Ultimate Guide to Coaching Little League Baseball

Coaching Little League can be a rewarding experience.
Coaching Little League can be a rewarding experience.
©iStockphoto.com/Melissa Carroll

You signed your son or daughter up for youth baseball and in a moment of spontaneous goodwill placed an "X" in the little square labeled "I am willing to coach a team." Now you've received a packet from your local recreation department and are somewhat overwhelmed by the variety of photocopied pages it contains. Schedules, names and phone numbers, rules and equipment lists spill onto the table, leaving you wondering what you've gotten yourself into.

But not to worry -- you are about to become one of those adults given the honor to influence, teach and encourage society's most precious asset: children. Armed with some basic information, a bag of equipment and a positive attitude, you can have the time of your life while passing on a love of fun and sportsmanship to your players.

As you embark on your coaching experience, keep the following in mind:

  • Coaching is teaching, and teaching occurs at all levels of youth baseball. For the youngest participants, you'll need to teach the basics of the game as well as hitting and fielding skills [source: QC Baseball]. For those slightly older participants who have passed the coach-pitch level, you will need to train pitchers. In addition, you'll need to teach the veteran players to deal fairly and positively with less experienced players, and you'll need to teach all of the players how to handle both success and loss with grace.
  • There are great rewards to coaching. Coaches who manage teams for several years have the opportunity to observe children grow from childhood to adolescence and watch them turn into leaders and teachers themselves.

To get started, you'll need to understand the rules of youth baseball and how the rules may be different from other leagues, and you'll also need some practical advice about practices and games, so keep reading [source: Youth Baseball Basics].

Little League Baseball Rules

If you've volunteered to coach in a local league, you've likely received a list of rules for the age group you've been assigned to. Leagues often have different rules and different ideas about how strictly coaches must adhere to the rules. The rules may vary quite drastically from the Major League Baseball games your players watch on television, and you'll need to make sure they understand what's considered acceptable play in your league.

The rules of baseball concern outs, balls and strikes, and base running. Here's a quick review of basic rules to go over with your players.

  • Players are out under the following circumstances: when they get three strikes (although many leagues allow for more with very young players), when they hit a ball that is caught before it drops to the ground, or when they're forced or tagged out before reaching a base or while off base.
  • Batters get a strike by swinging at and missing a pitch, by failing to swing at a ball that is inside the strike zone or by hitting a foul ball on one of the first two strikes.
  • A ball is a pitch that does not cross the plate inside the strike zone. When a batter gets four balls, the batter walks to first base.
  • Base-running rules vary greatly by league and age group, especially concerning stolen bases. In fact, some little leagues prohibit stolen bases. A common base-running rule used for teams of younger players is that runners may not advance when a fielder fails to catch a ball at the base. This is because fielding skills are often underdeveloped in relation to hitting skills in young players [source: Youth Baseball Basics].

Now that you know the rules of the game, you're ready to plan the first practice. Read on for practical tips on how to teach players the basics and how to run an effective practice.

Teaching Basic Baseball Skills

You're familiar with the rules of your league, you've contacted your players, you've scheduled your first practice and you need a plan. To start, you need to work on the basics. There are four skills that all players, regardless of level and experience, should be working on: hitting, catching, throwing and base running. Try to find a way to isolate and build these skills in each practice.

Throwing - You may think that kids know how to throw a ball without being taught, but that's not always the case. The number of children that play catch may be far less than you think -- video games, Internet sites and television shows compete with outdoor activities for kids' spare time, so spend some time at the beginning of each practice simply playing catch. This is a good way to warm up and a perfect time for you to help your players with their throwing mechanics. Walk among players as they play and help those who are struggling. Give players specific instructions for practicing their throwing at home [source: QC Baseball].

Catching - A player's ability to catch the ball is critical to his or her safety and enjoyment of the game. Teach players to place their gloves out in front of their bodies with palms forward to give their partner a "target." Have players close the ball inside the glove as they make a catch [source: QC Baseball]. Discourage players from catching the ball palm up in front of their face, as this increases the chance the ball will bounce up and hit them. In addition, have players catch thrown balls, balls hit on the ground and balls hit in the air.

