In the world of travel baseball, one can easily get caught in the whirlwind of chasing trophies. Chasing trophies is the idea that winning trumps development at the youth level. It usually ends up with talented players eventually hitting a wall and not being able to compete as they get older. This happens because their coach wasn’t really coaching. He was simply filling out a tournament lineup card with the best nine players he could find.
If loading up your son’s bookshelf with trophies at 12-years old is the goal, then have at it. Who am I to tell you what is right for you and your child?
If your son loves baseball and wants to play it as long as he can, find a coach that will help him develop, both as a player and a person. A good coach is a teacher. Not only do they need to have the knowledge but they also need to be able to teach it to young players.
You should ask yourself periodically if your child is becoming a better player and person. Also, remember that the answer to this question has nothing to do with their position or where they hit in the batting order. A kid who bats leadoff and plays shortstop may dominate at 10 years old, but if he isn’t improving, he will eventually hit that wall. A kid who plays a utility role and sometimes struggles at the plate will continue to get better if he has a good coach.
Anyone can throw batting practice or hit ground balls. Make sure your child’s coach is actually coaching.
Baseball is a great game. I love to get outside, feel the heat of a warm summer sun, smell the freshly cut grass and listen to gloves pop as players play catch. I have been around the game my entire life, starting as a player and now coaching my son’s travel baseball team.
My son and I play ball all the time, whether it is a formal team practice or just the two of us. From the first time he ever threw a ball, I vowed to never force or push him to play. I wanted my children to develop their own interests and personalities. I suppose you are a product of your environment, but my son is 11 years old with a passion for the game that seems to grow every time he laces up his cleats.
My dad was not a “baseball guy”. Sure, he played Little League just like everyone else but that was about it. He didn’t play in high school or college. He didn’t have an intricate knowledge of the game to pass on to me. What he did have and what he did pass on to me was the characteristics of being a great father. Take an interest in what your kids enjoy, whatever that may be.
I developed a love for baseball. My dad already had a love for me.
My mom and dad came to every possible game they could, right up until I stopped playing about 12 years ago. They would do everything in their power to see their grandchildren play as well.
Call me conceited if you like, but I know baseball as good as anybody. My body might not be able to play anymore, but my mind is sharper than ever when it comes to mastering this game.
I recognize that I have a tremendous opportunity to teach the game to my son and his teammates. More importantly, I have an opportunity to be a role model. I can show an interest in a child. I can listen. I can care. I can love.
Like my dad.
The pitcher’s mound is one of the loneliest spots in all of sports. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and anxious. One of the biggest things a pitcher can do to combat these unwanted emotions is breathe. Yes, just breathe. Proper breathing helps you relax and concentrate.
Remember that it is harder to hit than it is to pitch.
Never step on the pitching rubber until you are completely ready and focused on the task at hand. Imagine a place behind the mound where you can “take out the trash” before stepping up to get the sign. You are in control. The game cannot start until you throw the ball.
Do not show emotion on the mound. Demonstrate your mental toughness by keeping a level head during success and failure.
Focus on the task at hand – one pitch at a time. You cannot go back and change the last pitch. The only thing you can control is the pitch you are about to throw. Focus on the target and purpose of that particular pitch.
Try to avoid crooked numbers. You won’t get beat by giving up 1s and 0s.
Trust your catcher!
One of the most common problems I see in young hitters is that they tend to hit to the baseball instead of through the baseball. Your swing does not stop when you make contact. You have built up so much energy and power. Why not use every last bit of it?
Be short to the ball and long through the ball. You have kept everything nice and compact to this point. You have made contact, now extend through the baseball. Your back elbow will begin to straighten out. Allow the speed of your bat to accelerate through the point of contact with the baseball.
Your head will stay in line with your rear shoulder. Your body rotates under your steady head. When you finish, someone in the opposite batter’s box should be able to see the back of your jersey.
Good things happen when you hit the ball hard. The contact part of the swing is where you start to see results. All of the power you have generated up to this point is now released into the baseball.
If you look at the pictures below, you will see several different hitters. They come from different backgrounds, played in different eras and are considered different types of hitters. However, at the point of contact, all are in pretty much the same position.
- Complete release of backside into the baseball
- Strong front side, backside completely rotated
- Barrel of bat rotating around stationary axis (firm front side)
- Back elbow still bent
- Top hand is palm up and pushing, bottom hand is palm down and pulling
Your front foot has touched down and it is now time to launch. This is where you will uncoil all of the energy and power that has been stored up to this point.
Your hips will lead your hands. But what causes the hips to fire? The back knee will pinch forward and down toward the inside ankle of the front foot. The knee pinch launches the back hip and launches your momentum toward the baseball. It also helps prevent rising up on the back leg.
Before the hands commit to actually bringing the bat through the zone, they must line themselves up on the same plane as the incoming pitch. Use the bottom hand to drive the knob of the bat along the plane of the pitch. This guides the barrel and keeps it in the hitting zone longer.
Your back elbow should be in the slot close to your body. As always, your head is steady and you are locked on to the baseball.
Here is Mike Trout launching.
The purpose of the stride and separation is to time the pitch and set up for the assault on the baseball. Some professional players have a huge leg kick and fairly long stride. Others will pick up the front foot and set it down in almost the exact same spot. For a youth player, I strongly recommend short, soft stride straight to the baseball.
As you stride, the separation will occur. Your hands will be back in a strong position. Imagine a rubber band between your hands and front foot. Stretch it out. Your head will remain steady and eyes locked on the baseball.
Look at Joey Votto’s stride in the pictures below. The picture on the left shows him at the load position. There are two main points that should be noticed. First, look at where his front foot is in relationship to home plate. Also, look at the position of his hands in relationship to the logo on the front of his jersey.
Compare those two points to the picture on the right. As Votto’s front toe begins to touch the ground, notice it is slightly closer to the front of the batter’s box. His hands are back, much different than the first picture. He is prepared to launch his swing.