In this episode, Jack and Sam answer and discuss these questions: The benefits of long toss? Whether kids need to throw more or less? What are the things you like to point out to young ballplayers when watching a major league ball game? What parent actions drive you nuts? Do you teach softball hitting differently than baseball hitting? What are the 3 most important tips for youth baseball coaches for having effective practices? For the 8, 9, 10, 11 year old levels, besides pitching, what positions are most important to the team defense?
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Baseball Coaching Tips | Something Worth Catching Podcast EP2
When I owned my own academy, I was a scrooge when it came to the weather. The worse the weather, the better I felt because I knew that meant more indoor business. With that in mind, how are things going here and what’s new at the academy?
Things are going well. This is the first year I asked for rain or snow, but things are going well. What’s happening is you’re getting parents and teams who are coming in to use the facility prior to games to get loosened up and get their batting practice in here. Even an opportunity during the day in terms of coming in in the morning and getting their work in. The sunshine is certainly welcome. The warmer temperatures are welcome, and everything works out. Things are really good here.
I tell everybody times have changed. When I grew up, we were outside all day. We were playing ball a lot of the days. You got a ton of swings, you’re throwing the ball, you’re fielding the ball all day. You got your repetition working and you learn the game. Nowadays, kids don’t do it. There’s no neighborhood play anymore. For good or bad, with facilities like yours, they are not going to get the repetition and learn the game like they need to from their time with their coaches.
Growing up, we didn’t have baseball bags. Your shoes were tied together by the lace. Your glove was on the handle of your bag, and everything was on your bike. You were driving to the park or riding to the park and we would go from a Wiffle ball game in the morning to a lob game in the afternoon to practice and a little league game at night. Things have changed. Whether they’re for the better or the worst, I’m not quite sure. I’m biased to think that growing up the way we did was easier and better. The freedom of getting on a bike and going to the park and when the lights came out, you knew you had to go home. Parents didn’t worry about you and you learn how to survive and street smart. In the world that we live in today, that’s not an option.
If you don’t see your kids for half hour, you panic and start to worry where they are. The times have changed. I believe facilities like yours and the one I use to have are showing the dividends with the Major Leaguers. They’re coming up a lot more polished hitters and things because of academies where they’re getting their work and are learning the finer details. The technology today allows them to learn more and analyze things better so there is a place or facilities like this.
Athletes are definitely bigger and stronger today than they were fifteen or twenty years ago.
If people are looking for a good read or two, I invite them to check out one of my books. One is a hitting book, The Making of a Hitter. One is a parenting book called Raising an Athlete. I have another book for coaches called Creating a Season to Remember. People can buy the books at Amazon or at my website also. Our goal is to help players, coaches, and parents to have the best baseball and softball experience possible. We encourage your questions and you can send them on to me at BaseballCoachingTips.net or to Sam at Sam@DiamondEdgeAcademy. There’re no questions that we feel are off base and we’d like you to send them on. We’re going to start our question that we always do. I believe Sam has the first one.
Do you teach softball hitting different than baseball hitting?
The last thing a softball person wants to hear is that it’s the same. I definitely always say, “Yes.” There are some things that have to be taught differently. The one thing we do know is what produces a line drive and power and good solid contact. That position doesn’t change whether it’s a baseball or a softball. Hitters have to be able to get to a certain position at contact. Softball does have a rise ball that does come up where baseball doesn’t, theoretically, have a ball that rises. In that regard, you have to teach different. The other factor that’s come into play is a softball is heavier. It doesn’t go as far, so kids need to be stronger and very good to be able to power the ball.
A lot of girls are not that strong at the younger ages. To be able to get a ball to the outfield is not that easy, so mechanics are crucial for them too. The other thing is if you can run in softball, then that adds an advantage of being able to slap balls and run like crazy and still have a future. It is a different game. Softball hitters maybe have to be more compact in a sense they can’t get away with a long swing that a power baseball hitter would have. They can’t get away with that because of the movement on every pitch. There’s no such thing as a straight ball in softball. There are differences. Softball hitters have to be very good to proceed in the game.
