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Thursday, May 7, 2009
T-Ball Coaching Tips For Game Day
By David Comora
So, you've survived the first practices, the parent meetings, the fund raisers and the uniform distribution, and now its game day. Many of the questions we receive from new coaches at our T-Ball University web site concern how to handle their team in a variety of game day situations. So, in this article, we'll be discussing some of the most common game day questions, including stretching, warm-ups, pep talks, tips for coaching the game and post-game activities.
What is the first thing you should do when the kids arrive for the game? When players arrive on the field, it's important to make sure their bodies are in the proper condition to play ball. We usually start our children with some simple warm up exercises, such as arm rotations and then a slow jog around the T-ball field. Once their muscles are warmed up, we'll transition to five minutes of simple arm and leg stretches.
Next, we have the players warm up by throwing to the coaches and parents before the game in the outfield on the side of our bench, (you'll need to check with your league rules, since many leagues require any adult who steps on the field to be "certified" by attending a training class). Typically, the home team bench is on the first base side and the visitor team bench is on the third base side. Ground balls from the coaches and parents are then taken in the infield on our benches side of the field. If time is available, we try to take infield and outfield practice with the players in their first inning positions. This usually consists of players fielding ground balls in the infield and throwing them to first base. As the players become proficient with this, I then have the players fielding ground balls in the infield and throwing them to second and first bases for a double play. It may be a long time before they actually turn a double play, but that's no reason not to get them in the habit of trying. Next we hit soft line drives to the outfield with the outfielders fielding the line drives on one or two hops. I have them throw to the appropriate cutoff man (shortstop or second baseman) and then to the appropriate player covering second base (second baseman or shortstop).
We will then have the players come in to the bench for a pre-game pep talk. We usually ask the team if they listened to their parents this week and then ask them if they listened to their teachers this week. If they say yes, which most of the time they do, we ask the parents if their children listened to them this week. This usually generates a look of horror from the players. We tell the team they can play because they listened to their teachers and parents the past week. We try to stress that each player needs to be a good student athlete.
The bench coach has a line-up card and it is their responsibility to have each child sit on the bench in the order they are hitting. Batting helmets are worn on the heads of the first few children, depending on the number of available helmets. Players returning from the field take a seat on the bench behind the players that have not yet batted. It is very important that the bench coach ensures that only one batter is in the on-deck circle taking his or her practice swings. You'll find that you are constantly telling children to "put down the bat", this is normal and it will alleviate two or more players from injuring themselves. You should check on your league rules for on-deck swings as some leagues ban all on-deck practice swings for safety.
Before each inning in the field, have the players gather around you on the tee-ball diamond to receive their position assignments. We try to have as many coaches on the field as possible to assist the players in finding their positions.
We suggest that you let every player know where the next play is going by mentioning the base and the player's name the ball is going to (e.g., Mikey, you're going to Kira at first base on a ground ball, etc). It sounds like a lot of instruction but you and your players will get used to it after a while. This repetition on each play will eventually be retained by each player, so as time goes by, you might not have to remind each player what they should do with the ball if it is hit to them.
You should also have each player call out the number of outs in each inning (e.g., call it out, one out, etc). Have each player raise one of their arms with their fingers pointing appropriately with the number of outs each inning. Prior to a batter swinging, make sure each player is prepped in the ready position to field the ball. An infielder should have knees slightly bent with their "alligator" position showing. An outfielder should have knees slightly bent with their glove and throwing hand resting comfortably on their knees.
If you feel that your players are getting bored and are losing their focus, or there is a lull in the action, yell to the whole team, "who wants the ball?" Each player raises his or her hands responding "me!" Its important for each child to want the tee-ball and be eager to make the play. Its important to work with them so they are not afraid to make a play.
For less accomplished players, we suggest that you have them make the ground ball play to first base. For more accomplished players, you can try to have them get the lead runner out. If a pitcher fields a hard hit ground ball, we try to have him throw to the lead base, whether it is first, second, or third base. We usually have the shortstop take the throw at second base for a potential double play at first base since his or her momentum is directed to first base. If a pitcher fields a softly hit ground ball and they have to charge off the mound to field the tee-ball, I have the pitcher throw the ball to first base only.
We also instruct the fielder covering a base to tag the runner upon receiving the ball, even if the runner is not forced on the play. Its important that you do not take any of the player's knowledge of the game for granted. We always assume that they do not know a thing about the game. We remind the children to tag the runner with the ball firmly held in the glove. Its common to see players attempt to tag the runner without the tee-ball in the glove.
After the inning in the field is over, we yell to them "Hustle in, we're burning daylight. Don't be the last one on the bench!" We belive that no one on the team should be walking during practices and games. Every team member should be hustling at all times.
Here's a safety tip that can reduce a few bruises. During the game, we like to warn the other manager and coaches when we have a good hitter up at the plate. We ask that the coach move his pitcher back in the pitching as much as possible, to prevent any potential injury. We've seen a few well accomplished players hit a parent or coach with a line drive back up the middle through the pitching circle. We've also seen a few instances where the pitcher took a line drive or ground ball in the face. A few steps back can make a big difference.
After the game is over, we stand on first or third base, whichever is closest to our bench, and ask each player to line up behind us. We ask them to extend their right arm and hand and the opposing team does likewise across the diamond. I tell the players to go and shake the hands of the other players and coaches who have participated in the game. We then ask each player to sit on the bench or gather their equipment and sit off to the side of the field, if another game is about to begin. We give the players a combination critique and pep talk. The critique is never really negative but constructive. It is never loud. We praise each player for the positives they performed during the game and reiterate what we need to work on as a team for the next game. The parents scheduled to bring the snacks and drinks distribute them. While they are partaking of their treat, the coaches decide who should get the game ball. We give the game ball on tee-ball level to the player that pays the most attention. We try to distribute the game balls for each game evenly amongst the players that a game ball is given to each and every player before the end of the season.
Here's to a successful Game Day! We hope these Game Day tips were helpful. For more information on coaching t-ball you can visit our t-ball coaches forum and watch sample video drills at our T-Ball University web site (www.tballu.com).
David Comora has coached Tee Ball and Youth Baseball for over 10 years. He and his partners Steve Polansky, Brian Leuthner and David Kalb have developed the T-Ball University system of coaching to help new parent coaches learn to quickly master the skills of coaching. Their program includes video drills, coaching forms, practice plans, lesson notes and more. Free coaching videos are also available at our web site.
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