Boosting Baseball IQ: 12 Things Not to Yell at the Game
I was watching the end of the 11-12-year-old game before my son’s game. With two strikes on him, a spindly little guy on one of the teams swung at a pitch just above eye level, tipping it back into the catcher’s mitt. “Way to tip!” a lady standing alone near me yelled. Obviously the spindly kid’s mother, she stood aghast as her son headed back to the dugout, a strikeout victim. To no one in particular and with palms pointed skyward, she wondered aloud, “Why is he out? He tipped it.” Today’s post is written to boost the baseball IQ of people like her.
I’ll admit, I can be pretty snarky about “encouraging” things parents yell at baseball games. As a former high school coach and lifelong student of the game, I am amazed by the freefall of baseball IQ in this country, even at higher levels of play. But I felt sorry for the lady who probably still doesn’t know that a strike three foul tip directly into the catcher’s mitt is a strikeout. I wanted to walk over and tell her, but I didn’t want to embarrass her.
Wednesday’s Update: With a pair of wins on Wednesday in the Gulf Shores Classic, Lewisburg secured the #2 seed and will play in the semifinals on Thursday morning. Older Brother did not pitch on Wednesday and will be available for relief or even a start should the Patriots make the finals.
Today’s post is a collection of pearls of wisdom I have picked up in over 40 years as a player, coach, broadcaster, and–most important–as a baseball parent. Please share this post liberally to boost baseball IQ across the land as we enter into another season of America’s pastime.
My point today through this post is to instruct, not to criticize. Most fans just don’t know what to say but feel the need to encourage. Yes, I realize that in some ways, we would all just be better off by saying nothing at all at our kids’ games. Actually, I have had to take long walks around the outfield to put the clamps on things I might have said detrimental to my boys, their coaches, the umpires, etc., etc. But we’re not going to sit stone silent at a baseball game, are we? So let’s at least be more intelligent in what we say.
Before jumping into 12 ways to boost your baseball IQ, let me just make a few statements that should go without saying. If you have been to a Little League game in the last decade or so, you’ll know that they no longer go without saying.
- Don’t yell at the other team’s players or coaches. They practice to win, just like your team does, so don’t be surprised when they do from time to time. They are not the enemy; indeed, theirs is a team full of potential friends for your kid.
- Don’t yell at the other players on your kid’s team. Sure, encourage and cheer. But you have no right to yell at someone else’s kid when they mess up. Just don’t do it.
- Don’t yell at your team’s coach. I have watched as some of my boys’ coaches have engaged in what I call “rearview mirror coaching,” yelling at the players about what they did wrong without offering any actual instruction. Before I have any thoughts of yelling something at the coach, though, I must remind myself that I didn’t volunteer to coach. He did.
- Don’t yell masked (or unmasked) criticism at the umpires. Instead, teach your kids about human fallibility and how to adjust to it. It is one of the greatest life skills available through this game. He’ll likely have a boss one day, you know. (I’m a remedial student in this dimension of the game.)
Baseball IQ: What NOT to Say
Okay, here we go. Twelve things not to yell at your son’s baseball game and WHY:
Boosting Your Baseball IQ: General
1. “It’s not your fault!”
Baseball is a game of adjustments.Umpires are inconsistent. Players make errors. Weird things happen. The players who adjust best to a constantly changing game are the ones being best prepared for life outside of baseball.
Instead of crippling your kid by playing the blame game, help him work through it and accept responsibility for how he can improve. This takes time, even years, but the value of avoiding victimization is tremendous.
2. “You should have __________!”
That’s rearview mirror “coaching from the stands.” Your son probably knows he didn’t stay down on that ground ball that just rolled between his legs. We can give them all the instruction in the world, but they must experience success, failure, and improvement for themselves.
If you don’t know what TO DO, don’t tell what your kids what NOT TO DO. (If you do know what do do, teach privately and in neutral situations, not during the game.) Some of the best post-game conversations I have had with my sons have happened on the drive home from the games. I’ll ask them if they want some feedback. If they say no, I stop there. If they say yes, I tell them a couple of things I saw them do well and usually just one way I saw that they could improve. (I can’t expect them to drink from a fire hose.)
3. “These refs are terrible!”
Simply, baseball “referees” are called umpires. By letting your kid know that the “refs” are terrible…see #1. Most umpires are not nearly as terrible when your son’s team is not involved. (Took a while for the guy in the mirror to get this one.)
Boosting Your Baseball IQ: Hitting
4. “Way to watch!”
It takes no more talent or discernment to watch a strike than it does a ball. No one yells “Way to watch!” when a hitter watches a strike just as effectively as he watched the ball the pitch before. “Good eye!” is better but still annoying to some. Just let Junior bat.
5. “Get your elbow up!”
This one seems to be dying a slow death…and none too soon. Most coaches and parents who have told their miniature hitters to get their elbows up through the years have no basis for their instruction, other than it’s what their coaches told them in Little League.
