John Capano’s experience as a Little League baseball coach has been pretty consistent. His teams always seem to have a handful of talented returning players, a handful that have little or no experience and some in the middle. That’s why Capano focuses on individual improvement and teamwork when he has coached his son’s teams in the Ladera Ranch Little League in Southern California.
“Little league teams have a wide range (of talent),” Capano said. “We really work with each individual player with the stuff they need to improve.”
Capano’s practices separate kids into different groups based on skill level and have them run drills to work on their individual needs. The drills cover mechanics, fielding, hitting and base running.
These practices also reinforce what Capano calls the “Core Four.” Each defensive position — as well as hitting and some other specific situations — have four rules that Capano’s players learn.
Rules No. 1 and 4 are always the same: Pay attention, and have fun.
Rules No. 2 and 3 change depending on the position or situation.
The Core Four for first base, for example, are: Pay attention, make the catch, get the ball back to the pitcher and have fun.
For hitting, the Core Four are: Pay attention, keep your eye on the ball, swing hard and have fun.
“We roll through that at every position,” Capano said. “They don’t have to remember 1-4, they’re always the same.
“We create these verbal cues around the physical (action of each position). If they can explain it or say this cadence along with (the action), they understand it better.”
Capano’s team — which just finished its Double A spring season — also has a Core Four for team play: Pay attention, hustle, play to win and have fun.
Capano expands that play-to-win rule to mean each player should strive to become a better individual player, play their role well, do what they’re expected to do and work as a team.
Teaching that teamwork is another important part of Capano’s coaching philosophy.
“We spend quite a lot of time getting them in the mindset that even if you’re the best athlete ever, you can’t win the game alone,” Capano said. “We do a lot of drills and fun exercises where we have them do things together that they couldn’t do alone.”
These drills include baseball-inspired activities — turning a double play or throwing to a cutoff man — to other activates at the ballpark.
“When we clean up balls after batting practice (at the start of the season), we have one kid do it and we all sit and watch them,” Capano explained. “The second time we have two kids do it and the rest sit and watch. The third or fourth time, everyone’s doing it and they realize how much faster it’s going and how much easier it is to do.”
Capano hopes the idea of working as a team and playing your role comes out through these exercises. He also takes a team approach when it comes to coaching, getting parents involved at practices and at home. Early in the season, Capano invites parents to join their player on the field for drills. He hopes the parents will learn the drill so they can work on it at home a few times before the next practice.
He also has parents and assistant coaches working with different groups of players so the players get used to being taught by different people.
“Early in the season we have, ‘You coach my kid, I’ll coach your kid’ thing we do with dads,” Capano said.
“I’ll take a group of kids and make sure they’re in a drill without any of their dads. There’s no talking back or ignoring direction because its dad.”
This year Capano also held a mini-camp for moms who don’t know as much about baseball. The camp taught some mechanics and basic rules so the moms could help their sons practice at home during the week.
Capano said getting families involved in the practices helps reinforce the importance of teamwork and fun in Little League baseball.
From GameChanger and Tom Glave.