This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Baseball by Daniel Keller.
Follow these guidelines for an easy game day.
- Playing time. Put your ego aside and swallow your pride when filling out player positions. Work to fill out playing time equally across all players. As athletes grow older, the lineup will get more competitive. For beginning baseball players, however, playing time is something that should be evenly distributed—each athlete sits out for the same number of innings. Making the lineup and filling out positions are the most difficult part of game days. This is why the Batting Lineup and Positions Sheet should be filled out before leaving for the field on game days.
- Positions. Similar to playing time, positions played is another difficult puzzle to put together. There will be many times when your lineup on defense will not give you the best chance of winning. But you must stay strong and keep the big picture in mind. A rotating lineup will give players the opportunity to play multiple positions during the course of a game and over a season. Athletes should play both infield and outfield every game with the goal of developing baseball skills. Develop first, win second!
Communicate these policies on playing time and positions played (as part of your coaching philosophy) to parents before competition begins. Parents love to win. It’s human nature and brings out the best and worst in everybody. Parents will appreciate having a clear understanding of your coaching philosophy before an issue comes up during a game. If one of these decisions does end up resulting in an extra run or even a loss, you can simply point to the bigger picture and philosophy that was explained early in the season.
Signs. As long as the competition at the tee ball level is within reason, signs won’t be necessary. But when your players get to the win-at-all-cost age of 7, you best have a full arsenal of encrypted signs. Not really, two or three will do. Swipe an arm or hand across your chest to tell the batter or runner what play is on:
• Hit-and-run (base runner steals and batter must swing)
- Umpires. The umpires for your games will often be your fellow volunteer coaches—that is, volunteer coaches who are volunteering additional time as umpires. Treat them as you would like to be treated, and understand that they are doing their best in an unfamiliar role. If a rule is misinterpreted or incorrectly applied, call time-out and present your case. If a dispute arises over safe versus out, ball versus strike, or fair versus foul, remember that a judgment call is simply that—the umpire’s judgment. A judgment call typically will not be reversed. A terrific rule presented by the Positive Coaching Alliance states this: The dugout should never hear a word you say to the umpires. This rule is a great way to help coaches keep their cool and always maintain a level head during games. Call time-out, approach your buddy behind the umpire’s mask, and calmly tell him how much he stinks. Keep all bases securely fastened to their pegs, and always avoid hurling water jugs and bat racks.
- Parents. Make sure that parent comments are supportive and positive. Request that they do not make comments to the umpires and do not coach their kids from the stands. The kids are there to play, and parents should stay out of the way. Parents should leave the games to the players and coaches and then have a good talk after the game.
- Big picture. Athletes will have the biggest game of their lives each and every year—the 9-year-old’s league playoff game, the 10-year-old’s championship game, the 11-year-old’s all-star tournament, and so on. Each season will present bigger and more pressure-packed situations. It is the job of parents, and specifically the head coach, to keep a level head and big-picture perspective of youth baseball during competition. Through your coaching, keep the focus on the development of these 12 kids—not on championships and trophies. The adults must think clearly while the kids think emotionally. Governing bodies such as PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) and Little League Baseball have put in place helpful rules such as pitch count and inning limitations to help protect young arms. Follow these rules and recognize the value of guidelines in helping to make tough decisions when under pressure to win.
Read more from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Baseball.