Tips for Coaching Tee Ball Successfully
The snow is almost gone from the fields and the spring rains let up every now and then. The pros are down in Florida or Arizona, stretching and soft-tossing. And my son keeps wondering why we can’t go out and play catch yet? Really, the temperature already gets up to a balmy 45 degrees after school lets out, that should be plenty warm to play ball. Ah, that’s the phrase, “Play Ball!” We’ve waited all winter to hear those two words.
This year we graduate to the Pee-Wee Division, me as a coach and my son as the ever-eager southpaw (haven’t explained yet the limitations on lefties, no shortstop or such). So this seemed good opportunity to jot down notes and give a nod to those easy days in the field, before we get thrust into the mayhem and pressure of the upper leagues, where they keep score and count strikes, balls, and outs. Let’s take a closer look at this Tee-Ball adventure we call controlled chaos.
The main goals for Tee-Ball Coaching fall into two branches: Skills (the physical, rules of game, play) and Teamwork (the mental, respect, fun). If you are not working towards one of these, you are off-track. Keeping in mind that even sliding practice (mud puddles preferred) falls under teamwork, or skills, or both. Most anything you do on the ball field can be fit into these categories, so no pressure. If you can get your kids to pay attention for more than five minutes without lapsing into pick-a-daisy mode, you’ve accomplished teamwork. If they are paying attention and doing some drills, then you’ve got both Teamwork and Skills.
The first thing to remember about Tee-Ball is that this is the first time playing baseball for the kids, maybe even the first of any organized game or team or activity. This is most likely the first time you have gone at it from the coaches side as well, whether it’s your first child or you’ve been through this with another but from the sidelines (as chauffeur and waterboy).
In this regard, you create the spirit of your team from scratch, a blank canvas. They will look to you and inherit your passion, enthusiasm, and respect. Keep those foremost with a generous blanketing of fun and the kids will follow with same. If you give full effort and exude joy, they will try hard and have fun as well. Same goes for sportsmanship and respect and the rules of the game; it all begins with you, Coach.[Aside one of the first things I had to get used to was being called “Coach.” The first couple practices I kept looking around for my old high school coach or expecting another father to answer. Nope, they are calling you, Coach.]
Then comes your first practice. Now it is obvious that these kids have no idea about the game or even a bare knowledge of the basic rules of the game (3 outs?). So, it is a very good thing that tee-ball doesn’t really use rules. No balls, no strikes, no outs, everyone hits and everyone scores. It is hard enough to get them to run to first base instead of third base after the rush of their first hit ball. This is early in the season, remember they are sponges and learn very quickly. Eventually doing the math, one clever kid will figure with 11 players batting around and scoring each of 3 innings, your team won 33 to 30 (the opponent only had 10 batters).
One of the real goals of a season in tee-ball is the ultra-basics: throw, catch, hit. Sounds easy enough? Take a mental video of your first practice and compare it to your final game of the season. The improvement and growth are the reward, your measure of success as a Tee-Ball Coach.
The First Rule of Tee-Ball (drum roll, please) is “Have Fun!” Viola, lesson over.
This goes double for you, Coach, again instilling your character on your team by having fun yourself. Apply this to your drills. In fact one gem I picked up from a soccer clinic was to call them “exercises” and not “drills” because drills just sounds too much like school or forced labor.
This is the point where I was going to relay some ancient freemason secret drills for molding your rough batch of clay into all-star super-little-leaguers. But on second thought, they are going to be fine. It is you, Coach, who needs the practice and drilling. What follows is the one surefire tip and it fits right in with Rule #1 as way to help your team get the most out of Rule #1.
The only Drill I will relay is easily instituted and the more often and louder you do it, the better you get and the easier it comes. Let’s call it the Baseball Chatter Rule, or constant encouragement through funny phrasing. Repeat after me, Coach: Good eye. Nice catch. Great swing. How to get a piece of it, now straighten it out. Good stick. Great grab. Great swing. Awesome dive. Fantastic dirty uniform.
I know it sounds silly and repetitive, but it’s fun too. It is ingrained in the baseball experience as inane chatter but this time it’s building the esteem of your budding all-stars. And they really respond; they play harder and focus on doing better. It builds the baseball symphony, in tempo with the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd.
The only other big piece of advice I can give for this level is regarding Safety. You are basically in charge of a bunch of kids with their best tee bats and balls flying around. The mere prospect of which frightens most sane adults. You are also being given the responsibility directly handed over from (sometimes overly) concerned parents. Remember the bit earlier about it being your first time and the kids’ first time? Same goes here for a lot of these parents letting go of their little babies for the first time, giving into your care and not having any direct control over their child’s physical well-being. Go easy on the adults too.
I also try to learn all the parents by name and face as quickly as possible. Primarily because they are your assistant coaches and support crew and fill-in volunteers (you’ll need them for some function or other). But perhaps most importantly, because during the chaos of the post-game scramble, it is still your direct responsibility to release their children back directly back to them. The parents are by extension your larger team.
Now give yourself a pat on the back. It is a VOLUNTEER position. The teaching takes patience, but then if you are a parent you have that wellspring tapped already. One of the attractions of coaching tee-ball is the complete lack of rules and pressure (see Rule #1). You’ll find some of the coaches and parents from the older leagues popping over to your field to remind themselves of how much easy-fun this game is supposed to be. Lastly, keep a couple extra bucks around for ice cream after the game, no explanation needed.
If you haven’t noticed the amount of times I’ve used the words “fun” and “play” yet, then let me add a few more to bring up the final count. It is supposed to be a fun. It is a game we play. The game is fun to play. Play the game funly (okay, grammatical liberties were taken to prove a point).
I Love This Game. Not to sound too much like a commercial. This is their first experience with the grand old game, the experience that forms the foundation of their lifelong association with Baseball. Make it fun to play and your kids, your team, will love the game too. Go get em, Coach.