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.
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
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
10 Tips For Little League Coaches
In our journey in baseball we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly with coaches. The one that breaks everything, the one that’s all about himself, we’ve seem them all! Together we have collaborated with 10 helpful tips for Little League Coaches. Most of these are things that we’ve seen coaches do in our life that all the players really loved and responded well to!
#1 Be Consistent
Ever wonder why managers in the MLB never ever show emotion in the dugout. It is because they realize the power of staying even keel in baseball. Your players will play better if they can learn to be consistent. So you, as their little league coach, have to set the standard of consistency.
#2 Be Fun
The best coaches I’ve ever had were just as fun to be around as my friends on the team. Good coaches are friendly, and they make being at the ballfield more fun than it already is. Don’t be afraid to joke with players and make fun a bit. Boys and young men like that kind of stuff. Run fun practices, with fun games and drills. Keep the dugout lively, and show your kids by example how to have fun at the yard.
#3 Teach How to Handle Pressure
This Forbes Article on Success and Pressure reveals that top athletes are the ones that are the most comfortable under pressure! Put pressure on your players in practice and challenge them. The same old sissy BP and stand around isn’t making anyone better. Try running high intensity drills while teaching your players how to stay calm and focused in those situations. This one pays dividends for your players in baseball and in life, according to Forbes.
#4 Teach How to Handle Adversity
“Baseball is a game of failure” – Baseball Cliche of the Century
You’ve heard the quote a thousand times but don’t forget its implications for your players. Good coaches teach players how to handle adversity when it comes. Take terrible moments in baseball as coaching moments that your players can learn from. Be approachable, and offer advice in the right moments. Teach a kid how to handle striking out 4 times in a row, and he’ll be able to handle anything else life throws his way.
#5 Be Approachable
My D1 Baseball Coach is the best coach I have ever had, and it is because he is easy to talk to. The days of screaming and yelling and demoralizing young players are over. The best coaches are smart, consistent, strong, and approachable. Let your kids know that they can talk to you directly if they have any concerns at all (especially about playing time). This will remove all of the doubt that mom and dad are putting on a kid about his playing time, because before a problem even surfaces the player resolves it with the coach directly.
#6 Know the Game
Both D1 programs I have been at have preached this loud and clear to their players, be a student of the game. This applies to coaches as well. Being the most knowledgeable baseball mind on the field will not only give you an edge against other teams, it will develop a pattern of trust and respect among your players. Don’t be that coach that brags about his high school days and hasn’t learned a single baseball thing since. Be a student of the game, as you continue to become a better teacher of it!
#7 Teach your Players to Compete
One of the best drills for this is the errors game. Put the whole team at SS in a single file line. If you make an error you are out, and keep playing until one is standing. This will teach players to compete and it will develop their will to win. Two very important factors in the game of baseball.
#8 Teach Them who they’re really Playing Against
“In baseball there are really only two thing you are competing against every day — yourself and the game!” – Brian Cain
When you just compete against yourself and the game you take lots of factors out of the equation that can only hurt the ballclub.
For example, at the D1 level we have extensive scouting reports given to us on every pitcher we face the entire season. We have his pitches, pitch speeds, hold times, pick off tenancies, pitch tenancies, arm slot, and anything else you could possibly need to prepare for a guy. Here’s the kicker – we throw it out the window at game-time. Why? players play the best when they play against themselves and the game.
#9 Teach Them to Control what they can Control
“Be where your feet are” – Nick Saban
There are things in baseball that your players don’t need to worry about. The weather, the umpires, the kid on the other team that’s supposed to be 12 but looks 32; all of these things are out of a players control. So they aren’t worth thinking about in a game where focus on what you are doing is so crucial. Things that a player can control are: approach, plan, focus, work-ethic, dedication. These are the things that an athlete should be judged on. Physical errors are often out of a players control, mental errors are usually controllable. Teach a kid to just focus on the things that are within his control and he is much more likely to “be where his feet are” as Nick Saban is suggesting.
#10 Teach Them to Think about One Thing at the Plate
“The closest thing to thinking about nothing at the plate is thinking about one thing at the plate” – The Mental Game of Baseball by Harvey Dorfman
Eliminate distractions in your players’ minds as they are up to the plate. Figure out what their plan/approach should be at the plate and come up with a short phrase or word that they can focus on while in the batters box. “Weight back” for example, or “throw the hands.” While this tip seems trivial, it can make a world of difference for a hitter at the plate. Don’t believe us? Just ask Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn — This guy is huge on only one thought in the batters box!
