Being a Boston Red Sox fan since birth, I have grown up to despise the New York Yankees. However, despite this, one player always stood out above the rivalry whom I admired as much as any other player on either team, and any player whom I have ever seen play baseball. Derek Jeter. Why? His baseball IQ was the highest I have ever witnessed. That fact always impressed me. Jeter was always in best possible fielding position, made the easy plays, made the spectacular plays, made his teammates better by being in the right place at the right time, more often than not. His athleticism aside, Derek Jeter was the smartest baseball player on the field at all times. And for that, his team won consistent championships. Jeter himself was a stats king but his team benefited tremendously from his very high baseball IQ.
So how do you develop baseball IQ in youth baseball? It takes years and years to develop good instincts on a baseball field but it can be done. By teaching players the basics of fielding your position, you as the youth baseball coach are planting the seeds of IQ development. Starting as early as coach pitch, coaches can instruct players to move and back up and shift and be active fielders. Whether you are in the infield or outfield, you can be involved in some way, in every single play on the field. During game situations, take a pause in the action to point out both positive and negative results of a particular play. Encourage the positive results and use the negative results as a teaching moment on how to get better the next time.
As youth baseball players mature through years of games and practices, develop good instincts by practicing game situations in practices. 4 kids standing behind a fielder waiting their turn for a grounder to be hit to them is boring. Instead, have one fielder and a line of baserunners. Lively practices with game situations encourages the development of baseball IQ. Work on situations with multiple runners on base. Double steals, steals of home, bunt attempts, running from first to third. Get the fielders to react quickly to determine where they need to be. Is the shortstop the cut-off or is he/she to take the 2nd base bag? Where does the left fielder position him/herself on a throw to third base? Where is the pitcher going on any given play? Make your fielders active participants in every play. One day in an actual youth baseball game, this will work in your advantage. A prepared fielder will back up a throw and make a game saving play. I have seen it happen.
Baseball IQ is developed over years and years of play and good coaching. Youth baseball players don’t just wake up one day and know what “Cut 3 means” or where to back up or where to position themselves on the baseball field naturally. It takes years of good coaching and positive re-enforcement to develop good baseball IQ. Start with the younger development divisions with teaching the responsibilities of good fielding position and active participation in each play. As the players mature, introduce more complex game situations into practices to encourage good instincts and build that baseball IQ. Baseball IQ wins games, championships.
A great resource guide for developing skills and baseball IQ is Little League baseball. You can find tons of great tips on their website at www.littleleague.org.