Editor's note: Times Free Press staff writers Jay Greeson and Barry Courter periodically will discuss issues in youth sports. Barry spent 20 years coaching his son and his daughter in a variety of sports; Jay is starting his second season coaching coach-pitch baseball. If you have any questions you'd like addressed in this discussion, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
JAY: We're off and running, this column and the season. We have battled some weather extremes -- a torrential rain one day and a super cold snap 48 hours later, it seems -- and that has reminded me that there was nothing worse as a little kid playing baseball than a rainout.
You get dressed up. You get excited. You're ready, and then nothing. In fact we played Thursday night and my 6-year-old said, "I was excited to win, but I was more excited to get to play."
Playing and losing was way better as a kid than a rainout.
BARRY: It's spring baseball in Chattanooga. I think one middle school season I scheduled 15 games and played nine.
The first year I coached a 5-year-old team, we had a similar spring. I don't know if we should have or if they'd allow it now, but we got on the tennis courts at DuPont-Rivermont and just did throwing and catching drills, some baserunning stuff and even some ground-ball type things by rolling the balls to their left and then to their right.
I think we even hit little plastic golf Wiffle balls with a broom handle. It sounds a whole lot more big-league serious than it was, but I think we managed to get in about four or five practices before everyone else had even met.
JAY: Anything to get the kids out and playing is a great thing.
I think the biggest part of rainout disappointment is because of the uniforms. You get dressed, you want to go out, you know?
But you transitioned to an interesting point: There are a slew of different drills that kids and parents can do on their own at any time.
BARRY: Exactly. Play catch on the couch with a pillow. A Nerf. Whatever. Do it while you are watching a game.
JAY: One of my favorites is tossing a tennis ball against a wall and fielding it. The great thing about baseball and basketball is you can find ways to improve by yourself.
BARRY: Well, that's the thing, isn't it? How many full nine-inning games did you play by yourself growing up? I had a cinder-block garage that was my tennis opponent, my catcher, my infield-hitting instructor and home plate when friends came over. It was not much of a tackling dummy, though I might have tried one too many times.
One of the things a really good coach does, I think, is show kids things they can do on their own or at home with mom or dad or a buddy. Six is probably too young, but how much did playing burnout make you better? The last thing you wanted was your friend to embarrass you by throwing a ball so hard it hurt your hand or you missed it altogether and it hit your chest. That's a teaching moment, right there.
JAY: You bring up a daily debate for any father playing catch with his youngster -- and one that is magnified for coaches of other people's cherubs -- is the hazy line for those kids who are not the best at catching. Do you throw it at their gloves to build their confidence but knowing that it does not really improve the catching ability? Sure, at some point everyone gets hit by the ball and the light bulb goes off with "Hey, I won't get hit by the ball if I catch it."
That said, is there a bigger fear for any 6-year-old baseball or softball team than hitting a kid with a pitch?
BARRY: I still have nightmares about being the coach/pitcher at that age and hitting a kid on the hands as he swings. It's always about 40 degrees, too. I probably pushed several kids towars soccer, or the AV club -- all fine institutions, by the way -- with that move.
Even with my middle school kids, for the first two weeks of practice, especially if we had to go inside in the gym, I made them start off by playing catch with their gloves off and using both hands to catch. We even played egg toss a couple of years with raw eggs so they learned the concept of "soft hands." Start about five or six feet apart and gradually move farther apart. When they start to get it, put the gloves on.
Actually, I make them throw from their knee so they learn the right throwing motion at the same time. The coaches at the Tennessee camp that Larry Simcox used to run there taught it this way, and I just loved it. Reach out like you are opening a door with your glove hand, turn the knob, pull the glove hand to your arm pit and follow through with the throwing hand.
Tom Glavine was about picture perfect at this.
JAY: Good stuff, Barry. Thanks. And rain, rain go away -- come again another day. In October.