Inside Pitch Magazine, March/April 2021

The Change Up: Your Warmup Can Make or Break a Youth Baseball Team 

by John Cissik

Baseball Player stretching his left arm as he faces the field behind a chain link fence

Nothing hurts a team's chances for success like a poorly planned or poorly-executed warmup. A poor warmup can result in a lethargic, distracted team that is not ready to perform. 

A good warmup should focus on keeping the athletes moving and preparing them for performance. This is all done by setting up different stations: hitting, catching, pitching, fielding, outfield, and team-building. 

  • Hitting: Any time we hit, we focus on the three H’s: Head on the ball, Hands in when we swing, and using the Hips for both speed and power.

    • Donuts: The donut makes the bat heavier, which reinforces good mechanics and bat control. This is for our “on deck” batter who is waiting to get to one of the other drills described below.

    • Knob Drill: The knob drill is done using a tee, except – instead of hitting with the barrel – the athlete hits the ball with the knob of the bat. This teaches them to keep their hands in when swinging.

    • Hammer Drill: The athlete sets up next to the tee and uses a mallet to hit the ball, which reinforces the mechanics we teach.

    • Hitting off the tee: After completing the aforementioned drills, our players progress to swinging away off the tee.

    • Soft toss using sand-filled baseballs: The final drill is hitting sand-filled baseballs. The athlete has to integrate good mechanics along with picking up the flight of the ball. The sand-filled baseball is a great tool because they don’t end up all over the field.

  • Catching: We usually warm up two catchers before a game (it’s my goal to use two in a game, but that depends on how the game unfolds):

    • Blocking Drills: Besides being an important skill during a game, blocking drills help warm up the catcher’s legs. Get into their receiving stance, then block to the middle, to the right, and to the left.

    • Around the plate: This drill will begin with them moving to their left. They will drop down and block to the middle, use their legs to get up, push to the left, and block to the left corner of the plate. They will do this to each corner of home plate as they move around to their left; push, block, get up, repeat. After they have gone around the plate they reverse directions and move/block to their right.

    • Catch with the pitchers: Finally, the catchers catch the three pitchers that I think will be used in the game. The catcher is working on figuring out what types of pitches work for the pitcher that game, practicing their framing, communicating with the pitcher, and getting in the habit of standing up and throwing the ball back after every catch. Everyone approaches this differently, but during warmups I prefer to not have the catcher call the pitches—I like to let the pitcher call their own pitches and figure out what is working for them.

  • Pitching: Pitchers begin their warmup by playing catch, with an emphasis on proper throwing mechanics. Then they’ll warm up and throw about 20 pitches to get a sense of what’s working. After this, the coach, the pitchers and the catchers will have a brief discussion and adjust the game plan if necessary.

  • Fielding: Warming up infielders is all about developing the ability to field the ball and make accurate throws. We use throw-down bases in the outfield and go through a modified pregame infield in this setting, with players rotating positions every three throws.

  • Outfield Play: I like to do the outfield station in groups of three: the cutoff, the outfielder, and the player who throws the ball to the outfielder. The thrower tosses a high pop fly, the outfielder catches the ball and throws to the cutoff. The athletes then rotate. This allows all the skills for the outfield to be practiced under predictable circumstances.

  • Team Building: Getting together as a team is a great way to get everyone on the same page and working together. We get into a large circle and perform a group of exercises military style, with a verbal count. When the team is able to do this together it sounds very impressive!

  • Game Plan: After our exercises we take a knee around the coach and talk about the game plan, review signs and go over things to remember. This is short, to the point, and very positive.

  • Chants: This may seem silly the first time you try this, but it reinforces a sense of team and togetherness just before the game.

The warmup that’s described takes about 45-60 minutes to get through and can be done with minimal space. Depending on your group, you can determine stations, repetitions and time. A system like this gets our players mentally focused, keeps them moving, and prepares them to perform.


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