Coaching is all about helping your team and its members improve. Regardless of which level of baseball you’re coaching, your players will make huge strides in things other than baseball during the year. As an assistant coach, you need to be flexible and embrace this, while always looking to support your players and Head Coach.
A great assistant baseball coach believes in and cares for all of their players. Your players have years of progression ahead of them as baseball players and more importantly as human beings. In the short time you have with them, help impart good baseball fundamentals and bigger life lessons.
This isn’t all about big speeches or savvy managing, but instead having fun and being a great team-player.
This post is organized into 4 main categories about being a better Assistant Coach, with ideas ranging from advanced tactics sure to help take-down your summer league to reminding you to get ice cream after the game. Let’s play ball!
Do You Want the Job?
Depending on if your coaching position is on a professional team or not, there probably wasn’t that much competition for the job. You may have been the only person to “apply” or that was willing to do it. Heck, your child’s Little-League team won’t even pay you!
All kidding aside, your job as an assistant coach doesn’t come with a detailed job description. This means, like many things, you get what you put into it. A key difference between this job and many others is your involvement, energy level, and enjoyment, which directly affects more than a dozen young people. No pressure.
The best thing you can bring to the job of Assistant Coach is a passion for all things your team, baseball, and life. Most likely, you’re coaching younger people who have yet to fully discover a love or mastery of the sport. This is where you come in! Be confident that you have something to share; you’re making a difference. When working with others, you never know what may “stick” and really positively impact them, so when in doubt, give it your best and look to get to know your players. Let your care for them and love for the sport show through!
Obviously, a big part of the job of coach is helping the team improve and hopefully win games. The next section will talk about the most important aspect of any pursuit, practice, and what you should be looking for from your team.
Practices are a rare and valuable resource for a youth baseball team. Maximizing your players’ time in them is often the difference between winning and losing. Here you can make a big difference. As always, follow your Head Coach’s instructions and support their system, but with additional coaches, a team can do so much more in improving its players.
Below are some tips for helping run an effective practice that helps your players get better.
Two of the most fundamental things your team needs to work on are hitting and pitching.
Hitting: Soft-Toss with a partner using practice balls. If your players are young, (~10 or under) someone older should toss to the hitters. This way, the practice stays safe and hitters get tosses that are consistently hittable. For more on this, check out this great video by Bill and Cal Ripken Jr. about the drill.
Look to practice live-hitting as much as possible. The repetitions in making good contact, especially against live pitching, is essential.
With young players, though, don’t just throw them out there every day against live pitching. Before players can fully benefit from practicing against live pitching, they need to be comfortable swinging the bat while also understanding the grip on the bat as well as the strike zone.
Hitting is a mystical and quixotic thing to baseball fans young and old. Expecting your players to make progress right away is unfair, just like expecting them to approach hitting just like you do is. Remember, there is great diversity in hitting, but practice is the best recipe for success. Getting your players to love hitting as well as the game of baseball is a 100% success.
Regardless of your team’s ability level, look to have conversations about hitting with players, that way they can actively think about and start improving!
Pitching: Make sure your young pitchers get plenty of practice during the season. Managed responsibly, this repetition is how pitchers improve. Especially for young pitchers, this is where control is developed. Throwing strikes is so important at any level of baseball and especially in Little Leagues, where whole teams losing the strike zone happens, which is obviously devastating.
It’s so important you don’t overwork young athletes, especially pitchers. It isn’t ethical or safe to demand an exhausting practice from a young person. With pitching, overwork can directly lead to injury and in young athletes, can lead to long-term damage.
A young pitcher, no matter the age shouldn’t be pitching more than 2-3 times a week. They shouldn’t be throwing 100+ pitches each time, more like 30-50 if they’ve had at least one day off since their last pitching appearance.
Talk with your Head Coach and parents to come with a plan on not overworking young pitchers arms. Be sure to follow league rules if they exist. Two great sources that talk about workloads for young pitchers are Let’sTalkPitching.com and this particular post and Guidelines to Prevent Injuries in Young Pitchers by Henry A. Stiene, M.D.
Effective and Efficient Practices
The more your players can practice these specific and very challenging skills, the better your team will be.
Managing all the moving parts of a practice can certainly be daunting. Fortunately, your team has someone great like you helping out, which really makes a huge difference.
If your team can make use of all the coaches at practice, players can get so much more good practice out of their time together. Pitchers can often go off and work separately from the rest of the team for a time, just like other skills can be developed.
Having coaches that specialize in different things, like baserunning or working with catchers and pitchers, helps provide authentic instruction in the specific things needed to become a better ballplayer.
Think about how you can fill a need for your team and provide the best coaching possible there. Talk with your Head Coach about how practice is run. Look to supplement drills where they could use it. Are there any things being neglected that could really benefit your players? As a late-grower who got moved to First-Base, I never really understood the footwork. It’s likely that a few more conversations and specific drills about my footwork could’ve gotten me more comfortable at First-Base, which in turn would’ve helped my confidence and spurred on my improvement.
