You took the plunge and volunteered to coach youth baseball. Congratulations! You are about to embark on an incredibly exciting, fulfilling adventure.
If you're like a lot of the adults who volunteer to coach youth sports, you likely don't have much coaching experience. You may not even have much experience with the game of baseball. That's okay, though — you can learn the rules and surely adapt to managing a group of excited children. The enthusiasm and willingness to learn that led you to volunteer are two of the most important characteristics of a great baseball coach, so you're already ahead of the coaching game!
Even so, you should know a few things before you head out the door for your first practice. Our tips below will help you get started on the track to success!
Getting Started Coaching Baseball
A good baseball coach knows about more than home runs and how to locate the infield — although those things are important. A good coach knows about their players. Before your first practice, there are three things you should do:
1. Know the Rules
If you've played baseball in the past, this one might be easy. If you haven't spent much time on the diamond, it'll understandably be slightly harder. But, no matter what level of experience you have, it's important that you review the rules of baseball, as well as the league you're coaching in. Your players and their parents will be relying on you to guide them through the season. Write down your questions as you review the league's manual, and go to the league for clarification if you need it. Anticipate questions and issues that may come up during the season and spend some time preparing for how you will handle them.
Depending on the structure of your league, you may also want to consider developing some additional team rules, such as outlining your expectations for attending practice and showing respect for other players, coaches and league officials. This may also be an excellent time to establish boundaries with parents, which should include clear rules about when and how they can discuss concerns about their child.
2. Know Your Roster
Some of this will depend on the league you're coaching in. You may have some input in building your team, or you may be handed a pre-determined roster. In either case, make sure you know how your league places its players, whether it's by ability or geography.
Get a sense of who may be pitching, who has a killer swing and who is most likely to start on third. Have an idea of who has been playing for years and which players are just beginning their first season. Being aware of this before you start practices can help you and your team make the most of your limited practice time.
3. Contact Your Team
In today's electronic world, it can be tempting just to send out a group text or email. May we suggest taking the time to call each player on your roster before the first practice? Making personal contact can go a long way in getting kids excited to play on your team. It will also show parents that you are approachable and on top of things.
You might even want to consider holding a parents' meeting around the beginning of the season. This will give you a chance to share your vision for the team and answer some initial questions.
Running Your First Practice
Running a practice for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you're new to the sport of baseball. But, if you do it right, a good first practice can set the tone for your entire season. Remember to bring:
- The team roster
- Equipment — bats, gloves, balls, etc.
- Water and sports drinks such as Gatorade
You can break down the first practice of the season into the following five parts.
Hopefully, you've talked to each of your players by now — seriously, have a parents' meeting — but take a few minutes to go through introductions with everyone present. Not only will this help you get to know your team faster, but the players need to know each other if they're going to start working together. If you have any assistant coaches working with you, this is also a great time to introduce them to your team.
2. Review the Rules
Even if you went over the rules in your parents' meeting, taking a few minutes to review them with the entire team is important. Not only should you review league rules and your expectations, but you should also discuss each of the positions and their responsibilities.
But remember, before you dive into a long-winded explanation of a ground ball or home runs, make sure you know your team's previous experience. Are there a lot of returning players? They may not need some of the more basic explanations. Lots of new kids? Spend more time on the basics.
Having a light stretching session can serve two purposes. First, it can help younger players learn about how to warm up and prepare their bodies to compete safely. Second, it can also give you time to lay out your plan for practice while your team is a captive audience. For younger players, this can be as simple as running around the bases. Older players can do some more involved stretching and running exercises.
4. Run Drills
We'll get into this more in the next section, but for now, just know this — the drills you choose will depend on the ages of your players, as well as the amount of practice time you have. Choose an effective mixture of hitting, throwing and catching exercises, and don't be afraid to change them up between practices. Keeping your players on their toes will help them stay excited about practice and eager to learn.
5. Wrap Up
As your practice comes to a close, take a few minutes to have everyone come together again. Review the things you went over during drills, making sure to point out places where the team excelled, as well as offering a few constructive suggestions for improvement. Remind your players about their next practice, as well as any details they need to know about their upcoming games. If your players are young, also make sure to take time to communicate information about future practices and games to their parents.
This is also a great outline to follow for subsequent practices. No, you won't have to spend as much time on rules and introductions, but having a defined start and finish to every practice, as well as making time for drills and warm-ups, is a great way to keep each practice organized and running smoothly.
