Making Youth Baseball Line-Ups Part II

Last fall, I posted about making youth baseball line-ups. This morning, as I was making the line-up for our first game of the season – OPENING DAY, BABY! – I thought of additional recommendations. Here’s how I started the line-up:

Start of Youth Baseball Line-up for 3/20 game
  • I start with the template of all the positions down the left-hand column including that, should all 12 players attend the game, we’ll have three players on the bench each inning (‘B’).
  • Along the horizontal at the top of the page, I list the innings. I optimistically list all six that we could play at this age. In many cases, we only get to play four due to the time limit or run rule (if one team is ahead by more than 10 at the end of the 4th, the game is over). Knowing this, I try my best to make sure that every player gets a chance in the infield and outfield before the end of the 4th. Also, conveniently, having 12 players on our roster means that after 4 innings, every player will have sat for one inning. Playing into the 5th and possibly the 6th means that players will have to sit for two innings this game. This is important to track as these players will have one less inning in the field than their teammates and this effects who sits twice in subsequent games.
  • Next, I fill in the players I want to pitch that day. In this case, Killian and Sophia are planned to pitch two innings each. If either of them gets to a high pitch count or in trouble with too many walks, I can go to Noah or Kyle early (again, because we rarely actually play more than 4 innings). For instance, if Killian were to get to a high pitch count in the second inning, I might bring Noah in to finish the inning and, unless he’s pitching lights out, I’ll still go with Sophia in the third. This gives more players more opportunities to pitch.
  • I prefer that pitchers sit the inning before they are planned to pitch. This gives them the chance to rest and/or an opportunity to warm up and get loose in the bullpen (if there is one!).
  • Finally, I pencil in my catchers. I don’t like my catchers to go more than three innings at a time. On the off chance that we do go the full six innings though, I plan for two catchers, three innings each. I like to give the first catcher a breather by having them sit the inning after they finish catching. I also like to give the second catcher a break the inning before they are to catch. If they are not due up early the next inning, they can go ahead and get the shin guards on and help speed up the process of getting all the gear on before their first inning behind the plate.

With the pitchers and catchers set for their innings in the field and their corresponding innings on the bench, I can fill out the rest of the lineup. Again, the plan is to have players play both the infield and outfield – and preferably within the first four innings (again, because we rarely get to the fifth or beyond).

Hopefully, these two posts are useful for youth baseball coaches in making game line-ups that result in the athletes playing the same amount, playing multiple positions, and having fun playing baseball.

Effectively Using Assistant Coaches in Youth Sports

As I mentioned in my previous post, in order to run effective practices – in fact, to help ensure a successful season overall – head coaches/managers need good assistant coaches.  I always ask parents to help out in my welcome letter .  In my experience, there are several who are very willing to help out.  If you don’t get enough who are willing, it is also my experience that there are usually a couple who, with a little coaxing, would gladly help out at practice.  In the case where there are no outright volunteers, assure the parents that you will give them everything they need to help out at practice.  Tell them how you will show them how to execute the drills correctly.  Assure them that you will take the hardest and most complicated drills yourself.  If all else fails, remind them that they most likely will be hanging around practice – the days of parents dropping their kids off for practice and running errands as my parents did are gone – they might as well help out.

Here are some techniques for effectively using your assistant coaches:

  • If necessary, remind them that this is youth recreational sports.  Recall that, if the parents were schooled in coaching the sport you’re coaching, they likely would have volunteered to be the head coach.  Many of the parents will only have their own youth sports experiences to go build on for coaching.  And, if the last time they were coached in sports was in high school, that type of aggressive attitude is not appropriate for youth recreational sports. Also, this is recreational sports and not select/travel sports (which are different).
  • Give them everything they need.  If you are going to ask them to run a drill, particularly one that involves a deliberate technique that you want to make sure the athletes learn and repeat; make sure to provide enough information to the assistant coach.  I’ve brought the books where I found the drill or a printout of the explanation of how to execute the technique properly and shared that with the assistant coach.  Try not to do this right before they are expected to run the drill.  If you can email it to them ahead of time, that’s the best.  If not, meet with the assistant coaches while the players are warming up and go over the drills you are going to run in practice.  If any of them have any questions, you can then provide them the background material to prepare them while the athletes are otherwise engaged.
  • Don’t micromanage them.  I can be a bit of a control freak.  I want the players to learn the skill or technique and to be corrected if they aren’t doing it properly.  I have a way I like to explain how to do the techniques.  However, if we’re going to run multiple drills at the same time – and WE ARE, right – then I have to be comfortable with letting the assistant coaches handle the presentation of the technique and the correction of the players, as necessary.  A couple of ways to handle this include:
    • Take the more complicated drills yourself.  At our first practice, I wanted to be the coach that showed the players how to cover first base correctly.  It can be a complicated procedure and I wanted to make sure the players heard it from me and that I watched each of them try it.  That left the other two drills to the assistant coaches.  I made some quick suggestions to the coaches of the technique to describe to the players and what to watch for (and correct), then set them off to run their drills.
    • Show the players (and coaches) the correct technique, as I present it, all at once before breaking into the smaller groups.  A technique I am considering is to have the team and coaches together before we go through the drills and doing the instruction myself.  In that way, everyone sees the correct way to perform the technique (assistant coaches, included) and hears it from me.  I would go through the three drills one at a time, then release the groups to go with their assistant coaches and execute them.

