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Coaching up baseball kids in 2023
I asked for the best strategies to take with me into the 2023 season and the Screencaps community didn’t disappoint. There have been a few dads out there looking for pointers as they begin their coaching careers, so hopefully this helps those of you wading into new waters.
• Britt T. writes:
Couple of things for the fist practice that I used to do:
If your league is the same as ours, you get new kids every year. Some have played baseball, some have never seen a baseball. As they arrive for the first practice, play catch to understand their skill level and try to pair them with other kids of the same caliber. New kids to the game don’t need to be getting beaned with 40 to 50 mph heaters. And the new kids will appreciate that.
At my first practice back when I was 5 yrs old my parents thought I was right-handed because I wrote right-handed. Come to find out, I throw the ball left-handed. We would not have known if a coach hadn’t been playing catch with us when we arrived at tryouts to check out our skill level.
Always be positive, some kids don’t want to be out there but their parents are making them play. Try to make it fun for them.
If you are pitching to them during practice, throw them solid stikes. Let them react to the ball. Don’t lob it to the plate, it’s harder to hit a lob pitch.
Finally, end the first practice with water balloon hitting. Bring enough water balloons for each kid to hit at least 3 or 4. They love it and it keeps them coming back. Break out the water balloons every once in a while through the season to lighten things up.
Incredible suggestion here from Britt. I’ll put Mrs. Screencaps on water balloon duty.
• Kevin in Gibsonia, PA writes:
First thing you need to do is meet with all the parents. Tell them you are the coach, they are there to watch and cheer. If they want to coach from the stands, tell them you would be happy to trade places. Can’t tell you how many times a parent will yell at their kid to do the exact opposite of what you want them to do-most of them have no clue.
Second, nicknames are a must. The kids love them but be careful. I nicknamed my catcher Pudge. At the time, Ivan Rodiguez was the best catcher on the planet. That was his nickname. While my catcher was outstanding, he should have laid off the twinkies and hoho’s.
One practice his mother showed up and screamed at me. “How could I call her son such a horrible name?” Got my ass chewed out for a good five minutes. I called her son over to explain to her who pudge was. He said “Pudge is the best catcher in baseball and coach said I was the best he’s ever coached.” The mom just turned around and walked away. Saw the two of them at a restaurant a couple of years ago, he’s about 35 now. Said hey pudge, mom just gave me a dirty look.
Finally, just remember you’re there for the kids…it’s not travel ball. None of them are going pro. If they’re smiling, you’re doing just fine.
• Steve B. in Grand Junction, Colorado writes:
As for: “What’s your strategy for catching baseballs for kids that look like they’re going to get smacked in the face when playing catch?”
My son was terrified of getting hit in the face. This was during his Captain America phase, so I just told him that his glove was his shield. From then on, he’d use his “shield” to protect his face. It seemed to work with other kids I coached.
Good luck with coaching. You won’t regret it. Appendix surgery kept me from coaching my son last year, and I missed it, (except for the 38 degree March practices here in Colorado).
• Duncan in Georgia writes:
My son lives and breathes baseball, as you can see. When he started out and wanted to get better, I taught him to catch by dropping a tennis ball out of the 2nd floor bedroom window. If he missed it, the tennis ball doesn’t hurt. But it got him focusing on getting the glove in front of his face without being scared of the hard baseball.
First practice, make it fun – split the teams in 2 and have them start at home and second base for a race around the bases. Always gets their competitive juices flowing.
Reward the catcher – popsicle after the game, candy bar, bats leadoff the next game. Whatever he wants, playing catcher is tough.
Try to get 3-4 kids who can play 1sr base. My son was stuck there in rec because he was the only one who could catch. And then he couldn’t play SS or 3rd which is where he wanted to be. And that’s why he’s in travel ball right now.
• Rich in Annapolis, Maryland writes:
Hey Joe, first-time long time. Great column. I coach 12U baseball in suburban DC/Baltimore. The best way to get kids into baseball is to have them watch it and play wiffle ball in the backyard. We had the tee and BP balls setup in the yard and about a half dozen kids taking swings, shagging, and talking trash to each other. My kids like the sport but they won’t tune in to more than about an inning or two on TV. Minor League baseball is a great way to get the kids out to the yard. The seats are close, good chance to snag a ball or an autograph, minor league prices for tickets, major league prices for beer.
For practices early in the season, definitely figure out which kids may get themselves hurt. You should be able to spot them right away. Then I start grouping kids by skill level and coaching them accordingly.
