Here are some truths which I think make evident the need for change:
- Youth players want more involvement and action in the game. Many parents had a rewarding experience in our game, so they sign their child up to play baseball. Unfortunately, the video game culture of today’s youth causes players to find baseball not engaging enough so they leave the sport by middle school age for other sports such as lacrosse. This exodus and detachment has been so extensive that many would say baseball is no longer America’s Pastime;
- Volunteer youth coaches have very limited time to teach players so they prioritize teaching how to play and win games and not on improving the athleticism and sport skills of the individual players to the detriment of the long-term development of the players;
- As players “progress” year-to-year in a league, what and how fundamentals are taught are very inconsistent and even contradictory causing great confusion, dissonance, dissatisfaction and, ultimately, frustration with the game and their performance. As a result, some parents of players hire private trainers to help them improve their athleticism and sport skills (which most players cannot afford). Many times this exacerbates the conflict in messaging between the private trainers and the league’s coaches; and
- Life skill development is learned secondarily through the ultimate experience of failure and losing rather than it being proactively taught as a part of the preparation process.
I know suggesting change to our beloved game of baseball is sacrilege to many coaches. However, honestly, if you listen with an open mind and heart to the feedback from youth today, you will hear them state unequivocally that 1-4 above has been and is their experience.
Here are the changes that youth baseball needs to consider:
A. Be Open to Change - “You cannot use the same thinking to find solutions to the problem that you used to cause the problems in the first place.” Albert Einstein
- Baseball is decreasing in popularity, i.e., is no longer connecting with and engaging a younger “point & click” generation; The average age of MLB fan is 57 . Fifteen years ago it was 42. The game's fan base has not grown! E-sports are more popular than almost any traditional sport in the world. Why is their an outcry for baseball games to be shorter?
- Evaluate talent, commitment and challenges with an open mind every year; similar to a coach adapting to the personalities of the players of each team every season. Do not let outside parameters define your League and what is best for your players.
- Do not evaluate the need for change, the quality of players in your League or on your team or the quality of your coaching by wins, losses or championships. Wins, championships, batting averages and grades in school are all measured by the same three factors – how high were the standards, how tough was the competition and how hard did you have to work.
- Do what is best for the players every year, not just the league – recreational v. development mentality – a less talented, but more committed player might be put in a higher division than the talented player not as committed.
B. Need to adopt the Person-Athlete-Player Philosophy
a. “We coach people not sports; it is the quality of the person not the player that is the most significant
b. The communications of appreciation you will receive from your players in the future will not be about
the wins and losses, but rather about how you made them a better person.
c. Proactively teach life lessons at practices and games – have ready-to-go role plays for coaches to use
(See example on pages 22-25 in CCFL Book)
d. Players will be willing to learn when they trust you have something worthwhile to teach them and can
trust the manner in which you will teach it, e,g., making a change to a pitcher’s mechanics.
a. you must be able to do a ground up analysis of a player and recognize first what flaws need to be
addressed in their physiology and the way they move before addressing their needs for sport skill drills.
3. Player – to be discussed in detail below
C. Have a league-wide mandatory systems for teaching athleticism and baseball skills year-to-
year so the messaging is consistent and the programs are progressive in a building-block
1. Coaches are volunteers with limited time and while they may know from their experience how to play the
game, they probably do not know how to teach, in particular, using visual and kinesthetic learning modalities.
2. In fact, what they think may be the correct fundamentals and mechanics may be wrong. There is more
misinformation in baseball than any other sport.
