Having Fun With Your Kids Through T-Ball
For more than two million kids nationwide, "opening day" means more than going to the local ball yard to see their favorite team suit up and play. No, for them it will mean putting on their own uniforms, lacing up their own cleats and stepping up to the ... tee.
Before the big leagues, the minor leagues and even before Little League, there is a league that allows young boys and girls, usually between the ages of 4 and 7, to learn the ins and outs of America's favorite pastime. With a focus on skills and sportsmanship (for players and parents), T-ball leagues are home to "fields of dreams" all over the country.
Of course, where there are players, there need to be coaches. The rules and techniques of the game are not always obvious, especially for young players. This is why it's so important for parents to step in and also take to the field. While most parents like being called "Coach," many are hesitant to take on the role because of a fear that they do not know the sport well enough to lead that motley group of 5-year-olds onto the diamond. After all, the rules and techniques of the game are not always obvious, especially for first-time coaches.
We Love the Coach
Aside from playing baseball until he was 10, Michael Bielski, a 30-year-old father of two from Bolingbrook, Ill., had limited knowledge of the sport other than his childhood memories. But when the coach of his son's team moved on, Bielski asked the league if he could become the new coach. "I knew little about the sport and knew that I was getting in over my head, but I wanted to see my son enjoy it," says Bielski.
Bielski used the Internet as a source to find coaching strategies and picked up techniques for running practices. Along the way he found more support for his coaching efforts than even the Internet could provide.
"After a few practices, several parents took advantage of getting involved, and I encouraged it," says Bielski. "By the end of the season, half of the parents on the team were either running drills or just helping out. A single coach cannot teach a group of kids to do anything and still have fun – it takes a group of parents."
Tony Argula of Spartan, N.J., has been an athletic coach for more than 10 years, beginning with martial arts but quickly branching out to T-ball, soccer, basketball and softball. "As my own children started to participate in sports, I felt the need to help out," says Argula. "When they were very young, they were shy and afraid to try new things. I found that their anxiety was erased when I told them I would be their coach."
When his own children began playing, Argula hit the field – and tried to hit the books as well. At the time, though, there were not many resources about T-ball. "I was surprised that there was not much material out there on the subject, and many of the drills and strategies were not effective for younger children," he says. Still, Argula took copious notes and carefully planned his practices. At the end of that season, he was surprised at how much information he had actually pulled together during the course of the season.
"I figured there would be more people out there like me, so I rewrote my notes, added more material and added pictures and diagrams," says Argula. From those revised notes, two "how-to" e-books and a Web site, Coach Tee Ball.com, were born.
"At the T-ball level, teaching a player good hitting fundamentals is lower on the priority chain than teaching a player good sportsmanship and a fondness for the game," he says. "The lessons learned on the field help shape the type of person a child may become. If a coach can have the slightest bit of positive influence on a child's life, I believe the coach has been greatly successful."
The desire to win is strong in players, coaches and parents, but Argula encourages an emphasis on different priorities. "Winning or losing should be the least important thing," he says. "Soon enough, children will be exposed to the competitive nature of sports. If your players enjoy themselves and want to play again next season, a coach should consider the season to be a success."
Why Play T-Ball?
The YMCA, headquartered in Chicago, Ill., has more than 2,500 facilities nationwide. T-ball is one of the top 30 programs that local YMCAs offer all over the country. In fact, almost half of them offer T-ball leagues to youth in their communities.
"T-ball is a great progressive developmental activity for kids," says Augie Mendoza, the YMCA's associate director of sports. "They can use safe and age-appropriate equipment while learning about team building and team play. It sets the stage for adult life."
If a new coach happens to live in an area with a local YMCA chapter, there is plenty of help available. Ninety-nine percent of YMCA coaches are volunteer parents who receive training from local YMCA sports directors. According to Mendoza, the coaches receive training in supporting character development, preventing child abuse and ending practice with a drill that gives the kids positive reinforcement about their performance. In addition, every child plays for at least one-half of each game and plays all positions throughout the season.
"Kids really want their parents to be involved, and the T-ball field is a great place for parents and children to connect," Mendoza says. "It is a great family outlet with a role for everyone: base coach, snack parent, umpire and 'team mom/dad.' You do not have to know the game to get involved."
For parents, coaching is often a daunting responsibility that requires time, energy and knowledge they may not have. However, for a child eager to play, practices and games are a much different experience. A coach needs to remember how important this experience can be for the players. Tony Argula remembers the inspiring anticipation of one child preparing to play T-ball for the first time: "During opening ceremonies, a 5-year-old player told me, 'Coach, I've been waiting for this day my whole life!'"Coach Tony's Top Coaching Tips
- Gather as much material as you can. With all the great information out there, no one should have to start from scratch.
- Get all of the necessary information from your league director.
- Have your practices mapped out so you will be able to go right into the next drill without making it up on the fly.
- Be flexible enough to change your plan if it is not working. Some things will work one day but not the next. Have a few extra drills ready.
- Seek out parent volunteers! The more, the better!
- Keep the players and the action moving constantly. When young players are standing around, they will lose interest and focus.
- Break concepts and drills down into manageable portions.
- Remember to keep your sense of humor and sanity. Ten years from now, you should be able to look back on this experience and laugh.
- Remember that you are doing this for the kids.
- Have fun!