Youth Baseball Guide / A Volunteer Parent’s Guide to Online Resources for 12 and younger teams

Youth Baseball Guide

A Volunteer Parent’s Guide to Online Resources for 12 and younger teams

Compiled by Ryan Frank / @rfrnk


When I started out as a youth baseball coach, I searched for a modern guide on how to teach the game and lead a team. Turns out, the Internet is full of stuff, but it's not always easy to find or to separate the good, bad and dangerous. I've spent the last six years sorting through it all and finding what works for me and our kids, coaches and parents. I've pulled the good stuff into a single resource guide -- what I wished I’d had six years go.


This guide is designed for parents who volunteer to coach a son or daughter in youth baseball from age 5 to age 12. Youth coaching is primarily done by volunteer parents who are balancing families and work and often learning, or re-learning, the game as they teach it. Recent research has shown that
youth participation in sports in the grade school age group is down 8 percent in the last decade. Kids are more likely to keep playing and learning healthy life-long habits  if they have positive, energetic and well-trained coaches.

In sharing this guide, it’s useful to know that it reflects my approach and values:

  • Youth sports is a way to develop better people as much as it building better athletes, a model adopted from the Positive Coaching Alliance.
  • Because of that, I value winning less than having fun and developing personal, physical, mental, fundamental, team and life skills. Or as a golf instructor said: "The more time you spend trying to win the 14 year old championship, the less chance you have to win the Masters.”
  • Baseball is a good teacher of life skills: how to persevere through adversity, how to compete, how to strive for excellence and learn from failure, how to build relationships with peers, adults, authority figures and competitors.
  • 12 and younger kids should play the game on neighborhood teams with their friends.
  • Travel and tournament teams are not age-appropriate for grade-school aged kids. If that’s your thing, there are other resources out there.

I was inspired to create and share this guide because so many other coaches are kind enough to open source their experiences. Special thanks to Darren Fenster, Max Price, Jason Ochart, Matt Kosderka, Derek Florko and Kevin Lovings for being so responsive to my own questions. Last, this will be a living document. As I continue to learn things I wish I had known in T-ball, I’ll keep adding to this guide. Have ideas things to add? Email me at ryanmfrank@gmail.com.


Table of Contents

Sections: Each section is limited to one page to give a quick overview and link to the details.

  1. Mission Statement
  2. General Resources
  3. Playing Catch
  4. Throwing Program 
  5. Hitting
  6. Pitching
  7. Catcher
  8. Infield
  9. Outfield
  10. Base running
  11. Strength & Conditioning
  12. Mental Game
  13. Equipment
  14. Other Coaches’ Advice for 12U Coaches

Mission Statement

For any team at any level of play, it’s always a useful exercise to write down a mission statement before the first practice. Even if it covers just half a page, the mission statement will serve as the guiding principle for you, the players, coaches and parents. For this age group, it should be something that’s development focused (not outcome focused). It should be something that you review with parents at a pre-season meeting and review at an age- and event-appropriate level with the players at every practice and game. Last spring, our team and players adopted “Play F.R.E.E.” as our motto with F.R.E.E. standing for Fun, Respect, Energy, Effort. Every coach should find an approach that works for himself/herself and the families on the team. Be sure to check your league’s website or with board members to see if the league has its own mission statement that you can use or build upon. Here’s a sample Mission & Values statement that you can adopt or adapt for your own team.

Coaching Philosophy Resources

Positive Coaching Alliance: Is the best resource for research-based approaches to creating a positive culture focused on development, competing and life skills. It’s mission (better athletes, better people) is simple and direct and something I’ve adopted for my teams for the last year. The organization’s national advisory board is a who’s who of national sports celebrities. PCA offers dozens of resources for youth coaches. Among them, job descriptions for Double-Goal Coaches / Second Goal Parents / Triple Impact Competitors. They also offer a sample team mission statement.

USA Baseball: Their coaches’ guide includes a model philosophy and its high school coaches manual has a few sections that speak to creating a culture and philosophy for a program.


