I’ve been coaching youth/club baseball with my friends Matt Palmer, Kevin Bacchus, Brian Beltramo, and Bret Prinz for many, many years. We’ve had a blast together…and we have been given the opportunity to coach some fine players.
Matt and I were talking the other day, looking back at some of the great times and great teams we’ve been fortunate enough to coach. We reminisced about how our practice plans were extremely simple – and that the skills we were instilling helped our players win more than a few ballgames.
Not to say that the practices were unscripted or easy (they were neither) – but we relied on a handful of drills to help develop proper fundamentals and simulate game situations.
Interestingly enough, in a little under 2 hours a few times a week, we essentially did the same, relatively simple team drills with all of our players.
We would take the last 45 minutes or so for batting practice and bullpens…so that left us 75 minutes for all of our defensive related drills.
We did these drills EVERY practice. Here are our 4 favorites:
Bare Handed Ground Balls
We would line the players up in either one or two lines and roll them ground ball after ground ball. Our focus was to have the players not rely on their gloves, but have soft hands, and field the ball out in front of them in a proper fielding position.
Then they would consciously watch the ball all the way into their hands, then gather the ball with their eyes still on it, and step-and-throw.
We would put one third of the kids at shortstop, a third at first, and a third behind the plate. The coach hits a ground ball to the shortstop, who fields and throws to first, and the first basemen throws to the catcher.
Each player then follows his throw to the next position (short to first, first to catcher, catcher to short).
Not only are we working on fielding, throwing, and catching – we are working on team play and endurance. Don’t underestimate the cardiovascular workout with this one!
We would place players at all 4 bases and throw the ball around the horn – home to first, then to second, next to third, and finally to home for starters.
We would then switch directions…and the players would switch positions on the field so everyone would have a chance to play all positions.
Sometimes they would be force plays, other times, we would have them catch-and-tag.
We put the players in 2 or 3 groups (depending on the number of players) – and space them out about 60 feet apart in groups, essentially two or three long lines of players from foul-pole to foul-pole. The ball would start at one end and be thrown from player to player until it reached the other end.
We worked on game simulated relays in this fashion, focusing on body positioning and feet movement.
At the end, we would hold a competition or “race” to see which team could perform the task the quickest and most effectively. If a team drops the ball, they pick it up and keep going.
As you can imagine, the most proficient team with the fewest or no drops would always win, regardless of the speed of the transition from one player to the next.
I can’t stress more strongly the need for these types of drills, especially with younger players. Our teams were fundamentally strong, for the most part, and they were able to execute team plays quite effectively…even at age 10.
If you’d like to find out more about practice planning for young players, do feel free to reach out, as I’d be happy to share more.