Just like with everything in life, baseball practice requires proper and adequate planning. Sufficient and well-thought practice plans are the stepping stone to the realization of the objectives of the team. As a coach, nothing else can give you more joy than having your organization succeed in all their baseball tournaments. While ALL might be an overstatement, they have to be graceful enough to accept that they will win in some and lose in others. It’s vital to have the team ready and energized both physically and mentally for the sport. Enjoyable practices are a must if you want to maximize the team’s enjoyment of this game and provide your players with the best opportunity to improve. But as a committed baseball coach, the team depends on you and the expertise you have to achieve these goals. This means you have to plan sufficiently for these practice sessions. As the adage goes, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” And fail you will especially now that baseball and soft currently rank as the single team sport with the most participants. This has serious implications for you and your team. If you offer substandard practice, you’ll get inferior results. As you well know, this sport requires a unique blend of physical fitness, mental toughness, and mental and physical agility. As a result, an excellent practice session should enable your team to build strength in these areas. This article is all about this; to empower you to make better baseball practice plans that will cover all these aspects. Read on.
Importance of Good Baseball Practice PlansIt’s not uncommon for coaches to thrust into this high activity by the sheer lack of better alternatives to go straight into practice sessions without prior preparation. Maybe the rest of the parents have been too lazy to take up the mantle, and thus you opted to fill in the gap. Whether or not this is your case, the fact is that the fundamentals can still be learned. Most coaches begin coaching with tee ball and end at around high school. Although that is the primary focus of our highlights in this write-up, the tips and tricks explained here can still come in handy if you are a professional coach looking for ideas on how to improve your coaching sessions. If you delve blindly into the practice sessions, will, in most cases, leave you looking incompetent. Instead of doing that, the best strategy would be to develop a well-thought-out but straightforward practice plan. This fact doesn’t mean you have to follow a cast-on-stone practice plan; you can always adjust your plans depending on the prevailing circumstances. What you need is a basic outline that you can always adjust and modify to fit varying circumstances. In any case, varying the approach introduces stimulus variation, which becomes a motivating factor among the players.
Plan for the PlanThis might sound ridiculous, but it’s not. You have to plan for the planning process. You’ll do this by:
Setting Clear ObjectivesThis means before the practice t’s clear to you what you want to achieve in each training session. What will be the thrust of the practice session? If you focus on strength building or mental alertness or physical agility, let it be clear in your mind from the onset If your objectives are not clear, you’ll have no standard against which to measure whether you have achieved anything.
The right training equipmentOnce you’ve set your objectives, the next logical thing is to ensure you have all the necessary equipment for baseball training. If you don’t have material that matches your goals, your practice session will be ineffective. Every well-prepared baseball coach should have a good stock of baseball equipment such as nets that will allow for versatile practices and incorporate a wide range of baseball practice drills. Some of the must-have gear for you as a coach includes:
Five Gallon BucketsYou’ll need your supply of baseballs and that requires a bucket, which will allow you to run multiple practice activities smoothly. Besides, a more excellent supply of baseballs implies your team will spend less time running after stray balls during practice. When you have a sufficient supply of balls, it means the team can go after the stray balls during breaks or after practice or when it’s convenient for you. In any case, these buckets have another functional utility; you can use them as your portable chairs. If you are a new coach and wonder why seasoned coaches have at least two of these buckets, the reason is now apparent.
ConesYou’ll need an adequate number of cones for the team’s cone drills meant to enhance the players’ agility. Unlike most coaches, you’d be in better stead if you get the 8-inch disc-style cones commonly used by soccer coaches instead of the usual stand-up cones. The 8-inch disc-style cones are more stable and won’t get knocked over like the latter category.
Throw Down BasesThrowdown bases are your best bet when it comes to building a mini diamond anywhere, anytime. You can also use these bases as markers instead of using cones anytime you want to give the team a real feel of using a plate. These throw down bases also make for a more flexible practice set up if your objective is to carry out multiple infield drills, and you need more than the usual four stations.
Wiffle BallsThese are batting tools that you’d better keep in abundant supply. Wiffle balls will enable your team to do many swing repetitions in a short amount of time. Besides, these balls are safe for the pitchers and can be pitched from close range. Another good thing about these balls is that they don’t fly-fall, which means team members can gather quickly to get more swings.
Catcher’s GuideThe catcher is an essential position in baseball. You must have a set of catchers safety gear so that anytime you want the team to practice throwing or catching baseballs, the catcher in question is well protected. Without this gear, it would be unwise to have the team drill on throwing and catching.
The Pillars of Successful Baseball Practice PlanAlthough baseball practice plans can be as varied as the ability levels skillsets, the fact is some fundamental similarities underlie these plans. So whether you are planning for Little League practice plans or college baseball practice plans, the following aspects of practice are included:
- Warm-Ups & Conditioning.
- Team Drills.
- Skill-Based Drills.
- Fun Drills.
