I don’t want to come off as some bitter old man, always talking about the “good old days”. Really, I don’t. Sports evolve, and athletes get bigger, faster, stronger, and maybe even more naturally gifted.
But are they smarter?
The fundamentals of baseball haven’t changed, but how we have taught those fundamentals have…..Dusty Baker
In my opinion, the answer is a resounding NO!! However, it may not all be the players fault at all. The fault could lie in the way they are taught, and some of the rules these leagues, especially in the younger age groups. It’s a “play to win” type mentality instead of a “learn to win” thought process. One thing is for sure, it is this rush to make kids the best players possible, as soon as possible, that has led to this epidemic.
Baseball fundamentals are a sinking ship that need to be salvaged, brought back to shore, fixed and sent back out to the water to rule the sea.
Changing these rules and teaching points in resurrecting the importance of fundamentals is my own personal VisionQuest
And I am Louden Swain
So, where do we start? Well, the younger the better, and there are a few things that in my opinion, need to be changed to make sure the kids are learning the right way. To make sure they are smart players, not just talented ones.
9-10 year olds really shouldn’t be pitching…. This one, to me, is a minor type infraction, because it isn’t going to be changed anytime soon. There are plenty of leagues around the country that do this. The problem with kids pitching this young is two-fold. First, kids that age don’t throw enough strikes. It really isn’t their fault, because no one at 9-10 years old is going to pound the strike zone. What this leads to are games that are walk-a-thons, hurting the kid’s confidence. This leads to the second point. It also hurts the hitters, not just because they walk, and not hit, but because strike zones have to be more liberal. A more liberal strike zone move keep the game moving, but the inconsistency doesn’t allow the hitter to learn the strike zone. It leads to bad habits by being forced to swing at bad pitches.
If 9-10 year olds are going to pitch, please, please no stealing…. Too many leagues want kids to “play like the pro’s do”. This line of thinking is complete and utter nonsense, and serves no purpose at this age. Having lead-offs and steals at this age is a complete joke. It teaches nothing. it takes away the very teaching points in something I call:
What is the first thing taught to young kids in the field? Is it not “If the ball is hit to me, what do I do with it?”. If it isn’t, it should be. In these steal-a-thons that are these youth games, how many chances are there to turn double plays? How many chances are there to throw to the right base? How many chances are there to tell the kids in the field to take the “easiest base”?. The answer to those questions is zero….none. It takes away all aspects of Situational Teaching. The Little League World Series, the best youth baseball tournament in the world, doesn’t allow stealing until the ball crosses the plate. These kids are 12!! Good enough for the Little League World Series, but not good enough for 9-10 year olds just in the stages of learning the game? Please…gimme a break.
If these young kids are going to pitch, make them pitch from “stretch only”…. In pitching, the biggest factor in having success in throwing strikes is a delivery that is REPEATABLE. Would you not agree that the easiest way to get young kids to repeat things is to eliminate steps and make it easier? Having these kids pitch from the wind-up just adds unnecessary moving parts which leads to inconsistency. Pitching strictly from the stretch isn’t something to be scared of, it is something that should be embraced. Pitchers throw just as hard from the stretch as they do from the wind-up if taught properly. Before they learn Calculus (wind-up), they need to know basic Algebra (stretch). Pitching from the stretch makes kids more mechanically sound, leading to fewer injuries. How you say? Because the body is BALANCED, and the arm is not fighting body movement coming from an opposite direction, as the wind-up, at times, tends to make happen.
The problems in this lack of Situation Teaching follow these kids as they get older. As one goes through the middle school years, the lack of fundamentals start to peek out its ugly head in different forms.
At the younger age groups, the best players usually play the most important positions, like shortstop, centerfield, and they pitch. As the middle school team comes together, these kids may have to play different positions. The question that I have is: Do they really know HOW to play that position? As stated before, the first thing we are taught at a young age is, “If the ball is hit to me, what do I do with it?”. That is correct in that line of teaching. The better point, and the better question in my opinion, when it comes from the Situation Teaching point of view is:
“If the ball ISN’T hit to me, what do I do?”
