Sunday, June 20, 2010

T-Ball Coaching: Lessons From The Trenches

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Today was the last day of the t-ball season for the wee ones. This was the first time (and probably the only) time that they played on the same team. One set of games, no conflicts - oh it was lovely.

And did I mention that I coached? Yeah, there's goes that I-can't-say-no bug again. A lot of the reason I coached though was because we had such a poor coach last year. Nothing against him personally, but he had no experience, nor did he have the personality nor interest in t-ball to make it an experience where the kids got something out of it. After complaining, I sort of felt like I had to justify my complaints by getting involved.

And it has been a fun season - the kids all progressed, though obviously some at a much fast rate than others. I won't be sad to see it end completely - the hot and humid days in Chicago are upon us - but I learned a lot from the experience.


Which of course means that I need to share with you, too.

Behold, the Top Ten Things I Learned As A T-Ball Coach:

10) A snack is not optional.
We started out the year with the idea that it's a 45 minute to an hour long game. With maybe twenty minutes of practice beforehand. The kids don't need another junk food snack in their day. The other coach and I were good with that. By the second week, enough complaints were heard that we reluctantly instituted snacks.

9) The biggest challenge is ensuring there are no fistfights on the field.
Fortunately, this wasn't something that involved the adults. Instead, it was like the pee wee hockey or soccer games you see with a swarm of children following wherever the ball goes. Knowing my wee ones, I instituted a system for them that quickly spread to the whole team and seemed to work well.

As we got out onto the field, I drew a large circle with my heel approximating where each child was to stand. It was the circle "where they lived" while on the field, and they adored it. As we went out, they started to ask me to draw their circles. And some added to them, making them more square than circle or drawing an initial inside.

Once the kids were properly positioned, they were admonished that they were only allowed to leave their home and enter the burning lava where the ball was if if called their names. Thus "Peter's ball" was actually respected. Most of the time. Go fig.

8) Figuring out how to teach five and six year olds the "ready position" is pretty hopeless.
The other coach started out the season by calling that position "down and dirty." While good in concept - your glove is down where it can get dirty - it unfortunately was too open to interpretation.

Some kids sat down and got dirty. Some kids placed dirt in their gloves and tossed it. Some kids squatted all the way down. Some kids hunched their backs, resulting in eyes focused on the dirt and not the play - something that freaks me out, having seen more than one player injured in the past by not paying attention.

Over the course of the season, we tried one gambit after the other, but I'm pretty sure the video evidence will show that we never once managed to have all the kids in the ready position prior to a play at the same time. We were lucky if they all had their gloves on their hands.


7) Just about any child can hit a coach-pitch ball... once.
Midway through the season, our league switches from true t-ball to a coach pitch game, whereby each player get "four" pitches from the coach to hit the ball before resorting to the tee. By moving kids around, adjusting bat positions, etc., we achieved most kids hitting from the pitched ball within a couple weeks - with exceptions here and there throughout the games. Sometimes it isn't the kid that needs to adapt; it's the coaches.


6) Although the coach meeting prior to the season and the rules of the game state that kids are to given only four coach pitched balls before moving back to the tee, this didn't often happen in reality.
Our team was one of the very few that would bring out the tee after the fourth missed ball to ensure the game moved along and that no child was embarrassed after five minutes of swinging and missing. Really, after Suzy has missed the ball by a mile four times in a row, another four balls isn't magically going to turn her into Sammy Sosa.

5) Getting hit in the face with a ball isn't conducive to improving your skills.
Poor Mister Man. At a game I couldn't attend because I was on my way from work (don't ask), another father was helping to warm up the kids before the game by playing catch. He unfortunately threw a ball when Mister Man wasn't looking, and it hit him in the face. I did make it to the game in time to see him foul off a ball into his face (though luckily, I talked him into continuing to bat, and he got a hit the next pitch - phew!). Ever since that point, he's been afriaid of the ball and looks away when it comes close enough to catch. We're still working on breaking him of that habit, but unfortunately, his skills both in the field and at the plate have taken a nosedive since then.

Note to self: Always make sure a kid is looking and acknowledges you before throwing a ball. I can't handle the pressure of ruining another kid's game!

