Each off-season, the clock on every young ballplayer’s career continues to tick. The off-season is a time to reflect, recover, plan and, well, get better!
For the parent of a baseball player, a fruitful off-season starts with a sensible training and practice plan. A good plan is rooted in an honest evaluation of a player’s strengths, weaknesses, goals and the unique demands of this game that we all love.
Today, let’s discuss actionable steps that you can take to help your son have a terrific off-season and an even better season next summer.
Step 1: Get an Honest Evaluation
Baseball is a uniquely difficult sport in which to judge talent. Sometimes, talent is obvious to everyone in attendance. Other times, because baseball has so many intangibles that separate players, ability can be hard to see. And when we try to evaluate someone we love, it becomes even harder.
Whether you played baseball at a high level or not, it’s a good idea to have an objective third party evaluate your son’ ability.
Being honest with ourselves is an important part of the growth process—if we don’t know what point A looks like, getting to point B becomes next to impossible.
When college coaches and scouts evaluate your son, they’ll do so objectively, without bias. They write reports that are brutally honest because they have to determine if they’re buyers of the talent he’s selling.
The best thing you can do as a parent is give your son the training and practice he needs to improve on his weaknesses. Yet, it’s impossible to do this without digging for the real, honest truth of what those weaknesses are.
It may hurt to hear, for example, that though your son might be hitting well, he has major flaws in his swing that will turn scouts off to him. Yet, this feedback is life-saving! Because of the evaluation, a player can now work off the tee all winter perfecting his swing and preparing to succeed at higher levels. The off-season is the time to rebuild swings, throwing mechanics, etc.
Find a local coach or scout who can have a session with your son to evaluate him. Ask them to give you a full, honest evaluation of his physical and mental skills, strengths and weaknesses. Explain that your goal is to find out exactly what he should be working on this winter, so that he can improve as much as possible.
In addition to getting the feedback that you need, you’ll also build a relationship with a local coach who will view you as a parent who “gets it.”
Step 2: Does the Position Fit?
If your son is young—perhaps under 16 years old—playing multiple positions and learning the game from numerous angles is the way to go. As kids grow, their skills can often change very rapidly. Kids who are slow-footed at age 12 hit growth spurts and are stealing bases at age 14. Short players become tall players, and skinny players fill out and start driving the ball deep into the gaps.
Young players hit growth spurts and change rapidly. Thus, they may not know where they fit best on a baseball diamond until they’re about ready to start shaving. Until then, it’s a great idea for them to play different positions—all of which teach new, important baseball skills and an overall awareness of the game.
Yet, when a player inches toward his final one or two years in high school, a different conversation may be appropriate: where on a diamond does he fit best?
Though playing multiple positions undoubtedly benefits young players, when college recruiters come to watch, for some it may be time to pick one or two position to put their best foot forward. This will be highly dependent on your son’s skill level at a given position, size, handedness and his college aspirations.
This is not to say that players can’t still be versatile and open to playing multiple positions in college—because they certainly can—but narrowing down to a few best positions is a good idea.
Until that final year or two in high school, most players should be spending their time off learning to be versatile. High school coaches may have a stud player who catches, for example, putting all other catchers scrambling for playing time. Those were prepared to play other positions can still get their at-bats and have productive seasons. A player can never know where his coach may need him, so training to be versatile and open-minded is a great idea.
Train in the off-season for multiple positions, though feel free to spend a little more time working on one position than another.
As a parent, it may be impossible to predict what your son is best at as he navigates numerous growth spurts, coaches and teams. Countless players who identify as infielders go on to be outfielders in college, or vice versa. Players who suddenly add a lot of throwing velocity might find themselves pitching in college.
Just remember to keep your son’s options open.
Step 3: Create a Practice Routine
Talk to a Major Leaguer and they’ll stress what keeps them hitting well, pitching well, or fielding well: routine, routine, routine!
The world’s best players are creatures of habit, creatures of routine. They swing the bat hundreds if not thousands of times per week, and stay consistent in type, time and quality of practice.
With a newborn, great parents plan their days around nap time, story time, playtime, mealtime—you name it. Everything is set in place so the little one grows up smart, healthy and happy.
Yet for ballplayers, oftentimes their practice routines become anything but—they go hit sometimes, take ground balls once in a while, or pitch whenever they feel like it.
Sit down with the ballplayer in your life and discuss their goals and what they’ll need to accomplish them. Then, discuss their schedule and how they can best fit in their baseball practice, so it meshes with their school, family and social obligations.
Practice time adds up. When a player budgets his time well and dedicates a portion of his schedule to baseball, he’ll stay on track and have more productive, effective practice sessions.
And, it doesn’t have to be overly formal like going to the batting cage with a coach. Making a little at-home space to hit off the batting tee or into a travel net in the backyard will go a long way for a hitter, for example, when done consistently.
And if we wouldn't be Tanner Tees if we didn't mention the one training aid you can use anywhere, alone or with a coach, and gets big results.....a batting tee. Routine work off a hitting tee is a perfect way for hitters to understand themselves and their swing in the off-season. View our Tanner Tees here.
A Great Off-Season Leads to a Great In-Season
No matter how this year went, next season can be better.
Competition increases each year, so a smart practice plan not only helps a player improve, but also serves as future-proofing as he moves on to the next level. Use the strategies in this article to help plan for a great next season by:
Getting an honest evaluation
Training to be a versatile player
Creating a practice routine
Go out there, make a plan and crush next season!