Most every practice has about 30-40 minutes of stations. 3 to 4 different stations with the kids grouped by general skill so you can coach them up according to their needs. In rec ball you’ll have kids that just missed a travel team, kids that play travel in other sports but are damn good ballplayers and don’t have the desire for travel baseball, and kids who saw baseball on YouTube once and want to try it.
Breaking down the swing of a kid who has never held a bat before is different than breaking down the swing of a kid who was the last cut on the local travel squad. I usually have one practice a week devoted to hitting, then another for defensive work.
Stations are the key, keep the kids moving and active. Nothing makes me crazier than a coach throwing BP to one kid, with another kid on deck, and 11 shagging. Embrace the tee! Tee work is huge, and a lot of the kids think it’s beneath them, but it isn’t. Great way for some swings to get in without blowing your arm out. Tee station, live BP station, soft toss station, drop drills, whatever. I have kids hit old truck tires with a crap bat to work on swinging through contact.
They love beating the crap out of that tire. 3-4 stations with 3-4 kids each for about 10-12 minutes per station then rotate. Then always end with baserunning, it’s an underdeveloped skill, and parents like seeing their kids run before you send them home. Burn that energy.
Most rec leagues have positional requirements so kids aren’t out in LF all day. A quick Google search for random lineup generators will help. Keep your lineups. You never want to be unprepared for a parent that says their kid has been in LF for 7 straight games and never touched the dirt. Always best to have that piece of paper that says otherwise. GameChanger is a great app for keeping that stuff in a nice centralized location too. You’ll need a parent willing to mash cell phone buttons during the game so bribe someone to do it.
Make every kid play catcher. A good catcher is hard to find at higher levels, in rec league it’s damn near impossible. A good catcher will make every team they tryout for even if they can’t hit a beach ball. Some kids hate it, some kids love it, but everyone on my team will try it. You never know what you’ll find, and they’ll never know if they like it or not until they do it.
Wear baseball pants. The kids complain that it’s hot and don’t want to wear them. If you show up in shorts you can lose the locker room. Look good, coach good. Umpires dig it too. I had more than a few umpires tell me they liked that my staff and I wore baseball pants.
I have 3 team rules for youth baseball.
1. If there’s a bat in your hand, there is a helmet on your head.
2. If you’re between the lines you run, there’s no walking on the field.
3. Respect. Baseball is a respect sport. Respect yourself, your teammates, your coaches, your opponents, your parents, and even the umpire.
Baseball practices can interfere with mowing on Thursdays so set your schedule accordingly.
Rich just put on a clinic. Seriously, I feel like Rich should be contracted out to leagues to show up and give the preseason speech to the coaches.
• Bruce Freeberg writes:
Ah Joe, you struck a nerve with today’s column on your new coaching gig.
A little background. I pitched in college baseball for 4 years and had the opportunity to play minor league baseball but decided not to sign as I was “over it”.
My first coaching stint was as a high school Freshman team. These boys had advanced pretty far in the 13-14 yr old regionals the year before and thought they knew how to play. After a couple of games I realized they really couldn’t, so for practice that day I had them play catch from 60 ft. I told them that ANY dropped ball would mean that everyone ran a big lap around the track. They thought I was kidding until almost immediately a ball hit the ground. I stopped everything and told them to run. They couldn’t believe it.
We “practiced” for an hour that day and all we did was play catch. They ended up running about 15 laps.
They next day when I went to practice I had a message from the principal asking me to come to his office. Multiple parents had complained about the practice and wanted to know why the kids did not hit that day. I explained to him that if you cannot play catch, you cannot play baseball. In our first couple of games we had thrown the ball all over the yard and made multiple errors leading to losses. He understood but asked me to “tone it down some” and let the kids hit. I compromised some but the focus was still on playing catch EVERY DAY.
Hitting is fun. Fielding is work. DO HARD THINGS.
I later coached my son’s little league team when he was 9. We started a tradition that whenever you were hit by a pitch (and at this age it happens ALL the time), you rub a little dirt on it and keep going.
Toward the end of the season, one of our “less talented” players got hit between the shoulder blades. As he came down toward me at first base, near tears, he looked at me and said, “Coach, I can’t reach it. Can you rub some dirt on it for me?”.
I couldn’t have been prouder to grab a big handful of dirt and cover his back with dirt. He smiled and our fans went crazy!
