September 2012-Tip of the Month

"Kids are Never Too Young to Learn Proper Mechanics"

Over the years, I have observed every conceivable approach to instruction and coaching. Some incredibly innovative and some just flat out crazy. I've watched and been apart of instruction at every level of baseball and softball and one thing that has become very apparent to me is that bad habits do not just appear out of thin air. They are engrained in the back of our minds at a very early age. Sometimes this is because of a lack of instruction, but most often it is from poor instruction at the youth level.

I've had many conversations over the last few years with various coaches, parents and instructors and there seems to be this false consensus that if the student is under the age of 12, they won't be able to handle advanced instruction. For one reason or another, people believe they "just won't be able to do it". Now, there is something to be said for the development of adolescent and adult motor skills, balance and general spacial awareness. However, all too often we underestimate the ability of a youth-level player to understand and implement what we adults perceive to be a complex idea or movement.

To give you an example, I recently had a conversation with a coach of one of my 9-year old students. Our opinion of stance and the importance of a catcher's stance at that level differed greatly. His opinion was that he just wanted his catcher to feel comfortable behind the plate and that asking him to get into an "advanced" position could dissuade him from wanting to put the gear on, leaving the coach without a suitable fill-in. So he was completely fine with allowing his catcher to use an incredibly unbalanced and unathletic stance, despite the perils of doing so in a game.The issue here isn't the coach's cautious approach to asking more from his catcher, it's that he believes taking the easy way out is helping not only his team, but the catcher too. Now, I went into all of the reasons why implementing a sound stance would on it's own have a monumental impact on both the catcher and the team, but the coach stood firm that a simple approach was better "at this level".  So to prove a point I asked only one thing from the coach. I asked him to walk up to his catcher and ask them a series of questions during the next practice and then get back to me with their answers. Here's the exchange...

Question #1: What do you like about playing catcher? Answer: "There's so much action, it's never boring."

Question #2: What don't you like about playing catcher? Answer: "Oh, I love it all, but if I had to pick something, its that I can't stop the ball when my pitcher throws it into the ground. I feel bad when we lose the game because so many runs score."

Question #3: What if I told you there is a way you can get better at that? Answer: "Really? That would be awesome!"

Question #4: What if I told you it would be really hard at first? Answer: "Well, I would get better, right?"

Question#5: Right, but we're talking very hard...Answer: "Ya, but I would get better. How do I do it?"

That last answer is the reason that so many coaches take the easy way out and avoid teaching proper mechanics to youth players. Teaching players under the age of 12 presents a number of different challenges to a coach compared to dealing with an adolescent or adult. But if you take anything from this article let it be the fact that regardless of the challenges of teaching a youth player proper mechanics, you are only doing them a disservice by allowing them to use improper mechanics. Remember every single rep, whether in a game or practice environment, will be remembered by the brain. The more bad reps a player executes the more the brain will revert back to those mechanics over time and the harder it will be for that player to override the ineffective mechanics they were taught at a young age.

We are so wrapped up in what is "advanced" and what is "youth-level". In my opinion there is a right and a wrong way to do everything. The sooner we teach the right way, the easier it will be for those players to build consistent efficient movements when their body development catches up to the muscle memory.

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!

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From behind the mask,