Efficient baseball practices help develop skills, teach how to react in situations, improves team cohesion, fosters a love for the game and provides an opportunity to develop many more important lifelong character traits. Poor practices, on the other hand, can essentially do the opposite. No matter what level of baseball you coach, the worst thing you can do is to show up on the field and wing it. It sends the message to everyone that practice isn’t important and you aren’t serious about it. It’s important to have a direction for a team during practices, which is easy to do in a sport like ours, where there are a countless number of skills, drills and situations that can be implemented.
The following is an example of a long-term practice outline for a 13U team. Now, performance in games may adjust everything. For example, this team might find that they need to work extra on rundowns at some point. Remember as a coach your plan can always be adjusted if need be!
Fielding/Situation Station Schedule
Infield and catcher work on force plays and tags
in left field, ground balls
Outfield working on pop flies in right field
Catcher and 1B fielding bunts, throw to 1B
SS and 2B fielding ground balls (hit from home) and communicating
3B: fly balls around dugout and fence
P: set up bases in left field, pick offs
Outfield: right center field working on going back on fly balls
P and 1B: Pitcher fakes pitch, breaks to cover 1B; 1B fields ground balls
Catcher and 3B: fielding bunts on 3B side
OF, SS, 2B: fly balls into crowded areas, cutoffs, communication
P, C, 1B, 2B: ground balls, communication, balls hit to 1B side
SS and 3B: communication, ground balls, force at 3B, balls hit to 3B side
OF: plays to 3B or home, charging ground balls
You need help
For reasons that we’ll cover in a few sections, a youth coach needs help. If you have any parents willing to help, use them! They don’t have to be experts. The longer I’ve coached the more emphasis I put on this in our first team meeting. I ask the parents for help at practices, keeping the scorebook, coaching first base, etc.
Don’t be afraid to coach them too, particularly just before practice, to make sure they are providing the correct information to your players. Additional ways to communicate the practice plan is to post it in the dugout or e-mail it the night before, but a quick pre-practice meeting, and quick chats during water breaks, for example, is likely to work the best.
Here’s a sample practice plan:
I. Team warm-up/meeting
II. Base Running Offense/Defense
Pitchers/catchers: passed balls (Coach Cissik)
Sliding (Coach Scott)
Pop Flies (Coach Neil)
III. Fielding/Situation Stations
Bunt defense: Pitchers/catchers/1st base (Coach Cissik)
Double play feeds (Coach Scott)
Charging ground balls (Coach Neil)
Soft toss drills
Soft toss drills
Home to 1st
Home to 3rd
Home to home
Keep everyone busy
Youth baseball players are still kids and will act like kids if given the opportunity! If they’re allowed to stand around with nothing to do, they’ll quickly lose focus and become distracted or indifferent about that particular practice.
It’s rare for an athlete to learn a skill by watching another player perform it – most have to do it themselves. And you don’t want to waste valuable practice time under any circumstances.
One way to keep everyone busy is to divide the field up into stations. Spend a finite amount of time at each station and rotate. Talk to the team briefly before you get started so everyone knows where they’re going, warm up as a team, and break into station work from there. Spend a minute or less talking about what you’re going to do before each station. Nobody wants to listen to a speech! Have them run from station to station when you rotate. Here’s a quick example from the aforementioned practice plan (II):
- Passed Ball Drill: the coach flips the ball behind the catcher and the pitcher charges home plate while pointing and communicating to the catcher where the ball is –– ‘3’ for third base side, ‘1’ for first base side, and ‘straight back’ –– and remember to point! The catcher works on sliding to the ball and making a good throw to home plate, and the pitcher works on catching the ball and making the tag.
- Sliding Station: This is taking place between second base and third base. This is an example of a tournament showing us that we need to work on something. It’s not perfect because not all your baserunners are in this station, but your infielders will get plenty of defensive and offensive reps later in practice. Remember as a coach you have the power to do whatever you like here!
- Pop Flies: proper routes, communication, breaks and most importantly, securing the out. Can be hit from just behind second base on the outfield side.
All three stations take place simultaneously and switch every six minutes. For this format to work, you’ll need a handful of pitchers and at least one catcher in every group. If you have PO’s or players who do not pitch, they can repeat whichever station you want them to. We allot a couple minutes for transition time, so after about 20 minutes, we move on to the next part of practice.
Learn Something Every Practice
Athletes should learn something every single practice. There is always something we can get better at or something that we need to learn. We should never be going through the motions at practice. The most successful practices are the ones where the athletes are busy, challenged, and their time is used really well. These practices seem very fast paced and before everyone knows it the practice is over!
You Won’t Achieve Mastery
This is a difficult concept for many. Athletes are not going to master skills or situations in one practice. It takes thousands of repetitions over a period of years before this happens, if ever.
Hit Every Day
Every single practice needs to include hitting. This is a perishable skill- if we don’t work on it, it can regress. We need confident hitters during games so this is something we have to spend some time on every single practice. Some practices might be hitting drills using the tee, soft toss, etc. Some practices might be hitting live against pitchers. Some might be scrimmages or cage practices. But some hitting work should be done every single practice to develop confident hitters. Having said that, it doesn’t need to take up the entire practice – I usually devote about a third of each practice to hitting unless it’s a batting cage session, in which case it’s the entire practice.
Practices can be organized in a way that keeps athletes busy, engaged, and learning. To do this requires a plan, organization, communication, and help. Failing to do this can result in an experience that is miserable for everyone and defeats the purpose of having a practice.
John Cissik is the head coach of both the 11U Pirates (Frisco Baseball and Softball Association) and the Frisco Miracle League Cardinals, as well as a special education teacher at McKinney North High School (TX).