8 Critical Principles to Coaching Youth Baseball Revealed

Imagine Coaching Youth Baseball, & Loving Every Minute Of It

Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown

And these principles don't JUST work for coaching youth baseball.

These “rules” work for coaching youth fastpitch softball as well.

And the word “youth” doesn't discriminate between a 7-year-old OR a 24-year-old.  They work at ANY level.  And ANY sport for that matter!  We're talking principles here people 😛

This subject came up recently in an email I received from Brian Petrick, a High School Varsity baseball coach…

“Just wondering how you would organize hitting for a team practice. I'm in the northeast so I'm stuck in the gym with one batting cage. How would you organize hitting stations for 15-17 guys including variance instead of mass practice. I'm hoping to have 2 tee stations, 2 flat bat stations with whiffle balls. and the cage. cage will some days split in half for two groups of front toss and other days have regular BP. (At the same time 1 or 2 pitchers are throwing their bullpens) It can be difficult to keep the guys focused for an hour of hitting when we're stuck in the gym for 4 weeks. I coach high school varsity so I do have jr's and sr's.”

Now, I'm not in the trenches, coaching youth baseball teams, like some of you are.  This is why I'm also asking for your help below.

Although, I DO want to give you the coaching youth baseball principles that I've learned to use with my paid one-on-one hitters, small groups, and team consulting.

In this coaching youth baseball post, we'll talk about:

  • Coaching youth baseball: 8 scientific principles of successful learning, and
  • We need your help coaches…

Two books that changed my life, when it comes to teaching:

  1. Make It Stick, by Peter C. Brown
  2. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born.  It's Grown.  Here's How., by Daniel Coyle

This post will highlight book #1 above.  Book #2 echos and adds to the same “rules”.  Let's explore advice that's grounded in research…


Coaching Youth Baseball: 8 Scientific Principles of Successful Learning

The following coaching youth baseball “rules” will optimize the learning process, guaranteed.  As Peter C. Brown puts learning, in his book Make It Stick:

“Learning is deeper and more durable when it's effortful.  Learning that's easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow…The need to understand that when learning is hard, you're doing important work…when learning is harder, it's stronger, and lasts longer.

I'll relate the following Make It Stick learning principles to coaching youth baseball hitters…the following is highlighted material from my book:

  • Principle #1: Test Often – spaced repetition of key ideas.  Think constant quizzing or testing.  Spread out the learning of a topic, and return to it periodically.  This form of periodic practice arrests forgetting, strengthens retrieval routes, and is essential for hanging onto the knowledge you want to gain.  I test my hitters on the information they're learning in that session a TON!  They leave our sessions mentally drained.
  • Principle #2: Mix it Up!  – interleaving of different but related topics – if they interleave the study of different topics, they learn each better than if they had studied them one at a time in sequence.  For example, one of my hitters may learn how to land on a bent front knee, downhill shoulder angle, and keep a 90-degree bend in the back knee during the turn.  They're all related but aren't exactly in proper swing sequence.
  • Principle #3: Variance – CLICK HERE to read about this and the 3-foot bucket and bean bag study.  I love this one!!  I use it all the time from swings off the tee, to plate distances from the person throwing batting practice, to random pitching (think Cal Poly study in previous post link).
  • Principle #4: Solve a Problem BEFORE Instruction is Given – Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt.  Before I teach something new, I may ask my hitter to tell me what the purpose of a given mechanical layer would be before I tell them the answer.
  • Principle #5: Elaborate! – elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.  This is another way to quiz them.  But I reserve this for the hitters that have worked with me for awhile, so they're drawing from and connecting the “right” information.
  • Principle #6: Failure is a Badge of Effort – and is a source of useful information.  The need to dig deeper or to try a different strategy.  Making mistakes and correcting them builds the bridges to advanced learning.  Failure in learning the swing has to be encouraged.  I tell my hitters it's okay to not have the right answer when I ask them.  It's okay to not hit the ball hard (if we're working on a specific mechanical layer during a session).
  • Principle #7: Quality v. Quantity – the amount of study time is no measure of mastery.  Just because you take 1,000 swings a day, doesn't mean you're being effective with your practice.  Tim Ferriss, in his NY bestselling book The Four Hour Chef, said: “If effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right.  Even with the best material, if your time-to-fluency is 20 years, the return on investment (ROI) is terrible.” 
  • Principle #8: Delay Feedback – in motor learning, trial and error with delayed feedback is a more awkward but effective way of acquiring a skill than trial and correction through immediate feedback; immediate feedback is like the training wheels on a bicycle: the learner quickly comes to depend on the continued presence of the correction.  I used to give feedback after every swing.  But now I wait till the end of a 5-swing round…and even then, they get quizzed before I tell them how those swings actually were.

Fore-WARNING from Peter C. Brown, in his book…

“Practice that's spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied produces better mastery, longer retention, and more versatility.  But these benefits come at a price: when practice is spaced, interleaved, and varied, it requires more effort.  You feel the increased effort, but not the benefits the effort produces.  Learning feels slower from this kind of practice, and you don't get the rapid improvements and affirmation you're accustomed to seeing from massed practice.”


We Need Your Help Coaches…

Let's get back to Coach Brian's email from earlier, in this coaching youth baseball post.  How can you help coach out?  What are you currently doing that uses some or most of the above principles with your hitters at practice.  For those with “weather disabilities”, and time constraints, what are you doing in small spaces to keep practices efficient and effective?

Please share your coaching youth baseball (or fastpitch) experiments below (THANKS in advance for sharing!).  Please leave a Reply below…