Pick-off Throw To First Base ….oooops, the ball is headed into foul territory down the right field line

One aspect of Pitchers having trouble throwing to first base is Mindset.  Think of what we call the move to first: “Pickoff Move”.  The long used phrase ‘pick off’ by coaches (and players saying it/thinking it themselves) has morphed into the mindset that the purpose of this play is to generate an out – pick the base runner off first.  Too often the result is pitchers trying too hard to ‘pick the guy off’ and firing the ball past the first baseman. 

 

The pitchers’ actions become too quick, undisciplined and to some extent, out of control which leads to poor throws.  Also, pitchers often try to throw the ball too close to the ground (where the first baseman would be in a better position to apply a tag).  “Hey, I gotta throw the ball down by the bag, so we have a better chance to pick that guy off.”

 

Let’s ask ourselves the question, “what is the objective of throwing over to first base?”  Are we really trying to generate an out? …or perhaps are we simply trying to ‘Hold the runner close’? …or disrupt their timing? …or to wear them down and slow their jump? …or create anxiety by sticking in their mind that, ‘Yes, the pitcher Will throw over’?

 

When I was a head coach in college we changed the phrase ‘Pick Move’ to ‘HOLD Move’.  Our objective was to re-set our pitchers’ mindset when they threw to first base.  We taught them that we are not trying to ‘Pick the Runner Off’, we are working to ‘Hold Them Close’.

 

Questions:   1. What percentage of throws to first base result in an out?  I don’t have any stats, but I’ll suggest the number is less than 5%.    2. At the amateur/teen level of play, what is the percentage of balls thrown past the first baseman? …I don’t have a stat on that either, but I will suggest that the percentage of balls thrown past the first baseman is higher than the percentage of throws that result in an out.

 

We taught our college pitchers to throw to first base at the first baseman’s chest level, not low to the ground, near the bag.  By practicing with this mindset our pitchers became very good at making catchable throws consistently.

 

Another question to ask (and this might be easier for those of us who were base-stealers in our playing days) is:  

When a base-stealer is Picked Off, was it a result of the pitcher making a quick and awesome throw, or was it a result of the Runner ‘Getting Their Self Out’?

ie, they were ‘leaning’, or their first move was towards second base, when the pitcher threw over, and as a result they were late in getting back to the base?

 

We told out college pitchers, “Make consistently good, catchable throws to first base and give the base runner the opportunity to ‘get themselves out’”.  Given this new mindset, our pitchers learned to coolly and confidently throw over to first more frequently.  The more we threw to first, the greater the chances of the runner making a mistake and ‘getting their self out’.  …no we didn’t throw over a zillion times each game ;) but we wouldn’t hesitate to make back to back throws to first in base stealing situations and counts.

 

We did not keep stats on this, so I can’t say it produced more outs, but I can confidently say that the occurrences of ‘throwing the ball away’ was very low.

 

Let’s teach our pitchers the mindset of ‘Holding the Runner Close’ on their throws to first rather than making a ‘Pick Off Move’ and we will reduce balls being thrown away and possibly, in the process, generate more outs by giving the base runners more chances of ‘getting themselves out’

 

 

Technique For (Right Handed) Pitchers Throws to First Base

Making consistent quality throws, for any position, and most throwing sports for that matter, is based on good Footwork.  The process for teaching and training pitchers to throw consistently well to first base begins with Training proper footwork.

 

Step 1 – No Ball is Used

Pitcher comes to the set position, then makes a 90 degree turn (very low two footed hop) in the direction of their glove side.  In the process they separate their hands and bring their elbows up to shoulder height to a throwing (power) position.  At the end of the action, we want their feet to be wider than shoulder width and be able to draw a straight line from the tip of their right foot, through the tip of their left foot, to first base.  The line from their back elbow, through their shoulders, to their left elbow also needs to be straight towards first base.

 

More than likely the pitcher’s feet and elbows/shoulders will not be lined up properly in their first try and likely not in many subsequent tries.  The purpose of the drill is to train this action, so the pitcher is in a good throwing position and lined up properly to throw to first base, each time they execute the action…this is more than a one day process.

