Coaching Discipline Comes in Many Forms

Is discipline necessary or out of place for today's youth athletes? As we have stated before, discipline is absolutely necessary. When kids first start youth programs they are appropriately scared. Usually it is their first experience in organized activities and they don't know what to expect. Coaching discipline is found in many forms: direction, teaching, promoting team bonding, setting team and program goals, and doling out non-demeaning punishment for breaking the team code.

Kids crave direction and leadership from coaches. They look up to coaches immediately, so it is the coaches' responsibility to live up to that trust and show them the way, from the most efficient practice plans, to teaching them how to practice correctly and how to accomplish team and individual goals. Understanding skill techniques, applying them to each player, and making them repeat techniques until they succeed are absolutes for every coach. Kids want to improve and contribute to their team. It keeps them interested in continuing on in their designating sport or activity.

Team bonding is achieved by doing everything as a team—drills, warmups, water-breaks, etc—which helps players understand a “we” mentality. Off the field there should be organized group functions to demonstrate and emphasize togetherness.

Setting team goals should always be stressed. It is about developing the athletes physically and emotionally, not about winning youth games. Coaches must use their imagination and coaching talent to also make every player's personal goal within reach.

Lastly, punishment should be enforced if team rules are broken or ignored. It should be made clear by coaches what team and league rules are before practices begin, and express that any deviations will be dealt with. Youth punishments are usually in the form of running or calisthenics, but if there are serious infractions parents should be immediately notified.

Use Indoor Practices to Focus on Solid Baseball Fundamentals

A key component of having a successful baseball team in cold weather cities is organized and efficient indoor baseball practices. Many coaches use indoor workouts for hitters and pitchers while ignoring individual and positional defense, bunting, and game situation plays. Their responses are usually along the lines as "it's not worth the time because the gym doesn't have the same dimensions as a baseball field."

This is a cop out.

The reality is baseball coaches choose to ignore skill fundamentals, defense, and situationals because these are not the glamor aspects of baseball or the coaches don't have knowledge or initiative to teach baseball fundamentals.

Baseball coaches can accomplish a lot with indoor baseball practices in a short period of time.

Coaches can engrain solid fundamentals in their players that will lead to winning before stepping foot on the baseball field. Fundamentals like the correct footwork for throwing from every position, proper throwing angles for every player, baserunning and basestealing techniques, the nuances of each position, and baseball strategy can be repeated daily without neglecting pitching and hitting.

Baseball coaches can also communicate their philosophies and systems clearer and easier because players are closer during indoor baseball practices and don't have outdoor distractions.

Don't wait for outdoor baseball practices. Prepare your baseball team to win outdoors by focusing on baseball fundamentals during indoors baseball practices.

Mental Toughness is Essential in Youth Baseball

Aside from innate baseball talent and pure baseball instincts enhanced by playing a lot, the best attribute a player can have is mental toughness or the ability to cope, adjust, and learn from tough situations and failure on the baseball field. Many professional baseball players have not lived up to their own or others' expectations because of their inability to handle stress and failure. They were stars or the game came easy to them and didn't encounter failure.

When they became pros and everyone has the same skill sets, these baseball players failed because they could only express themselves physically. The mental side of baseball escaped them. They never learned that success is a result of outworking, outthinking and outtoughing the competition.

As a youth baseball coach, you must identify what players can handle failure and turn it into positive performance. Find the mentally strong players who can remain coachable and learn through game experience while keeping their heads in the game.

The players who are weak mentally must be taught errors and strikeouts happen. Help these players avoid internalizing a failure. Tell them anyone who has ever played baseball has never gone a complete season without making errors or striking out. Internalization will always hurt the team. That's why we say "the play is over, next."

Fragile players can go either way. You need to stress the positive while working with them to help their mental and physical performance.

Withdrawing, sulking, blaming and name-calling are all signs of weak mental players. As a youth baseball coach you need make these players accountable and accept responsibility. The result will be mentally stronger and better baseball players.

Real baseball players never quit and never give up. All baseball coaches love those players, no matter the talent level. They always find spots in the lineup because they make their team better.

Urban vs. Suburban Youth Baseball

I recently watched a 10-year old B championship game in a Chicagoland suburb and was pleasantly surprised by their level of play. It wasn't the players' individual skills that wowed me but their knowledge and execution of baseball plays. In the span of two innings there was a perfect cutoff throw from an outfielder to the shortstop which led to an a out on the bases; a throw and a tag play on a grounder to the shortstop where a runner tried to advance from second base to third base; and an infield-in situation where there was a play at home and the catcher blocked the plate after receiving the ball from an infielder and tagged the runner sliding in trying to score.

Great stuff for any age group but from kids 10 years old it was especially impressive.

