All Kids, All Positions

I had a follower of this blog ask me a question about kids playing specific positions on the baseball field. I would like to take this opportunity to let all of you know that I enjoy the questions that you send, and I will try to answer as many of them as possible. I also want everyone to know that I, by no means, believe that I have all the answers. Whenever I get a question like this, I go to the players and coaches that I am surrounded by every day and ask their opinions. You are not just getting my personal ideas, but the combined thoughts of the people who have seen it first hand. So, please keep the questions coming, so you can hear about the things that you want to hear about.

When I polled the players on my team, and some of my former teammates about playing only one position, I could see that I struck a nerve. Most of the pitchers were very agitated about how they or their kids have been treated in regards to this issue. I do believe that kids should start putting more time into certain positions, but that is not until they are well into their teenage years. We are seeing kids who are just getting started in the game that are told that they are "Pitcher Only." Are you kidding me? These kids don't even know which position they may have the most interest in, and it is being decide for them by a coach or parent. Please, let these kids play all the positions on the field at the beginning stages of the game, and I am not just talking about tee-ball.

Also, let them all play. I know that it is hard to put a kid out there who can hardly catch a ball, but if you go about it the right way, he will eventually get there. At the youth level, every kid should play the same amount. Fight the temptation to keep putting the kids out there who excel at certain positions. As they get a little older, and into their teens, the kids need to be prepared for high school ball and the fact that the best players will play. Use your scrimmage games and non tournament games to make up for the innings that your less talented players are going to get later on. But, this should not be happening while these kids are just being introduced to the sport.

The best way that I have seen it done, is to have the kids list out which positions they love to play, and then which ones they would like to learn more about. I would suggest that you tell every one of your kids that the team NEEDS them to pitch, so that none of the other kids will end up hurting their arms... (We have a great interview on the way with the Cardinals Medical Trainer on this topic.) The one position that seems to be the exception to the rule is catcher. Many kids are just afraid to get back there, and I would absolutely not put a kid behind the plate that is afraid to be there.

The lesser talented kids will usually shy away from pitching, because it is such a high pressure and visible position. What I have seen though, is that once you get them out there, and they throw a few strikes and eventually get some outs, they are so proud of themselves and will feel like they are a big part of the team. They will see that they can do it, and will start working harder on their throwing skills and will be a better overall player in the long run. If you keep firing the worst kid on your team out in right field, they are going to lose interest in the game overall, and once again, what is the purpose here? I hope that from the previous blogs, you have already heard me preach that the end game should be to help these kids fall in love with the game of baseball, and that doesn't mean, just your best players.

The obvious thing that we have not talked about, is pitching only one or two kids on your team that you think can win you a game...we will address this later. I had a great conversation with one of our pitchers, Joe Kelly, who quit the game because he was being over pitched. I will do a blog interview with Joe, so he can share his thoughts. Once again, the goal is to influence all these kids and it will sometimes cost you a youth league game. Not the end of the world. But refusing to let all of your kids play, and play all over the field may be the end of their baseball experience.

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  • Somewhat Agree

    After Assistant Coaching for a few years and coaching last year, I've come to a different conclusion. The younger kids (9 and under) have such a difficult time learning one position that they are being setup for failure to learn too many positions. I decided this year to give each player two positions, one infield and one outfield behind the infield position they play (we play 4 outfielders). I rotate them so they all get equal time. First base is ONLY for players who can catch, I don't think a bloody nose or black eye is good for any player's future growth. Just finding players willing to play catcher is tough, so I promise them they will not be benched if they catch 3 innings a game. If you can't throw strikes you're not pitching, but any player who can throw strikes, no matter how many meat pitches they throw are guaranteed to pitch. The season is still young, but the players are really coming together this year. They are still learning their positions, and next year they can try new ones. Only pitchers and catchers have three positions, the rest two. The kids are really happy, in previous years they were just confused playing 3rd after playing first after playing Center and after playing 2nd.
  • my kid wants to quit because outfield only position

