With the summer season now in full swing, I’ve been able to get out and take in several games. When attending games, I spend a good deal of my time watching what goes on ‘around’ the game. What’s happening in the dugout? What’s going on after a play? What are players doing when the ball is not hit to them? It’s during these moments where you find out which players are the ones that really know how to play the game. I’ve noticed a few things, addressed below, that I feel teams can improve upon.
Have players watch the game
It’s so easy for players to lose focus in baseball. Especially the younger players. The game moves at a slow pace. And there’s a good chance that they may never get a ball hit to them all game. When they come in for offense, there are many distractions to deal with: mom or dad offering suggestions; small talk from teammates; or “crowd-watching”!
It’s critical that you stress to your players the importance of ‘watching’ the game. When they’re in the dugout (whether on offense or someone sitting on defense), have them focus on the game. Is the pitcher getting into a particular pattern for his pick-offs; or how many times he looks at a runner on second before he throws home? What does the pitcher like to throw w/2 strikes? Are the opposing baserunners trying to steal the catcher’s signs? Is there a player on the other team that is exceptional at what he does? And if so, what can you learn from his tendencies? This list can go on and on. The point is, there is so much to learn during a game that you really don’t have time to become distracted. And what you learn from watching can win you a ballgame.
Bottom line – the more they watch the more they learn. If not paying attention, your team could potentially miss out on picking up something that may help them win the game.
Avoid technical discussions with hitters
I’ll be the first to admit that I am VERY technical when it comes to hitting. I am not shy about getting into deep discussions with hitters on the mechanical aspects of their swings. I believe its important for them to understand how each part of the body is supposed to work through the swing.
BUT, I also believe that the game is no time to have these discussions with a player; unless they are out of the game and you don’t plan on putting them back in. As a hitter, during a game, your focus should be on seeing the ball, and your timing. And I believe it’s okay to speak with your hitters on their strategy. What pitches will they look to sit on. But, in no way should anything related to the mechanics of the swing come forward. It’s too hard for a player to think about when their hips should start to rotate while the ball is coming at them.
If a player is showing issues mechanically, take notes (more on this later) and discuss this with him after the game. But, keep it simple during the game. Have a plan; make sure the timing is on point; and see the ball. After that, let the swing be and hope he’s done enough repetitions in practice where his swing is at a good place. You get them thinking about the mechanics in the game and you’ll likely get them too distracted on the swing rather than on the ball.
Players need to prepare
Why players think they can just show up, without a proper warm-up and play is beyond me. The first time you field a ground ball should not be in infield/outfield. The first time a catcher blocks a ball should not be in the game. The first time a hitter swings should not be in a game. The first time a player sprints should not be in a game. Yet, in many games I’ve attended this Spring/Summer, I see players walk in from the parking lot; do some minimal jogging; have a light toss; then jump right into the game.
Players should arrive a good 30 minutes before the team is scheduled to take infield…at least 30 minutes. Jog; stretch; do some sprints; throw; do your defensive drills; and take some swings. If there isn’t a cage, the team should at least have a tee. If no tee, do some side toss. There’s no reason why someone can’t get everything listed above done in 30 minutes. If you’re an infielder, you don’t need to take 100 ground balls. But hey, if you get to the field earlier enough, go for it. At a minimum, do some drills with other infielders where you’re rolling balls back and forth to each other. Work on balls at you, forehands, backhands, and charge plays.
Bottom line is that you owe it to your team to get in your work before the game. To quote John Wooden, “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
So much happens during the game that coaches should be taking notes on things that happen that they may want to bring up to their team later. Rather than address issues; or plays that happen in the moment, it may be best to address these later, either after a game or during the next practice. You always need to be looking for ‘teachable’ moments. Again, you may not want, or need, to address these things during the game; but you also don’t want to forget them later on.
Additionally, you may find yourself having to ‘teach’ a player during a game on something they may have done (or not done). And in many cases, what you discussed with the one player should also be something that you communicate to the rest of the team. But, it may be something that is better discussed after the game or in practice.
Don’t ever lose the opportunity to teach your players. And as mentioned earlier, so much happens during a game that it’s easy to forget these moments. So, keep a pen and paper with you at all times and take notes. It will pay dividends for your team in the long run.
What teams don’t realize is that games are great opportunities to learn, and practice. Teams are playing more games, and practicing less. So, you have to use the time that you have with the players wisely. If you’re not practicing often, you need to use the games as times to get your players better. This includes getting them reps before, during or after games. This includes talking to them about the game during the game. And this includes discussing, with them, what you saw, or didn’t see during the game. Don’t allow your players to just show up, play, then go home. Use the time wisely!