Last week, I attended the ABCA (American Baseball Coaches Association) annual convention in Dallas, TX. There, I joined thousands of college, high school, travel, and youth coaches to see the latest gear and hear from top coaches around the country about ways we can continue to improve our game. One of the takeaways I got was that baseball loses more players by age 13 than any other sport in the U.S. As a youth coach, that hit me in the gut!
What is happening during that time to push players to other sports or out of sports entirely? What can we do differently to slow that attrition and keep more kids in the game through their teenage years? Here are three basic concepts that can help.
Keep it fun
Coaches, our first goal with youth baseball players is to create a fun environment. Fun does not equal silly. Fun can be competitive and it can be challenging. But at the end of the day, if a kid is not enjoying their time on the field, they will likely not be back. I love running baseball practices that are fast-paced, encouraging, and keep kids moving. Our Standout Baseball practice plans can give you a great guide to do this all season.
Parents, this goes for you (us) too! Cheer for your kids rather than correct them. Allow them to fail and figure it out next time. As a dad, I realize that I’m going to blink and my 10 year old son is going to be a grown man and the days at the ballpark with him will be long gone. Enjoy the time on the field for what it is, and help your players do the same. Especially at the pre-teen ages, remember this- there is no college scholarship on the line. The varsity high school baseball coach is not watching. It’s kids and their families, that’s it. Take a moment to enjoy that before it all changes.
Keep it simple
As adults, it is easy to complicate a situation to its maximum extent allowed. Take this scenario. As a coach or trainer, we may see 5 flaws in a player’s swing. Hands get out of sync with the body. Head is moving all over the place. Load is too soon or too late. Barrel drops. Weight is not balanced. Whatever. Our brain wants to address all five problems, because we are experts as coaches and can fix it all, right? We just know we can get that player to have the perfect swing that results in line drives every at bat.
As for the kid, they just want to hit the ball hard. They also need to be able to understand why they hit it hard (or didn’t) without a lengthy explanation from a coach or their parent in order to repeat the movement or make changes to improve. So, maybe our approach should be to pick the one or two biggest flaws and work to address those. The swing may not be perfect, but it will be improved, and the kid will see better results. Most importantly, keeping it simple in this scenario makes it easier for the player learn and repeat the correct movements. That builds confidence.
Keep it real
Last but not least, keep it real! Give kids praise for improvements to their fundamentals. I’m not sure I’ve met a youth athlete that did not smile when being told they did something well. Most of us, but kids especially, feed off the energy around them and the environment that leaders create.
On the flip side, constructive feedback can go a long way too. We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. As coaches and parents, we need to provide feedback to our players in a way that they can identify the failure as a learning opportunity and not as a definition of who they are. Constructive feedback does just that.
Baseball is a tough game with life lessons throughout. If we as parents and coaches can do these three things, we give our kids and players a much greater chance of playing for longer.
If you are a baseball coach or baseball parent, check out how Standout Baseball can help you on this journey! We’ve got resources to help you and your players learn the fundamentals of the game and have a great time doing it!