or one with little consequence. The approach is always the same. Play against the game. No trick plays- no ruses to surprise the other team. No flea flickers. No clock killing drives. You have to throw the ball over the plate and someone tries to hit it. You can’t delay the inevitable. Sound, fundamental baseball is the way to prepare kids to play the game. It is usually the team that does the best job of making the routine plays that wins. I say usually. The vagaries of competition, the length of a season and the nature of the game make it almost impossible for a team to go undefeated. In football winning nine or ten games defines a great season. In baseball you can lose nine or ten games and still be a great team. Football is a sprint. Baseball is a marathon. If football is high emotion and intensity, baseball is skill and cerebration; the art of pitching, the art of hitting, the art of base stealing. Throughout baseball, failure defines the nature of the game. It is really hard to play. The skills are demanding and they require relaxation and explosive movements almost simultaneously. Motivational speeches have little effect over the course of a long season. So what do the players have to rely on? A solid, consistent routine. A coach should design his own procedures, one that will fit his team. Have a separate routine for practice days and for game days. Have a separate routine for home games and away games. What does a coach want to accomplish with this routine? What can he do to ensure the health and safety of his players? Does his routine enforce baseball skills and get his kids ready to play? A daily preset schedule allows practices and pre-games to run more smoothly. Everyone knows what they are to do. After a period of adjustment, (you have to get your players to accept your way) an established procedure of doing things provides a better teaching environment. The kids and coaches know what they are supposed to be doing. Everyone is on the same page. This is a time saver and allows for more instruction and repetitions. There is something comforting about arriving at the ballpark, knowing what you are going to do that day and knowing what is expected of you. I believe it has a way of instilling confidence in the players. A sound, organized structure prepares players to play. Tips for an Effective Routine Stretch, form run and throw before every practice and every game. Do not neglect this step. (You are probably tired of hearing us talk about this. But it is that important.) This is the first thing we do at practice. Early arrivals play pepper. They do not throw before the designated long toss time period. Everything is done as a team. If practice is to start at 4:30, start it on time. Don’t wait for late arrivals. Make the kids adapt to your schedule. Don’t fit yours around their impulses and whims. Late arrivers have a way of being chronic. My approach is to simply ignore these players. I focus on the ones who are punctual. I have found that the most dedicated players are almost always at the field early. They get most of my attention. Sometime this approach brings the habitual slowpokes into the fold. Anyway, you know what the old scout said, “SW, SW, SW.” Some will, some won’t, so what.” At the high school level the players have to get the field ready for practice or a game. So as they arrive this is the first thing they should do. They set up the screens, put out the bases, get the equipment. On game days they line the field, rake and prepare the mound and batter’s area and paint the bases. Some teams may hit in the cages before stretching. If that is what they do they should do it that way every day. Have a set routine for rainy and/or wet days. Wet grass ruins baseballs. If it is not raining and simply wet, hit in the cages with old balls. On rain days find a quiet building where you can run a baseball classroom. A blackboard and TV with VCR would be good. Whatever your facilities, be prepared and let the kids know what to expect no matter what the conditions are. Have practice, rain or shine. One summer a few years ago, Coach Grant felt his pitching staff needed to develop a change up they could throw with confidence. So one rainy afternoon we all went into the clubhouse. (Vero Beach High School is fortunate to have a nice clubhouse/locker room for baseball only.) Each pitcher got up in front of the group and “threw” his fastball. (Just the grip. They didn’t let go of the ball.) Everyone listened to the “whoosh” the arm makes as it goes through its throwing motion. You can hear it in a quiet room. Then they gripped the baseball in a change up grip. Again we listened for the same sound. That sound told us the pitcher was throwing his change up with fastball arm speed. That was a pretty good demonstration. And it reinforced in the players’ minds how important fastball arm speed is when throwing the change. That was a very beneficial day for those kids. In fact, every day should be a learning experience for your players. A little thought and creativity can go a long way toward developing skilled baseball players. Your batting practice should be run essentially the same way every day. Occasionally you may add situational hitting or opposite field drills but the meat of batting practice should be routine. Utilize stations, have the same groups hit together, make sure everyone hustles, etc. Hit ground ball fungoes during batting practice. Pitchers can throw bullpens during batting practice. Have a set procedure for bullpens. Pitchers should warm up and throw the same way every time. They should know what day they are going to throw in relation to their starts. Structure your practices and pre-games so that a catcher is always available at the appropriate time. Nothing is more time wasting than a coach trying to find a catcher so his pitcher can throw his pen. (The Vero Beach Dodgers have their catchers hit in the first group in batting practice so that they are available when needed.) Have a procedure for pre-game bullpens and bullpens during games. Pre-game outfield-infield should be run the same way every time. All away games should have a schedule and be very structured. These are some of the things that Coach Grant required of his Legion teams when they traveled. Safety and discipline received high priority. Everyone left together, parents and players alike. If a player drove, he was placed in the middle of the caravan with a coach in the lead car and a parent or coach in the last vehicle. If you were late, you were left behind. There were no unnecessary stopovers or sight seeing tours. Coach Grant’s saying was, “We get on the bus. We arrive at the field. We kick their butts, we get back on the bus and go home.” All business. He usually scheduled the time of departure so that when we arrived we went straight to the field and played the game rather than going to the hotel first. He felt there were fewer distractions that way. (I believe you could parachute Coach Grant’s players into the middle of the Gobi Desert and they would be ready to play.) Everyone checked into the hotel together. Good behavior was required at all times. (We tried to get accommodations at first rate hotels whenever we could. Another one of those “little things.” The players looked forward to the travel.) There were three players to a room and whenever possible we grouped the players by one older with two younger. Some time leeway was allowed but there was an “in the room” curfew. We checked on players’ rooms periodically during the night. There was a set time to be in the lobby in the morning and the players then went to breakfast together. Strict decorum was mandatory at all meals. We once had a waitress in Bradenton tell us that she had never seen baseball players so well behaved. (I’m sure the tips didn’t hurt.) If we were to stay more than one night the parents were asked to find a laundry facility and wash the players’ uniforms. That often kept them up until the wee hours of the morning. On the morning of departure everyone met in the lobby and an assistant coach then checked all the players’ rooms. (We were always invited back to every hotel where we stayed.) The same procedure for driving home was observed as the one when we left. We all drove back to our departure point so that the equipment could be offloaded. Then it was home and usually Monday off. Practice on Tuesday. There should be a routine for after practices and games. It should involve talking with the team, cleaning up the dugout and preparing the field. All your routines and procedures are dependent on effective time management. This requires quite a bit of planning. Adults’ daily lives involve all kinds of routines. Someone once said that daily routines are the signposts of a civilized society. Give your players structure and time they can look forward to, and they will reap the rewards. “Baseball is life. The rest is just details.” This article is from our book, "A Coach's Guide To Baseball Excellence."
I have always considered the “Meat and Potatoes” of catching to be the three main skills; receiving, blocking, and throwing. These three skills are the foundation of a good catcher. Receiving is an underestimated skill that often separates a great catcher from an average catcher (ask any pitcher). The preliminary action of the catcher’s mitt is important and often overlooked. Every good teacher of infield play that I know places emphasis on the infielder’s “glove presentation.” Even though there are slightly different methods, there is no debate that getting the glove in a functional and ready position is advisable for an infielder. For the catcher, the position of the glove is just as important – just not talked about as much. It becomes imperative as the catcher moves up to higher and higher levels of play. As the fastballs one catches increase in velocity and movement, and the breaking balls increase in sharpness and bite. The catcher’s reaction time decreases. His efficiency of movement must increase. (Example: A young player might get away with a long – slow swing for a few years. The same swing won’t work when he is trying to hit 90 mph) If you observe top catchers, you will see that they basically receive pitches in two positions. On knee-high and lower pitches, the catcher receives the pitch in a THUMB DOWN position. On most other pitches, the catcher receives the ball in a FINGERS UP position. (This is an over-simplification, but receiving is not today’s topic.) The catcher’s objective is to get his glove into the best position to receive all pitches. A full glove target position is recommended for the benefit of the pitcher. However, the full glove target creates some tension in the wrist and forearm. Tension creates slowness. The idea is to get to a functional, useful position once the target is not necessary. I call this the NEUTRAL or Relaxed position. The NEUTRAL position is as close as you can get to in-between the THUMB DOWN and FINGERS UP positions. (It is easier to communicate “Relax” to a catcher in drill work, so I will stay with that from here on.) EXECUTION: 1. Show a good full-glove target to the pitcher 2. When the pitcher’s stride foot lands, his arm should be starting forward, and he does not actually need your full target. 3. At the completion of the pitcher’s stride, the catcher goes from full-glove target to Relax position by turning his palm down. 4. Keep the arm in the same position, just relax and turn the wrist. (It is easier and more distinct to practice this without the glove a few times. You get a better feel for the position of the hand.) 5. The fingers should point toward the 2nd Baseman. As a young catcher, I was taught a slightly different method, the ¼ glove turn, or glove roll. For some, this is still the practiced style. The glove turn is essentially the “shake hands” position with the glove hand. In my opinion, the ¼ glove turn puts the catcher in an easier position to get to low pitches with the palm up. But, I have not seen quality catchers at the high school, college, or professional levels receive pitches near the strike zone with the palm up for many years. I used to do it and teach it, but I don’t now. The first step in teaching the Relax position could simply be to stand in front of the catcher and say, “Target …Relax”, repeatedly. The next step would be to throw the ball to the catcher, paying close attention to the timing of the movement. Do not let the catcher get caught moving to the Relax position while he should be catching the ball. The whole process should be three distinct steps, target – relax – catch. Emphasize to the catcher that the actual movement is very subtle. The untrained eye should not even notice the movement. The Relax position is an almost invisible component of catching that can make a great difference in the success of a catcher. In my opinion, it is necessary. Additionally, though, if the catcher isn’t taught to do this correctly, he may develop a habit that is not only unproductive, but is counter-productive.
“A Little traveling music, Ray.” Earlier in the year I wrote an article that was mildly critical of traveling teams, competitive teams or whatever you want to call them. Things change. Traveling teams have become so commonplace that they have depleted the talent in many areas. All-star and “strong teams” are often no longer representative of the area. (On the positive side, it has given more kids a chance to play on into the summer.) My stance on how these kids should be taught and how they should learn to play the game has not changed. But you have to recognize these teams. Much of this has happened to get away from the awful, stifling politics and rules of many LL Boards. I can only applaud that reasoning. The key then, for traveling teams is to have good coaching. (A key for any team.) Back in early May the fathers of two of our catching students decided to create a traveling team. They live in Pt St Lucie, Florida. They had done their homework and had affiliated themselves with two or three baseball organizations so they were able to schedule plenty of games for the summer. This was to be an age ten and under team. They decided to go with twelve players and they let it be known around the three- county area that they were getting this team together and were going to hold a tryout on May 6th. They asked me to conduct this tryout and I said I would be happy to. (Justin and Nicky are the two catchers who are featured in our video, “Youth Skills and Special Drills.”) I decided to conduct this tryout like a professional team would, with a few modifications. The LL Field where we held the tryout is a beautiful facility. It is called Sportsman’s Park. It had three LL fields, one softball field and one senior league field. The fields were beautifully manicured and maintained by the city. This organization bought three SwingAway from us. They take their baseball seriously in Pt St Lucie. Stephen and I went down to Pt St Lucie on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Dennis and John, the fathers, had everything prepared. They registered the kids as they showed up and gave each a number that they pinned on the back of their uniform. About thirty players participated. First, I sat them all down in a dugout and explained how the tryout was to be run. I told them that it was being held just like a major league tryout and that I expected them to hustle at all times on the field and give 100% effort. I told the kids that they were going to be timed at 40 yards, then take 4 ground balls, throw to third from right field, throw home from center field and finally hit. I created a form for the tryout. A copy is in this newsletter. I ran the tryout and the coaches evaluated the players as it all unfolded. We had them stretch, run and throw short to long toss so they could get warmed up. The coaches looked at their arm action and athleticism. I had measured off a 40-yard area in the outfield, starting from one foul line and marked it off with cones. (Major league scouts use a 60-yard course. Everything in LL dimensions is 2/3rds of a regulation ball field.) The coaches stood at the end of the “course” and they players stood at the foul line. Stephen helped them get lined up. They ran in two’s, not only for time’s sake but to create competition to increase their effort. I stood off to the side about in the middle of the course. Because light travels faster than sound, I used the drop of my cap to signal when they players would start. I held my cap out in front of my body and simply let it fall. As the cap was dropped, the players started running and the coaches started their stopwatches. We ran them 1-2, 3-4, etc. in that order. We gave the coaches time to write the results and reset their watches. After all players had run for time, they jogged to the outfield grass in front of the shortstop position. Player number one took his ready position at shortstop. (The shortstop position is played 6 steps over and back just in front of the outfield grass. I mention this because too many teams play their shortstop out of position.) Always evaluate infield play from the shortstop position. It is the best place to judge arm strength and athletic ability. I hit four ground balls to each player; the first right at him, the second to his left, the third to his backhand and the fourth a slow roller. They threw each one to the first baseman. There were four first basemen trying out so they took turns. (The first basemen were all left-handers. Three of them were pitchers- a plethora of left-handers.) These were routine ground balls, not hard smashes. We wanted the coaches to be able to evaluate technique and skill, not have the kids bailing out because they might be afraid of hard-hit ground balls. After the SS round we hit four fungoes to each first baseman and they fielded the balls and threw to third base- a long throw. A good fungo hitter can make any tryout a success. You want to hit these routine ground balls so they take at least two hops (2-3 hops are more difficult and a little more intimidating) and you want them to be very accurate. After each player took four ground balls, they jogged to right field. I hit two ground balls each and they threw to third base. We did not cut any balls off. The coaches evaluated not only their fielding ability and arm strength, they evaluated their accuracy as well. Stephen stood where the cutoff would play to give the outfielders the correct perspective but he did not cut anything off. After two ground balls each they all jogged to center field. Each player got two balls, one grounder and one fly ball. They threw each one home. Again, the coaches looked for accuracy and arm strength. As this evaluation was preceding the coaches judged the athletic ability of each player; how they moved, how they reacted to the balls, how they ran, their arm action and overall demeanor. Lastly, they all went to the dugout to get ready to hit. We had the hitter and two other hitters on deck taking dry swings and getting ready to go. The players were instructed to swing at all pitches that were not below their knees or over their hands. Stephen threw batting practice and he is very accurate. He was instructed to throw just hard enough so that the balls kept their trajectory and did not drop. I would guess that this was about 40-45 mph. Each hitter got five swings. If the ball was out of the strike zone and he didn’t swing, he got another one. A swing and a miss was one swing. The player didn’t get another just because he whiffed. There was one hitter that missed all five attempts. He did not get another chance. That “end on a good one” stuff is nonsense. You usually don’t get another chance in life. Don’t prepare your kids by making them think life is full of extra attempts. Plus, giving everyone the same number of chances will make better players out of them by causing them to concentrate harder. We held strictly to the five-swing count. No hitter got extra hacks. This tryout was fair for all. You will be amazed at what you get when you tell kids to swing the bats. These were 8, 9, and 10-year olds and most all of hem had great rounds. It was very impressive. The simple instruction of telling the kids to swing the bats and they were not here to be evaluated for “taking” pitches had very good results. After the last kid had hit we had them kneel down in front of the dugout and I thanked them for coming. I told them that the ones not picked should not feel slighted but there was an area of their game that needed work and they should concentrate on that to improve for next season. Then I asked if any player felt he didn’t get a representative round and if anyone wanted to take a few more ground balls or take a few extra swings. After all the tryout was for them. (Tryouts are for the players.) One player raised his hand and asked if he could take a few more swings. He has not had a particularly impressive round and he wanted a chance to redeem himself. He hit very well in the second round. I think it may have been instrumental in his making the team. I don’t know for sure because I only ran the tryout. I didn’t evaluate the players. When you hold this type of tryout always ask players if they need another chance. Then we looked briefly at several players who said they wanted to pitch. Nicky and Justin caught them. They warmed up a little and threw five fastballs each. We accomplished this tryout with thirty players in under two hours. Those drills we ran will tell a coach everything he needs to know about the baseball ability of each player. You don’t need more than that. I suggested that the coaches grade each player from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest. I said there have been very, very few 5’s. Ken Griffey Jr. was a 5. There were no 5’s on that field that day. They also watched carefully for demeanor and attitude. You don’t want a player on a competitive traveling team who is disruptive. It does not matter how good this kind of player is, he will always bring your team down. After this was over the coaches retired to make their picks and Stephen and I went home. It was a very productive day and there were some great kids involved. Everyone is right. There is a lot of athletic talent in Florida. I could have made a team out of the ones not chosen. The fact that Baseball Excellence had the credibility with the parents and players and I knew how to run this type of tryout and this team was serious about teaching and developing its ball players made this a very pleasurable experience. But any league can do this. I think many youth coaches try to do too much in a tryout evaluation. The best way to evaluate talent is to simplify and appraise just the basic skills. Put them all under the gun by giving the exact same number of chances and give only a few of them. Pitching strike after strike hoping a kid will make contact is not evaluating. It is wishing. And by making them all hustle and giving explicit instructions the cream will often rise to the top. (Another lousy metaphor.) Stick to your guidelines. GRADING Except for timing the 40 yards, grading a baseball player is always subjective. Just ask the twenty-seven teams that passed on Mike Piazza. It’s impossible to tell what’s in the heart and it is very hard to project ability. But do the best you can. You can tell the parents of the ones not chosen that little story. It may give a few the incentive to try harder and improve for next year. When grading, be critical of throwing accuracy. It is more important than arm strength at this level. Blatant arm action flaws are hard to fix during a traveling campaign. Players have to be able to catch and throw. This is a sticky issue with me. Kids need to be taught throwing. So we are leaving a few out who could eventually become very good. But you have to draw the line somewhere. The ideal would be to have a summer program in place to help the players who have throwing faults; an instructional summer league. Maybe some of you dads and coaches can make that happen. Choose the best athletes. Like I said, it’s highly subjective.
