If you are like most youth league coaches, you have probably been recruited from the ranks of concerned parents, sport enthusiasts, or community volunteers. Like many rookie and veteran coaches, you probably have had little formal instruction on how to coach. But when the call went out for coaches to assist with the local youth baseball program, you answered because you like children and enjoy baseball, and perhaps because you wanted to be involved in a worthwhile community activity.
Your initial coaching assignment may be difficult. Like many volunteers, you may not know everything there is to know about baseball or about how to work with children. Coaching Youth Baseball presents the basics of coaching baseball effectively. To start, we look at your responsibilities and what’s involved in being a coach. We also talk about what to do when your own child is on the team you coach, and we examine five tools for being an effective coach.
Coaching at all levels involves much more than making out the lineup, hitting fungoes, or coaching third base. Coaching involves accepting the tremendous responsibility you face when parents put their children into your care. As a baseball coach, you’ll be called on to do the following:
1. Provide a safe physical environment.
Playing baseball holds inherent risks, but as a coach you’re responsible for regularly inspecting the fields and equipment used for practice and competition (see "Facilities and Equipment Checklist" in appendix A on page 154).
2. Communicate in a positive way.
As you can already see, you have a lot to communicate. You’ll communicate not only with your players and their parents, but also with the coaching staff, umpires, administrators, and others. Communicate in a way that is positive and that demonstrates that you have the best interests of the players at heart (see chapter 2 for more information).
3. Teach the fundamental skills of baseball.
When teaching the fundamental skills of baseball, keep in mind that baseball is a game, and therefore, you want to be sure that your players have fun. We ask that you help all players be the best they can be by creating a fun, yet productive, practice environment. To help you do this, we’ll show you an innovative "games approach" to teaching and practicing the skills young players need to know-an approach that kids thoroughly enjoy (see chapter 5 for more information). Additionally, to help your players improve their skills, you need to have a sound understanding of offensive and defensive skills. We’ll provide information to assist you in gaining that understanding (see chapters 7 and 8 for more information).
4. Teach the rules of baseball.
Introduce the rules of baseball and incorporate them into individual instruction (see chapter 3 for more information). Many rules can be taught in practice, including offensive rules (such as the definition of the strike zone, rules related to the baseline, and when sliding is mandatory) as well as defensive rules (such as the force play, the balk rule, and obstruction). You should plan to review the rules any time an opportunity naturally arises in practices.
5. Direct players in competition.
Your responsibilities include determining starting lineups and a substitution plan, relating appropriately to umpires and to opposing coaches and players, and making sound tactical decisions during games (see chapter 9 for more information on coaching during games). Remember that the focus is not on winning at all costs, but on coaching your kids to compete well, do their best, improve their baseball skills, and strive to win within the rules.
6. Help your players become fit and value fitness for a lifetime.
We want you to help your players be fit so they can play baseball safely and successfully. We also want your players to learn to become fit on their own, understand the value of fitness, and enjoy training. Thus, we ask you not to make them do push-ups or run laps for punishment. Make it fun to get fit for baseball, and make it fun to play baseball so that they’ll stay fit for a lifetime.
7. Help young people develop character.
Character development includes learning, caring, being honest and respectful, and taking responsibility. These intangible qualities are no less important to teach than the skill of hitting the baseball. We ask you to teach these values to players by demonstrating and encouraging behaviors that express these values at all times. For example, in teaching good team defense, stress to young players the importance of learning their assignments, helping their teammates, playing within the rules, showing respect for their opponents, and understanding that they are responsible for having a role in every play-even though they may not be recognized individually for their efforts.
These are your responsibilities as a coach. Remember that every player is an individual. You must provide a wholesome environment in which every player has the opportunity to learn how to play the game without fear while having fun and enjoying the overall baseball experience.