PART 3 OF A 7-PART SERIES…
EFFECTIVE, FUN PRACTICES
How would you like to have an effective, fun practice that keeps everyone focused? Practices in any sport can be boring and unproductive if not planned out ahead of time. Having a clipboard with your practice itinerary written out is a good, solid idea. You can keep track of your time slots for certain drills, and by keeping these on file you will know what you have covered.
Keep your practices to 90 minutes when possible. Early pre-season practices will likely go over due to make-ups for weather which sometimes wipes out valuable practice time early on. Break up the practices with a couple of water breaks which allows you to add some instruction as a group. Water breaks are not free-for-alls; they are for listening. Go over what you have been doing so far, and what you are going to do next.
KEEP PRACTICE MOVING ALONG!
Practices can be broken up into different stations. A station is a group of players and 1 or 2 coaches. The term “station” refers to whatever skill is being worked on at that location. Typically you should divide players and coaches up to best suit the drills you have scheduled. For example, take 3 catchers and run a blocking drill for 15 minutes. Then, take your catchers to home plate and along with 3 middle infielders conduct a throwing and tagging station. You can also work on back-ups at 2nd base along with pitch-out drills for catchers.
GET PARENTS INVOLVED!
Obviously help is needed to run drill stations. That is why in the parental letter at sign-ups or try-outs you should be clear in asking for help. The parents or relatives do not need to have coaching experience, although it is helpful. This is one good way to get parents to see how much work you put into the team. Make it clear who your Assistant Coaches are right away and name them in your letter if possible. Just because someone helps out with practice does not mean they are now on the staff. Some of this may seem obvious, but believe me, it must be clearly spelled out to avoid confusion. You will be training the parents as well on how to help with the drills, and hopefully they will work with their player at home, also.
A GOOD PRACTICE SHOULD GO BY QUICKLY!
My nightmare practice scenario is this: A coach is trying to throw batting practice to 1 batter at a time. The coach can’t get the ball over the plate. There is no on-deck batter to quickly help pick up balls at the backstop. The rest of the players and coaches are standing in the field looking very bored.
This is a very common practice situation, and one reason that kids don’t like baseball practice: It’s too boring. Well, here is how to take charge of your team with an energizing practice.
Use your creativity and develop different stations or just use some old stand-bys for hitting, throwing, catching, fielding and pitching. Rotate your coaches and volunteers to different stations each practice to give them another station to learn. Keep track of which person worked what station so you can ensure everyone has experience at all of the stations. Keep them moving!
What should be stressed at each hitting station is a good, balanced stance, starting the swing with the bottom hand along with a strong hip rotation, and balanced high finish or follow-through.
I like to use a drill called the Towel Drill. It is simply placing a folded towel under the back elbow of each hitter. Each hitter then gets several balls soft-tossed to them one at a time. Each hitter is then trained to rotate the torso to hit the ball without the towel falling from under their elbow. They quickly catch on after a couple of practices. This is a good and inexpensive drill.
Another is the Balance Beam Drill. Using a 60-inch 4×4 flat on the ground, have the players hit a ball off a tee or soft-toss to them to see whether their swing is balanced. It will also show you if they are stepping out of the batter’s box.
Use soft-toss all season long. Try to purchase a hitting net to set up wherever you go during the season. Using soft-toss you can look at the player’s swings to see whether they are swinging correctly. All of the other hitting stations work a different part of the swing. Soft-toss is where you can see the progress of the stations.
REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION
Baseball skills are learned with repetition. However, we must guard against boredom by keeping station times to only 15 minutes each. Have players hustle between stations. While other coaches or helpers run the stations, the head coach can move around and observe players while heaping praise on them. Stop at a station and interject if needed.
Take a water break after all the players have cycled through the stations and review the fundamentals of the drills again as a group. Also preview what the players are going to do next, and praise their efforts on previous drills. Have a coach actually demonstrate the upcoming drills so the players know what to expect. Take questions from players if needed, but don’t get off topic: 90 minutes goes by very fast.
Be sure to praise the players who are performing the drills correctly for their skill level. Remember that not all players will have the same skill level, but all players need consistent praise and encouragement.
Note: The 90-minute practices do not include 15 minutes of warm-up time and pre-practice meeting. Have the parents bring the players 15 minutes early, or just schedule practice time 15 minutes earlier than it really starts.