Teach your pitchers to back up a base on all plays. There is no play in baseball where players should be standing around after a base hit. You have to reinforce this because sometimes a pitcher will hang his head when he gives up a hit and he won’t hustle to the spot where he should be. (This is part of a pitcher’s mental toughness training.) The proper position for a play at home plate is behind the plate, as deep as possible and directly in line with the throw. Use the third and first basemen for cutoffs on throws to the plate. Their position is on the infield grass in line with the throw and the catcher. If a ball is hit to the left field, the third baseman is the cutoff man. The first baseman is the cutoff on all other throws to the plate. The exception is when there is a runner on first base and a ball is hit deep in the left/right-centerfield gap. The middle infielders go out to form a double relay and the third baseman must stay at home to cover his base. The first baseman becomes the cutoff. The first baseman peels off to become the cutoff as he is following the runner to 2b. Here are a pitcher’s responsibilities for backing up bases: Single to left or center field with no one on base- backs up second base in direct line with outfield throw. Ground ball single to right field with no one on base- a pitcher’s first reaction should be to hustle to first base in case of a play there. Single to the outfield with a runner on first base- backs up third base in line with the throw from the outfield, as deeply as possible. The SS is the cutoff man in this situation. He will be stationed approximately 60 feet from third base in line with the throw. Single to the outfield with a runner on second base and trying to score- backs up home in direct line with the throw. All extra base hits with no one on base backs up the base where ball may be thrown.(Third or home) Extra base hit with a runner on first base- becomes a floater. The pitcher should hustle to a spot halfway between third and home and then hustle to back up the base where the ball will be thrown. This play should be drilled in practice. It takes some timing and skill. Pitchers should always hustle with controlled speed to their backup positions (Being under control helps you to react at the proper time.) They should get as deep behind the base as they can and still be in line with the throw. If they are too close to the base, the overthrow will get by them too. Remember on the big fields the dugouts are open (no fence) and when a ball goes into it, the runner(s) get an extra base. The pitcher must do everything in his power to prevent this. Pitchers should get out of the infield on all possible plays at the plate. Otherwise they are clogging things up. Teach them to go where they are supposed to go. Proper back ups by the pitching staff will save you a run or two in the course of a season. These are some more of the ‘little things’ that win close games. Several years ago, the Little League World Series ended when the pitcher cut a throw to the plate from the left fielder while standing 10 feet IN FRONT OF THE CATCHER. Under pressure, a pitcher (and all players) will instinctively do what they have practiced. Little League coaches, have your pitchers go the correct position after a base hit with a runner on second. I know many coaches use their pitchers as the cut-off, but that’s not the correct way to teach the game. Forget the fact that many Little League pitchers are the best athletes on the field. Teach them the game the way it is supposed to be played and get your other players involved. We have seen numerous high school pitchers seal their fate by failing to instinctively perform their defensive responsibilities. On the high school level freshman and sophomore pitchers are compared to junior and seniors for “projectability”. Many times a coach will take a young pitcher with below average arm strength if he comes across as smart and coachable. Instinctively performing his defensive duties is his best way to portray this.
Let’s talk baseball. The game is over and we want our team to stay on track and continually improve so we, as coaches are going to talk about what we did right and what we did wrong. It doesn’t matter if we won or lost, we should examine every game; not as fans but as coaches. What do we discuss; Rickey’s error, Tommy’s strike out? Those are merely results. Let’s dig deeper. There is usually no order. The game in all its diversity determines what you talk about; no set pattern. Sometimes I find myself going from player to player; or situation to situation. Sometimes we talk from inning to inning. I am going to go over a game Coach Grant and I talked about recently. Hopefully what we discussed will be of interest to you and you can glean some tidbits of information from it. We don’t take notes. We merely discuss plays as they come to us. And often one thing will lead to another. In these little “talks” we often give praise to certain players on the opposing team; their athleticism, their ability to compete, a great play here and there. I think it’s important that coaches understand athleticism and what plays are possible in a game. Appreciating athletic ability on other teams is important so you can compare the abilities of your players. This particular game was in a tournament in Ft. Pierce and the two teams were high school teams, we’ll call them Team A and Team B. Jack umpired behind the plate and I stood along the sidelines. I really find this stuff fascinating. Jack has as fine a baseball mind as you will find anywhere. I never come away from a baseball conversation with him without learning something. And baseball is like that. You digest it in small morsels. You can’t discover it all at once. It takes time. The simplicity of baseball is very beguiling; so uncomplicated and yet so complex at the same time. What a great game. Team A Team A’s catcher was really good. He was aware of every situation, constantly talked to his pitcher, keeping him on track and ran the game flawlessly. We admired his generalship of the game. Their pitcher didn’t get enough first pitch strikes. Jack calls a low strike zone and their coach picked up on it right away. So he called for a lot of low fastballs. (Low, meaning that the upper half of the ball passed the lower part of the knee.) It was just that their pitcher didn’t have command enough to take advantage of it. I asked Jack how he knew the coach was aware of the strike zone and he said, “I called a strike just below the knees and I heard from their dugout, [Okay.]” When you really pay attention to the game you can pick up on little subtleties like that. Whether you are in the stands or in the dugout if you don’t indulge in any bellyaching, whining and begging you will find that the game really opens up for you. Concentrate and try to see the entire field at once. Team A’s third baseman was very good. I understand he has signed a letter of intent with a Division 1 College. Jack believes he will be drafted, probably quite high. Because of his range he was able to play well off the line. He made one play on a ground ball, going to his right that left my mouth open. Anything hit his way was automatic. By playing so far off the line the shortstop could play closer to second base, giving the left side of the infield more defensive range. However, the shortstop didn’t take advantage of that and played too far in the hole, closer to the third baseman. Late in the game Team B got a crucial ground ball base hit up the middle that the SS might have defended if he was playing where he should have. Their left fielder was a good athlete. He ran down a fly ball over his head that was a thing of beauty. He never gave up on it; something many young outfielders do. He just kept running and tracking it down. He had been taught the position. Jack asked me if any of Team B’s outfielders could have made that play. I had to say, no. Not enough attention is paid to outfield play in practice. Oh, plenty of routine fungoes, but not enough on ‘tracking’ the ball. Oh, Those Trick Plays Team A likes to use trick plays and if the other team is not paying attention they will get burned. One play they like is if there is a runner on second and a fly ball is caught in the outfield. They run a sort of hidden ball trick. Both middle infielders jog in toward second base while the pitcher picks up the rosin bag as if he has the ball. (Off the mound.) Who has the ball? If the runner at second is not paying attention a middle infielder will tag him out. If the runner stays at the base they simply peel away to their positions. If you’re not looking for it you’d never know it was a play. Team B didn’t get caught that night but later in the season when they played that team again they got a runner on second. I don’t think the team B coach knew about the play. Big out. Rally killer. You have to see the whole field, all the time. The second you let your concentration waver, boom you’re caught. A high level of Concentration can be reinforced at practices if the coaches will Never Give In. Like I said, Team A likes to use trick plays. The problem with that is time is wasted in practicing them; time they could use swinging the bats. They have a good program but in recent memory they have always come up short in the playoffs. Our advice; more time on BP and less on tricks. You can’t always do both successfully. There are only so many hours available. Team A was so slick with that play that I know they must have practiced it a lot. And they have a bag full of trick plays. To each his own. Remember Clyde Metcalf’s (Sarasota HS) philosophy? ‘We try to ‘out sound’ them. We don’t try to trick them.” Team B The B team has several really good players; prospects, really. But they don’t do enough teaching and the average players on that team make entirely too many mistakes. Whose fault is that? It’s not the players’ fault. They made entirely too many mistakes at the third base position. Partially due to where he was setting up and partly due to faulty technique. Team B has a great catcher this year and he really helps the pitching staff; the way he sets up late, the way he receives the ball and the way he makes his pitchers look good. Team B had the advantage this night with first pitch strikes. They got a lot of them. When you get Strike 1, you put the hitter in more of a defensive mode. You’ve heard us say it; “What’s the best pitch in baseball?” Fastball? Nope. Slider? Nope. Change up? Nope. The best pitch in baseball is Strike One. The pitcher is now in command and he can throw anything he wants on that second pitch. The pitching coach has done a good job with the pitching staff on team B. He has given them a ‘Don’t give in’ attitude. They are not afraid to throw strikes. They are mentally tough in that area. What is Your Philosophy? Team B’s philosophy is a little different than ours. They will play a player who is not fundamentally sound on defense if he can hit. Their practices are geared almost fully to hitting. That’s okay if you do it right and work your defense in with Batting Practice. Team B doesn’t. Over the years they have benched many a player who could play defense but couldn’t hit “FOR AVERAGE.” (A philosophy born of putting too much stock in statistics.) We take the opposite approach. Even though a team has to hit, they have to be able to play defense first. I follow Casey Stengel’s philosophy. “I never much liked them players who drove in 1 run and let in 2.” Team B’s way of thinking will get a team to the play-offs quite often. But it won’t get them to the Promised Land. You can almost schedule a 20-win season but it takes defense to go all the way. Why? When you get to the play-offs you will be facing a very talented pitching staff, night-after night. Runs will be scarce. The team who has the best defense will win nine times out of ten. The poor defensive team will flinch every time. Over the years Team B has had a lot of long bus rides home at the end of their season. As a team, Team B did not like the inside fastball. They took entirely too many fastball strikes inside. And when they did swing they were not effective. Team A would throw the inside fastball when they needed an out and they got it almost every time. Team B never picked up on that. The inside fastball is a pitch a hitter with good bat speed can really turn on and hit hard, but it has to be practiced. As a pitching coach I have written many times about successful pitchers who throw the inside strike. Not just throwing inside but commanding the strike zone inside. If the opposing coach is aware of a team that can throw strikes on the inside part of the plate he can structure his batting practices to include working on the inside pitch. Simply set up a pitching machine and shoot balls just off the plate inside. Look for your hitters to stride at the pitcher and (not away). They can work on hand quickness and pulling the ball. All in all for an initial game of the season the two teams played very well. So if you are the coach of either one of those teams, what would you do to improve them? What would you do at practices? Do you see any similarities between these teams and your own? It is very beneficial to get into the habit of critiquing games. You can do it with your coaches and with your players. Teach and learn at the same time.
