The ages for most of these players will range between eleven to twelve-year olds. This is the most competitive level of Little League baseball on field with 60-foot bases. Players strive to be in this division and some of their best baseball memories are made here. Due to this competitive nature players should earn the right to play premium defensive positions by performing well in practice. Our job as coaches is to put them in a position to succeed. Practices will normally run between ninety-minutes to two hours and you should meet a minimum of two times per week prior to games starting.
On the offensive side we want the hitters to work on their mental approach. As they approach home, they should pick up the 3rd base coach and have a plan at the plate. Situational hitting becomes more of a factor at this level and players need to be aware of where the defense is positioned. Coaches should verbalize in-game cues to players to remind them of something they worked on in practice to trigger a plan of attack at the plate. Avoid telling them what they are doing wrong like “stepping in the bucket”. Instead tell them to hit a line drive to the opposite field. Doing this allows them to use their athletic ability and not focus on mechanics.
At this point players should have a solid grasp of how to run the bases. Remind them about taking good routes and to read the flight of the ball. Encourage them to be aggressive on balls headed towards the gap and the ones in the dirt. They should not have to wait to see the ball land in the outfield or get past the catcher to go if they have good anticipation skills.
Throwing mechanics are as important as ever at this level. Routine ground and fly balls should be encouraged to be automatic outs, so innings are not extended. Continue to build their arm strength with long toss and challenge them with target games for accuracy. Have them work on quickly releasing the ball and minimize the steps they take prior to throwing to their target.
Players at this level are faster so teach infielders to have an internal clock and get rid of the ball quickly and under control. Work on a basic bunt coverage during team defense and teach players what their responsibilities are. Outfielders should work on adjustment drills with higher fly balls at this level. They should also work on fielding balls near the fence and crow hops. Catchers are now receiving higher velocity so continue to challenge them in drills and work on tags at the plate. Players also need to learn who has priority on pop ups during team defense.
Pitchers should work on getting good extension towards home plate and begin to develop a change up. This means coaches need to teach players how to grip the ball properly and have the same arm speed for all pitches. Continue to focus on throwing as many strikes as possible, but now you can have your pitchers work on splitting the plate in half versus throwing middle.
This is the crown jewel of youth baseball to some people but remember that a player’s health is always more important than a win. Monitor pitch counts especially if you have players participating in both Little League and club baseball. Remember that it’s a game so keep it fun!
Please see the attached Coaching Matrix for Age/Division-level appropriate skills to develop and drills to work with your kids on.