- Water Breaks
Warm-Ups & ConditioningWarming before any practice session is crucial; it gets your players’ bodies warm and moving, which prevents injuries and increases focus and player engagement. Baseball warm-up drills help players overcome whatever they’ve gone through the day and get into practice mode. Don’t be some coaches who think they are doing the team and themselves a big favor by making them run extremely hard. Doing so might only achieve some irrelevant outcomes; you might be feared as a forceful and authoritative coach, but that will not help you achieve your baseball practice objectives. A better approach is to ensure the warm-up drills achieve that intended objectives of getting the players’ mental and physical framework are in tune with the upcoming practice session.
Examples of warm-up drillsConsider the following three examples of warm-up drills that you can use to realize your goals.
Light jogging followed by dynamic stretchingPurpose: To warm up the players and prevent injuries. Equipment and Setup: Mini diamond or baseball field and adequate square space for the players to stretch and spread out. Execution: Although there are many ways you can warm up your team, the best approach is to follow a dynamic stretching warm-up instead of a static stretching procedure. Your purpose should be to work for all the major muscle groups and enable the players to be prepared mentally for practice.
Dynamic ExerciseDynamic exercises have numerous compelling benefits. This kind of warm-up exercise prepares the players’ muscles for baseball-specific movements. These exercises decrease the chance of injury while enhancing flexibility, strength, and power. Besides, these exercises increase motor unit recruitment and synchronization. Dynamic exercises provide players light cardio and stretching, which is perfect for getting them to focus and be physically prepared.
Examples of dynamic exercises
- high knees
- leg swings
- jumping jacks
- walking knee hugs
- arm circles
- side shuffle
StretchingEngaging in a thorough stretching routine before participating in practice sessions is essential for athletic performance. However, if you are training the youngest players, they might not need any need to stretch; their bodies stay relaxed and lose the whole day. But if one of your objectives is to infuse lifelong practice habits, you have no reason you can’t include stretching in their warm-up routine. For more effective stretching exercises, ask your team to sit in a circular formation and then go through a series of the first leg, arm, and shoulder stretches. Some of the positions that you can include in your pre-game stretching sessions include:
- Side lunges
- Forward lunges
- Standing quad stretch
- Cross-over toe touches
- Lotus stretch
- Sideward seated bend
- Forward seated bend
- Knees to chest.
Base RunningEnsure your team understands that this is not a running competition. If they behave as if this is a running competition, they’ll get exhausted even before the actual practice begins. You don’t want to waste time, allowing them to recover. The best approach is to let the players running from home to first as they pretend that they are trying to beat a hit on the infield. Then let the team run from first to third base after which they walk home. On the next run, let the members run double and pretend they are attempting to score a second base hit. By the time they are done, they should be feeling warm. Whatever methods you decide to use in base running warm-up activities beware of overexertion; otherwise, you’ll end up with an exhausted team.
Skill-Based DrillsPurpose: To develop “soft” hands and directional bunting skills Baseball is a sport that boasts of many talents. These skills depend mostly on a player’s position. As a coach, you know that players in your team have pitching, throwing, hitting, fielding, and so on during the game. All these skills need to be polished through practice. Skill-based drills thus form the second pillar of effective baseball practice plans. Equipment: This depends mostly on the specific skills you want to develop in the players. For the sake of illustration, let’s consider pitching skills. In this case, the equipment could include:
- Three hula hoops of different colors
- A few bats
- 5-gallon bucket of balls
Team Baseball DrillsThese drills involve the whole team and are geared towards developing and improving teamwork. Your players learn how to work together and where each one of them fits in the big picture. If your players fail to see and function within this team framework, they are doomed to fail. Though these drills are essential, you should be careful of the number of and variety of exercises you incorporate in a single practice session. If you include too many drills, you might end up putting players in the waiting line as they wait for their turn. This kind of waiting can lower the level of player engagement in the drill. Other than encouraging teamwork, these team drills accomplish another vital role; they simulate real game situations. When the player knows all eyes are on them, chances are they will desire to perform well. They don’t want to look lousy in front of their coaches and peers.
Example of Baseball Team DrillsPurpose: To speed up the scrimmage duration, putting additional pressure on the pitcher and batter.
Equipment and Setup:
- Baseball diamond
Fun Baseball DrillsDon’t let the ‘Fun’ bit mislead you or your team. This not about merry-making but rather activities that help the team unwind and remember what the sport, and indeed other sports) is all about. As a coach, your role is more than polishing your players; you have to keep them interested in this sport. One sure way of achieving this objective is to engage them in fun baseball drills. The only important consideration is that these drills should be in line with the overall aim of baseball practice.