 

Note: this drill does not need to be done on the pitcher’s mound.  It can be done along one of the foul lines in the outfield (leaving the infield area for position players to work).

 

This action is executed over and over with the pitchers and coach checking their body alignment after each repetition. – Do ten reps of the action.  

 

Step 2 – Include the Ball

After doing this ten times without a ball, add the ball to the action, so the pitcher is finishing in a proper throwing position. – Ten reps using a ball.

 

Step 3 – Throw ‘to First Base’ From the Throwing (power) Position

Have your pitchers partner-up and stand the same distance apart as is the distance between the pitching rubber and first base.  The pitchers throw to each other, from the throwing/power position, with the chest area of the ‘first baseman’ as the target (note: a first baseman is bent down some when taking a throw from the pitcher, lowering the target area slightly) – Ten reps

 

Step 4 – Execute the Entire ‘Hold’ Move

It is critical that we instruct our pitchers, in the early stages of training this skill, to practice the action at a Controlled pace….half to three quarters speed and with just a Firm toss to first base, not all out. – Ten reps

 

 

Progression of Skill Development

We put our pitchers through this routine for two workouts.  It is critical that throughout the process we are constantly working on establishing the mindset that they are working on a ‘Hold Move’, not a ‘pickoff move’.  We must monitor the pace of their actions.  Kids naturally want to show how good they are at physical skills; they will try to go too fast, too soon.  We Will have to remind them to work at a Controlled pace and explain to them that First they need to develop the muscle memory of the actions, Then, after they have demonstrated consistency in executing the actions, we will start to speed things up …on days 3, 4 and beyond.

 

Our objective is, by the end of the second workout, that the players develop some level of mastery of the actions and have been successful in making fairly accurate, catchable throws to ‘first base’.

 

On subsequent days of work, based on our observations, we direct the players to increase the speed of their actions bit by bit.  It is likely that we will not reach full speed in the actions until Day 4 or 5.  The progression of the group depends a lot on their age, how quickly they grasp the concept that they are not trying to pick the runner off and their level of focus and commitment to learning.

 

 

Game Day Check List …identifying fundamental flaws in your team; planning your next practice

Our teams and players are not executing well in the early games of the season and it can be a bit frustrating.  What can we do in our upcoming practices to make the greatest strides in developing our kids’ skills?  While saying, “Work on the things that we are struggling with” seems obvious, the question is how to ID those and which ones to prioritize.

Below is a checklist of items (that are common flaws in our play) to look for in the next couple of games to help us come up with some points to address in upcoming practices.

NOTE: Remember, we don’t need a baseball field to practice baseball.  Most any flat open space can be used to practice and develop skills.  This includes batting; batting practice can be done using wiffle balls.  The good thing about using wiffle balls for batting practice is that multiple players can bat at the same time…increased swings = greater development.

 

 

COMMON FLAWS CHECK LIST

Batting

·        Swinging to early – “Let the Ball Get to Your Feet” and “Head in Place”

         (swing and miss, lunging forward, hitting ball off the end of the bat…making contact too soon)

        

·        Head Movement (pulling the head pulls the swing out of the path of the pitched ball)

·        Movement in the feet (watch the conclusion of the swing…feet movement at the end of the swing indicates a batter who is likely off balance during the swing)

·        No Load – “See Ball, Turn Back” (standing like a statue while pitching is delivered and heading towards home plate) - watch 1:22 - 2:15

 

Receiving Throws

·        Failing to “Reach Forward” when receiving a throw

 

Receiving a Throw at a Base

·        Force Play - Standing in a stretch position Before the ball has been thrown

·        Tag Play

1.      Not standing on the side of the base the ball is coming from

2.      Not following the RULE: “Ball First, Base Second” when a throw is off line …not “Moving Feet to Catch".  A common mistake young players make is thinking they need to keep a foot on the base when receiving a throw.  In the picture below, David Wright concedes the fact that the runner is going to be safe (we need to explain to the kids that runners are safe A LOT over the course of a game) in order to move off the base and stop the ball.