Other stuff worth reading on coaching philosophy:

General Resources

American Baseball Coaches Association: The ABCA founded in 1945 is the leading professional organization for amateur baseball coaches in the country with nearly 10,000 members. They host an annual convention in January and number of regional sessions. They post videos from their regional sessions on Twitter and you can find them with at #abcaclinics. An annual membership runs $55 with some solid benefits. The ABCA Twitter chat is always worth monitoring.

USA Baseball: Tons of great stuff. The Amature Resource Center (ARC) is packed with easy to use written guides by position, topic and drill. They have an 85-page manual for high school coaches that can be downloaded as a PDF covering every aspect of the game. There’s also a USA Baseball Coaches mobile app.

Little League: As someone who supports community baseball, I’m a big Little League fan. They have some good basic resources. Best practices for training Little League coaches / 12-week programs for coaches at the coach-pitch level and the T-ball level. Little League worked with MLB to develop and promote its Pitch Smart standards to reduce overuse and arm injuries in youth players.

Driveline Baseball: Based in Kent, Wash., Driveline has become the most innovative training facility in the country for pitchers and hitters since it opened in 2007. Driveline was profiled in The New York Times in 2017 for its data-driven approach. Founder Kyle Boddy offers a number of pitching and hitting products for youth and high school players. Their blog and Twitter are a must-read and many of their instructors have useful Twitter feeds, too. Kyle Boddy on pitching and Jason Ochart on hitting are two good ones. Driveline also open sources their research.

Podcasts: Have been a big part of my learning. Three of my favorites. American Baseball Coaches Association / Youth Baseball Edge / Ahead of the Curve. ABCA and Ahead of the Curve are geared to college and high school coaches but include plenty of lessons. Youth Baseball Edge is passion project for a youth baseball coach dad and specifically targeted to volunteer parent coaches.

Twitter: I’ve learned more from Twitter than anywhere. My favorite follows are collected in this Baseball Coaching list.


Playing Catch

Why playing catch matters more than most people think: It took me five years as a coach to fully appreciate the importance of playing catch. Most teams play catch to warm up. In reality, as a high school coach taught me, you can usually figure out who will win a game based on who plays catch better pre-game. Or as USA Baseball Instructor Darren Fenster said: “Championship teams are made up of players who play catch the best. Practice catch to practice winning.” USA Baseball: If you cannot play catch, you cannot play.

Throw and Catch basics: Trent Mongero is a former pro player and a current high school coach in Georgia has dozens of great baseball instructional videos on his YouTube channel. His videos on throwing and catching provide a detailed step-by-step method for teaching the proper way to play catch. His daily throw and catch routine is also good. This video of a Baltimore Orioles coach teaching a big league player how to properly catch the ball at first base includes some useful cues you can repeat back to your players, too.


Throwing Program

Once you have mastered the basics of catch, you can start building a throwing program that builds arm strength and velocity as your players age while seeking to insulate them from arm injuries. There’s a fair bit of debate about throwing programs. There are basically two camps:

  1. Structured 120-foot limit used by some MLB clubs
  2. Player-driven long toss promoted by Alan Jaeger

To understand both mindsets, here’s a quick reading list:

I’m a Jaeger person with one caveat from in the Driveline piece: long-toss must be supplemented by mobility and stability work for 12U players and strength training for older kids.

Throwing Program Resources

Driveline publishes a youth-specific throwing guide and Jaeger has a lot of online resources. For volunteer 12U coaches with limited time and budgets, here’s our modified Jaeger program:

  • Arm circles: Check out the quick guide from their website and YouTube video. You can also see a youth player with arm circles.
  • J-Bands: Resistance bands custom built for baseball are great for warming up the small muscles in your shoulder. They offer a Junior J-Band option with proper resistance for youth players. See the J-bands in action with the safety tips.
  • Long-toss: Start with a stretch out phase with high-arcing throws and allow players to move farther apart at their own pace. After reaching max distance, players start the “pull down” phase where they throw with max power on a line. They move progressively closer until they finish at about 70 feet. Elite players stretch 300-feet and beyond.