We have done short articles on various ways to keep runners close to bases but we have never put them all in one article or discussed this topic in depth. OK, first we need a philosophy. A base runner gets on. Are we going to worry and fret and lose concentration? Are we going to throw over every other pitch? Are we going to concentrate on picking him off or are we going to concentrate on getting the next hitter out? I think we need to understand that runners on base are part of the game. There just are not that many perfect games. So in a way, runners on base are not a disaster, they come under the heading of things the pitcher cannot control. They will always be there at many points in the game. So if they come under the heading of things a pitcher cannot control, then he should take the attitude that he will not worry about the situation. He will not lose sight of the fact the runner is there but he will not torment himself with it. Will a stolen base beat you? Not very often. But bases on balls will beat you. Concentration must be on the hitter. What do we do to slow base runners down? Runner on First This discussion will be for the benefit of right-handed pitchers. Left-handed pitchers don’t have the same dilemma. A pitcher should not throw over to a base too many times. It gives the offense too many chances to get a good ‘read’ on his move. And then after you have thrown over 3 times in a row what do you think is going to happen next? Yep, he’s going. So it is important to keep the runner off balance. To not let them know what you are going to do. Don’t be predictable. Of course a team needs a catcher who can make all the throws, but the pitcher has to help the catcher out and keep the runner close. So our focus is not on picking off the runner but on keeping him close to the base so the catcher has a chance to make a play. Our pitcher cannot control the fact the runner is on base but he can control the fact that he can keep him relatively close and off-balance. The first line of defense is to focus on the next hitter. You are really courting disaster when you start walking other hitters. The pitcher’s first thought should be “Get strike One.” The next option is to be aware of the game situation. That is where the coach comes in. He should know the opposing team’s tendencies and the speed of the runner and when it is likely for him to steal. In my opinion the coach should call the pick-off move, especially at the high school level and below. Vary his times to the plate. This is extremely important. Simply by not going to the plate with a predictable rhythm he can keep the runner off balance. He can do this with just a silent count. And he can work on it during his in-between starts bullpen. Hold the ball. That’s it, just hold the ball and don’t deliver it. Sometimes a runner will get so anxious that he will take off any way. Step back off the rubber. A pitcher can do this after he has held the ball for a time. Step off with the throwing side foot and look over at the runner. (When a pitcher steps back off the rubber he becomes just another infielder and he can do anything he wants with the ball. But you have to step off with the throwing side foot.) A coach can help his pitcher several times in a game by simply telling him to “step off” in stealing situations. That gives the opposing coach something to think about and it helps the pitcher be aware of a possible steal. Pick-off moves. This should be at the discretion of the coach. So there you go. Focus on the hitter, be aware of the game situation, vary your times to the plate, hold the ball, step off and throw over. Not too bad for a pitcher who doesn’t have control of the situation. Runner on Second Most of the same techniques still apply with a runner on second base with a few exceptions. We want to focus on the hitter, be aware of game situations, vary our times to the plate, hold the ball and step off. Look back. A pitcher should vary the number of times he looks back at the runner before he delivers to the plate. He can look once and deliver, he can look pause and look back again, he can look twice quickly, pause and look back, etc. A pitcher of course, cannot do this at first base because if he turns without throwing over he is balking. Lift, pivot and turn toward the runner. A pitcher can legally do this without throwing to second base but I do not teach this move. I don’t believe it does anything. As a pick-off move it is too slow. For anything else, a simple step off the rubber will suffice. This one Coach Bill Thurston told me about and I really like it. The pitcher comes set, and looks back once. Then he looks back at the catcher. He looks for any movement out of the corner of his eye. If there is movement by the runner he simply holds the ball or steps off. If there is no movement he delivers to the plate. The fact he can see no movement tells him that the runner has not advanced far enough to be a significant threat to steal. Pick-off. This should be very rare and should be ordered at the discretion of the coach. The defense should wait for the most important time in the game and use it only once. Runner on Third Rule number 1-focus on the hitter. Rule number 2- see rule number 1. Where can the runner go? He is not going to steal. Jackie Robinson is dead. A right hand pitcher is looking directly at him when he comes set. Holding a runner close is bad. (It creates too big a hole in the defense.) And yet I see this at the Junior and Senior level all the time. Throwing over to third is bad. Never, ever throw over to third. Do not even have this play in your play book. I don’t like having the catcher try to pick off the runner at third either. Just look him back, don’t throw. Want a good way to lose a game? That’s one. The main thing is for the pitcher not to be distracted. The runner can be dancing up and down the line. But the pitcher should block it out of his mind and focus on hitting the catcher’s glove. The pitcher should pitch from the stretch with a runner on third and less than two outs. I know some pitch from the windup but I like our pitchers to pitch from the stretch. With good mechanics there should be no velocity loss from the stretch Vs the windup. You’ll not see anything about teaching the slide step in our publications. We don’t use it and we don’t teach it. Most young pitchers are not strong enough to keep their weight back when they use the slide step and they end up rushing their delivery. The upper body gets ahead of the arm and pitches are often up in the strike zone or high, out of the strike zone. Besides it is hard enough to teach one set of good mechanics to a young pitcher without introducing another. Remember, our focus is on the hitter. We teach our pitchers to use their same leg lift but to do it a little quicker. Get to the balance point faster. They can still maintain their balance and keep their weight back this way. Common Mistakes These are common mistakes we see defenses make with runners on base. We see them mostly at the youth level but they have been known to occur at higher levels of baseball. Improper set up by the first baseman with a runner there. You see all kinds of bizarre ways the first baseman holds a runner on; outfield side of the bag, on the base, on the clay, Etc. You also see them actually stretch out toward the pitcher with the glove. He can’t make too many athletic movements that way. Another common mistake is for the first baseman to stay stationary while the pitch is being delivered. He should be quickly gliding into the hole so he can adequately defend his position. The pitcher throws from the windup. As a base runner if you see a pitcher take a step back, sprint to the next base. There is no defense for pitching from the windup. You will get there standing up without a throw. Pitcher throws over entirely too many times and to too many runners. Eventually the ball will be thrown away or the defense will develop a tendency to let down or the offense will have the move down pat. The second baseman actually holding a runner on second. Where that came from I haven’t a clue. Get back to your position where you belong. The third baseman holding a runner on third? I have seen this many times yet I still have trouble believing it. Where do coaches get this stuff? Trying to pick a runner off third. Three things can happen and two are very bad. Catchers trying to pick off runners at first, second or third. Let’s leave this to the professionals. Let’s stay with the fundamentals and beat the opposing team with good sound baseball. You may not agree with me, but if you think back at the results over the years you know I’m right. The risks outweigh the rewards. Besides how much practice time do you have anyway? Obvious apprehension and uneasiness by the pitcher players and coaches. Play the game as if you expect to win not as if you are afraid to lose. Get the next hitter, get three outs and get into the dugout so you can swing the bats. There you have it. Work on a couple of pickoff plays at first and second base, get strike one, keep your poise and concentrate on the hitter.
A baseball team and individual players need a certain amount of mental toughness to perform at a high level. What is mental toughness? It is the ability to face adverse conditions and still be able to compete. It is emotional self discipline. (Yes, young kids can learn it if the coach will not give in to them.) It is the ability for a player and a team to focus and concentrate on every pitch. That requires control, endurance and a certain inner toughness. Another characteristic is the capacity for a player to put mistakes and errors behind him so that he can continue to be effective. As failure is inevitable in baseball, these traits are essential for winning teams and developing highly effective players. This emotional stamina, if you will, cannot be turned on and off. It must become a part of practice as well as games. Players and teams of all ages can be taught these worthy strengths. Because of age factors the approach for LL players may be diluted slightly but the intent is the same- to prepare players to play the game of baseball at a high degree of excellence. The game is mental, folks. Baseball requires these traits but on the other side of the coin, baseball gives something back in that young men can transfer these attributes into everyday life. We’ve all seen this toughness in amateur as well as in professional players and teams. The teams and players who practice this at the highest levels are the consistent winners. I watched a 15 and under AAU team play last month and this is what I saw. In the first inning the pitcher walked two, hit one batter, his teammates committed two errors and they gave up 7 runs. The pitcher, in that one inning, kicked the dirt on the mound, shrugged his shoulders, hung his head, yelled at his catcher and yelled at the shortstop. Because he had no control, physical or emotional he ended up just lobbing balls across the plate. (Where was the coach? He did visit the mound once. That did a lot of good. I wonder what he said; Push off the rubber and bend your back?) Later in that game I went to the concession stand for a bottle of water and this same pitcher, who had been removed from the game, came up and ordered a hotdog. A hotdog? Left the dugout? Chatting with parents? Smiling and joking? Oh, coach, he was just having fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun isn’t it? (Maybe we should redefine fun.) The catcher allowed three runs to score by throwing the ball away on misguided pickoff attempts. I have watched this catcher for several years. He threw the ball away in LL, he threw the ball away in Junior League and now he is throwing the ball away in AAU. I have never seen him actually throw anybody out. With an 11 run deficit the pitcher constantly threw over to first base. Why? Their between-innings warm up was miserable. In the third inning, when they replaced the pitcher all the infielders kneeled on the ground by the mound to watch their new pitcher warm up. Why? Where did that come from? With runners on first and second the first baseman was holding the runner on. What was he thinking about? The final score was 17-5. Nobody on the losing team seemed to care. I believe the inmates are running that asylum. Do you think this coach is building a sound program? I think they are a little weak in the mental toughness department. But did they have any fun? No Excuses A central issue when it comes to establishing inner strength is for the coach to make the players throw something away; Excuses. This is not as easy as it may sound. We live in a society where it is common to offer excuses and alibis. And too often these offers are accepted. Our parents accept excuses. Our schoolteachers accept excuses. Our lawyers get us out of jams with excuses. Everyone is a victim and the majority has an excuse for their problems and wrongdoings. How about the person who sued McDonalds because she spilled coffee on herself and got burned? She sued and WON! (I’ve always wanted to bring that up, I find that event fascinating. Can you picture the plaintiff’s attorneys going over the case in their conference room? ‘Well we’ll argue that McDonalds didn’t tell her that their coffee is hot.” What a country.) So ridding a team of excuses is not easy. But a baseball coach should make a strong attempt. My Bad Let’s get that one out of the way first. “My bad” was originally meant to be a way of admitting a mistake without offering an apology or excuse. It was a pretty good way of being a good teammate by showing you cared and could save face at the same time without offering an excuse. Great phrase, isn’t it? It was sort of a way to beat the system. At least he didn’t say, “The sun got in my eyes.” Third baseman bobbles a ground ball and he hands the baseball back to his pitcher and says, “My bad.” But it has become an automatic phrase. It is now a cliché and overused to the point where it is offered as an excuse within itself. It is no longer effective because people just give it lip service. They use it anytime they want off the hook. Stephen and I were watching a movie some time ago. It was called “Clueless” or something like that. A girl was taking her driving exam and turned a corner and sideswiped a car. She looked at the instructor and said, “Oh my bad.” A very insincere statement that was offered as an excuse. (I think I’m watching too much television.) So if a coach is going to rid his team of those undermining excuses he has to be constantly alert for them. Player mishandles a ground ball. “It took a bad hop coach.” Answer, “Open your glove.” Center fielder overthrows the cutoff man. “The ball was wet coach.” Answer, “That’s why the ball has seams, use them.” “I slipped getting back to the bag, coach.” Answer, “No excuses.” I think maybe the excuses kids use are often just an automatic replay of what we have taught them or something they heard an announcer say on TV. They are cleverly feeding us back our own words or the words of another adult. Something these excuses are not; the truth. Kids never say, “I’m afraid of the ball” or some other underlying genuine reason. If a coach can recognize them and deal with them immediately his team will benefit greatly. When you get rid of those nasty little excuses you open the door to some very effective coaching. Sometimes the best thing is to just ignore the player and not say anything. I have often used just a withering or a derisive look. Sometimes I just turn my cap sideways, stick my belly out and hang my jaw open. (A la Max Patkin.) The downside of that little mannerism is that when I make a mistake my kids do the same thing to me. Picture 12 kids with their caps on sideways and their jaws hanging open. Kids are very clever. Humor is often effective and has a unique way of driving home a point and helping people to remember it. When you are offering instruction in practices or in games, even if you have to shout, don’t let a player answer you with anything approaching an excuse. In fact, I like my players to just nod their heads to acknowledge me. Or say something like, “OK, coach, or thanks, coach.” So take a stand. Don’t let those excuses creep into dugout and on-field conversation. Pretty soon one of the road mines in the way of excellence will vanish. (Now I know I’m watching too much TV and using too many lousy metaphors. ‘road mines in the way of excellence’ what’s wrong with me?) My Bad.
Too few youth coaches teach this. In fact, many youth coaches teach the exact opposite. We watch a lot of 12U games and hear more than our share of well intended, but bad advice. "Don't watch the ball while you run" "Let the coaches be your eyes", "Don’t go until the coach says go" (which sounds a lot like "no" to a kid with a helmet on, by the way). These are the wrong things to tell your base runners. None of these phrases are spoken by knowledgeable coaches. We understand their reasoning. Many beginning players, if left on their own, will "wander" or run their team out of a big inning or ball game. We also know that some 12U players don't have the maturity or mental discipline to make base running decisions on their own. Our thought to you is when do you think they are going to learn this? The answer from most youth parents is "high school". The answer from most high school coaches is “youth ball". The reality is that this is just one of over 100 fundamental skills that NEVER get taught to youth players. Many youth players never develop "athletic intelligence"(thinking on their feet) on the base paths. They never learn to consistently make the necessary split second decisions on their own. These players are lost when they arrive on the big field. At that level (90 foot bases) the game is no longer "one base at a time" and the speed of the game is much greater. Base coaches do not start runners, they only stop them. At the high school level and beyond, the best base runners are not always fast, but they are always smart. They instinctively anticipate opportunities to go on their own. They often get out in practice and scrimmages as they stretch and learn their limits. Drill: Line up your players at home and hit balls to the outfield. They should glance at the ball 2-3 times and banana out to take their turn. If the ball bounces off or gets by an out fielder they should never break stride as they take 2b. (The LL drill I really like is the “Bobble Drill.” We show it in our “Youth Skills and Special Drill” video.) During offensive BP the coach should call for the "hit and run". The runner must "look in" during his third step toward 2b and then react according to where the ball is hit. His choices will be to banana out and make it to 3b (grounders through the infield), slide hard into 2b (grounders to the infield), go "half way" on fly balls to the outfield, etc. Another negative trend that we see in a lot of 10U games is "chicken base running". You know, when the batter draws "another" base on balls, hustles down to 1b, takes a wide turn and dares the pitcher to throw to 1b. If he does, the runner often sprints to 2b usually without a throw because the coach doesn't want to risk a bad throw that goes into the outfield. Worse than this is when the pitcher just holds the ball and stares at the base runner (or bluffs like he is going to chase him down). Sometimes we see the runner clap his hands (awful sportsmanship) to try and entice a throw. Worse than both of these is on balls hit to the outfield where the outfielder slings it to the infield, the pitcher chases it down, turns and sprints to the mound (circle), throws up his hand and yells "time out", so the umpire will stop the runners. What's up with this? What skill are we teaching here? Coaches need to teach Baseball, where the pitcher backs up 3b and every fielder is taught to throw and catch; not call time out! Coaches need to teach their kids how to properly execute rundowns and not be afraid of failure. One other line of "bad advice" that we hear in the younger age groups: "don't watch the ball being caught. Watch the next base and listen for the coach to say go". (When the runner tags up on fly balls to the outfield.)Why watch the next base? It's not going anywhere. What if it's a windy day and nobody can hear well? What if there is more than one runner to move up? What if the coach only wants one of them to move up? What if a fan on the other team shows poor sportsmanship and yells "go" a split second before the ball is caught to confuse and cause the base runner to leave the base too early? What if a second fielder decoys the coach by faking the catch a split second before the ball is actually caught (by the fielder next to him)? Not only should the tagging base runner watch the ball hit the outfielders glove, but coaches should teach them the proper way to face depending on which outfielder makes the catch. At third base the runner should have his left foot on the bag, his right foot on the line and face the catch. In this manner he will not get turned around. He will have the entire play in front of him. At second base the runner should tag up facing the left field fence on fly balls to left and center. He should face the 1b dugout on fly balls to right field. (Remind your players that they must really “bust it” to get back to their base when a fly ball is hit.) The runner at first base should rarely tag. Instead he should advance as far as he can and still be able to get back after the ball is caught. All tagging base runners should watch the ball be caught, turn and start toward the next base. If the 3b coach wants him to stay he should throw up both hands and/or yell, “back”, “stop”, “freeze” or any word that doesn’t end in “o”. The final example is on pitches in the dirt. Catchers are taught to drop to their knees and block (not catch) these. Many times the ball will bounce 5 feet or more away from him. We teach our base runners to capitalize on this. They anticipate and read the trajectory of the ball, get one extra secondary step and take the next base often without a throw down. This is a great skill for base runners with below average speed. We often use a pre-pitch reminder to our base runners; “Read the ball in the dirt;” especially when the batter is behind in the count”. Kids that are not taught this go back to their original base because there is no time for the coach to communicate “go”. On the big field this often makes the difference in a close ball game. Kids that arrive at high school with these “instincts” embedded in them always excel.
