Getting Ready for the Start of Practices

This section takes a coach through the process of teaching the game to kids playing at the 89ers level (first level of player pitch).  The information is not intended to be consumed at one time.  This is a sequential, building block plan for an entire season.   

A brief skim through the full content has value, but we want to be careful not to overwhelm our brains.  The fact is, a novice coach can follow the program one practice at a time.

Much of the content will be repeated over the series of practices.  Our learning can take place along the way with the kids.   Through repetition, the core concepts become more and more familiar as we progress through the season.

Keep in mind the kids are 8 and 9 years old.  We will be able to digest what we are teaching faster than they will learn it   :)

 

 

 

Core Concepts to be Familiar with Prior to the First Practice:

 

Some of the defensive ‘rules’ for the 60’ game are different from those for the 90’ diamond

This is especially important for coaches who played and/or coached on the big diamond or have been long time observers of the 90’ game.  Many coaches with a thorough understanding of the 90’ game struggle early on at the youth level.  They begin to find success once they recognize that the game played on the smaller diamond is different.

 

Ready Position

This stance has the players knees slightly bent, feet parallel to each other and positioned slightly outside their shoulders.  Their hands and elbows are held in front of the body with the hands held, approximately, at ‘3 o’clock and 9 o’clock’.  Simple put, its an athletic position and somewhat resembles a defensive stance in basketball.

Players get in this stance every time they are preparing to receive a throw or when a ball could come to them (ie, on the pitcher’s delivery or the start of a drill repetition).  The situation where players most commonly make a mistake regarding the ‘Ready Position’ is when getting ready to take a throw at a base.  Most kids (and many adults as well) think that a player stands in a ‘stretch’ position when taking a throw at a base.

 

Three B’s - Ball, Base, Back-up

These are the only three things a player does on defense...at any level of play.  These are listed by priority: when the ball is put into play, each kid is thinking play the Ball.  Once a player recognizes they are not playing the ball the next priority is to cover a Base.  If they are not responsible to cover a base, they default to Back-up a throw.

 

The Three Players in the Middle of the Diamond (P, SS, 2b) Always Move Towards the Ball

Once the coaches and players recognize, and make a habit of following, this simple rule of defensive play the team begins to run like a well-oiled machine.  (Note: This is these players’ initial movement.  Later in a play, as it evolves, there are times where they’ll then move away from the ball).

The two common situations where the kids, who have not been trained, do not follow this rule: 1. shortstop or second baseman moving away from the ball to cover second base; 2. pitcher fails to run all the way to first base or third base.  It will take a good amount of repetitions for the kids to overcome these two issues. 

Scrimmage is the most opportune time to address this concept since it comes up on almost every play.

 

The Pitcher Has More Defensive Responsibilities Then Any Other Position on Defense

At this level especially, the pitcher is involved in a high percentage of ground ball plays.  Many Balls are hit to the pitcher.  Many times the two players on one side of the infield are both going after the ball leaving first or third base uncovered.  The pitcher, as the extra player in the infield, is responsible to cover the open base.

When balls make it to the outfield, the pitcher is responsible for backing up all throws coming back into the infield (the infielders have other responsibilities to fulfill).  And when a base runner is attempting to score on a ball hit to the outfield, the pitcher is the cut-relay player 100% of the time.

 

 

 

Practice Plans

(The content for this section is limited to the scheduled activities for the practices.  Supplemental information will be added that explains and supports the plans.)

Note: prior to the start of each practice, set up ‘Whiffle Ball Batting’ for early arrivals. (see

 

 

Practice #1    

Pre-practice     Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:10     Introductions

0:10 - 0:25     Teach: rules re: receiving a throw at a base

                         Receiving Throws at a Base, force (3-1 situation)

0:25 - 0:40      Infield Base Coverage

0:40 - 0:50      Underhand Toss (one direction)

0:50 - 1:10      Throwing Drills & Playing Catch Practice

1:10 - 1:30      Scrimmage (each player bats 1x)

      

 

 

 

Practice #2  

Pre-practice     Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15     Receiving Throws at a Base, force (3-1 situation)

0:15 - 0:20     Underhand Toss (one direction)

0:20 - 0:25     Teach OF Backing up

0:25 - 0:30     Explain Pitcher Base Coverage Drill

 

0:30 - 0:35     Break     

 