It’s a tough answer for me to give because I don’t work with as many softball hitters as I do with baseball. At the facility, we have Emily Allard who plays for Chicago Bandits and is probably viewed as the best slap hitter around. Her theory of speed kills is if she can get a ball to bounce twice in the dirt, she’s safe, which is a completely different thought process than what you do in baseball. In baseball, you’re trying to get out playing with a pitch and trying to get behind balls and talk about launch angles. I haven’t done enough study of the softball side. From a mechanic standpoint, working from the ground up and trying to be efficient is the same. If I would teach hitting positions, timing, gather, and load separation are very similar in both sports.
Most things are similar and there’re a few differences. The main point is to try not to tell a softball person it’s the same as baseball because they get upset. Sam, are you a fan of long toss? If you are, what ages would you recommend it or not recommend it for baseball players?
I am a fan of long toss. Long toss, if done properly and taught the proper way to do that, is a very good way of building arm strength. When I was young and coming up, we had the old sand cans for arm exercises, weights and try to do circular emotions and trying to get your shoulders stronger. It’s hard to beat the old fashioned, getting out there and letting the ball go, play a long toss, and trying to maintain that not only pre-season but during the season as part of a maintenance and being able to maintain your gains in your arm strength. I don’t think that putting any restriction on age-wise for long toss is there or needed. Getting out and playing catch, trying to build up arm strength, and the old days of just picking up a rock and trying to throw a rock as far as you could in the water is very similar in terms of what you’re trying to do with baseball and building arm strength. There is no age restriction for long toss and I’m a big fan of it.
Done properly, I think that’s important. Most younger kids, the minute they want to throw a ball a country mile, they fly open with their front side and think that’s going to deliver the ball further. Right away, they’re putting a lot of strain on their body and their arm. It has to be done correctly, but once it is, then I’m a big fan, too. It’s the best way to speed increased over a period of time. The one thing I try to tell parents knowing kids is that if you do a real long toss program or a day of long toss, it’s like pitching a whole game because the strain is like pitching on the mounds. You have to be careful of doing it when you’re pitching. Where you’re not throwing so much then you come back and have to pitch in maximum speed again, that can create problems. I recommend to serious players that want to increase their speed is to start a program after their summer season. It’s the best time of the year to do a lot of throwing. Don’t throw the glove aside too early. Wait until the weather changes. You can get a lot of long toss done and see big effects come the following season and not have to worry about overthrowing and hurting your arm.
Rest is important too, as much as throwing long toss. There should be a month or two months of giving your body a break in terms of throwing and give yourself that opportunity to step away a little bit.
That’s where we’re at an advantage and a disadvantage here in the North Country. The weather takes away the ability to long toss too much in the off season. It’s a built-in rest period. In other states, the warmer states, they can throw year round. That may not always be the best thing for them either.
What are the three most important tips for youth baseball coaches for having an effective practice?
[Tweet “To be able to get a ball to the outfield is not that easy, so mechanics are crucial for them too. “]
To limit that to three is not going to be easy, but I would say the first thing I’d like to tell coaches is to coach during warm-up time. I don’t like seeing kids out there warming up on their own when that might be the most times they throw a ball the whole day and yet they’re doing it wrong in warm ups because no one’s watching them. Warm-up time is for coaches as much as for players getting loose whether it’s base running, running warm-ups, throwing warm-ups, or swinging a bat. Use your warm-up time to coach. Don’t let kids go and do it wrong for fifteen minutes of warm up while you’re sitting to the side talking to the other coaches.
Another thing is that it’s important that coaches talk a little bit and communicate with each other on what they’re exactly teaching. You get one coach teaching one thing and then they go to a different station and another coach is saying something different. Kids are shaking their heads after a while because they’re so confused. It’s important that coaches get together, talk, keep things simple as they can but teach the same things. The third thing is I’d like to start practice with something relatively exciting. Even if it’s warm ups, they can turn that into a little competition time to make it fun for kids immediately and enjoying that first ten or fifteen minutes of time.