Excluding the RH batter, the catcher’s throw to 3B is the simplest of the catcher’s throws. The catcher is in a position where his directional (left) side is already turned toward 3B as opposed to having to turn all the way around to throw to 1B. This is also one of the most under-taught catcher’s skills yet one that routinely comes into play. However, if the catcher does not know, or has not mastered the mechanics of throwing to 3B, the percentage of bad throws is high. The actual throw is easy, but getting to the proper throwing position can be tricky. At the youth level (When kids first come up to a regulation field) their percentage of success in throwing runners out at third base probably are not very high. When you couple a young catcher’s lack of arm strength with the pitcher’s lack of skill the offense often has their way. Technique The Catcher must receive (catch it cleanly) the ball on balance. He must not reach out for it. He must let the ball travel and keep his butt under his shoulders. The catcher can cheat (lean left) a little bit, as he catches the ball, as long as the pitch is middle-in for a RHB. The catcher must clear the hitter as he executes his footwork. #1 Problem: either no footwork or insufficient footwork. He should never try to throw over the hitter. The footwork is a sideways jump-shift in which the right foot replaces the left. For most catchers, they can actually step into their left footprint with their right foot. It is a simple “right-left” that is a shuffle, not two distinct steps. Teach that the feet land almost simultaneously. The catcher needs to move diagonally left and forward to clear hitter, but not backward. He should keep the feet apart on the jump shift. On any pitch, the catcher should move behind the RH batter – even on a pitch slightly outside of the catcher’s right shoulder (you can’t cheat much on this pitch.) Throwing from in front of the batter should be done only as a last resort. It is slower and more awkward. Seldom, if ever does one see throwing in front succeed in good levels of baseball (unless the batter makes the mistake of getting out of the way). If a pitch does catch you outside, step forward with your right foot, load and throw. With a LH batter, the catcher can simply “jab step” and throw, or take a quick shuffle. It is such a short-quick throw that footwork is not that necessary in terms of momentum – footwork is primarily for clearing a RH batter. The catcher “snap-throws” to 3B. Prioritizing accuracy and quickness over power and velocity. I have found it helpful to liken the throw to the second baseman’s double play pivot, in terms of rhythm and quickness. As the catcher simultaneously clears the hitter with his footwork and “rakes” the ball to the throwing position, his sights turn to throwing the ball down the 3B line. The baseline can be used as a guide for throwing the ball. The catcher obtains his 4-seam grip during his foot work The catcher does not remove his mask to throw. The catcher does not try to frame or (stick) the pitch. The catcher should not aim for the base. He should visualize a string, or a vapor trail (if you like) running knee-high through the inside corner of 3B, to the outfield. COACHING POINTS: The most common footwork problem is when the catcher moves too much toward the 3B dugout – his weight gets on his heels and he drifts left – the ball tends to sail high- right. Once his right foot lands, all momentum is directly toward 3B (stand behind him to watch.) The catcher only needs to clear the hitter enough to get off his throw; he does not need to clear him by a wide margin. Square off the corner, don’t round it. The catcher must get sufficient repetition to form the footwork habit. Otherwise, he will likely catch the ball flat-footed and just stand up – hoping that he can throw over the batter. This is normally a recipe for failure or injury to the batter. Whenever your catchers practice throws to third base put a batter in the RH box and have a pitcher throw to them. Stealing Third Base- The catcher and pitcher should be aware of how the offense looks at stealing third base. They can take a 4-step lead (instead of a three step lead) at second base and can look at the catcher and try to get your signs. They can take two-shuffle steps once the pitcher goes into his stretch position. That already puts them 18-20 feet from the base. If the pitcher takes one, two or no looks and does not vary them, the runner will know the number of looks the pitcher takes before he gets to second base. The runner keys off the pitcher’s chin. If your pitcher is a No looker- once his hands come set the runner will break for third. If your pitcher is a One looker- He breaks on his chin after he has looked at you one time. If your pitcher is a Two looker- He breaks on his chin after the second look. Pitchers look but they don’t always see. They are concentrating hard on trying to make the next pitch. Stealing third is a timing play and everything must be perfect. So the pitcher can help prevent the steal by varying his looks and his time to the plate. A good base runner will take no false breaks. He will be trying to surprise the defense and not draw attention to himself. Best situation-steal with one out. Things to look for: RH hitter at the plate is good protection. The infield is playing straight up with no shift toward the base by either middle infielder. Pitcher has a slow leg kick to the plate. Pitcher has good control- no pitches wild high. A NON-CATCHING COACHING TIP: If the batter ducks or moves out of the way, it makes the throw to 3B much easier for the catcher. Instruct your batters to STAND UP AND STAND STILL, unless they are swinging, when a teammate steals 3B while they are hitting. The batter should keep his head turned toward 3B to protect his face.
For those of you who frequent the Discussion Group on our web site you know that questions about specialty pitches abound. So many players want to know how to throw a curve ball, a slider, a splitter, a knuckle ball, or a cutter. We don’t teach specialty pitches to young pitchers. It is difficult enough for them to learn two types of fastballs and a change up. There is no quick fix on the road to pitching excellence. (Please excuse the mixed metaphors.) It is a step by step journey that entails vigorous conditioning, mental toughness, a throwing program and pitch command. Let us state our position on this subject. Our view is a conservative one but from the point of view of coaching young players, we feel this gives them the best chance for eventual success. Not immediate mastery and gratification, but eventual success. This is certainly not the most popular view. Many Little League pitchers throw breaking pitches and are having success as we speak. Many fathers and coaches don’t want them to stop throwing those pitches because of the glory of it all. Let’s face it. It is a lot sexier to strike out a young hitter than getting an out by having him put the ball in play and take the chance of a teammate booting the ball. The art of pitching is a learning process that requires years of diligent and dedicated work. Becoming a successful pitcher requires a whole lot more than just throwing a curve ball to strike out a Little League hitter. Baseball Excellence has always attempted to show our customers what it will take to advance. We are dedicated to giving you the big picture. WAIT UNTIL 14 Let a young body develop. Let the soft tissues, muscles and bones grow before you subject them to the stress of the curve ball. Why 14? Many kids reach puberty at 13. Don’t forget the 60’6”- 10” high pitching mound. You don’t want your pitchers to go from Little League distance to regulation distance and immediately start throwing curve balls. That length difference requires a learning process. They must adapt. More energy is expended, they are throwing harder and we feel that a young player should become accustomed to the distance before he starts throwing a breaking pitch. FASTBALL COMMAND They have to learn fastball command. That is the number one pitch. All others are thrown off the fastball. You can’t develop your fastball if you are spending too much time learning a breaking pitch. There are only so many practice hours in a day and only so many pitches a pitcher can throw in a given bullpen session. The time would be better spent teaching fastball command and different grips on the fastball. Be honest with yourself. Can your pitchers all throw 6 (better 7) out of 10 pitches for strikes? That’s what it’s going to take. I believe the majority of high school pitchers only throw one type of fastball. Many throw only one, either the 4-seam or the 2-seam. Very few throw both. Command of the 2-seam fastball is a formidable weapon. It gives the hitter a different look. There is a slight change of speed and the pitch has more movement, usually down. Can you think of a better pitch with a runner on first base? Many a double play has been induced by a fastball that moves down. A pitcher’s bullpen time would be more productive by learning the 2 fastballs instead of working on a breaking pitch. WHO TAUGHT YOUR SON THAT CURVE BALL ANYWAY? Did another player show your son how to turn his wrist in order to get spin on the ball? Did you read in a book somewhere how to extend the arm and make a karate chop motion? The curve ball is a difficult pitch to throw correctly and requires a lot of time to learn. A mistake in the mechanics of the pitch can put undue stress on the arm and elbow of your pitcher. When it does become time for your son to learn the pitch, find a qualified instructor to show him. It is very difficult to read about it and put it into practice. You also want him to learn to throw the ball effectively. As your son goes up the ladder the hitters are better. You want him to learn a curve ball that the hitters can’t pick up too soon. INCREASE YOUR PITCHER’S VELOCITY Everybody wants to know how to throw harder. Want to know how to not throw harder? Throw a lot of breaking balls as a youngster. Throwing the curve de-trains the arm. The pitch is not a velocity pitch, it is a rotational pitch. It requires a lot of forward spin to move in a downward plane. This forward spin coupled with the arm angle gives the pitch its break. Putting this rotation on a ball slows the arm down. It is very close to fastball arm speed but not the same. So a young pitcher working a lot on the curve is teaching his arm a slower speed. All this at a time when he is developing and his body is growing. It is better to train the arm to throw at fastball arm speed. And that means throwing more fastballs. Don Sutton, in a Brave’s telecast was talking about a journeyman pitcher who threw a lot of breaking pitches. He said if you can’t get your breaking pitch over for strikes you are in trouble because throwing a lot of curveballs “shortens up” your fast ball. That’s a descriptive phrase isn’t it? That pitcher had detrained his arm until his fastball was no longer effective. It had lost velocity. Keep your pitchers throwing those 2 and 4-seam fastballs. So there you have our reasons. To summarize: A growing body is at risk from injury by throwing the curve. It is more important to learn fastball command. That is your number one pitch. You should have someone qualified to show your pitchers how to throw the curve ball. If you want more velocity, throw more fastballs. Pitchers who want to go up a higher level have to put up good numbers on the radar gun. That’s the reality of it. One Final Word In my opinion the curve ball is probably the worst pitch in baseball, or the least effective of the three pitches; fastball, change up and then curve. Heresy! I have seen curve after curve strike LL hitters out. It is the speed more than the movement that fools young hitters. Once they get to the regulation field that change of speed is no longer quite as effective. Hitters learn to see the curve ball early, out of the hand. No pitch gets hit harder than a hanging curve ball. Yes, the curve ball has a place in a pitcher’s arsenal but it is not a vital one. I feel it should compliment the other pitches, not become the dominant one. The curve ball is a good pitch to throw for strike one to a good hitter. It gives him a different look. A good curve ball is also a pitch to throw in the dirt to try to get the hitter to chase it. The curve ball should be looked at as a pitch to compliment an arsenal, nothing more. What did the Mexican bandits say in the Treasure of Sierra Madre? “Curve balls? We don’t need no stinking curve balls.”
This infield defensive skill may not occur in every game but it happens enough so that your team should become extremely proficient at it. We feel that the mind-set is important. Your defense should take on the attitude that they will get the out every time a base runner is caught in a rundown situation. The offense has made a mistake and you will record an out every time; no mistakes. WHEN: When and where do rundowns most commonly occur? Pickoffs at first base. Runner at first base breaking on first movement on a LH pitcher. Pickoff at second base. Runner at third base going on contact and a ground ball is fielded by the pitcher. Any base running mistake when the runner takes too wide a turn and the ball is thrown behind him. DON’TS: Don’t make faking motions with the ball. You may fake out your teammate. Don’t jog toward the runner. Run at him at controlled speed. Make him commit to the next base. Don’t circle back after a throw. Step out of the baseline. Don’t hang around in the baseline after a throw. If a runner runs into you without the ball you may be called for obstruction and the runner will be awarded the next base. Don’t throw over the runner. Throw to your teammate’s glove side. Don’t take too many throws to execute the rundown. The more throws; the more chance for error. The ideal rundown occurs with only one throw. HOW: The basics for a successful rundown are: Run full speed (under control) at the runner. Don’t hesitate. Get the runner going full speed at a base. You want the runner to commit. The off infielder MUST close on the advancing runner. This is the key to a successful rundown. By closing, both infielders will cut down on the runner’s distance and limit his ability to maneuver. The idea is for the closing infielder to receive the ball at the opportune time and make the tag. If the infielder does not close the runner will be able to maneuver and multiple throws will occur, increasing the chances for error. The ball is held shoulder-high in an ‘L’ and tossed from that position. The ball must be thrown at the right time. By closing on the runner the infielder puts himself in an optimum position. He then (and this timing is the part that should be concentrated on at practice) calls, “BALL, BALL!” He receives the ball from his teammate and makes the tag on the runner. He should call for the ball when the runner is very close to him. He may even make the tag as the runner is going by him, trying to get to the base. The timing is crucial. Do it over and over until everyone is comfortable with it. The infielder makes a one-hand catch and tags with one hand. No ‘two hands’ here. (We have always reminded you there are many plays that a defensive player must make by catching the ball with the glove only. This is another one. Why not do away with, “Catch the ball with two hands!” That is not effective coaching.) There are two types of rundowns. The runner is picked off and runs toward the next base at full speed. The runner is hung up in the baseline and freezes. Type 1: The key here is to immediately throw to the next base. For instance, if the runner is picked off at first base he will be running full speed toward second. The first baseman should immediately throw to the infielder covering second base. He moves to the infield side and makes a strong ¾ (4-seam grip) throw to the middle infielder. The middle infielder receives the throw. He may then: 1. Tag the runner if he has advanced that far. 2. Run the runner back towards first base. (If he is close enough to the runner he may tag him without a throw. He will Run Him Down; hence the name.) When the first baseman makes his throw he then closes on the runner by moving under control toward second base. The pitcher follows his throw to cover the base. Type 2: If the runner is hung up he will hesitate, waiting for the defense to make a move. The infielder with the ball runs at the runner, forcing him toward the next base. It does not matter which base that is. Do not think that it is always correct to run the runner back toward the base he came from. The rundown does not always happen that way. The off infielder “closes” toward the advancing runner, receives the ball at the right time and makes the tag. Baseball Excellence has always tried to use drills that include multiple skills. So when we practice rundowns, most of the time we will do it from pickoffs. That way we can include pitcher pickoffs skill work in with the rundowns. You can practice both types of rundowns. Have the runner either break full speed to second base and have him freeze in the baseline. It is important for the pitchers to get involved in rundowns as well. So you can practice ‘comebackers’ to the pitcher with a runner at third base. The runner goes halfway on contact and freezes in the baseline. Again you have two skills; comebackers and rundowns. The pitcher fields the ball and sees the runner stopped in the third base line. He runs full speed (under control) directly at the runner, forcing him to make a decision about which direction to run. Sometimes the runner will hesitate too long and the pitcher may get close enough to the runner to make the tag himself, without a throw. Once the runner commits to a base and the pitcher cannot tag him he throws to the base and follows his throw to cover. Then the rundown becomes routine. The off infielder closes, receives the ball and makes the tag.