Hitting - Building confidence in batting practice is essential to a positive game experience. Players should bat against pitches from the coach as well as from other players. If bunting is allowed in the league, every player should learn how. Using a tee can be a good idea at younger levels for instilling good form.

Base running - You'll need to provide young players with plenty of baserunning experience, teaching them to run immediately after hitting the ball and to continue through first base [source: Suddeth]. With older players, you should discuss how running varies depending on the number of outs in an inning and on the batter's ball and strike count.

Once your team is warmed up with these basics, you'll want to advance into drills to build on their skills. Keep reading to learn how.

Little League Baseball Drills

After your players have learned the basic skills needed to play baseball, plan to run plenty of drills so they're prepared for real game situations. Many municipal leagues will either have a manual with suggested drills or hold a training session to help new coaches organize practice and conduct effective drills.

One very important play for infielders is to be able to pick up a ground ball and throw it to first base. First, focus on the basic skill of picking up a grounder with glove extended, rather than directly under the player. Have players line up behind a bat laid on the ground. The first player in line stands 6 feet (1.8 m) behind the bat. Roll a ball toward the player. Have players run up and, without crossing the bat themselves, field the ball before it hits the bat [source: Baseball Corner].

When basic skills have been mastered, have all players line up at second base, and hit or throw grounders toward second base. Each player fields a grounder and throws it to a coach or parent volunteer at first base. You may want to extend this drill to include fielding balls at shortstop and third base, as well as having players take turns playing first base. With older players, you can add a double play to the drill.

Another important skill to drill in during practice is hitting. Players must have success hitting in practice if they're to succeed during a game. One drill you can use to help players develop a powerful swing is to have them hit an underinflated soccer ball off a tee. Place a toilet plunger handle-down into the tee and rest the soccer ball on top. Have players focus on hitting the ball without having the bat stop or slow down as it hits the soccer ball [source: Baseball Corner].

Scoring runs greatly increases your chance of winning, so keep reading to learn more about coaching offense.

Coaching Offense in Little League Baseball

Of the four basic skills, two are needed for an effective offense: hitting and base running. Together, solid hitting and alert base running give the greatest chance of scoring runs, and scoring runs greatly increases your chance of winning.

Hitting well takes time and plenty of practice -- batters will need individual instruction to find the batting stance and swing that works best for them. If players are having difficulty hitting the ball, check to make sure their knees aren't locked and that they have a fairly level swing. You may want to make a video recording for players and analyze their swing with them [source: QC Baseball]. In addition, confidence plays a big part in the mental game for batters, so it's important to encourage your batters, praising them when they do well and gently correcting them when necessary. Try not to group all of your poor hitters at the bottom of the lineup -- this creates a weak point in your lineup and does little to improve the confidence of your players.

Regarding base running, make sure your players know how to run through first base. Players shouldn't slow down to stop on the base, and they shouldn't time their run to land on the base with both feet. Emphasize that first base is simply a point they need to cross on their way to another destination [source: Suddeth]. Once safely on first base, runners need to know how to react to different situations. What should runners do when the ball is a pop fly? When do players have to run regardless of where and how the ball is hit? If you have parents who know the game, place them as base coaches -- this can go a long way in teaching the players.

Now that you know about coaching offense, it's time to discuss how to teach players about catching and throwing, the two main components of defensive playing. Check out the next page to learn more.

Coaching Defense in Little League Baseball

The two basic skills that are essential to good defensive baseball are throwing and catching. In leagues where players pitch, good pitching is key; however, in coach-pitch leagues, you'll need to focus on getting outs by fielding the ball after it's hit. Review the basic rules with players so they understand the ways they can get a runner out: by tagging them out before they reach a base, by tagging the base before they reach it and by catching the ball after it's hit and before it touches the ground [source: Youth Baseball Basics].

Provide plenty of fielding practice so players are comfortable catching pop-ups, fielding grounders and throwing to different bases. Teach your players to be in the fielding position when play starts, with knees bent, feet apart, back straight and glove down [source: Sheetz]. Teach them to recognize signs that a batter is about to bunt and emphasize the need for charging the ball when this happens [source: Suddeth].

