Is there a way exercise and improve your baseball process and mental baseball strategy in order to better think like a baseball player? Can you improve your baseball strategy IQ? I get it - baseball technique is important, baseball process is important. And at some point, baseball results will be more important than the baseball technique and process and will be driven by baseball strategy, including your mental baseball strategy. But for youth baseball players, Little Leaguers, Middle School, young travel ball players, et al, prioritizing results over process and technique is a mistake. Picture this…runners on first and second, no outs, close or tied game, and the batter is asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance two runners into scoring position. The pitch comes in and the batter bunts, very hard, right back to the pitcher, but with the first and third basemen charging, no one on the defense rotates to cover first or third, and the batter reaches first along with the two baserunners advancing a base. Simultaneously, with the batter reaching first on the defensive lapse, the first base coach - and a parent or two - yell out, “great bunt, Billy.” But was it really? Was this a case of baseball strategy being properly executed? I turned to the five or six 14 year olds sitting next to me and asked them what, if anything, was wrong with the bunt? All of them said basically the same thing…it was bunted too hard and it was right at the pitcher. In this case, a charging first or third baseman fielding the ball would not have been able to get an out on a force at any other base BUT first, which is really what was necessary. So again, the praise for the bunt, even though it was poorly executed, was a case of the result taking priority over the actual baseball process….and if you read my works on the mental game, you will see this is a mistake!
Being the father and coach of a teenage baseball player, I fully understand they (teenage baseball players) can be a complete pain in the (base)balls! But I also understand they are at or past the age where they should and need to be well versed on baseball process, strategy and fundamentals and do what is right, regardless of the outcome. Some of the little things we work on to ensure these kids are ready for high school ball and beyond include proper position for cutoffs, not airmailing a ball from the outfield to the plate, being aware of where the baserunners are and what they may do on a ball hit to various parts of the diamond, proper placement of bunts, the importance of not missing a sign, keeping trail runners from advancing whenever possible, and maintaining the positive attitude that will keep them in the high school coach’s sights, or at least not too far on the back burner. How do we work on these items? Besides the physical drills, we have a 15 minute group session and verbally discuss baseball strategy, positioning, goals, thoughts, etc. We stress the importance of not only physical preparation, but mental as well. We also stress the importance of knowing what to do a few plays ahead of the current plays and the need to THINK about what will happen on the next play or set of plays. Recently, we have been stressing more and more the importance of practicing like we play, and doing things in practice that we will do in games. For example, when we are batting and have a runner on second, the on deck player needs to be ready to get behind the plate on a single to direct a potential runner coming home to properly slide away from a possible tag. I believe, based on what I’ve seen, that this is not done too much nowadays with younger players, but teaching young ball players the proper habits early enough so it becomes second nature will go a long way to ensure success, and high school coaches will certainly notice the little things players do in order to stand out in a crowd.
So in our group baseball process and strategy session after a recent practice, I asked the team what they would do in the following situation: YOU are on deck, runner on third, ball gets away from the catcher, runner is coming home. Would you believe half of them said get behind the plate and direct the runner to slide to a side to avoid a tag? While I lauded their efforts and appreciated their enthusiasm, and understood their response to be based on what we had discussed doing on a single with a runner on second, I had to ask them to rethink this, and after some deliberation, I think it struck them that the answer is nothing. There is already a batter there to direct the runner, so there role is practically nothing in this situation. But at least they were thinking and several of them were correct in their initial assessment. And more importantly the next time I asked the same question, they all gave the correct response. Now let’s see if, when it comes time to actual execution during a game, they respond correctly and do the right thing.
Baseball is a great game, and as a game, is meant to be fun. As we progress and gain additional insights, both as a player and a coach, the more fun it becomes. As coaches, it is incumbent upon us to ensure our youth players are learning and doing the proper things on the field, working the proper fundamentals and understanding the baseball process so as players they have the opportunity to showcase their talents and get recognized for their contributions. Remember, doing the little things well will help make good ballplayers great and great ball players superstars. Keep working hard, keep coaching hard, and have fun.Baseball › Baseball Strategy › Process
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