 

Throwing

·        Failing to “Move Feet to Throw”  - Watch 0:45 – 1:10

 

·        Failing to utilize the Underhand Toss on short distance throws and not executing the action correctly - the first baseman runs with the ball to create momentum, guides the ball by gently extending the tossing arm LEVEL then CONTINUES to run toward the target AFTER tossing the ball.

 

Fielding

·        Getting in front of the ball too soon.  Footwork (and keeping the feet moving throughout the action) is the key to fielding.  When a player gets in front of the ball too soon their feet stop working, which leads to problems.  ...in the third replay of Durham's error (shot from above) you can clearly see that Durham 'gets in front of the ball' when it is barely half way to him, then he is stuck with nothing to do but wait; he has no rhythm with the ball and inevitably the ball goes through his legs.  ........a fielder wants to stay slightly to the side of the ball (and maintaining some movement with their feet) until they are about to field the ball.  They 'get in front of the ball TO FIELD THE BALL', not any earlier.  The fielder moves their feet leading up to the fielding action and keeps their feet moving through the fielding action......"The fielders feet makes their hands work.'

·        Back peddling on fly balls and pop-ups (insert drill link)

 

Base Running

·        Eyes on the ball rather than the base (when running to first base). Drill Diagram   

·        Improper route when advancing multiple bases. Drill Diagram  

 

Relays to Home

·        Using the SS/2B instead of the pitcher as the cut-relay player. Drill Diagram

 

 

In conclusion, regardless of what we choose to work on let’s make our greatest effort to limit the time we are talking to our kids and having them standing around listening.  Let’s run practices that are dynamic and have the kids moving and Doing the majority of practice time.

 

Head Games ...the key to successful athletic performance

How do we give our child or the players on our team an edge in developing their skills?  What is the latest technique, gadget or drill that can help them improve their performance?  Whatever it is, we will find it, buy it, use it…

 

 

When researching resources for improving youth baseball and softball skills we find oodles of drills on YouTube, tons of devices that surely will make the difference.  We often forget that the most fundamental things can be the most important aspects of improving performance.

 

 

What would you guess to be the single constant in all successful athletic actions?  I am suggesting that control of the head, while not the first thing that comes to mind, is an absolute must.

 

 

 

 

Watch elite athletes and you will see that they have minimal unnecessary head movement.  While their bodies are gyrating, and moving all over the place doing unbelievable feats, all the while they have great head control.  

 

 

You may have watched athletes or an athletic person move and you would say to yourself, “I don’t know what it is, but I can ‘just tell’ that person is a good athlete”.  The thing that gave you that sense was their head control.

 

 

Head Straight - Hudson.jpg

In order to be precise in an athletic movement, and precision is an absolute must when attempting to throw a pitch across a 17” wide plate or to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely, head control is a factor that must be part of the equation for success.

 

 

 

 

Faulty Tendencies

When swinging a bat, or swinging in any sport, the youth athlete often is thinking of what is going to happen, what the result will be.  The eagerness to ‘see what happens’ takes them away from a focus on the required action needed to get the desired result. 

 

When throwing the ball, or making a throwing action in other sports, the tendency of the youth athlete is to ‘pull’ with their shoulders and head in an effort to generate power, rather than ‘drive’ with their legs.  (Most youth athletes are unaware that most energy and effort in their throwing action comes from their legs.) 

 

Simple fact: when the head moves, the body follows; then the head stays in place the body has a good chance of directing its actions towards the what an athlete is trying to achieve….in our case, make an accurate swing to contacting the ball or making an accurate throw.

 

The youth athlete (and the pro athlete at times), in the midst of the action, moves their head toward where the result will take place.  This movement of the head takes their body off line of where

 

 

C’mon, Give Me Something That Will Really Make a Difference

There is a lot of good instruction information out there, there are some good solid drills and even some of the devices on the market can play a productive role in helping a youth athlete succeed.  However, much of these helpful resources are limited in their capacity to help a youth athlete if they have fundamental flaws in their movements.   Too much head movement is one of the most common flaws kids have.