So far this season, we actually have more assistant coaches than I had immediate need for.  I could delegate each of the drill stations to an assistant coach and then I could be a floater; moving from drill to drill and assisting in the explanation and correction during execution of the drills.  I’m toying with trying this in my next practice.  [See my self-described control freak nature above though, as why this might not happen]  I’m also going to make sure I tell all the parents who are interested in helping that, if they see something during practice where they could add value, to by all means jump in.  At a recent practice, one of the player’s parents who wanted to help, but wasn’t assigned a drill or other specific role in practice, gathered the balls after rounds of live hitting and returned them to the bucket.  This allowed the other coaches to keep coaching and sped the practice along as the players didn’t need to shag the balls.  I really appreciate that initiative and will encourage that with the other parents.

No matter how good the head coach/manager is, there are too many players on the team for them to be able to run effective practices themselves.  By encouraging parents to help out, a coach gets the assistance he or she needs to be successful.  Ensuring the assistants have the right youth sports mindset, providing them the resources they need to effectively help out, and then letting them be to do their thing will lighten the head coach’s load and help make the season better for the children.

Youth Sports Practice Planning – Don’t Overreach

During my coaching clinics, I spend a good deal of time on practice planning.  Having effective practices – those that contribute to making the players better – doesn’t happen by accident.  It requires planning.  Coaches should have goals for their practices.  Initial practice sessions should focus on the fundamentals.  You never know when you will have an athlete playing the sport for the first time; and it never hurts to go over the fundamentals (watch baseball players in the first part of spring training).  During the season, the practices should include drills to improve the skills where the players are showing they are deficient. 

While I was planning the first practice this season, I got a little too ambitious in trying to accomplish too much; a common challenge facing youth sports coaching.  Here is the plan I put together for the first practice:

Notice the detailed timing.  Marvel at the military-like precision.  Well…  We didn’t get to the ‘putting it all together’ fielding or live hitting sections.  Otherwise, we did the defensive, hitting, and baserunning drills as planned.  The practice also went over the planned 90 minutes.  I chalk some of this up to me spending more time talking with the parents at the beginning – which won’t be a problem at subsequent practices.  What derailed the practice as planned was my thinking we could get through three rotations of drills in 20 minutes.  Essentially, I fell back on my previous thinking, which had been based on two sets of drills going on at the same time.  This was the first practice where I tried running three drills at the same time.  By the way, I HIGHLY recommend this.  With a 12-person team, that meant that no group had more than 4 players.  That allowed for more personalized instruction and correction when the player wasn’t doing the skill right.  It also provided the players more repetitions for each drill.  However, I should have planned for each rotation to take about 10 minutes each…factoring in the transition time from one drill to the other.  That makes about 30 minutes for the drills and not the 20 that I had planned.

I learned my lesson and was more conservative in the amount of time allotted for each part of the second practice.  I wasn’t going to be there, so I emailed the plan to my assistant coach.  This time, there were less activities planned and more time for each portion of the practice.  I also suggested to the assistant coach ideas for if everything went quick to fill the time with valuable activities.  I spoke to the assistant coach and he reported the practice went well.

What do you need to have if you’re going to miss a practice or two?  What do you need if you’re going to run three drills at the same time?  YOU NEED ASSISTANT COACHES.  As mentioned in my welcome letter , I told the parents I would be needing help and asked for volunteers.  Thankfully, several parents stepped up and assisted during practice.  My next post will talk about how to best utilize these assistants.

%d bloggers like this: