A question that I get asked a lot by parent coaches is, “how do I make a lineup?” Making a lineup can be tough, because there’s a lot of “fairness” that’s understood in it. However, I prefer to call it “balance”.
1. My goal when creating a lineup is to have each child play every single position at some point during the season. It doesn’t have to be a different position each game, but during the season, I want everyone to experience every position at least a couple times — including catch. We need more kids to be catchers, so we need more kids to try to catch. I don’t want them to fear that position, I want them to feel comfortable, and the only way they’ll feel comfortable in that position, is if you encourage the practice of catching amongst your players.
2. I typically give a player 2-3 innings at a position, that way they get more opportunities for a feel of that position, and just keep track of where they’ve been, so you know where they should be next time. Please don’t trot your best player out to shortstop every single game for every single inning. Sure, let them play shortstop, but also let them experience first base, left field, center field, right field etc, and we also want them to catch. See where they’re comfortable, and have them be comfortable everywhere, because you don’t know where they’re going to end up. I’ve had many players come play for me at the high school level as infielders, but they’re all infielders at that point, because they all often represent the best of the best from their organization, and all they’ve done is play shortstop or center field. They need to know how to play every where, because they may be asked to play any where. And to make a team at the higher, more competitive levels, if a player can tell a coach they can play any position, it makes them that much more valuable as a player.
3. If someone has pitched in a game, I prefer that they don’t catch in that game (and vice versa). Again, this is something that I do see a lot. Don’t have your starting pitcher go out there and pitch their max amount of pitches and then put them in as catcher. They just had to make 60 throws (or whatever the max pitch count is in your league) and then you’re asking them to catch and throw another 60 baseballs back to the pitcher again. It’s not fair to them and it’s not going to help their arm. Arm care is very important and we want to make sure that these kids don’t get injured at this young age, or don’t get these overuse injuries because of improperly managing their throwing load. Yes they’re young and resilient and can handle more than most, but don’t take advantage of that by having them pitch and catch in the same game. Please, one or the other in a game whenever at all possible.
4. When it comes to the batting order — same thing. Try to keep it as balanced as possible. Some times a player is going to bat lead off, sometimes they are going to bat 4th, sometimes the player will bat last. Whatever it may be, for your sake and to help manage the parents’ expectations a little bit better, just keep moving those kids around. A player may be struggling, so what, still let them bat first every so often to have a feel of what that’s like. We want the line up to be balanced. We want every one to play every where — batting and fielding.
As little league coaches, we need to take the onus out of winning baseball games and make it about developing our baseball players.