8/15/05-OPPOSITE FIELD HITTING We mention opposite field hitting often at Baseball Excellence. It’s because hitting the baseball hard to the opposite field is so important. To be a complete hitter, players must learn to be proficient at this skill. From the day pitchers throw their first pitch they are taught the skill of throwing a fastball knee high on the outside corner. Why? It’s the furthest strike from the hitter’s vision. It is the most difficult pitch for him to hit solidly and drive. This is where they get you out. This is the pitch that is swung at and missed or popped up or grounded to the shortstop. This is Double Play Central. So if pitchers learn this skill why don’t we see more coaches drilling their hitters to defeat this tactic? Maybe they do. But they must do it in secret. We don’t see a lot of opposite field hitting drills going on at batting practices. Opposite field hitting should be drilled everyday. It is not a weakness. It is a strength… Tee work is very good for hitting to all fields. Short toss is a good drill. Hitting in the cage is also very good. But live hitting to the opposite field on a baseball diamond is the best method. It gives the hitter a good perspective of where his ball was hit on the field and it clearly makes evident to him the distance each batted ball travels. The Drill We feel this particular drill is a very good opposite field hitting drill. As we have said our hitters progress take batting practice in stages; tee, side flips, short toss, opposite field and live hitting. Here’s the setup for right handed batters: One coach sets up a screen about 10-12 feet in front of home plate with a bucket of baseballs. Another screen is placed on the right side of the infield about 20 feet away from home plate and about 10-12 feet off the foul line. The hitting coach stands behind this second screen and instructs the hitters. He has the best view and does not have to worry about getting hit with a ball. He can concentrate on his hitters. The idea is for the hitter to hit the second screen, hard. Because of the placement of this screen any ball hit there will result in a ball hit to the opposite field. The coach who tosses the balls does so in an underhand fashion. He tosses them just off the outside corner of the plate. By delivering them underhand he has good control and the hitter must provide the power. He can also put spin on the ball that simulates a slider or curve ball. Each hitter receives 10-15 swings. His goal is to hit every one of them into the screen. Young hitters will not do this drill well at first. They will hit balls up the middle or they will hit the wrong screen or they will pop balls up and to the right or they will swing and miss. It takes a great amount of concentration and practice. It is not a drill that the player just hops in there and takes his hacks and jumps out. The coach must constantly give instruction and reinforcement. This kind of concentration and effort for the player is difficult at first but soon becomes second nature. A coach should demand full effort from his players. The Technique Have your hitters stand in the batter’s box the same way, with the front foot even with the middle corner of the plate. (No matter where the pitch is thrown, inside, outside or down the middle the hitter approaches the ball from the same stance, stride and position.) It is where he makes contact with the ball in relation to the plate that makes the difference. The outside pitch should be contacted back further on the plate, somewhere near the back corner angle. To hit to the opposite field the hitter has to hit ‘inside’ the baseball, by hitting the ball as it travels further back. We tell players that are struggling with this drill to “swing when you feel the ball is almost by you.” “Hitting is timing.” That truism was never more evident than when you begin teaching this drill. It is not an easy concept to grasp and a difficult drill to do. That is why it should be done everyday. If you have players with certain hitting faults such as stepping away from the plate (stepping in the bucket) this will really become evident when you use this drill. Therefore, using this drill has an added benefit of helping players with this fault. Hit the Inside of the Ball By throwing the balls at a reduced speed it is easier for the hitters to see where they should hit the baseball. They should hit inside the ball and not around it. As a hitter becomes proficient, he can even begin to aim at the top half of the inside of the ball. This will increase his odds of hitting hard line drives and ground balls the other way, consistently. The hitters should swing the bat hard, not try to coax the ball into right field. The first few times you run this drill it will be frustrating. There will be a lot of failure. Weak pop-ups, swings and misses and a lot of balls pulled back to the coach who is tossing the balls. There will be a lot of players who break down their hitting mechanics and there will be a lot of players who contact the ball “early.” Don’t give up and don’t give in. Keep at it everyday. Don’t let your power hitters blow this off. They are the ones that will need it the most as the pitching gets better. There will be great rewards. Youth and high school hitters can improve their season batting averages by learning to hit outside strikes hard the other way. Teach them to “hit the ball where it’s pitched” and “use the entire field”. Ask any major league player what this did for their careers. Next time you take your family to a Minor or Major League baseball game, go 2-3 hours early and watch “field batting practice”. Even though the pitches are medium fast balls you will notice that hitters will hit the ball to the opposite field as much or more than they will pull the ball. Now you know why. Likewise, most MLB hitting instructors will tell you that this is one of the first things they will focus on with a player when he enters a batting slump. Later, when the player is interviewed, he will often attribute “patience”, “waiting longer”, and “going the other way”, as reasons for why he is now seeing and hitting the ball well again. Tips: Run this drill just before field batting practice in groups of 4 or 5. Put all left-hand hitters in 1 group. Have a bag in right and left fields to collect balls. Because of the degree of difficulty of this drill, it is necessary for the coach to provide constant reinforcement and encouragement. Make sure the players aren’t ‘cheating’ by sticking their bats out and guiding the ball into right field, or diving into the pitch. They have to maintain their normal hitting mechanics and their normal stride, back at the pitcher. Do not use the phrase “swing inside out”. Simply remind them that nothing in the swing (or stride) changes except WHEN the ball is hit. Occasionally the coach may miss and throw the ball over the middle of the plate. For the purpose of this drill, instruct your players not to swing at these pitches. This adds a little ‘plate discipline.’ When you players become proficient at this drill you may remove the second screen to let them see how far their balls go. Once again, the key is to let the ball travel back on the plate. Drill opposite field hitting on a daily basis. This will be one of the most important drills you do for your players now, and in the years to come.
We teach two charging plays to our players. One is “gloved” and the other is “bare handed”. Both are “one handed” plays that add an extra dimension to a fielder and a team. Both are considered “do or die” plays, in that the fielder could not get the runner out at 1b if he waits on the ball. He must charge it and throw on the run to help his team. Both plays can be taught to youth players. The Slow Roller is performed on slow ground balls that get past the pitcher. This skill is necessary because infielders set up deeper (edge of outfield grass) to increase their “side to side” and “short outfield” range. There are 5 steps 1. Run full speed directly through the ball Take a banana route if the ball is hit at you or to your right. Pump arms and run on balls of feet in order to keep eyes level. 2. Get under control when approaching the ball. Infielders catch the ball directly in front of the LEFT toes by attacking the ball with an open glove in an upward and outward fashion. 3. Transfer ball from glove to throwing hand and gain a 4 seam grip (while continuing through the ball). 4. Throw hard, coming from underneath and off of the RIGHT foot. Do not be concerned by high arc. (Because of the timing you do not have the time to throw from a high ¾ arm slot. You field the ball off your left toes, transfer it to your throwing hand and when the right foot plants you must throw.) 5. Continue through the ball (do not follow the throw). The barehanded charging play is performed on slow rollers or on balls that have stopped. There are 5 steps 1. Run full speed directly through the ball. 2. Pump arms and run on balls of feet to keep eyes level. 3. Slow or brake down when approaching the ball. RH fielders scoop ball from outside the RIGHT foot. This is made easier by bending at waist and tilting shoulders. 4. There is no time to gain a 4 seam grip. 5. The throw is made off of the right foot from “underneath”. The arm slot should be at a low ¾ angle. The arm action is lift the ball WHILE the throwing elbow bends and points directly away from the throwing target, and then quickly points to the target, then throw. 6. Continue through the ball (do not follow throw). Note: The right fielder (and 2b when available) should be breaking to back up 1b as soon as the infielder begins charging the ball. We teach our infielders to “get to it and get rid of it” as fast as they can because no one can out run the thrown ball. As a result, we work equally as hard teaching our infielders to stretch and pick, block and/or leave the bag to field bad throws. Likewise we teach our outfielders to anticipate these at every base. Many youth coaches do not teach the one handed charging plays. Sure, they come out of the dugout and yell “come on, charge the ball” after the play, but what about before the play? What about before the game and season? Instead many coaches spend all their time hitting grounders to their players that don’t require them to move much at all. They teach them to “always get in front of it” and “always use two hands”. Though this is good advice on “routine grounders”, it’s not enough to serve players well if they advance to the 60/90 fields. One handed charging plays are considered by many coaches as “hot dogging” or “show boating”. They are not. They are skills that will help separate infielders from outfielders in the future. They help players with other skills from double play feeds to run downs. At the highest level players that make these plays fluidly are referred to as acrobatic or being able to dominate a game with his glove. In the words of Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach “Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation". During a water break, a coach should sit his players down at the pitcher’s mound to explain the charging plays. We recommend he start off by explaining how difficult each one is in order to prepare them mentally for all of the failures that will be required of them. Then he should explain what each step is and why each is vital. Then he should demonstrate how to perform each one (don’t worry, kids know you are old and out of shape. They will appreciate your lesson nevertheless). Drills for gloved charging play: Set up 3 cones (or baseballs) along the edge of the infield grass (one near 2b, one at SS, and the other between 3b and SS). Put everyone at deep short (edge of grass) and hand them a ball. Have them take a 4 seam grip and begin running full speed to a cone. When they pass it they should throw to 1b with a low ¾ arm slot and off of their right foot (on the dead run). Then repeat the process having them run with the ball in the pocket of their glove. When they pass the cone they reach in and gain a 4 seam grip, then throw properly. Then repeat the process by tossing them a ball before they arrive at the cone. Finally, repeat the process by hitting soft fungoes from home plate. Drills for the bare hand charging play: Lay 3 balls in the grass between the mound and the 3b foul line. Have each player line up and trot half speed (using proper running technique) directly to the ball. As they bend their waist they should tilt their shoulders, pick up ball off the outside of the right foot, throw and continue coming through the ball (toward home plate). Then they should repeat the process at ¾ speed and finally at full speed. Reward players that do it right by allowing them an extra turn. Do not rush them to learning the entire play during one afternoon. Take it in steps. Thoroughly teach what, how and why! Get them comfortable with the throws first and the entire play will become easier. After a while they will think “I can do this”. They will notice their favorite MLB player making the same plays on television. Every time your team meets you should fungo these to your player along with routine plays and back hands. Last week we mentioned Wall Ball and the “End of the Line Game”. These are also great ways to solidify both charging play skills. Note: The charging plays are another one of the “pitchers best friends” (like the double play). They enable him to hit his spot to get a batter off stride, knowing that his defense can make the play. Note: As your team becomes proficient at this, the shortstop will learn to quickly call off the 3b and pitcher as these plays materialize. Note: do not hit slow rollers during Batting Practice. You do not want players charging into the batter.
A proper batting grip is essential. Its purpose is to control the bat while allowing the hitter to generate maximum bat speed with minimum effort. Much has been said about the lining up of the “knocking” or middle knuckles of the hands. We don’t think it’s enough to just tell a kid to line up his middle knuckles without explaining why. This can be uncomfortable for young players due to their small hands and may need reinforcing. Nevertheless, it should be taught from day one… The knuckles should be slightly ‘misaligned’ with the top hand ‘knocker’ knuckles between the middle and top knuckles of the bottom hand. An easy way to teach this (from Mike Epstein) is to “have the hitter place the bat barrel between his feet and lean it against his body. Have him to pick the bat up by the handle with both hands. This places his hands in the correct grip: the “knocker” knuckles of the top hand will be aligned perfectly between the “knocker” knuckles and the big knuckles on the bottom hand.” Another way to show this is to use an axe handle to demonstrate the correct grip. We teach the hitter to grip the bat at the point where the fingers join the hand. Usually this will align the middle knuckles somewhat but more importantly, it provides flexible or “flippy” wrists. This flexibility is what provides the crucial “late” bat speed that is prevalent in all great hitters and nonexistent in average hitters. To see this first hand, pull out some of your baseball cards at home. See how the bat appears to be a “blur” in the contact zone? This would not be possible if the bat is gripped in the palms. There would be no blur. The bat would be moving much slower through the contact zone. Just before and during contact, this allows the hitter to maximize his bat speed by “throwing his hands” into the “palm up/palm down” position where the bottom hand is facing palm down, and the top hand is facing palm up. The wrists do not roll over until well after contact with the ball is made. A youth coach can tell if a hitter has a proper grip (from the dugout or mound) by looking at his wrists. They should be bent at a 45’ angle to the forearms and gently waggling the bat head back and forth or side to side during his stance and load. The waggle is important. How they do it is not. It is common for young hitters to grip the bat further back in their palm, especially the top hand. This ‘wrapping’ will cause the hitter to hit with a ‘casting’ motion, (hitting around the ball) reducing his power and bat speed. The bottom wrist should be flexed “in” and not flat. The grip pressure is also an important factor. It must begin extremely light or loose during the stance, load and stride, because it will tighten during the swing. In the contact zone the grip will be extremely tight. If a hitter begins with a tight grip or one that is in the palms of the hands he will actually have to slow his bat speed down in order to maintain control of the bat in the contact area. Instead of accelerating, he will be decelerating through the contact zone. Another factor that contributes to a poor grip in youth players is the pressure to get a base hit instead of just being encouraged to hit the ball hard each at bat. Kids are often taught to “just make contact” or “don’t kill it, just meet it”. Our ‘teach’ is to “hurt the ball when you hit it.” Another problem with youth players (and parents) is a false sense of accomplishment they get from swinging a –7 to –11 aluminum bat. Kids often think, “what is the coach talking about? I don’t need to change my grip. I have plenty of bat speed. I have a few home runs and regularly hit the ball harder than anyone on my team”. Parents often think, “Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broke”. “My son has made all stars 3 years in a row. How much more bat speed does he need”? Unfortunately when these kids enter high school at age 15 and start swinging –3’s and wood (-1’s) against 18 year old pitchers that have 3 years of weight training under their belt, they often fail. Tim coaches in one of America’s hot beds for youth and high school baseball (Atlanta, Georgia). He says that many of the incoming freshmen he sees each year grip the bat tightly and in their palms. At that point it’s almost too late. The competition in high school is fierce. Kids aren’t usually willing to take a step backwards in order to go 2-3 steps forward as a hitter. They usually only have 2 hours to 2 days to impress the coaches at tryouts. They are not apt to try/risk anything that could make them look worse. Should a coach change an incorrect grip of an 8 year old even if he is by far the best hitter in the park? ABSOLUTELY! You are obligated to teach him skills that will not only make him better now, but 5-10 years down the road as well. Our advice to youth coaches is to make every player grip the bat properly. No matter how unnatural or uncomfortable it feels. Encourage them to ignore the result while they work to develop more bat speed during every tee, soft toss, self toss, and BP station. Their hand eye coordination will be better than you think. Bat speed is teachable by coaches that give their kids the freedom to fail while they learn. One note about batting gloves: This is “old school” but we believe serious hitters should not wear batting gloves. (If your hitters use gloves wear them only at games.) Without gloves you get direct feedback and a more natural feel of the bat. Without gloves a coach can gauge a hitter’s work ethic. Is he swinging the bat enough away from practice? A serious player will develop calluses as he develops as a hitter. If you do allow gloves make sure they are a tight fit so the hitter gets a good ‘feel’ of the bat. Batting gloves are made of thin grain leather and they shrink (and stink) due to sweat and wet weather. When they shrink, the palm of the glove protrudes over the palm of the hand. This causes the bat to be gripped in this area instead of where the fingers and hands join. When a hitter’s gloves shrink he should buy a new pair. A DRILL: A good way to reinforce the correct grip is to have the hitter stand at the plate, stride, swing and literally throw the bat at the pitcher’s mound. If the grip is correct the bat will sail directly to the mound. If he has wrapped the bat it will travel toward the third base side of the mound. His hands will not be in the “palm up-palm down” position. The top hand will turn over early. Both hands must work together to deliver a severe blow. (This drill can also be used with a hitter whose top hand is dominant or with a hitter who steps in the bucket). As you can see there is a lot to teach when it comes to the batting grip. This is one of the basics that coaches should look at initially when teaching hitting.