– Guest Author: Nick Rotola Professional Baseball Player
How To Run A Great Practice
On our trek across the country with American Baseball Camps we have learned that many kids aren’t getting any better at their practices. Smart baseball parents are seeking out teams that run legitimate practices where their kid can actually get better, and I don’t blame them.
One of the worst practice stories we heard was in Tahlequah Oklahoma. A dad told me that at his kid’s practices the coach would put everyone in a group in the outfield and hit fly-balls and whoever catches it, catches it. This is similar to a game we used to play as kids called “500” but it certainly isn’t an entire practice!
This how-to guide on running a great practice is based on 20 years of good baseball experience, extensive research, and being a veteran player at one of the top D1 Baseball Programs in the country.
About ten years ago sports scientists realized that there is a more efficient way to warm-up than to just static stretch and count to ten. It is recommended to run kids through a “dynamic warmup” before practice and that “static stretch,” that you may be familiar with, after practice.
Here’s a quick example of a good dynamic warmup, it works best in two lines starting on the outfield foul line:
- jog 45 feet, jog back
- shuffle 45 feet, shuffle back
- karaoke 45 feet, karaoke back
- high knees 45 feet, high knees back
- butt kicks 45 feet, butt kicks back
- walking quad stretch 45 feet, walking quad stretch back
- leg swings 45 feet, leg swings back
- skipping leg swings 45 feet, skipping leg swings back
- lunges, side lunges 45 feet, jog back
- sprint 45 feet, sprint back
Upper Body Stretch:
- small arm circles forward, big arm circles forward
- small arm circles backwards, big arm circles backwards
- shoulder stretch across
- tricep stretch
- arm swings high to behind you (bicep stretch)
- rotator cuff stretch on the ground (lay on your throwing arm side put arm at 90 degree angle and push hand down towards the ground).
When they play catch remind them to take it seriously. You cannot win in baseball if you can’t play catch. Teach them the catch game to keep them locked in. If you hit them in the chest 3 points, hit them in the face 2 points, hit them in the arms or legs 1 point. Front elbow should be up and pointing towards where you want to throw it when you are playing catch.
On Field BP with the Rest of The Teams Taking Live Reps
BP on the field is a great way to see the results of your batting practice. It also gives the fielders a chance to take live reps off the bat if you do it right. Split your team into 4 groups of 3 (lets say you have 12 for the example). When 1 group hits, the other 9 players are in the field taking live reps off their teammates hitting, or fungos from a coach. Coaches stand adjacent to home plate. The coach on the 3rd base side hits fungos to the first baseman and the shortstop. The coach on the 1st base side hits fungos to the 3rd baseman and 2nd baseman. You need to wait and hit them in between pitches so that kids don’t have to field the fungo and the live grounder at the same time. Mix in some fly balls for the outfielders if they aren’t getting much action live off the bat.
Don’t have the whole team running one drill at one time, try to have coaches running simultaneous drills and just have the players rotate. It’s important to be efficient with your practice time. Below we have listed some drills to choose from that we like that we think could make young players a lot better:
- Rundown drill with a baserunner
- Pitcher fielding practice
- Double plays
- Short hops drill for infielders
- Quarterback drill (over the shoulder catches)
- 4 corners drill
- Around the bucket drill (for infielders to take the right path to the ball)
- Blocking drill
- Bare handed ground balls
- Bare handed receiving practice (catchers)
- Up the middle drill
- Soft toss
- Bunt defense
- Throwing to second (catcher and middle infielders)
- ESPN top ten drill
- Double cuts drill
- Robbing home runs drill
A good practice is all about getting the player a lot of good reps in a short amount of time. Players will get burnt out if they are out there all day so try to keep a practice around an hour and a half to two hours.
Make everything a game – I was doing a hitting lesson with a kid and was telling him to try to hit the back net of the cage and drive the ball up the middle. He kept pulling everything, he didn’t hit the back net once. Then when I created a game where hitting the L-Screen was 1 point and the back net was 2 points – he took off. Next thing I knew he was saying “I’m gonna get to 20”. Kids respond well to games and challenges, so try to use those to your advantage. If anything they just promote focus and induce competition.
Treat them like studs and they’ll start acting like it – My career took off when I found a coach that treated me like I was better than I really was. You’d be surprised, treat a player like he’s better than he’s playing and he’ll rise to the occasion
Encourage & support – This generation can’t be coached the same way that you were coached growing up. The drill sergeant makes them run till they puke stuff just isn’t needed. These kids are smart and if you treat them with respect, they’ll treat you with it in return. Every player isn’t created equal — you have to coach to your team. Know your players and coach them accordingly.
– Blog was written by a group of older D1 Baseball Players that have chosen to remain anonymous for NCAA reasons.