There are a lot of things that are a little tedious in practices that you have to get to and you don’t want the kids bored right from the beginning and asking you, “When are we going to do this? When are we going to do that?” I like to save the hitting part, which is thing kids like the most. I try to save that until the end of practice, so kids always have that one thing they like that they know is coming later. Those are maybe some tips that can help coaches.
Number one is having an organized plan. Getting out to the park and not knowing what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it, you end up wasting time trying to figure out, “How am I going to put them in groups? How we’re going to rotate?” Having a practice plan and having it written down and give a copy of that to all your assistant coaches, so you know when and where and how you’re going to rotate. It leads to more effective practices because you’re utilizing your time. Our spring here, weather-wise, wasn’t very good. If you do get an opportunity to get outside, that may be the only time you’re outside for two weeks. You better take full advantage of that hour or hour and a half that you have outside, so be organized.
The second one is trying to limit the standing around. Having nine guys at shortstop and taking ground balls, it leads to other issues. You get kids at a younger level; the maturity isn’t there. You have playing, tap each other on the shoulder, and knock a hat off someone’s head. If you have multiple coaches, putting them on multiple stations where you’re getting multiple ground balls, even to the point where you break them up and you partner up with each other and they’re rolling balls back and forth to each other. Limit them standing around. You keep them engaged a little bit longer. It makes it easier for them to understand what you’re trying to do in that specific drill.
The last part is something that I’ve always tried to do whether it’s practice as a team, as a small group, or even individuals is trying to finish the practice at some point of a competitive level. Get them to throw to a target and get them to work on outfield play and working behind a ball and trying to hit the cut-off man or the perfect throw. If you don’t, then you’re out. You’ll see how more intense and how more productive the practices because they don’t want to be the one that’s out. They start making good throws to first base where previously they were throwing balls away. Trying to make things competitive is a very important key.
All three of these things are skills and ideas that can be learned through coaching clinics, too. I’ve been very fortunate to speak at clinics throughout the country on a yearly basis. I always try and learn something new. If I’m speaking at a clinic, I make sure that I attend it to hear other people talk because they may say something that A. I had never thought of or B. putting in a different perspective that I thought of. That always helps. Here at Diamond Edge, we’ll offer a couple of different coaches’ clinics during the year that are free of charge. You come in for youth coaches and get a better idea of understanding not only drill-wise but more importantly practice organization.
That competition thing is key. I remember baseball camps in the past. I’d run. We would warm up throwing for 35 minutes and kids never got bored because we’re having different competitive contests with throwing. I’m happy because they’re working on other things I wanted to work on and they’re into it because it’s competitive. The key there is making sure everybody has a chance to win. Sometimes you might have to handicap things a little bit, so the best ballplayers don’t always win every time. If coaches know ways of making things competitive, it can make all the difference.
Practice is where the biggest issue with baseball is. Kids get bored with practicing of baseball because coaches don’t know how to make it more exciting. Whereas in games, most kids get enjoyment out of games because it’s competition. Practices that are boring can turn kids off to baseball really quick. Whereas other sports, there is so much more activity and they gravitate to those. If coaches could do a better job of making practices exciting, it can keep kids in the game longer.
Do you think kids need to throw more or less?
I would say more in general, especially the younger kids, unless it’s maximum throwing or you’re pitching a ton. Kids need to throw more. They don’t get enough repetitions for the most part and working on and developing the arm strength. We’re in an age where everybody feels like, “We have to avoid the arm injury.” Part of that is probably that kids don’t throw enough. I would say in general, throw more. The one player that you want or two players you have to be careful of are the guys with the really good arms that are throwing a lot of innings in games. They are the ones that we have to be more careful about because they tend to maybe throw too much. Coaches use them too much. They end up extending them longer in games and they’re the ones that are most vulnerable maybe to arm injuries. For 80%, 95% of kids, they need to throw a lot more and to build up the strength needed.