 

 

 

Correcting this issue starts with awareness; we must point out to kids that they successful athletes have masterful control of their heads.  In this article, there are plenty of picture to show the kids.   Next, when working with the kids in a practice setting, we adults want to be very disciplined in our feedback regarding head movement.  Not only do we want to point out when the young athlete makes unnecessary head movement, but we also want to praise them when they do a good job of head control….we humans enjoy a little praise every now and then.

 

I am not big into ‘sayings’ but one that I feel says it all, in a very succinct way, with regard to teaching skills to youth athletes, “If you aren’t coaching, you are allowing”.  ….think that through a bit; I find it, as a coach, a very impactful statement.

 

 

Finally, as mentors to children working to improve their physical skills we must not forget that making adjustments in body movements doesn’t happen instantly.  It is a process that requires days, weeks and sometimes months. 

 

Remain patient and encouraging while our athletes make adjustments in their actions and work towards developing good habits and discipline.

Two Things To Help Our Kids Improve: Tee, Time …no we're not talking golf

A post in the archives under the 'Parents' tab, “Baseball is Like a Piano” discusses a key ingredient for our young softball or baseball player to have the best possible experience: working on their skills away from team organized activities.  Just like alearning to play the piano, a youth ballplayer needs to practice at home.

 

 

Batting Tee

Aspiring young piano aficionados have equipment at home to practice on, the young ballplayer needs equipment to for practicing at home as well.  Fortunately the equipment needed by a youth softball or baseball player doesn’t cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.  What is the key piece of equipment for our young ballplayer?  - a Batting Tee. 

 

A batting tee can be found at the local sporting goods store for around $25.  It doesn’t need to be fancy, just something that will support a ball so a kid can take a whack at it.  A ball isn’t even required; a rolled up pair of socks can serve as a baseball or softball.  I know this to be a fact because as a child I hit socks off a Tee in my bedroom (I am not sure if my mother was aware I was swinging my bat in the house).

 

Batting is said to be the most difficult action in all of sports.  This statement refers to hitting a live pitch, but as golfers know, hitting a stationary ball off a tee is not that easy either.  Why is hitting a ball (moving or stationary) so difficult to master?  Because the primary movement in swinging a bat (or club) is rotating the lower half of the body.  When was the last time we (or our kids) rotated the lower half of our body in our daily activities?  Unless we are a dance instructor it might be difficult to remember the last time.

 

Kids run, jump, skip and climb.  These and other daily activities involve the leg muscles working, more or less, in straight lines.  Then we hand them a bat and ask them to hit a ball, an activity that requires the lower body to rotate, an action they rarely or ever execute in their day to day activities, and we wonder why they struggle.  Yeah, but we tell them to ‘keep your eye on the ball’ and to ‘line your knuckles up’ and to ‘raise that back elbow’.  Unfortunately these things have little, if anything, to do with the actual swing itself.  “The legs swing the bat” and when the legs swing the bat, they rotate.

 

Making a $25 investment in a Batting Tee can do wonders in helping a child develop their batting skills

 

Video of Josh Hamilton working off a tee...most every MLB player employs the use of the tee in their daily in-season swing routine as well as part of their off season routine.  Tees aren't jsut for Tee-ball, they are a tool used throughout a successful baseball career.

 

 

 

 

Time

The second thing we can give our young ballplayer is our time.  Gosh, we brought them into the world, then signed them up to play, the least we can do is spend 10 minutes a day tossing the ball back and forth with them – just 10 minutes a day!? 

 

The most fundamental skill in softball and baseball is playing catch and many kids do not do this enough to develop a minimum level of competence in order to execute a throw or a catch in their team practices or a game.  Not only do their muscles need repetition, but also their eyes.  The more repetitions a child’s eyes get seeing a ball flying towards them the more skilled their brain will become in matching up the ball with their glove.

 

The good news is that we don’t have to travel far in order to play catch with our child.  In most cases walking a few steps out our front or back door is all it takes to find a spot to play catch.

 

One of the aspects of softball and baseball that makes these games so popular is the social component.  Conversation is a big part of the baseball and softball experience.  Players socialize in the dugout and they socialize while playing catch.  

 

Understandably, in today's busy world, it can be difficult to find time to hold an extended conversation with our kids.  Another contributor to the problem is finding a scenario where we can gain and hold our child's attention. However, many parents report that the time spent playing catch with their child is the time they have their most in depth conversations with them. 