Running an Effective Practice
As your season goes on, you may find that your players need something different. Maybe you need to add a parents' meeting to your wrap-up time. If parents are not getting the information from their child, consider stepping over to the bleachers during the last five minutes of practice to fill everyone in on details for upcoming games and practices. Or, maybe your players are struggling to work together as a team. Consider using some of your designated drill time to work on team building exercises and teaching your players how to work together.
The very name "Drills" can make some former athletes cringe. If you aren't careful, they can be monotonous. Players, and especially younger ones, can get bored quickly, which can make some kids question their interest in the game. As a coach, your job is to teach your players the mechanics of the game of baseball, but it is also to help your players cultivate a healthy love of the game.
So, as you're devising drills for practice, it's important to remember that exercises should be an appropriate mixture of mechanics and fun. A great way to do this is to turn drills into a competition. After all, your players are most likely on your team because they have a healthy love of competition — why not use that to your advantage?
If you aren't sure what kinds of drills to run during practice, you can certainly turn to the Internet for a slew of suggestions. In general, you'll want to select a variety of exercises that will work on both offensive play, including batting and base running, as well as defensive play, such as throwing, catching and pitcher-specific drills.
While there will undoubtedly be many similarities, you'll find that some of your practice content will vary depending on the ages of your players.
1. Ages 4 Through 7
If your players fall within this age range, you'll likely have a wide span of abilities and attention spans. Depending on the ages and the league rules, you may be coaching T-Ball rather than baseball. This is typically the first level of play, and some leagues even require that players have at least one season of t-ball before they can move up to baseball. At this age, you may not be spending much — if any — time pitching. Some leagues even offer "coach pitch" or "machine pitch" baseball.
When you're working with this younger age group, the most important thing you can teach them is a love of the game. YOU are their first exposure to baseball, and everything you say and do will heavily influence their passion for the game in the future. We're not saying you're the one who will determine whether they'll be the next Derek Jeter, but we are saying you will be one of the deciding factors in whether or not they will continue to play. This means you should make sure the drills you run and the way you conduct practice keeps them engaged.
At this age, teaching them how to bat, run bases and play the various positions in the field should be your primary goals. This is also the time to let everyone try all the positions — don't try to pigeon-hole anyone into one spot, even if they somehow show promise there. You also shouldn't spend your entire practice on drills. Set aside at least half of your practice for a scrimmage to allow the kids to play against each other and exercise the skills they learned during their drills.
When your team is this young, it's also not as important to give kids time to warm up. They move so much that they'll quickly warm up as practice gets underway. Consider modifying the outline we suggested above, and start practice with young players by running bases and then going right into your drills.
Don't hesitate to utilize your assistant coaches — or willing parent volunteers — to break your team up into groups of two or three to make each drill more manageable for them, too.
2. Ages 8+
Once kids get older, the age ranges of a team are going to depend on league rules — however, there will be some similarities in how practices are run for anyone in these older groups.
First, don't skip warm up. We aren't talking about warming up their arms — this isn't the major leagues — we're talking running bases here. Lots of running bases. Then, move into a time of throwing and catching. Warm up time is for everyone, and even your strong batters need time catching.
Then, move into a structured round of drills, recommended in this order:
- Infield training
- Throwing mechanics
It's up to you how you conclude practice at this point. You may give them some time to scrimmage, or you may spend a few more minutes running bases or talking with the team about an upcoming game.
Even as they get older, your primary goal is to help foster and encourage your players' love of the game of baseball. There's nothing wrong with encouraging talent or a healthy love of competition, but a coach's role is to build up their team and nurture their enthusiasm for the sport. This is more important than any drill you could run on any given day. As you plan out each practice, make sure everything you do is designed to encourage your players to continue.
How to Be a Good Youth Baseball Coach
Being a good baseball coach takes a basic knowledge of the game, but it's so much more than that. Being a good baseball coach comes down to loving the game and the players who make it happen. When you have a healthy love of the game and its people, great things can happen. Players and their parents can tell when a coach doesn't have their heart the game or when they've volunteered for all of the wrong reasons.
If you're reading this article, the odds are that you're already a great coach. Your willingness to learn means you are committed to giving your team the best experience possible this season. But, if you're looking for tips to help you really make a difference, we've got that covered, too. Here are seven ways you can have a great first season as a youth baseball coach.
