Keeping young players focused is a challenge in any sport, but it can be especially challenging in baseball due to the amount of time players are standing still. There is not as much constant action or physical exertion in baseball as in other sports. Due to the length of time between pitches and the number of pitches not put into play, it’s easy for players’ minds to wander. Coaching the minor leagues is a constant process of reminding young players to “keep their heads in the game.” This is easier said than done, of course. Some young players have great sports instincts and are very focused and others are not mentally in the game at all. Most minor leaguers fall somewhere in the middle, where their focus goes back and forth.
This is why coaching minor league baseball can be more challenging than coaching any other youth sport. Due to the lack of good coaches in the minor leagues, many good athletes gravitate to other sports after playing minor league baseball. It’s a shame when good athletes choose another sport because the coaches don’t know the positive coaching practices that will help young players stay focused. The following are good positive coaching practices that will help players stay focused during games.
However, first and foremost, good coaches execute fast practices and pay close attention to each player and the fundamentals of the game. Good minor league coaches don’t miss opportunities to teach playing strategy during practice as well as in games.
To keep hitters focused, coaches should:
1. Never teach mechanics during a game at bat.
2. Just remind hitters to “see” the ball.
3. Teach the mentality of expecting every pitch to be your pitch unless they see otherwise; With this in mind, minor league coaches should use a take in moderation sign, if at all.
4. Remind hitters that they can only control one thing when hitting: swinging well at good pitches.
5. Never get upset when players are aggressive and swing at bad pitches, just remind them to learn from it next time.
To keep fielders focused, coaches should:
1. Teach minor leaguers how to get into a setup position while throwing the ball.
2. Teach the players to think two things before each shot: what am I going to do with the ball if it is hit to me and what am I going to do if the ball is hit to me elsewhere. Of course, practice time is where players are taught the responsibilities of the various positions.
3. Teach pitchers to have a fast pace, this will keep fielders on their toes and keep their minds from wandering between pitches.
4. Get in the habit of asking the players: “Who wants the ball to hit them?” This mindset is a little different than waiting for the ball to hit you. I want the players to want the ball to be hit.
5. Practice communication methods so players can remain aggressive, but confident, when looking for batted balls.
To keep pitchers focused, coaches should:
1. Explain to pitchers the importance of working fast. After receiving the ball from the catcher and taking a deep breath, pitchers must throw the next pitch. (Have the pitchers look at Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle to get the idea.)
2. Teach pitchers to focus on the glove and not the batter.
3. Teach pitchers what balance is all about: the ability to stay in the moment and only worry about the things they can control: the next pitch.
4. Remind pitchers that they are fielders after releasing the ball. Good fielding pitchers can help win games.
To keep baserunners focused, coaches should:
1. Remind players to keep an eye on the score at all times: the game score, the batter’s tally, and most importantly, the number of outs in the inning.
2. Allow baserunners to make their own decisions during games. This will force them to focus more on the situation, knowing that they cannot trust the coach to make decisions for them.
3. Work on the basic technique of running, rounding and opening the game situation as often as possible in practice.
Finally, it is always a good idea for coaches, before and after practices, to provide players with in-game scenarios and ask them what they would do in those situations. Players will start drawing the scenarios in their heads and will be more focused and prepared for those situations when they happen in games. This type of visualization challenge process is a good first step for players to focus their minds on baseball even when they are not practicing.