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Youth Baseball Coaches: Teach, Not Talk, Baseball

Oh, the agony managers, coaches and parents endure as they watch players.

Forget what base to throw to, sidestep ground balls, neglect to back up plays, watch the third strike, steal second base with the bases loaded, swing at pitches above the helmet. The list goes on and on.

All of these actions raise wails of lament from the stands and dugouts: “We’ve told them. We’ve told them a thousand times. Don’t they understand what we’re saying?”

Perhaps not.

It could be that their teachers - both coaches and parents - may have “told” or even “showed” them, but they didn’t teach them. There’s a big difference.

All coaches and parents become, at times, frustrated over players’ seeming lack of progress. After all, we’re giving up our free time, and it’s not showing any results. This is particularly true for those new to coaching. And even more true if very young players are involved. Are we expecting too much?

It’s good to have high expectations for players, but coaches (and parents) will benefit from setting high expectations for themselves, as well. That means, reflecting upon our responsibilities as teachers of baseball. Do our instructions effectively reach the players? Perhaps a player’s repeated mistake is a message: “I’m not getting it, so maybe you should try something else.” Or perhaps the message is, “You’re not showing me that this is really important.”

Not important! I’m screaming at you. Doesn’t that show it’s important? No, it shows you lost control. (Don’t take it personally, it happens to us all. But screaming definitely isn’t teaching.)

What’s the difference between telling and teaching? We tell children a lot every day. “You shouldn’t be sitting there, doing nothing.” “You are in my way, go play.” And the age-old favorite, “When I was your age . . .” The baseball versions are: “Throw strikes.” “Hit the ball.” And “Get your head in the game.” It’s fortunate that children don’t always listen too carefully to what we tell them.


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How, then, do we teach baseball?

If you’re going to talk to players, make sure you are ready to teach them. Coaching requires you to create a want or need for your players. If you can say that you will help them hit for more power, or get rid of the pain in their arm, then they will be ready to listen. Know what you want to say and think of the simplest way to convey this point. Make sure they are all paying attention. If someone isn’t, don’t berate them. Instead, thank those who are listening. The players will like you for acknowledging that they actually did something right. We all appreciate that.

But talking alone isn’t teaching. I entered coaching shortly after I entered the teaching profession. Much of what I learned about teaching applied to coaching. Regardless of how simple a new learning may appear, teachers are trained to break it down into smaller parts. That’s because something learned and mastered appears simple. However, the process required to master a new learning is actually quite complex.

No matter how well taught, players will make mistakes. However, if mistakes receive all the attention, players will be more worried about doing something wrong, and they will no longer remember the skills or teachings that will help them succeed. If a child is learning to ride a bike and you say, “Don’t hit that rock on the sidewalk,” the child will, of course, hit the rock.

The advice presented here is actually simple. Keep it simple. Be positive. Demand more from yourself than from the players. Be patient and remember that teaching a child a skill or lesson has its rewards. Do it, and the next time someone blows a play you won’t say, “Didn’t I tell you what to do?” Instead, you can say, “Didn’t I teach you what to do?”

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