0:35 - 1:00      Group 1: Pitcher Base Coverage (3-1, 5-1; w/6 & 4 backing up) & Group 2: Outfield Backing up

          Rotation 1      Group 1:   3-1, w/4 backing up          Group 2:  Outfield Backing Up

          Rotation 2      Group 2:   3-1, w/4 backing up          Group 1:  Outfield Backing Up

          Rotation 3      Group 1:   5-1, w/6 backing up          Group 2:  Outfield Backing Up (review and more reps)

          Rotation 4      Group 2:   5-1, w/6 backing up          Group 1:  Outfield Backing Up (review and more reps)

*** Rotation determined by the group doing drills in the infield.  Shoot for six minutes each rotation; better to be ahead of schedule than behind.  Get each player in the infield group two reps at each position, then switch with outfield group.  The kids will not master the infield drill by any means.  On day one of a drill, we just want to get the kids exposed to the concepts and actions.  We will cover these concepts many times.  The kids will do better, over time, as they become familiar with the positional responsibilities.

*** Teach: Each player has one of three responsibilities on every play: Ball, Base or Back-up

*** Teach: The three players in the middle of the infield (P, SS, 2b) always move towards the ball

1:00 - 1:10      Throwing Drills & Playing Catch Practic

1:00 - 1:20      Scrimmage (each player bats 1x)

 

 

 

 

Practice #3  

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:05        Teach Ground Ball Footwork

0:05 - 0:10        Teach 20’ Ground Ball Drill

0:05 - 0:30        Outfield Backing up (w/4-3 & 6-5 w/pitcher also backing up) & 20' Ground Balls

         Rotation 1        Group 1:   4-3, w/OF & P backing up          Group 2:  20' Ground Balls

         Rotation 2        Group 2:   4-3, w/OF & P backing up          Group 1:  20' Ground Balls

         Rotation 3        Group 1:   6-5, w/OF & P backing up          Group 2:  20' Ground Balls

         Rotation 4        Group 2:   6-5, w/OF & P backing up          Group 1:  20' Ground Balls

0:30 - 0:35         Break        

0:30 - 0:45         Getting Ball in to the Pitcher (two groups)

0:45 - 1:00         Throwing Drills & Playing Catch Practice

1:00 - 1:10         Batting Drills

1:10 - 1:30         Scrimmage (each player bats 1x)

 

 

 

Practice #4  

Pre-practice     Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Brief Explanation of Drill ‘Ranging Laterally...’ to entire group>

--- Ranging Laterally for Ground Balls

--- 20' Ground Balls

--- Receiving Throws at a Base, force

0:15 - 0:20        Batting & Throwing Drills

0:20 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwin

0:30 - 0:35        Break

0:35 - 1:05        Team Drills

--- Infielders Throwing to a Base w/OF backing up

------- 5-4 Play

------- 4-3 Play

--- Batting Station (two on tees; two doing drills …five swings off tees, then switch

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

(players and coaches are starting to get used to the flow of scrimmage, which should allow some kids to bat more than once; possibly get each player two at-bats.  Make a note of which kids get fewer at-bats and even things up in the next scrimmage)

 

 

 

Practice #5 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Brief review of drill: ‘Getting Ball in to Pitcher’ to entire group>

--- Getting Ball in to Pitcher

--- 20' Ground Balls

--- Pop Flies

0:15 - 0:20        Batting & Throwing Drills

0:20 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

0:30 - 0:35        Break

0:35 - 1:00        Team Drills

--- Infield Throwing Across (3b & SS)

--- OF Pop Flies

--- Batting Station (two on tees; two doing drills …five swings off tees, then switch)

1:00 - 1:05        Break

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #6 - Batting Practice Training Day

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Explain drill: ‘Base Running…Base’ to entire group>

--- Base Running Through First Base

--- Infield Base Coverage

--- Ranging Laterally for Ground Ball

0:15 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice*

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

--- Skills: Catch, Tag, Power Position

     *the pitching and position player throwing segments will need to be shortened a bit to make time to explain the ‘Catch, Tag, Power Position’ Drill and teach the concept of “Look for Other Runners”

0:30 - 0:35        Break

0:35 - 1:20        Batting Practice: A 12-Player Drill

Teaching/learning day of how the drill is run, objectives & logistics

1:20 - 1:30        Chalk Talk

Identify (prior to practice) 2-3 things that have been covered up to this point, but could use a little more explanation for better understanding by the players.

