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So what kind of coach will I be?

“There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than anyone else: Build a fire, run a hotel, and manage a baseball team.” — Rocky Bridges, quoted in Why Time Begins on Opening Day

Thomas Boswell once wrote that there are four kinds of baseball managers: Little Napoleons, Tall Tacticians, Peerless Leaders, and Uncle Robbies. Each was named for its prototype: John McGraw, Connie Mack, Frank Chance, and Wilbert Robinson, and through the years they have persisted in the major leagues. Modern examples of the breeds are Larry Bowa, Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Don Zimmer, respectively.

I was pondering what mold I fit as I drove home today, but I think Boswell’s spectrum is a bit lacking for Little League coaches. I see myself as more of a teacher than tactician, and I think with 9 and 10 year olds, the best goal to set is one of improvement rather than winning. Obviously, one hopes accomplishing the former will lead to the latter, but even if it doesn’t there’s still plenty of success to be had.

So far, our practices have been based on the drills that I did for many summers as a kid, when I attended the Hall of Fame Warrior Baseball Camp for four weeks each year. It was a day-only camp, from Monday through Friday. We’d emphasize a different aspect of the game each day, then play a game in the morning, break for lunch and a World Series or All-Star Game highlight film, then play another game in the afternoon. As a baseball-obsessed kid, I’m hard pressed to think of anything better than that.

(One side effect of attending this camp every year was a great familiarity with certain highlight films. I can still recite bits of Curt Gowdy’s or Joe Garagiola’s narration from some of the films, such as this bit about Tony Perez from the 1975 World Series – “The Series hasn’t been much fun for Perez so far; he’s fifteen-for-oh. But with one swing of the bat, it’s GOODBYE slump, GOODBYE baseball, and GOODBYE Red Sox lead.” For some odd reason, this ability always impressed my fellow campers much more than it ever did the ladies. But I digress.)

The camp was run by three men: Bert Levinson (a middle school principal and classic Little Napoleon), Larry Anderson (definitely an Uncle Robbie), and Jack Tracy, a Peerless Leader whose claim to fame was being on the spring training roster of the 1969 Mets. He never made it to The Show, but in his honor we always cheered for the Mets when they showed the ’69 World Series film.

It has not escaped my notice that the lessons these guys taught me over and over again in the 1970s influence everything I’ve done with the team so far and likely everything I will do in the coming weeks. I can’t think of a better tribute to give to a teacher, and I hope that when the season is over a little bit of them has been passed on to my kids.

To answer the question I posed in the title, I can see aspects of all four archetypes in me. What comes through depends on the day, my mood, and how the kids are behaving. I suspect I’ll be somewhere between a Peerless Leader and an Uncle Robbie for the most part. One of my assistant coaches is more the Tall Tactician type, with a smidgeon of Little Napoleon thrown in – he’s definitely going to be the enforcer of discipline. I suppose this collection of personalities could be confusing to the kids, but so far at least they seem to be paying attention to me.

Next practice is Saturday. I sure hope it dries out a bit before then.

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5 Comments

  1. Greg H. says:

    Please send me some good ideas on how to coach an 8 year olds little league team. I took the job before i realized what i was doing.

    Thanks,
    Greg

    [email protected]

  2. RUBEN says:

    I NEVER COACH 12 YRS OLD BEFORE.MAJORS 10-12.
    TOUGH TASK.ANY IDEAS.
    WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE MY GOAL?
    TEACHING OR WINNING? STARS PLAY MORE?
    IS L.L. FOR FUN OR WHAT?

    PLEASE HELP ME.

  3. Stacie says:

    This is my first time coaching Little League, and I have been given 5th graders. What kind of level is this? I think I am giving them too much credit, but from talking to the parents you would think they are major leaguer’s. What are some drills you would recommend as the most productive? Any feedback would be great! Thanks

  4. Curt says:

    Hey Stacie. 5th graders are around 10 years old or so, which would be about the Major Division in Little League Baseball. I happen to coach a Major team myself so here’s some of my own insight……

    Defensive Drills:
    -Ground balls (and a lot of ’em). They gotta remember to keep their butt and their glove down to help prevent unnecessary Bill Buckner action.
    -On a more microscopic level you can stand/sit/kneel about 10 feet from them with about 5 balls and, with their gloves off, have them field the balls with their bare hands. Try to roll the ball to their left and right somewhat rapidly not so much giving them a chance to rest during the 5-ball drill; this will also get them practice with fielding while moving to their left and right.
    -Fly balls for the outfuielders and basic throwing drills which include the proper way for an OF to catch the ball and to hit his cutoff. Discourage big rainbow throws…all throws should be on a line even if they bounce.

