Summer seems like it is finally here. For you that means the end of school and the beginning of your favorite summer activities. For NLB, that means we are getting ready to coach a lot of baseball. Just to give you an idea of what some of our instructors do, or to remind you:
So what gives, right?
I hope it is now obvious to you how much baseball our instructors are a part of throughout the summer. It is very important that we are effective with our time as coaches in order for us to get the most out of our players. When appropriate, one of our favorite teaching tools, or practice components, is live situations.
Live situations can have several looks to it. The concept is almost scrimmage like but can be stopped at any point in order to establish what is going well, or not so well. If you are Kerry and the Saint Paul Saints, you might never do live situations, you might just scrimmage. The reason they simply scrimmage is because their players are getting paid, and are expected to understand how to play the game properly, with few mental mistakes. They are professionals. For the rest of us that are coaching players that are paying to play, we recognize that winning baseball teams make fewer mistakes than teams that don't have a habit of winning. I understand that talent and ability do have a lot of weight at all levels, but I know for a fact that many games are won and lost, at all levels, and it has nothing to do with talent. The team that didn't "beat themselves" won the game. It is for this reason that practicing real baseball situations is so valuable. Here two easy ways to set it up.
The first one is the most controlled. You have nine players in the field and the coach hits. Extra players are baserunners. It is very helpful to have extra coaches be the 3rd and 1st base coach. The defense gets 6 outs before players switch. They can switch between base running and playing a position, or can simply rotate positions. It is helpful to have the pitcher deliver an imaginary pitch before the coach puts the ball in play. The coach hitting is the captain. He yells the situation, and does most of the coaching regarding the level of execution of each given play. The base coaches are typically focused on making sure the baserunners are being smart and aggressive on the base paths but can obviously help on the defensive side.
The second scenario is similar but more hands off. Same setup in the field, but now baserunners are taking side toss from the coach giving the drill a more "live" feel. The catcher now needs to take over. He yells the number of outs before every ball is put in play and is expected to be very vocal, particularly when the ball is hit in the outfield. In this format, you can keep score, which makes it quite a bit more enjoyable for the kids too. If the first form of situations, where the coach is the captain, isn't up to par, this second form is less effective.
Once you've done this in a practice, you are going to better understand what your team needs to get better at but make sure that you are good at distinguishing between mental and physical mistakes here. Live situations is not a time to correct physical mistakes. Live situations is a way to practice and correct the mental side of the game and the get players to realize the risks and rewards associated with each play.
The definition of a game, when googled, is "a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck." I think most kids relate more to the "play" side than the rest of the definition. Which is GREAT and is WHY kids PLAY baseball and fall in LOVE with it, BUT...if you are trying to get kids to play the game more competitively, it is imperative that they understand that there a rules that govern the risk in baseball. The distance of bases, the number of outs, the count of the at-bat, and the size of the field are objective parts of the game that easily factor into the decisions a player can make based on any given play. What makes athletics, in general, tough, is the subjective elements to the game such as talent in the field, and differing opinions on what is considered risky, and when risks should be taken.
Personally, I like to understand the game of baseball like a board game. I like to play Farkle with my wife and extended family. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a dice game. It is completely random, and luck is required if players participating all understand the rules and risks of the game. Theoretically, if two equally capable players played Farkle one hundred times, each would win fifty games, or very close to it. The problem is, many people I play with don't understand the risks and rewards of the odds associated with dice. If you are trying to roll a 5, it is more likely that you roll a 5 with six dice as opposed to only rolling five dice. If you do not understand that idea and can apply that to the game of Farkle across all turns, you might get lucky and win, but you won't consistently give yourself a chance to win. Similarly, if you don't understand the risks and rewards of each situation in baseball, you can't give yourself the best chance to win.
If you can successfully implement live situations in practice, you may find that there are a lot of physical mistakes that happen. If this is so, you will quickly build a case to allot more practice time to fielding and throwing drills, which is great too. You might also find that you need to work on base running by going through live situations. The possibilities are endless! Live situational work in practice is extremely valuable in teaching players how to play the game of baseball with more awareness and a better knack for when to take risks and when to play more conservative. Regardless of talent level, this a great way to be a better baseball team.