Too Little Practice or Too Much (focus on little leaguers)

The Weather

When I played little league in Winnipeg Manitoba many years ago we really didn’t practice often enough.  Part of this problem was and is the weather, as snow came in around October and was not gone often until late April.  Even then the ground was not good for many sports until the water or semi-permafrost was gone.

How many sports can be taken indoors and run over 7-months and not have everyone go stir crazy or broke paying for gym space to play their sport by themselves? Not enough if you want to continue sports like baseball in the colder regions of the world.

On the other hand hockey can be run outdoors and thus gives such nations a great lead.  This is common sense, but where some fail to see these facts is in the nations that move ahead internationally, and due to compilable weather 365 days a years, like here in many parts of Japan and in countries like sports mad Australia. The race to teach skills is often won by these facts alone, for example 7 more months of grounders and fly balls is bound to have an effect upon boys with less natural talent. Asking boys to wait 7-months to continue playing is extremely risky and many boys never reappear in spring simply because they took up something else or forgot about playing baseball because they discover computer games.

Weekly Practices

The very serious team my son and I went to practice with here in Japan had 2 practices a week (standard for them) and more when holidays were nationwide. They started at roughly 8:00 am and finished at roughly at 7:00 pm both days, and when you include travel time it becomes a time black hole of sorts. Now I’m sure some teams in other nations are lucky to get everyone there once a week, with poor nations not having school systems that allow boys to be practicing with coaches or playing stick ball type games by themselves with the less school hours to none. This certainly has the same effect as that of weather.

Now here in Japan education is very serious, as in many Asian nations, and they additionally go to cram schools during the week, weekends & holidays, so to demand such hours for sports is to virtually to give up on being tops in education, with thousands of Chinese characters to be learned and levels of math & science that lead the world to be studied.  So some “way” must be designed to maximize time spent, or thus not cripple the education of your children.

The Infielder & Outfielder Bias

I will go into this in detail later, but such long practices help infielders, outfielders and batters, but are not always good for pitchers. Sure players learn to play other positions, but this is almost always a one-way street as clearly future pitchers learn to field in other positions, while outfielders & infielders almost never learn to be pitchers to the same level the other way round. Any time spent teaching an obvious future pitcher to field other positions, instead of only the mound region & first base is a waste to him and the team. The constant contempt that one hears for pitchers fielding their position, even in the MLB, has its roots in this bias.  Teams and coaches are made up of many more infielders and outfielders than former full time pitchers. In the movie “Bull Durham” this bias is shown in a very funny way, but not all pitchers are dumb, some are made and some forced to be.

I tend to think of pitchers arms as racehorses’ legs. The time and care taken to not overwork such horses legs is an art, all the more for the young. You always want to start younger (I would suggest 7- 8 for baseball), but how you work such issues is the devil in the details.  Macho coaches are a curse in baseball, and Japan certainly has its share, as has been seen on so many occasions in the high school tournaments here. Many boys pitch well beyond the right pitch count for their age, as they also pitch too soon with no proper rest between starts. Up until recently not allowing children to drink water during P.E. classes was very common too. What jack ass thought up such ideas deserves to run into an involved parent like me who will chew them out, in front of all if need be (or more), for such moronic ideas. All this in the name of pitchers “taking one for the team” like this is some sport where guts trumps the facts of life is well beyond silly.

In Japan there is such respect to authority figures that weak men, as coaches, get the bad general’s mind.  The shoulder, elbow & wrist are not the field of battle to be waged in any tough guy battles. That would be like taking infants and throwing them on the frontlines of a war and saying “suck it up.” These body parts are tender & fragile for full-grown men, let alone young boys.

Now I’m a former rugby player, gridiron player & free style wrestler so there are lots of places and times to teach discipline, toughness, and fighting spirit, but not on this battlefield of the pitcher’s arm.  Such bad coaches need to get out more and play other sports and learn baseball will never be as tough as others sports, so get over it or be insecure forever. It is a graceful sport and as we all know bulk doesn’t help in baseball. Mental toughness matches up with other sports and focus is much higher in baseball than most sports, but toughness just isn’t as high. Outfielders deal with boredom as they stand around waiting for action to start. This and the weather did me in for Winnipeg Little League. Over practice can lead to a lack of looseness on the part of players and leads to more injuries and errors, as Bobby Valentine showed quite well as he would increase pressure in a fun way during practice, and try to lessen it before and during games.

Pitchers are going to be taller boys and that means more growth time, with longer clumsy periods. Shorter infielders are going to look better as they are dealing with the same height and appendage lengths as they have always had.  So you must pick your battles better with pitchers and not yell at a boy going through a growth spurt as the shorter guys sets the pace for the rest.

Most, and almost everyone here in Japan, are quick to say someone is good because he is tall and strong, yet they don’t like to see or say shortness allows for better coordination and speed. A good question must be asked is why your shorter son or daughter is not doing better than the taller children? Only time well spent allows a growing youth the ability to catch up in these areas, or they simply remain clumsy all their life.

The good coach and or father must balance these issues and not let tradition and “chip on their shoulder tough guys” blow your boys spirit, interest and arms early.  As a switch pitcher coach I have worked one arm a week when my son was 7-9 years old. Working other areas like catching, balance, leg speed etc. can go on all week if you get the chance. Having my son catch head on pitches from a batting machine at the batting center, after going through the motions of a pitcher (on both sides of the  home plate)  shows that there is lots of room to teach toughness, fearlessness & outside the box thinking. I’m sure some tough guys may like such stuff, but the purpose is to work on what pitchers deal with in their position (the come backer) instead of practicing with outfielders or looking foolish as he sometimes does infielder drills. Only with a constant come backer from a batting cage machine can one truly ingrain the need to get into a fielding position after a pitch. The improvement in his fielding and fearlessness has been remarkable. Time will tell when he gets to higher levels of competition how good he has become, but his fielding  skill is likely to be ignored as his switch pitching and switch hitting gets more attention. Still  readers here will get a look at the full range of ideas that go into a all-round pitcher, and if I have my way the nickname “Meat” from the Bull Durham movie will be placed where it belongs on the stupid coaches who are too stubborn or unimaginative to have pitchers learn fielding of their position proper.

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About Rafe Milo

A young switch pitcher & switch hitter and his father coach. The experiences of living, playing & coaching baseball in Japan.

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