I’ve had the opportunity to coach baseball players of all ages; from kids as young as 5 to players in the professional ranks. It’s probably obvious that what we coach and how we coach is dependent upon the ages we are coaching; but I will take aim at providing a “lessons learned” series on coaching each age group.
Over the course of the next few posts, we’ll take a look at the key coaching elements for each age group, starting with my favorite group, the 5-8 segment.
1. Make the game fun for the kids
Making the game fun does not mean that you should play ‘games’ with the kids. By games, I am talking about relay races; or who can hit the target with the throw; or you get 1 point for hitting a ball on the ground, two points for a line drive; etc. To me, these are delay tactics for getting through a practice.
How do you make it fun? EASY! First, display an enthusiasm for the game. Your energy is contagious. If you move slowly, the kids will move slowly. If you run between drills, the kids will follow. Its that simple. You have to show the kids you are excited to teach them. They’ll feed off of it. Second, get as many kids involved as possible during drills. This could mean that you break the kids into several smaller groups or you work quickly through drills. We’ll demonstrate how this can be done in our various practice drill videos. If the kids are not involved, they’ll become bored or distracted. Either way, you’ve now lost them. Lastly, keep your drills as simple as possible so kids can see success. Kids tend to have more fun when they are doing well at something. Kids, or adults for that matter, seldom enjoy something if they continue to fail at it.
2. Keep your focus on SIMPLICITY
Apple is well known for many things; but one key quality of their products is their simplicity. No user guide is needed to use an Apple product. They’re intuitive and users quickly adapt to using their products. With the 5-8 age group, your focus needs to be as simple as possible. With hitting, focus on stances, strides, flat swings and hips. No more. Don’t talk about hitting balls to the right side; or keeping your hands inside the ball. That will come later. You’ll only confuse the kids. Give them simple drills they can practice at home with mom or dad. Without the proper foundation, they’ll never be able to learn the skills required at the next level. Plus, you’ll only confuse them the more complicated you get.
3. TEACH THE GAME!
One thing that I have learned with this age group is that you MUST teach them the game of baseball. What do you do when the ball is hit to you with runners on base? What do you do when the ball is not hit to you? Everyone on the field has a job, and they need to know these things. They also need to learn terminology. At every practice, reserve 30 minutes to walk the kids through various situations. This may seem to go against what I mention in #1 above; but you can still maintain a level of excitement here. And ask the kids questions. Don’t tell them what to do; ask them what they think they should do. When you engage them, it keeps them thinking and involved.
With these three focus points, you should be able to guide this age group through some very pivotol years. Your goal should be that, by age 8, the kids are hungry to learn more. They should get excited about Spring ball, or Fall ball, and want to be challenged. I truly believe that most kids will have this attitude if you focus on the three areas mentioned above.
Keep teaching the game!