The “X FACTOR” In Youth Baseball

Apr 17, 2019 by Nick Rotola CEO of American Baseball Camps in  baseball camps Youth Baseball Advice Youth Baseball Coach

The Prepared vs. The Unprepared

I was working on hitting with a 6 year old kid the other day. Just as a favor, one of our family friends asked me to work with her boy. This kid plays t-ball in Oklahoma and is a pretty good little player.

But as I was tossing the ball to him he kept swinging and missing. He said with the utmost confidence “I can’t do it”, even though he ended up foul tipping it, and then connecting with one a few tosses later.

It occurred to me that this particular kid, who is a pretty good player, had never attempted to hit a baseball that wasn’t on a tee! In fact, I’m not so sure he had ever practiced outside of baseball practice. This is what we are going to call the under-prepared player, and he is placed in a severe disadvantage.

On my circuit around the state talking with Youth Baseball Coaches about American Baseball Camps, I overheard a certain coach talking to his 7U team. He was cancelling practice for the next day because he didn’t want the kids to get sick with the cold-front (the forecast was 60 degrees).



This encounter helped me realize that the X FACTOR in youth baseball is getting better outside of organized baseball. You cannot rely on your 9 year old kid’s coach to develop him fully as a player. My friends’ kid practices maybe once or twice before the season, and then plays one game a week. I’m telling you, if your kid is only playing baseball when he has his uniform on, and mom is taking pictures, he is going to have a tough time being great.

When I was 3 years old, and this can be proven with video, I asked for & hit in a batting cage throwing 36 miles per hour. What kind of a 3 year old asks to do that on his birthday? This is because I grew up around baseball, I watched my brothers play, I watched my dad coach, and I was hungry to play! I played all the time, I threw the ball up to myself, and threw into a net when I didn’t have anyone to play catch with. I was always playing wiffle ball, and watching my brothers’ games. Do you think by the time I was 6 I didn’t believe in myself that I could hit a ball tossed to me? No I was the kid saying “I’m going to smoke this ball.”

The difference in baseball environments between myself and the aforementioned 6 year old is what I believe to be the X FACTOR in Youth Baseball. It is what can set your kid apart from the pack.

To demonstrate this further lets take two kids and you decide which one will be the dominant player on his team.

Player #1

Signs up for t-ball and is excited for his first practice.

Practices a couple times before his first game and spends approximately 1.5 hours a week playing.

Mom leaves his glove and bat in the car until the next game

Player #2

Signs up for t-ball with a comprehensive understanding of the game and how it works. Including an understanding of the force out rule.

Practices almost if-not everyday with friends or family in the backyard with a bat and a ball, or a broomstick and a tennis ball, anything they can get their hands on.



Sleeps with his glove on his nightstand, loves to play catch and have dad hit him ground balls and fly-balls in the backyard

The Highest Probability of Success

What I am saying is not that player #1 will never be successful, or that parents need to drill their kid to be like player #2. My point is that baseball is a sport that requires “reps.” Why do division 1 shortstops take 100 ground balls a day? Because it makes it so easy by the time they get one in the game that it becomes routine. It takes practice to become a great baseball player, you can’t just show up and rely on athleticism.

Baseball is a beautiful sport because it is proven that a kid that gets more reps outside of baseball will be better than a more athletic kid that doesn’t understand or practice the game.

You can’t make a kid love a sport, and you don’t want to be that baseball parent that is resented for trying to force work-ethic. But you can certainly help cultivate a baseball environment at home. Your kid will never be great if he is only doing baseball things at the field twice a week, with a practice every other.

The kids that have a passion for the game have been and always will be the best.

That is the X FACTOR in youth baseball, getting extra baseball reps outside of baseball practice/games.

“Those that fail to prepare are preparing to fail” – Ben Frankin

 

– Guest Author: Nick Rotola Professional Baseball Player

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How To Walk To The Plate With Confidence

Youth Baseball Advice: How To Walk To The Plate With Confidence

Apr 17, 2019

 

Confidence. Confidence. Confidence. Many talk about how important it is in youth baseball, but few youth baseball players have it! We lay out in this brief blog a few simple things to instill in your kid to give him tremendous confidence at the plate. Sometimes the smallest mental adjustments can make the biggest difference in youth baseball.

