Youth Baseball Coaching-Better than your coach
Every generation strives to be better than the one before. Kids want to be better than their parents. Parents want their children to be better than them. My father taught me this lesson when I was young. Youth baseball coaching is the same. You can be better than your coach.
There are three keys to becoming a better coach.
Learning to coach
Learning the game of baseball is a long process. There are four key parts of baseball you have to get proficient at to be a good baseball coach. Each category is as important as the next. You may be able to win with one or two things being a little off, but you will not get consistent results if you can’t teach all four.
The first or the four is pitching. When it comes to pitching, you must learn that every pitcher has to deal with two things on the mound. A pitcher must be mechanically sound. Mechanics will allow the pitcher to be consistent. Good mechanics will help a pitcher achieve positive results and maintain their health.
The second part of pitching is the psychology of pitching. Understanding how to deal with pressure, adversity and success are all important to a pitcher. Pitchers also have to know how they approach hitters. Teaching pitchers the mental side of the game is just as important as teaching the physical skills.
Getting players interested in hitting is probably the easiest part of coaching baseball. It is also the hardest part of the game to teach. Hitters need the same two things that pitchers need mechanics and psychology. Both require much discipline for a player to be successful.
Hitting mechanics are important to learn as a coach. The hard part is learning the right things. There are a lot of hitting guru’s out there preaching to anyone that will listen. You will have to sort through the noise. I would recommend not taking the advice of most of the professional hitters. Some of them succeeded because of what they did not what they thought they were doing.
In the book “The Catapult Loading System” by Joey Myers he explains a lot of the biomechanical processes that take place during the swing. I would recommend reading the book. It gets challenging at points but if you press through you will learn what the body needs to do to make successful hitters.
I also recommend reading “Elite Swing Mechanics,” by Bobby Tewksbary. Bobby has worked with friends of mine that played at the big league level. He has put a considerable amount of time and effort into learning how a swing should work. The reading is definitely above the middle school level, but the information will work with players as young as five-years-old.
The mental side of hitting is little more challenging than the physical elements. Good hitters have an approach. An approach is a plan for their at-bat. Many players will enter the box with the idea that they are going to see the ball and try to hit it. If you can teach players to think a little more about what has happened and what will happen, they can be better prepared. Preparation usually leads to success. I would recommend reading my post about hitting approach.
Finally, I would suggest you read “The Mental Side of Hitting” by Mike Epstein. Mike is a great hitting coach He was a good professional player, but most importantly he played under Ted Williams. Ted Williams was one of the few big league hitters that actually understood what he did in the box. He was teaching and using terms and philosophies that were not thoroughly understood until this decade back in the 1930’s.
As a coach, you have to understand situational baseball. You must teach players to think for themselves on the field. Players have to have the ability to know what they are going to do before they have to do it. As slow as the game of baseball can seem it is too fast for a coach to tell every player what they have to do with the ball in every situation before it gets to them. Understand defensive baseball and where the ball is supposed to go then practice it over and over.
Coaches must also understand the philosophy of their defensive choices. Some of the time this is going to depend on the game situation. Other times it will be based on what your players can do. Usually, it is a combination of both. It will be up to you to learn what to do when and how to teach it to your players.
Just like defense, there are offensive situations that players must know what they are doing before it happens. Coaches need to teach them during practice. As a coach you need to know what your players are going to do so, you can coach the runners on base properly.
Again like with the defense you have to have an offensive philosophy. Game situation and players skill sets will dictate what your philosophy is. A fast runner can be more aggressive than a slow runner. However, when you are winning or losing by a bunch, you may want to be more conservative.
Communication is the second key
Baseball coaches are teachers, mentors, disciplinarians and role models. All of these things require a coach to be a good communicator. When communicating with players and parents, you must be clear and decisive. Make sure that you are always upfront and honest. Nothing shuts down communication faster than dishonesty. Make rules and don’t change them because your best player can’t follow one. I know as well as anyone else that sometimes situations change. Sometimes you decide to do things a certain way at the beginning of the season and it might not make sense anymore later on. When you come across a situation like this make sure you make it clear to all players and parents what the standard will be going forward.
A good coach will understand their player’s learning style. You have to have tools to understand what way each one of your players learns the best. Do they learn through seeing, hearing or feeling? In the book “The Science of Sticky Coaching” Joey Myers shows how we can determine a player’s primary and secondary learning methods by having a conversation with them. In less than five minutes you can learn a player’s learning style, and you don’t even need a college degree.
Just knowing how a player learns is not going to be enough to get through to some players. You will need to know how to communicate with them different ways. The words you use to explain the same thing to two different players may give you two different results. Players interpret things differently. You need to have a vast vocabulary of terms that mean the same thing.
Mechanics v. Cues
Coaches also need to understand the difference between mechanics and verbal cues. An example of this would be Mike Trout on the MLB network explained that his swing thought is to hit down on the top of the ball. Now if you watch a video of Mike Trout hitting a baseball you can tell that he does not swing down nor does he hit the top of the ball very often. If he did with his power, he might bury the ball into the ground in front of home plate.
The point is Mike Trout has good swing mechanics but uses a verbal cue or thought to help him maintain. Those mechanics. You don’t want to teach a kid to swing down at the ball, but you may be able to help a player that is dropping his barrel to be more successful by using the verbal cue of hitting down on the ball. I hope you see the difference.
Planning is good communication
Good communication starts with having a plan. My mother used to tell me all the time, “Think twice before you speak.” Thinking things through is a great plan. I would suggest that you write out your plan before the season starts. Have a practice plan for every practice and stick to it. You will not go wrong if you stick to your plan.
The final thing that I would like to go over in the communication section is praise. A good coach gives players praise for their action, not their ability. Telling Johnny, he made a good play is not going to get you as much as telling him he worked hard to make the play. Praising effort over talent is the key. No matter what skill level a player has, they can work hard. Not every kid can throw a ball fast, but every can work hard to throw the ball better.
Developing players is the final piece
The number one priority for every baseball coach should be developing players. The younger your players are, the more development you should be trying to achieve. Not all players will grow at the same rate, so you have to have patience. As a coach, you ask players never to give up and you can’t either.
Use your knowledge and communication skills to make every player better. Be creative with your drills. You are coaching individuals they are not cookies you can’t put them in a mold and make them all the same. If you use your knowledge of what a player is supposed to be doing, communicate it to them and develop creative drills that keep their attention while building their skill level you will make them all the best they can be.
The bottom line is making players better helps those players enjoy the game more. Being good at something is always more fun than not doing it well. Better players having fun win more. I don’t have any scientific studies to prove this. I am basing this on my 40 years of playing and coaching the game of baseball.
These three keys will unlock your potential as a coach. Remember that even though you are coaching people that are younger than you and may not know as much as you must keep learning to be a good coach. None of us are so good at what we do that we can’t learn to do it better.