This article is written by USA Baseball partner Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit organization with the mission to develop "Better Athletes, Better People" through a positive youth and high school sports experience.
One of the most daunting challenges for any youth baseball coach is getting players to communicate with each other during game action. Whether you want the shortstop to remind teammates of force opportunities and the need to look unforced runners back to their bases, or whether you want outfielders to call for fly balls, young players are often hesitant to take charge vocally.
The problem may by shyness or fear of making an incorrect call. The solution is to drill communication just as you drill anything else. And remember that in youth sports, as in later life, "what gets rewarded gets done." For example, here is a way to drill and reward communication on fly balls.
Split your fielders into three lines, at shortstop, left field and center field. The player at the front of each line is "in action" as you loft a fly ball toward a spot that requires players in action to call for the ball. Award that threesome one point for catching the fly ball and award another point for each player who communicated effectively while in action.
Effective communication may mean one player yelling, "Your ball, Tommy!" then Tommy yelling "Ball! Ball! Ball!" to indicate he will make the catch, while the third player directs Tommy "Back! Back! Back!" Notice that of four possible points, a group can earn three for communicating and only one for catching the ball. That proportion reinforces the importance of communication, so that "what gets rewarded gets done."
Soon, you'll have your whole team striving to communicate better. You also may identify a few players to rely upon for vocal leadership, and you may find hidden talent in some of your lesser-skilled players that you can use to build their confidence and sense of importance to teammates.
Perhaps most importantly, learning to communicate effectively as part of a team is a life lesson that will serve your players well in whatever they do after their baseball or softball careers end.
More free resources for youth- and high-school-sports coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes from Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) are available at www.PCADevZone.org. Information on partnering your local youth baseball team with PCA for workshops and other training is available at www.PositiveCoach.org.