Teach your pitchers to back up a base on all plays. There is no play in baseball where players should be standing around after a base hit. You have to reinforce this because sometimes a pitcher will hang his head when he gives up a hit and he won’t hustle to the spot where he should be. (This is part of a pitcher’s mental toughness training.) The proper position for a play at home plate is behind the plate, as deep as possible and directly in line with the throw. Use the third and first basemen for cutoffs on throws to the plate. Their position is on the infield grass in line with the throw and the catcher. If a ball is hit to the left field, the third baseman is the cutoff man. The first baseman is the cutoff on all other throws to the plate. The exception is when there is a runner on first base and a ball is hit deep in the left/right-centerfield gap. The middle infielders go out to form a double relay and the third baseman must stay at home to cover his base. The first baseman becomes the cutoff. The first baseman peels off to become the cutoff as he is following the runner to 2b. Here are a pitcher’s responsibilities for backing up bases: Single to left or center field with no one on base- backs up second base in direct line with outfield throw. Single to right field with no one on base- a pitcher’s first reaction should be to hustle to first base in case of a play there. Single to the outfield with a runner on first base- backs up third base in line with the throw from the outfield, as deeply as possible. The SS is the cutoff man in this situation. He will be stationed approximately 60 feet from third base in line with the throw. Single to the outfield with a runner on second base and trying to score- backs up home in direct line with the throw. All extra base hits with no one on base backs up the base where ball will be thrown. Extra base hit with a runner on first base- becomes a floater. The pitcher should hustle to a spot halfway between third and home and then hustles to back up the base where the ball will be thrown. This play should be drilled in practice. It takes some timing and skill. Pitchers should always hustle with controlled speed to their backup positions (Being under control helps you to react at the proper time.) They should get as deep behind the base as they can and still be in line with the throw. If they are too close to the base, the overthrow will get by them too. Remember on the big fields the dugouts are open (no fence) and when a ball goes into it, the runner(s) get an extra base. The pitcher must do everything in his power to prevent this. ***************************** One of the best players we had the pleasure of coaching was Andy Wilson. (Mets organization) I can remember a few of his home runs but one of the plays that stands out most in my mind is in a game when he was a pitcher and had to back up third base. The throw from the outfield was strong and took a wickedly unpredictable hop, away from him. It got past the third baseman and Andy actually dove in front of the ball and blocked it with his body; no glove, no hands, he took the blow with his chest to prevent it from going into the dugout. That is playing winning baseball. ****************************** Pitchers should get out of the infield on all possible plays at the plate. Otherwise they are clogging things up. Teach them to go where they are supposed to go. Proper back ups by the pitching staff will save you a run or two in the course of a season. These are some more of the ‘little things’ that win close games. Several years ago, the Little League World Series ended when the pitcher cut a throw to the plate from the left fielder while standing 10 feet IN FRONT OF THE CATCHER. Under pressure, a pitcher (and all players) will instinctively do what they have practiced. Little League coaches, have your pitchers go the correct position after a base hit with a runner on second. I know many coaches use their pitchers as the cut-off, but that’s not the correct way to teach the game. Forget the fact that most Little League pitchers are the best athletes on the field. Teach them the game the way it is supposed to be played and get your other players involved. We have seen numerous high school pitchers seal their fate by failing to instinctively perform their defensive responsibilities. On the high school level freshman and sophomore pitchers are compared to junior and seniors for “projectability”. Many times a coach will take a young pitcher with below average arm strength if he comes across as smart and coachable. Instinctively performing his defensive duties is his best way to portray this. In fact there are many junior and seniors that don’t always perform these instinctively. Tim recalls one scrimmage in particular where a good pitcher was the last player cut from the varsity one spring. It was a varsity scrimmage and he had pitched relatively well until a ground ball was hit in the hole between a diving 1b and a diving 2b. The 2b made a spectacular play but there was no one covering the bag. You guessed it. The pitcher was still standing on the mound. He instantly knew better, but unfortunately he had not practiced this enough to where it was instinctive. He sealed his fate right then. He showed everyone that he was not ready. His natural ability was not able to overcome his lack of knowledge/instinct. He was sent down the next day. (What an honor it would have been to be the only freshman selected for the varsity that year.) Another example was a senior pitcher that had pitched well for 5 innings in a big game (scouts and college recruiters in attendance). He walked the lead off batter to start off the 6th inning. The runner took third base on a perfectly executed hit and run. The left fielder preceded to short hop the third baseman with his throw and the ball bounced toward the dugout. This is when the pitcher broke from the mound. Unfortunately this was too late. He hustled and even dove as the ball barely rolled across the edge of the dugout but the umpire yelled “dead ball” and awarded the runner home. The pitcher never recovered and could not finish the game. This pitcher was a great athlete (3 sport letterman) but unfortunately he was never taught all of the “little things” in youth ball, so they would be instinctive years later. He had the ability but, never pitched past high school. These skills are just as important as proper throwing mechanics and pick off moves. They define a total pitcher.
Why do some teams seem to perform well under pressure while others fall apart? What sets successful teams above the rest? Beside developing and teaching his players there are some skills the winning coach must acquire. Teach your players to focus only on the things they can control. When an athlete focuses on “uncontrollables” he is more likely to tighten up and "choke." The chart below lists things beyond a player’s control and subsequently he should block them out and focus only on things he can control. NO CONTROL: Winning the game. Hitters’ hits. Teammate’ errors. Umpire’s Calls. Crowd noise. Weather. Playing conditions. The play of the opponents. CAN CONTROL: Work Ethic. Practice Habits. Attitude. Developing mental toughness. Ability to focus developed through sound practices. Desire. Do not coach the outcome- When a baseball player focuses on the importance of the game, winning and losing, or anything to do with the outcome, he will not be as effective. This distracts the player from his performance and inhibits his ability to relax. Get your athletes to focus on specifically what they have to do to compete, not on winning. That is where a sound practice routine comes into play. If you have properly prepared your players you have done your job. Any sign from a coach to his players that the outcome of a game is vitally important to him or winning is more important than anything in the world, will have a tendency to “tighten up” his players. Just as a coach can read his players’ body language so can the players read their coach. Teach your players HOW to relax- Don’t just tell them to relax. Show them how. Spend some time in the preseason going over relaxation techniques; breathing exercises, visualization techniques, muscle relaxation and if you have a copy of “HEAD GAMES” have them read it. Again, establishing and teaching routines to each player and position will help them relax. Examples are: Teaching infielders the proper “set” and “ready” positions. Teaching pitchers how to relax when on the mound. Teaching hitters a good On-Deck routine and teaching them to focus on the situation and what they need to do. Teaching catchers a pre-pitch glove relaxation technique. A confident player is a more relaxed player. If a coach will focus on his players’ improvement rather than the results they achieve, it will have a tendency to instill confidence. Approached correctly a coach can instill confidence in his players during his post-game and post-practice talks. Teach your players how adversity can work for them, not against- Teach your players to try to find an advantage in a disadvantage; i.e. “We have practiced in this kind of hot weather before so we are prepared.” Or: (To his hitters) “That umpire’s strike zone is low, so be ready to be aggressive low in the strike zone.” (To his pitchers) “The umpire is calling a low strike zone. Keep the ball down and you are going to have a great day.” There is always adversity in competition; be ready for it and prepare your players to “play above” it. A large part of this is to not allow excuses to creep into the players’ conversation. To be effective through adversity players must not make an excuse for their performance. This is an on-going challenge for a coach. Keep games and competition in perspective- If you make the game "bigger than life" your players' performances will not be their best. If the game is hyped too much, or if that "must win" situation becomes too vital, then chances are good you will not get a winning performance from your team. A baseball player that chokes may have lost his perspective and made the game too important. Helping him handle a pressure situation is an important aspect of a coach’s job. I have always felt that a coach should make his practices vital and important. “Skills are developed in practice. They are displayed in games.” If he puts pressure on his players in practice they will respond well in games. If he will provide the perspective that practices are more important, then games will become a piece of cake. Coaches should also make players aware that baseball requires a proper decorum among opponents, umpires, coaches and teammates. Intensity must be tempered with respect for the game. Challenge your players; avoid threatening them- This is where the EROC coach fails miserably. “One more error and I’m going to bring in Tommy to play your position.” Threats will surely distract a player from a solid performance. A coach should ask himself; “Do I care about myself or my players?”By directing their focus away from the “what-ifs” of losing to a “You can do it” atmosphere the players will perform better. Challenge them to do better; in practice as well as games. Coaches should develop an open understanding (connection -bond) with his players and a part of that understanding is that he will accept no excuses from his players. (That in my opinion is one of baseball’s great life lessons.) Put your players under pressure at practice- That is where the pressure should be; practice and not games. Constantly challenge your players to practice at 100% effort. Teach and “Never Give In.” Separate self-worth from performance- “I didn’t play well so I am not a good person.” Do not make the mistake of equating their performance with how you feel about them as people. And do not let them fall into that trap on their own. If your practice routines are sound and if you teach the game, your players will give you everything they have. They will know you care about them. And they will respond to you. Allow your players to fail- Baseball is designed around failure. No one gets a hit every time and no team wins every game. Failure is inevitable so teach your players how to deal with this fact. Encourage your players to let their mistakes go immediately and to focus on what they want to have happen, not what they are afraid will happen. You want your players to “go for it” and not be afraid of failure. Praise good swings at a pitch even if it’s missed. Praise a great fielding attempt. Praise a player’s effort, not the result. Evaluate your players on their progress, not their statistics. If your players can put the idea of failure aside and focus on the effort they produce, they will be able to learn and gain positive feedback from failure itself. When athletes are not concerned about making mistakes they perform their best. Players who react negatively to failure exhibit the worst kind of immaturity on the baseball diamond. It is a coach’s job to help his players put this distraction behind them. “Play like you expect to win: not like you’re afraid to lose.” Use Humor- Humor is a wonderful tool for putting things in perspective, helping players relax and taking their mind away from failure. Nothing is more boring that a coach who takes himself too seriously. This kind of coach will have his players taking the game too seriously as well. A quick wit and a wry outlook can be effective if it is not used to ridicule the players. It can break up a stern demeanor and make the coach more accessible and human. It can make the players more comfortable. And it can ease tension. A light touch of humor can drive home a point to a player. If you are a good coach your kids will be really playing hard for you. Since the game often includes failure a little humor can ease a player’s misery sometimes. Humor is a stress reliever. You have to be relaxed to play baseball effectively. Don’t be afraid to use it. A laugh once in a while can lighten things up. Kids have a way of testing adults. They want to see how far they can go. A sardonic statement can sometimes keep them in line and let them know who is in control. “Billy, you’ve got more alibis than Jesse James. No excuses, son” Humor can have a way of telling a player his job performance is not quite up to par. If you decide to use your “rapier-like wit” as a coaching tool, use it sparingly and at opportune times. It may surprise you how effective humor can be. Teach you players to enjoy themselves. Teach them to find satisfaction in the way they play; not the outcome of the game. Teach them to take pleasure in their environment; the beautiful field, the green grass, the baseball smells. Any player who takes pleasure in the way he performs will perform at a higher level.
Dugout and on deck batter’s skills are mental skills that are very important if a player is going to reach his potential and advance. At the high school level and beyond the competition is fierce. Players that once enjoyed a size and strength advantage, due to a fall birthday, usually lose it during post puberty years of the 9th and 10th grade. At this level the smart (coachable) player can often outperform a more talented but less attentive player. We believe that coaches should begin teaching the “intangibles” at 9-10 or beginning in the first year of kids pitch baseball. The dugout and on deck circles are places to relax but NOT LOSE THEIR FOCUS. It’s not a time for them to have mom bring them a Gatorade. It’s not a time to socialize with friends and family outside of the fence either (they can do that after the game). It’s not just a time to get loose either. It’s a time to learn and gain an edge (increase their odds of being successful later in the game), by studying the umpire, pitcher and the opposing defense. Learn the umpire’s strike zone during the first inning. Does he consistently call a high or low strike zone? Does he give pitches that are 1 ball in and 2-3 out? Does he give the call if the pitcher hits the mitt? Learn the pitcher’s tendencies. Does he throw a 2 seam or 4 seam fast ball? Does he start everyone off with a fast ball? Does he try to strike everyone out? Can he throw his off speed pitches for strikes? Does he throw the bottom of the order all fast balls? Does he alter his delivery when he throws off speed pitches? Can he throw off speed pitches during fast ball counts? What are his “out pitches”? (pitches during 0-2 counts)-high heat, curve in the dirt, fast ball on the hands, fast ball 6 inches out side? Does he ever use a submarine delivery? After a real wild off speed pitch, is he embarrassed and come back with a fast ball? Does he throw more fast balls when the base runners on base are a threat to steal? Learn the pitcher’s tendencies with runners on base. How many looks does he give to a runner at 1b, 2b, Does he go to the stretch with a runner at 3b? How many pick off moves does he have to each base? Does he have 1st and 3rd skills? How many times in a row will he throw over? Does he slide or quick step? Do they have a “pitch out” play? Do he and the catcher change signs when a runner reaches 2b? Does the pitcher field his position well? Is he athletic? Can he field bunts quickly? Does he back up 3b/home on balls hit to the outfield? Can he cover home on a passed ball? Defense Does the infield shift according to the pitch that is being called? Does the outfield shade hitters? Does the 3b ever set up differently on every pitch? Do they move when you show bunt early? On deck duties: Coach the 3b runner to slide or stand up at home. Chase passed and foul balls for the opposing catcher (with nobody on base). Is there a running lane? Learn the slope of the infield. If it’s a downhill run from 1b to 2b, it will be an uphill run from 3b to home. "In the hole" batter has the responsibility of retrieving foul balls, not the on-deck batter. It is his job to pay attention to the pitcher he is going to face.