It gets back to the old days where you didn’t see many of these arm injuries and we were playing catch everyday or we were playing running bases or there was something going on to the extent that you were throwing the baseball. People need to understand the difference between throwing and pitching. Pitching has tremendous amount of additional stress on your body because of the downward movement of pitching off the mound and the stressful innings in terms of over that fifteen to seventeen pitch and inning count. If you’re on a team that has ten or twelve pitchers, these tournaments are good. If you’re on a team that only has three or four pitchers, you’re at a tournament and you’re playing four games or five games in two days. It’s not that the kid only threw five innings, it’s that the kid may have thrown 25 pitches per inning and trying to protect them from that.
From a pitching standpoint, some of it needs to be less. From a throwing standpoint, it needs to be more. I believe there is some truth in trying to stay off the mound earlier in your off-season workouts, doing more flat ground work where you can work on your mechanics and you can work on some certain things. Throwing off flat ground, which takes some stress off of the body and the shoulder. In terms of throwing, getting back to the old days, we threw every day. We were playing, we were running bases, we were playing lob, we were playing catch, we were doing different stuff on a daily basis with very few arm injuries in comparison to today.
I had my academy for nineteen years, so I basically threw everyday for nineteen years even as I aged. I got out of the business for a while, didn’t throw a ball for maybe six months. When I went back to throw, I had enormous pain in my arm that I thought I need surgery. It’s that painful. I couldn’t throw ball three feet without major pain. I’m thinking, “I need surgery.” I go see a doctor and he starts laughing and says, “You got tendinitis. You got to stretch.” I stretched it and it goes away in a heartbeat. I start throwing again and I’ve been throwing ever since. I can, at my age, go out and throw all day long without any problem. Whereas the minute I stopped using it, I lost it. It’s a use-it-or-lose it thing for kids also. What are the things you’d like to point out to young ball players when watching a Major League Baseball game either live or on TV?
The question is based on the player’s age. I try and tell my kids that I work with all levels and ages to try and get to the park early, watch batting practice and see them do the early work on the field, ground balls, what they’re working on, and understanding that “There’s a lot more to the game than just hitting.” Also understand the game when they’re taking batting practice and see what their approach is. It’s that whole round of trying to hit the ball the other way. It’s that round trying to get the ball on the air, trying to score guys from third base. Trying to watch their actions and how they go about their business every day is one thing. You get to that age where you’re better pitchers from the ages of eight to twelve. Never give up base hits or never given hard hits or they finally give up a home run and they think the world is coming to an end.
I always tell them, “Go watch a game and you have 27 outs. Of those 27, there’s a large number of those balls that are hitting right on the screws that are right at somebody.” As much as you’re working on your game pitching, there’s guys that are working on their game hitting. It becomes a battle of one-on-one even though it’s a team game. It’s a one-on-one game for the time the pitcher has the ball and he’s delivering it to the hitter. It’s a hard game. You can go to a game and watch the Angels play and want to go see Mike Trout. He may go over three, hit the ball hard twice, and strike out once. He was all for three. Understanding that the game is set up to fail, but trying to fail with confidence and understanding how difficult the game is.
There’s a big difference when you’re there live and what you can see on TV. At a live game where you can see players pre-pitch routine in the field, those are things I like to tell kids, “Watch how each player gets ready before each pitch. Watch what they do when they’re in the on-deck circle.” Those are important things. Watch a pitcher in between innings. He gets in a routine, he does the same thing each inning, in between innings, and gets very consistent with things. Live, you can see a lot of things that you can’t see on TV that are helpful for kids before the ball’s even put in play. Watching games on TV, you’re limited pretty much to watching the pitcher and hitter.
I like to tell them to watch the hitters’ routine and setup and how they do things in every at-bat and get consistency there. Pitchers fall into the same delivery time after time and how important balance is and everything they do. It’s a hard game. Being able to make things look easy as the Major League players are able to do. Things look easy and yet, it is so hard. It looks like they’re barely swinging the bat and yet, it’s 90 miles an hour. You just don’t see it. Those things are fun to watch for kids and point out to them.
