Finding the right baseball team for a child is a process that can last an entire baseball career. In summary, a lot of kids will never find the right baseball team. The right baseball team can mean a different thing to everybody.
Let’s start with you and your child’s goals. Are you looking to win? If so, this site might not be the best place for you, and I’ll argue that you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Are you looking to put your son in an environment where he will be pushed to improve? This is a good goal for the right kids, but be careful that you’re not the only one pushing this. Maybe you’re just looking for a team for your kid to have fun on.
Whatever the reason, some research will certainly be helpful. Asking other local parents always helps. Sometimes the director of the local league can provide help as well. The best solution is by personal observation, but it can be hard to catch a practice before fully committing to the team. If a coach doesn’t allow it however, I’d be suspect of his motives.
The coach’s motives and goals are probably the most important things to judge when looking for a team. Playing on a team is a great place to make friends, so playing with familiar kids isn’t always necessary.
When observing a coach or speaking with him, these areas will help you judge whether or not he will be a good fit for your son. The coach is an important figure in your sons life, so choose carefully.
- Winning – Everyone wants to win. That’s plain fact. The best coaches are the ones who want to win the right way and will only accept the right way. Your son may seem to enjoy riding the bench on a team that goes undefeated, but that trophy will become less and less important as he ages, and the missed opportunities on the field are ones that will be lost forever.
- Fairness – Playing to win often comes at the expense of fairness. Riding a couple of pitchers for a ton of innings to win the league is unfair to the pitchers who were overworked and to the players that didn’t get any or many chances to pitch. Keeping the kids in one position for an entire season limits their ability to learn the game of baseball and fails to improve the versatility that many higher level coaches desire. A good coach should teach all of their players multiple positions and give them time to improve all of their abilities. If any coach or team desperately needs to win games, they can always find weaker competition.
- Composure – Attitude reflects leadership. A negative coach will create negative players. You should look for a coach that stays positive. When a kid makes a mistake on the field, whether it be athletically or mentally, most of the blame should fall on the coach. If the kid shows up to practice, the coach should be giving the players adequate repetitions to decrease mistakes. If kids don’t show up to practice, even then they don’t deserve to be yelled at or treated negatively. Kids can’t drive to practice, and kids are often pushed to play when they don’t want to. It’s not their fault. The coaches need to teach and guide them rather than force them.
- Practices and Warmups – Coaches are given limited time to teach a complex game. The best coaches will use this time wisely and efficiently. If a normal practice consists of a kid hitting, a coach pitching and the rest of the team shagging balls off the hitter, this is the wrong team. A good practice will feature groups of players separated to gain more repetitions. Team drills are necessary, but standing around should be limited. Kids learn by doing and not from a coach lecturing. Look for the action.
- Baseball Knowledge – This one isn’t as important to me at the lowest levels. The basics can be covered by someone with average baseball knowledge. Also, coaches with the wrong baseball knowledge can teach bad habits. As long as the coach uses his time efficiently and is teaching some basic fundamentals, your child can remain on the right path. With that said, don’t settle for a clueless coach.
- Goals – Equal at-bats, playing time, teaching multiple positions, giving everyone a chance, safety, enjoyment, and maximum improvement are the goals a good coach should have. Winning would be best not even mentioned. If a coach plans to win, he probably plans to play kids unequally or is preparing for an easy league.
- Schedule – Coaches should have appropriate schedules for the age they are coaching and the goals of the kids involved. Even heavily committed kids (and I remind you to ask who’s committed more you or your child?) shouldn’t be practicing for much longer than 2 hours. If they aren’t worn out, there was too much standing around. Even with the older kids, 2 or 3 days off a week seems reasonable. I believe kids should play multiple sports and should not stick with one year round. If your coach’s opinion differs from yours, this could be a major deal-breaker. Younger kids don’t need to exceed 25 games in a season. As they get older, anything more than 40 games in a season can create more issues than gifts they return. Don’t burn your son out on baseball.
- Passion – Your coach either loves being there or he doesn’t. If he was forced to coach, well good for him for stepping in when he had to, but this isn’t the ideal coach. You should look for one who really enjoys what he’s doing, but be careful that he’s not in it for the wrong reasons.
- Personality – As said before, coach’s can become very important people in kids’ lives. I still remember most of my coaches, good and bad. If your child begins looking to his coach as a role model, make sure he’s the type of person you want your child emulating.