5 Healthy Habits For Young Ballplayers
#1 Eat Healthy
According to a Children’s Lifestyle study at the University of Chicago, children perform better mentally when they get the appropriate nutrition. Young players and parents of young ballplayers don’t realize how important mental performance is in baseball. Food can be fuel for a young ballplayer. I didn’t start eating healthy until my Junior year of college at the D1 level and I will tell you that it was my best year. You don’t get tired as easily, and your brain is sharp when you are putting the right things in your body. Baseball is more mental than you think, eating healthy could give your kid an edge over the competition.
“Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical” – Yogi Berra
#2 Learn From Mistakes
I know that the new thing is participation trophies and everyone is a winner, but I think that kind of mindset can hurt a young ballplayer. Mistakes and failure can be very productive if a kid can learn from them! The kids that were able to learn from their mistakes were the ones that were the most successful growing up. Even at the D1 level this can set a player apart. Why make the same mistake twice? Why keep swinging at curveballs in the dirt when it is the only place the pitcher is throwing his curveball. Mental adjustments and being able to learn from mistakes can set a young player apart.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”
#3 Get Enough Sleep
According to The Sleep Foundation kids aged 5-12 need 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Sleep has many implications in athletics. Players that get the appropriate amount of sleep are more sharp, they have quicker reflexes, and they have greater stamina. This could set your young ballplayer apart in that final inning when the rest of the team is yawning up a storm.
#4 Exercise Daily — The Fun Kind
Exercise doesn’t have to be lifting weights! Young ballplayers that exercise daily can set themselves apart. Remember, the average kid aged 5-12 spends 6.5 hours a day looking at their phone, this cuts into the natural athletic development that occurs when a kid exercises. Want your kid to be the most athletic one on his little league team? Here are some fun things that build muscle & athleticism — Racquetball, tennis, basketball, jump rope, wall-ball, relay races with friends, swimming, boxing, sit-ups, push-ups, grippers, ladders, box jumps.
#5 Baseball Isn’t Everything
One of the most healthy habits to develop as a young baseball player is to realize that baseball isn’t everything. 70% of ballplayers are out of the sport by 13 because of the pressure. Something my D1 coach always used to say is: “pressure is something that you put on yourself.” Your young ballplayer has a choice whether he cries or not everytime he strikes out. One of the best ways to avoid that kind of feeling when you fail in baseball is just to consciously realize that baseball isn’t everything. The popular marketing term of “no days off” can be a toxic mindset. There is way too much failure in this game to rely on it and spend everyday thinking about it.
“Baseball is beautiful and perfect in every way — but it’s not everything.” – American Baseball Camps
The best baseball summer camps in the country are American Baseball Camps: Phoenix AZ | Wichita KS | Kansas City MO| Tulsa OK
– Guest Author: Nick Rotola Professional Baseball Player
Outdoor recreation is on the rise once again! With all that’s going on these days, and all the technological stimuli association with being a kid, there is nothing better than letting him/her get outside and play America’s most fun game! So if he does want to put down the phone for a few days this summer, and you are looking for a great baseball camp to put him in, we have identified our 3 favorite in Wichita Kansas this summer!
Enjoy! And keep helping your kid have fun playing the game of baseball!
#3 Wichita Wingnuts Baseball Camp
Ran by: Wichita Wingnut Players & Coaches
Camp Dates: N/A
Duration Each Day: Day Camp
Facilities: Lawrence Dumont Stadium
From the Website: If you have a son or daughter interested in learning the game of baseball from some of the best local coaches around, get them signed up as soon as you can before all the spots are taken. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details or go to our website and click here under the picture of the camp flyer to fill out the registration form and waiver. We are looking forward to having another great group of kids like the last couple of years. GO NUTS!!
There is very little information about their camp coming in summer 2017, and their camps can be very unorganized. This may not be the most fun camp your kid will go to all summer, but you can be sure he/she will receive some great baseball instruction.
#2 Todd Butler Baseball Camp
Ran by: Todd Butler (Head Coach WSU)
Camp Dates: N/A
Camp Duration: Day Camp
Facilities: Bombardier indoor practice facility
Price: N/A (estimated price $150)
Ages: *In concordance with NCAA rules (whatever that means)
Coed: *In concordance with NCAA rules (whatever that means)
From the Website: “Thank you for your interest in the Todd Butler’s Shocker Baseball Camps. We are proud to offer top baseball instruction. With several camps offered, you are sure to find a camp that fits every player’s baseball needs. Each player will receive instruction from the coaches of Wichita State as well as current and alumni players. We will demonstrate skills and provide instruction that will allow the player to continue to improve even after their camp experience is over.”
