Hi all, New to this forum and to coaching youth baseball. My own baseball playing career took me up through Division I NCAA and I was fortunate to work with many, many excellent coaches in my career. Because of these, I learned a lot about teaching the physical side of baseball, and I'm having a lot of fun passing that on to a great group of youngsters. However, what I need help with is the mental side. I was fortunate that I always had a pretty upbeat attitude during my career and rarely got into mental slumps. So, I don't have much experience in how to coach kids out of psyching themselves out. The biggest issue I have right now is that the "best" player on our team is not hitting in games. He's a really exceptional athlete - I've heard he plays up one age level in travel soccer and hockey, and he's far and away the most physically gifted kid on our team. He's our #1 pitcher and has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.50 WHIP. He fields like Scott Rolen. He crushes the ball in practice. But, in games, he's gotten ONE HIT so far this year - an infield single that he legged out on a pretty weak ground ball to third. Clearly, his stumbling block is mental. He puts so much pressure on himself to carry the team and perform in games that he's stiff and frozen at the plate. There's nothing wrong with his fundamentals. More practice won't help - he does everything as perfectly in practice as any 10-year-old can can be expected to do. Even though our team is winning and he's pitching well, my heart breaks for him every game because he so badly wants to hit and show what he can do. The harder he tries, the worse it gets. Those of you who have been coaching kids for a long time, I'm sure you've seen this before. What tips and techniques do you have for kids who can't relax in games, whose minds won't let their bodies do what they know how to do? Many thanks in advance!
Good for you for coaching, and don't listen to the "old men" who tell you can't or shouldn't. But, to your question, I was a first-baseman for most of my career which took me up through DI college. I am not an expert on coaching, but I have a fair amount of experience playing. First, the "left foot" or "right foot" thing will vary depending on whether you've got a left-handed or right-handed first-baseman. So, I'm going to use the terms "glove side" and "throwing side" in the interest of clarity. I have never seen or heard of anyone advocating a first-baseman keeping his glove-side foot on the bag. I always kept my throwing-side foot on the bag. If you think of the base like a pitching rubber, this would mean it's your push-off or back foot in the throwing motion. Your lead or front foot is facing ahead toward the throw. You just pivot your body around with your rear or throwing-side foot on the edge of the bag and point toward the direction of the throw. Once I got back to the bag and was turned to face the play, I kept my feet placed relatively close together, very similar to the way a pitcher will stand when pitching from the stretch before he brings his hands together. Then, I would only step toward the throw if it was to one side or the other. I kept my feet planted in a balanced position until I knew where the ball was going. This allowed me to step left or right if I needed to. I never actually reached forward with my front leg/foot if the throw was straight at me. The dramatic "stretch" technique seemed to develop in the flamboyant 1970's and doesn't do much of anything to help get the ball into your mitt quicker, and it does a lot to prevent you from catching the ball should it be offline from where you initially judged it. I can't picture a scenario where you would want your glove-side foot on the bag. This would place your mitt hand away from the play and make catching awkward. It also doesn't put you in the position to make a throw quickly, as you would have to turn your whole body 180º first. Hope this helps!