How to Win at Little League: Duds, not Studs

When it comes to coaching a little league team, if you are trying to field a winning team, most coaches go about this completely wrong.

The wrong approach:

Coaches tend to focus on their stud kids. Discuss the draft with a coach and they will talk about the first 4 rounds. “I got Johnny round 1, Jimmy round 2, and Tommy round 3 – all 3 of those kids are awesome hitters!”

And that tends to remain the focus of their approach and their team. Those kids are the focus of their offense and the better the coach can make those kids, the better off the team will be.

Except that’s entirely wrong.

The right approach:

Ready for this? The key to winning is to focus on your lousy kids. Focus on your duds. Games do not come down to whether your stud kids perform. Games are decided on which team has the most “automatic outs”. And the lousy kids are the key to that.

In other words – you should spend the majority of your time working with your duds.

Let me provide an example…

My son was on a team 3 years ago that went undefeated. They were awesome and had 5 hitters who absolutely drilled the ball. We walked through the playoffs. The finals were in late June and we were the heavy favorite. We had crushed the opposing team twice already that season.

But here’s where it went wrong. Come gameday, the opposing team had only 8 kids show up. And the kids who were missing were all their worst players. In other words – they had no automatic outs. No duds.

That meant that their lineup kept going around and around through 8 good players – and they wracked up a TON of runs each inning.

For us, our studs played great. But then our dud kids came up and those innings fizzled.

Our studs played way better than their studs. But because they had no duds, they beat us.

Look at it this way…

You have 6 innings of Little League play. Most coaches are looking to score runs. That’s why they focus on their stud kids.

The right approach? Don’t worry about runs. Worry about outs. You have 6 innings – which means you have 18 outs. That is what to focus on. The team that plates the most kids before hitting that 18-out mark is the team that will win. Forget runs – focus on avoiding outs. Don’t try to be the team that scores the most runs. Try to be the team that avoids those 18 outs the longest and you will win every time.

In other words, focus on your duds. Turn a doubles hitter into a home run hitter? Who cares? It has no impact on how quickly you reach 18 outs.

Turn an automatic out into a singles hitter – now you’re talking.

A calculation to back the theory up…

Team A has 5 studs and 5 duds. And the coach spends his time working with the studs.

  • The 5 studs become SO awesome that they hit a home run every single at bat.
  • The 5 duds get out every time.

In 6 innings, Team A will score an astonishing 20 runs. Great job, coach!

Team B has 5 studs and 5 duds. And this coach spends his time focused on the duds.

  • The 5 studs underperform and only get a single every time they come to bat.
  • The 5 duds get out only half the time and the other half of their at-bats they get a single.

In 6 innings, Team B will score 30 runs. Team B will DESTROY Team A.

Here’s what else happens…

I can already hear the snarky comments about Little League not being about winning – so think about this side benefit when you focus on your lousy kids. Because if you believe all the standard talking points about wanting it to be fun and be about teaching…here’s what happens when you focus on your duds.

  • Those kids will never forget you.
  • You will be that kid’s favorite coach that he ever had
  • That kid’s parents will glow about you at parties and over coffee – which is not a bad thing if you live in that community

Listen, stud kids got a TON of attention. They’ll be fine. They already get all the glory and adoration of playing well.

But imagine if your work lets that dud kid be the hero. If that dud kid gets that big hit that wins the game? You will make a sports memory that that kid will never forget.

I will end on a story…

A friend of mine coaches Little League and he is someone I think is a really good coach. He had a MAJOR dud on his team, but the coach worked with that kid.

In a tight game, the kid got a hit. Over the course of the inning the kid came around so he was on third and had the potential to be the winning run. The coach went and asked him…

“If I give the sign, I need you to get home as fast as you can. Do you know the sign?”

In a mix of terror and elation, the kid replied:

“I’ve never been on base before.”

Tell me that coach hasn’t already won the entire Little League World Championships? Amazing.

3 thoughts on “How to Win at Little League: Duds, not Studs

  1. Love it Mike, so very true. The smile on those kids faces when they get on base is why I continue to coach. I had 2 players in Fall Ball this year, go quite a few games without getting a hit to start the year. They started to not want to bat. We talked them up and worked with them before each game. Both ended the season with 3 game hitting streaks. Again, that is why I continue to coach.

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