Friday, August 10, 2012

What To Accomplish This Fall

Little League Fall Ball is the Spring Training of youth baseball. It's an opportunity for players to work on their skills in a low-pressure environment. Many players are learning new skills, like pitching and catching, and are just beginning to gain confidence. Others are trying to become consistent hitters, or better fielders. The instructional aspect of a good Fall Ball program creates an ideal environment for player development.

Here is a list of what players can accomplish this fall:

1. Fix Your Swing Mechanics. Don't just take BP and accept wherever you're hitting the ball as long as it's hit hard. Learn correct swing mechanics, practice them on a tee and in front of a mirror. Then put it all to use in BP. Learn from the result of each swing. If you're not hitting line drives, there is a reason. Fix it. Every player has something to work on.

2. Focus on Throwing Mechanics. You can't pitch well unless you first learn to throw correctly. Pay close attention in warm-ups to the mechanics of each throw - how the hands are separating, how the ball is positioned during the stride, what the lead arm is doing, etc. Don't just play catch. Throw with a purpose and make sure you're repeating good habits, not bad ones.

3. Get Some Pitching Experience. The low-stress atmosphere of fall games is a great time for inexperienced pitchers to get some innings. Focus on the mechanics you've learned, not what the batter does with the pitch. It's about you, not him. If you execute pitches the way they are supposed to be executed, be satisfied and keep doing it, regardless of whether he hits it or not. You can't control what the batter does, so it's misguided focus. Thinking about results will only distract you from executing each pitch with correct mechanics. The more you pitch, the more comfortable, and therefore confident you will become on the mound. Then when the games matter next spring, you'll be armed with a good delivery and the confidence to go with it.

4. Work on Your Change-up. Change-ups take months, if not years, to master. The grip is unnatural and takes time to get used to. If you don't get comfortable with it, you won't be able to locate it. So use it in Fall Ball, even if the opposing lineup isn't that great. Use it. You'll need it next spring.

5. Try Playing Catcher. Many players say they have no interest in the position of catcher, but they have never actually done it. Catching is like broccoli. You can't say you don't like it until you've tried it. And if you do end up liking it, it can be very beneficial to you. Catching can mean more playing time. It can lead to making a high school team down the road. Every team values a good catcher. Try it for a couple of innings and you may realize it's pretty cool.

6. Work on Fielding Techniques. Ballplayers at every level spend time getting reps in the infield and outfield. Take Derek Jeter for example - that's why he heads to Spring Training early. Learn the proper footwork and hand positioning. Drill it over and over again in practice. Infielders - use fielding pads to make a habit of using two hands and covering up. Outfielders - work on your drop step, your communication and your routes to the ball. First Basemen - work on footwork around the bag and scooping ball after ball. Catchers - be relentless with your blocking drills.

7. Do Some PFP. Pitchers' Fielding Practice. Fall is a great time to get in the habit of covering 1B and backing up throws. It's the time to practice fielding bunts or throwing to 2B. There is so much that pitchers do defensively, especially at the youth level, that happens after the pitch is thrown. Work on it now. There won't be as much time devoted to it next spring.

8. Play Your Natural Positions. You may have the most reliable glove on your team at age 12. That probably makes you a shortstop now. But if you lack quickness and athleticism, you won't be a shortstop for long. Spend some time this fall learning one of the corner infield positions as well. It may help you down the road. Fall is the time to do it, when your team can afford to occasionally try a less talented player up the middle.

9. Make Conditioning a Priority. Spend some quality time at the beginning of each practice on dynamic stretching, aerobic exercises, core strengthening and long toss. Take five minutes at the end to cool down and do some static stretching. It might mean that batting practice is 20 minutes instead of 30, but the long term benefits are more important. Learn how to condition your arm and your body in the offseason. You will see results next spring and for years to come.

10. Have Some Fun. If your league's fall program is without standings, tournaments or trophies, Fall Ball can be a good reminder that even without the thrill of high stakes competition, playing ball is fun. Relax and enjoy it.

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