3 Tips for Coaching Players of Different Abilities

Some kids are fighter jets, some are cargo planes

Sue Pierce

| 3 min read

Every baseball or softball coach has been there. You get handed a team with a couple kids who can hit frozen ropes in any direction and a couple kids who catch with their eyes closed. And you’re tasked with teaching them all something

But what you want to teach what Dan Keller, a longtime baseball coach and founder of Dugout Captain, calls a “fighter jet” — a kid who was born with killer hand-eye coordination and has played for a couple seasons — is very different from what you need to teach a cargo plane — a first-timer who still needs help getting fingers into the glove. 

“I refer to this as the beautiful challenge,” says Keller. That challenge is to take the games and drills that power your practices and make them harder or easier based on each of your player’s abilities. 

Easier said than done.

Here are some tips to help. 

Be stealthy

Step one: When tweaking a drill to match a player’s ability, be subtle. No kid wants extra attention focused on their skill level. It’s up to you as the coach to make your adjustments seamless. 

Keller asks himself, “How do I effectively challenge every young athlete with what they need for this drill without the other athletes even recognizing it’s happening?” Make it look random. For more advanced players, think higher, faster, farther. Less skilled players get slower, closer balls.  

Keep it quick

Minimize the number of kids standing around by doing drills in small groups. A quick-paced practice keeps players moving on to the next rep. This way, they are less likely to notice how other team members perform. 

Make it fun

Kids love silly competition. Use a fun throwing target to add levity to a drill. 

Keller likes to hang a brass cymbal he calls “Sammy” in the middle of a net. After kids field a couple balls, they try to hit the cymbal. This end goal will allow you to slow the drill down and focus on fundamentals. Kids will be more patient and willing to work when they know there’s a reward — or at least a loud clang — at the end. 

Added bonus: Even your most talented player will be focused on their chance to hit the target. Use this to make the drill easier or harder as needed. “Competition will mask the fact that you are manipulating the action so that everybody gets challenged,” says Keller.

Dan Keller is part of MOJO’s Partnerships & Strategy team.

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