The main goal for us at The School of Baseball is to see kids playing baseball for many years, hopefully into College and beyond. Why? Because we feel that the lessons they learn playing the game will greatly benefit them beyond their playing days.
In July 2013, ESPN published an article, “Hey, data data — swing!” (Click here to read the article). The article went into great detail on the drop-out rates of youth sports and how our youth are dropping out of sports at a much quicker rate. I’ve read many other articles since on the same topic; but ESPN presented some great data. I won’t go into too much detail; but they state that the #1 reason that boys quit playing team sports is b/c they are not having fun. So, if we want to improve upon this number, I guess we have to make it fun for the kids.
I’ve been coaching now for 16 years and I can honestly say I believe I know what fun is. Let me first say what I believe fun is NOT. Fun is not playing games. I cringe when I see coaches at camps or at practices taking their kids through “wasting time” drills. Here’s what tends to happen at camps and practice for young kids. The coach (or coaches) lose control (usually about 5 minutes in) and decide that they are going to have the kids play a game; because that’s what kids like to do…play games. I mostly see the same games being played…get in a line and see who can throw a ball and hit a hanging target. Oh, and let’s make sure we go one at a time because that will waste a LOT of time. Or, who can hit the ball off the tee and into a ball sitting on another tee. Will kids have fun? DEFINITELY!! You’ll see them jumping up and down screaming and hollering. BUT, these games will not keep the kids playing the game. Because guess what? I can do everything wrong mechanically and still hit a target; or still hit a ball off one tee and into a ball on another tee. Who cares though…because the kids are having FUN!
Hopefully you were picking up on my sarcasm in most of the last paragraph. Now let’s get serious. You know what is fun? Fun IS getting better at what you do. Did you ever see a kid try something over and over, getting it wrong time and time again; then they finally get it right? Then they do it right again and again. The smile on their face when they finally get it is priceless! THAT is what we should strive for as coaches. When kids get better, they will begin to have fun. And when kids see that we as coaches are excited about them getting better makes it even more enjoyable for them. So we have to show energy and excitement. When you’re good at something, chances are you will want to do it again and again. And when they see that their coaches and parents are enjoying them getting better…well, they won’t want to stop.
In two weeks I will be working a youth camp (ages 6-9). Anyone that knows me or has read older posts know that this is my favorite group to teach b/c you have the greatest impact on them at this age. They are new to the game so they are impressionable. Their skills are raw; so you can properly shape them without needing to break years of bad habits. But, this is also the age where coaches (not all of them) feel as though “games” are needed. Coaches feel that the kids can’t focus too long on baseball drills and will be better off if they mix in some “games”. I cannot disagree more with this mentality. These kids WANT to be taught the game. They hunger for learning how to do things right. But, of course they will want to play games if given the choice. But, DO NOT GIVE THEM THE CHOICE! Come into the camp (or practice) with a plan and stick with the plan. Your goal should be that each kid is better at the end of the hour than they were at the beginning of the hour. And, when you’re done, explain to the kids why they are better now than they were an hour ago.
It’s January and the deluge of lessons, camps and clinics has begun. I love this time of year because it’s a sign that Spring is close. But I love this time of year more because it’s an opportunity to help kids improve their game…which leads to them developing more passion for the game we love.
All the best!