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Irvine, Ca

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Irvine Little League Baseball Coach offering private baseball lessons, baseball camps, and coaches clinics.

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Coach Ballgame (Irvine, Ca) provides tips and advice for those struggling with coaching their little league teams.

Filtering by Category: baseball coaching

“The Practice Is More Important Than The Game”

James Lowe

I love sitting in the bleachers and watching clients of mine play in their Little League games.  In our private sessions, they are very composed and on point with their skills.  In the games though, the majority of them seem tense and anxious.  Almost without fail, I see it with pitchers.  They rush their tempo and aim the ball.   After a few walks, they look completely lost, and their countenance is quite miserable.  Watching these struggles is great insight for me to see the “game version” of the player.  So why the 180 degree switch?  Here’s my take…

1) Young players tend to treat practice as “Fun Time,” and the game as “Pressure Time.” 

Unfortunately, it should be the other way around.  One of my favorite sayings is, “Over prepare in practice, so you can throw it all away in the game.”  Yes, practice should always be engaging and fun, but it should also be a forum for deep skill development.  This is when a player should think.  This is when a player should set specific goals, and find ways to combat bad tendencies. This is the forum for a player to challenge themselves and in a healthy way, be hard on themselves.  Practice should also be used to give players experiences and emotions similar to that of a game. In the above scenario, I would suggest having the young pitcher face live batters in practice as much as possible.  When he recreates the feel of the “Game” in “Practice,” then he will have more freedom to be his regular self when the umpire says, ‘Play Ball!’  If they treat practice in this way, the actual game should seem slow, easy, and most importantly FUN. 

2) Coaches and Parents tend to fall under the same umbrella. 

Practice is for fun, and the game is a time to stress.  Practice gives the player an opportunity to smile, whereas the game is where too many thoughts fill up their brain, and combust into a cloud of pressure.  Can you imagine a culture where the outcomes in practice take precedent over the outcomes in games?  Furthermore, can you imagine the freedom a Little Leaguer gets from knowing that their parents and coaches could care less if individual success occurs in an upcoming game? 

“You’ve put the work in, now go entertain the crowd,” is one of my all time favorite quotes. 

I’ve seen thousands of scrimmage games in my years of coaching baseball camps.  We never keep score, and personal stats go out the window.  It’s treated as a culmination and a celebration of all the hard work we have put into our preparation. The quality of the game is amazing.  The players are expected to be “kids” and play like they are in the backyard with their friends.  Juxtapose that with the tension felt at League games, and it is night and day. 

Hit By Pitch

James Lowe

Numerous little leaguers come to me each year with a new found fear of getting hit by a pitch. The first thing I do is congratulate them for being honest with themselves. Half the battle is just being able to communicate this fear in a healthy way to a parent or coach. Secondly, I inform them that they are not alone in this fear. At one point or another every college and/or professional player (including me) has dealt with this shaky feeling when stepping into the batters box. It usually happens the first or second year of kid pitch, and most pros can tell you the exact pitcher that struck fear into them at that ripe age of 7 or 8.  Why is this age so prominent?  The pitchers are fairly new to being on a mound, thus they are wild.  Combine that with the fact that these hitters simply aren't used to facing another human their age, and it's a perfect concoction of "I'm scared and I wanna quit." This is where I hit them with a few facts:

1) Baseball players are mighty warriors. If they weren't, then everybody in the world would be playing baseball.


2) The pitcher is holding a tiny rubber ball wrapped in plastic and thread, while you are holding a mean, lean, fighting machine we call a bat. I'd rather be holding the mean thing as opposed to the puny thing if I'm headed to battle.


3) There is a huge difference between pain and injury. Pain hurts for a few seconds, but you don't have to go to the hospital. An injury means we need to get the ambulance ready. I've been hit hundreds of times, including 55 times in my four years of college, (Brown University School Record btw) and I never suffered an injury.  I've also witnessed thousands of HBP's in my lifetime, all of them causing pain, but not injury.


4) This one tends to get the best response... When you do get hit and you feel that pain, yes it stings, and it hurts, and it is no fun. BUT, as you jog down to first base, guess what's happening? Every player on the opposing team is whispering to their buddy, "Hey, that guy that just got hit, he's tough and I want to be like him." Every player on your own team is saying the exact same thing. The coaches, umpires, and all the fans in the stands all echo in unison, "That kid is tough. I wanna be as brave as that kid. He's a Mighty Warrior!" By the time you've gotten to first base and all those people have said those glorifying words, the pain is pretty much gone, yet you've earned the respect of many.