 

While playing catch a child is ultra-focused on the person they are playing catch with – in this case its mom or dad.  How many other activities can give us our child’s undivided attention?  It is also reported by many adults that, when looking back on their childhood, some of their most vivid memories of spending time with a parent are from the time they spent playing catch.

 

There are the two things we parents can do to help our kids get the most out of their experience playing baseball or softball.  Get a Batting Tee for them, so they can work on their batting skills (they don’t need a partner to do this) and give them few minutes of our Time each day.  Get them swinging the bat more and let's start playing catch with our kids; we just might find we get to know them a little better in the process.

 

Check Out the Coaching Guide

Your Kid Can’t Hit ...because their bat is Too Long!

Here’s the pitch; a swing and a miss. OK, buddy you’ll get the next pitch …pop-up, Alright, good; we made contact on that one. Pitch number three: weak ground ball to the first baseman …out again.

 

Why do many kids take looping swings under the ball, pop up or hit weak ground balls to the opposite side of the field?  There are some mechanical reasons, but a major factor for many is they use bats that are too long.

 

When the discussion of bat size comes up the primary issue discussed is weight; length isn’t given as much thought (by parents).  Regardless of weight, the longer the lever (bat), the more difficult it is to control.  The longer lever puts more stress (the feeling of weight) on the muscles in the wrists and arms. A longer bat feels heavier.

 

Why do kids want to swing such long bats? There are two reasons I am told by parents (and by some kids too):

1.    The older kids, to whom younger kids look up to, use a longer bat and little kids naturally want to be like the bigger kids (or older brother/sister).

2.  They think they need a longer bat to reach the outside part of the plate...not understanding that the sweet spot begins approximately four-plus inches from the end of the barrel.  If their reasoning was correct they would need a bat that reaches four inches, or more, beyond the outer edge of the plate (how to properly hit an outside pitch is another discussion).

 

The first step to improving kids’ success at the plate is to get a shorter bat in their hands.  Based on my experience working exclusively with the 12u age group over the past nine years I feel the longest bat a 12u player needs is 29”. 

 

There is the rare exception of the kid pushing six feet who might need to go up to 30”.  A good length for a Tee-Baller is 24” or 25”.  Most kids age 9 or 10 will do fine with a 27” bat.  Based on these two examples you can fill in the gaps based on your child’s age and size.

 

The most important factor in determining which bat is best for your child is to find one the feels good to them.  This means taking them to the store and having them hold and swing as many bats as possible until they find one that feels right. 

 

The length of the barrel, width of the handle and distribution of weight along the length of bat varies, giving each bat a unique quality of feel.  While your child doesn’t have the experience of a college star or a pro they will get to the point during your visit where they will tell you, “I like this one best”.

 

Regarding the issue of weight, it is my opinion that most (if not all) bats on the market are too light.  It will be difficult to find a bat that is too heavy if you purchase one that is a good length for your ballplayer. 

 

Bat manufacturers produce a good percentage of bats to serve the lowest common denominator (kids who swing with their arms and not their legs) resulting in them making very light bats.  We can't fault the manufacturers for doing this, however.  They are in the business of supplying a product that best serves the broadest aspect of the market.

 

If your child is receiving proper batting instruction that has them utilizing the strength of their legs to power the swing you will be hard pressed to find a new bat that is too heavy.  If finding a heavier bat is of interest, the place to shop is Goodwill or a second hand sporting goods store. 

 

My 5’ 4” 105lb, 10 year old son swings a 27”, 22 oz bat that I bought for $5 from Goodwill.   I am not a cheapskate, but that is the only place I could find a ‘good’ bat for him.  I would guess the thing is 20 years old.  I am not suggesting you take your child to Goodwill and buy them an old bat, but if you want to find a bat that is a few ounces heavier that is where you have to go.

