Traffic Cop. This is the simplest and most valuable role for a parent helper. Have a couple of parents hanging out behind the kids when we are giving instructions for the next activity. During drills we have a parent standing with the kids who are not involved in the current drill repetition. These parents have one job – Kid Logistics.

Major time wasters in practice, related to drill work, are coaches……

  • having to get kids organized and paying attention before a drill can begin

  • getting kids into position to run the next drill rep (“stand at the cone, not kinda by the cone”)

  • having to stop and address kids who are not involved in the current drill rep …when those kids are getting in the way of, and distracting, the kids trying to do the drill

  • hollering at kids to get in and out of the drill quickly; so the activity can maintain a good pace and flow

  • having to re-explain things to kids who, when not involved in the drill rep, were not paying attention to instruction

Think of your past experience during practices. If the players would pay attention and follow directions (regarding logistics) we would get so much more done. The kids would develop their skills quicker and better (by getting more reps), and would have more fun (more action, being the definition of fun).

Over the past dozen years I have run on-field training programs for leagues and helped teams run more productive practices. Prior to each activity, I communicate to the league, coaches and parents that I ‘would really love it if the parents would attend, hang out and watch what is being taught’.

Prior to getting started with a clinic I’ give the coaches and kids a brief overview of what we’ll be doing. This is done just inside the perimeter fence of the field. But before starting, I holler for the parents to come over and listen in, so they also know what will be going on. Then, just before we break out to get to work, I state to the parents……

“Hey I could really use your help. We want the kids to get the most out of this clinic; we want them to learn as much as possible. Please come on the field; we could use 5 or 6 of you. We need for you to play traffic cop for us coaches. We’ll have you standing behind the drills. You will keep the kids who are not involved in a drill rep, far enough back so to not distract the other kids. After a drill rep is over, you send the next kids in and holler at the others to quickly get out of the way. You listen to the instructions I give to the kids, of where they need to be to start a drill and where we need them to go when transitioning to a new drill. The instructions will be very clear and simple; they are presented so the kids can understand them. With you are out here helping manage the kids, it allows me and the other coaches to spend more time coaching ……teaching your kids ……helping your kids get better!

This resonates with the parents; they get it. Most have watched enough youth sports practices and activities to understand the truth of what I have just talked about. Coaches often spend a big chunk of practice time organizing the kids, and not a lot of time coaching them. I have never had a problem, after making this brief presentation to the parents, in getting plenty of volunteers out on the field to help out.

For the record, I have found that its usually the moms that do the best job ……yes! its the women who have balls enough, and applicable skills, to keep the kids in line and following directions. Sorry dads, facts are facts. 😉

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GETTING PARENTS INVOLVED IN THE DRILLS ……NO WAY!? ……YES WAY! 🙂

Let’s start by establishing an honest perspective of the activity we are involved in; 12u is not high level baseball and softball (as much as we might want to believe it is 😉 ). Intricate and detailed teaching is not required for our kids to develop skills and learn the concepts needed for them to succeed. Parent Assistants do not need much softball or baseball knowledge to be helpful on the practice field. The only requirement is a willingness to jump in and participate.

Many will do so when they receive a sincere and enthusiastic invitation from the head coach. Many of us resist asking parents in to help in fear that we will be ‘found out’ – we don’t want to them to learn that we don’t know everything. For those of us with limited experience, our credibility is not in danger if we tell the other parents up front, I not a grizzled coaching veteran, I’ve volunteered and made a time commitment to run the team.

Credibility can be a greater concern for those of us who do have a fair level of baseball or softball knowledge. We tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to prove we are good coaches. Keep in mind that most parents are just regular folks with limited experience in the game. The parents that do choose to participate will be appreciative that we made the commitment to invest so much time in their kids.

Having parents on the field helping with drills does not degrade our authority or our position as the leader. Parent helpers are assigned to ‘basic commodity’ activities. The more complex teaching areas such as rundowns, relays, batting, pitching etc. remain under our direction. The key is to utilize parents to help run activities where mass repetition is the primary need. Also, there are many non-teaching activities to which they can be assigned (some examples mentioned above) that help a practice run more efficiently.