Baseball is not all “see the ball, hit the ball,” as there are specific mechanical things that most of your young players won’t be aware of and certainly not likely to just fix on their own. Have confidence, you are an adult looking to help. That’s a huge asset in and of itself.
Know Your Player’s Skills
A baseball team needs many things to be successful. Fortunately, up and down your roster, you’ll have numerous players ready to provide those different skills. Your job as a coach is to find and develop these skills, while winning ballgames by putting your players in positions to succeed. Below are some things to keep an eye out for in practice.
Who can throw?
Right from the start, get a sense of who could be your pitchers. Additionally, positions like third base, catcher, shortstop and Right Field, put very real demands on any person’s arm.
Who has good contact hitting skills?
For most levels of Little League baseball, this will be an invaluable skill in your hitters. Hitters who make good contact will often be your best hitters, plus both situationally and always, a team really needs to put the ball in play.
Who doesn’t make a lot of outs?
Moreso even than contact hitting, these are the most valuable hitters, across all levels of baseball. Outs are the only “clock” in baseball, so encourage all your players to learn how to take pitches or do whatever it takes to reach base. For the players that are most adept at this, top of the order spots (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) are where they’re best utilized.
This one is more self-explanatory as “speed kills” goes the saying. Still, as an assistant coach, you’ll likely be more in charge of sending a runner from 3rd on a sac-fly and plays like that than you will the batting order. Making sure all your players are practiced at various plays on the basepaths and know how to safely slide is incredibly important for player safety as well as winning games.
Who’s a great teammate?
In practices and in games, take note of not only your players skills, but also how they treat other teammates. As Cory Hogue notes in his great article How to Talk to Your Child’s Baseball Coach About Playing Time, how a child practices has a huge impact on their playing time because after all, “you play the way you practice.” Great teammates are deserving of playing time and integral to winning. Be observant about who supports their teammates day after day as well as who’s giving it 100% in practice. Players like this are leaders on your team and will likely improve greatly. Their improvement and contributions should be recognized.
It’s likely that you’ll be coaching 1st or 3rd base, making big decisions with runners on base. Make sure you know the speed of your runners and their sliding ability. As much as you can, take note on the opposing teams’ arms around the outfield and at key infield positions. There will be some “bang-bang” plays and you’ll probably be wrong a few times on whether to send a runner or not. Stay confident and remember to give that confidence to your players.
Your Many Roles
If all of this seems like a lot, breathe! Remember, you’re just a member of the coaching staff—-an assistant even. You’re not expected to have all the answers and ideas. The Head Coach isn’t either, so don’t be always second-guessing them or challenging their authority! You’re there to help rather than undermine. You may not agree with them on everything, let alone even everything baseball related. That’s okay.
Try and learn what the Head Coaches wants out of you. Can you provide this? How can you go above and beyond? While giving 110% is great, make sure you’re not overstepping or doing too much.
While it’s important you not go against the Head Coach’s way of running the team, there will be many important roles you can fill to help your team.
Again, it’s unlikely there will be neatly assigned roles and routines that you just “show up” to. If there are, embrace them and your role within the team while participating actively and attentively.
What’s important for “Coach You” is that you’re comfortable and know your role. Developing a good relationship with your Head Coach is obviously important and doesn’t need to be all that fancy. It doesn’t need to be scary either. Introducing yourself early while establishing your comfort zone (AKA: experience, preferences, priorities, etc.) is something that really can’t go that wrong and will only help avoid potential problems in the future.
Don’t feel you have to understand and establish exactly how everything’s going to go right away, especially if it’s your first year coaching or with the team. Don’t feel pinned into a role where you can’t speak up after not doing so the first few weeks on the job.
From the start, develop a positive relationship with your players’ parents. Let them know you are there to support their child and that you’re always available should they have any questions.
You’re More Important Than You Think!
If you’re reading this article or any like it, your heart is in the right place. Coaching can be scary and likely feels like a whole different world than what you’re used to. Regardless, you’re in an excellent position to make a real difference for members of your team. Thank you for your service to your community and its young people.
The season’s length is likely going to feel much different for you as a coach (and adult!) than it does for your players. Don’t take any of those precious moments for granted. There will be times that it is hard and thankless but before you know it, the season might be over.
In my near-decade working in public schools and with youth, I’m more and more left with the conclusion that the best thing we can give each other is our time. You’ll make a positive impact on kids in ways you can’t even understand, in moments you may not even have realized came to pass. Don’t doubt that, or yourself. Keep with it and thank you. You’ll find that you too were positively impacted by your team and the experiences you shared with them.
Enjoy the season and put your players first. Do what you can to help them have an amazing experience. Oh, and the ice cream, enjoy that too!