Make it fun for everyone!
You guys are awesome. I love the war stories from your coaching experience.
We’ll get to more of the suggestions in tomorrow’s post. Remember, right now we’re looking for advice on how to start the practice season. Later, we’ll expand into game strategy and deeper subjects youth baseball coaches deal with.
Update: Marines stepped up to make this Marines’ 100th birthday special
You guys might remember a couple of weeks back when I posted about Jim Thompson, an editorial cartoonist who has contributed to Screencaps multiple times over the years, running into difficulty finding Marines who would show up to make his father’s 100th birthday special.
Several of you offered to step up to help. Dozens of people wrote to Jim saying that party would include Marines.
Here’s the birthday update: Jim’s dad had several guests.
Garage fridge & more
• Bill from Colorado wants in on an old topic and has thoughts on a few other subjects:
Joe, keep up the good work! I appreciate your articles and perspective.
I was getting ready for poker night with the guys and looking at my fridge in the basement and making sure it was ready to go. I then thought of your garage fridge discussion. Here’s my basement fridge (picture 1 with beer, wine, mead, hard lemonade, various mixers and flavorings, and even some flavored waters from across the globe).
That doesn’t do it all justice, as picture 2 is the adjacent hard liquor cabinet with a big variety but emphasis on tequila, scotch and rum. I also have a backup fridge and overflow cabinet (picture 3) for everything else, not to mention a wine cabinet, overflow storage, etc. (not pictured)
So three questions dawned on me as I was doing this a) do I have a problem, b) do I care, and c) would you and the Outkick crew want a tasting event next time you are in Colorado?
As to your recent discussions:
-Love your kids but don’t coddle them. A little failure is good now and then.
-As someone with over 3 millions miles flown I’d say developing and sticking to a routine is critical, as is not overdoing it and burning yourself out
-Let the libs join in- to an extent. The left-right echo chamber in the country is ripping us apart and maybe they’ll learn a thing or two if they listen in to some common sense.
Keep up the good work!
HOLY CRAP, Bill!
The first sign that told me I’d like hanging at one of Bill’s poker nights was when I saw the extension cord running to the dorm fridge. Absolute art, Bill.
And the basement fridge is one for the ages. Between the Mikes Hard, the marg jugs and the mix & match beers, I know Bill is my kind of guy. These three photos tell me Bill is easygoing, likes to sit on the patio and has stories.
Don’t be a stranger, Bill. Make sure to let us know what you’re up to every couple of months.
The Power of Screencaps & Steel Panther
• Chris S. in Illinois writes:
Hey Joe. So you sent me down a Steel Panther rabbit hole, I had forgotten how good they were.
We had our daughter’s final hockey tournament for the year, and in the evening parents bonding at a local establishment, I mentioned I was a fan, and they had a new album coming out to a dad on the team. Turns out he’s good friends with them, and we are now going to the Chicago show as guests of the band. Thanks again, Screencaps.
Are you tough enough for West Texas?
Monday, west Texas radio guy Ryan Hyatt showed us what the farmers of that region are up against. Today, we get a look from west Texas suburbia.
• Craig from Lubbock writes:
I can’t imagine how tough it would be to try and raise crops and animals out here in West Texas!
Here is our front yard on the South side of Lubbock in suburbia Sunday afternoon.
Guys picking up new hobbies — collecting sports cards
• Brandon B. in Birmingham writes:
A couple buddies and I were discussing picking up a new hobby as a group. The one that we all seem to bit on the most was baseball (sports) card collecting again. The nostalgia of it made us all start telling stories like we were 10 years old trading cards again.
Who out there in the Screencaps community is into card collecting? There are so many different series of cards and the market is clearly saturated. I am looking to get some inside education on series types, card types, etc… for beginners that we should be collecting.
Help this man.
- What should the group be buying right now to see some return on investment?
- What sort of budget gets them started?
- Give him a conservative and aggressive place to start
• Randy T. writes:
I was catching up on last weeks posts and realized that I didn’t see any NightCaps™. Did this effort go away?
Hmm, Nightcaps is still chugging along. I’m not sure why you’re not seeing them. I’ll take a look to make sure there’s a Nightcaps category where you guys can get caught up. Hang tight.
That’s it for today. Let those subjects marinate. Tell me what’s going on in your world and what you’re seeing with your eyes.
Remember, there’s no other country on earth like where you get to call home. Go enjoy the final day of February and buckle up for March Madness.