How to Coach Baseball to Kids

Circle of Hits

 Many coaches who manage youth baseball will tell you that one of the most difficult components of the job is the batting lineup. Not creating the lineup, it usually writes itself, but selling the lineup to the players and their parents. Some people attach a stigma to the traditional lineup card which reads; 1 = best player, 2 = second best player, 3 = third best player and 9 = worst player. This is a misconception. A batting lineup is dictated by the type of hitters on the team. A traditional lineup usually puts high average guys in the first three spots, power hitters 4 – 5 – 6 and contact guys last. Quite often a manager will put his fastest runner 9th in the order to create a head-start leadoff spot for the high average hitters coming up 1 – 2 – 3. But all of this is moot if you don't have any high average guys or power guys or a fastest runner. Every batting lineup is dictated by the chemistry of the players on the roster. It is not a case of best hitter leadoff, next best in the two-hole, third best third, etc. It is a case of the appropriate player in the correct spot. But, try convincing a young player that he or she isn't less than navel-lint if they are batting below 6th in your order. Worse, try convincing his or her parents.

Parents will tell you that you have single-handedly destroyed their child's self-esteem by writing him or her into the 7th spot. They will never rise to govern the state because of the shame they experienced batting at the bottom of your lineup. Their lifelong failure will be your fault – it's all on your head. For many years I used to battle this passive aggressive attack upon my inability to write every single player's name into the leadoff spot in the batting order. I tried to explain my wisdom, based on my vast knowledge of baseball and my mystic insight into who was going to get a hit in any given game. It was all in vain. I was a jerk! It was an argument that could not be won. And this same argument is being lost by thousands of other managers and coaches in youth baseball parks all over America.

Quietly, I fought back. I explained to my players that, once a baseball game begins, there is no leadoff spot. There is no 1st place or 4th spot or 9th for that matter. Once the game begins, players bat one after the other as if links in a chain; a chain that can only be broken when the team makes three outs. Theoretically, the team could continue to hit forever if they did not make three outs. It's really quite profound, spiritual even.
It was a little deep for twelve year olds but it had an intense effect on me. One day I said to my team, “It's not a batting lineup, it's a batting circle!” I was right. That is exactly what it is – A Circle ... I called it, “The Circle Of Hits.”

At first, the concept of a Circle Of Hits was frightening for a baseball traditionalist like myself. I'm still opposed to the Designated Hitter and the Wild Card and, I'm against steroids. Furthermore, I agree with immortals like Micky Mantle and Ted Williams that the home run trot should never show-up the pitcher. But the Circle Of Hits is an idea with merit and should not be dismissed as too extreme by a sport that is slow to make changes. It allows young ball players to step up to the plate with only the pitcher to worry about. There is no value placed on him or her, no pressure from batting cleanup nor humiliation from batting last. They simply appear as a link in the eternal chain which connects them to their teammates equally and without prejudice to their perceived ability to hit a baseball with a bat.

My design of the Circle Of Hits is a colorful circle, like a pinwheel, with arrows indicating a clockwise direction. There are nine slots placed equally around the circumference of the circle. Just like King Arthur's knightly Round Table, no name sits at the top. I showed up on Opening Day with a printout of my newly designed Circle Of Hits. I posted it in the dugout and watched as the players gathered round and studied it, scratching their heads, asking, “Who's leadoff? ... Who's cleanup? ... Where am I in the order? ...” We went out and ran through our warm up and then, just before game time, I pointed at one player and said, “You're up.” Once the game started, nobody remembered who was up first and we became the Circle Of Hits.

The Circle Of Hits may be a bit radical for Major Leaguers, College players should be concentrating on their GPA not their BA and high schoolers have already learned that life is an uneven playing field. But pre-teen youngsters playing ball should be given the opportunity to develop their skills and to grow into themselves before we label them 1st, 2nd or 3rd.
 
I employed the Circle Of Hits in the All-Star Tournament that year and I got home runs from every spot in the order. In one game, the player who was batting in what would have been the 9th spot hit a grand slam. Without the self-imposed stress which players heaped upon themselves regarding their stature in the batting order, everyone had a great time, and hit the snot out of the ball.

Rocket Norton

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