Saturday, June 27, 2015

Phillies Win in Great Comeback

Just to clarify, the Phillies are the team of primarily 8-9 year olds that I have the privilege of coaching this year. They are off to a great start with something like a 7-1-1 record, although, I try not to track that stuff too closely at this age. But last night, they pulled off a stunning comeback win. Down 12-8 heading into the bottom of the fifth, the Phillies scored 5 runs while making only one out, for a walk-off 13-12 win. And you know who had the game-winning hit? Yup, I kid who I don't think had hit the ball once all season up til that point. And that type of thing is what can make Little League so special.

I have mentioned it here a few times I think, but I've been coaching youth baseball for nine years, since my older son was seven. I have been a manager (the head coach) for at least seven seasons (there is some overlap when I have been a manager for both older and younger sons' teams) and I think I have learned a few things. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of a system, which leads to wins like the one we had last night.

Here are some of my basic principals:

  1. Teach Fundamentals: Hitting, fielding, baserunning pitching - there are correct techniques for all this stuff. Let me stress, I was never a great baseball player and really never received proper coaching in a lot of these things. At 48, or however old I am, I am now probably as good a baseball player as I ever have been, because I have re-taught myself how to throw, hit, field and all that stuff, based on the fundamentals I teach. Where did I learn these fundamentals? Well, thanks to Google, as there is a ton of stuff available online. I also went to a great clinic given my Marc Schonfelt - and picked up his book and CD. Basically, there are a lot of great resources and materials out there for learning the basics--take advantage of them

  2. Repetition: This is fairly obvious when dealing with the younger kids, but it even applies to older ones as well. The goal, as explained beautifully by Dr. Bob Rotella in his book Golf is not a Game of Perfect, is to work on your technique at practice, so that when the games come the fundamentals are second nature. That frees the athlete up to focus on the game and all the unique stuff that happens in competition.
  3.  Never Sweat: This is another way of saying "stay positive." Last night, the team we were playing scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a four-run lead. We were at the top of our order and I told the kids, not problem, now we just need to score five runs - or something like that. Surprisingly (at least it surprises me sometimes), if you believe in your team, they will believe in themselves. I guess they are kids and fairly easy to fool with a smile and some words of encouragement.
  4.  No Child Left Behind: One of the biggest mistakes I see other coaches make is that they focus too much on their best players and ignore the ones who aren't as good. Big mistake. In Little League baseball, like in any team sport, depth can be a huge factor. Who did I say had the winning hit for us last night? Your best players are going to miss games and/or have off nights. Plus, it's just better to have more, at least decent, players. Try and spread out your practice efforts evenly among all you players!

  5. Trust the process: I know the Sixers are getting made fun of in the wake of the NBA draft due to a quote from their GM to this effect, but as far as Little League baseball, I believe it to be true. Case in point: Last night my son caught the first four innings. It was the first time he has caught multiple innings and he really needed to come out as he was getting beat up. Only problem was, I was short our main catcher, and our second catcher was pitching--and aside from my son, I didn't have any other pitchers I really trust. But I wasn't going to pitch my son after he caught four innings - I thought it would be too much, so I went with another kid and he gave up six runs. I made it seem like it was no big deal, told him he did a good job and congratulated the fielders for getting three outs. Then we batted. 

I guess my point is that I try and put all these things together and viola - it has produced a lot more wins than losses for my teams - plus, I think we have help develop some pretty good players. And probably more importantly, I think the kids like playing in this type of system. One of the most important statistics to me in Little League is participation. My teams have consistently returned a high percentage of the kids from the year before, and even during the season, I take great pride in never being short kids for a game. Sometimes this means having "too many" which means kids have to sit, but it also gives you more depth and creates comradery.

Anyhow, we're going to keep working at it, and congrats once again to the Phillies on their great performance last night!

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