 

“The expert in everything was once a beginner.”

 

Step #1: Remember The Good, Forget The Bad

When a kid is hitting well he usually continues to build confidence as he does so. This is why you should reminisce about great at-bats. Remembering yourself being successful can be a great tool as you are on the on-deck circle.

This is one of the best ways to quickly build a kid’s confidence, just remind him of his last great at-bat. On the contrary, bad at-bats can do the same for a kid negatively.

Those are the at-bats you’ll have to encourage him to forget about. That is such an important thing to teach your kid about his at-bats; remember the good ones, and forget the bad ones.

“You have to have a short memory. Learn from your failures, but don’t sit around worrying about them.”  – Derek Jeter



 

Step #2: Walk To The Plate With Your Chest Out

Confidence is something that a kid can control if he really wanted to. One of the best ways to get him to feel that feeling of confidence is to teach him to walk with it. Have him grab the barrel of the bat and walk to the plate like he’s got the biggest chest on the field.

It is scientifically proven that good posture can boost confidence and that being confident can boost confidence. Have him do both every time he walks to the plate and we guarantee you he’ll hit better!

 

Step #3: Be Fearless

No matter how small or skinny your youth baseball player is, you can teach him to be fearless at the plate. There is no reason you should ever give the opposing pitcher any credit when talking to your son.

If your kid is 8, let him know that he can hit any 8-year old in the country. Look at the worst kids in youth sports, they probably all have one thing in common, fear. Fear can kill a young ballplayers mindset and it should be avoided at all costs.

Speak positive things to your young ballplayer, and never give an opposing pitcher too much credit, your kid can hit him if he’s fearless I promise!

 

Step #4: Have A Routine At The Plate

You’ve seen all the big league guys, they do the same things and they have the same rituals every time they step into the batters box. There is a reason they do this, it builds confidence and adds a level of consistency and comfort.

Baseball players play the best and hit the best when things feel routine. Nothing is more routine than doing the same thing every time you step into the box.

So whether your kids’ thing is to spit on his batting gloves or dig into the back corner of the box, encourage him to do the same thing every time. When things become routine, they become easier.



 

Step #5: Visualize Success

This last one is the best because it can be done at any time of day, even outside of baseball. Teach your kid to visualize positive outcomes in his spare time. Your brain can’t distinguish the “imagined home-runs” for example from the “real home-runs.”

What that means is that eventually it can feel like your kid has done it before and the brain tricks the muscles into feeling like they can do it easily. I remember sitting on the bench before an at-bat, visualizing myself hitting a double in the gap, and then going out there and doing it first pitch.

I’ll tell you what, visualizing success in baseball works! I wish I would have known about it when I was 10 or so like many of your kids!

 

– Guest Author: Nick Rotola Professional Baseball Player

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American Baseball Camps — Three Ways Young Players Can Hit With More Power

Apr 04, 2019

Here is our list of 3 ways for young players to drive more baseballs and hit more Home Runs.

#1 Relax your hands

It’s the 2011 home run derby and Robinson Cano hits 12 home runs in his final round! The reporter asks: “what was going through your head in that final round?” As he was effortlessly hitting balls into the upper deck, the reporter wanted to know what his thought process was. He didn’t say I tried my hardest, or I tried to pull the ball to left field. No, what he said is shocking because it goes against natural hitting/human instincts. He said: “I really just tried to relax my hands and throw the hands.” Wow! here is a guy with some of the greatest power in the game and all he is thinking at the plate is “relax your hands.” That’s why if youre a parent with a young slugger, this is our number one piece of advice for you to give him before an at bat, or when you are working in the cage.

#2 Gain Muscle

 

Power = Mass x Acceleration

Building muscle does both of these things, it gives you more muscle “mass” and adds bat speed “acceleration.”

