First, a huge shout out and thank you to anyone who coaches youth sports, especially baseball! We can never say it enough, but without you, MBL and MBT simply couldn’t operate, and thousands of kids wouldn’t get the tremendous experience of playing youth baseball. Along with all of the day-to-day baseball teaching, you all impart life lessons along the way that help your young ballplayers turn into better people. There really aren’t enough ways to say thank you!
Some of you may be new to coaching and some of you have been at it for years, but it’s always beneficial to get some good advice. Here are five youth baseball coaching tips that can help make your job easier and more beneficial to the kids under your watch.
Fundamentals, Fundamentals, Fundamentals
As a youth baseball coach, your number one job is to teach the kids the fundamentals of the game. They need to learn how to field a ground ball and catch a pop fly properly. They also need to be taught the swing mechanics and the correct way to throw the ball. Learning how to slide correctly is also important to prevent injuries.
As a little league coach, it’s your responsibility to know these fundamentals inside and out while communicating to young players how to perform these tasks. As the kids get older there are still fundamentals that need to be learned: how to run the bases, when to throw to certain bases, where outfielders should throw the ball after fielding the ball, etc.
Knowing the proper fundamentals gives the players a solid base to work from as they expand their baseball skills. At different stages of youth baseball some kids will be more advanced than others, but it’s always a good idea to drill on even the simplest of fundamentals – even the big leaguers do this when they show up for spring training each season!
You can make a pretty good argument that the most important thing a youth coach, in any sport, can teach their athletes is sportsmanship. Learning how to be a good sport is a life lesson that kids will take with them all the way into adulthood. Win or lose, kids need to know how to conduct themselves. It’s ok to get upset during competition and it’s even ok to get mad when your team loses, but kids need to learn the importance of being respectful to everyone involved in a game – teammates, coaches on both sides, umpires, and any spectators watching.
Coaches need to teach their players to respect the game itself, and the other aspects should fall in line, as respecting the game entails all of the others. Good coaches make their players not just better athletes, but better people as well.
Team play is a big aspect of youth baseball, by teaching the kids how to play as a team, you’re also preparing them for the real world. If you think of the people you’ve worked with over the years, you probably remember the people who were good teammates more fondly than those who were not.
Good youth baseball coaches teach their players that good teams are first and foremost made up of good teammates. Being a good teammate consists of looking out for your teammates, of sacrificing personal goals for team goals, and of always being an encouraging voice for your teammates. On the field, being a good teammate consists of having a positive attitude even when things aren’t going your way, of being a vocal cheerleader for everyone else on your team, of backing one another up on ground balls, of being loud and clear when calling a pop fly as yours, of letting those around you on the field know where to go with a ball if it’s hit to them – knowing game situations and how they impact your decisions.
Effective coaches at all ages and skill levels prepare practice plans and then stick to them when they’re out on the field. Practice should not only be about working hard and learning, it should also be about having fun. Ninety-nine percent of your players won’t play past high school. It’s important to emphasize fun to everyone.
Structure each practice to include fundamentals – proper hitting, fielding, base running, etc. Try to structure your practices with as little down time as possible in order to keep the players’ attention.
The beginning of practice should start with a stretching routine. Then it’s time for a run around the field to get the player’s heart rate up and prepare them to play. Getting the blood going is not only good for your players, but it leads to more alert and concentrated play.
After the run, it’s time for infield and outfield practice. Hit ground balls to each infielder and some fly balls to the outfielders. Make sure to practice double plays and relay throws.
Now it’s time for batting practice. Each kid should get the same number of swings. Twenty to twenty-five swings is a good number.
When batting practice is over, it’s time to practice game situations. This can be done with the coach hitting either infield or fly balls, or with a scrimmage. It’s always a good idea to end practice with a cool-down run.
Keep it Positive and Have Fun!
As most of us look back on our athletic careers, the coaches we enjoyed playing for the most were always super positive. Negative reinforcement never works. It doesn’t help your players get better — it only breaks their spirit, demotivates them, and leads to fear, self-doubt and anxiety. Negative reinforcement undermines your efforts, whether your focus as a coach is on performance or on building life skills.
Never criticize players for mistakes or errors – they ‘re trying to perform up to your expectations. There’s never been a youth baseball player who wanted to let a ground ball roll under their glove or through their legs or made a mistake running the bases. Use mistakes and errors as a chance to give positive reinforcement and encouragement.
Chances are good that you’ll coach some players who don’t want to be there on a certain day, or players who bring a negative energy or bad attitude to the team. Try to lift them up and make them excited to be a part of the team.
Coaches set the tone for athletic teams, especially at the youth level. Be positive, be encouraging and make sure every player on your team is having fun. Those are the coaches kids remember as they grow older and those are the coaches that have a lasting impact on their players.