Effective Baseball Coaching Sport coaches serve an important role as educators and leaders in society. There are many different coaching styles that have paved the way for student athletes. During my high school career I was the starting second basemen for what turned out to be the most talented team in the history of California High School. During a two year run as East Bay Champions, I was privileged to be coached by former Oakland A’s Mike Davis and Dave Hamilton.
Their coaching styles and practices made such a profound impact on our high school team that I was able to inherit their style and apply it to my own teams that I would coach in the future. I have spent the past 22 years around the game of baseball. As the head coach at Capuchino High School in Burlingame, I have learned how to prepare our players through a strength and conditioning regime, utilize the role of technology as a coaching tool to our players, assess talent through an evaluation trial, and finally, identify player’s strengths and assigning positions to create a competitive starting lineup.
I will share my coaching techniques that led our team to a 12-4 record and a first place finish in the 2000 season. For documentation I have added a picture of my high school baseball team shortly after our championship victory. Strength and Conditioning Many people believe that baseball is one of the few sports that require conditioning. Though that may be a fact, it is essential for a baseball player to be fit and in shape. As a coach at the high school level I realize that I am not coaching a pro team, but my approach towards the young men was to install discipline through conditioning.
Conditioning and exercise do not appeal to a teenager as much as the overall experience of game itself. However, it was my responsibility as a coach to install a workout regime and make sure that my team was ready to compete with anyone. On the very first day of practice each player would get timed on running a mile and they would also get timed on running one trailblazer. Each day before practice the team was assigned to run 1 mile on the track as a team prior to the start of practice.
When practice began our two captions would lead our players into an organized stretching routine that would require each player to go through several motions of stretching different muscles in their body. Each player would go through a series of arm neck, back, leg and shoulder stretches. One of the most challenging tasks for an opposing team in the game of baseball is to handle a team with fast players. Team speed is one of the biggest advantages for any team that has players that can run.
Players that are fast create havoc because they can steal bases and hit safely on offense and they can track down balls in the infield and outfield with relative ease. So basically speed can beat you from both angles of the game. To build team speed we would have a special emphasis on conditioning in order to improve our overall team speed. The mile would serve as merely a warm up to practice. We could carry on with practice and go through an offensive practice or defensive practice and sometimes we would just devote our practice to batting.
But after practice I made it a point to always spend 30 minutes on conditioning. We would spend 15 minutes doing “trailblazers” which was each player had to circle the bases in a full sprint and get timed. We would do about 15-20 trailblazers per player and then we would line up for a run up and down the bleachers on the football field. The players would then run 2 sets of bleachers which consisted of each player running up and down the bleachers without stopping until they have run up every stairway until they finished on the very end of the bleacher stands.
This was a grueling task for our players but they worked hard and accomplished their goals at the end of each practice. I knew that from a coach’s perspective these were lessons that hopefully the guys would carry with them into their adulthood, these vigorous workouts would also bring us together as a team and as a unit. Because all of the players had to get through this before we would break out of practice. There were several times when some of the slower kids were getting cheered on frantically by other teammates.
Our strength and conditioning regime brought us to the forefront of success. Not to mention a very athletic team, a team with discipline and a team that worked hard together throughout the entire season. It also brought a sense of toughness to the team and because the team would fight together and never gives up in a game. In our last practice prior to the start of the season every player was timed in the mile and in a full sprint of trailblazers around the bases. All except 2 players exceeded their original times at the beginning of the season.
We were now ready to play ball and we had a much faster group of guys not to mention a more disciplined and focused team. Using technology as a coaching tool Technology serves as an important tool for coaches today. Video taping practice as a team and individual players has changed the way coaches approach their players for improvement in batting and defense. Coaching and teaching in the film room is about enhancing performance by providing feedback about the performance to the athlete or team. Coaching practices have changed greatly over the years.
The old days of verbal motivation and human observation and memory are behind us. Coaches in all team sports have passed on methodical coaching styles of the past and turned to more reliable sources for feedback. The film room is a staple to every professional team in every sport and colleges and high school have adapted to the fruitful advantages of film study. Human observation and memory are not reliable enough to provide accurate and objective information for high-performance athletes; today coaches are turning to technology and building technical skills to validate their coaching practices.
Human observation and was once regarded as the only tool for a coach to identify talent Most teams spend a great amount of time in the film room to break down players performance and identify areas of improvement simply through watching film of practice or games. For example one of my top pitchers had fallen into a slump and he was struggling with his command of his pitches. Usually he was a very accurate pitcher and one of the best athletes on our team. But suddenly he was struggling throwing strikes and his fastball would consistently run inside on opposing batters.
As a coach I figured that he was short arming his pitches and not following through with his delivery. We worked on his mechanics after practice and I began to tinker with his natural delivery. We worked on his mechanics and tried to slow down his delivery, but that was making matters worse because revamping his pitching style on a whim was taking a toll on his confidence. I could tell that he was uncomfortable with the advice that I was giving him. His struggles continued and it cost our team a few losses during the preseason. Eventually his inconsistencies began to take its toll on our team.
That is when I decided to have a private practice with our struggling pitcher and we videotaped 100 pitches that he threw during practice. When we all went into the locker room and reviewed the film we were able to pause and play the tape in slow motion so that we could identify and pinpoint what was casing his fastball to tail in on hitters. The video revealed that our pitcher was opening up his throwing shoulder during his delivery to the batter. In other words he was not following through on his motion and his shoulder opening up was causing a wide release point and in turn his pitches would run inside on hitters.