 

So here I am suggesting you ditch your kid’s bat and get them a shorter one; who am I?  …just some dude up in Seattle where it rains all the time and kids only play the game six months a year.  In order to better support the suggestion of going with a shorter bat I will extend the conversation to a few guys who were fairly accomplished hitters…

 

Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest batters in MLB history and a grown man who weighed 220-230lbs during his playing career started out his career using a 32 1/2 inch bat and did not go longer than 33 inches. 

 

Barry Bonds (who was a great hitter regardless of what types of enhancements he might have used late in his career) swung a 33 1/2 inch bat part of his career AND choked up.

 

Babe Ruth is even quoted as saying that he would have been smarter to have used a shorter bat, which he did switch too later in his career.

 

Babe Ruth Preferred a Shorter Bat (click)

 

“…I should have known all along, that I could do better with a shorter bat. ...going to the shorter bat was one of my best moves, and I have wondered many times since why any player would bother with swinging a stick an inch or two longer than was absolutely necessary.”

 

 

Tony Gwynn used a Shorter Bat (click)

“…first 12 years of his career, he used a 32½-inch bat…”

 

 

 

How much should I pay for a bat?

Unless you are sure you have a child that is going to be a core member of the 11 or 12 year old All-Star team, I see no reason to spend more than $60 on a bat.

 

There are many quality, name brand bats on the market for $40. There are more bats available the go well into the three digit range that have the space age trampoline technology that may perform a bit better.  Your family budget might make that an option to explore.

 

However, when it comes down to it, the person swinging the bat contributes the lion’s share to success.

 

A couple of years ago I worked with a kid and had him try a 28”, 22oz bat from the batch I picked up from Goodwill.  He ended up using it for his 12 year old season. 

 

Many coaches considered him the best batter in the league and he was using an old thing that cost $5.

 

Check Out the Coaching Guide

 

 

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Instructional Scrimmage …a win-win activity for every practice

 

You are coaching a youth baseball or softball team and wrap up another game with more mistakes than expected.  You’ve done a good job getting your team ready and practices have run well, but the team’s efforts are not translating to games.  What could be missing in your preparation?

Many youth baseball and softball coaches run solid practices, do a great job teaching skills and taking their kids through drills, but don’t see that effort in practice translate to game success.  One aspect of practice that many coaches leave out is practicing playing the game.

Failing to include a Scrimmage as part of a practice plan may be the missing link in a team’s formula for success in games.

The first reaction to the idea of including a scrimmage in practice is that it is not a productive use of time; ‘the kids are just playing around and not getting better’.   That can be true if the scrimmage does not have a clear objective and is not structured properly.  On the other hand, if a scrimmage is structured and managed as a teaching tool, it can be the activity that ties everything together.

 


Three Benefits of Ending Each Practice with a Scrimmage

1.         Kids don’t sign up to practice baseball and softball; they sign up to PLAY. 

Kids understand the need to practice, but we can’t lose site of the fact that playing is what they really want to do.

There is much talk of the need to make drills fun and competitive to keep kids engaged.  However, in many cases, trying to instill these elements into drills detracts from their true objective, which is to get the kids the reps they need to develop their skills.  Ending each practice with a scrimmage provides fun and competition.

Knowing that practice will conclude with a scrimmage helps with discipline in drills and other practice activities.  Players are more motivated to follow directions and move quickly between drills when they know doing otherwise scrimmage time.


2.         Players learn to translate skills to the variations speed of a game during scrimmage

Actual game situations can vary quite a bit from a structured drill environment.  The combination of the placement of the ball off the bat and the speed and location of the runners is unique for most every play.  Kids can master drills and skills in practice, but if they are not experienced in applying those to the unique situations and pace of a game they are not as prepared as they could be.


3.         Learning to coordinate as a unit on defense

Drills, as they should, break the game down into smaller segments.  Scrimmage creates an environment where all nine players must participate to ensure the defense functions properly regardless of what comes up over the course of a play.

At the youth level broken plays occur often.  When these circumstances come up in a scrimmage players learn to regroup on the fly and bring the play under control.  Early in the season players will be slow to cover a base, be in position to back up throws and get into position to execute a relay.  Through scrimmage they quickly recognize how each player contributes to defensive play.

In the scrimmage format outlined below, we maintain a fast pace that engages all nine defensive players throughout the activity.  On each play there will be mistakes; corrections are made and learning within the context of the game takes place. 