    My son is in 1st year lil league his coach will only allow him play left right outfield he keeps asking to do other things always same answer"go to ur same positions"& No. He went mad and threw his glove on ground to prove no balls ever come his way,he did prove his point.They finally let him go to the other side but only because he refused to go out there an quit. He already wants to quit &cries feeling no good an left out only 5-6 kids out 12 is the coaches favorites they get to play differ positions but all in the dirt and they also put my son last to bat on the list even before a child that never gets a hit due to autism,that kid is one of the coaches grandsons. Clearly see favorites on this redsox lil league an my son is a left hand player who can hit an throw but is ready to give up ball forever now and try basketball just because this favorites played discrimination going on just because all they want is to win but says its about the kids just having fun,but does something different than what they say. It's sad to see them yell at one grandson for not hitting or catching ball rite he even cries when he gets a hit cause he knows he didn't get yelled at this time several kids are awesome but a whole lot will never get to show it because they will hate the game.
  • Hey I'm a youth catcher I

    Hey I'm a youth catcher I love the things u post I learn a lot..... All the coaches I've had have put me at catcher even with my allstar teami always love to learn thanks for the posts
  • Great post! If able could

    Great post! If able could you expand your thoughts on lefties. I struggle with the limited position play, but also recognize the limited positions most left-handers are relegated to in competitive ball. For a child (my son) age 9 playing travel who enjoys outfield, should First and Pitcher be his only other positions for development? Go Birds!
  • I agree with this blog. What

    I agree with this blog. What I am confused about is what age to start putting your child into an organized sport. Many parents are now starting at 3 thinking that their child will be behind if they wait but other parents believe that 5-7 is better because they can take direction a bit better. What are your thoughts?
  • Wow, to think a major league

    Wow, to think a major league manager thinks the way a lowly parent coach like myself does. LOL. I once had a parent tell me that he was a "HIGH LEVEL WINNING GUY" and apparently my philosophy of teaching the game and moving kids all over the field, was wrong. This, after I put my philosophy in writing prior to everyone committing to the team. This was a "10U" team! This incident helped push me out of coaching for a couple of years only to get back in because everyone else my son played for was out to win at all costs as opposed to teaching fundamentals and proper movements, mechanics, footwork, etc. This is so refreshing and it inspires me to keep at it. Thanks You and God Bless!
  • Not only should kids not play

    Not only should kids not play one position, they should not play one sport year round. If you've never read "Until It Hurts", you would find it interesting. If you don't have time, the message of the book is: Overuse injuries never happened in youth sports until adults got involved. Having kids focus on one sport year-round has lead us to the "epidemic" of overuse injuries in all youth sports (not just baseball). What do you think?
  • Mike what a great blog. I

    Mike what a great blog. I have seen many "late" bloomers who start out a hot mess and end up a star. Also have seen "superstars" who were given a position, but never continue to accel b/c they aren't hungry for the position. Competition is great. Make those kids earn that spot each and everyday. "Time" is the biggest factor to success, b/c those athletes who put in the most quality time will practicing will succeed
  • This makes so much sense to

    This makes so much sense to me, since I have a grandchild that is on a team where winning seems to be the way to go. Each child stays in the same postion, bats in the same postion. Such a sad experience for a child that has loved the game! We are talking about 5 and 6 year olds. I hope that all coaches that see this will take to heart that it is about development and the love of the game at this age! Marlins baseball in Murfreesboro Tennessee. Go Cards!
  • Thank you Mike for taking the

    Thank you Mike for taking the time to address the issues of little league. I have put your thoughts into practice with my youngest son's team since we played tee ball 6 years ago (now 11U). I personally believe that it has created a great bond between teammates and families. I have seen many boys elevate their level of play because they were giving a chance to succeed. From the coaching staff, we accept the outcome of tournaments using this approach. And if we win, the victory is that much sweeter (we win it our way). Little League is set up well to play at skill appropriate levels. I would love to see more teams move away from the drive to be the best AAA/Major team; rather teach the game to every players and focus on developing athletes that love to play.
  • I couldn't agree with you

