10 Things I Don't want to Hear This Baseball Season
By: Ken Kaiserman
It’s Spring; always a great time of year for everybody! Our customers on the East Coast and the Mid-West are thrilled because the long winter is finally coming to an end. For the rest of us, we get to be excited because baseball season is starting. While I always try to be positive, especially with Spring Training going strong and all the youth leagues kicking off their seasons, for this newsletter I’d like to add a twist and focus on 10 things I hope NOT to hear this season.
You’ll hear this at every park you go to watch baseball or softball: “Swing Level”. However, it’s not possible to swing level. Think about the baseball swing for a moment. Your hands are held high, close to your head. The ball, if it’s a strike, is thrown between your knees and the letters. So, how can a swing be level? Well, it can’t be. A correct baseball swing is elliptical; it has a downward motion through contact to create backspin on the ball and a high follow through. Great hitters may each have different planes they swing on, but none of them are ever going to be “level”. Let’s stop creating this incorrect mental image for the kids.
2.Just Throw Strikes
“Ok Johnny, just throw strikes now; all you have to do is throw strikes.” Any kid who’s pitching is doing his or her best to throw strikes. Especially when a kid is struggling to get the ball over the dish, you can bet anything they’re not trying to “paint the black” or “blow it past” the hitters. All they’re trying to do is “throw strikes”. Pitching is the greatest pressure cooker in all of youth sports. When a kid is on the bump, he’s all alone and the entire team is depending on them to throw strikes. When a pitcher is struggling, they may have a basic mechanical flaw or they might be nervous. Stating the obvious and telling them that the sky is blue isn’t going to help them throw strikes. What it will do is make them stop “pitching”, change their mechanics even more, and try to “aim” the ball.
3.Practice Makes Perfect
We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth emphasizing again. Ask any kid what practice makes and they’ll tell you: “Practice Makes Perfect!” Of course, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes PERMANENT! Repetition creates muscle memory. If you practice the wrong motion over and over again, what kind of motion are you creating? Breaking a bad habit is very, very hard. It’s crucial that parents and coaches spot flaws quickly so that they aren’t repeated. Of course, that means that a parent or coach needs to know the right way to do things. Please, get some instructional books and tapes (LINK TO INSTRUCTION SECTION). If you’re going to volunteer to coach, make sure that you’re not passing along the same bad habits that you learned. It takes about 1,500 repetitions to turn a bad habit into a repeatable good habit. It’s a lot easier to just do it right in the first place.
Sportsmanship is something that every kid, parent and coach should be always be aware of. In our baseball league, we’ve instituted a new Code of Conduct that requires good sportsmanship and enforces penalties, including suspensions and expulsion, for violations. After the game, each kid should congratulate each person on the other team. Even in jest, nobody should ever tell another kid: “Bad Game”. As a coach or a parent, if you hear it, please stop it.
5.Keep Your Back Elbow Up
Keeping your back elbow up is neither right nor is it wrong. The batting stance is one of the most over coached aspects of hitting. Think about some of the unique stances you’ve seen. Jeff Bagwell, Bobby Tolen, Joe Morgan, Eric Davis, Steve Garvey, Frank Thomas, Don Mattingly and every other player each has their own unique stance. What all great hitters do have in common is not their stance before the pitch comes, but getting into the proper position when the pitch is on the way. That means having their hands back, wrists cocked, balanced and ready to swing down through the ball. So, focus on getting kids into this position and stop picking on them for everything before the pitch.
6.Throw From Your Ear
I really can’t believe that anybody teaches throwing like this – even for really young kids; it’s just wrong and it creates bad habits. Putting the ball next to your ear and throwing creates a pushing motion and costs much of the power a kid has. Get them to extend their arms in both directions – like a half jumping jack. They should maintain flexibility and bend in their arms. Then just “high-five” to throw the ball. If you’re teaching kids to throw from their ears, get some tapes.
There is a great line at the end of the movie A League of Their Own when a player is arguing with the umpire about a called strike. The umpire says: “That pitch may be a ball tomorrow and it may have been a ball yesterday, but today it’s a strike!” Umpires do their best and they make mistakes – lots of them. We can’t control the umpires and we need to accept that they are human and that they do their best. Of course, if they make a mistake with the rules, there is no harm in pointing that out, but judgment calls are a different matter. Disputing them is a poor example for the kids. Also, there is no need for parents to heckle the umpires from the stands. Coaches need to proactively make sure this isn’t happening every time they hear it.
8.Charge the Ball
This is another baseball myth – that a good fielder “charges the ball”. What great fielders actually do is “play the ball” instead of having the “ball play them”. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s huge to a kid who is trying to grasp the fundamentals of fielding. Charging the ball required them to run in at full speed and get to the ball. In contrast, playing the ball means that you’re trying to get it on the right hop to make the play. The only time a fielder really has to “charge” the ball is on a dribbler or a bunt. Almost every other grounder will require reading the hop and making the play.
9.Turn Your Wrists
I still hear parents and coaches telling their kids to “roll their writs” as they swing the bat. The proper position for the hands at contact is palm up and palm down. During the follow through, the wrists will naturally turn, but it’s long after the ball has been hit. Just a last note on hitting: kids will swing at bad pitches, including pitches over their head and in the dirt. There’s a time to coach and a time to be a cheerleader. During the at bat, a kid knows he just swung at a terrible pitch and he doesn’t need to hear it from the stands or from his coach. After, you can work on the strike zone and making sure that the recognition is there.
10.Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Of course, it’s crucial to watch the ball, but we try to teach kids to watch the ball with their nose instead of their eyes. For pitching, hitting, throwing and playing sports in general, keeping the head from moving is a key to success. A player can waggle his or her head more or less freely and still technically "see" the ball. They just won't be able to hit or catch it. In contrast, coaching to watch with your nose trains the head to stay still, allowing the eyes to focus. So instead, we say: “keep your nose on the ball”.
That’s the list of the 10 things I hope not to hear this season. I doubt I’ll make it past the first week, but it still sure promises to be a great year so let’s PLAY BALL!
About the Author
Ken Kaiserman is the president of SportsKids.com ,a leading youth sports website featuring games, sports news, sports camp and league directories, community features, and the with over 150,000 products.
Ken coaches youth football, basketball and baseball.He also serves on the local little league board of directors as well as the Park Advisory Board.