“Always be prepared. In preparation for each play, we should say to ourselves “What do I do if the ball is hit to me? Or to someone else? This way, we prepare ourselves to make the correct play at all times. Physical errors will happen, but we must keep mental errors to a bare minimum”…. Cal Ripken
Take this example of a kid playing second base. Can your second baseman answer this questions correctly?
- Do I know to cover 1st base on a bunt when the first baseman charges? What if he doesn’t charge?
- Do I know to cover 1st base when there is a play at the plate and the 1st baseman is the cut-off to home?
- Do I know that when there is a pop-up straight up in the infield, that the shortstop and I have to communicate as to who is covering second base, and who is making a play on the ball?
- Do I know the correct footwork when turning a double play? Or the correct way to give the shortstop the ball so he can get it to first as quickly as they can on that same double play?
- Do I know to cover second base when a ball is hit to right field and there is going to be a play at third base?
- Do I know on a shallow fly ball down the right field line, that I actually have the best play on the ball and should take charge and try and catch it?
These are the very basics of Situation Teaching
It’s when these kids get to high school that the lack of fundamental play can really show in the teams that win, and the teams that lose.
Consider this: After being a shortstop your whole life, you get to high school, and there is someone better than you. The way for you too see the field is by playing another position. Would you know how to play it? My guess is probably not. If you don’t aren’t you really hurting the team at that point? A few correct plays, or lack thereof, can be the difference in the game. A missed cut-off, throwing to the wrong base, or being out of position could cost your team a game. Winning or losing on the high school level IS important, and being prepared to do what is asked of you at ANY position isn’t asking you to cure cancer. I feel it isn’t really asking all that much.
The lack of Situation Teaching extends to hitting also… I was at a game recently where the following scenario came to be:
In a seven inning game, the home team had just tied the score 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning. They had the winning run on second base and nobody out, with one of their best hitters at the plate. A guy that they WOULD want up at this time of the game. Think of the situation. What does it call for?
GET HIM TO THIRD BASE AT ALL COSTS!!
Two things need to happen here. A sacrifice bunt, or a ground ball to the right side, so the runner can get to third base with one out, where now, as a team, you have more options to get him home (sac fly, ground ball to the right side, suicide squeeze). It is simple fundamentals, and a great example of Situation Learning.
So what happened?
The hitter got impatient, swung at the second pitch he saw, which was on the inner half of the plate, and hit a weak ground ball to third base, where he was thrown out, and the runner had to hold. All in all, a wasted out, and a wasted at-bat
But that isn’t the worst part
The worst part the reaction of the coaches and players. The coaches said nothing, but the players reaction spoke volumes. More than one player came up to the hitter on the way back to the dugout and said ‘That guy is tough, hard to really time him up”
No one at the high school level is THAT hard to actually put the bat on the ball, especially if all you need to do is bunt, or weakly hit a ground ball to the right side. This situation was a perfect example of where trying to be a hero trumped giving up an at-bat for the good of the team. Where the kid didn’t think of the situation he was in, but what reaction would be cool if he got a hit to drive in the winning run.
So, how do we instill Situation Teaching in our kids?…. There are a number of ways to coach Situation Teaching. Here are a few:
- Teach what is going on when a certain play happens “as a whole” and not just from a position standpoint. Meaning, give the kids an idea what ALL the fielders are doing
- Get the kids in the habit of before the next hitter steps in, to think about where the runners are, what plays COULD be made, and the correct play
- Have an objective on what the goal is in every situation. For example, on a single when a runner on second may or may not score, the goal could be to make sure that the hitter doesn’t advance to second base on the throw home.
- As a hitter, while on deck, take a few seconds off from adjusting your batting gloves to think about what you may need to do. Process it walking to the box, then clear your mind before stepping in.
- Ask “Why?”. Meaning, if you teach the kids to be in certain positions on the field during certain plays, ask why. “On that hit to right field Johnny, why is the first baseman the cut off to the plate, why does the shortstop cover second base, and why does the second baseman cover first base?”
Situation Teaching could be the most valuable AND the most underused theory on how to teach the kids to play the game. We must, for the future of the game and for our individual sanity, make fundamentals much more of a priority.
If we are going to take on the task of “Wrestling Shute”, then it needs to start at a young age.
Because all I really want to do is watch good quality, clean baseball.
Is that asking too much for a bitter old man?