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15 Little League Coaching Tips
So, you are now a Little League coach. You watch baseball on tv, and you played a bit as a youth, but you have zero coaching experience. The thought of being responsible for helping run a team of about 12-15 youngsters is starting to create little beads of sweat on your brow and a slight stomach ache. Your intentions were good as your child's team needed a coach, and you were the only one who stepped up to the plate to take on the responsibility. The problem is that you're feeling like maybe you bit off a little more than you can chew. Wipe the beads of sweat away from your brow, have a warm cup of milk to settle your stomach, and take a look at these 15 Great Little League Coaching Tips!
Little League Coaching Tip #1: Become Familiar With Your League.
- Becoming familiar with your league rules, regulations, and policies is an important step in becoming an effective Little League coach. The analogy I would use here is that if you were going to volunteer in a foreign country and chose not to learn the native language then you are going to have many difficulties. The same will be true when you attempt to talk to umpires, fellow coaches, and league officials without being up to date with league rules, regulations, and policies. On the flip side, it is very annoying for someone who is up to date with league information to have conversations with a coach who refuses to learn required league information. And lastly, a tip within a tip; always carry your Little League rule book in your back pocket as a ready reference tool.
Little League Coaching Tip #2 : Communication & Organization
- If you don't already possess these valuable skills then you need to learn them. You should have a file for each player that includes contact information and any required league documentation such as birth certificate or abstract, medical information, etc. Those files should always be readily accessible. You may want to invest in a briefcase for your team's paper work. Speaking of contact information, you will need to be the liaison between your players and their parents. Give your players information verbally and through paper handouts ( these are old fashion but you should provide information in several different forms to make sure everyone is getting the message), and make sure you are also in email or phone contact with each parent. Don't assume a young child will be responsible with the important information you have just given them. Lastly, do not "sit on information". Make sure you are getting the information out there as quickly as possible, because the parents will get annoyed with late information. For example, a parent that hears about every event, practice, or game from parents on other teams two days before you contact them is a big turn off. It's a busy world and parents need times and dates a.s.a.p. !
Little League Coaching Tip #3 : Safety
- Your league should have a "Safety Officer" and you should consult with that person about league safety protocol. You should have a First Aide Box with band aides, ice packs, etc, and water available at every team or league function in case of an injury. You should also be familiar with your players' medical backgrounds and any unique precautions that may be necessary. Before every game, the field should be accessed for safety and anywhere your players are meeting for a league function should be accessed for safety. Error on the side of caution when it comes to playing in weather conditions. Safety first should be the rule of thumb.
Little League Coaching Tip #4 : Equipment
- The league should be providing most of the equipment, and your league should have an "equipment manager". You should be meeting with the equipment manager to access the condition of your equipment and replace equipment that is too old or broken. You should also meet with parents about proper equipment for your players. The correct type of cleats , correct size glove and how to break in a glove, and encouraging the use of protective gear like cups and mouthpieces should be discussed.
Little League Coaching Tip #5 : Confidence
- Children smell fear or lack of confidence and that is a fact. Have confidence in yourself and what you are trying to communicate. Be firm but fair with your players and "let your yes mean yes and your no mean no". Establish that you are in charge and not the players or their parents. Establish control right from the start, the sooner you are able to command control the sooner that your practices and games will run much smoother.
Little League Coaching Tip #6 : Additional Coaches
- One coach can run a team but will NOT be able to maximize what they can do with the team during games and especially practice. During games, it is always better to have an extra set of eyes in the dugout ( we are dealing with children after all and they are going to misbehave from time to time). Additional coaches are an absolute necessity to run an effective practice. Again, you can run a practice solo, but you will not be able to maximize the effectiveness. For example, if you have two additional coaches plus yourself then you can run infield drills, the second coach can run some outfield drills, and the third coach can run a bullpen session with a pitcher and a catcher, and this can be done all at the same time! The general rule is that there is strength in numbers.
Little League Coaching Tip #7 : Lead By Example
- It is so important to lead by example and be an appropriate adult role model for your players. Like it or not, your players are going to look up to you, or at the very least look to see how you react to situations to figure out what is acceptable behavior on your team. If you scream and shout at umpires, get thrown out of games, and disrespect the opposition then your players will follow your lead. Your team will not only benefit from your positive behavior socially, but they will have the potential to be a better team on the field. For example, instead of crying about defeat, a coach with good sportsmanship will tip his cap to his opponent, and quickly get his team ready for the next game. The team will be able to do the same if they follow the coach's lead. Lastly, your league may or may not have a coach's dress code. In any case, it is important to dress appropriately so you can be an appropriate adult role model. Very tight clothing,ripped clothing, sleeveless shirts, see through shirts , shirts with inappropriate words or images, and very short shorts should be among other clothing that should not be used.
Little League Coaching Tip #8 : Treatment of Players
- All players on the team should be given the same amount of respect and attention from you despite skill level. For example, a skilled player shouldn't be given special treatment, and a less skilled player shouldn't get less batting practice. Remember your team will only be as strong as it's "weakest link" . If you strengthen those "weaker links" you will have a pretty darn good team. However, in regard to equal treatment, we do have to remember that your players will have different personalities, and you may need to take several different approaches to get your message across. For example, a timid player may need more of a comforting approach, but a more aggressive player may need " a fire lit under them" or "a kick in the pants" type approach to deliver the same message. It will be up to you to develop a rapport with players and learn what "buttons to push" to make your team operate like a well oiled machine.
