JK Kolmansberger and his fellow coaches believe in high-intensity practices, but they like an opposite approach on game night.
“Our overall philosophy to coaching the boys is to create a lot of pressure in practice and to take it away in the games,” said Kolmansberger, a coach for the Red Land team from Lewisberry, Pa. that won the U.S. title at this summer’s Little League World Series. “We’ll try to keep them super loose, and the coaches are very loose in the games.
“You won’t really hear us doing a whole lot of yelling in the games. In practice, it’s different; we’re coaching them hard and creating pressure because we want to get their anxiety levels up and let them compete in practice with more pressure.”
Kolmansberger believes competitive practices help keep nervousness from setting in during games, since players are already accustomed to the intensity.
While acknowledging that coaches still have to find time for teaching, Kolmansberger said the Red Land approach is for the players to compete amongst each other as much as possible in practices.
“With our all-star team and travel team, we find that the boys are uber-competitive,” Kolmansberger said. “They like to compete and win.
“If we just said, ‘OK, we’re going to take batting practice and each player is going to get 20 swings and then you’re going to shag flies,’ that doesn’t really seem to get there juices flowing.”
But tell the players to try to win, and practice takes on a different level of interest.
“We try to create pressure, competitive games, where it’s almost a game-like atmosphere,” he said. “We have 12 or 14 players rostered on various teams, so what we do is break them into mini-teams in groups of threes.
“We play game-like conditions. … We play competitive games where we keep [track of] the number of hits, number of runs scored and then you can also give points for little things like moving runners over.”
When the players are not batting, Kolmansberger said they can earn points for their teams with fielding accomplishments such as turning a double play or lose points by committing errors.
Red Land also adapts the popular basketball shooting game H-O-R-S-E for its baseball practices. As the players rotate through practice, hitters are required to at least duplicate the accomplishment of the batter before them. For example, if the first player hits a double, the next player needs a double or better to avoid getting assigned a letter.
Because the Red Land players had a lot of familiarity and ability coming into the season, the coaching staff was able to spend large chunks of time in those competitive scenarios. Other practices were conducted almost entirely in a “live” setting.
“That has been the approach we’ve used with the team that won the U.S. championship,” Kolmansberger said.
Coaches of less-experienced teams might need to focus more on teaching, but those teams can still incorporate competitiveness into parts of their practices, Kolmansberger said.
“One of the words we throw around a lot is ‘measurable,’” Kolmansberger said. “We honestly feel like if we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it.
“We have ways of keeping score measuring whether kids are getting better.”