Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cincinnati Wrap-Up

So after a week in Cincinnati with my friends I also observed a great deal of coaching. One thing that floored me was the coaching at a youth baseball game. In between watching two of my former athletes play high school baseball, I got a chance to watch a local youth league on an adjacent field. Much of what I saw was poor coaching. In one instance, with a runner on first and a ground ball to third base, the coach screamed "second base". Of course he wanted the thrid basemen to throw to second base and get the lead runner out in order to prevent a possible run. This seemed absolutely obsurd in my opinion because the coach in this case seemed more concerned with winning than with basic skill development. The result of the play was the third basemen hesitating on his throw and then throwing late to first base. I think at this age level (under 10) only the basic fundamentals of the game should be stressed as opposed to the game's advanced skills. I think a more effective coach would encourage the athletes to throw to first base from their position on every fielding play rather than throwing to get the lead runner in this situation.

Sadly, I do not think many youth sport coaches are emphasizing these basic skills and athletes are diluting their basic foundation for improvement. I observed a similar occurence in St. Louis a few years ago when I stopped in on a neighbor's baseball game. Coaches were encouraging stealing bases in a youth game where the athletes could barely throw and catch a baseball 10 feet. The result was a player hitting a base hit and two pitches later that player was on third base. This in my opinion is not teaching the game of baseball, or how to run the bases, but rather winning and abusing the rules to gain a competitive advantage.

How can we as coaches teach these things and then get frustrated when athletes cheat a few years later in the sport? We have been teaching them to take advantage of the rules from day 1.

The importance of basic skill development is essential for youth athletes and is being undermined in many cases by a coaches determination to win. There is evidence to suggest that critical periods of learning exist to provide a time period for developing certain skills. This has been definitively shown for language acquisition and I think is also evident for physical development. If young athletes don't master these very basic skills early on in their careers they are disadvantaging themselves for future development. When I first had the opportunity to watch a high level practice I was surprised by how much time was spent on basic skills (stationary passing and skating). I thought just because these athletes were experts in their respective sports, they were going to run special drills or have expansive formations. When it comes down to it, the game at every level rlies on the same basic skills. These basic skills need to be priomarily developed and a young age and continually refined throughout an athlete's career, not the other way around.

Coaches Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Basic Skills!

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