How to Coach Baseball to Kids

Keeping It Simple Is Complicated


Why is it that a game that is so beautifully simple can be made into something so incredibly complicated? All that is needed for a baseball game to break out is a ball and a bat and a little open space. Gloves are optional. In some parts of the world even a lack of these essentials cannot stop it from happening. Kids make a ball out of string, rolled-up cloth or even pop cans and hit at it with sticks – and if they're really inventive, they cut up milk cartons for gloves. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball ... and then YOU RUN!!! It doesn't get much simpler than that.

Many adult coaches of children's teams have difficulty grasping this concept. The grown-up brain is full of complicated, grown-up data like workload, schedules, deadlines and bills – bills – bills. It's time to un-clutter the mind ... It's time to think small. This is not easy for someone who has been big for a long time but, to keep it simple, you must un-complicate your mind.

Coaches worry about the hitch in Fernando's swing or the release point in Robert's delivery or whether Lucinda is employing the proper cross-over step when starting after a fly ball. All valid problems which should be addressed but, there is a simple way as well as a complicated way to do it. The simple way is almost always the most effective.

Apply the “simple” principle to the task of teaching children the theory of playing the game. This is not an exercise in how to catch and throw the ball and the results of these efforts but rather the question of what should be done with the ball in specific game situations. Think small. Instead of positioning your players on a regular sized diamond (most youth diamonds have basepaths of sixty feet), create a littler little league diamond with thirty foot basepaths. Place your players at the nine positions and concentrate on the theory without the mechanics of throwing and catching to complicate the issue. Roll the ball for a groundball and lightly toss it up for a flyball. Call out the situation, “There are runners on first and second with one out” and roll the ball towards your second baseman. The second baseman should scoop up the ball and toss it gently to the shortstop who should be covering second base for the force-out and then flipping on to first base for the double play. If they know to do this, congratulate them. If this does not happen you can discuss it without shouting because everyone is so close. When this same drill is run on a full sized diamond and the second baseman hauls off and attempts an impossible throw towards third base, and the ball sails over the third baseman's head into the bushes beside the dugout, much time is lost in recovering the ball and the focus of the players is distracted. During all of this, the coach screaming his instructions way out to the second baseman that the proper decision is to throw to second will most likely be lost as well.

The “simple” philosophy may be applied to almost all aspects of the game. Most young ball players arrive in your dugout with their own unique, but usually complicated, mechanics to throwing, catching, hitting, even running. Although individuality amongst young people should be encouraged, when it comes to teaching the mechanics of baseball, in almost all cases, simple is best. For batters, a “quiet” stance at the plate will make it easier for the batter to become a hitter (quiet = simple). We've all seen the Little Leaguer who jerks his or her bat back and forth wildly while waiting for the pitch. It's simple - if you're not Gary Sheffield, don't do it! And then there's the batter with the exaggerated, high leg kick. It's simple - the late, great Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett could do it, but you cannot, don't do it! With pitchers, a “compact” delivery will make it easier for him or her to throw quality strikes on a consistent basis (compact = simple). But young minds like to complicate their motion by wiggling all over the mound, experimenting with different deliveries on every pitch and somehow coaxing head, butt and all four limbs to contravene each other. It's simple – some great pitchers, like Luis Tiant and Hideo Nomo, excelled with unusual pitching motions but they were freaks (I mean that in a complimentary way), you are not, don't do it.

At the foundation of all this simplicity is one of the most complicated sports on the planet. The game has balks, infield flies, wheel plays, double plays and trick plays, it has double switches, illegal substitutions, lefty-righty matchups and strictly enforced but vaguely understood rules on sliding into bases. It has sacrifice bunts, drag bunts, slap bunts, squeeze bunts, suicide bunts, bunts for a hit and fake bunts and it has an entire language which consists of touching your nose, chin and cheek with your forefinger.

The game of baseball has a lot of rules. It also has complicated strategies, nuances and traditions. It even has unwritten rules like you don't make the 1st or 3rd out at third base and you never throw behind the runner and, in a rundown situation, you always run the runner back towards the base from which he came - all good baseball managers know these things. All good baseball players should too and it's up to the coaches to teach these things to them. But kids can't learn it all at once. It must be taught to them subtly over many seasons, mostly by experiencing all of these things one at a time as they happen to them, whenever a game breaks out ...

Rocket Norton

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