Any player can feel like No. 1 by hitting No. 2
A key principle of Positive Coaching Alliance -- a USA Baseball national partner -- is "filling emotional tanks." In the thousands of live group workshops for youth and high school coaches, sports parents, student-athletes and administrators that PCA conducts each year, we compare a player's "emotional tank" to a car's gas tank. When the tank is empty, we go nowhere; but when the tank is full we can go most anywhere.
A great way to fill youth players' emotional tanks while helping your team's on-field performance is to bat one of your weaker hitters second. The number-two hitter's job often is moving a runner along, which can be achieved even by a batter who can't get the ball out of the infield but can make contact.
Game strategy aside, using a weaker second hitter can help your team's overall development. The key is to make a big deal out of the number-two spot as a place of honor. Let all the players know the importance of the two spot, and they'll all want to hit there.
Tell your players in practice that the one who works the hardest or shows the greatest improvement in the skills needed at the two spot will get to hit there in the next game. This way, everyone gets a chance to feel important and has a better chance to have a full emotional tank.
But they have to earn the two-spot. They have to work hard in practice, learn the strike zone and how to bunt, slap-hit, and control their bats. Those are skills even the least-gifted player can learn, whereas hitting for average or power requires a longer learning curve.
Many youth players may lack the patience necessary to learn to hit for average or power and can become so discouraged that they quit baseball. Conversely, moving lesser-skilled players along incrementally toward great two-slot skills provides them a sense of achievement that boosts their confidence and creates an "upward spiral" or "virtuous circle" where success begets confidence, which begets greater success.
Seeing themselves improve, the players striving for your two-spot are more likely to stick with the sport long enough to acquire the more difficult skills. And regardless of how long they stay and how well they play, their experience of effort paying off in improvement is a great life lesson that can translate into any of their endeavors in sports, school, family life and future careers.
Your attention to the lesser-skilled players on your team and their resulting improvement accrues to the benefit of your team's performance. You'll also send a message to all the players and their parents that every youth athlete matters to you.
In turn, that cultivates a great sense of optimism among all players that you are committed to helping them succeed as individuals and as a team. That's sure to fill a lot of emotional tanks.
More free resources for youth- and high-school-sports coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes from Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) are available at www.PCADevZone.org. Information on partnering your local youth baseball team with PCA for workshops and other training is available at www.PositiveCoach.org.