I signed up to coach my daughters’ softball team this year and just wrapped up practice #1 over the weekend. This is 8U coach-pitch rec softball, with some players who are brand new and others who have played for several years. The first practice was an hour long, and my objective was to evaluate the players to understand their skill levels and begin to assess what we’ll need to work on in preparation for the season.
No. Absolutely not. When it comes to softball and baseball players, 4,5,6 and even most 7-year-olds at the beginner level simply do not have the coordination or skillset to have a productive round of catch.
I see it time and again. A coach tells a team to go play catch to warm up and it turns into a game of fetch. A very slow game of fetch. A player throws the ball, her partner misses it, he chases it, picks it up and throws it back, and she misses it and the cycle goes on. Eventually the coach wastes 5-10 minutes of valuable practice time, the players are no better off than when they started, and the team moves on to something (maybe) more productive.
You might be saying get out of here it’s baseball/softball, they need to play catch!
No, no they don’t.
Look at this video of a top-5 google video search result for “baseball throwing drills for youth”
Regardless of whether you agree with the coach’s principles and what he’s teaching the players, it’s easy to see that the players were unable to consistently throw and catch successfully.
The skills of throwing and catching are related but independent. As a coach you need to recognize that and at these early age groups set up your practice to emphasize each independently until such point the players have the skills and experience to make it productive.
Instead of wasting time with these players on a non-productive and inefficient activity, split them up into groups and have one assistant work on teaching players how to throw, and another one can teach them how to catch. It’s better at this level for a coach to be throwing to a player because the coach can (hopefully) have better control over where the throw is going such that the player has a higher chance at catching it.
Baseball and softball are all about confidence. Build the players’ confidence up so when they are physically ready to play catch down the road (a month or 2,maybe a couple years), it’s a worthwhile activity.
It’s hard for a new coach to understand where to start or what should be taught when they take on the challenge of leading a group of youngsters in a baseball season. The list below is intended to serve as a guide for new coaches and a reminder for experienced coaches of many of the objectives that should be covered over the course of a baseball or softball season. The list is directional and generally comprehensive. As a coach your goal at the end of a season should be to check off as many of these boxes as possible.
Certain leagues may have longer or shorter seasons, and teams may have larger or smaller rosters, so you will need to consider these variables when deciding what to cover. The absolute essentials are bolded, start with those, and move on to the others to make sure your players have the foundation they need to enjoy the season and the desire to continue playing.
First Things First
Before we get to the list below, the #1 thing to impress on the players is that they’re engaging in a game and it’s meant to be FUN! That fact gets lost in the shuffle too often at all levels. The chance to step on the diamond and PLAY a GAME is a great opportunity that should be cherished. Sometimes things will go their way, and sometimes they won’t, but a coach should always strive to keep things in proper perspective for the players. The coach’s prime objective at beginning levels should be to instill an enthusiasm for the sport such that players develop the passion to continue playing and potentially strive to improve.
Watch the ball all the way to the bat (coach pitch)
Don’t chop down, try for a level or upper cut swing
Look where you’re throwing
Correct Arm Action (elbow above shoulder)
Throw, don’t push the ball
Catching/Fielding a Ball
Alligator style on grounders
Two hands on pop-ups
Get in front of the ball
Get your glove on the ground
This post is intended to help you as a coach understand what you need to cover over the course of a baseball or softball season when you have a mixed group of new and experienced players who are just learning the game. If you have older or more experienced players, these foundations are still important, but your focus will be on teaching and reviewing more advanced topics under each category.
This is a longish watch so buckle up, but in it Carol Bruggeman, Executive Director- National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), gives some great drills to work with for outfielders. I’ve incorporated several of these into practice sessions, and the players love them. The competitive and fast paced nature of the activities adds a pace and urgency to practice and allows participants to really focus on producing great results.
Shoutout to my buddy Blake Paul for sharing this with me! Here’s a cool quick clip from softball player Jen Schroeder showing an easy fundamental drill for catchers. Emphasizing the importance of being strong in the stance, tracking the pitch, framing it, blocking it, etc., WITHOUT EVEN THROWING A SINGLE BALL, Jen is able to demonstrate how to teach and instill key elements of the position in a short period of time.
This example also goes to show how drills and activities need to be simplified to allow players to focus on consistent execution without having to memorize a complex set of instructions.
Here we have TCU Baseball Coach Randy Mazey breaking down one of the elemental aspects of baserunning. The first thing a runner has to worry about as they learn to play is busting it down the line to beat out a groundball. This video provides great advice on that as well as some iconoclastic tips on how which way to turn when heading back to first. Every coach needs to watch this because we’d avoid stupid arguments every weekend about tagging somebody out just because they turned in without making an attempt.
I’ve liked this drill since the first time I saw it. The principles Coach Candrea covers related to progression, precision, and energy are terrific. I especially like the back to back to basics approach of simply rolling the balls to the players for several rounds before hitting to them. Mixing in forehands, backhands, choppers, one-hoppers, slow rollers, etc, is a great way to give players experience in different scenarios, and the throwing aspect reminds them that a complete defensive play consists of two parts – the catch, and the throw.
The TBB Great Drills series is where I’ll list out some drills that I’ve found incredibly useful in my years. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments!