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Guest Shannon Dennie

1st Time YMCA 3-4 Yr Old Tball Coach

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Guest Shannon Dennie

I have always had a love for softball and played it for many years through my youth. My daughter has expressed an interest for playing ball and I have signed up to coach her team. I have been named head coach of a team of 10 children. This will, more than likely, be their first experience with the game and I would like to share my love for this sport with them. I need many suggestions for fun drills for this age group and pointers on keeping their interest during the practice. I would also like suggestions on coach-parent communications as well. Thanks for any and all help submitted. Feel free to email me as well. Take care and God Bless.

sdennie@nationwide.com

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Coach,

God Bless you for stepping up and taking on this wonderful responsibility.

The key is to get alot of help from parents. Keep the kids in small groups so that there is not

alot of standing around. Break your practice down into to short segments. Work on catching, throwing, hitting and base running. Try to leave time for a 5 on 5 scrimmage at the end of each practice as this is a good opportunity to get the kids used to game like situations.

One thing that I think is key at this age group is to have them always throw to first. Number one, you don't want your kids to get used to running the ball all over the field as this will be a tough habit to break later and two by throwing to first you don't confuse this age group by trying to get them to understand all the different situations involved with baseball/softball.

We have many good articles and drills posted on our website. Go to our home page for more information.

Keep us posted on how your season is progressing.

IC,

Schann

Y-coach.com - Coaching Database

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Why is there organized ball for this age group? You run the risk of turning them off to the sport before they're old enough to care.

This is the age for dad and/or mom to play one on one with their kids with the batting tee or a whiffle ball.

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Coaching a 3-4 yr old T-Ball team is the most important thing you will ever do in life! I am a 39-year-old father of three kids (12, 9, and 4) and have been coaching youth sports for more than 9 years. I still play baseball in a men's senior league, and now coach three youth baseball teams, including my 4-year-old's All Star T-Ball team.

The person who said that this age should not be about organized sports has never had the right experience. My kids love the sport, live for practice and Saturday games, and gave me my name MrCoach.

My T-Ballers have been together for more than year since most were 3. This season, I had 21 parents sign up requesting me to be their coach. These mostly are people I don't even know. I have parents who drive more than 30 minutes all the way across a major city so that their kids can be on my team.

On my team of 13 boys (all age 4), I have 9 kids who have hit the ball off the tee all the way to a regulation 160-foot fence (not in the air of course). We field the ball like Little Leaguers. Most of my kids can throw a ball from third base to first base in the air. Most importantly, you can call time out and ask anyone of my kids what they are supposed to do in particular situation and they will almost always give you the right answers (throw to first, throw to second, step on third, etc.). My most proudest moment was when my right fielders started to back up the overthrow at first base on every play and we actually started hitting the cut off man from the outfield. I almost cried with happiness! Even my Little League Major's team won't do this regularly.

So what's the trick. My practices never last more than 45 minutes to an hour. The most important thing to do is HAVE FUN!!!!! Absolutely everything must be fun. Practice drills have to be fun. Spend 15 minutes or so, planning out what you are going to do each day at practice before you get there. Don't just show up without a play of action.

Listen to the kids. Watch them. If they are not having fun, then do something else. What you want to do or accomplish is not as important as what the kids want to do. If you want to hit and they want to run the bases, then run the stupid bases. But everything you do, must be designed to teach a fundamental skill.

For example, when we run the bases, we learn to take that "little turn" at first base before going to second. All my kids always run through the base or "make a turn" toward second. We NEVER stop on the base. We drill them over and over on listening to the base coach. They go when he says go. Sometimes we send them, some times we have them stop. Even running the bases is a drill. The kids just don't know it. Everything is timed on a stopwatch. The kids love this.

The second thing is variety. Find out what they love to do and do it over and over. But you have to change things up to keep it interesting. Try out new drills. Kids love to run, so have them race, whatever, but keep it interesting.

I do only four basic drills:

Running the bases: Discussed above.

Throwing drills: We spend hours and hours at practice just learning the "right" way to throw. The problem with most parents in the backyard is that they don't know the right way to hold or throw a baseball. I teach the kids to hold the ball with three fingers spread apart. I teach them to turn their hips and extend the arm all the way back before coming forward (most kids this age want to "shot put" the ball). I teach having the kid turn the palm as far to the rear position as possible before throwing the ball. They must be looking at what they are throwing at. And then we spend hours and hours on "hop" and throw drills.