    I couldn't agree with you more. I saw my own son pressured to play certain sports year round and he dropped all of them to play baseball. He was stuck at pitching and outfield until one day as a 17 year old he was asked to play second base. I hadn't seen him that excited about a game in a long time. The highlight was when he got to turn a double play.
  • With having 11 & 13 years old

    With having 11 & 13 years old sons that love sports especially Cardinal Baseball. I think it's great you take the time out of your busy schedule to communicate with the fans! THANK YOU to you & your staff!
  • Totally agree w/ your take

    Totally agree w/ your take here. One question for you though. Does your theory change for left-handed throwers? Do you think it's OK for kids who throw lefty to play third, shortstop and second base? They obviously won't be playing those positions as they get into their teens and high school ball, but what about little league? Thanks!
  • Good article on young

    Good article on young baseball players. I agree with his blog on most points, especially catcher. The big problem with playing everyone in all positions, are the kids that do not want to play and are forced to play because of family pressure. Those kids can get hurt at any position and any chance of their playing sports will diminish. However, late bloomers (myself) benefit from knowing-playing all positions, so when the "muscles" develop...they can be valuable players in many situations. It's not how you play at the beginning, it's how you play @ the end ! Learn the sport, play for the love of the game !!!!!!! Turn two baby !
  • I absolutely love your blog.

    I absolutely love your blog. This is one of the best thing I have found. Thank you for putting fourth your time to write.
  • Hey Mike -- Thanks for

    Hey Mike -- Thanks for posting this. I coached CYC baseball and softball for almost 20 years and have seen it all. Players knowing several positions is a definite plus...especially when summer vacations start rolling in. I had the kids learn both an infield and an outfield position. The only thing I did was as they got older, I kept them on the same side of the field. A 1b would also play right side outfield. A 3b would also play left side outfield. That was a general rule...but I wanted them to be able to read the ball off the bat in the same way. They would also know how the infield would be positioned on balls hit to the outfield. Thoughts?
  • Mr. Matheny I am a huge fan

    Mr. Matheny I am a huge fan of you as a person first and now as the manager of our STLCards! Thank you for taking the time to provide this blog as an opportunity for parents and coaches to learn from you and other professionals. Such a generous gesture and use of your personal time.....very much appreciated! God bless you and your family!
  • In theory I agree with you,

    In theory I agree with you, but in practice it's not always as simple as playing everyone in multiple positions. I've coached from T-ball through high school and while I like to make sure that at the younger ages players get a chance to play both infield & outfield every game, I also am a firm believer in placing a player in a position where he has a chance to succeed. Putting a young player at first base when he has issues catching the ball can be both a safety hazard and a detriment to his development as player.
  • This is exactly what is wrong

    This is exactly what is wrong with coaches like you when it comes to young players - it is STILL only about winning. So what if you had a kid at first base who could barely catch and every ball went past him? Would it cost you a few runs? Probably. However, if the kid wanted to be there what is it really costing you other than some cheap thrill when you go over your stat sheet in your garage? Don't hide behind some safety hazard issue or developmental issue. Kids, especially young ones, are timid and don't want to go beyond their comfort zone. Sometimes a little push, or encouragement when things are going perfectly, is all they need to really succeed.
  • No I would have to side with

    No I would have to side with the original poster on this one. I have coached youth baseball at varying levels for years now and agree that putting some kids (not all) in a position they cannot handle can be dangerous. In addition, placing a child in a position where they are not going to be in a position to succeed can stunt their growth and confidence in the game and their abilities. I find letting a child work on different skills during practice allows them the opportunity to show that they can handle the position and have a genuine interest in playing that spot when the opportunity arises in a game.