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So I’m sitting at I.T.S. Baseball in Hillsborough, NC and I realize that I just recently completed my 9,000th lesson! That’s a pretty big accomplishment in my life as an instructor to get to that level before my 30th birthday was a pretty exciting and fun experience. That being said, I took a little time to reflect on my teaching career and I realized there are a few glaring issues with how I frame realistic expectations to my players that I work with and their parents and coaches.
First, many people think just coming to a few lessons is a GUARENTEE that your son or daughter will instantly improve, or even worse, be immune to having a few bad games. This is just not true. Whenever a new technique or idea is introduced, the player will go through an adjustment period. Sometimes, there is instant improvement, like when you put a player in a better, more athletic stance or improve the hitters’ vision.
Many times, when you learn a more explosive hip thrust or a deeper wrist snap, the hitter will do GREAT at lessons or off the tee, but isn’t ready to put these new and more difficult movements into game situations. These delays in taking the practice swings to the game are NORMAL and should be EXPECTED!
Often, I get frantic emails from parents saying things like:
“Oh my God, Johnny struck out twice tonight! Something is terribly wrong with his swing! We have to change something now!’
Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is PARAMOUNT parents DO NOT hit the panic button and especially not in front of their kids.
Creating the idea a kid should never or rarely get out, and if they do they instantly have a ‘flaw,’ is REALLY DANGEROUS for the player.
Did A-Rod change his swing when he struggled in the playoffs? Did Chase Utley change his swing the year he had a 1 for 25 streak?
NEWS FLASH!! Your kid WILL:
He or she will look to you for guidance. If you panic, so will they.
I think often times parents and coaches forget their own struggles to hit, pitch or field in baseball…THE GAME IS HARD! What other professional sport has level after level of skill before you reach the highest level? The NBA has the D-League, but let’s be honest….it’s not a realistic route to an NBA career.
The NFL? Nothing, Arena league and the CFL don’t count.
Pro baseball has Low A, High A, Double A, Triple A, and then the majors! They even have extended spring training below that!
All the guys above AA are GREAT PLAYERS and most of why they are is their confidence and ability to deal with failure and have realistic expectations week to week, game to game, at bat to at bat and pitch to pitch.
Another major problem I run into is most players are not REALLY practicing movements, but they are practicing HITTING. These are different things.
As players get more athletic and more advanced, so do all their peers.
Hits as a 9 year old are not necessarily hits as a 15 year old. The field grows, the game speeds up. All the fielders, pitchers, and other hitters get better as players are weeded out by the skill needed to succeed. It becomes harder for smaller kids to stand out unless they are totally technically sound.
Parents and coaches can get ‘success drunk’ off kids who are great youth players and those kids ‘hit all day’ and maybe even have batting cages in their yards.
But are they improving their flexibility, their movements? Are they hitting belt high fastballs off tee’s instead of working on low and away pitches at the knees?
I see it all the time…
Parent walks in for an evaluation with a smallish kid. I figure the kid is 10 or 11. I find out he is actually 13 and about to try out for middle school and he’s still swinging the minus-13 bat he’s played little league with. Kid gets cut and parents are furious. “But he’s made all-stars every year, we hit every night at the house off our tee. How did he get cut?”
Is it fair that a 5 foot tall, 100 pound kid can’t mis-hit homeruns in little league, like the 5’10’’ 190 pound 12 year old little league kid on a small field?
Is it true?
And in 3 years, those kids might be totally different, and the 250 foot fly balls the big kid still hits are now outs while the smaller kid has grown into his body and has drastically improved.
I’m writing this article to clear up these 2 main issues I feel permeates baseball at the youth level.
You MUST have a plan when you practice and you must work on REAL SKILLS like vision, hip thrust, deep snap…whatever. Not on HITTING THE BALL. Also, you MUST UNDERSTAND you WILL GET OUT in baseball, no matter how good you think you are or how good your coach is. Dealing with failure well and having realistic and fair expectations are the main reasons some kids do well in baseball and some kids are weeded out.
PARENTS AND COACHES:
Remember, YOUR clean-up hitter is just a ‘kid’! He or she will get out from time to time. And, they only get out MORE OFTEN the better they and those around them get. Now, if they’re really working on stuff and constantly focused, you can be a little concerned…until YOU remember they’re NOT Professionals!
Kids lose focus. Kids feel sick. Kids sometimes aren’t in it all the way or woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
So do you! So do I! So does every human on this planet.
Let me ask some questions to Coach and/or Dad:
How high did you play?
Even if you made it to the MLB and were and MVP, don’t you remember getting out 70% of the time?
Don’t you remember playing 2 years of JV ball?
Don’t you remember hitting 8th on your travel team/little league team, or the big error you made that cost your team that game?
How about the bunt you didn’t get down or the ‘bad call’ on that strikeout that ended your team’s season?
I’m not putting this part in to say if you weren’t good as a player you can’t make a kid better because you CAN improve kids if your knowledge is good.
I’m just REMINDING YOU of your own experience with failure in sports. Failure rate ends every career injury doesn’t. Let me repeat that…
Failure rate ends every career injury doesn’t.
Meaning even the best players get old and their skills erode…decreasing their own success levels.
PLEASE, be fair to yourselves as players and be fair to your sons and daughters as coaches and parents. Youth Baseball and Softball are GAMES, we can work to get better at them, but in the light of day, PLEASE keep your perspective and allow your child to have fun and love the game like everyone who writes and reads this blog does.