With the weather close to turning and the season fast approaching, the prospects of having a full team to practice with is here. Before teams hit the field for the first games, the most important piece to a successful season must be put in place. That is running an efficient practice.


A lot of times at the younger levels  it can be tough due to the amount of coaches available, the attention level of the players and the field space in which teams can work with. Our goal is to help plan an efficient practice for your team.


The first thing a coach has to do is make a list of goals they wish to accomplish for each practice. Remember, players are going to know what you value as a coach based on the practice you set up. Too many times we watch teams practice and there is one player hitting and all the players are standing in the outfield shagging or standing around. There always has to be a balance between fundamental work, team periods and scrimmage time. All have a direct impact on a team’s performance. However, too much in one area leads to deficiencies in the others. Depending on the point in the season, each area has a time in which it is more important in the overall development of the team.


Early in the season, fundamental work should always be the most important aspect. Teaching and having the players understand the basic fundamentals of the game takes precedent. As the pre-season evolves the importance on team periods, such as bunt defense, rundowns and defensive situations takes shape. During the season, controlled scrimmages become more important as you can put players in situations that happen during the course of a game. It becomes a great teaching moment to re-create something that can or has happened in a game.


One thing we like to do with players at every age, from Little League to the college level, is to help them get mentally into the practice before it even starts. Before we begin with stretches, we lay out the plan for the day so the players have an idea of how practices are going to flow. During this time players can voice any questions on any of the drills or sessions we will be going through. All of this helps with communication and also make certain the players are locked in before we even start.


Once all players and coaches are on the same page, practice can begin. Its always good for players to get loose starting with some light running and stretching. The types of running and stretching can vary from coach to coach. Immediately after running and stretching we like to have the players get their arms loose. Not just by playing catch, but playing catch with a purpose. Each player should have a goal with what type of catch they want to play that day. Every position on the field catches and throws differently and the players should work specifically on that during this period. Infielders should work in some quick catch. Outfielders should work as if they are catching a fly ball and throwing it back into the infield. Catchers should work on throwing from a crouch. Coaches must set a tone on the importance of this period by being out with the players working with them during all catch sessions. If you aren’t with your players during this time, you are wasting an opportunity to make sure your players take care of the most important things in the game. Catching and throwing. Challenge them during this time as well.
From catch, we like to work defensively first as arms and bodies are loose and players are in the defensive mindset. we also like to start with defense because a lot of players want to get right to the offensive portion. Use hitting as a reward. You play defense well, then you can hit. It also shows players the importance of and emphasis on defense. Typically we would break into smaller groups depending on the coaching staff available. Having four coaches (Infield, Outfield, Catchers and Pitchers at the older levels) would be ideal. Infielders would start with rolling groundballs, eventually working into fungos and double play work. Groundballs would ideally work on forehands, backhands, slow rollers, balls to the backhand side that you have to attack and choppers. Outfielders work on routes followed by fielding groundballs and throwing them to a target. Also work in outfielder communication between two players. Catchers can work blocks, receiving and throwing. For the older levels, pitchers can work mechanics as well as PFP or pitcher fielding practice. It is also nice for them to work some double plays with the infielders.
Depending on the time of the season or pre-season, this is the perfect transition into team period. Bunt defense, rundowns or regular defensive situations. If team period is in the plan, tailor your positional defensive sessions to work on the specific skills they will need during the team period. For example, if you are working on cuts and relays with the outfielders during the team session, work on the fundamentals needed at each position to successfully run a cut and relay play. Footwork and throws with the outfield, footwork and transfers with the infielders and receiving the throws with the catchers. Maximize the skills the players are learning.


From the defensive period we like to move to the offensive side. Contrary to a lot of teams or coaches we have seen or talked with, we rarely hit batting practice on the field. We will later discuss an efficient batting practice sessions in blog posts to come. There is a lot of wasted time during those scenarios in which one player hits and everyone stands around watching. Maximize the limited time you have with your players. One of the greatest investments a coach can make: whiffle balls. With whiffles, you can break your team into smaller groups and maximize the amount of swings your players can take. Also whiffles allows you to work with all of the players on the field if your don’t have a cage.


We like to work team specific hitting drills through stations. Tees and whiffles and if you have a cage to work with, we’ll throw in some regular batting practice or front toss. Stations help keep the players moving and helps them retain focus as opposed to staying in one area working on one specific drill or focus.


For the final portion of practice, make certain to your players know that baserunning is important by working it into the practice plan. Not only can you teach your players specifics of baserunning, such as running through first base correctly, rounding bases, leads, secondary leads and steal techniques, but it also is conditioning. If coaches never work on baserunning, players will never understand the importance and impact it can have on a games outcome. Make it a priority.


At the conclusion of practice, get all player and coaches together and talk about how things went. What areas were good and what areas need to be worked on going forward. Ask for feedback from players in terms of things they feel need more working out. This is especially important as you get into team situational work. Lay out your expectation for practice in the future.


Planning an efficient practice is one of the most important aspects of successful teams. Understanding your goals for your team as a coach and making sure your players understand those goals goes a long way in making sure all of your practices run smoothly and efficiently.