Parents get into coaching for various reasons. Some see it as an opportunity to stay close to a sport they love. Others want to spend more time with their kids, and figure being a head or assistant coach allows them to be more closely involved with their child’s activities. Some parents are pressed into service because no one else wants to coach.
Whatever the reason, many underestimate the responsibility involved, both on and off the field. How hard can it be, they think? I show up, we practice for an hour or so, we play one or two games a week, then you go home.
But coaching is no cakewalk. Even at the youngest level, there must be a plan for organizing practices, dealing with parents, and other tasks most coaches don’t think about.
Dan Keller, owner of the online baseball resource Dugoutcaptain.com and veteran youth coach, says the level of commitment is something many coaches aren’t prepared for, especially the meetings, events and other commitments.
Another factor many parent coaches don’t take into consideration from the beginning is the work involved in getting themselves and their child ready for practice, particularly if you’re the one who’s responsible for bringing his or her gear or snacks, then arriving at practices and games early enough to prepare for coaching.
Parents who have played a particular sport may be used to an atmosphere of advanced instruction and strategy. But at the 6-and-under level, for example, it’s more about psychology and social management than advanced baseball knowledge, according to Keller.
“To grow comfortable running a practice for young kids, the baseball experience (matters) very little,” Keller explained. “You know the content, but that content is only as good as your delivery and the practice you put it in. I think, at the youngest ages, coaching youth baseball is probably a more valuable experience than having played or coached advanced baseball.”
This is not to say knowledge of the game isn’t important. As your season progresses, you will concentrate on fundamentals, drills and other specific game instruction. Before picking up a bat or ball, Keller recommends spending your first practice or two teaching the kids basic organizational skills. During warm-ups, for example, demonstrate how to form a straight line by having them line up at one cone and jog to another. Kids at that age may not understand what a drill is, so introduce the concept of a drill, how it works, and the types of repetitions they can expect. You can use cones or other similar devices to emphasize your explanation.
Some fields may not have dugouts or benches, so kids need to know where to sit or keep their gear. To solve this problem, Keller lines up orange cones for each individual player to use as his personal dugout.
“That became something I taught at the first practice, and we used it every practice,” Keller said. “The kids knew, when they showed up at practice, to put their gear behind one of those cones.”
What if you’re new to baseball, and are thrust into coaching your child’s team? Relax, Keller says. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to run a good practice.
“Even the most talented guys are going to realize that their knowledge does not mean they’re going to run a good practice,” explained Keller, who devises practice plans for Dugout Captain. “The practice planning art form is something anybody can quickly pick up.”
Above all, don’t be shy about asking for help. Keller is amazed that so many coaches are reluctant to take advantage of the many online and offline resources available to them. He advises finding an experienced coach, coaching at the same youth level, to use as a mentor or sounding board. If you don’t personally know someone, ask your league coordinator or board for recommendations. The more you learn, the more you and everyone on your team will benefit.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
Want more articles like this? Check out more on theSeason.