I’m a D1 baseball player at an Anonymous program (for NCAA reasons) and I can’t tell you how many guys I knew growing up that got so much better at baseball when they started building muscle. This doesn’t mean lifting weights, but for those younger kids it is so big that they are doing things to help give them bat-speed. One of the best ways for a young player to gain bat speed is to swing a heavy bat. That means maybe 50 or 100 times a day go out in the back yard with the heaviest bat you can find and swing as hard as you can. Gene Stevens at Wichita State (a great baseball program) used to tell young players to take 100 dry hacks every single day! It seems like a lot but only takes 5 minutes and could set your kid apart from the pack!

Other recommended ways for young baseball players to gain muscle are: adjustable hand grippers, push ups, wall sits, and planks.



#3 Play More Ball

“Practice makes perfect” – Vince Lombardi

Listen to Bryce Harper when he is in High School talk about how many games he played when he was growing up, the number will shock you. This is one of the greatest guys in the game right now, maybe a future Hall of Famer! And he is saying that he got good because of how often he played! WOW.

As a current D1 baseball player I can tell you that you get better every single time you lace up those cleats. Parents, think about how easy it is to brush your teeth in the morning. That is because you have done it so many times that it starts to become “routine.” This concept is huge in baseball! Get him 100 live ground balls in a game and watch how routine he starts to make it look.

This is why we practice for so long in division 1, and why we play so many games during the offseason!



In football, practice makes perfect. But in baseball practice makes routine. And being able to make things routine is how you become a great baseball player. trust me I play with them every single day!

Routine it, play more baseball.

– Authors: Anonynous 1 & 2 (For NCAA reasons)

American Baseball Camps was created to make baseball fun again! It is ran by Division 1 players who know that having fun will heighten self- esteem and make kids play better on the field. Our camps feature slip n’ slide wiffle ball, pitching dunk tank, and campers’ choice baseball drills! Camps are in Tulsa, Wichita, OKC, KC, Tahlequah, Phoenix, Dallas, and Wilmington.

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How To Steal 2nd Base In Baseball

How To Steal 2nd Base in Baseball – A 10 Step Guide!

Nov 21, 2019

The Major League game is moving toward home runs, but the youth, high school, and the college game is still centered around small ball. This how-to guide is to help you as a player steal bases, and its to help parents teach their kids the proper way to steal bases. Hint: It’s more mental than you think!

 

#1 Have Confidence in Stealing Bases

Your chance of stealing bases goes way up if you have confidence in what you are doing. There is nothing worse (I’ve been there), than second-guessing yourself when trying to steal bases.

So, if you are a player wanting to steal more bases, or a parent wanting to help their kid, start with having confidence as soon as you reach 1st or 2nd base and think about taking the next bag!

 

#2 Get a Base-Stealing Lead

You should never tip that you are trying to steal a base by getting a larger than normal lead, so, if you want to get a good lead to steal – you need to do it every time you take a lead.

Length – Your base stealing lead should be 10-12 feet at first base, and 14-16 feet at second base for HS and College. (Youth Coaches, please adjust accordingly, I’m a Minor Leaguer so I teach what I know).

Again, if you want to steal bases, there should be no difference between your normal lead and your base-stealing lead, so take a big league all the time if you want to steal bases.



 

#3 Think The Right Thoughts

So, you’ve got a big lead, now what? When you aren’t planning on stealing you should be staring at the pitcher and thinking – back. 

You don’t want your weight to be shifted heavily, that should be centered – just think back. When you are planning on stealing, your thoughts should be different for a righty vs. a lefty pitcher.

 

Thoughts For Stealing 2nd Off A Righty

If the pitcher is right-handed you need to have a soft focus at his feet. If his right foot moves, you have to dive back into the base because he’s picking off. 

If his left foot moves – you go – I know, simple!

 

Thoughts For Stealing 2nd Off A Lefty

Go first move. If the pitcher is a lefty you need to go first move. It’s a debate, I know, but I’ve played for 22 years now and I’ve never met a base stealer that didn’t go 1st move most of the time (first move means you go as soon as he lifts his right leg).

You need to have a soft focus at his entire lower half. If his left foot steps back, dive back into the base. When you aren’t stealing and he lifts his right foot you take a hard step back. I’m going to call this a jab step, it’s a hard step back toward first base with your left leg.

