Recently, I had the fortune of observing an indoor practice of a Division 1 college baseball team. While I would have been happy just watching the simulated game they were playing in the cages, I found the uninterrupted 45-minute Q&A with the head coach quite interesting.
He had a wrinkle on the one-pitch hitting drill which I will incorporate this season. Instead of each pitch being live, you put a runner or runners on and the batter gets three swings; the first is live for the defense and the runner(s), the second is a straight-forward BP swing and the third is live for everyone including the batter. It’s tailor made for the smaller roster sizes in youth baseball/softball.
He described their running philosophy. The runners are taught to keep going until they are stopped by a base coach. I knew I’d be using that as soon as he said it as it keeps the runners aggressive and decisive by eliminating the need to think along with the coach.
He likes hitting heavy balls (I don’t because I think it tends to make younger kids fly open in an effort to drive the ball) and he also said he would always take a catcher who was a better receiver over one who had a cannon for an arm something I came to believe early on. (I’ve written about it here).
The most intriguing part came when someone asked him what kids entering the program lacked. Base running and the ability to play off the ball were the answers. And then he said something along the lines of “The kids don’t play enough. They’re all better technically than we were back when we played. But they lack game sense. But they don’t know what to do when ball isn’t hit to them. I know what many people think about club baseball, with the number of club teams out there now. But I like club baseball. They need to play more games. They play more games when they play club ball.” I’m not sure what the reaction in the room was given he was speaking to a group of town rec and travel coaches.
My reaction was a bit “aha” and relief mixed in one. You hear so much about practice reigning supreme for development, and I had always been in that camp. That started to change last year, when I had a team play in a spring league and saw how much better the kids who played in the spring did when we got to the summer. This year, when my town program wouldn’t get behind a town team in a spring travel league, I had my son tryout for some club teams specifically so he could get more game time.
Am I putting my kid on a club team because I think he’s going to play in college? He’s 11-years-old; I don’t even know if he’s going to play next year, let alone high school or college. But he loves to play and compete and he got a lot better last year playing more than he had ever before. And his club will give him the opportunity to do that again.
We can denounce club teams all we want. They start too young, there are too many of them, they’re just interested in your money, etc. But when a college coach says he likes club ball, it’s worth taking note. Score one for the club teams.