Pabao Little League, Willemstad, Curacao

A scrappy, undersize group of kids from a small Caribbean island who have ascended to Little League baseball’s most illustrious stage: the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. For six of the past eight years, in a tournament where merely qualifying two consecutive years ranks as a remarkable achievement, Curacao has reached the semifinals six of the past eight years, winning the title in 2004 and finishing second in 2005.

 

A Field of (Myelin) Dreams: Audio Slideshow

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Lessons

Ignited in 1996 by local boy Andruw Jones’s dramatic World Series home runs, Curacao began its rise from mediocrity to international success. But the truly remarkable thing wasn’t the ignition (after all, other places have had local boys make good), but rather the tools they used to capture and funnel thatenergy into deep practice. They do this by:

  • Modeling. I’ve never seen quite so many coaches at a baseball practice as I did in Curacao—and many of them were still in their teens. It’s their system: the older players come back and help with coaching, modeling the right way to execute skills and sending a clear message: if he can do it, why can’t I?
  • Creating a culture of drills. The coaches and kids bring a near-religious attentiveness to the smallest practice drills. They’re all like tiny coaches, explaining how their swing works, or the best way to field a grounder. One 13-year-old player spent twenty minutes explaining why a sockball (made of two tightly folded socks) was the best way to learn to hit a curveball.
  • Compressing the game. Curacao doesn’t have many fields, and so in yet another classic example of advantages masquerading as disadvantages, they shrink practice to tiny areas. The coach frequently pitches batting practice from 30 feet, instead of the conventional 45 – a strategy which, like similar soccer techniques produces terrific results (I tried it with my Little League team.)

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