9- or 10-year-old baseball players should try many positions before trying to specialize

ASK CAL

July 09, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

My sons play on a 9-10 recreational team. I wanted to get your opinion on playing different positions and playing time. Their coach has six players he plays in the same positions and the others play the outfield and sit the bench. If the kids are coming to practice and have the desire, at this age and in a rec league, shouldn't it be more about developing all the players and equal playing time and bench time?

Jane Singleton, Jacksonville, Fla.

DEAR JANE / / At the 9-10 age level, I absolutely agree that players should be allowed an equal opportunity to try all of the positions. As kids move up the ladder, they naturally will gravitate toward the position or positions that they enjoy and / or excel at, and at some point, merit will determine who plays where and how much.

Your sons' age group still is very much developmental. Allowing the players the opportunity to try many positions will help them develop the skills necessary to play the game successfully and also will help them learn more about the game. The ability to play several positions also will benefit young players as they get older and try out for more competitive travel and high school teams. A player who can play many positions successfully is a valuable asset to any team.

The main objective for the 9-10 age group should not be winning. It should be developing complete baseball players. This can best be accomplished by allowing every player an opportunity to try all of the positions.

Just a quick question regarding this method I observed of a young coach trying to teach 12-to-15-year-old batters to stay in the box. The coach deliberately hit the players with the ball. Many parents were appalled watching this tactic as the irate coach kept throwing pitches designed to hit the kids and he repeatedly told them not to avoid the pitches but to go ahead and get hit to get on base. Several players left the practice with noticeable bruises on their legs. I realize there are many strategies regarding baseball but I don't think I recall this one being taught at camp or in the books or videos we have.

What do you think?

Diana Cantey, Mount Vernon, Ark.

DEAR DIANA: / / When someone would get hit by a pitch, Dad would always say, "How bad could it hurt? The ball only weighs 5 1 / 4 ounces." That was his way of making light of the situation and trying to make the person who got hit feel better. The reality is that getting hit with a baseball can hurt, so in no way do I condone this coach's methods.

Having a player stand in the box and get hit with a hard ball is difficult to accomplish and dangerous. The last thing that a coach wants is to have a player get injured in practice and miss a game because of it -- especially if it is a direct result of a drill that the coach has concocted.

If you find that your players are scared of getting hit with the ball, you can try a method that I used with my son, Ryan. Ryan had a fear of getting hit, so one day I asked him if he was a good dodgeball player. He said that he was, and so I equated getting out of the way of a pitch to playing dodgeball. I had him stand in the box and I threw sponge balls at him and had him dodge them. Then I told him that I would really try to hit him with the pitches. He soon learned that he was quick enough to get out of the way almost every time.

This helped Ryan's confidence and reduced his fear at the plate. It certainly is a more humane to teach players how to get out of the way of pitches then to purposely hit them in an effort to make them tougher.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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