The delayed steal is a play intended to catch the defense off guard and advance a slower runner to second base. (Although fast runners can make this play that much more successful.) It is also used against teams with great catchers, pitchers with good pick off moves and/or middle infielders who lose concentration and don’t ‘pinch in’ on every throw from the catcher to the pitcher. The idea is to take advantage of defensive lapses by the middle infielders and the catcher. This tactic can also be effective if the catcher has a habit of dropping to his knees after he receives the ball. The delayed steal is not an every-game type of play. It’s a play a team should use when they absolutely have to have a run. Use this play only four or five times a season. HOW: During an ordinary steal, the base runner takes his primary lead and then sprints to second base on the pitchers first movement (LH) or when he commits to the plate (RH). During the delayed steal the runner takes his primary lead, a 3 shuffle step secondary lead, and then sprints to second base. (No crossover steps and keeps the shoulders squared to the plate during the secondary lead.) The third shuffle step in his secondary lead should take place just as the ball is hitting the catcher’s glove. That is when he makes his steal attempt; with a crossover step and good momentum to the bag. The secondary lead disguises the steal. By the time the catcher gets the ball the defense notices the stealing runner and it becomes a foot race to second base between the runner and middle infielders. They often arrive at the bag at the same time, forcing the middle infielder to catch and apply a tag on the run. The runner should slide into second base (hands down) making the tag more difficult. (Note: your league may not allow the head-first slide.) Baseball Excellence teaches base runners to always take their leads off first base the same way every time. (Primary Lead: Pitcher toes the rubber- three steps, beginning with the right foot. Pitcher comes set- two slide steps, beginning with the right foot. Secondary lead: Pitcher goes to the plate- three shuffle steps.) Not only is this the best way to get a maximum-safe lead but with all runners executing these maneuvers exactly the same way every time, it disguises plays and steal attempts. It is best to cover delayed steals with your players during a teaching session, early in the season while covering primary leads, secondary leads, and straight steals. You can set up a pitcher, catcher, short stop and second baseman (edge of the grass), first baseman and everyone else becomes a base runner at first base. (Helmets on). The runners should repetitively take their primary leads as the pitcher toes the rubber. Then they take their three-shuffle hop secondary lead as the pitcher releases the ball to the plate. They should use their momentum to sprint to second base and slide. During these drills the defense should yell “Runner!” just after the catcher receives the ball. This allows your pitchers to get in a short bullpen and gives your catchers reps throwing to second base. WHEN: Best times to attempt a delayed steal are: 1. When the pitcher has a quick move to the plate, making it difficult to execute a straight steal. 2. A left-handed hitter at the plate can help hide you from the catcher until you have made your break. 3. When there are two outs. With less than two outs the middle infielders will be at double play depth, closer to the bag, making it easier for them to get there in time. 4. When the opposing catcher is not alert. 5. The later stages of a game.* WHY: We know the delayed steal concept is hard for a 12U player/coach/parent to understand because kids can often steal second base without a throw, but on the big field it becomes more uncertain to steal a base. At that level teams have few (if any) players that can steal second base on their own. This is why coaches rely on things such as bunts, hit and runs, delayed steals, etc.; in order to advance runners. Teaching the delayed steal early means it’s one less skill your players will need to learn later. Players that can routinely execute these will show their high school coaches that they are “coachable” or have “athletic intelligence”. Likewise, Youth teams that routinely execute these tell prospective players (and parents) that they are knowledgeable and can teach their kids the things they need to get to the next level. In leagues where a runner cannot lead off it is common to try to steal just as the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher. This is not a true delayed steal but it can be effective if a defense is not paying attention to the “little things.” COMMENTS: *Those of you who have coached in tournament play understand how much fatigue plays a part in your teams’ performance. Two games on a hot summer day can take a lot of energy and attentiveness out of your team. (That is part of a coach’s job – to help his kids develop inner toughness and to keep them mentally in the game.) Why bring that up in conjunction with the delayed steal? Because the late innings is the best time to execute it. Pay attention to your opponent’s defensive play, look for small mistakes and breakdowns in concentration and take this little strategy out of your bag of tricks at a key moment in a game. How do you defense the delayed steal? An alert team that communicates, stays mentally in the game and routinely makes the correct defensive moves will stop this play. (With a LH batter the catcher should come out prepared to throw on every pitch.) Indeed, if the opposing coach sees that you have no “chinks in your defensive armor” he probably won’t even attempt it. Once again, the delayed steal is not a play you use “just because you can” and it is not a play designed to ‘bury’ opponents. It is a special play to use only at times when you desperately need a run.
Good outfield play is essential for a winning team. A team should develop the mentality that every ball hit in the air is going to be caught. At the youth and occasionally high school levels good outfield play is often sporadic because of the lack of teaching, repetitions, and motivation. One of the most important skills an outfielder must posses is tracking a fly ball. Tracking the ball simply means taking the most direct route to where the ball will land. It is very common for inexperienced outfielders to take the wrong route to a fly ball. This may be one of the reasons youth players don’t like to play the outfield. They are out there all alone and not only are any mistakes very conspicuous; they are often costly as well. Every “zig-zagged” step (route) an outfielder takes to the ball is equal to the “direct” steps a base runner(s) takes to the next base. That’s a lot of pressure. Most teams do not hit enough fly ball fun goes to their outfielders and this is one of the essential ingredients for gaining ‘tracking’ experience. The following are some extra tips and drills for you to use to help players develop this critical skill. Make sure your outfielders are running on the balls of their feet. If they run on their heels the ball will appear to “bounce” and they will not track it well. Daily Form Running helps players with their running technique. Teach them that the glove is considered as part of their hand. They pump their arms and do not hold the glove out in front of them as they run. (This restricts the body and slows you down) Put the glove up the last three steps only. Getting a good ‘jump’ on the ball- this is where a player must concentrate. To get a good jump he must be moving at the swing of the bat. Look for a late reaction from a player. Many times they don’t move toward the ball until it is already in the air and sometimes by them. Kids must learn to concentrate on the strike zone. Have them play a game in their heads. They should pretend that the hitter is a fungo coach and every pitched ball is a fungo that is going to be hit at them. (“The game is played one pitch at a time.”) Teach them to watch the action of the hitter’s bat. This is a good teaching tool. Have your players stand in front of home plate on the infield. Take a position in the RH batter’s box. ‘Hit’ an imaginary ball up the middle. Have your kids concentrate on the action of the bat. Ask them where the ‘ball’ went. They will tell you, up the middle. Next pull an imaginary pitch. Your kids will tell you that you hit the ball to left field. Lastly, hit an outside pitch to the opposite field. Your players will know where the ball went. By watching the action of the bat and reading the hitter’s body, players can learn to get a good jump on the ball. Do not allow back pedaling. Teach the drop step, instead. Have your players drop the leg closest to the side the ball is on. If the ball is hit to their left, drop step with the left leg, turn and go to the ball. Hit deep and high fly balls. Have the outfielders turn and run to the spot where they think the ball will land. Don’t look up until they get there; just turn and run to the spot. Teach your players shagging in the outfield during Batting Practice to “Break” on all fly balls. They should concentrate on the hitting zone, watch the ball off the bat and “break” two or three steps in the direction of the flight of the ball. Establishing this routine during your daily BP will begin to develop your players’ ability to track the ball. On the big fields, it is also important for the outfielder to understand and read the spin (or slice/hook) of the ball. Example: A center fielder needs to know that a line drive directly between him and the right fielder will be slicing toward the right fielder off the bat of a right handed batter, and toward him off the bat of a left handed batter. Coaches and parents can teach so many things in a short period of time (and space) if they will just be creative. These include: Charge and catch line drives. Communicate with the infielders and other outfielders. Head first diving catches (lay out) One handed catches. Get under and catch ball with throwing momentum to the appropriate base. (Eliminate drifting) Using the glove to shade the sun Locate the “white dot” to catch a high fly ball at night on a poorly lit field. Besides outfield fungoes these drills from our Coaches Practice Planner will help develop tracking skills and outfield play in general.
At ASMI (American Sports Medicine Institute) Orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and biomechanists all work together to study how to prevent injuries in pitchers. They are one of the few institutions that do research on youth baseball players and pitchers. They fix a lot of shoulder and elbow injuries but they devote a lot of time, effort and money in researching how to prevent those injuries. To me, it shows a lot about the character of the man who heads the institute, Dr. James Andrews. He could just sit back and do all those surgeries on all those arms. But he cares. He has seen the looks on many young faces when they realize their pitching days are over. And he feels many of those injuries could have been prevented. We are going to explore situations that lead to injuries here… Parents who are “over the top.” Many are misguided into believing their son is going to be the next superstar. Dr. Andrews told the story of the parents of a SIX year old youngster who played tennis. They came to Dr. Andrews wanting to know the name of a good agent for him. He was enrolled in a tennis school in Miami. ??????????????????? Dr. Andrews has had parents who have asked him to perform Tommy John surgery on their son even though he was not injured. They had heard many pitchers have come back stronger than ever after UCL surgery. (What they didn’t know was that many pitchers do come back stronger but that is because for the first time in their life they are in terrific shape. Because of the physical therapy and training they get after elbow surgery they get into the best shape of their careers. That is what makes them stronger, not the surgery.) May years ago a physician once told me this and I have never forgotten it. “Surgery is a medical failure. Medicine has not come far enough to fix certain illnesses without invasive procedures.” I believe all proud parents have surrendered to some form of self-satisfaction when their son does well in sports. But we should never let it interfere with his development to the point that he is injured. Year ‘round baseball. Here’s an interesting fact: Almost all of the elbow surgeries that ASMI does are performed on young kids from warm weather states; where they can play baseball all year. The majority came from Texas, California and Florida. We are overusing our kids. They are wearing out at entirely too young an age. They play fall ball, summer ball, spring ball and winter ball. Some are quite skilled and look like miniature big leaguers. But they are not. They are kids whose growth plates have not closed and whose tendons and ligaments haven’t had a chance to mature and strengthen. Showcases. Here’s one I didn’t think of. These winter showcases where scouts have their radar guns and kids “cowboy up” to throw their hardest. It’s November and Tommy just got through with playing quarterback on his football team. He has not thrown a baseball since August. He warms up a little and sees all those radar guns and POW! (Dr. Andrews believes they should throw away all the radar guns. He believes they are detrimental because kids overthrow trying to put up big numbers.) Baseball is developmental and a youngster can’t jump in and out of the sport. He needs a proper warm up and strengthening phase; one measured in weeks, not days. Uninformed and EROT Coaches. (EROT- End Results Oriented Thinking.) Grab the hardware and the glory as opposed to thinking about the kids’ welfare.) These guys are easy to spot. Watch and listen. Do they constantly talk stats? Do they yell at kids for a physical error? Do they get on kids that strike out swinging? Do they insert a pitcher with one or two days rest into a championship tournament game? “Tommy’s got to go in. We have to win this game.” What do their practices look like? Do you see a lot of kids standing around while one kid takes batting practice? Does this coach bring in kids to pitch directly from a position without throwing a bullpen? Winning over development is paramount with these people. Keep your child away from them if you can. Breaking Pitches. Much has been written about the perils of throwing breaking balls. Curveballs, wait until 14- sliders not until 18. This is a very difficult standard for a young pitcher. There is pressure to get hitters out from youth coaches and these coaches ‘teach’ the curve ball as a means to an end. The irony of that is while the young pitcher is getting youth hitters out he is retarding the development of his fastball- the most important pitch in has arsenal when he matures. Travel and Multiple teams Little Johnny pitches on Monday and Thursday for his LL team. Then on Saturday he pitches for his travel team. That simply is not enough rest for any pitcher. All the stress a pitcher puts on his arm is cumulative and it will wear out. Parents, follow pitch count and rest recommendations. Don’t let a youth coach ruin your son’s chances for a possible future baseball career. “Not on My Watch!” This is a beauty. Have you seen the youth coach that has his kids throw curveballs and doesn’t pay any attention to pitch counts? Then he brags that none of his kids have ever had an arm injury while they were playing for him. What the uninformed don’t know is that most of the time shoulder and elbow injuries will not manifest themselves right away. They won’t show up until high school or even later. Most injuries occur because of the repetitive stress placed on the joints over time. A kid may hear a ‘pop’ when he blows out his UCL but that ‘pop’ occurred because of the cumulative stress he placed on his elbow over the years. It is the straw that broke the camel’s back sort of thing. The only defense for a parent is to become educated and keep control over their son’s youth pitching. More than likely no one else is going to. Mechanics. What you don’t know can hurt your child. Our advice is to learn all you can about pitching mechanics and to help your son learn a sound delivery. There is a dilemma, however. So much has been written on the Internet and in books about pitching mechanics. Everywhere you look there are pitching instructors. Seems like there’s one on every corner. It can get very confusing. A parent has to make up his own mind about what is right for his son. I would consider these things: Who and how many players (have gone on the play in college or professionally) has the instructor worked with? Does what he teach make sense biomechanically? Proper athletic movements must follow the laws of physics. Not that you have to become a physics student but think about what the instructor teaches and ask yourself if it makes sense. A parent should attend every session. Don’t use an instructor who doesn’t believe that. You must learn as your son is learning. Ask questions. Think about the answers he gives you. Does this instructor seem to have your son’s best interest at heart? In my opinion you should stay away from a pitching instructor who teaches a youth pitcher a curve ball. Hard throwers. It is the kids who throw with the highest velocity that are most at risk. These kids should be nurtured. Pitch counts, days rest, innings pitched and outings should be carefully monitored. Young growth plates are exposed to incredible stresses when a kid has above average velocity. But sadly, it is these at-risk kids that get overused and it is because of their velocity that they are so dominant. Ironic isn’t it? Parent should understand the difference between throwing and pitching. Pitching is a very stressful activity. Throwing builds arm strength. We believe kids don’t do enough throwing. Every baseball player should have some sort of throwing program. Throwing program, bullpens, game day pitch counts, minimal number of (or no) breaking pitches, good mechanics and adequate days rest between pitching outings. This will give your pitcher his best chance for baseball health.