By reviewing the film and rewinding, pausing, and playing back in slow motion, we were able to identify the problem. Unfortunately our pitcher had been throwing like this for a few weeks and was doing it unconsciously so therefore he had fallen into a bad habit. This coupled with his open right shoulder during his delivery is precisely what was causing problems with command and effectiveness. As a coach, it was my responsibility to coach the player out of this slump and now that we had the necessary information and correct diagnosis of the problem we could now hit the practice facility and work on correcting the issue.
Confidence plays such a vital role in the performance of young and professional athletes and our ability to catch the error on film lifted our pitchers confidence and we began to work on correcting the problem by having him keep his shoulder inside and drive through the pitch and finish his motion. We worked and repeated the drill step by step and not only did he gain his accuracy and command, but his velocity improved and he was able to break out of his errant habit. Shortly after he returned to his dominant form and was very effective again.
Proper Player Evaluation Every coach has to have a system in place for proper player evaluation. Knowing what type of team you have is very important. Is this a team that is strong in hitting? Pitching? These are questions that can only be answered through proper player evaluations. Quite frankly, hitting will make or break a team so a coach must have an organized approach in order to reveal what the team’s strengths and weaknesses are. When evaluating hitters a coach can throw batting practice or a consistent pitching machine can be used to throw batting practice.
I found that the best approach to evaluating hitters is to throw about 15-20 pitches to every player. Giving only a few pitches may eliminate some good hitters so it is important that each player gets a handful of medium speed fastballs to get an idea of how they swing the bat. There is no need to get excited about a hitter who hits the ball over the fence. Hitting for power is important for a team, but during a batting evaluation a coach needs to look for players who hit the ball hard consistently.
A player who hits for average and a team that collects base hits routinely will win you more games than the occasional long ball. Looking for the guys that hit the ball hard to all areas of the field is what a coach looks for when trying to find a good overall hitter. You can actually split the player evaluation into three groups. There are generally about 15-18 players on a team and the best way to evaluate a group of players is to have six players take batting practice, six players work on defense and six players run the bases.
When a player takes batting practice the balls that he hits can be played as live action and the defense reacts to his at bat as if it were a game situation. The other six players will run the bases and then each group will switch. While some players are hitting you can evaluate other players by making them do other drills such as base running and fielding. Every baseball coach has at last two assistants while one coach is throwing batting practice; the other coach is hitting fly balls to outfielders and groundballs to infielders.
The head coach has his head on a swivel and is able to log notes on individual players. This organized approach to holding a practice makes it very constructive for a coach to properly evaluate each player on the team. Not only are you able to accurately identify your good hitters but you can simultaneously evaluate other areas like defense base running and attitude. The concurrent cycle of batting practice, defense and base running allows a coach to survey the scene from many angles. One group is taking batting practice while the other group is working on defense and the third group is running the bases.
Talent alone is not the most important aspect of evaluating a player. Talent is important and every team needs talent to compete. But coaching the high school level is not always about winning. Attitude is a big part of the evaluation process and a coach can easily take notes on which players are taking practice seriously and which players are struggling to keep focus. When completing the evaluation process, every coach wants a balanced team but more often than not, a coach is put to the test when he has to decide which players fit each position on the field and in the batting lineup.
Assigning players to positions Figuring out where a player fits best on defense is far more important than where he hits in the lineup on offense. Offense is pretty cut and dry, 9 players will bat regardless of their athletic ability. On defense, it is essential that you put your most athletic player’s at the most active positions. For example, shortstop and center field are the three most active positions on a baseball field. Most hitters are right handed and a right handed hitter is most likely to hit the ball to the shortstop, left fielder or center fielder.
The outfield consists of three players a left fielder, center fielder and right fielder. The center fielder is the captain of the outfield because he has the most ground to cover. He must be able to track down fly balls that are hit from gap to gap. He is generally your fastest player and one of the most athletic players on the team. Your shortstop is generally your best infielder and it certainly doesn’t hurt if he has a strong throwing arm. Your shortstop is the staple of your infield and generally the captain of the infield for the same reasons that the centerfielder is the captain of the outfield.
His position sees the most action and more balls are hit to the shortstop than any other position. Your shortstop is always one of the best players on the team. The next tier of demanding positions that require formidable, but not the best athletes, is your corner positions. In the infield those positions are first base and third base, in the outfield it is left field and right field. The first basemen and third basemen have the least ground to cover and therefore a coach usually reserves these positions for slower players with limited mobility.
These players also tend to be build or heavy, regardless of their appearance, they are generally your power hitters that are not as mobile as a shortstop or centerfielder. The same applies for the right fielder and left fielder. Power hitters are usually targeted to fill these positions. In my case as the coach at Capuchino High School, I was fortunate to have excellent athletes at the highly skilled positions and I had my less mobile but stronger players in the corner positions. Coaching high school baseball in today’s competitive world requires organization and a strict approach to coaching the basic fundamentals of baseball.
I feel that my approach with strength and conditioning, using the video film room to break down player performance and proper player evaluation techniques are the core ingredients to laying a solid foundation to a coach’s regime. These organized tasks helped me generate a starting lineup that I used for the entire season. That lineup led us to a 12-4 overall record and we were crowned league champions. It was one of the most gratifying experiences in my life as a person and as a head coach.