On the reverse side, I saw several urban games involving 12-, 13-, and 14-year old teams when not only was there no execution or understanding of baseball plays and strategies but a lack of basic fundamentals such as catching pop-ups, fly-balls, ground balls and line drives with two hands; using the proper footwork to get in position to throw balls more accurately with more velocity; and throwing with the correct motion based on individuals' delivery and body type.

There were no routine plays in any of the games I saw. Coaches were holding their collective breaths watching their players trying to execute, because their techniques were so poor.

The disparity of play between the suburban and urban baseball leagues While the coaching styles looked similar, suburban coaches appeared to stress team play and tried to involve every player in the program on decisions during games. The suburban players had a good awareness of baseball situations, possibly from watching a lot of baseball, help from their parents, or playing baseball video games.

City coaches singled out the best players on their teams and leaned on them to the neglect of the other teammates. If the best players pitched and pitched well their teams would succeed. If their best players were subpar, their teams would fall apart because they were not taught baseball plays and strategies, and routine situations that happen in games resulted in mental and physical breakdowns.

The coaches, rather than addressing the errors in a professional manner, started blaming players rather than being positive. Players adopted an apathetic attitude toward playing. Suburban players, because of positive feedback from coaches, generally were very enthusiastic about playing.

How to change urban players' play and poor attitudes Most of urban players start out loving to play the game but get beaten down by poor teaching and coaching methods by adults who should be role models.

To solve this problem, coaching clinics should be available to coaches willing to give their time to be a positive influence on youth lives. Coaching should also be treated like a full-time profession. Lastly, anything less than a full effort by coaches should be tolerated by parents and league officials.

Baseball Fundamentals Win Games

In this age of ESPN Sportscenter, instant internet baseball highlights, and fantasy baseball leagues, youth league players are consistently bombarded with images of three-run homers, diving plays, big strikeout performances, and offensive statistics. Rarely, if ever, are baseball fundamentals highlighted. Unfortunately, young players get the impression that walk-off home runs and diving plays win baseball games. They don't realize that making the routine play, hitting the cut-off man, taking the extra base, working the count, and hustling down the line gives the team the opportunity to win with a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

They don't realize that the events leading up to the blockbuster play is what really wins games, not the big play.

During a recent White Sox Game, I witnessed Omar Vizquel, the consummate professional, hustling down the line to beat out an infield hit in the 3rd inning of scoreless game. With two outs already that inning, Vizquel’s effort seemed inconsequential in the grand scheme of the game itself.

However, the next batter walked, followed by back-to-back home runs. I can guarantee that the back-to-back home runs, most notably the 400-foot, three-run bomb that was hit first, clearly made the highlight real.

At the same time, I can guarantee that Vizquel’s infield single certainly did not make the cut for Sportscenter, though it was his hustle that enabled the inning’s offensive explosion to occur in the first place.

As a coach, it is critical to stress the importance of playing fundamental baseball, making the routine play, and taking what the opposition gives you. This is what really wins games, not the web gems, 15 strikeout performances, or superstar performances.

Relief Position Players

If coaches use position players to pitch and they can't warm-up before relieving, performances will obviously suffer. Sometimes, when we have the foresight to warm-up a position player he has to bat, so either he does not get enough time to get loose or he gets cold by being on base. Very few high school teams have enough depth to have a relief staff, so this is a recurring problem. The only solution is to gain enough baseball instinct and knowledge of the pitchers on your team to know when the starters are losing their stuff and how fast each reliever can get loose.

For position players, you need to tell them to play hard catch in the field before an inning starts to get them prepared for relief.

Handling winning and losing in youth playoff games in house leagues

Winning and losing graciously; that should be the goal of every adult coaching in a youth league. If coaches place too much emphasis on the results of playoff games, it can cause damages in players' confidence as they proceed in their baseball careers if they fail in clutch situations or their team loses. Some of them eventually quit playing because of the pressure initiated by the adult coaches guided by their desire to win.

It is imperative that coaches stress sportsmanship and playing hard and smart, and applaud players' effort no matter what the outcome. They should place no more importance on playoff games and continually concentrate on teaching baseball strategies and situations, execution, and skill development.

It is a hard task because people that watch kids' games want their sides to win, but if it is established in the preseason that winning is a byproduct of good play, then the coaches will have an easier time conveying that to the players and to the adults who think that winning and losing are the be-all end-all.

With losing, youth players get upset with losses for a variety of reasons. A majority of players are embarrassed because their friends or players on the other teams will make fun of them, or they feel like they let down their parents, relatives or even the coaches.

As stated before, coaches must stress that the goals of the team and the league is learning baseball strategies, executing the strategies, improving individual skills, teamwork, and competing and playing as hard as possible. If this is emphasized when practice starts, the results can be played down as the season progresses because you have established a learning and development philosophy.