Our feedback during scrimmage is not limited to correcting and teaching.  On each play we also have the opportunity to acknowledge the kids doing things well.  When we point out what our kids are doing right, no matter how basic, we build their confidence. 

Specifics regarding feedback during a scrimmage are covered in detail following the next section.

 


Scrimmage Structure

1.         Nine on defense, one batter, two base runners 

Players do not sit out waiting their turn to bat.  Extra offensive players are on the bases getting base running experience.  Including base runners on each play also requires increased decision making on the part of the defense; a big factor in learning the game. 

Later, after the players get used to the flow of scrimmage and making a quick transition from the conclusion of one play to the next batter, we can utilize the option of having only one base runner and an on-deck batter, who steps in to bat as soon as the previous play is over.


2.         Players don’t pitch during scrimmage

Scrimmage is not the place for developing pitching skills.  A coach pitches from 20’-30’ away (we still have a player at the rubber fulfilling the defensive responsibilities of the pitcher).   The closer the coach-pitcher, the higher the percentage of hittable pitches.  I urge coaches to pitch from a knee (instructional video: watch 0:38 - 1:20 for Baseball; 1:20 - 2:10 for Softball). 

Keys to maximizing scrimmage time is a providing a high percentage of strikes and limiting the amount of time between the end of one play and pitching to the next batter.  At the conclusion of a play our players quickly get back to their positions, receive brief feedback and then the coach pitches to the next batter. 


3.         Positions on defense

Early in the season we give players reps at a lot of different positions during scrimmage.  My philosophy is for kids to get experience at as many positions at possible.  But as the season progresses we need to be mindful of getting players reps at the positions they’ll most likely be playing on game day.


4.         Assistant coaches spread out on the field to provide feedback following each play

Position one coach between the third baseman and left fielder and they communicate with those two positions as well as the shortstop.  A second coach stands between the first baseman and right fielder focusing on the three players closest to them.  If an additional coach is available, put them in the area behind second base where they can give feedback to players in that area. 

The coach doing the pitching (usually the head coach) focus their feedback on the pitcher, catcher and batter.  Comments to the batter should be limited to simple reminders of what has already been taught and trained ie, ‘turn fast’, ‘head in place’, ‘balance’, etc.  Scrimmage is not the place for detailed batting instruction. 

In our first few scrimmages we let many mistakes go because not much content has been taught.  As the season progresses, and the kids are exposed to more information, our feedback during scrimmage covers more aspects of the game.


5.         Use a batting tee for scrimmage (sometimes)

Because the objective of scrimmage is to get the players massive game repetitions in a short period of time, using a tee can help achieve this goal.  A tee guarantees a strike 100% of the time, which speeds up the pace of the scrimmage. 

When using a tee, we can change the relationship of the batter to the ball/contact point and have some control of where the ball is hit (pull, middle, opposite field).   

Most scrimmages have the coach pitching, but it’s important to recognize the tee as an option.  Also, when we are short coaches, using a tee with a coach at home plate instead of pitching, with their back to the defense, they can keep their eyes on all the action.


Team development needs and which point of the season you are in dictates how much time is invested in scrimmage.  Early in the year scrimmage may be only 15-20 minutes, giving each player one time to bat.  As the season progresses, scrimmage time can bump up to 30 minutes with each player batting multiple times. 

 


Making an Instructional Scrimmage a Powerful Teaching Tool

Below are guidelines for setting up and running a productive instructional scrimmage.  This is not a complete list, but the fundamental aspects of play that a youth team wants to be executing by the latter parts of their season.

Rules for Teaching

  • Only correct what has been taught and drilled in practice
  • Be on the lookout for things the kids do correctly and acknowledge their accomplishments.
  • Keep comments directed towards actions, not results


Focus Points for Teaching

  • The teaching and reinforcement points that your coaching staff is concerned with depends on the age of your kids, their level of play and the amount of content that has been taught and drilled in your practice sessions.


