Progression of Learning: Part 4 – The High School Years

Our Progression of Learning Series will conclude with our fourth segment, the High School Years (NOTE: We’ll group our 14-year olds with the high school kids even though 14 is likely an 8th grader).

Once the player survives the critical age of 13, they can no begin to focus on more advanced training.  What you teach a 14-year old should not differ from what you teach an 18-year old.  The only difference will likely be in the physical performance: how hard they hit the ball; how fast they run; and how hard they throw the ball.  But their ability to process skills and techniques should be the same.

You should find yourself spending very little time on the fundamentals: fielding ground balls hit straight at them; side toss; tee work; proper throwing mechanics; etc.  About 15 minutes of your practice time should be spent on the ‘simple’ things.  The remaining practice time should be spent on advanced work: double play turns; charge plays; hit-and-runs; hitting behind runners; learning how to throw from all angles to understand ball flight; etc.  Learn and master the techniques that can turn a good player into a great one.

But the key to all of this is what the player does when they are 6-13.  Can they spend time on the advanced work?  YES, BUT ONLY IF THEY HAVE PERFECTED THE FUNDAMENTALS!

You should also spend a great deal of time with this age group on the mental side of baseball.  Film your hitters and work with them on understanding how to break down a swing.  This will be incredibly helpful for your pitchers and catchers.  This will help them handle opposing hitters better.  The more they watch and analyze, the better they will be able to understand how they can improve themselves.

Learning any skill requires progression.  You start with the basics and work yourself to the more advanced.  Unfortunately, we live in a society where kids (and adults) want the “quick fix.”  Everyone wants the instant gratification.  Would you rather have $20 today or $200 a year from now.  Few kids have the patience to put in the time to work on the fundamentals.  Most want to go straight for what they see on TV.  But what they fail to understand is that the pitcher throwing 95 with incredible movement on his fastball was once a 9 year-old kid working on proper pitching mechanics.

Teach your kids to be patient.  Teach them to master the skills in batches.  Teach them that building a solid foundation is what creates a strong and lasting home!

Progression of Learning: Part 3 – The BIG 1-3

13 is arguably the toughest age for playing the game of baseball.  It’s the point where players transition to the BIG diamond, the 90 foot basepaths.  When I was younger, this transition was extremely difficult.  Players would go from 60 foot basepaths directly to 90 feet.  Several years ago, an intermediary diamond was developed, the 70 foot diamond.  This has helped, but not completely.

Being a superstar at the age of 12 does not automatically qualify one to be the same superstar at the age of 13; especially when you find yourself on a team with older kids.  The balls he/she threw across the diamond from shortstop at 12 now bounce to first at the age of 13.  Balls driven to the gaps at the age of 12 are now weak “humpback” liners.  A pitcher blowing balls by hitters at the age of 12 now can’t get a ball by a hitter.

The transition generally leads to frustration, and frustration can lead to deserting the game alltogether.  For the last few years, the player was a superstar.  Looked up to by his/her peers and routinely selected for all-star teams; the player now finds themself hitting in the bottom third of the lineup.

It happens every year.  13-year olds will stop by for a lesson just after the season starts with one of two requests.  I need to hit the ball harder or I need to throw the ball harder.  It’s a tough situation to be in as a coach because we were once there ourselves.  After seeing their mechanics, you know the answer but the player and parent may not be willing to hear it…”be patient, you’ll get stronger with age.”

There are three areas that I focus on with the kids at this age.

First, teach them how to long toss.  Long toss is a proven method to help strengthen the arm.  But, done improperly, it can lead to a tired; or in some cases, arm problems.  Put them on a solid long tossing program that they can do a few days each week and they will gradually see their arm strength improve.

Second, encourage the kids to begin a strength training routine.  Strength training for kids is always a touchy subject and one that should not be taken lightly.  I am a firm believer in strength training; but only when its done properly.  A 13-year old should start with body weight exercises.  Pull-ups, push-ups, body squats, sit-ups (or variations of ab exercises). Kids at this age (and even at 14) should learn first how to control their own body weight before they begin taking on actual weights.  They should learn proper technique and how to breath during each exercise.  When kids begin strength training, they will begin to see gains in their overall strength.  This leads to better performance; and even better, more confidence.

Lastly, use this age to reinforce proper mechanics of the throw, swing, etc.  When a player is searching for more power, they will inevitably alter their mechanics.  This could prove counterproductive.  A player that once had great mechanics could become frustrated that their power is suffering.  In turn, they may try to alter their mechanics, and subsequently develop poor habits.  Take the time to reinforce proper hip rotation in their swing; or leg drive when pitching; or using their feet more when throwing to first.  Once their body strength catches up, they will be far ahead of their competition; but only if they maintain proper mechanics.

Make sure the mindset of the 13-year old stays positive.  They were once at the top of their class; and there is no reason why they cannot be there again.  They need to remain patient and not fall into the habit of changing their mechanics from great to poor.

Educate today to benefit the tomorrow!

Progression of Learning: Part 2 – Pre-Teens

You’ve made it through the early years, and your kids have developed a love of the game.  They ask you to take them to the park to practice.  They can sit through several innings of a Major League game.  They may even be interested in touring the Hall of Fame!

Now it’s time to get down to work.  The Pre-teen years, ages 10-12 are critical for proper development.  This is the age where a kid MUST develop the proper mechanics for throwing, hitting, fielding, pitching, etc.  You do not want them graduating onto a bigger diamond at the age of 13 without sound fundamentals.

Focus your time and attention on enhancing their skills.  At age 10, 11 and 12, the kids can maintain their focus much easier, which makes teaching the proper mechanics must easier.  The fact that they can hold tehir attention longer means that they have the capacity to truly learn the game.

The early years are critical for developing a love for the game.  The pre-teen years are critical for developing the proper skills.  Imagine a player that does not learn the proper skills by the time they reach 13.  This player likely will have been playing now for 6, 7 or even 8 years.  Going that long with bad habits, or bad technique will require a significant effort to “right the wrongs” when it comes to developing good habits.

When a player turns 13, we want the attention to turn to developing strength and speed.  We’ll discuss that in the next post.  But, at the age of 13, we do not want to spend a significant amount of time on correcting bad habits.

This is usually a fairly easy age to teach.  You can do more with the kids, and they generally want to do more.  They want to be challenged at this age, and will appreciate the time you put in to improve their mechanics.  They will begin to see improvements; and whenever someone begins to improve, they want to do more.  This should be every coach’s dream…getting kids to WANT to participate.  You have their attention…you have their energy…it’s imperative that you capitalize on it.  Teach them the proper mechanics and you’ll make the difficult transition to the bigger diamond MUCH, MUCH easier.