 

 

 

Practice #7 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Explain drill: ‘Pitchers Backing-up’ entire group>

--- Pitchers Backing up

--- Receiving Throws at a Base, force

--- 20’ Ground Ball     

0:15 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice*

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

--- Skills: Cut-Relay Player Footwork - underhand toss from partner

     *the pitching and position player throwing segments will need to be shortened a bit to make time to explain the ‘Cut-Relay Player Footwork’ drill

0:30 - 0:35        Break

0:35 - 1:05        Batting Practice: A 12-Player Drill

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #8 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Teach: Middle Infield….Outfield’>

--- Middle infield Movement on balls hit to the OF

--- Pitchers Backing up

--- Ranging Laterally for Ground Balls                      

0:15 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

--- Skills: Cut-Relay Player Footwork - underhand toss from partner

0:30 - 0:35         Break   

                          Team Drills

0:35 - 0:40        Teach: pitcher’s defensive responsibilities on balls hit to outfield

0:40 - 0:45        Teach Cut Relay to Home

0:45 - 1:05        Group 1  Cut-Relay to home - on mini diamond #1

                          Group 2  Cut-Relay to home - on mini diamond #2

                          Group 3  Pitching/throwing practice

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #9 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Teach: Balls Hit to the outfield, always think ‘Two Bases’>

--- Base Running, Two Bases; Touches and Turns (ball hit to the outfield)

--- Middle infield Movement on balls hit to the OF

--- 20’ Ground Balls

0:15 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

--- Skills: Catch, Tag, Power Position

0:30 - 0:35        Break

0:35 - 1:05        Batting Practice: A 12-Player Drill

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #10 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Explain: C, T, T drill>

--- Catch, Tag & Throw, using underhand toss - mini diamond

--- Base Running, Two Bases; Touches and Turns (ball hit to the outfield)

--- Getting the Ball Back in to the Pitcher     

0:15 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

--- Skills: Cut-Relay Player Footwork - underhand toss from partner

0:30 - 0:35        Break   

                         Team Drills

0:35 - 1:00        Group 1  Cut-Relay to home - on mini diamond #1

                         Group 2  Cut-Relay to home - on mini diamond #2

                         Group 3   Pitching/throwing practice

1:00 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #11 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Teach: throwing on the run technique>

--- Throwing on the Run

--- Catch, Tag & Throw, using underhand toss - mini diamond

--- Base Running - Through First Base                          

0:15 - 0:30        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

--- Skills: Replaying the Ball (only balls in front)

0:30 - 0:35        Break

0:35 - 1:00        Batting Practice: A 12-Player Drill

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #12 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Explain: Side Shuffle, Partner Toss drill>

--- Side Shuffle, Partner Toss

--- 20’ Ground Balls

--- Toss Drills, straight in     

0:15 - 0:25        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

0:25 - 0:30        Break   

                         Team Drills

0:30 - 0:45        Teach sliding; sliding practice

0:45 - 1:05        Fielding, throwing & receiving throws with runners sliding (learn to not look at the runner)

1:05 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #13 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

--- <Teach: Receiving Throws at a Base, tag>

--- Receiving Throws at a Base, tag play

--- 20’ Ground Balls

--- Infield Base Coverage                  

0:15 - 0:25        Playing Catch Practice

--- Pitching Practice

--- Position Player Throwing

0:25 - 0:30        Break   

0:30 - 1:05        Batting Practice: A 12-Player Drill

                           (take advantage of time to work with pitchers @ skills station)

1:05 - 1:30       Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #14 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

                              -   Receiving Throws at a Base, tag play

                              -   Ranging Laterally for Ground Balls

                              -   Pitchers Backing up

0:15 - 0:25        Playing Catch Practice

                              -   Pitching Practice

                              -   Position Player Throwing

0:25 - 0:30        Break   

                         Team Drills

0:30 - 0:55        Ground Balls and Pitcher’s Fielding (three groups drill)

                          Group 1   5-4 (deep)

                          Group 2   6-3 (shallow)

                          Group 3   1-3 underhand toss (throw down base @ 30’)

                          Group 4   Pitching/Throwing station

0:55 - 1:30        Scrimmage

 