They make things look easy because they’re so efficient. There’s extreme confidence level there. There’re some guys that you have to watch to see that they have fun playing the game. Let’s not lose track of that. It’s their living and they’re making their business, but there’s quite a few guys that you watch during a game and you know they’re having fun. That’s another thing to understand, “They may make an out and they’ll hand the helmet to the first base coach and have a smile on their face.” It’s one of those days.
I remember back when I played, I always tell people that it was amazing to me because every game I ever played, I’m nervous. I’m into it and intense. I’d get a single and get to first base and there’s Eddie Murray standing there. He’s the loosest guy, talking to you like you’re sitting on a park bench. I’ll run the third base and there’s George Brett, one of the greatest players ever. Smiling and happy to see you, having the time of his life. I’m intense and nervous. The great ones to have a way of being able to relax and they’re just in their element.
What parent actions drive you nuts?
Parents all mean well, and they want their sons and daughters to be good. I never blame them for that. That’s what we do as parents. Were involved nowadays and we want our kids to do well, but a lot of the things they do are not helpful. I’m in a batting cage teaching a lesson and there’s a parent working with his son next to me. The words coming out of his mouth were ridiculous to me. It was terrible. “You can’t do that. Why are you doing that?” That’s bad, words like that. I wanted to say something to them, but it’s not my place. I did say to the parent, I was working with their child.
I said, “I’ll bet you a thousand dollars that that kid, when he’s 13 years old, he does not want to play baseball anymore.” At this age, kids are going to take it from mom and dad, but hearing, “I’m terrible. Why are you doing that?” over and over again, is not the right way to go. There’re a lot of parents out there that do that. The other thing that drives me nutty, even though it’s my business, is they pay me pretty good money to work with their kid. I’ll tell them something. The minute I walk away, they’re in their ear talking about, “Do this.” I’m like, “Why did you pay me money if you have all the answers for him?” That drives me nuts.
I always welcome the parents to be engaged in the lesson because I want them to know what we’re talking about. I want them to know what we’re teaching their son or daughter because they see them more than we do. On the flipside, I’ve got several clients whose dads are not allowed in the facility when they give a lesson. That’s the way that it is. It’s unfortunate, but if you want me to work with your son and your son to be productive and get better, you go pick up a coffee or sit in the car and read a book. I always try and tell parents to expect less and encourage more. At the end of the day, it’s hard. Whether your son is eight, ten, twelve, sixteen, eighteen, most of those players know what they did well and what they didn’t do well.
[Tweet “It’s important that coaches talk a little bit and communicate with each other on what they’re exactly teaching. “]
They want to do is be piled on in the car on the ride home. The more that they can get away or at least have an open conversation with them about what they did well and did wrong or did not do well is important. From the parent aspect, if you encourage more, trying to expect a little bit less out of your son, no one’s going to be perfect. Nobody’s going to bat a thousand. Nobody’s ERA is going to be under one unless you’re Arietta. There are certain things from a parent’s standpoint that you need to be able to expect. Both of us have had the opportunity to be in both feet. We have the hat on as being a coach and an instructor. We also have the hat of being dad to a player. It’s hard, but you have to be able to step back.
I like parents involved in the lessons because I’m hoping they’ll catch up on what I’m teaching, so the kid hears the same thing from them. If they’re saying something different than what I’m saying, the kid gets confused. He cannot function. A lot of them are good about it and they’ll follow what I say, then they’re going to reinforce that. Kids are willing to listen to mom and dad once they think it’s the same thing as the coach is saying. Otherwise, you have a mess. The last question, Sam and this is good for you because you have a young team. For the eight, nine, ten, eleven-year old levels, besides a pitching position, what positions are the most important on your defense for you to feel like your team has the best chance of getting out?