The originals premise of teaching “elbow up” was to get hitters to avoid popping the ball up. However, “elbow up” actually produces more pop-ups and swings-and-misses. If the hitter’s back elbow is up when he starts his swing, laws of physics demand that it drops before he can finish his swing. When this happens, the top hand on the bat drops below the bottom hand, more than likely producing a pop-up if contact is made at all.
A better teaching point is to start the swing with the hands at the top of the strike zone. That way, anything above the hands is a ball. To hit anything below the hands, the hitter would more likely move on a more downward plane toward the ball. (Unless he’s “chicken winging.” Even if he is and you know what that means, don’t yell that at your kid. Pretty good odds that would draw you a few perplexed stares.)
(A couple of years ago, I heard a Little League coach instruct one of his hitters to get his elbow up. The hitter responded by getting BOTH elbows up. The coach never corrected this “adjustment” and likely spent all year wondering why this kid couldn’t hit.)
6. “Swing level!”
Again, think physics here. Consider: A pitcher is throwing the ball on varying downward planes and at various speeds toward the plate. A hitter is sequentially locking and unlocking numerous body parts in preparation for a small section of aluminum almost two feet away from his hands to travel from a position near his head to varying segments of a strike zone of several square feet in order to arrive at precisely to right time to produce a well-struck ball that avoids the nine players attempting to stop it.
Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult individual skills in all of sports. Hitters who made it to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame failed much more often than they succeeded at the plate. Telling your son to “swing level” or “just make contact” oversimplifies a most difficult task, even at his age.
7. “Straighten it out!”
Parents used to yell this after a long foul ball landed just foul. Now, I hear it on more foul balls than not. I heard it recently at a high school-level all-star tournament on a short fly ball to left that landed just foul. Two pitches later, the hitter obliged the overzealous fan with…a routine flyout to left.
An encouragement to “straighten it out” assumes that the same pitch will be thrown at the same speed in the same zone once again. As pitchers mature, they see long foul balls as an opportunity to exploit a hitter’s exuberance to “straighten it out” by throwing a different pitch or to a different location.
8. “Choke up!”
The knob of the bat offers some leverage that often proves advantageous to a hitter. Those two inches he chokes up on the handle are also two inches on the outside of the plate where he is now not as likely to hit the ball. And pitchers are taught to throw the ball to the outside part of the plate more often than any other location.
For the most part, if a kid needs to choke up on the bat to be able to swing it, he needs a lighter bat.
9. “Way to hang!”
This common exhortation should be used when a hitter already has two strikes and fouls a ball off, avoiding a strikeout. It doesn’t make sense to say it on strike one or strike two.
Boosting Your Baseball IQ: Pitching
10. “Just throw strikes!”
Nothing is more frustrating in baseball than watching helplessly as a pitcher just can’t find the strike zone. Even more so when he pitches for your son’s team. Even more so when the pitcher IS your son. To tell a pitcher to “just throw strikes” or “don’t aim it; just throw it” or something similar infers that he is not trying with all his might to throw the ball in the strike zone. That helplessness that you’re feeling in the stands and magnifying to the little guys on the mound can’t even begin to compare with how he feels.
I was this helpless parent when Older Brother, who historically has had good control, either walked or hit six consecutive batters in a high school summer league game one year without recording an out. I watched the Little Fella last summer pitch to quite possibly the biggest strike zone I have ever seen and still struggle to find it. (He even went all Craig Kimbrel to the last two hitters but to no avail.)
When your son has one of those days on the mound, maybe think about a time in your life when you gave your best effort but ultimately failed. That might produce a teachable moment that will do both of you some good.
11. “Don’t lose him!”
Please don’t yell this every single time a pitcher throws a ball. The time to say it is when he is in imminent danger of walking a hitter. Even then…see #10. Sometimes, believe it or not, pitchers throw balls out of the strike zone ON PURPOSE. Those are called “waste pitches” and are thrown when the pitcher is trying to get the hitter to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. (If you are serious about boosting your baseball IQ, you need to understand that pitchers can be evil like that. Baseball folks just consider it part of the game. The longer you stay around baseball, the more you will understand just how diabolical the best pitchers in the game are.)
Increase Your Baseball IQ: Baserunning
12. “Don’t look at the ball!”
Yes, your small fry may run a little slower while he’s staring at the ball that he just hit. But to instruct him to not watch the ball at all is highly counterproductive. For instance, that ground ball that he hit between the third baseman and the shortstop might result in a close play at first, or it might get through to the outfield. A quick glance can let him know how to approach first base, and it’ll only cost a millisecond or two.
Boosting Your Baseball IQ: A Summary
To the lady still wondering why her son was out on a foul tip: A tipped third strike that the catcher secures in his mitt is indeed an out. Please don’t say “way to tip” again. Unless you see my daughter picking up a substantial amount of cash from a table at the restaurant where she sometimes waits tables.
Okay, there you have it, a few tips toward boosting your baseball IQ. I have attempted to instruct and not demean anyone’s lack of knowledge of the game. After all, it’s a game I’ve loved as far back as I can remember. I want everyone else to experience the same enjoyment from it that I have. The better you know the game, the more you can enjoy it.
And the more your kid can just enjoy the game, too.
About Al Ainsworth
Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.