Example of Baseball Fun DrillsRelay Race Objective: To simulate the motions that the fielders go through Equipment and Setup: 5-gallon bucket of balls Procedure: Divide the team into groups of 4 or 6 depending on the size of the practice venue and the player’s throwing capabilities. Each group should line up parallel to each other. Spread the players across the outfield. Let each group start with the baseball on the same end. Let the two groups compete on what each can relay the ball to the last player and back in the shortest time. It is this action that simulates the motions of the infielders. In the process, your players will learn how to line themselves in readiness for throws while at the same time allowing them to develop quick hands. As earlier mentioned, this is just an example; other fun baseball drills that you can include in your baseball practice plans include:
- Bunting Competition
- Shallow Pop Flies
Water BreaksNew coaches often overlook water breaks; they seem to be too focused on the actual practice that they forget this simple, yet an essential requirement. When your players are involved in intense exercise, their bodies get dehydrated. You don’t want any of your players flopping over due to dehydration. Frankly, dehydration can be a big issue, especially if you are training a group of kids. Their parents are keen on what happens in these sessions, and if their kids’ well-being is not taken care of, you might soon find yourself with no team to train. Keeping all your team members well hydrated has the added benefit of keeping their energy levels and morale sky-high. The frequency and timing of these water breaks depend on the length of the practice session. Usually, a standard course takes about one to two hours. A two-hour session should include two to four water breaks. However, this suggestion is not cast on stone; several other actors will determine the frequency and timing of these breaks. The type of drills, how hot or cold the practice environment is, and the players’ age are some of the primary determiners of the number and timing of these water breaks. But water breaks are not only beneficial to the players. You too, and other coaches (in case you are practicing jointly with other teams) need to rehydrate. Most importantly, these breaks give the coaches time for a brief discussion on the progress made and chart out the way forward for the next round of drills.
Bringing It All TogetherAfter going through the general highlights, let’s now zero down to specific age brackets and see a general outline of how each group’s practice plan would look.
Sample Plan for Ages 12 and UnderThis age bracket cannot take extended practice. The best plan for them would have a session lasting one hour. The following is an example of such an idea that’s appropriate for this age bracket.
Warm-UpYou can start this practice session with base running to get their muscles moving. Other than their muscles, it’s vital to have their brains working so, remember to also focus on the proper base running approach. This technique involves sprinting and overrunning bases to simulate a game situation. This warm-up drill takes about ten minutes to complete.
StretchingA 10-minute stretching session will do for this group. You can opt to build the stretching circle around the center of the field or the mound depending on the area of the field you have available for practice. During this stretching session, highlight how the day’s practice will proceed and help the kids to practice visualizations.
Throwing and CatchingWith your players now feeling loose, relaxed, and confident, you can have them line up in two adjacent columns to practice throwing and catching. Assign each player a partner so that they are sure who they are throwing the ball to. Give them about 10 minutes to warm up their throwing arms.
StationsThe next 20 to 25 minutes go into working in small groups at the following stations:
- Fielding/ throwing station
- Tee work/soft toss station
- Live battling station
- Fly/throwing station
CooldownIt’s now time to cool down; the drill is over, but you don’t bring it to an abrupt end. Wind up the practice with yet another round of base running. Again, this is just an outline to guide you on the approach you can use to train these kids. You can vary it depending on the age bracket and time allotted for the practice session. If you are dealing with older kids who have longer attention spans and more endurance, you can exert them more.
Sample Practice Plan for Ages 13 and AboveIn this plan, the assumption is that the program covers a two-hour practice session. However, if you have less time than that, we’ve included some ideas in the plan to hasten things up.
Dynamic Warm-UpThese are older kids, so dynamic warm-up is appropriate for the category of players. Dynamic warm-up may involve activities such as jogging and lunging. Alternatively, you can plan for an extended routine that includes a variety of activities such as:
- high knees
- leg swings
- jumping jacks
- walking knee hugs
- arm circles
- side shuffle
StretchingAfter you are through with the dynamic warm-up, it’s time to stretch. As the team does this, discuss the importance of the practice session with them and how it will work. Prompt your players to visualize how they are going to achieve these objectives. Visualization helps the team to practice with clear and measurable goals in mind. Once you are through with the stretching, let the players make two rows and practice throwing and catching. Older kids should be through with the above three phases within the first 20 minutes of the session.
Ground Ball and Fly BallsTake about 20 minutes and have the team do some ground balls and fly balls. Buckets containing baseballs will come in handy as the numerous balls will help you minimize throws while maximizing repetition. Remember that this plan anticipates a two-hour practice session. If you have less time, break the team into two groups. One group will work on the fundamentals while the other group works on hitting. Switch them out when they are midway through. Once done, it’s time for the actual fundamentals.
FundamentalsWhether the entire team does this together or break the group into two, this section of the practice session focuses on fundamentals. Use the next 20 minutes working on skills including:
- team base running
- bunt defenses
- first and third defenses
Batting PracticeIf you don’t have enough time for this part of the practice, you can come up with up to four stations and have the players spend 10 to 15 minutes at each station. Batting stations drills can include:
- two-ball tricks
- spot hitting
- free hitting
- opposite field drills