Web site shares tips with volunteer coaches

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

April 21, 2002|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

ONE OF the many neat things about the Internet is the fact that instruction for just about any subject you can think of is out there, someplace.

Telling your computer to search for baseball fundamentals, as an example, will get you scores of options. Books, videotapes, league guidelines, camps, curriculum guides, pitches for bats, gloves, uniforms, shoes and on and on.

Add to this digital heap of information a new offering from Mike Swartz, president of the Columbia Youth Baseball Association, who is hoping he has identified a niche pretty much untouched by anyone else.

That would be just plain parents who volunteer to coach because a son or daughter wants to experience a sport.

Swartz, who strikes you as being one of those super-organized folks in just about anything he turns to, started out, he said, trying to publish a book.

It's written from the rec-league coach's perspective, said Swartz, who was a college journalism major and is a professional writer who has been involved in youth baseball for 10 years as a coach and for the past four years, as CYBA's leader.

"I wanted to reach, especially, those dad coaches of players 10 and under," he said, "because when you get into the older kids, you find coaches with more experience."

So, first, he adapted in book form a collection of papers and instructions he had prepared for CYBA's coaches, and he sent it out in manuscript form, seeking a publisher. It got as high as vice president in one of the big publishing houses, Swartz said.

Then, rejection. The subject is too narrow, he said he was told.

And thus was born a new Web site called BuildingPlayers.com. That is where you'll find the contents of what Swartz calls Building Baseball Players.

Some of it is free, and some is pay-for-view -- an experiment in what might be possible financially from a Web business.

Swartz said he posted the material over the winter. So far, from charging what he calls about the price of a book for access to everything, he said, laughing, "It's clear I won't make a living at it."

On the other hand, he said, about 350 paying customers have signed up, not bad for what so far has been a very narrowly marketed item.

He has promoted the site directly to some cohorts in amateur baseball and directly to some leagues. The response via e-mail and phone calls, he said, has been encouraging.

"It's taken on a life of its own," he said. The information he conveys ranges from philosophical to practical, drawing on what what he has experienced while coaching, to drills you can use to teach young players the game.

He breaks teaching the game into age levels, as well what he calls mechanics, not fundamental skills. Some teasers, gleaned from the freebie part of Swartz's Web site:

Five-year-olds cannot be expected to learn or master what 7-year-olds can, and so on. But the process of building players, to help them maximize the baseball potential they were born with can and should begin as early as 5, 6 or 7.

Explaining mechanics, he wrote that to say a child throws fundamentally correctly is really to say that he performs the 16 or so separate mechanics of throwing correctly. Consider riding a bike. In baseball lingo, riding the bike would be a fundamental skill. The mechanics that make up riding a bike are pedaling, steering, braking, keeping your balance, etc.

Building baseball players is a multiyear process. Nearly all baseball mechanics can and should be introduced to players by the time they are 12.

Consistency of practice, not duration of practice, is the key to maximizing players learning in the shortest possible time.

Playing and teaching are entirely different skills. Parents could have been great players but not be good teachers. Parents of no experience can absolutely build baseball players.

It is a fact that a young player who is still throwing incorrectly by age 10 likely always will. Muscles are not discriminatory in whether what they memorize is right or wrong, and once muscles memorize how to perform a certain skill, it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for them to unlearn it.

There's a lot more, and it is fascinating fare for anyone who has tried coaching kids in any sport, or who wants to.

Swartz also has an endorsement that sounds nice, even if the source isn't exactly a household name or Google top hit-maker.

Brian Peterson, executive producer for Baseball Writers Direct.com, wrote about Swartz's site: "It's the only baseball training guide for kids 5-14 we recommend to our more than 200,000 coaches and parents."

Now, if just a few thousand of them would subscribe.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or address e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com.

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