1. Focus on Communication
We can't stress this one enough. Taking the time to talk with your players and their parents makes a huge difference. When kids know their coach believes in them, they thrive. They try harder. They accomplish great things. Having the coach's attention can turn a good player into a great one.
A great coach also takes the time to communicate with their players' parents. Regular reminders about the schedule and upcoming team events are important for helping everyone feel like part of the team. Communication between parents and coaches is also important for creating and maintaining an atmosphere of good sportsmanship during practices and games. When parents know you're listening to them and their children, you can defuse potentially negative situations before they spiral out of control.
2. Model Good Sportsmanship
A good coach takes the time to model good sportsmanship to both players and their parents. Aside from teaching your players the rules of baseball, you should spend time showing them how to be polite, encourage their peers and act appropriately both on the field and in the dugout.
In the same way, a good coach will also set up guidelines to help parents practice good sportsmanship. As a coach, you are completely within your rights to require your parents to follow a specific code of conduct. A lot of leagues will already have one in place, but you can certainly add to it, and it will be your job to enforce it during practices and games. You can do this in a variety of ways, but you should set up guidelines restricting parents' comments from the stands or rules regarding how close they can be to the field.
3. Have a Plan
Coming to practice with a clearly outlined plan and objective will put you ahead from the beginning. Keeping things organized and moving at a fast pace will keep your players engaged and interested in what's going on. It will also help you to set yourself up as a trusted authority figure. Your players will trust your judgment and ability to lead when they see you coming to each practice organized and prepared to guide them.
If you have an assistant coach — or two — also set aside time prior to your practice to fill them in on your plan. There's nothing worse than losing valuable practice time while the coaching staff has a meeting. Your players will likely get bored and look for other ways to occupy themselves. By the time you actually start practice, you may have trouble regaining their attention.
4. Keep Practice Moving
We've all heard the stories about Little League players picking dandelions in the outfield. Don't let your players get bored! Structure your practices and your drills to maintain a fast pace that keeps your players on their toes and moving from station-to-station. This is where having an assistant coach or two can come in handy — many hands make the workload lighter! If you don't have any assistant coaches, ask parents to volunteer to help.
5. Don't Overwhelm Your Players
Yes, it's important to keep practice moving at a fast pace, but don't try to cram so much into one day that your players are overwhelmed. Choose one or two primary objectives and focus on those. Then, at your next practice, choose one or two more. Remember, your players will not get better at something if you don't give them enough time to focus on that particular skill.
6. Find Creative Ways to Engage Your Players
How you do this will depend on the players on your team. Take the time to notice how they work. Do they respond well to friendly competition? Then incorporate some sort of competition into your drills. Do they work well for a tangible reward? Offer something to the first person to complete a particular exercise or skill. Don't be afraid to let them choose between certain drills, either — if there's a certain one your players all love, do it often to boost engagement and make practice even more enjoyable.
For the drills they can't stand, research and brainstorm whether there is a better alternative that will help build the same skill set. Keeping them excited about practice and the game of baseball is more effective than running 30 drills they hate!
7. Have Fun
It should go without saying, but youth baseball is supposed to be fun. Yes, it's great to watch your best batter hit a home run and win the game for his team. But as a coach, your end goal should never be about winning — it should be about teaching your players a healthy love of the game. They should be learning how to play baseball, work as a team, build skills through effort, and achieve a goal. This should always be at the forefront of your mind.
Getting Uniforms and Equipment for Your Team
Coaching youth baseball is one of the most rewarding things you can do with your spare time. The joy you will experience as you watch your team learn the ins and outs of America's game is unparalleled. If you're taking the plunge into coaching this season, congratulations. If you're still on the fence, we encourage you to jump in!
Once you're on board, then it's time to work on the logistics. Hopefully, you are working under the direction of a great league. There are some fantastic baseball leagues out there working hard to develop young kids' love of the game.
If you or your league are looking for uniforms and equipment, let SV Sports outfit your team with quality, customized clothing and sporting gear on time and on budget. Offering merchandise from top brands like Nike, Under Armour, Badger Sport, Adidas and more, SV Sports is your one-stop shop for all your team's needs. Submit your uniform requests through our online form or contact us today for more information!