Speed: Most Important Skill
I could hit a line drive, I could hit for a 400 avg. or 400 ft. I could pull the ball or take it down the 1B line!
I had a strong throwing arm and could make quick plays from thirdbase. I knew the game and what I had to do to be a good defensive player and a hitter. These were the skills I grew up with and practiced everyday all my life growing up in the school ballfield behind our house.
That day in July after all the years of playing hard ball and hustle busting hot days in the dirt did not prepare me for what the Yankees scouts told me that day. We started off with 300 plus and were down to us remaining 30 after 2 days of 8 hour tryout drills and a 4 hour ball game.
The Club can teach you how to Hit, Field a ball and Throw but we can not teach you how to run faster and correctly at this stage in your careers. Every one of us were above average ball players and knew each other from many years of leagues and school ball coming up. We all knew chances of making into a farm league would be hard but none of us even had the idea that the stopwatch is the factor that means the most in the final days.
I know running is over worked in some areas of teams conditioning. My point is if you plan to work kids in running and conditioning do it right!! Do not run to make them run.... teach or have someone that knows how to teach the correct motions a runner needs to have. Teach the proper body movements in all the stages not just from point A to B.
I wish I had someone work with me back in the old days. With all due respect to fellow coaches, hitting instructors and trainers. If you have a rising star in the younger years this is the area that you should remember, find a running trainer as well it is by far a game of running. I hope this reaches someone, my lack of proper machanics cost me a dream of playing thirdbase in the pro levels.
Conditioning is Important
Agility (which speed is a part of) is the most important part of the game not emphasized enough (even though their are classes for it). That first step or first reaction is so important, my kid is with a team now that really breaks that kind of stuff down, and it is sooo important.
By far, running mechanics in general and baserunning technique more specifically, are way too seldom focused on. Then a close 2nd would be SLIDING, and not just ONE type of slide, but the right slide for the right situations in a game.
I believe Coaches need to teach and encourage their teams to be "ready" to be fast, and think about the fundamentals of running on def and off not just practice them. Like teaching someone to run correctly, this also is overlooked.. partly because it wasn't stressed as much in youth sports when we played them, and also as a Coach it is not as fun to teach the thinking part of the game as it is the physical part of any sport.
For the last 2 years I have begun to provide the 12u Girls Fastpitch teams I coach (not sure they can absorb it much earlier) a team book that outlines among others the mental aspect of the game and how to take control of what happens intuitively. The book spends a lot of time reviewing focus and knowledge.
To make this work the girls need to put some study time in. You see I have found as a coach it's not just about what you tell them at practice, even with repetition they need to read it, study it know it on their own to ensure they understand it mentally, visualize it and be ready to execute. So while I agree 100% that speed kills, if you have it other teams? if you don't it limits you.
We also need to spend time on being ready to be fast. I also believe that one of the best things to do is to help the girls realize that being ready to be fast and doing the right thing on offence and defense touches on the aspect of the game which is not stressed enough in sports, the mental aspects (Instinct, Knowing Confidence). These tools will go a long way in taking all athletes farther.