If you are a coach who is not comfortable with the idea of a parent getting involved directly in drills or you have a good staff of assistants in place, I respect that; I’ve have worked with hundreds of coaching staffs made up of great instructors, and which were large enough that they did not need additional bodies to keep all the kids busy. However, it doesn’t mean that having a couple of parent helpers on the field could not be beneficial. Some examples of how they can help your practices be more productive……

Backing-up Throws During Playing Catch Practice (warm-up) and During Drills. We want to maximize each minute in practice by having kids constantly active and working on skill development. Time spent chasing after poor or misplayed throws cost kids many precious skill-building reps every practice. Kids age twelve and under, and especially those age 10 and under, miss a lot of throws every practice. Incorporate a couple of parent helpers whose primary (or only) job is to position themselves behind any area of a drill where a ball getting past a player will take away from the flow of the activity. Those helpers carry 3-4 balls with them. When a ball gets past a player, the parent helper immediately gets a new ball in the player’s hands. The activity keeps moving with minimal delay. Those helpers retrieve the balls; the kids keep working and improving.

Catching Throws. There are many activities that run much more efficiently when there is an extra person available to catch throws. This can be at a base or assisting next to a coach who is running a drill. Having an extra adult available to catch throws relieves a coach from focusing on ball management, freeing them up the coach the kids! This also keeps the drill moving more efficiently. Important Note: parent helpers will miss some of the throws. The same rule applies to them, in this situation, as applies to the kids – they are not allowed to chase overthrows! We have a bucket full of balls; we have plenty. You (parent helper) can collect the overthrown balls 😉 after the drill is over and the coach is talking to the kids (including your kid) about getting better.

Shagging Balls During Batting Practice. One of the biggest time wasters in youth baseball and softball (and a circumstance that greatly retards skill development in young players) is shagging balls Batting Practice. We want our kids working at a position and playing balls off the bat like they are in a game. When a ball is hit to an area of the field that the kids playing a defensive position can’t get to, we have them ignore those balls and get back to working on their skills. Those balls at are collected by a parent helper. There will be a few strays; those the kids grab as they rotate between the three ‘stations’ we have for Batting Practice (click the Batting Practice link to learn the three stations).

The idea that position players shag balls during batting practice is a misnomer. At the college and pro levels, position players do not shag. They spend their time playing balls off the bat and and having coaches hit ground balls and fly balls to them. It is the pitching staff that does the lion’s share of shagging. ……If you are fortunate to live where you can attend a Major League Game (or go out to watch your local college team), get to the park early to watch batting practice. The players shagging are the pitchers. At our level of play we don’t have team rosters of 25+ players with a group that only pitches, so we need our parent helpers to fill that role.

Throwing Ground Balls and Fly Balls During Batting Practice   Yes, you read that correctly: throwing ground balls and fly balls.  When throwing a ground ball or fly ball, accuracy is significantly higher than when using a bat.  There are no fouls, shanks or swings and misses when tossing the ball. Between batters and during any lulls in live balls being hit by the batter, a parent helper throws ground balls to infielders.  Another helper stands behind second base and tosses fly balls to an outfielder during stoppages (stay alert of the live batter!).

Ground balls from a distance of more than 40’-50 can be thrown overhand; fly balls are mostly delivered underhand (see, in the link above, the video of Dodgers players in Spring Training). Underhand is often more accurate and easier on older muscles and joints. Fly ball tosses only need to travel about 30-40 feet and don’t need to be (shouldn’t be) higher than about 15 feet.

The objective when delivering ground balls and fly balls is to give players a high percentage of accurate, catchable balls (not so high and not so fast!!). Rarely will you find, at the college and pro levels, coaches ‘challenging’ players in fielding drills (the challenging balls are the ones coming live off the bat of the hitter in batting practice). The objective of fielding practice is for players to develop rhythm, timing, footwork and to get a lot of quality reps. We want them repeating the same actions over and over to develop muscle memory in their fielding actions.