Development Is The Key

By: Everett Hancock

Why is it important to develop the proper fundamentals and skill set at an early/young age? As I’ve gotten older and more involved in baseball at the youth level, I’ve been intrigued to see how much less the fundamentals of the game are being taught and/or valued now in comparison to when I was growing up. As I think about this issue, I attribute various reasons to the increase of this problem across the country. I will not dive into those reasons today, although perhaps that would be a wonderful topic for a future article.

Rather, today I want to briefly discuss why teaching the fundamentals at an early age is so vital to the development of young players. Players develop physically at different stages and times. Each player is different.  At the youth level what I see a lot, is that the “bigger” kids tend to have a lot of “success” at the early ages because they can hit the ball farther or throw the ball harder than some of their “smaller” counterparts. Some of this success can be tied directly to talent level.  However, I believe a portion is simply just related to physical strength.  In many cases, by the time these players hit the “big” field, their size/strength advantage isn’t as large or obvious as it once was.  For instance, those “dingers” that they used to hit on smaller fields are now being caught by outfielders (many of whom were perhaps the smaller but more athletic) kids in prior years.

I say all of that to illustrate that if kids are taught proper fundamentals early, those skills will not only help them at 8,9, 10 years old but also as they grow and mature at 13/14 and beyond. If a proper skill set is developed (physically, mentally, athletically) then it will help all players. The bigger, stronger kid will continue to have success because they have built a solid foundation of skills and athleticism to go along with their physical strength.  For the smaller players, they have their foundation established so that when the “physical” maturity begins to take place they will be a great spot for continued success as well

Many coaches at the youth level do a tremendous job coaching and developing their kids and teams!  However, there is a certain percentage of youth coaches and/or parents that just don’t put enough emphasis on the fundamentals. These skills are often overlooked either due to a lack of knowledge that limits what coaches/parents can teach, or in some cases winning at all cost is what is most important to many at the youth level.  The focus shifts to rings and trophies instead of the correct footwork/posture for fielding a ground ball or the proper way to catch a fly ball.  Bad habits are formed at such an early age that it becomes difficult for some players to make the adjustments necessary to be successful as they get older.

The baseball world is much different now than it was years ago.  We now live in an age of analytics, launch angle, spin rate, and velocity. And while there is validity and value in each of those dynamics, proper technique and fundamentals existed long before any of those topics were introduced.

Everyone wants to see the home run or the strikeout.  Lost is the art of bunting and hitting a line drive in the backside gap at the plate or changing speeds and locating pitches on the mound.

After my playing career ended and I moved on to be a high school coach, I was simply amazed at seeing players lack the ability to have and/or perform some of the most basic fundamentals in the game or who told me that “they were never taught the correct way” growing up. Having been involved with youth baseball now for several years, I now have a much better understanding of the lack of time and dedication that is spent teaching these skills to the young players in our sport today.

I know and see so many youth coaches and parents who do value skill development and they are to be commended, and their future high school coach thanks you as well!

As coaches and parents, we all are competitive and want to win. I’m one of the most competitive people on the planet. But I challenge everyone to not let the importance that you place on winning (short term) take away from the time you spend actually teaching your kid and players the basic skills and fundamentals that will stick with them for a lifetime (long term).