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Tuesday, December 1, 2009
How Would You Like to Run a Fun, Effective Youth Baseball Practice?
By Chip Lemin
Practices in any sport can be boring and unproductive if not planned out ahead of time. Having a clip board with your practice itinerary written out is just a good solid idea.You can keep track of your time slots for certain drills,and keeping these on file, you will know what you have covered.
Keep your practices to 90 minutes when possible. I realize that early pre season practices will likely go over due to weather wiping out some valuable time early on.
Break up the practices with a couple of water breaks, so that you 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 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 "station".
Typically you will divide your players and coaches up to best suit the drills you are doing.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 you will need help to run these stations. That is why in the parental letter at tryouts or sign ups, you must be clear in asking for help. The parents or relatives do not have to have coaching experience,although it is helpful.
This one good way to get parents to see how much work you put in to the team.Please make it clear who your assistant coaches are right away. NAME them in your letter if possible.Just because someone helps with practice doesn't mean they are now on the staff.
I know some of this seems obvious,but believe me,it must be spelled out to avoid confusion.You will be training the parents as well on how to help with the drills,and they just might work with the player at home also.
A GOOD PRACTICE SHOULD SEEM TO BE OVER QUICK!
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 it 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,and 1 reason that kids don't like baseball practice. It's too boring. Well I'm here to help you take charge of your team with an energizing practice.
Use your creativity and come up with some different stations.Or just use some old stand byes. Hitting stations,throwing stations,catching stations,fielding stations,or pitching stations.
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 them experience at all of stations.
KEEP THEM MOVING!
What is stressed at each hitting station is a good balanced stance, starting the swing with your bottom hand,along with a strong hip rotation,and balanced high finish or follow through.
We 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 out from under their elbow.They quickly catch on after a couple practices.This is a good drill and inexpensive.
Another drill is balanced beam drill.Using a 60 inch 4x4 flat on the ground,have the players hit a ball off of 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 batters box.
I use soft toss all season long.Try a 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.We must guard against boredom however by keeping station times to 15 minutes. Have players hustle from station to station. While others run the stations, the manager can go from station to station and observe players while heaping praise on them.Stop at a station and interject if needed.
Take a water break after all players have cycled through stations, and go over the fundamentals of the drills again.Also preview what they are going to do next,and praise their efforts on previous drills.Have a coach actually demonstrate the drills coming and what expect.Take questions from players if needed, but don't get off topic.90 minutes goes by fast.
Be sure to praise players who are doing drills correctly for their skill level.Remember not all players have the same skill levels, but all players need consistent praise and encouragement.
90 minute practices do not include 15 minute prepractice meeting and warm up time. Please have parents bring kids 15 minutes early, or if you are really on the ball, just schedule practice time 15 minutes earlier.
WARNING :COACHES MUST BE EARLY TO GAMES AND PRACTICE!
Parents will not get players to games and practice early if they see coaches and manager 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 min 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 fields if needed or permitted.If it was a difficult place to find, you can communicate that to others by phone so they aren't late.It shows other team that you mean business,it may give you a slight psychological edge.
Practice is set for 12 noon
1150 or earlier - you arrive to get make sure everything is set, bases,pitching rubber,equipment, etc...
1145- players arrive hopefully, put them in parallel lines 20-35 ft. apart depending on age group. Have begin warming up using proper mechanics. Any overthrows are to be picked and run back into the line. This prevents more overthrows from further away.
12 noon Call practice to order. Go over what stations are being set up and which adults are running them.Divide players up as equally as possible,splitting up buddies,and or siblings.
If this is 1st practice using stations,please demo for kids what you want at each station.
Station 1 A drill called Fly
Players line up single file, coach throws a football pass type throw over the shoulder of 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 min.
Station 2 Fly ball drill with tennis balls
Using a tennis racket, hit fly balls to a single file line of players, one at time. Players must use 2 hands with tennis balls or they will have hard time catching them. do this for 10 min.
Station 3 5gal bucket drill
Set up a 5gal bucket at home plate or anywhere else you want.Put players in a single file line, throw them a grounder or fly ball, using proper throwing techniques, attempt to throw baseball into the bucket. Put bucket at least 100' away depending on age group of course. Do this for 10 min.
Station 4 Cut off man drill
Have the players rotate as cut off man,throw or hit ball past the outfielder,have them chase,then pick up ball,using good throwing form, hit the cut off man.Rotate after each throw. 10 min.
Have a water break,go over how drills went.Kid around with players a little and be very positive. Highlight all the good things you saw first, then maybe touch on what needs work. Above all,stay positive,and fun.
Divide into 2 groups 1 at 3rd,another at 1st. Single file lines Have players field some grounders and pop ups, throwing to coaches or catchers 15-20ft up each baseline. 10 min.
Put players into regular positions or close to it.Bring in 2-3 players to hit. Machine or coach pitch.Give each player 7 swings, then rotate to next batter. Each player hits 2 times, then goes out and shags balls. After hitting for 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.
Call team together, go over things,and announce 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, I have given you a basic format that you can modify anyway 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 same is true for baseball.
Sometimes you will have entire practices on fielding or hitting. Schedule as many practices as the team's families will tolerate before the season starts.Once the season starts, have 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 players will develop their skills quicker. Always encourage working hard on their games.Most important is be positive,and be fun.
Chip Lemin has been a promoter of youth baseball since they started using aluminum bats. That's a long time. I have witnessed many good people get into coaching without solid coaching skills and it is not fun for them or the kids.Today's newer coaches are also being shortchanged on sportsmanship, like there is none. Visit my site to sign up for a insightful, informational, free coaching e-course at http://www.baseballecourse.com
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