True, when coaches do this, they will observe much more of what not to do than what to do, but if coaches observe objectively what happens “off the ball”, both by the players on the field and by the coaches on the sideline, many lessons can be learned from these observations.
In the past two weeks, I watched several baseball practices and games at both the youth and high school levels. In all those games, rarely was a batted ball properly received, fielded, transferred and thrown by every player involved in the play, including the high school varsity game I watched.
I think this is very common in every youth league in any area.
I wondered if the coach of the team who won by a score of 18-2 realized how poorly his team played. Did he ask himself after the game the two most important basic questions: 1) could we have defeated our toughest competition today? and 2) by the way we went about our business today, both on and off the field, did we inspire others to be better in their own lives?
When a coach attends a practice or a game, it is essential they arrive in time for “warm-ups”. Most often, what the coach will observe when they do so, are failed systems and missed opportunities. Choose a favorite mantra here, “as you practice, as you play”, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”, etc.
Here are the failures and missed opportunities coaches typically observe in those instances:
1. A failure and missed opportunity to coach – not once, at any level or at any practice or game, did I see any coach stand by his players to carefully observe, analyze and coach anything in warm-ups prior to the first drill at practice or prior to the pre-game infield. When the players “warmed-up” their bodies and their arms, the coaches were off attending to field preparation or talking to other coaches.
Unfortunately, players today play as many or more games as they have practices, particularly in the summer. At the youth level. coaches cannot afford to miss opportunities to coach individual fundamentals and mechanics on game days. Coaches cannot afford to wait to start coaching at practice until the first hitting or fielding drill is done.
2. A failure and missed opportunity to adhere to a standard of excellence from the very start – most importantly, coaches should be present at every moment to be sure the philosophy of “chase perfection, catch excellence” is followed. Whether at a practice or before a game, failing to coach the little details during all of the warm-up routines will lead to big problems in the game.
3. A failure and missed opportunity to acquire knowledge – too many coaches and leagues assume that because the coach played the sport for many years, they know how to coach it. Wins, losses, batting averages, and ERA’s are not reliable indicators of the quality of play. Many times what a coach was taught about the fundamentals and mechanics of the game was never correct; sometimes it may have been the thinking at the time, but now, science, technology and examined experience have demonstrated that they should be done differently.
Sometimes it was obvious the failure of knowledge by the coaches was due to the fact they had experience at certain positions, but not others, e.g., pitching or catching, and sometimes the failure was the league not providing them with the equipment, training and methodology to coach teams in a systematic, progressive and efficient manner so that players in all parts of the ability spectrum develop to their fullest potential.
4. A failure and missed opportunity to properly prepare the players’ bodies to play – baseball challenges a player’s mind and body to do very difficult and stressful things. Running to a foul pole or a tree and back followed by static stretching are not going to prepare a team to play well. A comprehensive and biomechanically progressive, age-appropriate dynamic movement and arm-care/shoulder integrity routines need to be done and carefully coached by every team at every level to properly prepare the players’ bodies to have the mobility, i.e., range of motion, and flexibility, i.e., stability to hold athletic positions, during the game. Components of anticipation and reaction, as well as, action must be incorporated into the warm-up routines.
5. A failure and missed opportunity to have a proper throwing and receiving progression, not just “catch play” – there was one primary and consistent reason that not a single play in any game I observed in the past two weeks was executed with proper mechanics – the players warmed up throwing before every practice and game by doing “catch play” and not by doing a thoughtfully designed throwing and receiving progression.
At the youth level, I think during part 1 of the “extension phase” of the throwing progression, the players should do basic throwing mechanic drills and, in part 2, they should do long toss with about a 35 degree arc on the ball and a relaxed arm and throwing motion out to about twice the length of the base path for the level of the players. Flat training gloves should be used by all players to be sure proper receiving and transfer mechanics are done on every throw. Bad throws start with bad receiving mechanics. Balls with a stripe drawn on the middle of them should be used as visual cues to ensure proper grip and rotation of the ball.
On the way in, during the “pulldown phase” of the progression, every player should practice the throws and mechanics for their positions. For example, outfielders should do long hop throws, “do or die throws” (ball-in-glove fly ball and ground ball throws), relay throws and should be runners for infielders doing hot box drills.
Infielders should do all types of footwork (e.g., foot replacement, shuffle, rocker step, one-leg) from every angle (e.g., forehand inside and reverse pivots, backhand at you and crossover, and charge), and every throwing angle (e.g., “clock throws”), and all types of throws for double plays. Throw down bases should be used for tag and force play mechanics, relays and hot box drills. (And yikes! Don’t get me started on bag and tag mechanics during pre-game infield. Horrific!) All types of short throws must be mastered too, e.g., underhand, backhand, dart, glove flips and rapid fire. Muffs, digs and dives are a part of every game so they must be included in the daily routine too.
This may be the subject of a future full-length article, but I must note here that the part of the game, at any level, that is poorly executed most consistently is relays. In pre-game warm-up or at practice, fly balls are typically hit to outfielders with the only standard of proficiency required is the catch of the ball. No attention is paid to how the player traveled to catch the ball, received it, transferred it and the footwork and mechanics used to throw it. Most of the time, the ball is simply thrown back to the coach hitting the balls or to a player standing next to him and not to a relay player. If a relay player is involved, rarely, if ever, is the player coached to adjust the distance to receive the ball to the strength of the outfielder’s arm so the throw can be received chest high and coached to do all of the mechanics to properly receive, transfer and throw the ball.
At all times, coaches should be present and demand excellence from themselves and their players in all the little details or risk losing in big games and in life.