WARNING: COACHES MUST BE EARLY TO GAMES AND PRACTICE!
Parents will not get players to practice and games early if they see coaches getting there late. Set an example right away!
My son had a coach who would always be there when we arrived and we were usually 30 minutes early for practice and 1 hour early for the game. We only arrived before him twice, and that was because we left even earlier than normal. There were no issues on that team about latecomers.
Getting to games early also helps to get good dugout sides if they are not marked. You can look at field conditions during uncertain weather. You can do some work on the fields if needed or permitted. If it was a difficult location to find, you can communicate that to others by phone so they aren’t late. It also shows the other team that you mean business, and it may give you a slight psychological edge too.
If practice is set for 12 noon…
11:50 or earlier, arrive to make sure everything is set.
11:45 players should hopefully arrive. Put them in parallel lines 20-35 feet apart depending on age group, and have them begin warming up using proper mechanics. Any overthrows are to be picked up and run back into the line. This prevents more overthrows from further away.
12:00 call practice to order. Review what stations are being used and which adults are running them. Divide the players as equally as possible, being sure to split up buddies and/or siblings. If this is the first practice using stations, demonstrate for the players what you want at each station.
- Station #1 Fly Drill: Players line up single file, the coach throws a football pass-type throw over the shoulder of the player on the run to make the catch. Run the ball back to the coach on the outside of the line so there are no collisions between players. Do this for 10 minutes.
- Station #2 Fly Ball Drill (using tennis balls): Using a tennis racket, hit fly balls to a single-file line of players one at a time. The players must use both hands with the tennis balls or they will have a hard time catching them. Do this for 10 minutes.
- Station #3 5 Gallon Bucket Drill: Set up a 5 gal. bucket at home plate or anywhere else. Put players in a single-file line, throw them a grounder or fly ball. Using proper techniques, they need to attempt to throw the baseball into the bucket. Put the bucket at least 50’-100’ away depending on age group. Do this for 10 minutes.
- Station #4 Cut-off Man Drill: Have the players rotate as cut-off man. Throw or hit the ball past the outfielder, have them give chase, then pick up the ball. Using good throwing form, they need to hit the cut-off man. Rotate after each throw. Do this for 10 minutes.
12:45 have a water break and go over how the drills went. Be very positive, highlight all the good things you saw, then maybe touch on what needs work. Above all, stay positive and fun.
12:50 divide the players into 2 groups with one at 3rd and another at 1st in single-file lines. Have the players field grounders and pop-ups, throwing to coaches or catchers 15-20 feet up each base line. Do this for 10 minutes.
1:00 put the players into regular positions and bring in 2-3 players to hit. Machine or coach pitch, giving each player 7 swings then rotating the next batter. Each player hits 2 times, then goes out and shags balls. After hitting for the 2nd time, call in another player. Always have 1-2 players ready to hit, and have everyone ready to hustle in and pick up balls between hitters.
1:25 call the team together, go over things again and announce the next practice or game time. Thank everyone for being prompt, especially the parents.
Be Creative, Be Fun, Be Positive
There are many other ways to run a practice. This is a basic format that you can modify any way you see fit. Just don’t fall into a rut of doing the same things over and over. Variety is the spice of life and the same is true for baseball.
Sometimes you will have entire practices devoted to fielding or hitting. Schedule as many practices as the team’s families will tolerate before the season starts. Once the season starts, have the team arrive 1 hour before game time for some hitting and fielding workouts.
Practice will make your team better. Well-run, productive practices will do even more. When you run challenging, varied workouts the players will develop their skills more quickly. Always encourage your players to work hard on their games. Most importantly, be positive and fun.
Coming in PART 4: How do I get more parents involved in our team? Simply by asking…
About The Author:
Chip Lemin has been involved in Youth Baseball for over 30 yrs as a player, manager, coach, and now a parent-coach on the travel/tournament baseball teams of his two sons who play in Northeast Ohio. Chip’s personal mission is to promote good sportsmanship and positive attitude training for players as well as coaches, managers and parents.
This series is reproduced with permission and can be obtained in original e-book form by free subscription at http://www.baseballecourse.com.
Please also visit Chip’s expert EZine Articles here for more great articles on all aspects of baseball play and coaching.