Defensive strategy is as important as defensive skills. You'll need to communicate the possibilities of each situation to players when they're in the field, reminding them where the force-outs are and where they should throw the ball. You can quiz older players between plays. If you're not able to be in the field with the players, you may want to appoint one player in the infield and one player in the outfield to communicate the count and number of outs to the other players.

Even though having strong players at key positions is an essential part of a good defense, it's also important to make sure players have a chance to play different positions and have opportunities to grow as players. Assigning positions in the field is a balance between giving your team the best chance to win and giving each player the experience of playing a variety of positions.

However, it's impossible to play without equipment, so keep reading to learn what your team will need.

Little League Baseball Equipment

Leagues will usually provide some equipment, but players will be often be expected to bring some of their own gear. Leagues or teams typically have

  • Batting helmets
  • Catcher's gear, including a mask, chest protector, shin and knee guards and sometimes a catchers' mitt
  • Bats
  • Balls for practice and games
  • Full uniforms or uniform shirts

In addition, some coaches try to have extra gloves handy in case players cannot afford to purchase their own.

Players typically provide a glove and a sturdy pair of athletic shoes or plastic-cleated shoes, and they may also bring their own bat. Baseball caps, when not part of a team-provided uniform, are helpful in shielding players' eyes from the sun. Boys should wear athletic supporters.

Parents may ask you to give advice in choosing a bat or glove. In that case, you may find the following helpful:

Little league baseball bats are usually made of aluminum or composite materials. The appropriate bat length varies with the age and height of the player. For example, the youngest players, ages 5 to 7 years old, should use 24 inch to 26 inch (60.9 cm to 66.1 cm) bats; 8 and 9-year-olds generally use 27 inch to 28 inch (68.6 cm to 71.1 cm) bats; and 10 and 11-year-olds use 28 inch to 30 inch (71.1 cm to 76.2 cm) bats. Players from 5 feet (1.5 m) to 5 and a half feet (1.7 m) use a 32-inch (81.3 cm) bat; players from 5 and a half feet (1.7 m) to 6 feet (1.8 m) use 33-inch (83.8 cm) bats; and taller players use 34-inch (86.4 cm) bats [source: baseball-bats.net].

In choosing a glove, parents should try to balance quality with cost. Remind them that while youth baseball gloves shouldn't be a major expense, gloves made of leather parts are more durable and provide better protection. In addition, the way leather stretches over time to form a "pocket" in the glove will help balls stay inside rather than bounce out [source: Youth Baseball Basics]. Be aware that gloves vary in size and that there are different types of gloves for some positions [source: Sheetz].

For more information on coaching Little League baseball, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

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  • QC Baseball. "Baseball Hitting Tips and Mechanics." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://qcbaseball.com/skills/hitting1.aspx
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  • Suddeth, Olan. "Bunt Loops -- a Hard Charging Defense Drill." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.youthbaseballinfo.com/view_article.php?articleid=46
  • Suddeth, Olan. "Dugout! Run past First Base on Every Hit." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.youthbaseballinfo.com/view_article.php?articleid=5
  • TeensHealth. "What Makes a Good Coach?" (Accessed 12/29/09)http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/sports/good_coach.html
  • Youth Baseball Basics. "Basic Baseball Rules." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.youthbaseballbasics.com/very_basic_rules.shtml
  • Youth Baseball Basics. "Baseball Rules -- What is Baseball's Infield Fly Rule?" (Accessed 12/27/09) http://www.youthbaseballbasics.com/infield_fly_rule.shtml
  • Youth Baseball Basics. "Selecting a Youth Baseball Glove -- Appropriate Glove Size for Youth Baseball." (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.youthbaseballbasics.com/gloves.shtml
  • Youth Baseball Basics. "Youth Baseball and Little League Rules and Regulations -- Differences Between Different Leagues and Age Groups." (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://www.youthbaseballbasics.com/basic_rules.shtml