Here’s more on one approach to a regular 12U throwing program. Find whatever fits best for your players, budget and time and put it to use at the start of every game and practice.

Hitting

Hitting and swing mechanics are hotly debated these days. Like long-toss, we have two camps:

  1. Swing for contact: People who promote the downward swing to make contact and put the ball in play. This camp tends to be traditionalists who object to the data-driven movement. Broadcasters John Smoltz and Alex Rodriguez are in this camp.
  2. Swing for damage: People who promote slight upper-cut swings to produce a higher rate of hard hit line drives to the outfield. This is camp embraces the lessons from MLB data that’s been more available since Statcast launched in 2015 -- and the hitting advice of a slugger who played 70 years ago.

Hitting Resources

Bobby Tewksbary: A high school coach introduced me to Tewksbary, a hitting instructor in New Hampshire to locals and big leaguers. After watching his videos, I quickly realized that I learned the swing incorrectly as a player and have been teaching the swing incorrectly as a coach. He breaks down the basics here in this video.

Dustin Lind: The Mariners minor league instructor has a tremendous online hitting resource catalog in his Google Drive. He’s on Twitter and appeared on “Ahead of the Curve” podcast.

Craig Hyatt: One of the best Twitter follows on hitting. Regularly posts GIFs of the elite big league hitters.

Driveline: Jason Ochart, Driveline’s hitting director, has open sourced a lot. Here are some good intro pieces: Implementing Driveline into team hitting practices // Two-Parter: Coaching hitting mechanics // Intro to Driveline hitting assessments // podcast.


Pitching

Pitching mechanics may be the most misunderstood and debated part of baseball. There’s likely more that we don’t know. With that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll say that pitching at this age should be taught simply as an advanced form of throwing.

I’ve found that the most important parts of coaching youth pitchers are: 1) throwing with max intent (hard as your body will let you) 2) learning good habits for proper arm care (warm up and recovery). Beyond those basics, the fine grain mechanics are more than kids this age can learn and adapt to. Trying to teach it just leads to confusion and over-coaching.

Pitching Resources

Driveline: As you can tell by now, I’m a big fan of Driveline. They’ve done a good job building out resources for youth players as well. For youth pitchers, they offer an ebook and video library, “Hacking the Kinetic Chain,” to proper throwing movements, learn warm-up and recovery habits and have fun. You could spend weeks clicking through their blog and online resources. Founder Kyle Boddy is worth a follow in Twitter on pitching.

Derek Johnson: His book “The Complete Guide to Pitching” is a useful resource for people who want to learn more about teaching the basics. Johnson spent 11 years as Vanderbilt’s pitching coach and is now pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Pitching Ninja: Rob Friedman posts MLB pitching GIFs on Twitter that are mesmerizing and great learning tools. He’s a baseball dad and coach who wanted to improve access to great pitching. He made headlines in spring 2018 when Twitter suspended his account for illegally posting MLB video clips. He worked it out with MLB and now has nearly 90,000 followers. He also shares pitching GIFs and has a pitching mental game book available for download. He appeared on the Ahead of the Curve podcast.

USA Baseball: Darren Fenster, Red Sox minor league coach and USA Baseball instructor, recommends USA Baseball’s pitching 101 and pitching drill progression. Check out USA Baseball’s pitching resources page for more on biomechanics, pitchers’ routines and more.


Catcher

Catcher is the most demanding position on the field, even at young ages. It requires kids who are tough, strong and flexible and possess strong leadership skills. Early in the season, it’s important to identify and train two to three kids who have the desire and ability to play the position.

Coaching the position can be broken down in six areas: 1) Stances 2) Receiving 3) Blocking 4) Throwing 5) Leadership 6) Training. The first four are easy to find resources on. The second two are important parts of the position that most kids need help learning. Leadership means the ability to be an on-field coach who understands game situations and the ability to communicate with the defense. Strength and conditioning is unique for catchers because the position requires kids to develop hip flexibility and core and leg strength to be able to squat for extended periods.

