Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What's Better - More Games or More Practice?

I encourage you to read this post by pitching instructor Dick Mills about the rise of young travel/select/challenge baseball teams that place their primary focus on playing as many games as they can, and sacrifice the practice time needed for their players to develop the skills and mechanics necessary to improve and advance in the game. Mills clearly believes that these teams need to place more of an emphasis on skills development.

I agree completely. At ages 8-12, and probably beyond, serious ballplayers must develop proper mechanics for hitting, pitching, fielding, throwing and catching. Sure, they need to play against competition in order to learn the game, gain experience and build confidence. But if in doing so, they continue to perpetuate the same old incorrect mechanics, then they are probably wasting their time and money if they want to continue in the game past their early teen years.

At the youth level, players can get by on natural coordination, strength and athleticism. But if you go watch a high school game, you rarely see a player with a bad swing, awkward throwing motion or weak glove work. And you never see it at the college level. The players that make it that far were taught at a young age how to do things correctly. They got the instruction, practiced it enough to build correct muscle memory, and then they put it to use in games. They didn't just play as many games as they could from the time they were 8 years old.

If I am paying for my child to play on a select youth team - I'm not, so this is purely hypothetical -  then I am paying for skills development. I am paying for instruction in addition to the games. If there are more games than practices... if there is rarely any one-on-one instruction... or if my child's mechanical flaws are never corrected - then I wonder if the coaching staff has the knowledge and ability to really teach baseball. I also wonder if I have wasted my money.


  1. As a U10 Challenge coach, I couldn't agree more. In fact, I tell parents of my players that I view my role as helping develop them into good players when they are 15 or 16 or 19, not 10. Development takes time, and it doesn't happen during a game. In fact, I believe offering too much instruction in a game is a bad idea -- game situations are times for reactions and muscle memory to take over. One swing thought, not five.

    The trick, of course, is to make practices as enjoyable as possible, especially for younger kids. If practices are ONLY repetitive drills, kids quickly lose interest and come to view practice as boring and games as fun.

    That said, drills are vital and should be used to teach and reinforce proper mechanics. But we can also turn drills into games of their own. It's amazing how keeping score in a mini-contest (points for hitting the L-screen; points for throws aimed at head or chest, etc) increases concentration on performing drills well.

  2. Most travel/select teams don't come close to the recommended 3:1 practice to game ratio for young athletes. I do not have any sons, but if I did and we were looking at putting him in a travel/select program, the first question I would ask would be about the practice to game ratio.

    Great Work!