Too often in youth sports, coaches have total control of the game. When a ball is hit to the short stop, who yells the loudest? The coach. This is where the Extreme Baseball and Softball Club wants to improve the game with a new defensive mindset called “Create a Play Sequence”. In this blog, you will see three examples of our “Create a Play” idea; 1st & 3rd’s, bunt situations, and one step further. Our goal is to see players execute defense at a high Ball IQ level, always one step ahead of the game looking towards the next play, and making the play without the coach telling them what to do.
A constant critique of youth baseball and softball is that players are becoming too robotic, relying so much on the coach to call a play. For example, 1st and 3rd situations, who do you hear call out a play? The catcher who receives a play from the coach. Again, the call comes from the coach. Imagine if the call came from the Shortstop or Catcher who recognized the situation independently of the coach. Instead of a coach calling out a play, we are encouraging players to recognize the situation on their own, have the confidence and Ball IQ to call a play based on the situation, and finally execute the play. It should be every coach’s wish to watch their team execute and make the correct decision without being told what to do.
Another example we are using to open up the minds and creativity of the players is through bunt situations. Do we run a wheel or basic bunt crash defense? This call currently comes from most coaches, instead of the players. Again, we want to be one step ahead of the opponent. For example, bunt situation with a runner on 2nd base, instead of just throwing a pitch and wondering if the other team will bunt or swing away, we encourage our players to make the other team “show their hand” before we even throw a pitch. One way to do this on the baseball side is by running an inside move pick off. Most fans and parents watching may think that the only purpose is to pick the runner off at second, when in reality, the goal is to see what the batter does with his hands. Don’t get me wrong, if we can pick off the runner at 2nd base, we will definitely take that. But again, the ultimate goal is to determine if the batter is bunting or swinging away in this bunt scenario. This also could lead to a pitch out, snap throw behind a runner at 2nd, opening up other avenues of getting the lead runner out. Our goal isn’t necessarily that they can execute a designed play, but that their Ball IQ and instincts allow them to see opportunities to get outs.
The last example of Create a Play is encouraging our athletes to be one step ahead. Players are learning how to set up a play with a previous pitch, learning how to lull a runner to sleep on the bases, which leads to getting those tougher outs other than your volume outs (K’s, fly balls, ground outs). One tactic our athletes use is visualization before every pitch. We want them to know what they are doing with the ball before it is even hit to them. Nobody should be surprised when the ball is hit their way. This reemphasizes our players to be “One Step Ahead” so when they have the opportunity to make a play, they execute with confidence without second guessing themselves.
When introducing this concept to our athletes for the first time, the reaction was deer in the head lights. We are now 2 months into this process and the improvements being made have been significant and very unique. Most training, rather individual or team, is focused on the physical movements of a player. This Create a Play Sequence is very unique in the fact that it is predominately mental, with the physical being execution of the play. The biggest improvement we want to see from players is their communication skills and being confident in what they are communicating. The Extreme highly encourages players to “get out of their bubble” during a practice, since after all, it is called practice for a reason. Too many times, a player shuts down and does not communicate at practice in fear or being wrong or the repercussions of being wrong from coaches and other players. With that said, the mistake is made in practice, but come game time, players are confident in their communication. Needless to say, we are encouraged by the current progress and potential opportunity that will come from the Create a Play Sequence training.
This is a question that many families struggle with in youth sports. What is the right experience – Recreation or Select Travel Ball? Families used to wrestle with this question when their child was around 12 or 13 years old, but now these talks start to take place around the ages of 7, 8, or 9 years old. It is short sighted to just look at the league each plays in – one must consider the overall experience their athlete will have.
This question leads to many stressful discussions within the family.
This question leads to varying advice from those the family may seek for advice.
This question leads to strong opinions that get displayed on social media or in conversations in which one side of the question degrades the other side.
Here’s an exercise for you to get the true barometer on this question . . . go to Facebook and search Select Ball Has Ruined Our Youth and read one side of the coin. Then, type in Rec Ball Has Softened Our Youth to read the other side of the coin.
First let’s ask – what is the actual difference between rec ball and select ball? Make note of who you ask, because you are going to get a “pro-answer” from them on the side they lobby and vice versa. You will hear things like the cost is different, this one plays tournaments and that one doesn’t, this one has better competition and that one doesn’t, this one supports multi-sport athletes and that one doesn’t. Unfortunately through all the debate everyone is missing the actual important question – what is the right experience my athlete should have.
The key in finding the right experience is establishing goals. Goals #1 should be around the love of the game. Only a healthy experience will provide a true love and passion for anything. Goals around having fun, recreation, and activity for health, competition, life lessons, teamwork, and leadership are all components of a healthy experience. Seek out the right experience, not the right tagline.
As a club, we have looked in to the environments and the experiences that the typical 6, 7, and 8 year olds are having in the game of baseball and softball in our region. Currently, the experiences that 6-8 year olds have in baseball and softball are very inconsistent. Some teams at these ages may:
Head down an aggressive path with burnout right around the corner.
Spend most of the time focused on the games and competition portion but neglect the development and team portion of the sport.
Get together for a small 2-month season and kids are picking 4 leaf clovers in the outfield.
We have designed our Junior program to provide the right experience for 6-8 year olds. It is a club-focused, all-inclusive program that provides the roadmap and monitoring needed to assure the right experience for our athletes and their families. We are not a select organization for 6-8 year olds; we are a club that walks hand in hand with the coaches and families to ensure the right experience in youth sports. The right experience should increase the love of the game for the kids each year they play, it should allow for them to pursue multiple sports building on their athleticism, it should combat burnout with a roadmap and a plan to develop the kids skills year in and year out.
It is time for parents and coaches to ask the right question – what experience do I want for my kid and team? That is a deeper question than – what league should they play (select/rec)? When we ask families what experience do you want for your child at the age of 7 we get a answer that is genuine, with out the malice and frustration you see out in social media. We hear that the experience people want for their kids is very specific. They want their kids to get better at the game, be a part of a team, have a coach that loves the game, be taught some life lessons through the platform of sports, we want our child to enjoy some games and success, we want them to have fun and to fall in love with the game. That is the model that our Junior program has been built on.
We are working to educate families that the league (rec or select) is not the entire experience. The league your child plays in (rec or select) is only one component of the experience but it doesn’t encompass the needs of the kids entirely. It leaves out the building blocks of sports – the teamwork, the life lessons, and the other characteristics we discussed earlier that are what we want to help families understand. What should your 6, 7, 8 year old do? They should play in a Junior program that follows the correct roadmap built around providing the 3D experience. The 3D experience provides the right physical and mental development at the right age.
Our sports culture has placed labels on different levels of ball (rec, select, AAU, etc.) – these titles do not represent a consistent experience.
Forget the name – pay attention to the experience. Make sure the experience is a building block for the future for your athlete in the sport.