The Game Plan

Editor's Note: Dr. Stockton has dedicated his life to teaching kids the fundamentals of baseball, and over the years he has identified the key components of successful teaching.

In sports, the teacher is called the coach, which is a very appropriate word for what Dr. Stockton and others like him do. Whether it's a soccer day camp, a weeklong basketball camp, or even a multi-sport traditional camp, the following coaching fundamentals are mostly universal.

The following coaching fundamentals are approached from a baseball perspective. That's what Dr. Stockton knows best and he has spent his life doing it as a player, coach and director of the Skills & Drills School of Baseball.

Though not every point will pertain to the sports you and your counselors teach (coach) the hope is that you will glean some meaty information that your can effectively implement to strengthen not only a child's athletic endeavors, but their life endeavors.

The Fundamentals

Developing quality ball players takes more than just conducting practice or even teaching necessary skills. Molding great ball players also requires some psychology of learning.

Managers and coaches of youth league programs should play a major role in developing proper habits in players by…

1. Using practice time wisely.

2. Establishing consistent practice routines at team workouts and at home.

3. Teaching players how to learn the correct kinetic methods of skill performance, as well as how to analyze mistakes and correct them.

With this as a basis for effective management and coaching, the following key points are submitted as a coaching framework that can help direct progress. Follow this plan and watch success unfold…

• Establish a systematic plan for each practice, complete with individual and team drills. These drills should be competitive, with multiple repetitions to facilitate learning.

• Recruit as many parents into the practice as possible. This will help increase your station system and help the parents become more aware of the importance of home training. The drills must be monitored in order to be effective.

• Have parents video their child in all preferred skills from four angles (front, back and both sides). These tapes should be critiqued, analyzed and evaluated by players, parents, managers and coaches for the purpose of making correct adjustments at team practice and during home training.

• If possible, establish a coaching staff with an offensive coordinator in charge of all hitting, bunting and base-running skills; a defensive coordinator in charge of all generic defensive skills, position skills and team defense, with a pitching coach in charge of all pitching skills. These coaches should monitor their particular skill stations at every practice. Do not allow players to cycle through their drills in a sloppy manner. Unless a player practices with the intent to improve, he is wasting his time and the time and training efforts of the coaching staff.

• There are numerous effective practice plans a coach can implement when there is only one adult to handle the workout. Use a shadow system with everyone going through the same drills simultaneously, each one simulating the action or movement. Also use skill contests for each drill to increase the players' interest and productivity.

• Practice should be fun, creative and developmental in nature, with game skills being the central focus.

• Keep a calendar or record of each practice, like drills, stations, contests used, areas of special concern, improvements made, etc. Cover all game skills as often as possible.

• Always strive to teach skills correctly. Develop a clear understanding of the kinetic cause-and-effect dynamics of each skill being taught.

• Use pictures of professionals in the skill patterns you are teaching. These photos will help reinforce your coaching efforts and highlight the common denominators of all successful players.

• If players are not motivated, let them play a game mixed with various drills. You can play an inning and then administer a drill. Repeat the process over and over until practice time is finished. Always keep practice varied and challenging.

• If you want players to really get excited and motivated about home training and team practice, give assignments to work on at home that will be easily accomplished yet will add to overall skill development. When a player gets better at his or her skills, increased success results, along with increased confidence, and consequently, increased motivation to work at practice and at home training. A little encouragement for even small improvements goes a long way.

• Have a plan for preparation time prior to each game. Never take the field on game day ill-prepared. The players must develop an awareness that preparation always precedes performance. Get their game face on.

• Establish a strength, flexibility and coordination component for every practice. When players gets stronger and more coordinated, they will naturally improve their skills. Train a player to become a better athlete first, then a ballplayer second.

• Players needs to be taught to engage in such mental activities as analyzing, diagnosing, evaluating and adjusting so that they will develop a mental picture of the true kinetics of each skill. It is important that a player learns why skills should be executed a certain way. This becomes progressively important if a player is to grow their skills from one level to the next, and it will help keep them free from slumps.

• A player needs to develop visual skills and focusing skills. They are quite different than thinking skills. Drills need to be implemented at team practice and home training that develop focusing skills.

• Establish an award and recognition system for various levels of attainments, such as player of the week, pitcher of the week, hitter of the week and most improved. This will help in the overall theme of skill preparation prior to game day.

• Teach the entire game, not just a fraction of it. Players of all ages need to be coached in all skills and grow up with them; as a result, game experiences will be more meaningful.

• Keep practice and games positive. You need to have an unlimited supply of pats on the back. You are a teacher of skills. If you teach effectively and the players truly learn from you, the positive results of productive play will be accomplished. Winning is not always guaranteed, but teaching them to be winners is a vital part of the whole experience.

• Another point of preparation is to teach the pursuit of excellence. A maximum effort at every game and every practice sets a standard of excellence that will challenge players to reach higher attainment levels, both in their sport and life. Winning is generally a natural by-product of this pursuit.

• Require your players to hustle everywhere they go on the field, both at the game and at practice. Your attitudes and behavior at games and practice sets the example. Positive, enthusiastic leadership is very conducive to creating an atmosphere for maximum learning. A negative attitude or lack of enthusiasm displayed by the coaches will quickly cause players to drag through the motions and give less than their best. Young people will usually follow the coach's lead.

• Game conduct must also be included in their training. The standards that are set for leadership, behavior, quality of play, attitudes and the desire to be the best will follow these players for the rest of their sport experiences and their lives. Winning games is great, but the deeper lessons they learn from you will never be forgotten. Make sure those lessons demonstrate the right principles.

• Require players to look professional. Training them to have their shoes clean and wear their uniform correctly will teach them to take pride in their overall presentation. Also check their equipment bag. Teach them to care for their glove and bat properly and to put their name and phone number on all of their equipment.

• Remember that baseball is a game invented for men to play, so the role of a coach is to help young players in very young to adolescent bodies to learn to love the game while they are also learning to develop the skills proficiently enough to be successful and keep advancing to higher levels.

Dr. Bragg Stockton runs the Skills & Drills School of Baseball in Houston, Texas, offering a variety of baseball camps for kids and parents. He is the former baseball coach for the University of Houston, and has been playing and coaching baseball for more than 50 years. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the practical applications of kinetics in teaching baseball skills.

Bryan BuchkoComment