We list the Todd Butler Baseball Camp as the #3 best camp in Wichita because there really is a lot of value in getting D1 instruction. Todd Butler is the head coach of WSU, one of the best D1 baseball programs in the state. There are tons of benefits to getting your kid top instruction as he grows into (hopefully) a great baseball player.
#1 American Baseball Camps
Ran by: Division 1 & Pro Baseball Players
Camp Dates: August 6th-9th
Duration: 8:30-3:00 (Early & Late Care Inlcuded)
Facilities: Robertson Field
Address: 4121 N. Seneca St, Wichita, KS 67204
Price: $199.99 (use coupon HOMERUN for $20 off)
From the Website:
American Baseball Camps is exploding as the #1 fastest growing baseball camp in America! We saw the overwhelming need for a camp like this in youth baseball to give kids the highest level training with constant encouragement & confidence building from coaches. Our high-level training features video swing & pitching analysis, analyzed from HQ by our team of highly trained Professional Baseball Players. Our confidence-builders include slip n’ slide baseball, home run derby, and more.
The mission of American Baseball Camps is to give kids the tools they need to be successful, and the confidence to turn those mechanics into more success on the field. We also reward being a good teammate at the end of every camp day, because we know that is how kids are going to stay in the game longer, make more friends, be liked by coaches, and have a lot more fun playing the game.
Two Quick Tips For Baseball Parents
So you want your kid to be a great baseball player?
Here are 2 quick tips that can help you become a better baseball parent while nudging him in the right direction! Why trust us? We’re division 1 baseball players that have been playing the game for close to 20 years and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, when it comes to baseball parents. And trust us when we say this, we’ve seen some brutal baseball parents.
So what do the best baseball parents do?
#1 Try to remain composed during the game
Dad’s – You are not Joe Maddon sitting on the steps of the dugout with your color coated lineup card and tendency chart but you can certainly remain composed like him. There is a reason the higher up you go in baseball the more composed the coaches/managers are. It’s simply because the data is there to prove that a more relaxed baseball player is a better baseball player study.
Mom’s – Try to keep calm (even though its baseball season). I don’t know what it is about mom’s but they get more fired up about bad calls and bad coaching than anyone on the whole field. Don’t be that mom that’s loud an obnoxious, instead, try to be knowledgeable, laid back, and supportive. My mom helped me out of some of the worst slumps in my life and its because she always let me come to her first. I think if you smother/bombard him, he wont be vulnerable with you. That’s why being laid back if your a baseball mom is the way to go.
#2 Have a little feel
A couple of definitions before we start:
- *Sav – short for “savvy” and means that you’re aware of your surroundings, and that you know a lot about the game.
- *Feel – almost exactly like sav. someone that has no feel is someone that isn’t aware of their surroundings, doesn’t realize the situation they are in, or hasn’t been around the game long enough to in any way know what’s going on.
- An example of someone with no sav and no feel would be like Smalls from The Sandlot when he doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is.
- Salty Vet – An older person who has a lot of feel and/or sav.
Every baseball player will get to that age where he starts to develop some feel for how baseball functions should go on. If you are still going to want to encourage and help your kid when he gets to that age, you are going to have to know your stuff as well! Baseball is a game of endless situations, and the more you watch intently the more you can learn about the game. D1 coaches tell their players to watch baseball on tv because it makes you a better baseball player, and it teaches you feel and sav. For a parent, the goal is to become a salty vet that knows the game and is respected, rather than the laughing stock of the bleachers.
Below we’ve mapped out a few guidelines:
Parents with no feel:
- Yell at the umpire at every close strike call
- Second guess the head coach, and try to talk to him about playing time
- Scream and yell at their kids like a crazy old ice cream truck salesman
- Make everything about them and not about their kid
Parents with feel:
- Under-promise and over-deliver with stuff like gear and dinner/ice cream after (depending on age).
- Dress athletic and are up to date on what they wear.
- Never ever ever talk to the head coach about playing time, it can only hurt.
- Make things look effortless like social media, baseball gear knowledge, or overall knowledge of the game.
In baseball parenting you can either be the windshield or the bug. Don’t be the embarrassing, loud, overbearing, no feel bug. Be the windshield.
– Authors Anonymous 1 and 2 (for NCAA reasons we are not able to disclose the D1 Programs we play for)
*Both authors are pro prospects
Camps can be the highlight of your child’s summer! Great camps create memories that stick with a child for a lifetime! Enough with all the media. Encourage your kid to put the phone down, and get outside and make memories that he’ll never forget!