Guys, it’s tough. I mean, really tough, to find somewhere your kids will develop, succeed AND have fun. With that, I wanted to try and help educate or at the very least provide my opinion on what you should be looking for in a baseball instructor and/or coach. I believe you will see some value in this and I just want this beautiful game of baseball to be loved by everyone the same way I loved it as a kid.
1. “…it’s all about the development of your kid(s).”
Your coach and/or instructor MUST buy into the fact that it’s all about the development of your kid(s). There are a lot of facilities or private coaches that take the fun out of the game because they make it all about winning. It’s not about winning until reaching college or professional baseball, because someone’s job on the line. At this level, a coach’s job isn’t on the line, therefore, they need to make it fun and make your kid(s) smile. This game is a self-esteem destroying game. Find someone that instills confidence and your child will love the game more. Not only that, he’s going to WANT to go to lessons, practice, games, etc..because it’s FUN.
2. “Find a coach that teaches you how to LEARN from your mistakes.”
When I was young, I was yelled at on the field, but only for a few reasons. Not because I missed the fly ball or ground ball. My coach never said, “YOU GOTTA CATCH THAT!” Because, we both knew I should have caught it, and hey, nobody’s perfect, even Big Leaguers make errors — it’s part of the game. Find a coach that teaches you how to LEARN effectively from your mistakes. The coach should talk about what he did leading up to the missed fly ball or ground ball. Did he have his eyes closed? Was he ready? Was he underneath the ball? Did he backpedal and get there too slow? Did he get his glove down early? Was he in the right fundamental position to catch the ground ball? This is the progression that needs to happen. Please, if there’s a coach yelling at your kid from the dugout saying, “You gotta catch that! You gotta get your glove down!” RUN. If your coach waits until your son gets off the field, puts his arm around him and then tells him what he did wrong and what to do to fix it — I approve! These are the mentors we need in youth baseball, these are the coaches that are going to facilitate growth and confidence — it’s a tough game, we need positive motivators.
3. “Ask the instructor what he is teaching your child…”
It’s rare to find a coach/instructor who’s on a salary. Most get paid as they work and there is a lot of pressure on these guys to make money.. Perhaps they are stressed, worried, nervous about what the future may hold, and what they are dealing with on a personal level. HOWEVER, there certainly is no excuse for their actions or attitudes around your kids. Look carefully for the ones that are energetic, smiling and happy when doing their job. These are the authority figures that are going to be around your kids for a large portion of their spring and summer weekends and you will want them to be a product of a positive environment, not a negative one. The best way to get and retain clients is to do a great job. To understand if their coaching is efficient; ask your child what they learned, how they can apply it and what drills they can do to keep getting better at it. If your child cannot answer all three questions, perhaps they aren’t learning effectively enough. If this is the case, speak up. Ask the instructor what he is teaching your child, what type of system he is using, what his experiences have been and why your child is doing a certain drill, they owe you a response to all of these questions. Now, I’m going to flip you here a little bit; please understand, with all that said, even though you’re paying for an hour session, recognize that at least an hour of preparation time has been put into that session in designing the sequence of drills, scheduling and researching to help make your son a better baseball player.
4. “Can you play right?!” His answer better be, “YES!”
Nine positions make up a defensive team. Your child should probably play six to eight of those positions! Maybe your child doesn’t pitch, maybe he doesn’t catch, but all the others — give them a shot! I know, it’s not up to you to decide because the coach bats him 6–9 or 1–5 and plays him at third base every game. Look, I am all for letting a young man really learn a position, but from the ages of 7–15, he should really be playing multiple positions. Parents, please seek out a coach that will understand if your son or daughter can play first base, they probably can play 3B, LF or RF too. They need to learn those spots, why? What if there is an opportunity for them to start Varsity as a sophomore in RF and the coach says, “Can you play right?!” the answer better be, “YES!” or else I / we have not done right by your kids. The same goes for anyone, if your son or daughter is the best shortstop on the team then, that means they can play…ANYWHERE. It’s about experiences, the more you learn about the game, the more you take with you level after level. Find a program that will fulfill the knowledge your children crave about the game of baseball.
5. “It should be as close to a basketball practice as possible.”
Please, pay more attention to what goes on in practice than what goes on in the games. In my humble opinion, practice is where you learn what type of player you are not the games. You will learn what your range is a defensive player. Meaning, I know I can either dive and catch a ball 20 feet to my right or I can’t. I will know, I can get to a shallow fly ball behind 2nd base and catch it in the air or not. You will begin to challenge and push yourself in practice to get to these balls so that NO baseball drops in your zone! Watch what the coach is doing at practice: are there kids standing around? How much movement is going on? Is he doing drills? Is he just hitting the ball from home plate into the outfield or to an infielder? You basically want it to look as close to a football or basketball practice as possible. If you see statues (players standing around), your time and your kids’ time is not being maximized. He should have infielders doing drills, outfielders doing drills, catchers, there should be individual defensive work, there should be team integrated work and there’s a time for statues (if they are playing a simulated game with the coach pitching). Basically, you kids should be tired! It should be as close to a basketball practice as possible — I know I said this twice, but HINT HINT, it must be important.
It’s important that we all lend a helping hand. Youth baseball is and always will be an amazing and satisfying experience. For those that are serious, it is where their fundamental foundations are formed and can set up their careers for success. Everyone deserves to have fun, learn and grow. I appreciate your time, thank you for reading this article and I hope it helped! I am always available for questions, comments and concerns. Spread the word, thank you guys again, good luck to you all!