General Resources

  • Russell Martin: This New York Times story about Russell Martin is full of insight. Martin is also a central character in the book “Big Data Baseball” that features his value to the 2013 Pirates’ playoff run based solely on his ability to receive borderline pitches (stri-balls) and present them as strikes.
  • The art of framing: Grantland does a deep dive on how MLB teams have been increasingly valuing catchers who can expertly present borderline pitches as strikes.


Infield

Kai Correa: A minor league infield coach for the Cleveland Indians, Kai shares good stuff on Twitter where he created the Friday Fielders stream where lots of people share infield insights. Kai’s interviews on Youth Baseball Edge (Episode No. 72 and No. 73) and Ahead of the Curve are worth a listen. Kai also runs Friday Fielders camps around the country and shares drills and instruction on YouTube.

Tucker Frawley: Associate baseball coach at Yale who describes himself as “locked in on the under-appreciated art of catching and throwing the baseball.” He’s one of the best baseball follows on Twitter, sharing useful links, videos and images.

Trent Mongero: YouTube videos worth watching:

Bobby Dickerson: Listening to the Baltimore Orioles teach infield to major leaguers is pretty amazing. The detail, the coaching style, everything about it.

Other infield resources


Outfield

Outfield play is non-existent for T-ball and not especially relevant until you hit the 10-12 age group. As you get to those older agers, outfield play can become a key part of your defense and requires specialized training.

Outfield resources

  • USA Baseball: Collection of guides for coaching outfield play. Covers pre-pitch preparation, communication, backing up and throwing.
  • Trent Mongero: List of outfield drills/training.


Base Running

Base running is one of the most under-appreciated parts of the game and should be practiced for at least 5-10 minutes at every practice.

USA Baseball: Base running basics, including coach-player communication and tips for runners at each base.

Youth Baseball Edge: Two good podcasts on baserunning (No. 1 and No. 2)

StealBases.com: Matt Talarico, Wright State University assistant coach, created this website to promote his approach to base stealing. His blog is free but must of his content is behind a paywall. You can watch his 2012 presentation at the ABCA national convention. He shared some insight on the ABCA podcast in episode 30.


Strength & Conditioning

The longer I coach the more I’ve learned about the importance of strength and conditioning, even for young players, to develop flexible, versatile and powerful athletes. A basic strength and conditioning program starts with players starting every practice and game with a warm-up routine that incorporates dynamic and static movements. You can build on it from there and even incorporate conditioning training into baseball drills with an agility ladder. Here’s an example.

Strength & Conditioning resources

USA Baseball: A good basic overview with suggestions for simple agility drills.

Austin Wasserman: A former D1 and pro player who became a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). He offers an age-appropriate training guide, Youngblood Training. It’s $40 and comes with access to video examples. Find him on Twitter. He did two strength training podcasts with Youth Baseball Edge (No. 1 and No. 2).

Nick Esposito: Trainer who also has done a couple of Youth Baseball Edge podcasts (No. 1 and No. 2) on getting started with strength training for youth players. 

Alex Simone: Former player turned trainer. He shares good stuff on Twitter.

Eric Cressey: Cressey Sports Performance with a Youth Baseball Edge podcast on strength training myths. Good shares on Twitter.

Derek Florko: Blog posts and more at Florko Baseball.



Mental Game

Like base running, the mental game is often overlooked and under coached. All sports require mental toughness but baseball has traits that make it especially important. It’s a game of failure where succeeding 30 percent of the time lands you in the Hall of Fame. It’s also a game that gives you 20 minutes between the action to simmer in anger or frustration or embarrassment about a mistake. Most kids need a guide to help them manage their anxiety and frustrations.

Ken Ravizza helped make mental skills training a mainstream topic in MLB. He wrote two books, Heads Up Baseball, and became a well-known consultant to the Chicago Cubs under Joe Maddon. He passed away in summer 2018.

The mental game a complex topic that requires some deep thinking on how to approach and coach in a way that works for you and team. I’ve found the books to be the most insightful and included other readings below.

Books

Other stuff worth reading

Equipment

For parents who want to supplement the equipment the league issues, here are a few things we’ve acquired over the years and would recommend to others.

