Youth baseball is far from Major League or NFL games but there are certain game preparation and organizational matters that managers or parents can do to make sure the game runs smoothly for their own team. When I know I have a baseball game that night I want to make sure as much administrative things are taken care of before we meet at the field. I usually have my starting team, including the batting order and the pitcher, picked by around lunch time if we have a 5:15pm start time for our game. Modern technology has really helped communicating with the team as far as players missing practices or games. I made it a point at the “Parent’s Meeting” at the beginning of the season to let me know if their son is sick or will not attend the game for another reason. This works well, though there is always the last minute “no show” that cannot be helped. I also make sure I know what pitchers are eligible to pitch from my team and from the opposing team. This information is found on the league website. I actually like to assign an assistant coach to keep track of and submit all our pitching stats. We usually meet at our league batting cage, which is out past the left field fence. I set up four or five stations. I usually have my team arrive at the field anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour before the game. Ideally this is the time to do a short set of calisthenics, either by group or individually as the players show up. I have two batting tees, a soft toss station and another station that has one of those bat sticks with the rubber end that one player holds and another hits. I will throw batting practice in the cage, but the key is to make sure there is another assistant coach or parent with you. A lot of players are swinging bats, plus having an adult around will help curb the fooling around. I work this the same way I work practice. The first player arriving is number one and he bats first in the cage. I leave it up to whoever is pitching as to how much loosening up and warm up pitches he needs. I try to squeeze the pitcher and the catcher in to get hitting repetitions before beginning their warm up routine. Depending on who is the pitcher, I may or may not send an assistant coach with him to watch him warm up.
When we are through with hitting at the cage, we go down to the field into the appropriate dugout. We will do a short round of calisthenics as a team. Then I have each player pair up and do some long toss in the outfield. My assistant coach and I will then go over the starting lineup that I have already written out. As long as everyone who I put in the starting lineup is present, we then write it into the scorebook. If someone is not there and we were not notified, I will usually call, depending on who the player and parents are. I know the responsible ones and the irresponsible ones. As we get closer to game time, we will take infield practice, and then I will gather the team together in the outfield, usually in the shade. If the umpires arrived, I take notice and make sure either myself or another coach is available to go over the ground rules. I always ask the umpire what his interpretation of the rule on a play at home plate is and how he interprets the catcher with and without the baseball. I always do this because if we have a twenty game season with twenty different home plate umpires, I can get twenty different interpretations. I also always ask the umpire what is the procedure to appeal an umpire’s call. This is another rule that I get mixed signals on, depending who is the umpire. Our league has had issues about the type of bats kids use. Every week the list of forbidden bats change. I try to have one parent be my “bat expert” and keep track of which bats are accepted on the league website. He will also look at all the bats on the bat rack before the game. This is important because a lot of players play in different travel leagues with different bat rules and it is easy to break this rule accidentally because a player keeps all his bats in his bat bag.
I am pretty strict about where the team members can be situated on the bench. I have a rule that the player at the end of the bench or near the bat rack can only be the player on deck. This helps to make sure the on deck hitter is ready to hit. It also helps me to know when I'm coaching third base which player is up next based on who is sitting closest to the bat rack.
With substitutions, I do it a very specific way. I will tell the coach or parent who is doing the scorebook what the substitutions are in the fourth inning. It is up to this coach, and this coach only, to let the players know who is going in and who is coming out. After he lets the players know, then it is up to the coach to go over to the opposing team and tell them what these substitutions are. In the past, my team has gotten in trouble for not letting the opposing team know what the substitutions are. So, I am trying to delegate and make the assistant coaches responsible. This works, and works well. Players will learn not to ask you, the head coach, “When am I going in?”
I also try to pay attention to some of my own nuances. For instance, I might go out alone to the infield and then outfield to roll a ball on the ground, just to see if the infield and outfield is slow or quick. We want to make the team aware if the outfield is slow because of rain or if the grass hasn’t been cut, so that they know whether they have to charge the ball quicker in the game.
Coaches should try to prepare as best they can so everything will run smooth during the game. It is also important not to get too carried away. Just as I think it is better to under coach youth players than over coach them, you don’t have to over prepare. Have some fun, just like you would want for your kids!