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Little League Coaching Tips for Practice Planning, Rules and Strategy

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Coaching a Little League team can be fun and rewarding. Coaching a Little League team can also be extremely difficult for those who underestimate the importance of preparation and education. This is not only true for those who have little experience with baseball. Those who are former players and avid MLB fans also need the proper preparation and education to be a successful Little League coach. Success should not be measured in wins and losses but rather the overall experience that can be provided  to the team. Three areas that can be problems for a new Little League coach are running a practice, understanding Little League rules, and ability to recognize and utilize basic Little League strategies. Let's take a look at some tips to help a new Little League coach better understand Little League  practice, rules, and strategies.

Little League Coaching Tips for Practice, Rules, and Strategies

Introduction

Tips for Running a Little League Practice

Tip #1 Age Factor

The first major factor a new Little League coach must understand is the age factor. This should be a "no-brainer" but I have personally observed coaches trying to run pro style practices that last for 3 hours and include military style warm up routines. This is just not appropriate for a young team comprised of mostly 10, 11, and 12 year olds. Limit your practice to one and half to two hours max. There is no need for excessive warm up drills because players of this age have young muscles that will not require much warming up. Lastly, do not attempt to teach too many skills in one secession as the young mind will only retain so much information.

Tip #2 Recruit Assistants

The ability to run a quality practice will increase greatly with utilizing two to three assistants to help run practice. For example, two coaches can run infield drills, a third coach can run outfield drills, and a fourth coach can run a bullpen secession with a pitcher and a catcher. The great thing is that this is all happening at the same time! The bottom line is that there is strength in numbers and so much more can be accomplished with more help.

Tip #3 Rituals & Routines

There is nothing that can raise the anxiety of a youngster or their parents for that matter more than inconsistency. If the coach says practice is at 4pm then coach better be there at 4pm. Practice should be held at least twice a week before the season starts and at least once a week when the season starts. Practice should only be cancelled for extreme circumstances such as poor weather. The same practice shouldn't be run every week but aspects of practice can become routine. Examples of this would be a 15 minute break after the first hour of practice, taking a lap around the field to begin or end practice, talking about the upcoming week's games at the end of practice, etc. Creating solid rituals and routines for your team will give the young players the organization and structure that they need.

Tip #4 Planning Practices in Advance

One of the worst things a new Little League coach can do at a practice is simply not know what to do next. The new coach has just completed a great batting practice with the team that has lasted about an hour and there is an hour left in practice. He calls the team in and sits there with coaches trying to figure out what to do next. While coach is trying to figure things out, "Little Johnny" just kicked "Little Tommy" and "Little Timmy" just ran off the field because he's bored. This could all be prevented by simply planning practice a head of time. A new coach should have a note book with practice drills and ideas for practice. Always plan ahead because practice time is valuable time that should never be wasted.

Tip #5 Improvising

Only five players showed up to practice this week and you are thinking about sending them home. Don't send them home, don't get frustrated, and don't panic.  First, with this kind of poor turn out you may want to contact parents ( preferably before they leave the park if they are dropping off and returning later) and let them know that practice will only be an 1 hour or an hour and a half. Run a small batting practice, run some small drills, or have a game of hits, runs, and errors. You might even be able to do all three. Having some practice plans for smaller groups is also something that can go into that practice notebook that was discussed earlier. 

Tip #6 Fundamentals

Baseball at the Little League level should be about mastering fundamental skills like throwing, fielding, and hitting. Fundamental skills should be included in every practice. 

Tip #7 Advanced Skills

Certain advanced skills may not be a part of every practice especially in the beginning of the season when fundamentals may need to be 100% of the focus. You may not have time at every practice to practice advanced skills like executing a proper rundown, stealing bases, delayed steals, double steals,etc. Again don't grow frustrated and just make a plan. Only practice one advanced skill per practice for a while. When they understand one skill then move onto another. As time goes on, these advanced concepts can just become a regular part of practice. For example, the rundown drills that were run for a few weeks at the end of practice can simply become a part of the regular infield practice once the team becomes comfortable executing the rundown. 

Tip #8 Experimentation

Practice is where new things can be tried and there shouldn't be fear of doing so. Trying players in different positions should be a big part of the practice plans for several reasons. Trying everyone at every position will help a new coach to see exactly what they have.This concept should be revisited throughout the season because some players just take a little longer to blossom. It is also fair and will help prevent players and parents from complaining about not getting treated fairly.

Tip #9 Problem Solving

Practice is where a coach can directly address problem areas that will certainly pop up. If the team lost a game during the week due to a lot of base running errors then a practice with a concentration on base running would certainly be in order. Individual problems can also be addressed like mechanical problems with a swing, pitching mechanics for a wild pitcher, or even behavior. Practice is a perfect time to address problems that there is just not enough time to address during the games.

Tip #10 The Fun Factor

The most important tip that a new Little League coach should follow is just allowing the kids to have some fun during practice. Allowing the team to vote on a drill or scrimmage to end practice might be a good idea. Maybe during a practice at the end of the season, practice can end early so the kids can go over to the ice cream truck that pulls over in front of the field each week. Always keep in mind that Little League is for kids and kids should have a little fun.

