Use the tips below to learn how to coach baseball practice in a way that will have your players begging to practice more often! In other words, here is how to make baseball practice fun!
Come With A Plan
Coming to practice with a plan each day will help with organization and efficiency. Your goal with each plan should be to utilize the available space, resources, coaches, and volunteers the best you can. Even the best coaches at the highest level of sport come to practice with a detailed written plan. If designed properly, practice should flow from one part to another, with minimal down time. Don’t forget to account for water breaks during your planning!
Pace of practice is the single most important factor in keeping players engaged. If you’ve been around the youth game long enough, at some point you’ve witnessed baseball being practiced and played at a snail’s pace. But it does not have to be this way. Learn to recognize when practice is moving slowly, and move on to the next phase. Standing around should be minimized. Using drills, exercises, stations with lots of rotations, and utilizing all space and volunteers will create a fast pace, high energy practice that kids will love participating in.
Drills are the cornerstone to practice and player development. There are thousands of them you can find on YouTube, in books, and in other online resources. Feel free to use any drill you would like if you can communicate the purpose of the drill, keep it moving at a good pace, and the players are getting value and enjoyment out of it. Make sure the drills are age and skill level appropriate. Players should be able to succeed often, while still being challenged by the drill.
Use targets often in practice. Targets can be used for throwing and hitting. Players love the challenge of trying to hit a target, and will focus more intently on the task at hand. They will unconsciously make positive mechanical adjustments in order to hit the target, and develop a much better feel of how to create, and repeat the desired result.
Everyone likes a little competition. Have at least one competition each day in practice. You can turn just about any drill or exercise into a competition. Or simply create a hitting, pitching or fielding competition with your team divided up into 2 or 3 mini teams. This will be a part of practice your players will always look forward to with excitement. You can utilize the targets mentioned above, and turn that into a competition as well. Competition is great for team building. Make sure that at each practice different players are grouped together. This will help cut down on cliques and start to build a great team culture. Instead of using running or conditioning as “punishment” for losing, reward the winners with something fun. For example, you could have the losing team go get the winning team’s players water.
Training Tools and Equipment
Some items are a must have to make practice efficient. Tees and wiffle balls are essentials. Other fun items to use include paddles or other flat devices to use in place of gloves. Coaches of younger teams can use bean bags to work on hand eye coordination and using the glove hand properly to catch. You can use footballs to work on tracking balls in the outfield. Agility ladders can be used for all sorts of fun exercises. Be creative. Players will love using different training tools and equipment they may have never used before.
Make Players Communicate
Drill work and fun team building exercises can be used to create a communicative culture on your team. Add communication into drills that may not already have it. For example, if you are doing a four corner or around the world throwing drill, have players call out the person’s name before they throw the ball to them. Competitions also foster a talkative environment. Use relay style races, hitting competitions, last man standing fielding drills, etc. and your team will surely start to talk to one another. Also, during situation practice or scrimmage style practices we need to constantly be encouraging the players to talk and communicate before the pitch, during the play, and after the play. Coaches should not have to tell players the outs. They should be communicating outs to each other after each play.
One reason a player may get bored with practice is that they are simply not being challenged enough. Young players need to experience lots of success in practice to begin to like the game and to develop confidence in themselves as a player, but they also need to be challenged. One way to challenge players is to make drills into random drills, or decision-making drills. This means, for example, instead of throwing batting practice with all straight fastballs, you mix in some change ups or curveballs to make it more difficult. Another example would be instead of having your infielders work on a ground ball right to them, you mix up the direction you move them each time. Random or decision-making drills are much more game-realistic than a traditional or “blocked” drill. As players improve, or if you are working with older teams, your goal should become to make practice even more difficult than the game s0 that game situations feel easy.
Stations & Rotations
With a full team of players, breaking up into smaller groups during practice is a must to provide each player with enough repetitions. Depending on the type of drills or exercises you are running during practice and the size of the groups, the rotations could be short (2 to 3 minutes) or long (15 to 20 min) in length. When possible, utilize the specialties of each coach or volunteer so that they are working with players on a skill or discipline they are familiar and comfortable with. When players are familiar with certain drills (depending on age), you can allow them to run their own station without coaches directly working with them. This will give you more time as a coach to work individually with a player at a different station.
Skip the Conditioning (Sort of)
One aspect of practice that often gets pushed very low on the priority list is baserunning. Instead of running sprints or foul poles, make baserunning a part of every practice. In almost every game you will play, good baserunning will steal your team an extra run, and/or bad baserunning will cost your team the opportunity to score a run. If your practice is organized in a way that creates constant movement and action, and you practice baserunning, there should be no need for additional conditioning.
Active Batting Practice
Simply throwing batting practice to one player while everyone else shags, does not create enough of a return for the amount of practice time it takes. There are many ways you can make batting practice more valuable. The first way is by putting players in defensive positions and having them play every ball live. You can even go as far as to have the infielders turn every ground ball into a double play. The next way to get more value from batting practice is to put an emphasis on baserunning. Have the hitter’s last swing be a “live” hit. The hitter then runs out the play as if it were live, and the defense plays it out live as well. Then, while on base, the baserunners can now work on certain disciplines. Examples are getting hit and run jumps at first base, runners at second base getting reads on ground balls and making decision to stay or go to third base, or runners at third base working on tagging up to score on fly balls. You can also make batting practice a game like competition. Break your team up into 3 or 4 smaller teams. Divide the amount of time allotted for batting practice into equal amounts for each team. While each team hits, the remaining teams will play defense. Every ball is live and each team is trying to score as many runs as possible within their time limit. Bases clear after the 3rd out, but the team hits until time runs out. The team with the most runs at the end wins.
Do not be afraid to be unconventional in your practice methods. Practice should not be just hitting some ground balls and fly balls to the players, taking some batting practice and calling it a day. Continue to explore and experiment with different methods as much as you can. Challenge yourself to do something at each practice that will make your players want to excitedly run up and tell their parents about after practice. Continue to research different drills, exercises, plans, etc, whenever possible.
What creative methods have YOU used to keep your players engaged at practice?
We’d like to know! Please SHARE with us in the comment section below.