Ahead in the Count

Little League Opening Day… now what?

Yesterday was opening day for my 11 and 12 year olds in New York City’s Downtown Little League. The game was a tough one to swallow. Usually these games are forgotten by the time I walk off the field but I’ll admit yesterday’s hung with me for a bit — but not only because we lost a game we should have won. 

 

I had a few thoughts throughout most of the day — all of which seemed to conflict with each other. I’d love the help of any readers and my fellow bloggers as I try to sort them out. 

 

First, yesterday’s game was pretty ugly from a baseball perspective. There were a handful of great plays but in general, the game was determined by walks and strikeouts. I’m having my fellow coach calculate the following stat: of the total number of plate appearances in the game, how many ended in either a walk or a strikeout. Two league rules — strict pitch count limits and required batting through the lineup of all 13 players–  inevitably leads to this result too often: a young inexperienced pitcher throwing to a young, inexperienced hitter. The result is a strikeout or walk over 50% of the time. Now I’m not concerned with the fact that I have to watch this, or whether this is an advantage or disadvantage for my team.  My concern here is that games like that take the fun out of baseball — and most of our kids are at the critical time in their baseball lives where they need to fall in love with the game if they are going to keep playing after this season. This isn’t made any easier by the immediate gratification of video games and 1000 other potential ways they can spend their time. The bar is set pretty high. 

 

Ok, hold that thought. 

 

The other thing that kept going through my head after yesterday’s game is: we need to get better. After 20+ years as a player and coach my instant reaction after a game like that is practice, practice, practice.  When can we find field time? How can I work with our pitchers? How can we get in a cage? etc, etc. However unfortunately the type of practice this team needs — and more importantly, the type of practice downtown NYC field space provides — is not particularly fun for young players. We don’t have access to a full field other than our 1 practice per week (maybe) and our games on Sundays. We need pitching drill work. We need fielding drills, we need to break down our swings and build them back up.

 

But my fear is that I’m not sure whether the majority of the kids on this team really want to spend their time this way. This is rec league baseball in downtown Manhattan. These kids are going to be successful writers, bankers, musicians and movie producers. It’s not that they aren’t great kids and of course they want to succeed. But if given the choice I’m not sure they will want to put in an extra 20+ hours of practice time this season for the marginal improvement they might see. 

 

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head: 

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun. 

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space. 

 

So where do we go from here?

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April 20, 2009 - Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan

4 Comments »

  1. T
    Been there. Felt that.

    Your average Little League squad at the 12 YO level will have 4 players (top 4 draft picks) who can play (in a weak draft 2-3)
    3 kids who know basic fundamentals and then after that its a charming after school special.
    These kids are better served playing up. Bolster your Gamers and have them lead by example. These kids will take as much practice as you can throw at them. You build a strong core with the top players, and try and limit the damage caused by the daisy pickers. In the end, the hope is that these kids will come out of the season, better then they came in.
    The weaker players who care will want to do better and will tend to ask you for what they need.
    Make touching IF dirt an earned reward for these kids.
    As for LL rules, they’re made to keep the monsters from dominating a game. The days of letting THE KID take the mound and throw a full six without hitting pitch #85 in the count, are over. The rules are there to insure development as opposed to dependency. That said, any given league knows what they have in the way of talent, and should amend the rules to suit their league (at least until TOURNAMENT time)
    As for CITY practice, heres what worked for me.

    You can take 100 ground balls just about anywhere.
    There’s always a fence to hit balls at for BP (off a T or soft toss)
    Wind sprints can be done anywhere.
    Batting cages are cheap and the league will pay you back at the end of the season.
    Hand ball courts are great for IF.
    A stick ball game can be had on any lawn or patch of concrete
    Hallway pitching
    Scrimmages can be picked up through League Line Up
    A CAR TO RED HOOK IN BROOKLYN will always get it done.

    Heres the question for the kids.
    CAN YOU HAVE FUN EVEN IF YOU’RE LOSING?
    If the answer is NO, then you have a season of hell ahead.
    If it’s YES, then you have a season of individual growth and team accomplishment.

    DG

    Comment by Damien Gray | April 20, 2009

  2. Sounds like you are struggling with “who are you coaching”.
    Are you coaching to the top third, or middle third (or bottom third)? Not just talent, but whether or not they want to be there and enjoy the process of playing baseball.

    Here’s is what I believe about coaching young kids — always coach to the highest expectations. The top third of the kids will eat it up, the middle third of the kids will decide whether they really want to play baseball and the bottom third will at least understand what it looks like to be passionate about something and work hard at it. So, it can be a positive experience for everyone.

    And, you can make it fun too. I think that kids actually have MORE fun if practices are more challenging, more frequent and more intense.

    The alternative of coaching to the middle third does not achieve these things.

    (This is a lot harder to do at 11-12 and gets a lot easier as the players get older. That is one reasons I prefer coaching 13-16 year olds).

    Regarding quality of play, you can only control your team. Throw >60% strikes, put the ball in play, field routine balls and make accurate throws. Those are the secrets to quality baseball at 11-12. All are things you can work on without a full practice field. Challenge your players to get better on these things, regardless of the competition.

    So, I think your gut instinct of “we need to practice more/better” is the only path that balances all of those conflicting issues.

    Another thought — One approach to make low quality games more fun is to play each inning like a game. That way you actually play 6 mini-games, instead of 1 game. There is a good chance that at least 3 innings will be relatively competitive and more like real baseball.

    Comment by Mark Gallion | April 21, 2009

  3. Damien & Mark – I agree with you both. The solution is keep practicing the basics and coach the upper third of the team. I’m actually holding an optional practice today since we don’t have legit field time.

    Comment by Ted Sullivan | April 21, 2009

  4. […] is my third and final post about my downtown Manhattan little league team. The first post discussed a series of conflicts I had in my head after a tough opening day loss. The second was an […]

    Pingback by One and Done « Ahead in the Count | June 18, 2009


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