4) Don't serve snacks until after the post-game meeting.
After each game, we would always gather up to talk about who did what things really well during the game. Each kid loved puffing up with pride as we talked about great throws or hustle or hitting, etc. But once a parent opened up the snack bin immediately following the game? Yeah, we lost them. They're working on their sugar highs and anything we may have to say to them takes a backseat. We haven't had a good meeting since.

3) The game ball is a great motivator.
Another purpose of the post game meeting is to hand out the game ball, which kids treasure far more than I imagined they would (our coach last year didn't hand out game balls, so I can only assume that he kept the extra twenty-four balls he was provided - ahem). Every week, kids would ask if they were getting the game ball and what they needed to do to earn it. While we were sure that each kid got the game ball an equal number of times, we weren't shy in reminding them that things like not saying mean things to players on the other team (in the instances where they needed to use the tee) or ensuring they kept their gloves on their hands and the like were prerequisites for earning a game ball.

Now that I think about it, maybe we should have made down and dirty a motivator. Oops, too late.

2) Grandparents are an integral part of the t-ball experience.
Inevitably, one of the wee ones comes to me while at a game. Moooommmmmmy, I have to go potty! So what do I do? I simply point the offending wee one (who did go before we left the house, btw) at the nearest grandparent and send them to the gross, nasty Port-a-Potty. Ahhhh, crisis averted.

And the number one thing I learned while coaching t-ball?

1) Don't assume kids know any of the rules of baseball.
At the beginning of the year, some of our practices consisted of running the bases and teaching the kids where each base was and where to run. It was, sadly, a necessary lesson - for my wee ones, too. (Hey dads, go watch more baseball with your little kids!) Throughout the season, we rotated where kids played in the field with each inning. We would tell Joey to go to second base and lead him to it. We would tell Ricky that he was playing pitcher and lead him to it.

At today's last game? Mikey, you're playing third base. Ummm Coach, where's third base? Oh vey.

So what have you learned from your sports experiences?

9 comments:

Pat June 21, 2010 at 11:21 AM  

Michelle, this should be a must-read for any T-ball coach. These are all GREAT hints for a successful (or good enough) season. I loved the "home" circle and laughed out loud at the burning lava. And teaching the kids how to run the bases is brilliant! Wow, you're o creative and just a natural for doing this.

I never coached, but watched zillions of my three sons' soccer games for 15 years. Sometimes my husband had a National Guard weekend and I had to get three boys to three different locations, miles apart, so I counted on friends whose kids were on some of my kids' teams for rides. Soccer was my social life for many years!

Great post---I loved it!

Sherry @ Lamp Unto My Feet June 21, 2010 at 5:33 PM  

I've never coached, but dh has. It is fun and fun(ny) to sometimes watch them. :D

Tara R. June 21, 2010 at 8:06 PM  

My kiddos were more soccer players than baseball, but the last year my son played ball, the lesson I learned was that I can scare the bejeezus out of the coach (who actually laid hands on my son) while refraining from punching her in the baby maker.

Lesson 11: do not put your hands on someone else's child when it was your kid kicking every one.

Michelle June 21, 2010 at 11:23 PM  

Pat - Glad you enjoyed it. I don't know that I'm truly a natural for it, but I've started to figure out Mister Man - and it seems that frequently what works for him, other kids enjoy, too.

Sherry - They are pretty entertaining to watch, I'll definitely give you that one!

Tara - Ummmm whoah. That sounds like a coach who hopefully won't be coaching again next year. Yikes!

Hyacynth June 22, 2010 at 10:01 PM  

LOL!! Where's third base!! NEVER going to have to the patience to coach that age, so I'm glad someone does.

septembermom June 23, 2010 at 10:24 AM  

My husband has coached soccer. It is always interesting to see him try and get those rowdy 6 year olds in line.

Michelle June 26, 2010 at 9:49 PM  

Hyacynth - You'd be amazed. There are wells of patience you never knew existed!

Kelly - Yeah... soccer I'd have a harder time with because they're running everywhere. And multiple coaches on the field aren't exactly encouraged!

Lucy July 2, 2010 at 10:07 PM  

Being artsy-fartsy people my husband and I just know that Little Ricky is going to end up being an athlete just to spite us. In which case I'll be coming to you for baseball tips! :)

Michelle July 5, 2010 at 9:48 PM  

Lucy - Yeah... he'll do it just to spite you ;) Hey, if that's *all* he ever does to spite you, you're doing good!

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