When he sees you do this a couple of times as soon as he lifts his right leg, he’ll forget about picking off. I like to even jab back with my left foot when I do steal, I just do it before he lifts his leg altogether.

Remember Pavlov’s Dog? You train a lefty pitcher 2 or 3 times that you jab hard back toward 1st base every time he lifts his right leg, he won’t think you’re doing much base-stealing at all. Then, when you’re ready, you jab early and go when he lifts his leg.

This makes it the same jump you just got off the righty, maybe even a little better because lefties don’t usually slide step.



 

#4 Properly Position Your Feet

Your left foot should be even with the bag, some like to angle it towards second, but I think that makes you too slow getting back to the base on a pick-off.

Your right foot is a big deal when you steal. The best method I’ve learned is to line your right toes up with the middle of your left foot, this opens your hips a little toward second.

Once your hips are positioned, position your foot. Your right foot should be pointing 45 degrees toward 2nd base. 

This opening up method should be used if you’re running a 60 as well for you older players.

 

#5 U.C.L.A.

This is a beautiful timing tactic first formed at UCLA, hence the name. They led D1 the year they developed this, in steals.

How it works is most pitchers come set for 1-4 seconds before they go home. 

We want to know if it’s 1 second, if its 2, or if its 4, on average.

So, when the pitcher comes set, you start your timer: U – C – L – A. Say it in a way where each letter takes about a second. If he’s going on L every time, that’s his tendency, if he goes on C, then you know that too. This helps with timing and anticipation, and with leaning into the steal.

 

#6 Lean Into The Steal

This is an extremely subtle tactic which helps a ton. We talked about your mindset and how we want your weight to be centered so you aren’t suspicious and so you can get back.

An advanced tactic, is to time the pitcher using the U.C.L.A. method above, and then when he is about to go based on his tendancies, start a subtle lean toward 2nd base. This little momentum could save you .2 seconds which could be the difference between out and safe.

 

#7 Take A Big Crossover Step

The first step in stealing a base is crucial. The good news is, you don’t have to run 100-meter sprints to practice it, you only need to sprint about 5 steps to practice your first step.

It starts with your arms, pull your right arm down hard and bring your left knee and arm forward as fast as you can. Your first step should be fast and should gain a lot of ground.

 

#8 Peak-In On Your Third Step

On the third step of stealing the base you need to peak in to see if the batter hits the ball. 

If he misses on a swing, or doesn’t swing, you keep going. 

If he hits the ball on the ground, you keep going.

If he hits the ball on a line, you keep going (not enough time to get back anyway).

If he hits the ball in the air, you freeze, assess whether it can be caught, and get back if it can.

If he hits a base hit, you round the base and pick up the 3rd base coach.

 

#9 Slide Head First

This one is an opinion that certainly has pros and cons. I’ve just been thrown out too many times sliding feet first to ever do it again. Here are the pros and cons for you to decide yourself.

 

Pros

  • It’s proven to be faster (Sports Science – look it up)
  • It’s easier to avoid a tag
  • You get more safe calls on average (umpire perception)

Cons

  • You can hurt your finger sliding in if your fingers are pointed toward the base (see #10)
  • It can be a bit scary for younger kids to get used to
  • If you’re on turf, and it’s really wet, you can easily slide way past the base.



 

#10 Slide With Fingers To Sky And Stay On The Bag

As mentioned in cons above on sliding head first, you can break your fingers if they are pointing straight forward and you slide into a bag. 

This is why it’s important to practice at a young age to slide head first with palms up/fingers up.

At our baseball camps we practice this with a slip n’ slide into a pool, pretty fun way of learning to slide correctly.

Once you’ve slid into the base, and you were safe because you followed all of our steps, you need to stay on the bag.

Smart middle infielders will keep the tag on you for a long time in case you come off the bag for a split second. If you need to shake some dirt off or tie your shoe, call time before you do it.

 

 

We hope you liked our blog helping baseball players and parents on the complexity of stealing 2nd base. We believe that this is the most helpful information you can digest concerning stealing 2nd base in baseball. If you thought this blog was helpful, check out others, or if you’d like to check out our camps – click on your state in the map below!




Nick Rotola
Camp Instructor

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