    Offensive Drills:
    There’s simply not enough room for all the stuuf we could discuss about hitting and some of this does depend on where they are in terms of development already, but I would say to keep in mind the most important aspect of hitting at this level and all levels for that is watching the ball hit the bat…should you hit the ball your head stays down and doesn’t watch the ball, should you miss the ball you should ultimately see it into the cather’s mit. YOU MUST GRIND THIS INTO THEM. After all, you’ve got to see it to hit it and be careful because some of them stop watching the ball when it gets about 5 feet in front of them.
    -They could hit of the Tee (level swing and practice driving “through” the ball). This usually plagues a couple players per team
    -Soft Toss. Same concept of driving through the ball and helps keep their head down (aka, eye on the ball).
    -One thing we do is we use those little miniature practice Golf Balls and a stick and have them practice hitting that way…makes hitting a real baseball easier. This is something that should be supervised to make sure the kids are doing it properly for the right reasons – not goofing around. (Your better players will benefit more from this.)
    -Pepper, because its a sort of reduced batting practice and since the kids are only swinging half way, so to speak, their swing should be slower and more controlled, and they should be more focused on the fundamentals as opposed to trying to “crush” the ball. Crucial. Especially since kids are always trying to hit the ball as hard and as far as they can, absolutely must be prevented. Which isn’t to say they should swing lazily, just that a proper swing is more important than the aforementioned.
    -THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ONE, IMHO, Live Batting Practice and a lot of it. Repetition help both the coach and the kids. Nothing beats this, because gametime this is what they see and this is what they should be prepared for. If this starts to take a toll on the coaches’ arms maybe there’s a batting cage nearby you could go once every week or 2(if each kid brings 2-3 bucks it should cover the cost). And when I say Batting Practice, I’m talking like 25-45 pitches/hits per kid.
    -There’s some more stuff but that should cover the basics.

    Pitching Drills:
    As we all know pitching can be key and one thing that simply cannot happen are Walks. Much in the same way batters should never strike out, pitchers should never walk hitters. They must throw strikes. I can’t really speak much of “Drills” here, but there are certain fundamental things that should be kept in mind….
    -The pitcher should always be moving toward home plate (never falling off toward 1st or 3rd base), and must be balanced.
    1. Pointing their glove hand at the catcher
    2. Pushing off with their back leg
    3. Stepping “DIRECTLY” at home plate. Always step where you throw. And never throw sidearm.
    4. While throwing the ball, the glove hand should try to stay up and they should ultimately pull it into the chest sort of. Point being that if they drop that glove hand or if it flies off to their side that will lead to their body being pulled in that same direction and hence away from home plate – which should really be avoided as noted above. (This is the hardest thing to teach kids because it’s somewhat uncomfortable for them. But if you’ve got talented enough kids and they listen and are very coachable stick with it. But if all else fails try to keep their glove from flying off to their side too much…it will ruin their control)
    5. One way you might even to get them to pitch that way without even teaching it, is by teaching them this, the concept of “reaching toward home plate” or “reaching the catcher’s glove” when they throw. This also ensures they keep their body moving forward toward the plate, it hould also help prevent them from short arming it and as a by-product, if your lucky, they’ll follow rule #4.
    6. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE HERE, they should not be overthrowing. THis is two-fold.
    1. The players themselves shouldn’t be throwing as hard as they can, just slinging it, that will injure their arm big time and should really be prevented.
    2. As the coach, you should not throw them too much. Whatever they throw in a game or whatever is fine. But during Bullpen sessions between games and at practice they should be limited to about 40 pitches, and should have “at least” 1 day rest before and after such bullpen sessions. Approximately 3 days rest should observed before throwing againg after they pitch during a game.

    I suppose that’s a lot to digest, and that’s not even all of it, but I hope it does you some good. One thing about being a coach and it’s something that you always get better at the more you coach is recognizing each players’ specific problem(s). The only other things I could say would be to be patient and discipline is very important. That’s just one coach’s insight. Best of luck, and if you have any further questions, concerns, etc…[email protected]
    ————————————–

    As for Ruben…The philosophy of myself and my other coaches is that winning is fun (losing is not), therefore it’s about winning. If you win, you will have taught them the following things along the way, many of which they learn on their own and some you teach them……Teamwork, communication, responsibility, the importance of the name on the front as opposed to the number/name on the back, hard work, discipline, proper mechanics and fundamentals. If you do all these, odds are you’ll win and have fun the entire time.

  5. Phil says:

    Just a comment regarding the following:
    “The philosophy of myself and my other coaches is that winning is fun (losing is not), therefore it’s about winning. If you win, you will have taught them the following things along the way,…”

    Note that not all teams are going to win. You, as a coach, need to teach (and I stress this) “GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP” (whether you win or lose).

    There is too much pressure nowadays with kids to win, win, win. Let them be kids, too, and enjoy the game.