There are two goals that should be always present when coaching youth baseball:
- Put the athletes on the best possible path to develop the skills they need to continue playing baseball.
- Promote and support a love for baseball in each player, and instill in them the desire to continue playing baseball.
So many times when coaching youth baseball, coaches choose the first one above and never really work on the second one. They behave as if their only job is to get the kids to play well and to win games. If the kids make errors or the team doesn’t come through with a win, the coach views the experience as a failure.
This is absolutely the wrong way to coach youth baseball.
Young Kids Can Teach Coaches A Lot
When anybody has the experience of coaching really young kids in any skill area, they will notice something interesting about which kids are better at the skill. It’s almost always the kids that like doing the activity. The young kids who have no interest in what’s being taught will not focus, will not practice, will not care to be better at the skill, and so they’re development will be very slow.
On the other hand, the kid who loves learning what he’s doing will thrive. He’ll be invested, interested, entertained, and he’ll have a desire to learn more and get better.
It’s the interest and passion in the game that makes all the difference. Yes physical size and athleticism are big factors also, but it still means very little if the athlete doesn’t enjoy the activity.
Early Lessons Last a Lifetime
The most relevant part of these lessons, is that it never changes. From infancy through old age, humans spend the most time and energy on things they love. A toddler who loves soccer will be better at it than a toddler who has zero interest.
A forty year old salesmen who has a burning passion for sales will be much better at his job than his colleague that hates it. Passion drives investment, and investment leads to improvement.
So it’s clear that the coaches who are only working on the first of the two items above are doing it exactly backwards. It’s always true that baseball players will dedicate themselves to a much higher degree if they love the game, than if they don’t. The coach who is simply running drills and harping on perfect play from ten year old kids is missing the point of coaching youth baseball entirely.
You will never get perfect play from ten year olds. You can only hope to instill in them the love and passion for the game that will allow them to travel down the path of mastery over many years.
Coaching Youth Baseball Isn’t About Making Perfect Players
You’ll notice that we didn’t say “Make the players really good” . We said to put them on the best possible path to learn the game. Once we instill passion and desire, then we teach the athletes the ideas and concepts that will make them great. Athleticism, intent, dedication, sound fundamentals, the key pillars to a long career in the game.
Skill training is obviously vital and shouldn’t be ignored when coaching youth baseball. However, it must be done in a way that recognizes the requirement that the kids love the game of baseball. If a coach schedules 90 minutes of drills that his players don’t like, he’s not coaching for the right reasons.
We say all the time that nobody will remember how many games they won when they were ten years old, but they very well might remember the coach that introduced a lifelong passion for baseball.
The Job of Youth Coaches is To Create Passion
The real key to long term success in baseball is dedication. It’s being in the weight room in the offseason, and living in the cages all winter. It’s reading material from smart coaches and scouring baseball resources all night.
The thing about dedication is that it comes from passion. There is a finite amount of investment that any individual will make in baseball if they don’t like the game. If the fire burns hot, however, there’s no limit to the amount of hard work they will put in.
Coaches should always be trying to stoke that fire. Hold players accountable yes. Teach them skills yes. Structure practice and be tough if players are lacking in effort, yes.
But never do those things at the price of enjoying the game.
The vast majority of kids will not become pros. Their careers will be relatively short lived even if they go far. Those that love the game however, will never have to leave it. They will love their playing career and then they will become inspired trainers and coaches who carry their passion and love on and pass it to future generations.
Coaching youth baseball is hard, but if your kids love the game at the end of the season, you’ve done it right.