The ages for most of these players will range between nine to ten-year olds. This is the level where we start to focus more on team defensive strategies. Players should spend time in both the infield and outfield, so they gain an understanding of both. This is also the first level where players are allowed to pitch, so making this a focal point in practice will be important. Players will need to throw bullpens during the week, and they should also have the opportunity to throw to hitters on the field. Practices will normally run between ninety-minutes to two hours.
On the offensive side we want the hitters to have an aggressive approach at home plate. Encourage them to swing at strikes, instead of waiting for a walk. We want them to think about how far they are going to hit the ball, not if they hit it. Praise them for hard contact and quality at-bats. Hitters start to learn how to properly load and use their lower half to drive the ball. Teach them about backside connection and being on plane with the ball when they swing.
On the bases we need to teach players the importance of their secondary leads. This gets them moving before the ball is put in play. Once the ball starts to cross home plate, they can take a few shuffle steps towards the next base. They are also allowed to steal bases at this level, and they can take off when the ball starts to cross home. Fly balls will be more prevalent, so players need to know how to position their bodies when tagging up and when to leave the base.
Players should start to build their arm strength and one of the best ways to do it is playing long toss. Encourage players to slowly lengthen the distance they throw from at least two times per week. Players are also learning how to do cuts and relays properly, so teaching them how to position their bodies as a cut-off is important for their receiving skills.
Defensively we want to teach infielders footwork around the bases and how to turn double plays properly. They will also be covering bases on steals, so teach them the proper position on how to receive the ball from the catcher. Outfielders need to learn how to back players up and that they can be involved on almost every ball that is put in play. Cuts and relays start to come into play more so focus on that in team defense. Catchers will now be catching players their own age so learning how to block will be important as well as some advanced receiving drills.
This is the first level where pitching is allowed so encourage players to throw as many strikes down the middle of the plate as possible. Focus on balance, direction towards home plate and finishing in an athletic position. The pitcher should try and direct everything towards the back point of home. Drills should be done on flat ground before you move them to the mound.
You will have some advanced eight-year olds at this level, so make sure to monitor the way they act around older players. Sometimes their skill set will not equate to their maturity. Players at this level start to separate themselves a little more and the better players may become frustrated with teammates who goof around in practice. Be firm and fair with the way you discipline players and hold them to a high standard with their behavior.
Please see the attached Coaching Matrix for Age/Division-level appropriate skills to develop and drills to work with your kids on.