We’ve all seen it. The coach has a sign for steals. Bunts. Takes. Hit and run. Early steal. Late steal. Calling every pitch. Pick to second. Pick to third. Trick plays. EVERYTHING.
Maybe it’s you. If it is, I understand. But take a step back. It’s just not necessary. Allow me to make a case for simpler and fewer signs.
The Importance of Simple Signs
I feel like most teams spend a lot of energy trying to come up with a complicated system that the other team can’t decode. But simple signs are critical to clear communication.
A complicated system makes it more likely that our players will miss a sign. It will make it more likely that a coach will get mad at a player for missing it. And it will make it more likely that a player will get confused and frustrated for missing that sign.
Just keep it simple.
Signs are needed to communicate something that you can’t say out loud. Truthfully, there’s very little that you need to tell your players while they’re on the field.
The more signs you have, the more control falls into the coach’s lap. The more signs you have, the more the coach is directing robots and the players are waiting to be told what to do.
Too many signs creates opportunity for confusion and miscommunication.
Our Steal Sign
During the 2022 season, the 14u Spiders had a steal sign. It was as simple as could be. I gave a series of signs that didn’t mean anything and I clap at the end. If I clapped twice, it’s a steal. If I felt you were catching on, I added an indicator of touching the top of my head.
I feel that it’s super important that signs are simple. It’s more important that my players know I want them to steal than I prevent the opposition from knowing we’re stealing.
If they know, so what? You have to throw us out. And they only did that about 8% of the time at 14u.
Our steal sign was so simple that in some cases we didn’t have a steal sign at all. I’d skip the signs and claps and would instead yell out “GREEN!” That means that I trust you. If you can read the pitcher’s move and get a good jump, feel free to go. Maybe not this pitch, maybe not any pitch, but you can go.
I didn’t give signs at all for runners at second base for 14u. There are too many moving parts for that. Stealing third is all about feel. I can’t tell you to steal third if you don’t first see the opportunity yourself.
YOU have to catch the pitcher’s pattern. YOU have to start taking a bigger lead. YOU have to get a good jump. Otherwise, you’re going to have no chance — it’s all on you. So, stealing third, while not that common, was a green light situation for everyone.
Our Other Signs
We had a steal sign, but we had very few signs otherwise.
We had a take sign that I very rarely gave. I want kids to swing the bat! A take sign, when given too often, is a sign of a lack of trust. You don’t trust that the batter will know whether to swing or not — and you’d rather he take a strike down the middle.
There is no better way to ruin a struggling player’s confidence than to give him take signs at weird times like 2-0 and 3-1 counts. You’re telling him that you want him to walk. You’re hoping for a walk because you expect him to get out. You’re sending this message whether intentional or not.
The only times I gave take signs this past season were when a swing had very little upside. It would be a 3-0 count, no one on base, and a singles hitter at the plate.
Beyond that, I want our hitters to be aggressive. The 3-0 count was usually a green light — especially with runners in scoring position. We actually needed to talk about this in practice because kids are so conditioned to think they should take on 3-0!
What other signs did we have? Well… We didn’t really have any. No hit and run (if you want to swing at your pitch when the runner is going, swing at it!). No bunt (that’s a story for another day).
It was simple.
Trust Your Players
I know this sounds foreign to some coaches, but it really comes down to trusting your players. Let go of some of your control over what is happening. Limit your signs. Talk about hitting strategy, but trust your hitters, encourage aggressiveness, and limit take signs. Create plays for them in practice that they can call and execute themselves.
Remember that players will do things you don’t want them to do at times as a result. Sometimes, you may realize that the way they did it was fine. Other times, you now have an example of a teaching moment that they can learn from.
The game becomes so beautiful to watch when you take this approach. When you limit the signs and limit your own control, players often play looser. They play with more confidence. They play with instincts instead of constantly trying to execute what the coach wants them to do.
What signs do you use?
Let me know in the comments below!