In this post, you'll understand what the 80/20 rule is, how the 80/20 rule applies to youth baseball and you'll learn how just being aware of the 80/20 rule for youth baseball can radically change how you plan your practices.
As you'll hear me preach many times on this site, you have a limited amount of time for practices. Therefore, it is imperative that you allocate your time wisely. Knowing the 80/20 rule in youth baseball will dramatically change how you plan your practices.
Ask yourself: do the skills you work on in practice match the skills that affect the game the most? If not, it's time to re-think your practice plans and stop running your practices out of past habit.
All coaches teach the same things: hitting, pitching, catching, fielding, throwing, running. But the best coaches do the things that actually matter more and better.
But before we get to the 80/20 rule and how it applies to youth baseball, we first have to realize what our current predicament is.
The current coaching landscape
Youth baseball coaches are creatures of habit.
Either way, we coaches don't generally question why we do things. We just do them.
Maybe that's the way we've always done it ("it" being coaching). Maybe our team has a winning record so we figure "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"...just keep coaching the way we've always been coaching because, hey, it works, right? Maybe we even think we've evaluated the merits of how we coach youth baseball before, so we've already concluded it's the right way.
To that I say: thank God people involved in technology aren't like that.
Think about it. What if technologists were content with the radio? Then we'd never have TV (or HDTV, or 4K HDTV). We'd still be sitting here today, in the 21st century, with our ears pressed against the radio speaker trying to hear stuff crackling through the air waves instead of seeing it in all its visual splendor, in high definition no less.
Thankfully, technologists didn't say, "Radio is the way we've always done it." Or even, "What's wrong with the TV? It's in color now, right? If it ain't broke, don't fix it." No, they push the limits. That's how the best in any craft are. Whether it's basketball, cooking, technology, "habit" is not in their vocabulary.
So why are so many youth baseball coaches like that? Considering our sizable responsibility to lead the kids in our care, we should be seeking to constantly improve ourselves...to see if there may be a better way.
What is the 80/20 rule?
The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle, says that, for many events, 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes.
It has application in a wide range of subjects:
- 80% of the wealth in the world comes from 20% of the people (economics)
- 80% of the crashes in software come from 20% of the bugs (programming)
- 80% of gross sales comes from 20% of your customers (business)
- 80% of your productivity in the day comes from 20% of your work in the day (time management)
The flip side is also true: the other 80% of your effort brings in the remaining 20% of the results.
[Note: the Pareto Principle does not apply to foundational things. Once the foundation of a subject is in place, then you can study cause-effect relationships in that subject to see where the 80/20 principle might apply.]
The aha moment is in realizing that most people think that all causes produces equal effects when it doesn't. Some causes produce bigger effects than other causes. That means you need to prioritize the causes that produce bigger results. For example, if cutting out pasta from your diet makes you lose weight faster than going out for a daily one-hour jog, then you would be wiser to focus on cutting out more carbs from your diet rather than cramming in more exercise into your day. It doesn't mean "don't exercise"; it just means to focus more on what produces bigger, faster results.
How the 80/20 rule applies to youth baseball
I've been coaching for awhile, but I didn't realize it until recently that the 80/20 rule also applies to youth baseball. Here it is:
80% of the results in a youth baseball game comes from 20% of the skills.Did you know the 80/20 rule applies to youth baseball too? Click To Tweet
The discrete skills in youth baseball are:
- The catcher position
- Fielding grounders
- Fielding fly balls
- Catching throws
- Defensive IQ
Of these skills, the ones that constitute 80% of the results are pitching, hitting and the catcher position.
Even for tee ball?
No. For tee ball, we are teaching kids the very foundation of the game, so it is important to teach all skills equally. As mentioned, the 80/20 rule does not apply to foundational things. That's why the Pareto Principle does not apply, for example, to learning to read, write and do arithmetic; you have to learn how to do all three of those core things.
What about the Coach Pitch level?
In coach pitch, many kids are still learning the very foundation of the game; for them it is again important to teach all skills equally. But for those kids who have the basics down, you'll notice that the 80/20 rule starts to manifest itself.
There is one skill that occurs in every play in coach pitch: hitting. In coach pitch, some of the skills in the above list do not apply. So the list is more like this instead:
- Catching throws
Of these skills, involved, one skill (20%) occurs on every single play (hitting). Fielding, whether grounders or fly balls, happens on most plays but not every play since strikeouts do occur in coach pitch. What's more, due to the nature of baseball, kids could theoretically play an entire game and not field a ball, run the base baths, make a throw or catch a throw. But they all must hit the ball.
Of course, I'm not saying that only hitting is important at the coach pitch level. As mentioned, we as coaches must lay down a solid foundation in all skills for beginners. But for kids who are past the beginner phase of learning baseball, 80% of what happens in a game is hitting the ball off the coach pitcher. The other 20% is fielding, throwing and baserunning.
