It’s getting to be that time of year. Rec teams are being formed, and any travel teams that haven’t started already will begin practice soon. With all the drills and activities and ways to run practice effectively, here are ten tips that will make for a great experience for coaches and most importantly players. Here we go.
I think it’s of the utmost importance to have a purpose and goal for every practice. Whether it’s the first team session, or a workout deep in the summer between tournaments, it’s up to the coach to determine what the team should be getting out of every practice. Early on the keys are to evaluate players, get an idea of their strengths and opportunity areas, and begin to build team chemistry. Throughout the season between tournaments, the focus may shift to working on issues that rose up over a weekend or fine-tuning some areas that haven’t been worked on. Later in the season, the objective may simply be to lift the team’s morale and maintain a high energy level heading into year-end events.
Bonus tip: COMMUNICATE! Tell the players what you plan to focus on and expect. Regardless of the age group, their more likely to respond and meet expectations when they know what the expectations are.
Once you know what you want to accomplish, the next thing to do is figure out how you’re going to accomplish it. The best practices I’ve seen can be broken down into some sort outline by position group, offense vs. defense, pitching, etc. Setting aside specific blocks of time for each activity or drill will help you mentally stay on track and work towards your goal for the session. Smarter and more experienced people than me have put together great plans which are easily found online, like the one here.
Ask for help
Players in older age groups are frequently (mostly) self-reliant and can do what they’re told in small groups. For the younger age groups and even on teams where there are enough coaches to run the drills, it’s often a good idea to ask for some sort of assistance from parents or siblings. Whether it’s shagging balls, filling in at positions where a player may be missing, or any number of other roles, it’s much better to request help and support than to attempt to struggle through a situation without it.
Drills and Activities
I’ll save my favorite drills for another series of posts. The key thing to consider on this topic is that the activities relate to the objective of the practice and keep the players engaged. Again this is a topic where I’d be a fool to reinvent the wheel; just search youtube for baseball drills and pick ones that make sense for your practice plan.
Piggy-backing on the Drills and Activities is the concept of rotations through each station, made up of small groups of players. This will allow players to get more individualized attention from you and the other coaches, as well as give them the opportunity to consistently be focusing on a new area of instruction. Whether you split up into offensive, defensive, baserunning, or pitching groups, another thing to keep in mind is the importance of sticking to a schedule and moving the groups throughout the stations. Depending on the age group, the practice length, and many other factors, you may find yourself rotating anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
Energy and Pace
There’s lots of different ways to approach this, from simply forcing players to sprint everywhere to implementing a countdown clock, but the principle is the same: instilling the mindset that time is valuable and consistent effort and hustle is the easiest way to maximize the instruction and development that can occur during practice. One of the simplest and most recurring actions at a practice is picking up balls; while seemingly a mindless activity for players, showing effort here can be analogous to the sense of urgency that’s needed in games to retrieve errant throws, take extra bases, be alert on defense, etc.
I’m not referring to stretching or agility here. I’m talking about your flexibility as a coach and leader to adjust your practice plan on the fly. Circumstances frequently change at practice, which necessitates a flexible mindset to keep things moving and beneficial for the team. Field space, attendance, weather, and equipment are frequent causes that come up. Another less obvious one (until you think about it) is that players sometimes are just not grasping a concept or activity and it may be a good idea to just scrap it and move on to something more engaging while still being productive. It will be less frustrating for coaches, parents, and especially players in the long run to move onto something new vs. trying in vain to bang home a point.
As long as they keep score, baseball’s a game where it’s typically more fun to win than it is to lose. Instilling elements of competition at any point in practice can help implement the competitive mindset and motivation that players will need to fuel them through a long travel season. This post on TeamSnap.com has some good ideas on the types of activities you can use, but really this is a good way for you to get creative. Contests for bunting, throwing, fielding, hitting, running, etc. are all great ideas to reinforce your instruction while getting the players to compete.
Mirroring the communication at the beginning of practice, it’s always good to recap for players what was covered. This is your chance to provide feedback on how things went (good or bad), and start setting the right mindset for the next team event, be it practice, game or tournament.
Baseball remains a game. Keep practice fun by not taking it more seriously than it needs to be taken and you’ll create an environment where players are excited about it more often than not.
And there you have it. The big thing is that this isn’t rocket science. Preparation, planning, energy, and communication are the keys that will lead to a successful and enjoyable practice program for you and your team. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.