 

 

Practice #15 

Pre-practice        Wiffle Ball Batting

0:00 - 0:15        Skill Building Warm-up

                              -   Base Running, Two Bases; Touches and Turns (ball hit to the outfield)

                              -   20’ Ground Balls

                              -   Toss Drills, angling in

0:15 - 0:25        Playing Catch Practice

                              -   Pitching Practice

                              -   Position Player Throwing

0:25 - 0:30        Break   

0:30 - 1:05        Batting Practice: A 12-Player Drill

                         (take advantage of the extra time to work with more than one pitcher @ skills station)

1:05 - 1:30       Scrimmage

 

 

 

In-Season Practice Planning

The content of these 15 practices make up a comprehensive teaching program for 8-9 year old players and is appropriate for their physical and cognitive capabilities.  The activities provide knowledge of how the game is played and skill development that prepares kids to make the jump to the Minors (ages 9-11) level.

After completing these practices a coach has a good understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and needs of their team.  For the remainder of the season a coach uses the template (and experience gained) as a tool for planning drills and activities for their team.

When planning practices during the games portion of the season we plan each week as a whole.  We look at the number of times we will have the kids on the field (games and practices).  Each practice and pre game has a 15-20 minute time block that is used to cover one focus point for teaching.

For the sake of discussion we’ll assume we get the kids three days per week (two games and one practice).  We identify three team related teaching subjects ie, 1. Infielders Throwing to a Base w/Outfielders Backing-up, 2. Cut-Relays to Home, 3. Pitcher’s Fielding Practice.  Then we plug one or two drills into our Skill Building Warm-up that support or relate to the Team Teaching Activity.  We also want to include, in the SBW, a drill that involves a common skill ie, 20’ Ground Balls or Catch, Tag & Throw - using the underhand toss.

The remaining time spent in practice or pre-game is pretty much the same daily content established in the practices 4-15.

 

 

Pre-Game Practice

Early Arrivals     Wiffle Ball Batting

0:45 - 0:35         Simple Skill Building Warm-up Drills ie, 20’ Ground Balls, Underhand Toss/Throwing on the Run, Toss Drills

0:35 - 0:30         Position Player Catch (“Move Feet to Catch”, “Move Feet to Throw”)

0:30 - 0:15         Team Drills/Teaching Segment ie:

                               -   Pitchers Fielding Practice (involving infielders)

                               -   Cut-Relay to Home (mini diamond)

                               -   Full Team Movement (mini diamond)

                               -   Mass Ground Balls and Fly Balls

                               -   Expand time given to batting and cut the Team/Teaching segment out

0:15 - 0:05       Get kids and dugout organize / prep the starting pitcher

0:05 - 0:00       Pre-Game Talk

…if we are able to get the kids to the park 60 minutes prior to game time, we expand the teaching segment and add an extra five minutes for getting the kids and dugout organized

 

 

Ground Ball Reps

Full distance ground balls are not given a lot of reps prior to the start of the practice / games segment of the season.  The kids do however, get a lot of footwork reps to establish the foundational actions of the skill. 

Additional reps of full distance ground balls (and throws across the diamond) can be provided by a coach on the side of the diamond and occasionally the BP pitcher during batting practice.  Lulls in the flow of live pitching provide these opportunities:  the BP pitcher digging in the bucket for more balls, batter delays to adjust helmet, kick a stray ball out of the batter’s box, etc.

As we get into the playing season, and the kids have learned, and gotten reps in, the skills related to playing the game properly, fielding full distance ground balls and throwing across the diamond are given more time in practices and pre-game practice.  Also, our batters are improving and developing more consistency, resulting in a lot more legitimate ground balls coming off the bat during batting practice and in scrimmages.

We must be mindful of the fact that at this age there are limitations of how consistently these players can successfully complete the task of fielding a ground ball and making catchable throws to bases.  Fielding a ground ball, making the transition to, and executing a throw requires a good deal of overall body strength.  Many kids at this age lack the physical strength to have consistent success in this skill.

We will work with them, encourage them and help them get better, but we want to be mindful of our limited practice time.  Our ROTTI (Return on Teaching Time Investment) is going to be much higher teaching them how to play the game than ground ball work at the 8-9 year old level.  When the kids get to ‘Minors’ (ages 9-11) they are gaining the strength required to execute this skill successfully on a more consistent basis.  At that level we will invest more time on fielding reps.