However, as coaches, we teach all our kids the same, so we teach all aspects of baseball equally when they are not equal in the % of outcomes.
Note: "kid pitch" refers both (1) to the young ages when kids can pitch to each other but stealing has modified rules, as well as (2) to older kids where full baseball rules apply.
The same principle applies to kid pitch as coach pitch for kids who are still learning how to catch: teach all the foundational skills equally. But also as with coach pitch, for kids beyond the basics, the 80/20 rule is still in play (pardon the pun). The kid pitch level is when the original list of 10 skills will be needed and should be taught. But 80% of what happens in a game is the pitcher-batter confrontation (which therefore also includes the catcher position). The other 20% is fielding, throwing and baserunning. Yet, once again, we as coaches teach all aspects of baseball equally to the advanced kids.
This disconnect occurs even at higher levels of youth baseball such as travel baseball. In travel ball, the kids' skill level is higher, so hitters are more likely to put the ball in play. For many travel coaches, they think this means you have to emphasize fielding more in practice. However, the 80-20 rule still applies. That is, 80% of what happens in a travel game is the pitcher-batter confrontation. So instead of coaches emphasizing fielding more in practices to combat hitters' ability to hit the ball, coaches should be emphasizing pitching more in practices to combat hitters' ability to hit the ball. If you can improve your team's pitching so that even when opposing hitters do put the ball in play, the batted balls are routine grounders, then you won't need to emphasize fielding in practice since travel kids should already know how to handle routine ground balls. (Note: that doesn't mean you don't practice fielding at all in practice; it just means you de-emphasize its priority in practice relative to pitching, hitting and the catcher position.)
How being aware of the 80/20 rule in youth baseball can radically transform your practices
The travel ball example above is an example of how knowing the 80-20 rule exists in youth baseball can change how you run your practices. Going back to what I said earlier about coaches being creatures of habit, it's quite understandable why the vast majority of coaches teach all aspects of baseball equally: we want our kids to be well-rounded. That's why we are willing to schlep our kids to multiple activities or hobbies. So when it comes to baseball skills, we want them to be well-rounded. And it's a noble goal. Very noble, in fact. Even advanced kids should be well-rounded in their baseball skill set.
However, the 80-20 rule shows that when it comes to baseball, most of the action in a game comes down to a small subset of what we teach in practice: hitting, pitching and the catcher position. Not coincidentally, hitting and pitching are the two skills that have a precise set of complicated mechanics that takes time to learn. The other skills—baserunning, throwing, catching, bunting, even fielding—are significantly easier to learn by comparison.
Yet here's the typical 1.5 hour youth practice schedule:
10 min - stretches
10 min - throwing warmup
10 min - throwing drill
10 min - fielding grounders
10 min - hitting mechanics drill
10 min - soft toss hitting/live hitting
30 min - scrimmage
So roughly 22% (20 of the 90 minutes) of the practice time is spent on hitting (and/or pitching)—the stuff that matters most in games. Conversely, the remaining nearly 80% of the practice time is spent on stuff that only affects 20% of the game.
A better practice schedule might be:
10 min - experimenting with different pitch grips/catchers practice blocking pitches
10 min - working on pitching to specific locations in the strike zone/ catchers practice receiving (aka framing)
10 min - pitching mechanics drill/catchers practice receiving
10 min - hitting mechanics drill with live pitching
10 min - fielding, throwing and catching throws
10 min - hand-eye coordination hitting drill
10 min - hitting mechanics drill using tee
10 min - baserunning drill
10 min - defensive situations
In this format, you have 60 of the 90 minute practice time spent on the 20% of skills that result in 80% of outcomes: pitching, hitting and the catcher position. Of the remaining 30 minutes, 10 minutes should always be spent every practice on baserunning, another 10 minutes on fielding, and the other 10 minutes can cover any other skill (which, as we said, is easier to learn than pitching or hitting, thus requiring less practice time devoted to them). So over the course of all the practices in the season, you will still hit all the fundamentals to keep your players well-rounded but you'll emphasize improving the 20% of skills that cause 80% of the results. It's really a best-of-both-worlds approach.
Thus, by knowing the 80/20 rule in youth baseball, you can adjust your practices to focus on the stuff that actually matters—which will in turn help your kids get better at the stuff that actually matters. And as shown, you don't have to completely eliminate practicing the other aspects of baseball at all; it simply means you don't devote as much time to them as you would to the aspects that make up 80% of the outcomes.
Need help figuring this all out?
Hopefully this give you a renewed vision for what your practices can be. But maybe you need a little more help.
To help give you more of an Edge, I've got an exclusive resource for you. I've created a flowchart called "Focus On The 20" that will help you determine if a particular drill should be part of your practice agendas. It's super easy to use and you can test it with the various drills you already like to use for your practices. You can even use it to decide whether to include a scrimmage in your practice or not. And did I mention it's free?
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