Today’s youth and high school players are bigger, faster, stronger, and throw harder than they ever have. The number of players who throw 90 and 95 miles per hour is at an all time high. I would also guess that the number of players who run sub 6.6-60s is also at an all time high (this one is just an observation). There is little doubt that the physical condition player is much better than it ever has in the past.
In spite of these physical advances, the players who still make it, are the ones who do something none of the other players do... play the game. So much emphasis is placed on velocity, speed, strength, what the player looks like in batting practice, and what kind of movement the player has defensively, that the most important aspect of the game is overlooked... playing the game itsself. Throwing 90 mph doesn’t do you any good if you can’t throw strikes and don’t have secondary pitches. Running a 6.7 does little good if you can’t get good jumps, and can’t take proper angles on the bases.
The problem with these “showcase” players is that they never really learn to play the game. They don’t have to. They’re bigger, faster, and stronger, until they get to a level of play where they aren’t anymore. Then they have reached their limit and have no chance of advancing.
So the question becomes, why do so many players not understand the game? There are probably many reasons one could point to. A simple reason is so much emphasis is placed on their measurables, they are able to make teams and play because they are fast, strong, and throw hard.
Another major reason is a lack of quality instruction. Believe me, there is a lot of good instruction out there. I learned to play the game from some of the best in the business. I went to camps with Jack Perconte (former Major Leaguer), and played for Dave Lindley (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and former coach at Hinsdale South), and Paul Hoel (current coach at Hinsdale South High School). These coaches were concerned with teaching the correct way to play the game and paid attention to the small details of the game. Not every player is fortunate enough to have mentors like these. I truly believe the coaching world needs more coaches at all levels who are interested in coaching the game, and not interested in winning the game.
The biggest reason I believe many talented players today don’t know how to play the game is simply that they don’t watch it. I call it the Sports Center effect. It is really a much deeper problem than just sports (I am as guilty as anyone), but our society has become one of instant gratification. Why watch a three hour baseball game when you can watch a half hour of Sports Center and see every home run and every diving play of the day? The answer is simple, you don’t learn the game when you watch Sports Center. All you learn is that Yasiel Puig can it a baseball 450 feet, and Justin Verlander can throw 100 mph after 120 pitches.
By watching the game, the entire game, players can learn how, and how not, to run the bases. Players can see technical techniques that work and learn why a pitcher throws a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt after a four seam fastball at the letters. They can see how to properly execute a rundown, how to get behind a fly ball, and how to properly apply a tag.
One of the first things I did when I became a head coach at age 23 was to watch games and write down every situation we needed to cover to be prepared for the season. Give your players homework to watch a game and write down a page worth of notes on the positive and negative things they notice. It may not be the first time they have ever watched an entire game, but it will certainly be the first time they have ever watched the game as a student.
***Cornerstone’s silver certification has over 60 tactical games and challenges for practice that will help teach your players how to play the game and not be just a showcase player***