Poor weather is a huge problem for many youth baseball and softball coaches prior to the start of the season. In many urban areas, limited space makes it hard to get field time to hold a practice.
These issues are real. The start date for the season is real as well. This article helps coaches step outside the box and establish a new mindset towards practices.
You will find links to drills and videos that will help you to run great practices regardless of any challenging circumstances you are facing.
No Field Required
The most important thing to recognize, in order to get more practices in is that a baseball field is not required to hold a Championship Quality practice. Any flat space works ie a patch of grass using throw down bases (or any marker to represent a base) and using cones to mark out drills.
For years I've heard folks remark about the difficulty in holding practices. When I ask the reason, I'm usually given one of two reasons:
- Can't get a field assignment
#1 - A baseball field is not needed - example: when Wichita State University resurrected their program in the late 1970's. They had no baseball field. The team practiced in a grass field. Five years later they were in the National Championship game. After a decade of existence they won the National Championship.
Watch from 1:00 - 1:40 of footage of the team practicing ...the first minute, leading in, is pretty inspiring; it shows highlights of their National Championship win.
#2 - When its wet or drizzling, practices can be held on a concrete school yard....the Baseball Positive website has dozens of drills that don't require a grass or dirt surface. Many neighborhoods (urban and suburban) have an elementary school with a covered basketball court (less so in the sunbelt states). This is a place to hold a practice if it’s raining hard. When I coached my son's eight-year-old team, I told the parents we would never cancel a practice. We'd either be at the park (when it wasn't too wet) or at the elementary school.
The following drills and activities don’t cover it all. They do address the core fundamentals of the game and will give your kids what they need to develop their skills and be competitive on the field. The Baseball Positive website has a lot more drills, if you want more.
Whiffle Ball Batting
Pitching Wiffle Balls (video):
watch 0:38 - 1:23
Many coaches feel that their kids need to feel a real ball coming off their bat. More important is the kids get as many swings as possible. When using wiffle balls, multiple kids can be hitting the ball at the same time. We get a lot more swings in a shorter period of time.
On the surface this may not seem like a high priority. Keep in mind that most outs (other than strike outs) require players to catch a thrown ball at a base; something that most teams don’t teach their players or practice
Note: run this without a pitcher (I need to update the diagram)
How often, when a ball is put in play, do we have players just standing around? This drill trains player that no matter where the ball is hit they have a responsibility. Additional drills are on the website to train outfielders and to address more detailed situations. The there are 9 players on the field, and only one ball. The question we want to ask our kids is, “What are you going to do if the ball is NOT hit to you?”
(Mini Diamond – super tool )
This is a Major League Skill. Big League players throw the ball underhand many times each game….when throwing short distances. The game played on the small diamond has many more instances requiring short distance throws. And many kids don’t realize that tossing the ball underhand is even an option.
Reps, reps, reps. Accomplished fielders get massive reps. This fast paced drill gets kids many reps in a short period of time.
We don’t need to limit ourselves to using just the three bases laid out on the infield for running our drills. Throw down a couple of markers to represent first base. Now we can have three groups of kids working at the same time, significantly increasing our reps….and greatly eliminating down time between reps.
Toss Drills (fly balls)
Reps, reps, reps. There it is again. More important than learning to judge fly balls is the need to catch a lot of fly balls.
Pretty standard concept. Set up three stations in your infield (this infield can be in a cow pasture in a rural area, or a concrete school yard in an urban area --if a ball field is not readily available-- using throw down bases) and get the kids moving. The sample diagrams get your brain moving. From these examples you can come up with additional set ups addressing your team’s needs.
Let’s step outside the box of how we perceive ‘warm up’ at the beginning of practice. In this activity we give all our kids pitching reps, then a dynamic throwing session as a position player, then wrap up with a skill activity. This 15-minute session, once a team has gone through it 4-5 times, gets a ton done in a short time.
Short on Time?
Condensed Practice Plan
Pre-practice - Wiffle Ball Batting
0:00 - 0:15 - Skill Building Warm up
0:15 - 0:30 - Playing Catch Practice
0:30 - 0:45 - Drills / Team Defense Activity
0:45 - 0:60 - Batting Practice using Wiffle Balls*
* When using wiffle balls, multiple kids can bat at the same time, which results in getting more work in, in a shorter period of time.
The structure of a complete practice (as well as a couple dozen practice plans) is found HERE. The above plan is a modified version of full practice.
It is very important to recognize that kids are not going to Get It right away. Each drill or activity usually takes three sessions before it starts to run smoothly.
We get a, “Whoa, what is going on?”, response from our kids and a lot of chaos. OK, that is what is going to happen, so we don’t get overly concerned.
Kids perspective, “Oh this is that thing we did the other day”. They now know what to expect, but they still need time to grasp the flow of the activity.
Now the kids are familiar with the activity and have had some repetitions. The third time we run an activity is when it starts looking something like we expected.
Moving forward - this activity can get started quickly; the kids know what is coming up. The activity flows efficiently; the kids know the routine.
But I don’t have time to do all these drills over and over. True, IF we are determined to run zillions of different drills and activities. However, if we pick out 7-8 drills/activities to repeat throughout the season, the coaches and players get really good at each activity and we become a lot more productive.
But the kids get board doing the same stuff over and over. I’ll suggest that when activities have a good flow, the kids are constantly in motion and see themselves getting better, bordom is not an issue.
Keep it Simple
I was fortunate to assist at Wichita State University in the mid-90’s during its heyday of multiple College World Series appearances. The thing that struck me most about that experience was how plain vanilla the practices were. All the players knew the structure of the activities and knew what was expected. The amount of quality work that was accomplished each day was beyond anything I had experienced in all my years as a player.
Working with kids is challenging enough. When we limit and simplify our practice activities, we can be better coaches, our kids are better able to develop their skills, and everyone enjoys their time on the field much, much more.