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Practice report

We’ve had a week of practices so far, and there are many differences between this year’s team and last year’s at the same point in time. Last year I was still trying to figure out what the kids’ skill levels were, but this year it’s a lot more apparent. Two of our kids already have their tickets to the All Star Game punched, most of the others are showing various abilities, and there’s only one true beginner. Another difference is in hitting. Last year, early batting practice against live pitching involved a lot of swinging and missing. This was especially frustrating because all of them demonstrated they could hit against a pitching machine at the batting cage. This year, just about everyone is making at least some contact, and one or two kids have genuinely surprised me with the bat. We should score some runs this year.

I’m doing well as a second banana, filling whatever role needs to be filled at a given time. I think I’ll be spending some extra time with the less experienced kids, working on the basics of throwing and catching. A lot of these kids don’t have any instinct for how to hold their gloves when a ball is approaching. They automatically hold them face up, as if to make a basket catch, even on chest-high throws. I’m going to break them of that habit if it drives me (and them) crazy. Throwing is harder to teach, but I keep drilling the same fundamentals – extend your arm, step as you throw, the shoulder drives the action and not the elbow – and I hope it sinks in.

Spring break is this week, so we’ll have a smaller crew show up at practices. Gary the head coach will be out of town, so I’ll be the interim coach in his absence. At least this time I have some idea what to do.

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  1. Linkmeister says:

    As second banana, do you have to bring the soda? 😉

  2. Charles E says:

    This essay is a sterling example of the evils of little league. Coaches are too focused on winning games and identifying star players, instead of just setting up a place where ALL the kids can play and have fun. I bet the “beginner” kids would rather get in the game than win a game. But I bet they never get a chance at bat. Baseball isn’t just for baseball stars, anyone can play. Quit trying to “break” the little kids and try HELPING them. That’s why you’re called COACH and not drillmaster.

  3. Whoa, back up a second. First of all, everyone plays in every game. That’s a league rule, and it’s one that I wholeheartedly support. This league is about fun and learning, not about cutthroat competition. I wouldn’t be involved in any other kind of league, whether or not I had a kid playing in it.

    Second, one of my personal goals as a coach is to help these kids improve as baseball players. That means teaching them proper mechanics. You just can’t throw and catch successfully if you’re not doing it right. Nobody does these things right by instinct, and unfortunately that means incorrect habits, like what I described about how they hold their gloves, have to be unlearned. The only way to do that is with repetition, with emphasis on the way it should be done.

    I do not and will not yell at or berate any of these kids. I don’t respect coaches who do, and I wouldn’t expect any of the parents to put up with it. What the kids generally don’t like is being told the same things over and over – “Hold your glove up for balls above your waist, and down for balls below your waist” “Extend your arm, and whip it forward with the shoulder driving the motion; don’t push with your elbow”. My goal is to get them to where they do the right thing without being reminded. There’s nothing, and I mean nothing, that boosts one of these kids’ confidence like seeing themselves do something well that they didn’t think they could do at all. If that isn’t helping them, what is?

    Everyone participates in the same drills, everyone gets to take the same amount of batting practice (which other than pitching is what they all want to do the most), and everyone gets praised when they do something good, with “good” being relative to their abilities. If you ever want to see one of our practices or games for yourself, by all means let me know. I’ll be more than happy to send you a schedule.

  4. Charles E says:

    Well, look, I don’t know your coaching style from firsthand knowledge, but when I read your essay, it sounds like you’re drinking a bit of the same koolaid as most of the other coaches who spoiled the game for me. I don’t want to get into a big contretemps over this, I suppose I should write an essay for my own blog rather than comment here. But let me try to put this in a nutshell, and remember, I’m not pointing a finger at you here, just trying to outline my philosophy.
    In my experiences in sports, I have found there are two types of people who call themselves “coach,” the Drill Sergeant and the real Coaches. A Drill Sergeant-type is an evil sonovabitch who wants to break your bad habits (which is usually EVERYTHING you do) and replace them completely with HIS techniques. But first he must render you pliable by breaking your spirit, then it’s easier to get you to accept whatever he says.
    A real Coach enables the player to break his OWN bad habits, and helps him acquire his own new skills. IMHO, that is what sports is for, to give them a sense of personal accomplishment, by enabling the kids to learn that they can improve their own skills, rather than merely being trained to do something. That lesson is something far more important than sports. I mean, really, you can train a dog to jump through a flaming hoop, just as you can train a kid to hit a ball, there is little sense of accomplishment in that. But a life lesson that one can improve oneself, that is crucial. Break that, and you’ve broken something irreplaceable, you’ve created drones rather than freed their spirits.

  5. Thanks for the clarification. I assure you, I’m trying to build on what the kids do well. The fact remains, though, that some things have to be learned from scratch. I’d rather work on more fun advanced topics, too, but you’ve gotta have a solid foundation.