Basic

  • Rukket 7x7 Baseball Net: Probably the single best equipment investment for a coach. It’s like adding another coach to the field. Great for tee work. You can also set up the net in place of a coach catching throws from kids during drills. Set up it up at first base, hit grounders to kids at shortstop and the net provides instant feedback on their throws. $75 / Amazon
  • Jr. J-Bands: Alan Jaeger’s resistance bands for youth players are a great investment to promote proper arm care and develop stronger arms.
  • Tanner Tee: Durable and stable and lot easier to cart around to practices and games than the old bigger, heavier rubber version. $80 / Amazon
  • Multi-colored cones: Kids can be spatially challenged. Setting up different colored cones for drills makes it easy to guide them about where to go or line up. $13 / Amazon
  • Bat rack: An organizing dug out makes games and practices so much easier. $15 / Amazon
  • Stopwatch: Good for tracking kids time on the bases. Kids love running against a clock.

Advanced

  • Speaker: I’m a fan of playing music during practice. It keeps the mood light and fun and also helps encourage dancing and learning rhythm and movements. This waterproof speaker is great for northern climates like ours. It’s also great around the house or on vacations. $67 / Amazon
  • Blast Motion: If you want to begin to enter the world of data for your team this Blast Motion sensor is a good place to start. It reliability captures swing speed, attack angle and other metrics and it’s relatively inexpensive. $150 / Blast
  • Youth Axe Bat Speed Trainers: Two Axe bats from Driveline help kids improve bat speed. There’s a barrell loaded and a handle loaded. $300 / Driveline

Other Coaches’ Advice for 12U Coaches

I asked a few of my favorite baseball people on Twitter what advice they would offer to parent coaches of 12 and under players. Here’s what they said:

Derek Florko, Axe Bat Hitting Manager / Source

Driveline blog. Well if you're looking for a baseball resource putting out continuous quality information... it is a short list .

My other piece of advice, look outside the baseball bubble. I would start with @MyTPI and @ALTIS (track and field), use websites Google Scholar and Sci Hub for research papers.

Garrett Boyum, Coach / Source

Awesome list! 👍🏼 I think you’ll really appreciate this and you should add @drsosterer to your list.

Matt Kosderka, Lewis & Clark College, head coach / Source

If I were giving advice to a 12u coach, it would be to have an organized and interactive practice plan with as many coaches to help as possible, so more can be efficiently done in less time.

Having watched my sons practice over the years, lack of reps in youth practices, to create development, has been biggest issue.  Being highly organized can overcome lack of knowledge at that level.

Chris Clemenson / Source

@MLBPitchSmart it's tough to protect kids arms today when major youth organizations' rules allow overuse. It's helpful to have expert opinions and specific guidelines behind you when you sacrifice some competitiveness for integrity.

With that said, parents will still find some "experts" who will convince them you're too cautious and your 12YO ace can pitch on Friday and the championship on Sunday! The rules allow it and the other team is doing it!

JR / Source

For team ideas/drills/practice, the Amateur Resource Center has some content that may help you


Max Price, South Salem High School, head coach / Source

Honored to be on your list! My biggest resources are actually the folks you listed above.

Here’s a non-baseball resource that I refer to weekly for applicable awesomeness: @MyTPI

And a
video they put out that all youth baseball coaches should watch:

Tucker Frawley, Yale University, associate head coach / Source

1. Whatever you’re teaching/ believe in, show three big leaguers doing the same. 12-year olds emulating their heroes is a learning platform that’s withstood the test of time
2. Communicate via terms that are familiar and make sense to them
3. Make them laugh everyday

Kyle Boddy, Driveline founder / Source

I am partial to what long drive champion and guru Mike Austin always said: Instructors should have a decent understanding of kinesiology and biomechanics before coaching movement patterns. Especially at young ages.

Darren Fenster, Red Sox minor league manager and USA Baseball / Source

To answer your question, I can not recommend @USABaseball’s guide that they recently released enough. While geared towards high school coaches, there is no doubt that every level of the game can benefit from much of the thorough content provided within:

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