Little League Coaching Tip #9 : Coping with Defeat As Well As Victory
- When helping your team cope with defeat, the last thing you want to do is play the blame game- examples; umpires cheated, the other team cheated, or blaming the loss on one of your own. Simply state that on that day the other team did some things that were better ( and tell them what they were), and we will get ready to try to win the next game. You can also talk about things your team could have done better but do not place blame; address everything as "team". We usually don't discuss coping and victory because you usually don't cope with something that is a positive. However, victory as a stat is a positive, but sometimes if victory is not mentally handled correctly then it can be a mental negative. For example, a sloppy victory should be discussed accordingly. Let the team know that getting a win is great, but to keep winning there are some sloppy elements that need to be worked on in practice. Also, if the team is not winning gracefully, they are not practicing good sportsmanship then that needs to be discussed. Being respectful in defeat and victory is very important!
Little League Coaching Tip #10 : Addressing Physical and Mental Errors
- Physical and mental errors should be treated completely different. They are completely two different types of errors. A physical error is dropping a fly ball, booting a ground ball, or making a bad throw. After a physical error, you want to comfort the player by saying something like "You'll get it next time !" or " Hang in there, we all drop a few". A mental error is missing or ignoring signals, throwing to the wrong base after you called the play out several times, or not hustling. This calls for a little bit deeper discussion. " Keep your head in the game." is a common and appropriate coach's response to a mental error. And as we stated earlier, you will have to find the right "buttons to push" when motivating players after physical or mental errors.
Little League Coaching Tip #11 : Practice
- A practice should not go longer than 2 hours. You should save the last 30 minutes for something fun that the team wants to do like a game of hits, runs, and errors. You need to plan your practices ahead of time, so that you are not wasting valuable field time trying to figure out what to do next. Do not teach too many different skills in one practice, because there is only so much the young mind will retain. You should practice fundamental skills like hitting, fielding, pitching & catching, and base running at every practice. Set aside some time to teach more advanced skills such as run downs, situational base running, situational defense, etc. Again, you might only want to do one of the advanced skills per practice. In general, you will maximize practice effectiveness with good planning and using time wisely.
Little League Coaching Tip #12 : Game Time
- We talked about organization earlier, and this should apply to game day as well. Setting up game time rituals and routines is important for your team. It is about creating an expectation of your players for game time that will properly help them function at their best during the game. For example, you should have an arrival time that is followed by maybe a schedule that looks like this : organize equipment, warm up, play catch, announce starting line up, pre game fielding drills, and pre game motivational speech. Routines and rituals will create an atmosphere of structure and comfort for your players. It also can be a mental edge for your team. It can be very intimidating for an unorganized team to watch another team that has structured routines and rituals. Sometimes games can be actually won and loss right during pre game routines and rituals!
Little League Coaching Tip #13: Making a Batting Order
- Do not underestimate the power of a good and balanced lineup. You should put some thought into making your batting order. Keep useful stats to reference. Also consider intangibles like how hard a player is hitting the ball, if they make a lot of contact or swing and miss a lot, confidence at the plate, and ability to get on base. Don't put together too many players in a row that strike out a lot as that can be an inning killer. Also, make sure your power hitters have a good hitter behind them, so that pitchers can't "pitch around" them. You could also consider putting a couple of good and speedy base runners at the top of your order. This could put runners in scoring position right away for your power hitters. It's also a good idea to have a player at the bottom of the order who gets on base a lot. This can get you back to the top of your order. In general, you should attempt to create a balanced order based on your teams strengths and weaknesses.
Little League Coaching Tip #14 : Placing Players in Positions
- Attributes that are essential for each position could be it's own article, so we'll only touch on a few general qualities that you want from each position. Your pitchers should have extreme confidence and a good command of their pitches. They don't need to be the hardest throwers, but they do need to be able to put the ball where the catcher puts his mitt. Your catcher should be a tough kid who doesn't mind wearing a lot of gear in the Summer heat. The catcher must understand the importance of keeping the ball in front of him/her, and should be good at receiving the ball. Your middle infielders ( short stop & second baseman) should be good fielders with good range. Your corners (first baseman & third baseman) don't need as much range or arm strength. Your first baseman (like your catcher) should be good at receiving the ball. Your third baseman has to be a player who doesn't mind having a lot of "hot shots" hit at him/her. Outfielders should be quick, athletic, and have strong arms. With all that said, still make sure you try everyone at every position, because it's fair and you may find something you missed. At practices you should experiment with moving players into different positions because a player may grow into a position. It's always good to develop players that can play more than one position.
Little League Coaching Tip #15 : Have Fun!
- The most important tip is always keep in consideration that you are coaching youth and allow them to have fun. Create a fun environment for your team. When the ice cream truck comes rolling in at the end of practice, you could stop early and buy the team some ice cream. Maybe you can print out some baseball themed coloring sheets and give them to your team to take home with them. Check on any coupon deals that the local fast food restaurants may have and pass some out to your team. You could set up an annual end of the year pizza party at the local pizza parlor. There are many activities and goodies at little or no cost to you that can help create a fun environment for your Little League team!