As any coach knows, it’s not always easy to effectively teach baseball while still keeping the kid’s interested, especially ages 5-7. We’ve put together a list of 5 tips to help you teach them the fundamentals of baseball while still keeping the kids interested and having fun.
1. KNEEL DOWN AND EXPLAIN THE GAME AT THEIR LEVEL
It’s hard for most of us to remember being 5/6/7 years old, but I can imagine that it’s intimidating to be 3 1/2′ tall and looking up at a thirty-something 6′ tall coach trying to explain the game. I’ve found it best to kneel down to be closer to eye level. Explain the game using small words and short, quick sentences. Keep the terms positive. Try not to focus on words like strikeout, error, outs, drop, etc. The more uplifting words they hear, the more engaged they will be and the more information they will absorb.
2. KNOW WHEN TO CHANGE YOUR PRACTICE PLAN
As any good coach would, you always want to show up to practice with a practice plan. Having a plan in place obviously helps to build skills week-to-week and also allows everyone to be focused. Side note: Make sure to share this practice plan with your assistant coaches. After you’ve started warm-ups and begin your first drill, if you can tell that your team is just not focused for this practice, it might be time to rip up the plan for the day and let the kids just have fun. Maybe an impromptu game or fun skill-building game with the kids. (See below) At this age, it’s ok to adjust your plan based on the kids; as the kids get older it’s important to stick to your plan and rein in their focus each practice.
3. MIX IN SOME FUN SKILL-BUILDING GAMES
At this age, there is only so much instruction the kids will absorb. It’s important to reinforce the information over the course of many practices. The more times they hear the information, the better chance they will absorb it. That being said, there is also a degree of fun that will help them remember what was practiced. Splitting the team into two and having a relay race (one team starts at home, the other at 2nd base) is a good way to teach the kids to run hard, make proper base running turns and land on the right part of the bag. Setting up with a soccer ball or beach ball on a tee in front of first base and have the kids make a throw from 2nd base position; 3 points for hitting the ball directly, 1 point for knocking the ball off by hitting the tee.This helps to teach throwing accuracy. At home plate, have a coach hold a 5 gallon bucket at a 45 degree angle and let the kids take turns from the pitching mound to see who can get it in the bucket (3 points) and who can hit the bucket (1 point).
4. MIX UP THE POSITIONS
Even at this age, you can already start to see certain kids who can or cannot play certain positions. Obviously you need to make sure that you are keeping all the kids safe, but try to give every kid an opportunity to play different positions. This will help keep everyone involved while also teaching them different ways to be involved from different positions on the field. If you have a kid at first base who doesn’t catch very well, make sure to not have a kid at 2nd base who throws hard. Give everyone an opportunity to succeed. It’s not about outs and runs at this age, it’s about building fundamentals, confidence and having fun.
5. INVOLVE THE PARENTS
In most leagues, at this age you’ll meet once during the week and once on Saturday. Getting the parents involved to help at practices will allow them to see what things to work on with the kids at home. As they see how you’re running drills and what your focus is on each week, it’ll give them the knowledge and confidence to work with the kids even more at home. As coaches, we can only work one-on-one with each kid so much; the rest is on the parents at home. Always be available to answer questions for the parents, whether in person or via phone/email. This is a great resource from the CM Baseball Clinic.
The bottom line is that we’re in the for the kids. While it may take up a lot of our time, it’s all worthwhile if the kids take something out of it each session. Bring fun and instruction to the field and leave everything else at home!