Sliding is a skill that is not always correctly taught and at the youth level is often given little more than lip service. The good teams however, do teach this skill. It is not a natural action and requires good technique and practice. It is important to overcome the fear factor in sliding. Fear of being hurt is the one thing that makes a base runner tentative and can cause injury rather than prevent it. Proper sliding must be executed at full speed and when a player slows down he is susceptible to injury. Don’t leap, jump or tumble into a slide and don’t slow down to prepare for one. Bent Leg Slide- This is also called the “Figure Four Slide”. Basically sliding is “controlled falling.” Simply run and sit down at full speed, landing with one leg folded under the other. Slide on the side of the calf and hamstring, not the buttocks. Slide straight into the base. Runners should also slide with their hands high to avoid injury. The lead leg (top leg) should be slightly flexed at the knee and extended toward the base with the toes up. This is the leg that makes first contact with the base. The hands should be thrown back and up, not dragging on the ground. The head should be up and watching the base. The ‘tuck’ and lead legs should form a figure four. Although some coaches teach players to use either leg, we like to have our players use their left leg as their bent leg. This makes them quicker if they go into a pop-up slide. If they used their right leg as the bent leg they would have to step over the base, taking longer to advance. (Another one of the “little things.”) It is very common to see young base runners slide with their hands down or on their side, or their head back touching the ground. This is poor technique and can lead to injury as they advance. At higher levels the speed of the game becomes much faster and poor technique can lead to injury or ineffectiveness. Pop-Up Slide. The same as a bent leg slide, only the runner slides later (harder) and stops abruptly by planting the cleats of the lead foot and pushing up on the calf of the folded leg immediately after landing. He does not use his hands. By keeping his head up when he runs and slides a savvy base runner can see that he has a play beaten and can use his momentum to pop up as he contacts the base. This will afford him the luxury of taking the extra base in case of an overthrow. Head first slide. This is really a "hands first" slide. Run full speed, lean/fall forward and then dive out landing on the palms of your hands first. (Palms down-fingers up.) The heels of your hands and the upper chest take the brunt of the fall. You can use either foot to launch your slide. Do not take a high leap into the air but a low horizontal dive into the base. Dig the toes into ground as a brake to stop the slide. The head first slide is faster than the Bent Leg Slide because the momentum of the runner’s upper body is already falling forward as he slides head first. LL does not allow the head first slide except when returning to a base. From age 13 and up, however this slide is allowed and should be taught. (It will also help players defensively as they learn to lay out for ground and fly balls.) "Hook slide". Touching the base later by sliding to the side and past it to avoid being tagged. This is often done when the ball arrives before or at the same time the runner does. The slider wants to hook the bag with his toes as his body fades away from the tag. You begin with the basic bent leg slide and as you approach the base throw (under control) your lead foot into the air and let the bent leg foot hook the base. Do not roll your upper body (that will take you off the base); the controlled hook will let you fade away. “Backdoor Slide.” This slide can be executed when the ball is already there and waiting for you. Execute a figure four slide away from the base and reach for the bag with your hand. If the infielder makes the mistake of reaching out to tag your hand pull it away, roll your body over and touch the base with your other hand. This is a last-ditch effort when the play has you beaten. We do not recommend the head first slide into home plate or sliding into second base to break up a double play. There is too much of a chance for injury. Absolutely forbid your kids to do this. In breaking up a double play, slide hard into the base using a bent leg slide. The runner is not allowed to slide on either side of the base in this situation. He must slide into the bag. (To avoid injury to the infielder. This is the rule all the way up to the professional ranks.) Keep the forward leg down, below the player's knee. When stealing second or third base, you can use the head first slide. When sliding into home plate use the bent leg slide; slide “late” and slide “hard.” Because you are teaching young players how to overcome their fear of sliding and you are teaching good technique, make the practice of this skill as easy on them as possible. We do not recommend teaching sliding on the clay of the infield. Keep that for games. Build confidence; don’t instill fear. At the youth level we use a large heavy cardboard box, flattened out to create a smooth sliding surface. (Refrigerator box from an appliance store or a large box from an auto body shop.) Place it on the outfield grass and have your players one by one, run 60 feet and slide onto the box. At higher levels you can use a rain day to teach sliding. Have your players slide on the wet outfield grass. In either case have them remove their baseball shoes; no spikes. You do not want them to suffer an injury when you are teaching this skill. Have them run in their stocking feet. Correct sliding technique is an integral part of good base running and will often make the difference between safe or out, winning or losing.
The off-season is the time to look back to see how we can improve and it’s time to look forward to see how we can make our sons and players better athletes. For those who play other sports, well and good. Anything that makes players more athletic will be beneficial. As kids get older they will be able to more intelligently choose their sport. But strength conditioning can be beneficial for young baseball players and can enhance their athletic ability. Resistance Training has proven to be a safe and effective component of conditioning programs for the pre-adolescent player. But different guidelines should be followed when designing a resistance training program based on the age of the athlete. The first thing is to define terms. Preadolescent refers to the athlete who has yet to develop sexual characteristics; usually up to 13 years of age in male players. Adolescent refers to the time between puberty and adulthood; usually 14-18 years in males. And adulthood refers to the time after adolescence when full maturity is reached; over 18. Here are the goals of resistance training in young baseball players. These should be the goals of any age player but the point is that they can be achieved in the young ones. 1. Improve muscular strength. 2. Improve muscular endurance. 3. Prevent injuries. 4. Enhance sport performance. These are the benefits: • An increase in muscular strength in preadolescents is attributed to changes in neuromuscular control. Because kids don’t have adequate levels of male hormones circulating in their bodies, there will not be significant hypertrophy. (Enlargement of body parts) So, the gains are not in bigger muscles but in better “motor” skills. As the player matures into adolescence, resistance training will produce a greater degree of hypertrophy due to the increased levels of testosterone. • Resistance training enhances muscular endurance because the kids are working with very low loads and this allows them to achieve a higher volume of reps. This will cause a higher heart rate and offers the potential benefit of cardiovascular endurance. • Another benefit of starting at a young age is that the player will build tolerance to higher loads over time. • Participation in resistance training may aid in the prevention of injuries because of: 1. The increase in motor coordination. 2. Development of strength and dynamic stabilization (core strength) to withstand the forces of competition. 3. The enhancement of muscular endurance will help players endure fatigue and prevent overuse injuries. • Athletic performance may be enhanced by resistance training. Baseball relies one explosive strength; hitting, throwing, pitching, diving for a ball, or running the base paths. The development of muscular endurance helps maintain strength for longer periods of time, such as pitching an entire game or having the stamina to compete in the first inning as well as in the last. Below are guidelines for Youth resistance Training. 1. Teach proper technique for all exercises including proper breathing. 2. All training should be closely supervised by a trained person. (Most injuries occur because of improper instruction, technique and supervision. 3. Exercises should be performed in a controlled manner and ballistic motions should be avoided. Here are some Tips for working with children. • Technique is more important than the amount of weight. • Warm up by performing 10 minutes of light aerobic and stretching exercises. (Our jog, stretch and form running routine works well.) • Balance between upper and lower body. (Upper one day and lower the next.) • Keep the exercises simple. • Preadolescents should not lift maximal or near-maximal weights. Keep that load low. • Begin by establishing a 6-10 repetition maximum. • Three to five pound dumbbells are good weights to use. • Stress proper technique. Examples of exercises that younger players can perform: • Push ups • crunches • lunges • calf raises • rows • leg lifts • fly’s • curls • Rope roll ups (strengthens the wrist). A coach or dad can design his own program. Keep it light and simple. This is more of an introduction than a heavy workout. Above all, if it is not fun the kids won’t want to do it. Challenge but don’t push. This is not an “Everybody go out and teach your kids how to lift weights” article. We have merely put it before you as an example if you want to introduce your young son or players to resistance training. Resistance training becomes a way of life for most athletes. It would not hurt to start at a young age.
At all levels of baseball, team and individual attitude play an important role in achieving excellence. A sound demeanor, temperament and approach to the game spell success. When a professional or college scout asks about a player the first thing they question is his make-up. What kind of kid is he? They already know he has talent; they want to find out that if they invest their money will he have the temperament to stick it out. Does he have good character, how well does he react under stress, does he have the capacity to learn, is he intelligent and is he coachable. When you look at many major league teams, the ones that have a reputation of doing well year in and year out, understand that this goes beyond mere talent. Throughout their organizations they settle of nothing less than the best possible attitudes. It starts at the top and filters down. They exude a quiet confidence from their instructional teams all the way up to the big club. If a player doesn’t fit the mold of their philosophy he is quietly traded. No fanfare, just gone. Thank you, see you later. Talent alone is never enough in a long season. There are many instances of losing attitudes; jealousy among players, lack of respect for the coaching staff, lack of knowledge and teaching, and a “Me First” disposition. A winning attitude is not just about keeping score, it is a code of conduct and a way of sports life. “Show class, have pride and display character. If you do, winning will take care of itself.”---Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. This kind of winning attitude can be instilled in baseball teams at all levels, from LL to HS to college. Two things: coaches have to originate it and players have to take a lot of the responsibility for it. Let’s look at how we instill a winning attitude in amateur baseball teams. STARTS WITH THE COACH- his overall philosophy and approach to the game. Gives proper direction. The coach sets the example for his team. He sets the tone. He demands a lot from himself and from his players. A good coach treats the game seriously. He understands how the game is supposed to be played and he communicates that message to his team. By way illustration, the coach sets a good example by: Dressing correctly. When playing on a regulation field the coach will be in a matching uniform and the uniform is worn correctly. Not letting personal faults or weaknesses (drinking, smoking, etc) known to his team. Works tirelessly on the field. There are no lazy good coaches. Is always early for games and practices. He makes sure they are in top condition. Strength conditioning, agility drills, sprint work and running are all necessary components of conditioning. “Baseball Shape” requires that players perform at their best in the first inning as well as in the last, and even the last inning of a double header. He molds them as a unit. He teaches his players to respect each other. They don’t have to especially like each other but they must respect each others’ abilities. They do things together; field maintenance, stretching and form running, long toss, strength and conditioning, prayer before games, travel together and even at times- study in the library together. Teaches and conducts practices at a high level. As we have often said, a good coach is a good teacher. He knows that to bring the best out of each player he must give every bit of knowledge at his command. He demands a high intensity level at all practices. He wants the same attitude in practices as in games. Games are won at practice. It starts even with the way they dress. Practice uniforms should be just that- uniform; shirttails in, caps on right, and proper socks. We have sent players home for the right shirt. “Where’s your gray shirt, Jay? It’s dirty, Coach. Go home and get it now, Jay. Wash it every day if you have to.” Talks with players after every practice and game. We take the players down the foul line in the outfield and have them sit while we talk to them. And they can stretch their legs while they listen to the coach. You can never stretch your legs too much. This is a great time and place to convey information to your players. You can go over mistakes at practices, great plays in the games and you can give them information about the next day’s agenda. Always leave on a positive note. This is very good teaching time. Coaches do not question umpires’ calls from the dugout. There is a proper way to ask an umpire what he saw. FAILURE Teach your players to confront and understand failure. Teach that the game is based on failure. As an example Rod Carew made an out 7 out of 10 times and he is in the Hall of Fame. A pitcher may throw his best pitch and the hitter drives it 400 feet. A pitcher must understand that he did his job. Sometimes you fail even though you did a good job. Understand that there are certain failures that are not acceptable and they are mental ones. Physical errors and miscues are a part of the game but mental ones should not be tolerated. And lack of effort, fear and failure to compete are in that same category. How to learn from failure. Keep the attitude that from every failure you will get that much better at a skill. Play the game with your head up and on your belly- not on your knees. Don’t give in to that “Good Try” syndrome. It is not enough to try. You must develop the attitude that you WILL do it. It is easy to wallow in “GOOD TRY.” If you hear and become comfortable with “good try” enough, it will put you on the road to mediocrity. I think it starts with the coaches and parents in youth baseball. Many have been guilty of it. “Oh, good try Johnny.” The player takes solace in the fact he failed but he “tried.” Too much of that and he will never be able to rise above it. Sometimes you convey a more constructive message by not saying anything. How to act when you fail. You must maintain a positive demeanor even when you fail. Don’t give in to negative body language- slumped shoulders and bowed head. The beauty of baseball is that there is always a next time. “It does not matter how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up"-- Vince Lombardi “The road to success is built on failure. It is a mistake to suppose that men succeed through success. Precept, study, advice and example could never have taught them so well as failure.” –Samuel Smiles. ON-FIELD BEHAVIOR It is important not to get caught up on the other teams’ trash talking. That takes you away from your focus. “The best answer to answer to anger is silence.” – Unknown. Hustle on and off the field at practices and games. Never display any action that shows up an umpire or questions his calls. We established a rule that our players are not even allowed to look at an umpire after a call. There is no umpire baiting from the dugout, from players or coaches. Questioning a ball-strike call is considered begging. Tell you kids, “You play- he’ll umpire.” f you strike out don’t kick the dirt, don’t throw your bat or helmet and don’t run back to the dugout. You didn’t run up there. Don’t cheer loudly when your opponent makes a mistake that allows you to advance or score. Understand that the proper way to win games is with your bats. Everybody makes mistakes so don’t get all excited when your opposition does. Teach the parents how to act n the stands. Much of what you teach your players should be communicated to the parents. Infuse your players with a touch of class. Teach them to be above the crowd. These are life lessons you can give your players. Help them to understand that. SELF-CONFIDENCE AND BELIEF IN YOUR ABILITIES Develop a positive conviction in your abilities. Get rid of limiting and self-defeating talk. Shred words and phrases like, I can’t, or don’t or never. “I’ll never hit the ball that far, I’ll never throw that fast, we can’t beat those guys.” These phrases will limit your performance. Instead think of phases like, “I am, I can, I will.” It takes some effort to get rid of the negative thoughts but it will be well worth it. Take these steps. Recognize the areas you wish to change. Understand the negative words and thoughts you have been using in the past. Write down the positive phrases and words you will use to replace them. Make them simple and easy to visualize. Write them in the present tense. “I am a winning pitcher.” “I can drive the ball up the middle.” “I can take this left hand pitcher to the opposite field.” Sit alone in the quiet of your room and program these thoughts into your conscience- your inner voice. Say them aloud. Don’t be afraid that it won’t be cool if someone hears you. This is important stuff. You have to understand that this will work but it will not work overnight. It takes time to change old habits. Don’t let doubts creep in and don’t give up. “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” –William Shakespeare. Remember that you are what you think and you are what your believe. Baseball is played one pitch at a time. Not one out at a time or one inning at a time but one pitch at a time. There is a lot to teach. Good teachers help their players to advance in baseball as well as in life.
Hi Bob, I know its been some time since We have talked, most likely 5 or 6 years. Way back in 1998 I purchased a pitching video of yours with because my son wanted to learn how to be a pitcher. The video had you and a young Little league age pitcher going thru all the mechanics. It was a tremendous help to me and my son, because he could relate to seeing someone his own age work on pitching. It also helped me to learn how to teach those same mechanics. We worked long and hard on his pitching skills. I sent you a pitcher I had taken of him as an 11yr old Little League pitcher from the first base side of the field. To my surprise you published in your monthly newsletter as a example of the high cocked position. We were so proud of that picture and your positive feedback. Well flash forward many years and after a good high school career and a division 1 scholarship to Lehigh university which didn’t go as planned he transferred East Stroudsburg university in PA and in 2009 with a 4-1 record (so Far)a school photographer took this picture. It reminded us of that newsletter picture right away. I have moved on to coaching at a local private high school and a summer legion team. I have been lucky enough to have sent many players onto play college ball. All from those simple beginnings and love of the game of baseball. Bill Hezel is a senior in his final season of college baseball and lives for day he pitches, in this game he threw 6 innings giving up one hit and 6 k’s, he is on an 11inning scoreless streak right now. Sorry to go on so long just wanted to let you know what your influence has led too. Kevin Hezel