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The most common baseball coaching mistakes

Posted by John Reed on

Wasting practice time on activities where one player gets an occasional repetition while the rest of the team stands around in small groups chatting.

Rotating all players through each defensive position. This is supposedly done to “expose” each kid to each position. Baloney! It’s done because the coach does not have the guts to tell any of the fathers that his kid is playing right field. Try asking your local music teacher to rotate each member of the school band through each instrument so they can be “exposed” to it. Or ask the local drama teachers to rotate all the students through the different roles in the school play. Rotating players through each defensive position shows a lack of respect for the game. No baseball position is that easy to learn, let alone all of them.

Failing to give catchers enough reps of throwing to second base.

Failing to practice sliding at every practice and pre-game warm-up for the first two-thirds of the season.

Failing to hold a parent meeting at which you explain your policies on position assignments, batting order, playing time, and so forth.

Failing to use stats to assign positions and make up batting order and pitching rotation.

Deciding who can pitch by bull pen performance or personality or appearance, rather than game performance.

Destroying player confidence by telling them all the things they are doing “wrong.” It takes ten seconds to destroy a kid’s confidence by telling him what’s “wrong” with his swing. It takes 10,000 (literally) closely-supervised “correct” swings to change his swing. If you do not have time to closely supervise 10,000 of his swings, and you absolutely do not have that time, do not tell a player what’s “wrong” with his swing. Fact is, he probably would not hit any better if you did “correct” his swing. I did the 10,000 swings myself and it appeared to me that I hit a little worse after I switched from swinging the “wrong” way to swinging the “right” way, although I did get compliments on how good looking my swing was afterward. That and a dime...

Trying to control runners at all times rather than letting them make their own, faster, and often better decisions.

Ignorance of the many dangers in baseball and the easy ways to prevent injuries. For example, never encourage a youth player to “take one for the team.” About three or four youth players are killed every year when they are hit by normal pitches traveling 40 to 50 miles per hour. They suffer fatal ventricular fibrillation or asystole (heart muscle contracts improperly) or commotio cordis. This is a health problem caused by the unique physiology of children’s bodies. Baseball is also the main cause of eye injuries among children. Would you believe 35,000 youth-baseball eye injuries a year!? That’s about one for every eight teams per season. And almost every coach thinks the one that occurred on his team was a “freak accident.” No, it was coaching malpractice and child endangerment for failing to comply with the medical authorities’ recommendation that baseball players wear sports goggles in the field and helmets with face masks at the plate. See my baseball safety article.

Practicing two-throw, double-force plays.

Failure to practice one-throw, double-force plays and runners-who-did-not-tag-up double plays.

Giving prestigious positions out on the basis of nepotism rather than ability and team need.

Encouraging batters to swing at pitchers’ pitches on the first two strikes.

Not changing your approach to batting when a batter gets two strikes. Just saying “Ya gotta protect,” is not enough.

Failure to give players enough practice bunting and taking pitches outside the strike zone when in a bunt stance.

Failing to practice the pitcher-cover-first play.

Failing to emphasize baserunning, which is by far the most coachable aspect of baseball.

Drafting a team according to tryout performance rather than last year’s score books.

Failing to learn the 22 often-misunderstood rules (See my book Youth Baseball Coaching).

Tolerating lateness, absenteeism, back talk, and other misbehavior at the teenage level.

Trying to teach too much to tee ballers.

Failure to teach players where to go when the ball is not hit to them and failure to insist that they go there. Pitchers and outfielders, especially, tend to go “off duty” whenever a ball is hit somewhere other than to them.

Letting players do “AT&T” tags (“Reach out and touch someone”) instead of putting the tag on the ground next to the base.

Giving too many signs from the coaching box.

Coaching as if you were preparing your players for the Major Leagues. 73% of kids quit youth sports by age 13. Only about one kid per youth team will ever play high-school baseball. You will coach one future Major Leaguer about every 641 seasons.

Firing players up before or during a game. That’s football, not baseball.

Failure to recognize the many differences between TV baseball and youth baseball in terms of fielding percentages, walk percentages, field conditions, equipment, and so forth. If you ever do “around-the-horn,” you do not understand the fielding percentage difference between youth teams and higher level teams. “Around-the-horn” has about a 3% success rate in some levels of youth baseball.

Letting batters use bats that are much too heavy.

Hitting fungoes to left and right fielders. Game hits to those fields curve outward; fungoes do not.

Talking way too much and relying far too much on verbal descriptions of how to do everything. Show is much better than tell when it comes to baseball. While reading UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s autobiography, They Call Me Coach, I came across a great quote: “Young people need models, not critics.” Time and again in Youth Baseball Coaching, I said, “Don’t teach it. Model it.”

Being too timid about baserunning. Letting timid runners remain timid.

Tolerating ill-fitting catcher’s equipment and batting helmets.

Letting pitchers pitch from on top of the rubber. They are supposed to stand in front of it.

Letting catchers take off their helmet to throw to a base to stop a steal.

Evaluating batters by batting average instead of far more comprehensive stats like on-base average or Bill James Runs Created.

I could go on. In my book, I said that 98% of youth baseball coaches are incompetent. That is, they do not have any positive effect on their team’s performance. Furthermore, about 75% actually hurt their team’s performance by encouraging bad technique and by lowering players’ confidence with criticism. Baseball is the worst coached youth sport of all. Youth soccer coaches are better than youth baseball coaches, even though most never played the game. The main problem is that most youth coaches do not understand the true nature of baseball. It is very different from other sports and other activities of normal every-day life and requires a very different approach.

A portion of this article was reproduced in the January-February 2002 edition of Sporting Kid magazine. However, they changed a couple of things. In their item 10 they had me say you should not encourage batters to swing before they have two strikes. As you can see above, I did not say that. I said you should not encourage them to swing at pitcher’s pitches before they have two strikes. Big difference.

In their Item 18, they added me saying that throws to bases should be low to help players make the tag. Bull! Low throws would increase the incidence of short hops. Just make the throw accurate, not low. Telling youth players to throw low is very bad advice. I didn’t even do that when I played semi pro. Just throw to the base. It is the fielder at the base’s job to get the tag on the ground after he catches it.

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