In closing, The approach of the parent and/or coach makes all the difference. I've seen this happen many times where an aggressive tone towards this issue just fuels the fire of fear.  Make these words challenging, yet relatable and uplifting. This will give the little leaguer a good head start. The only true remedy though is experience. The process of simply stepping into the batters box over and over again, looking out at that pitcher, and attempting to be a mighty warrior is paramount. Then a day will come where that fear just simply disappears, and they will noticeably be on the offensive. 

The Top Two Keys to Hitting Fast Pitching

James Lowe

Culture shock sets in for a hitter when they begin to face faster pitching. The thought of not being able to catch up to the heat causes them to press, which leads to bad habits such as lunging, squeezing the bat tight, and moving their head around like a dolphin out of water. It's not an easy transition for a hitter, but with lots of reps, it is very doable. The key here has to do with the timing of their load, and their bat path.

THE LOAD: When facing slow to medium paced pitching, a hitter can get away with loading their hands and hips while the pitch is flying in their direction.  Against faster pitching, the hitter needs to get his hands and hips prepared prior to the release of the ball from the pitcher's hand. This will give them some much needed 'extra time' to recognize the pitch, before going at it. 

THE BAT PATH: Secondly, from the loaded position, the hitter must take their hands forward. This seems to be foreign for most, as hitters are born with this innate urge to make a long swing.  

A “Big Swing" is not a good swing. 

Once the pitch is released, the barrel of the bat can't go backwards or down. I call those areas "burger land," and we don't have time to go get a burger. The barrel has to quickly get out in front of the hitters’ body if they wish to hit the ball hard.

The most consistent hitters usually have the simplest swings. They sacrifice the big stride for a simple coil and uncoil of the hips. Take Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant for instance. Their swing is very "A to B", quiet yet quick.  They use their core muscles, instead of their flimsy arms and feet.  They were the best two hitters in the National League last year, AND they had power. 

I know from experience, turning a long swing into a quick swing is no walk in the park.  It takes lots of work in the cage.  But as a wise man once said, "Champions are made in the batting cage."

Keeping Players Confident

James Lowe

Imagine This Scenario: A little league pitcher is on the mound who seems to be struggling.  After his second walk in a row, he hears the words "Come on buddy, throw strikes" from his coach.  He gets behind 2-0 on the next batter and his teammates begin to grumble the words, "Don't walk this guy." Two pitches later, he has walked the bases loaded and the tension within the bleachers is palpable. The tension within his own dugout is beyond palpable. The most important bit of tension that seems to be lost here is what's going on inside this young pitcher's brain. His thoughts are 100% fear-based at the moment.

"Don't mess up!"

"Don't let the team down ."

"I HAVE to throw a strike."

With all the pressure on his shoulders, he fearfully aims 4 more pitches that miss the strike zone. As he hangs his head in defeat and walks off the field, the world says goodbye to yet another pitching prospect because "Pitching is not fun."

Here are some facts: Baseball Players don't perform well ‘in the moment’ when given an ultimatum. Players perform better when their mind is at ease. Their mind is at ease when their thoughts are in a specific and positive place, as opposed to a place of fear. We all know in the above scenario that this young pitcher isn't trying to walk batters. We also know the pitcher’s coach and teammates aren't trying to sabotage him, yet every time he hears the words "throw strikes" his confidence takes a hit. When a pitcher's confidence takes a hit, they begin to aim the ball. The word aim should not reside in a pitcher's dictionary.

Aim = Afraid = Bad Performance.

So what could have righted this ship?  Without getting too technical, the coach might have noticed an issue with the pitcher's tempo, stride, release point, or follow through. Possibly the pitcher was using all arms and no legs. Instead of stating the obvious "throw strikes," sharing a positive and specific thought such as "smooth tempo" or "reach to the target" gives the player a much better chance to succeed. Here are some examples of "fear based " vs. "confidence based" comments: 

FEAR BASED

"Don't be afraid of a ground ball"

 "You have to make contact"

 "We have to win this game"

CONFIDENCE BASED

 "See the ball touch your glove."   

"Pay attention to the ball."  

 "Treat every pitch with focus and joy."                                                    

Obviously, this scenario doesn't just come up with young pitchers. If a hitter is in a slump, and the coach can provide an uplifting and specific thought like, "focus on seeing impact," that should get the hitter back on track much quicker than reminding them of how bad they are doing with a "don't strike out," or "just put the ball in play" comment.  When a catcher can't seem to throw the ball back to the pitcher, challenging him to focus on his legs as he releases the ball could put that "yip" to bed.  

In a nutshell, little leaguers don't respond well when told "not" to do something.  Their brain immediately obsesses on that thing they are "not" supposed to do.  If the player has a positive thought during the moment of action, then his brain doesn't have time to think about all the negative things that could happen.