Common Physical Mistakes and Addressing Those Mistakes

  • Errors and other physical mistakes are going to happen often.  Kids know when they have missed a ground ball or made a poor throw.  We want to help our players learn from their mistakes, so how do we address them?  Use action focused talk when giving feedback.  Examples:
  1.           Keep your feet moving through the fielding action and you’ll make that play next time.
  2.           Follow your head after the throw and it will be straighter next time
  3.          “Reach forward to catch” and you’ll make that play next time

 


The Primary Goal of a Scrimmage is Improving Team Defensive Play

Often in youth baseball games, when the ball is put in play, many of the players do not move.  The fact is that each player on defense has a role on every play and needs to be moving.  Scrimmage exposes kids to this fact multiple times in a short period of time. 

From the time the ball is put into play until it is returned securely to the pitcher at the play’s conclusion it is usually handled by 3 or 4 players and sometimes more.  At our level of play, managing the ball as it moves around the field is a challenge.   Base runners add to the complexity of the defensive responsibilities.  In a game (and scrimmage) there are no do-overs, so the players are pressed to make decisions quickly while executing the physical requirements as well.

The points below are few and brief, but constitute the core aspects of team play that we are working to improve in our scrimmage.

Identify the Situation

  • Number of outs
  • Location of runners
  • The bases a force out can be made


Movement

  • Three B’s: Play the Ball, Cover a Base or Back-up a Throw
  • “Cover the base with your eyes”
  • Players must move quickly and with purpose the moment the ball is put into play
  • Keep the ball moving at all times


Dealing with Base Runners

  • Conscious of all options for getting an out
  • Stop the runners by getting the ball to a point on the field where they see they are at risk if they try to advance
  • Quickly and securely get the ball back to the pitcher at the conclusion of each play

 

Communication

  • Catcher calls out what to do with the ball when it is in play
  • Infield echos to the outfield what to do with the ball
  • Fly balls between two players


Relays

  • Positioning of the cut-relay player
  • Communication between players involved in the play
  • Throws:
  1.   Outfielders always ‘hit the cut’
  2.   Cut-relay player footwork: “Move Feet to Catch”, “Move Feet to Throw”
  3.   Recognizing when to not relay the ball (runners either stop or are safe the majority of the time in relay situations)



Teaching and Feedback - Individual Skills

The primary objective of the instructional scrimmage is to keep things moving.  Given this goal, a scrimmage is not the place for detailed teaching of individual skills.  Our comments are limited to quick reminders of aspects of the skills that have already been taught and trained in drills.  It is likely we will identify aspects of skill technique that need further work.  In these cases we make a mental note and address those needs in an upcoming practice(s).

Batting

  • Lower Half Turn
  • Head in Place
  • “Let the ball get to your feet”


Base Running

  • Aggressive on balls hit to the outfield (always looking to advance two bases)
  • Proper technique running to and through first base
  • Don’t watch the ball; put attention on the base (or base coach)


Fielding Ground Balls

  • Get to the ball quickly (‘Charge the ball’, etc.)
  • Footwork
  • Reading hops
  • Hand and glove position


Fielding Fly Balls

  • Drop step
  • Beat the ball to a spot or running through the catch
  • Extend the glove arm to catch (catch the ball away from the body)


Throwing Technique

  • Move feet to power the throw
  • Keep head straight and pointed towards the target
  • Momentum to continue towards the target following the throw
  • Wrist snap for better accuracy


Proper Type of Throw for the Situation

  • Underhand toss on short distance throws (more accurate and easier to catch)
  • Was a throw necessary?
  1. Could the player fielding the ball carry it to the base before the runner arrives?
  2. When the runners stop trying to advance, a defensive player can run the ball in or run it to a point close enough where a sure throw and catch can be made

 

Missed throw

  • “Ready Position” - be prepared to “Move feet to catch”
  • “Reach forward to catch”
  • “Ball first, base second”
  • Wait until the ball is on its way and is accurate before committing to a ‘stretch position’

 

 

Developing our players’ skill and knowledge through drills and the teaching of the finer points of batting, pitching and fielding are important parts of any well planned practice.   Adding a scrimmage to the end of each practice makes the day’s learning the complete.

 

More information is found on Scrimmage page of the website.