Difficult? Yes, because parents can be unreasonable. Impossible? No, if you stick to the program.

Maximizing the Talent of Every Player on the Team

One of the biggest coaching challenges today in youth sports is improving the play of the non-star athletes, whether they are not physically developed, have never played before, or are raw from a lack of guidance. Just like all players have different backgrounds, so do coaches. Some coaches might have played baseball at a high level while others might never have played; both can be successful.

Player Coaches The coaches that have played tend to rely on their past and lag behind in new teaching and training methods while having difficulties relating to youth athletes just starting their careers. To get the most of their athletes, the experienced player turned coach must be open to change. The coach must adapt to age groups and skill levels and teach step-by-step hitting, pitching, and fielding techniques rather than just saying "watch what I do and copy it."

Non-Player Coaches The coaches who haven't played don't have experience as a tool to teach and must rely on researching proven techniques about what will work best with a particular age group. These coaches must do everything he or she can in terms of knowledge, research and communication to bridge the gap of lack of playing experience. They must also watch a lot of baseball of all levels and then communicate that knowledge to young players; this can seem daunting, but is achievable.

Coaching Resources Available To get the most out of every player on their team, all coaches need to continually gain knowledge and experience, perform research, effectively communicate with their players, and apply all proven coaching techniques and methods. If done correctly, the coach will maximize all of their athletes' innate talents.

Scour the internet for pertinent data. You can start with looking at the DNA Sports manuals, which cover everything you need to help a youth team succeed. Check out the videos posted on our website. Find baseball clinics to attend, including the clinics DNA offers). Lastly, email us any questions to DNA Sports if you need clarification on running drills or general baseball advice.

Remember, great coaching in youth sports lasts a lifetime for kids lucky enough to experience it, so all adults should take coaching seriously and learn to be a powerful, positive force in kids' lives.

We vs. Me

Have you ever heard youth coaches tell their players, "Do this for me.” or “I really need a hit or strikeout.” or “I want to beat that team."? Notice “I” or “me.” Is there any mention of “team”?

I have heard variations of these quotes too many times, and it disturbs the DNA staff that a lot of youth coaches care about winning and not about teaching the game correctly.

This type of coach sends two dubious messages: the players are playing to please you; and you only care about the immediate result and not the development of the whole player, including playing as a good teammate.

Youth players are easily swayed, and when they hear “I” from coaches over and over again, they can start feeling pressure to succeed—a pressure that’s intensified because it comes from an adult. The players also start to think of themselves first, instead of the team first.

Team sports means playing for each other—playing for the “we” not the “me.”

Making Outfield Play a Priority at the Youth Level

Many youth coaches simply do not place a priority on developing a strong defensive outfield, nor do they dedicate significant practice time to working on the skills associated with the position. The lack of focus on outfield play at the youth level results in sub-standard defense at the high school level and beyond.

Instead of teaching the entire roster how to play the outfield, coaches choose to consistently put their best players in the infield and hide their less talented players in the outfield, hoping they do not see much action. What a disservice to your players!

As your infielders get older, you can be sure many will have to be moved to other positions, in particular the outfield. Set them up for future success by teaching all of the players how to play the outfield at a young age. This will greatly benefit those players who will have to transition to the outfield in the future.

Teaching outfield skills not only better prepares players for the demands of high school competition and beyond, but it also sends a message to the team that every player on the field is just as important as the shortstop and pitcher. In addition, by focusing on outfield play, you will see significant improvement with your last line of defense.

Keeping Outfielders Motivated
Because outfielders often see less action than infielders, especially at the youngest levels of youth baseball, it can be difficult for a player to stay mentally focused on the game. Youth league coaches have often accused their outfielders of not being in the game when their reactions appear slow to a ball in the gap or a fly ball hit right to them. While young outfielders are certainly prone to mentally drifting in and out of the game, it is the coach’s responsibility to keep the outfielders' bodies and minds actively focused in on the game.

While most coaches and players define action as being in the act of making a play with the ball, coaches need to convey that action for an outfielder also includes being in the right position to make a play. Being in the right position includes backing up an infielder, hustling after a foul ball, or simply being in an alert ready position as the pitch is delivered.

With this definition in mind, action for an outfielder can be achieved after each and every pitch, regardless of whether the outfielder touches the ball or not. Once the team buys into this definition, you will have outfielders who are alert, focused, and who have a thorough understanding of the importance of their role.

In order to keep outfielders motivated, coaches should do the following:

  • Emphasize the importance of outfield play during your team meetings.
  • Consistently give positive feedback during practices, games, and team meetings to your outfielders when they are in the right position.
  • Thoroughly discuss the ramifications of not being in the right position. Outfielders need to understand the big picture.