Place the emphasis on practices, not games
The stories I could tell from my 14 years of coaching two different sons spring, summer and fall in everything from Little League to select travel teams would curl your toes. Sticking with LL, the key thing is that it’s 100 percent volunteers, from the administrators to the coaches to the umpires. If a parent has a problem with issues such as playing time or practices for their kids, volunteer to see that their viewpoints are heard. LL is meant to instill certain values in children through baseball, but that doesn’t mean coaches shouldn’t be doing their best to win games. To me baseball competition is about trying to win, not just participating. It’s about finding the right opportunities for the players on their teams to achieve success and build confidence. It means I may try to get the inexperienced or less skillful player at bats or playing time early in the game or in games where the score is a bit more lopsided rather than when the game is on the line and a mistake could mean the difference between winning and losing. Once they get their sea legs and are more comfortable with baseball skills they should be given the opportunity to succeed and/or fail in more critical moments of the game. Also, the more experienced or skillful players typically get more playing time because they can often pitch and play catcher, two positions that require the most skill of them all. That said, I’ve never seen anyone improve solely by playing in games. Team practices and, more importantly, individual practicing are when a player can get the necessary repetitions to improve. A hallmark of my practices was the “double infield” approach, whereby two coaches with fungo bats standing on opposite sides of home plate hit grounders to each side of the infield, effectively doubling the number of players fielding ground balls and making throws. Practices would routinely involve 100 plus ground balls per player where coaching would occur. Similar approaches were taken for outfield practice, pitching (dual bullpens), catching etc. My goal was to get everyone as many touches and repetitions as possible in as many positions as possible. There’s nothing more frustrating or boring as a player, parent or coach than to watch nine players in the field (more with rotating positions) and one ball being hit around. However, that’s what you often get with inexperienced (e.g. volunteer) coaches. It’s also why at the LL level, in particular, volunteers are necessary to give each team enough coaches to conduct meaningful practices and the ability to work with the less skillful players on the side. As previous posters have said, many times in games several position players won’t have the ball hit their way at all. Practices are hands-down the only way to improve and earn more playing time. I understand that to the kids, playing time in games is paramount to validation, but if the ground rules are established early on, the players clearly know where they stand and what it will take to gain more playing time. Simply paying your registration fee and buying a glove is not a ticket to playing shortstop or pitcher each and every inning of every game. And one last thing about boys who complain about playing outfield instead of infield, some of the best players I’ve seen outside of shortstop are center fielders and right fielders. There are more left, right and center fielders in Cooperstown than there are second basemen, third basemen and catchers for a reason. If they’re playing outfield as they should be, they’re moving on every play to back up throws and even infield hits. They also have to know where to throw the ball after hits and fly balls to prevent the other team from taking extra bases or scoring. Simply put, it takes athletic ability and smarts to play the outfield. I’ve seldom had an outfielder insulted when I tell him that some of baseball’s top superstars have been outfielders and that he has big shoes to fill.