Some day, some time, it will happen. Our last day as a player or as a coach. It happens to all of us… and it’s ok.
You can bet even the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr. might have had that haunting feeling at some point too.
My reason for writing on this topic is simply that I feel that many young budding stars quit before they should, and too many will even regret it later!
We all know some player(s) from our past, who really had talent. And one day, they just stopped playing the game. We also know that player, who wasn’t so good, but might have really blossomed, if only he would have played one more season or had one more season to grow into his body! (I have found that those of northern European heritage (and Asians) tend to grow later than those of southern European backgrounds and Latin kids too.)
The best 7-year old player doesn’t necessarily become the best 13-year old player. Maybe a less talented 7-year old grows and figures out some of the tips below and avoids some of the pitfalls as well. Keep reading and you might see some avoidable problems and not leave these kids to chance, luck or fate.
Let’s first take a brief look as to why some players leave the game prematurely & maybe we can help just one worthy player give it just one more try and stay just long enough to realize the confidence & potential they might have otherwise missed.
There Are Lots of Sports to Choose From
Young players should be encouraged to play different sports and different positions within those sports. Coaches need to make sure that fun is job number one. Teaching an early love for the game will go further than any of us can even understand. To build this strong foundation, it is the adult’s responsibility to make sure both practices and the games are first and foremost, fun!
Why should any kid want to play any sport that isn’t any fun!
Spend the last 5 – 10 minutes of every practice with a fun activity. Leave ’em tired and happy and if possible, sucking oxygen. It’s best to make it competitive. Here are some great suggestions:
Home Run Derby – An old favorite with a twist. Have the coach side or soft toss 5 balls within an achievable home run distance for at least half the team (try swinging from the 2nd base area). In the next round finalists get 3 swings until a winner is crowned.
Throwing Contest – Players get in a single file line behind 2nd base or into center field where they take turns throwing into a trash can or bucket that’s sitting at home plate on it’s side. You can add hitting fly balls to the players too. (Players will do this every practice if you let them!)
Water Balloon Soft Hands Drill – This is a fun way to teach the soft hands necessary to play the infield. Players get 8-12 feet apart in a long line where they are to underhand small and fully filled water balloons to each other. Teach players to have the heels of each hand together with fingers outstretched and pointing outward and to receive the ‘ball” with hands working out to in and cradling the “ball’ toward the body as they catch it. Make it a “last pair standing” wins the contest. Maybe the winners get to splash the coach on the count of three to run for their lives (your choice coach).
Football or Basketball Pick Up Game – Sometimes, you’ve just got to loosen them up. This is particularly beneficial after a tough loss or when the team is in a down period. It simply takes the life or death pressure off the players. Remember, they are kids playing a kid’s game, no matter what their age.
Burnout Can Be a Problem
Coaches, players & parents have to realize that this is somewhat avoidable. There is no set formula other than that of the individual player. Never fall into the trap of worrying about a player’s “losing ground to the others” or losing that roster spot on the elite team. It may be a tough decision and one where you lose immediate gratification, but let your heart and not your ego guide you. A baseball season, like a baseball career, is a long, long journey. Steady always wins the race.
A Lack of Success
It is understandable that a struggling player may be the first to leave the game. Maybe he’s the last who should be gone.
Tips For Coaches:
Give your time to all your players, not just your studs. You can probably figure within reason how well your best players will do during the season, but it is the less skilled, least experienced players who will turn a 4th place team into a 2nd place team! Let me prove it. Notice how some school teams always seem to have the best programs and win-loss records? Think about why this happens in a team sport where teams are based on where players live and not who drafted or stocked (stacked) which players.
It’s the players from top to bottom & not just the “stars.” Doesn’t this make sense?
It’s the Team, the Whole Team & Nothing But the Team
It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you feel you have or do not have (though it is amazingly quick & easy to obtain free and inexpensive knowledge on the ‘net). It’s up to you as the coach to organize and motivate through individual attention and creativity on and off-field fun. I promise that it takes less of your time and that you will get more personal satisfaction if you do some thinking along these lines. than if you do not! Your efforts in obtaining knowledge and getting the players to truly have fun will progress into a winning baseball program. Remember who has the most fun are the players that are doing well. It is equally true that the teams who are having the most fun will win more. If your goal is winning. HAVE MORE FUN!
Tips For Parents:
We all want to see every player succeed and have fun. We also ache for the player and families in the stands when things don’t work out. But, let’s be honest. Would we really be sitting through yet another hot muggy game if we didn’t have a “favorite player” out there? We, the great parental cheerleaders, sitting in the hot sun again are many of the reasons why some kids stay in the game or don’t. We are a vitally important part.
Tips For Players:
For a player, it feels good to be with family, plain and simple! I truly believe that baseball is a great life experience no matter the age or skill level. Fair play, lousy calls, hard hits that get caught, bad swings that result in cheap hits, strikeouts, etc. It all parallels life and it isn’t always fair. And what better way to get through the bad times and celebrate the victories than with family. And all the above has nothing to do with becoming the best player on the team or in the league. It’s even more important than that! This alone will keep any boy in the game for a long time.
Now, How About Becoming That Best Player?
Step 1 – Learn the proper way to swing, throw and field.
Step 2 – Do it the same, correct way. Do it a hundred times, a thousand times, a million times. Do it in the back yard with dad or mom (why not) or ANYBODY! The more you do it & do it right, the better player you become.
If you know anyone with a backyard pitching machine and batting cage (yes, I know there’s not a lot of these lucky kids), tell me what kind of hitters they are. Any good? You bet they probably are. And if they aren’t today, just wait and watch because they will be soon.
Do you get the point? Learn it, do it the same way every time and do it again and again.
+ Someone told me that Cal Ripken once said to “practice the same way you play!” It sure makes sense to me.
+ A retired Ted Williams (the greatest hitter in the game) was asked what he would have done differently and his answer was something like… I Would Have Hit More!
The Biggest Reason – The Adult Factor!
We’ve all heard or seen stories of parents and coaches who lose their temper or composure at a youth sporting event. Of course, no adult sees himself in this group. But the ugly reality is that this does happen, though the incidents tend to be minor ones and not the kind that makes the news. The bottom line is prevention. The best prevention is the following that I heard in the audience of infamous coach Gordie Gillespie, once, the winningest coach in college baseball history (and the single greatest man I have ever met in baseball). He said, and I paraphrase.
Coaches! Please Don’t Inadvertently Chase A Player From This Game!
“If you are in this game for any reason other than the kids. GET OUT NOW!
Kids are the only reason that youth baseball should exist!”
Look for reasons to stay in the game more than reasons to leave it. A ballplayer’s “career” is short and fleeting and filled with some sort of failure on an ongoing basis. Though logical that this kind of pain might make our senses want to take over and run away, I urge you to take it day-at-a-time and know that the best thing about a ballplayer’s life is that he or she will get judged every new day that they are in this amazing game. This means you can reset your mind and your career as long as you will allow another tomorrow!
“If you haven’t been 2 for 22, you haven’t played this game long enough!” Hang in there.
Coach John Peter, presently aged 60 something, is the publisher of Baseball Tips.com and a lifelong student of the greatest game on earth. After being asked to find a more suitable occupation at age 26, many seasons after donning his first uni at age 7, he transcended his skills into the much more important role of coach and especially as an instructor. He takes pride in passing this game down as we had passed to us. “This game has been wonderful to my family and has afforded me a lifestyle to instruct any local player or coach who seeks my knowledge, especially those with less and/or home issues that may derail a good deserving ballplayer!”