BTF Opens Its Archives: Organizing Off-Season Clinics

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Even though your season may be over, kids can still improve their game. Through baseball and softball clinics, they can continue to hone their skills and even learn some new ones! If your youth baseball or softball program hasn’t conducted clinics in the past, or if you would like to improve an existing clinic, this story is for you. ¬†Several years ago, BTF spoke with Matt Bennett, long-time MLB community relations professional, and Ryan Bevans of the MLB Players Alumni Association about how to run youth clinics.

How long have each of you been organizing youth clinics?

Ryan Bevans: The Legends for Youth Program has been in existence for about eleven years. I took over the program in August of 2007.

Matt Bennett: Fourteen years. Before working with the Angels, I organized clinics for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s.

How many youth clinics have you organized?

RB: Nationwide, we ran 34 clinics in 2007 and the program will host over 40 free youth baseball events this year.

MB: Approximately 70, between the three Clubs.

How do you promote your clinics?

RB: We send out invitations to individuals on the MLB.com e-mail distribution list. This allows us to control the size of our promotions and focus them geographically.

MB: Through the Angels website and community calendar.
We also pass out flyers at local parks.

What are the basic logistics of a skills clinic?

RB: All participants are grouped by age and go through 7-10 stations covering hitting, batting, fielding, pitching, etc. The on-field activities last for two hours and are followed by an autograph session for the kids.

MB: It depends on the number of kids. We’ve had as little as 100 and as many as 500 or 600. Based on the number, it determines whether it’s hands-on or a lecture. Since our clinics are open to the public and don’t require pre-registration, we are always prepared for both formats.

How to do you keep it organized?

RB: Over the years, we’ve developed a very efficient system for keeping things organized and running smoothly. This is a good thing because I’m usually the only event coordinator present at these clinics. We have also recently implemented an online registration system that automatically logs our participant information for us.

MB: Keep it on schedule. The biggest thing for us is tailor it to the number of kids that are there. We develop a schedule beforehand and we really keep to it.

What do you think is the optimal ratio of children per coach?

RB: We’ve found that a 15 child/coach ration is optimal for our system. It allows for each child to receive personal instruction while also keeping activity at a level that minimizes “down time” in the group.

MB: It depends. For interactive stations, with each child participating in drills, throwing etc, I would say 12 children to 1 coach. For most of our clinics, we work more with speaking and demonstration as opposed to hands on with each child. This allows for a greater number of kids to participate.

What elements are essential to include in a skills clinic?

RB: Fun, activity, and more fun. Keeping the kids active and in a positive mindset is the key to a successful event. If the children have too much “downtime” then the instructors will lose their attention, and it will ultimately affect the flow of the clinic. Keeping them engaged and active in fun exercises is something we stress.

MB: For us, it’s really important to have players attend. It’s also important to keep the instruction at the level of the kids experience.

Do you find that special training equipment is helpful? If so, what?

RB: We have found that some training equipment can be very helpful, if it is available. We aren’t able to travel with much equipment, but batting tees and other batting training tools seem to have the biggest impact on a clinic if available for use.

MB: I’ve found that most of the time we do not do batting, based on the number of kids we have, so we don’t necessarily use any special equipment. We like to use soft practice balls. It feels like a baseball and looks like a baseball, but if it hits someone, it’s not going to hurt.

What is the best way to teach kids at different skill levels? How do you make sure they are all learning something new?

RB: We try to handle this by grouping children by age groups. From there, it’s usually up to the judgment of our instructors as they observe the participants doing the drills. The focus of our clinic program is made very clear from the beginning of event planning. We’re going to focus on fundamentals and we’re going to make sure that it’s a fun event for everyone. With only a two hour window for activity, there’s only so much we can do from a “baseball instruction” standpoint.

MB: The easiest, most effective way is to simply break the larger group up by ages.

How do indoor and outdoor clinics differ? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?

RB: Indoor clinics don’t allow for as much activity and they’re often far more restricted in space. Obviously, the advantage is that weather isn’t an issue, but our events run much more effectively at an outdoor venue.

Do you have any basic tips or advice for newcomers to youth clinics or for those looking to improve upon existing clinics?

RB: Our advice would be to set up a group of “core values” for your program that correspond with the goals you’re seeking to accomplish. We focus on having fun, practicing good life skills, and respect for the game. We simply use baseball activity to achieve these values because it’s what our members/instructors know best, and is the best way for us to positively promote the game of baseball. If we can ensure that a child is having a fun and positive experience on a baseball field where they receive reinforcement on the right way to do things, then we know we’ve given them something to take away from that and use later on.

MB: Be sure to work with the skills of the instructors. We have involved alumni players to assist current players as many of the alumni are more comfortable in speaking to groups and instructing.

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