D. Give Coaches the Training and Tools They Need to be Successful
1. Educate and train coaches about: (a) current methods to train young athletes to learn how to coordinate
their body in a synchronized manner - how to use it efficiently and effectively (“Strength is how hard you hit
the ball. Power is how far it travels.”) You do not need an advanced strength and conditioning credential or
degree to learn how to teach a youth player the basics of crawl, walk, march, skip, bound, sprint, jump, hop,
and shuffle with complex routines in all planes of motion. Dynamic movement routines and physical
conditioning should be a part of every practice and game prep. “Players should not just run to the foul pole
or tree and back.” Encourage players in the off-season to take classes in martial arts, rock climbing,
and swimming, i.e., anything that requires using their upper and lower body in sync while using the mind to
think and react. (b) Nutrition; and (c) Recovery (rest inc. “active rest”, sleep, hydration and mobility)
2. Have practice outline templates, ready-to-go progressions for throwing and receiving (I do not like the
term “catch play”!), ready-to-go drills for position play and pitcher/catcher mechanics and for multi-tasking
– very important! “If you have a line, you have a practice design problem.” Be sure all of your drills train
Preparation, Anticipation, Reaction and Action. Examples: using bases in your throwing & receiving
progression to work on force play, tags, run down and relay mechanics; use at least one base for every two
players when doing baserunning mechanics; use baserunners during BP - play every ball live – no shagging
except for safety.
3. Comments re: Technology: (e.g., camera, radar and sensory technology to analyze the ball flight and
biomechanics of pitching and hitting)
a) “You don’t need technology to help the player connect with a baseball; you need technology to connect
with the player.”
b) Technology gives you output data which is heavily biased by the data you input to it. Bad mechanics =
bad output data. The change required may not be solved by a sport skill drill, but rather by improving the
athlete’s body and athleticism. Even the sport drill change may be as simple as changing a grip or posture. “The first step is to take the bat, ball and glove out of the player’s hands – visually and literally.” You
must be able to do a ground up analysis of posture, balance, footwork, angles (in body and in movement)
rhythm and timing)
c) You need to know how to change the player’s program to refine and retool the process from which the
outcome data is derived.
d) Be more concerned with mastering the teaching of what you know than adding to what you know, e.g.,
4. Closely coordinate everything done at the youth league with the coaches at the high schools the players
will attend. High school coaches should not have to re-teach, only refine a player’s tools. The culture,
tradition, philosophies, systems and expectations should be very familiar to a player by the time he gets to
the high school program. Have frequent clinics for coaches run by or approved by the coaches at the high
schools the players will attend. Fundraising and community service campaigns should be joint ventures
between the youth and high school programs, particularly programs which are service only – no
fundraising, e.g., they help prepare your fields, you help prepare theirs; Miracle/Challenger Leagues
(youth with disabilities); Equipment Donation – ABCA’s “Turn Two For Youth” Program; GRIP Int’l.
E. Restructure How Players Are Assigned to a Team and How They are Developed - “Do not confuse
winning with good coaching.”
1.Divide the league into a “development-committed” division v. fun-non-committed division. “Fun is the
great feeling of playing well.” Baseball is a very difficult game to play just to be minimally competent – what
is “fun” differs greatly from player-to-player and greatly impacts a coach’s ability to teach and progress a
team, not to mention deal with over-protective parents.
2. Have more practices, play less games for the development players - 4/1 ratio for development players; 2/1
for recreational players.
3. For development players, have league-wide practices 3x/wk. run by league “experts” in each discipline,
e.g., throwing, fielding, infield/outfield play and hitting and 1 practice/wk. with their team concentrating on
how to play the game, team strategies and baserunning. Do not rely upon All-Star teams - they may only last
a couple of weeks!
4.For the development division, for at least the first half of the season, every player plays and every player
bats every inning with no strikeouts, no walks, no stolen bases, and no score. For the recreational division,
this format should be used for the entire season.
F. Guiding Principles to Decide What Changes are Appropriate for You and Your League
- In the minds of the players, do the changes make the game more fun? Again, careful how you define “fun”. In other words, if you were that age, would you be excited to participate in that practice?
- Do the changes actively and consistently engage more players?
- Will the changes result in better player development, not just team development, in the long-term?
- Will the changes mean the entire league is stronger, not just one team or one division?
- Will the changes make the people involved better people and better athletes, not just better players?
Please don’t let your disagreement with some of my specific suggestions for what needs to be done to improve the teaching process and the players’ experience in the game divert your attention from the need for change in general. The important point is we should challenge all conventions and assumptions about the way things are and should be done. We need to open our minds and be creative. The future development of our players, and ultimately, the survival of our game depend on it.