Coaching youth baseball can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You'll have a real and lasting impact on the lives of young people as you teach them not just baseball skills, but concepts of hard work and discipline they'll use throughout their lives. The key is be organized and to map out a plan for your practices, then follow through with consistency and an open mind.
Details Are Important
Games are won in the details you practice, which makes practices the most important part of coaching youth baseball. As your team is forming, give a lot of thought about when, where and for how long you'll practice. Your league will likely have rules or guidelines for practices. Familiarize yourself with them and allow time in your schedule for the maximum number of practices your league allows.
Getting to know your team is another important first step. When you get your roster from your league, call the parents of each player to introduce yourself. Speak to the player as well. They'll be excited and flattered to get a phone call from their new coach. Keep the phone call short, but let the parents and player know the date and time of your first team meeting and practice.
Before your first team meeting, gather all the important information about your team into a spreadsheet. You'll want each player's name, address and phone number in one place. This will be the way parents communicate with each other about sharing rides to practices and games.
First Team Meeting
For your first team meeting, have your list of players ready to hand out to all parents and make extra copies. If you have email addresses, let parents know you'll be emailing the document as well. If you don't have email addresses, get them at the first team meeting. Prepare a practice schedule for your first team meeting. Parents will appreciate this as it gives them a planning tool. Understand that there will be conflicts with your practice schedule, but stick to it. A requirement for regular playing time must be regular practice attendance, no matter how good the player might be. Remember, this is youth baseball, not Major League Baseball. You're there to teach the basics, and perhaps the most important basic you'll teach is that baseball is a team sport. In addition to a roster document and a practice schedule, include a list of what each player needs to bring to practice and outline some of your expectations. Don't let this sheet go longer than one page, and write it in short, bulleted sentences.
Lastly, hand out a game schedule, if it's available. Depending on your league, a game schedule might not be distributed until after your first team meeting. Be sure to include the exact location of each game. Ball fields can sometimes be tucked in the middle of unfamiliar neighborhoods that are hard to find.
Organizing Your Practice
There are a nearly endless number of drills you can use to coach youth baseball. Countless DVDs and websites are available to help you create a practice plan. The skills you teach will depend greatly on the age of your players. Very young children will need to learn the basics. Older kids will need more challenging drills.
However, keep one thing in mind. Baseball is a sport of fundamentals, perhaps more than any other sport. While athletic ability definitely matters, a player who excels at fundamentals has the opportunity to excel at at the highest level of baseball. Every practice should include time for catching and throwing. as well as batting practice. From there, you can add special drills for each position. Infielders should regularly practice fielding fly balls and grounders, as well as throwing quickly to various bases to get runners out. Outfielders should practice catching fly balls headed towards the fence and dropping short in front of them. Pitchers should work on technique and form. Be careful not to overwork your pitchers' arms, especially at the youth level. Rather than throwing a lot of pitches in practice, be sure you or one of your assistant coaches has experience in teaching technique.
Everything you do in practice will show in a game. That said, the most important part of a game from a coaches perspective is strategy. Pay attention to how many left-handed hitters the opposing team has. If the other team has a great deal of speed, adjust your play for base stealing. If there are a lot of big hitters on their team, keep your outfield deep. As far as your own team is concerned, be sure to substitute as necessary. Nothing will cause a young player to lose interest in baseball quicker than "riding the pine" (sitting on the bench) game in and game out.