Fielding: We learn the "ready" position. I think this concept is a fundamental part of the game and it;s how I get ever kid in the "ready" position and to stop chasing butterflies during practice or the game. Step with their left foot toward the ball (opposite for lefties). Square your feet. Sit in the chair (butts up in the air not in a squatting position). Chin up. Reach out with the glove. Throwing hand over the glove (we call this the Alligator position). Field the ball. Gather to the bellybutton. Hop and throw. The drill cadence goes like this: "Left, right, sit in the chair, reach out, belly button, throw." This takes some patience.

Throw to first base. I line up most of the kids up at pitcher and second base. I place one kid at every other infield position. I then Roll the ball to the kid at pitcher or second and have him throw to first. The first baseman (or right fielder if we are practing overthrows) always throws the ball back to the pitcher to end the drill. While the pitcher is fielding the ball, the other kids have to go to their proper position such as cover third, cover second, back up the throw, etc. This is all done a rapid pace. We do this until the parents want to scream with boredom! The kids love it!

Hitting: Most parents don't have a clue how to teach their kid to hold a bat in the proper position. I teach the hands together (a lot of kids will naturally have a two inch gap between their hands). Line up the knuckles. Feet shoulder width apart. Hands even with the chin and shoulder. Bat at a 45 degree angle. Feet even with the plate. They should be the length of a bat from home plate witht the bat end in the middle of the plate.

When swinging I work on only three things. First, head down eyes on the ball. Then, I have the kids "rock" on their back foot then "rock" on their left foot then "rock" back foot then step and swing. The cadence is: "Back foot, left foot, back foot, swing." This teaches them to develop a nice step toward the pitcher. The only other thing I emphasize is turning the belly button to face the pitcher. I teach them to swing as hard as they can. Too may parents will teach a kid to swing to make contact, but the kid never really learns to swing hard. This is almost impossible to correct after the kid turns 7 or 8.

Here a few other things I believe you should implement. In games, explain to your parents that they should yell in excitement, but NEVER tell the kids what to do with the ball! You the Coach are the only one who gets to tell the boys where to go with the play. If you have 400 people yelling, the kid will only hear his mother tell him what to do. He will never choose you over his mother. This also applies to your assistant coaches (of which you must have no less than five: 1st base, 3rd base, two in the outfield, dugout). If you don't follow this rule religiously, it will be utter choas.

You MUST position the kids on the field in real baseball positions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, SS, pitcher, outfield). NEVER JUST HERD THEM TOGETHER IN THE INFIELD AND LET YOUR KIDS FIGHT OVER THE BALL. This is not Tee Ball. I call these teams Surburban Mom Leaguers. I genuinely believe that kids this age want to learn the game. It starts by learning a position. Always have your kids before each hit get in the "ready position" with their feet apart and glove on one knee. The kids will get this almost immediately.

I recommend that you move your kids around in different positions, but not in every game. For example, identify the your best five or six kids and give them the action spots; pitcher, first base, and second base. I usually have them play the spot one inning each game for a couple of games. (Practice is spent on these positions with each kid on the entire team of course). The other kids will learn by watching and listening. After a few weeks, rotate your kids so that they others get several games at the hot spots. Then rotate again before you other kids forget what they learned.

I agree that at first you probably should only have the kids make a throw to first base. They almost never will catch it. But don't just have the kid field the ball and run to touch first. They don't learn anything this way. Explain that you don't expect them to catch it. I tell my boys that "we'll learn to catch next year." If you have a few really bright kids, then have your pitcher make a "decision" whether he will go home if bases are loaded or throw to first. Also have your SS "decide" what to do. Really you the coach are telling them where to go.

As discussed above, teach everyone that they must go to a place when the ball is hit. Don't just focus on the kid fielding the ball. Teach your kids that if the ball isn't hit to them, they should go stand on the nearest base. My kids never are just watching the kid with the ball, they are always moving. I was stunned how easily my kids learned to back up a throw at a base. This applies to the outfields and the way to keep their heads in the game.

While I may be a bit overboard, I tell all my kids that if I see them playing in the dirt or picking flowers, they absolutely will not bat the next inning. You'ld be surprised how easily this was to enforce (of course, I make the exception for the kid who just can't stop, but he knows that after one inning, no exceptions).

In the dugout, the kid's glove goes against the screen/fence directly in front of him and he sits on the bench. Get off the bench before the dugout coach tells you to and you will not bat that inning.

If you think this is nonsence or over board, I emphasize that all of my kids love this game. Not a single kid has returned to soccer (the most vile sport on the planet in my opinion) since joining our team. We also will be playing up in a 6-year-old machine pitch league this summer. The YMCA director has told me that he expects us to make the post-season tournament.

Best of luck!

MrCoach.

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