Why Enforce the Rules if You're Not Keeping Score?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Local Leagues are starting Fall-ball programs across the country, which means two things: A lot of parents who lack experience will be coaching a team for the first time, and a lot of kids will be learning the game from a lot of inexperienced coaches.

If you’re coaching beginning baseball in non-competitive levels, the rules that apply are less complex, but not less important than in competitive levels. And in watching beginning-level managers and coaches in action, there are two glaring weaknesses I see. One is the lack of fundamental skills being taught, (which is the main reason we developed CoachDeck). The other is the ignorance of or disregard for basic baseball rules. Teaching your players the basic rules they need to learn from the beginning, so that they will have a strong foundation in this regard in later years.

I’ve actually had managers ask me why I thought it was so important to enforce rules when the kids were young and no score or standings were kept. The answer should be obvious. If players are subject to proper adherence of the rules when they are starting out, they will be better able to focus on skill development as they get older, instead of having to devote valuable practice time simply learning things they should have been taught at an early age. However, in situations when coaches/parents are also the umpires, sometimes their competitiveness clouds their better judgment. I witnessed examples of this in my league’s local rule in the lowest two levels, T-ball (six year-old players) and “Coach-pitch” (seven years old). Our league instituted a rule that in the case of a ball being hit to the outfield, all runners must stop as soon as it is retrieved and thrown back into the infield. This rule was put in place because we wanted kids to learn that when the ball is in the infield they need to stop running. Otherwise an aggressive player would never stop, knowing that at this level the chances are remote of someone being able to complete a successful throw, catch and tag to get him out. Having a player circle the bases on a pop fly that lands in short right field might be fun for the batter and his parents, but is it teaching anyone on the field good baseball?

Yet invariably, I’ll watch a game where a coach at third base is waving runners around to home, his arm whiling like a windmill, even though the ball is clearly in the infield. I’m sure that often this coach is just a dad who is helping out and may not even be aware of the rule. But it is your job as Coach or Manager to make sure he is informed, and follows the guidelines. You may think it is fun for the players on your team to run home every time they touch third base, but it’s not fun for the other team whose coaches are following the rules, and it’s not teaching your players properly either.

Enforcing the rules is the best way kids learn the sport. I’ve seen youth league games where a fielder makes a great play and throws it to first, and the first baseman catches it with his foot substantially off the base. The parent gallery is cheering wildly because of a rare, successful pick-up, throw and catch. Consequently, the parent on the field responsible umpiring calls the runner out. I believe everyone on the field would learn more in this case if the umpire would have called the runner safe, and then taken a moment to explain what happened to both teams.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve also witnessed parent-coaches allow batters to stay on first base even though they were clearly out on the play. When the player begins sobbing uncontrollably and refuses to leave the base after being called out, some coaches elect to take the easy way out and just let him stay at first. But what does that teach player? And what about the fielders who successfully made the play – shouldn’t they be rewarded? We all know that leniency teaches nothing good, and that players learn more from their failures than from their successes.

With all that said, there it is important to keep things in perspective. Kids in T-ball and Coach-pitch are just out there to have fun and learn a little baseball – in that order.

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