Little League Rules

Tip #1 Read the Rule Book !

The #1 tip about Little League rules is simply reading the rule book. Little League baseball has several differences from the pros. A new coach who refuses to read up on the rules is setting themselves up for embarrassment and won't be providing their team with their best effort. A new coach must take time to read and understand the rules.

Tip #2 Stealing Bases

One of the biggest differences between the pro game and Little League is the stolen base. A big leaguer can advance on the bases anytime the ball is considered live but a Little Leaguer has base running restrictions that include no leading while the pitcher is setting up to pitch from the rubber and only being able to steal once the ball crosses the plate.

Tip #3 Pitching

There are pitching restrictions at the Little League level designed to protect a young player's developing arm. Pitchers have limitations on innings pitched and also are under a pitch count.

Tip #4 Equipment

There are slight differences in equipment as well at the Little League level. League equipment is usually overseen by a league equipment manager. A league official should be consulted before any personal equipment is purchased to ensure the equipment is Little League regulation. The coach should have open communication with parents about purchasing equipment so they don't make a useless purchase.

Tip #5 League Rules

In addition to the rules in the Little League rule book, the league may also have some additional rules that a coach should be familiar with. Maybe the home team is responsible for lining the field or the league might have a curfew for games that run too late. This why it is important for a new coach to attend meetings and become familiar with the inner workings of the league.

Little League Strategies

Tip #1 Pitching

A team can't have enough good pitching. Always work on developing pitchers and have as many available pitchers as possible. Teaching your pitcher and catcher to communicate properly is key. A pitcher and catcher should try to recognize patterns in the other team's batters and exploit their weaknesses. A good catcher will learn to call a good game that will include changing location of the target. A good pitcher will learn the ability to change speeds, throw different pitches, and use location to their advantage. 

Tip #2 Batting Order

A good batting order can make a difference in a game. Stringing together too many batters that strike out a lot might not be such a good idea. A balanced order will be a productive order. Good base runners with speed can rattle a pitcher and the defense. It might be a good idea to put these types of players at the top of the order ( 1st and 2nd batters) so they can put pressure on an opposing team right from the start. A team's 3,4,and 5 batters are usually power and RBI guys. It's also not a bad idea to put a really good on base guy ( you know that player that just always gets on base anyway they can) in the 9 hole because this player becomes a key to getting back to the top of the order. Creating a batting order that will maximize the team's run production can be a difference maker.

Tip #3 Aggressive Base Running

Aggressive base running can be used to put pressure on the defense of the opposing team. Stretching base hits into doubles and advancing two bases on a hit rather than one can put pressure on outfielders to make accurate throws and make good decisions. Utilizing the stolen base, double steals, and delayed steals can put pressure on an infield to make good decisions. These base running techniques can also have the ability to rattle a pitcher and throw off his timing. Aggressive base running is a situational technique and shouldn't be used to a team's detriment. 

Tip #4 Bunting

Bunting in Little League has the same purpose as it does in the pro game. A player can attempt to bunt for a base hit or attempt to sacrifice bunt to advance runners. There is not a true squeeze bunt in Little League due to the difference in the stolen base rule. A Little League style squeeze can be attempted but is a bit more difficult because the Little League base runner can't get the lead off of third base. However, Little Leaguers should be taught to recognize situations in which they can bunt for a base hit such as the "corners" ( first and third basemen) are playing too deep or the first baseman is playing too far off the bag at first base. Also, a 3-0 count is a good time to show the defense a bunt attempt because it could rattle a young pitcher into offering up that important walk the team needs.

Tip #5 Use Strengths To Your Advantage

Overall, the team's strengths should be used in a way to maximize how those strengths can help the team during the game. For example, a team with a lot of good, speedy base runners shouldn't just move base to base the entire game. A team with speed should be attempting more stolen bases and stretching more hits. If power is a team strength then make sure the power hitters can't be pitched around. A power hitter needs a batter behind them in the order to protect them so the pitcher can't just serve up "garbage"  to try and neutralize that power. The team's strongest players should be put in defensive positions where they will have the most impact and this may depend on the league.  For example, if the league has a lot of late swingers that produce a lot of action to the right side then it might make sense to have stronger defenders on the right side of the field which includes the first basemen, second basemen, and right fielder. 

Closing

A Little League team will always be a work in progress because the players are still developing mentally and physically. Creating practices that will challenge the players to develop and grow is essential. As the team develops and grows so should the coach. The coach must monitor the team's progress which will allow intelligent decisions to be made about necessary position changes, philosophical changes ( for example, are we a defense first team that doesn't need to worry about pressing to score runs or do we need to press to score runs because our defense isn't so good right now), and changes in or added strategies. The coach should also always be reviewing rules and regulations so that the team's management on and off the field are high quality. Coaching a Little League team may be a bit exhausting at times but at the end of the day when team progress has been made and the kids are happy more often than not then it will all be worth it!

"Proud Base Runner and Basecoach," © 2009 Michelle Riggen-Ransom, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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