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.
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.