Recently, I was contacted by a person who was just embarking on her coaching efforts. She has a young daughter and wants to get involved in coaching her. Her motives are very strong, to spend time with her daughter on the field and, secondly, to provide a female role model for the kids playing on the team.
Her first question was a great one! Where do I start? This is a very young recreation level team. Some of the players have a little experience but several have never played before.
She followed that initial question with several more very good ones! Here are my thoughts:
1. What should we emphasize with this team?
I want them to learn how to play but I really want them to have fun so that they fall in love with the game. We want to keep things organized, moving and include some fun games and activities.
2. Should I focus on the fundamentals?
Of course we need to teach the fundamentals. Throwing and catching are crucial for the young player. Time spent on these most basic of skills now will set these young players up for a lifetime of success in the game. I would spend a great deal of time on throwing, catching and fielding.
3. Should we work on hitting at practice?
With players this young I feel time must be spent on hitting practice. Partly because it is very unlikely that any of these players are working on hitting on their own and certainly are not taking lessons.
Hitting in practice with young players though can be a challenge. Set up some tees and drills to keep them more occupied with hitting. If they are just standing around waiting for their turn to swing and miss they will all get discouraged. You may even need to “hit the bat” for some of them at the very beginning.
4. How important is it that we teach them the rules?
There needs to be a very basic level of knowing the rules for this age group but I would not overwhelm them with details or the finer points. As long as they know how many strikes, outs and the direction they need to run at the beginning I think we are off to a good start. There will be plenty of time for them to learn the infield fly rule and all the rest later!
5. How do I decide who plays which positions?
If you are hoping to teach them the game then I would suggest they all play every position. When you get to the point of trying to determine who should play a specific then I would always start with some basics:
If we never throw a strike no one gets to play, so finding a pitcher is your first priority.
If we throw a strike, but the catcher never catches it, the game gets pretty boring, pretty fast.
If the first baseman can’t catch a throw our infielders will get very discouraged.’
Second base is probably more important than shortstop because so many hitters are late.
There are more but I think you get the idea. Have fun, make it fun and enjoy the time in the sunshine.