 

 

Working in Pitching Reps During Practice

We already schedule in Pitching Practice during ‘Playing Catch Practice’ and Batting Practice.  However, even if we run highly efficient practices the pitchers don’t get the reps they need to fully develop this skill.  Sometimes we can eke out pitching work for one or two kids during Team Drills or Scrimmage if we have an extra adult body available.  When doing this we need to remember that our kids are doing a lot of throwing in other aspects of practice and we don’t want to overwork their arms.  Also, we don’t want them to miss out on what the other kids are doing. 

When pulling a player aside to get some pitching work it is important to recognize that we don’t need them pitching from a rubber to a plate to practice pitching.  Any convenient spot off to the side of the activity we pull them from will work. We only need to step just far enough away from the other action so that everyone is safe.  Pitching from full distance is not required, or even desired, during these short pitching sessions.  There are a few of benefits of having them throw from a shorter distance (35’-40’): 1. They can focus more and proper pitching actions and less on ‘just getting it there’, 2. Less stress on the arm, 3. Easier to get the workout completed in any nearby space that is available.

On some days it might be possible to get a 2nd or 3rd pitcher some work as well. 

This is not a strategy to implement before the 8th or 10th practice.  We first want to be sure all players and coaches have a good feel for the practice routine and flow. 

 

 

Pitchers and batters reach their potential by spending additional time at home working on these skills; it’s also tough to get catchers work during practice

Practices by the nature of their make-up serve the team as a whole more than the individual.  There is just not enough time during regular team practices for players to fully develop their pitching and batting skills.  Players wishing to be the best they can be need to spend extra time outside of the team practices.  The good news is 15-20 minutes invested on days spent away from the ballpark can make big difference in a player’s development.

Make this clear in your pre-season parents letter or parents meeting.  Tell the parents they should not feel any obligation to work with their kids at home (many are busy or uninterested), but we want to communicate the fact that practice time is Team time and there simply is not enough time for these important individual skills to get the time and repetitions needed to reach one’s potential in these skills.

Pitchers:

  1. Daily Drills (3 minutes)
  2. Play catch, focus on specific points of pitching mechanics: 30-40 throws.  A player wants to spend one day working at home for each day the team practices or plays.  An individual who is one of the team’s primary pitchers will cut back on the quantity of throws once they start pitching more than two innings at a time during the season.

Batters:

  1. Daily Drills (3 minutes)
  2. Frequency of time spent at home is the same as for a pitcher: one workout at home for each practice and game:
  • --- 20-30 swings off a tee one off day for each practice/game day
  • --- 20-30 additional swings at live pitches wiffle balls from short distance is fine)
  1. Note 1:  These 40-60 swings can be completed in about 10 minutes (and its fun!)
  2. Note 2:  A player should not go two consecutive days without getting swings in, which might result in a few additional work   outs at home. 

           

Catchers:

We try to get some work with our catchers at the skills station during batting practice, but the reality is the need to work with pitchers will eat up that time.  However, on occasion we can have a catcher receiving pitches from the pitcher in the skills station.  A good time to fit in some work with catchers our catchers is following Saturday practices in the pre-season.  A few 15 minute sessions on these early Saturdays can go a long way.  Not only does that specialized time help those kids, but it gives them ideas of things they can work on at home.  We want to be sure that the parents of the catchers hang around during these short workouts.  Parents can watch learn some drills and work with their aspiring catcher at home.

The catcher position, like pitching and batting cannot get the needed skill building reps during a 90 minute Team practice.  In order for a youngster to be their best behind the plate they need to practice at home for 10-15 minutes a couple days per week.

 

Yes, I Understand…

On most every team we have two or three kids who pitch, catch and are also some of our better hitters.  The combination of these three skills can add up to more extra work than what can be asked of an 8 or 9 year old.  The above suggestions can be adjusted to a level of work that is realistic for these individuals.  Some are naturally passionate types and will eat up the opportunity to play more away from the park, while others will show no interest.  As coaches we want to communicate to parents the prescriptions suggested above and leave it at that.  More important than anything is keeping the overall experience fun and positive, so the kids will develop a love of the game and keep playing in the years to come.  For those kids there will be plenty of time to develop their skills.