I always like to be strong up the middle. You have to have middle infielders who could handle ground balls and work their way around the base, the second base. Centerfielder who can run a little bit and cover some ground without doing the old Kelly Leak from the Bad News Bears and calling other players off. One of the positions that is very difficult to fill is the catching position. One is the game, for whatever reason, parents and leaguers are trying to speed up with the lead offs and the steals. Throwing guys out off second base is becoming more and more difficult at that level. A walk ends up becoming a triple and it eliminates middle infield development.
You can go a whole year at the ten-year level and maybe have three or four forced out to second base because as soon as somebody gets on first, they’re stealing second. The catching position is very important, at least to be able to minimize the running game and control it. There’s so much pressure on the throw strikes and trying to get them to put the ball in play. Trying to get multiple kids to play multiple positions is important. Try and also maintain that fine line of putting players in a position to be successful and not putting them in a position where under no circumstances are they going to be able to do the job and they look down upon themselves in a negative way because they felt they let the team down. Being strong up the middle at whatever level you’re playing is important. Being able to control the running game is important too.
The problem with catching is it takes a special mentality to want to catch. That’s the tough part where you have a tryout and you got eight shortstops and maybe one or two catchers. It makes it tough, but if you can get one that enjoys catching and not afraid to get injured and dirty, that’s huge. The one position I’m surprised you didn’t mention would be first base. They tend to handle a ball as much as anybody in the game besides a pitcher and catcher. I always thought first base was crucial for at least the younger levels.
One of my clients had mentioned. They’ve got a very young player, an infielder who makes a good play and throws to first. They’re not even quite sure if the first base has a glove on his right hand, let alone putting the glove on the ball, so that’s a great point.
First base, even at the Major League level, they don’t get the credit they deserve. First base is a much tougher position than people think. They feel like if you can catch a ball, you can play first base. There’s so much more to it. You talked about catchers being in danger with balls. First baseman, that ball is coming in the dirt and bouncing up and down.
You’re expected to do everything.
Sam, it’s been a pleasure and looking forward to many more. Keep doing the great work at the academy and we look forward to our next podcast. We encourage people to listen for our story and also to send us your questions.
This story is 100% true. It is a huge coincidence, but I believe fate was involved. One of my early years in the minor leagues, I played with this terrific young ball player. He was having the greatest season I had ever seen from any ballplayer. For those unfamiliar with what goes on in the minor league locker room, it is customary that the front office would send baseballs down for players to sign. There were always boxes of balls on the counter and players would sign them. The front office would use them for promotions. Over a period of time, they noticed that this one ballplayer never signed the balls. They sent down people to the clubhouse to try to urge him to sign the baseballs because the fans wanted this player’s signature. He would not do it. After a while, one of his friends figured out that this young man did not know how to read nor did he know how to write his name.
Fast forward about fifteen years. I am teaching at my baseball academy in Naperville, Illinois a group of young ball players and we took a little break. During the break time, I started asking each player who his favorite Major League ballplayer was. Each player would mention the name and we’d move on to the next player. We got to one player and he said, “I don’t have a favorite Major League player anymore.” Everybody’s like, “Why’s that?” He goes, “I used to have one, but I don’t anymore.” They go, “What’s the story?” He said, “A few years ago, I went to spring training. My favorite player was all alone, walking back to the clubhouse. I ran up to him with a brand new baseball and I said, “Mr. So-and-so, would you mind signing my ball?” The player walked right by him and blew him off and would not sign the baseball.
All the kids that were with us that night just started saying, “Who was it?” This player mentions the name. At that point, my jaw dropped. I could not believe that this was the player that I knew did not know how to write his name. I had to mention, I go, “I have to tell you something. I played with that young man. He’s a great guy. It turns out, he did not know how to write his name.” All the guys were like, “What?” This player that asked him for his signature, his jaw now dropped and said, “I’ve been badmouthing that player for the last ten years of my life.” Everybody got a good laugh out of that, but it was a true story. The message here is that people should be careful of judging someone too soon. They do not know the full story and cannot walk in another’s shoes. The good news to the story is that years later, this young man learned how to read and write, so there was a happy ending to the story.
Thanks for listening and we look forward to seeing you next time at another edition of Something Worth Catching like a baseball.