Baseball is a game of fundamentals. Big leaguers make the “routine” plays look routine because they can execute the movements of the game in their sleep. Great players understand that mastering the basics of baseball is an important part of improving their abilities. When it comes to youth baseball, fundamentals should be emphasized above all other training concerns.
Before taking a deeper dive into the fundamentals of baseball for players of all ages, we must first define baseball fundamentals. Merriam-Webster defines fundamental as “serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function...of central importance”. In other words, fundamentals are the foundation on which the game of baseball is built.
So what are the key fundamentals of baseball?
Baseball fundamentals can be broken down into three primary categories: hitting, fielding, and pitching. Pitching is a more specialized practice, meaning that most players will need to focus on learning good habits as a hitter and fielder. Here are some simple cues to drill into hitters’ minds when they are taking batting practice or hitting from the tee.
Balance and athleticism - the stance (and the swing) often break down when hitters lose their balance. Hitters should take a relaxed, athletic, balanced stance in the batter's box, and should aim to keep full control of their lower half during the swing without any wild movement.
Plate discipline - it is never too early to develop a feel for the strike zone. As players age, the strike zone will tighten up, and this will become more important. However, it is important to understand that seeing balls and strikes also includes batter vision overall.
Weight transfer - along with balance comes the ability to shift one’s weight and hit the ball with power. This action relies on weight transferring from the rear leg to the front leg as the batter swings.
Hitting the ball back up the middle - one of the most time-tested cues is to simply hit the ball back at the pitcher. Hitting the ball up the middle quiets down a lot of bad habits and may free up a hitter to develop their swing without worrying about hitting home runs or pulling the ball down the line.
Butt down, glove down - even big leaguers pull their glove up too early and let grounders through sometimes. Just ask Bill Buckner. This cardinal sin can be avoided by teaching players to get in front of the ball when possible and plant their glove on the ground. It is easier to adjust up than down.
Follow through on throws - many players will short-arm throws, pulling the chord much too early. Fielders should be taught to follow through fully, whether they are throwing from second base to first or from center field all the way home.
Hand positioning on ground balls - as a general rule, the hands should be slightly in front of the players eyes. Another way of stating this is keeping the hands in front of your hat. Additionally, the glove should be skewed a tick towards the glove side. A cue for this is “left eye” for righties or “right eye” for lefties - indicating that the fielder’s glove should be just about where the glove-side eye is.
The fundamentals of baseball may remain the same at all levels, but kids develop physically and mentally as they age. Youth baseball coaches should therefore strive to focus on what matters most to developing players throughout their maturation process.
Ages 6 and under - basic hand-eye coordination and throwing technique. Players should also train hitting either soft toss or from a tee. Catching remains difficult for many kids in this group, but practice can begin as early as the child is comfortable.
Ages 7-9 - kids should now shift to fielding all types of batted balls and making longer throws. By this age, hitting live pitching is also an expectation.
Ages 10-12 (Little League) - by age 10, the game looks much like it does in the big leagues, just scaled down. However, avoid having youth athletes this age throwing breaking balls and do not focus on “power” aspects of the game just yet.
Ages 13-14 (Pony League) - now players will be on 90 foot base paths for the first time. This is when coaches should begin to develop young players natural power as hitters and throwers.
Breaking balls (link when to start throwing curveballs article here) may be introduced if the player is physically mature enough.
Ages 15-18 (High School) - high school aged players should have the reins taken off completely. By this age, all training is appropriate including strength and conditioning work.
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