Practice Plans

Introduction

Baseball games are fun. No matter our age, we enjoy testing our skills against others. Even the youngest baseball players want to see how they compare to other players or teams their age. Learning to compete to the best of our ability at whatever we pursue and how to win and lose with grace and dignity are important life lessons that should be introduced at a young age. But to maximize a young player's enjoyment of the game and to provide players with the best opportunity to improve, organized and enjoyable practices are a must. So practices are definitely more important to player development than games. In a perfect world, having a minimum of 3 practices per week during spring baseball and a minimum of 3 practices per week during fall baseball would be the way to go. Kids want to have fun and play, and coaches want the kids to have fun and play the game properly. When kids play the game properly they have fun. The greatest source of pleasure for an athlete is to progress, being able to do something he was not able to do before.

If we can agree that practice is important, then the next question is how can we practice properly? The best practices are nothing but small bits of the game broken down and rehearsed over and over again. The coach that can put his players in a position to do the things that need to be done in the game will find more success than the coach who has catch, followed by batting practice and then a round of infield. The good coach knows exactly how to break the game up and teach the game thru the proper drills.

Kids need to experience any situation that the coach wants them to learn. For example, when a pitcher fails to cover first base on a ball hit to his left, the coach will tell the player what he should have done. But that is not enough. To hold the player accountable in a game situation, the player should be put in positions in practice where he needs to react properly. This is what good coaching is all about. Breaking the game down into small pieces and allowing the players to experience what is expected. Rundowns, cuts and relays, bunt defenses, base running, are just simple examples of situations where some coaches want proper execution by simply talking about them in practice. Good coaches figure out ways to practice game situations.

The importance of practicing and planning

*Make it fun - One of the basic philosophies of teaching baseball is to make it fun. On the surface that means that we should let the kids play games, which is important from both an enjoyment and a developmental standpoint. Still, when it comes to developing young baseball players, the importance of practice cannot be underestimated. Games give the kids something to look forward to each week, which helps maintain their interest. However, even though baseball games lend themselves to a certain amount of standing around and downtime (between pitches, between innings, when your team is hitting and so on), games do not usually offer an atmosphere that is conducive to teaching. A lot of excitement, energy, tension, interference, and distractions surround baseball games, making it extremely difficult to communicate any type of lessons to a player.

*The right time to correct mistakes - During games, a coach will not stop the play and make a point to bring attention to a mistake or situation that could have been handled differently. We do not want to single out a kid to tell him that something could have been done differently or better. Doing so can lead to embarrassment, which could turn a young player off from the sport. We should do our teaching between innings in a more appropriate setting like the dugout or behind the bench area. Still, at that moment, the player most likely is focusing on something else instead of giving you his full attention. The player might be looking at his parents, thinking about the next at-bat, or looking for a friend in the crowd. Although it's good to go over the mistakes after they happen in games, remember that the best time to teach is during practice. Kids seem to have the ability to let go of the moment and not dwell on what has just taken place. Maintain a journal or notebook with a detailed list of situations and mistakes. Those issues will then be addressed at the next practice in special instructional sessions for all players or through individual instructional sessions.

* Practices are for coaches to teach and for kids to learn - As mentioned previously, practice clearly is the best time to address situations that occur in games and to perfect areas of play that need work. Leagues that only play games can really hurt the development of their young players. Time must be dedicated to address skill development and team fundamentals in a practice setting. Big league players go through six weeks of spring training for good reasons. For kids, however, six weeks of practice without playing would not be practical. During practices, you cannot simulate everything that potentially can happen in a game. Baseball is a crazy game. Every year during the Major League season we see plays that we never have seen before. At the lower levels of baseball, we have the luxury of re-creating any new or unusual situations that arise in a practice setting to make sure that all of the tangible lessons can be absorbed. For kids, having the opportunity to break the situation down into understandable parts and to explain why each player involved in the play should react in a certain way is an invaluable learning opportunity. If the coach has his team do nothing but play games, it becomes very difficult for him to do any teaching, because he always reacts to events that occur in the heat of battle.

Practice gets a bad reputation, especially in baseball, for being boring and tedious. So many fine motor skills must be mastered to play the sport-throwing, catching, hitting, running and so on-that fundamental skill development is a must. Remember, baseball is a very simple game. Whether you are a budding youth player or a Major League player, you have to be able to throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball to be successful. And, whether you are a novice or a pro, to be successful you should follow the exact same fundamental approaches. When a ground ball is hit to a young player, if the player has been schooled correctly, he fields it with the feet spread apart to create a wide base, the butt down, and the hands out in front. The same goes for the pro. When we instruct young players, we have them work on these simple fundamentals over and over. You know why? Because those are the same fundamentals that Major League players have worked on from the time they were playing recreational ball right up to this very day.

"Baseball is the only thing beside the paper clip that hasn't changed" -- Bill Veeck

Baseball's fundamental skills are very simple; the complexities of the game come with the various strategies and team fundamentals that are incorporated as we get older and the game becomes more serious. However, players cannot incorporate those complexities until they have mastered the basics. As guideline, young player should perform in each practice, a minimum of 100 throws (short, medium and long distance) and 150 swings (ex: dry swing, wiffle balls, soft toss and live pitches).

"Fundamentals are the most valuable tools a baseball player can possess. Bunt the ball into the ground. Hit the cut-off man. Take the extra base. Learn the fundamentals." -- Dick Williams

Games provide kids with a fun, competitive atmosphere that is necessary to maintain their interest and attention. However, kids just don't get enough repetitions in games to develop the fundamental skills necessary to improve. You can introduce and practice the basic fundamentals during practice in a lot of fun ways. There is no question that fundamental drills can become tedious. Kids are not wired to be able to perform the same simple tasks over and over again without shifting their focus. By breaking the kids into small groups and rotating them to different stations every 15 or 20 minutes, you can break up the monotony of practice. You can hold their attention in other ways as well. Later on in this practice guide, you'll see different ways in turning the same simple drills into games or contests to help maintain a high level of interest and concentration. The same drills that seemed boring before suddenly become a lot more exciting when the element of competition is introduced.

* Remain goal oriented - Coach should always design practices while keeping in mind the age-specific goals set at the beginning of the season. When developing a series of practice plans, it is important to understand the philosophy about skill development, which includes introducing and demonstrating a skill, using buzzwords and catch phrases to help kids remember, explaining why the skill or drill is important, letting the kids attempt the skill, correcting mistakes through conversation and demonstration, and reviewing and refining until the skill is mastered. Be careful not to incorporate more advanced skills, drills, or concepts into your practice until you have achieved the age-specific goal in a particular category. If you move too quickly for the players in the age group, you are setting both your players and yourself for a great deal of frustration. In planning, we often refer to the phases of introduction, consolidation, refinement and maintenance. Always go through these four phases, no matter the level of the athlete.

Pre--practice meeting

A coach should always spend the first 5 minutes of the practice to discuss with players. It's a good opportunity to talk about the previous game or practice. In fact, the way the team has performed in the last game should directly influence the practice plan. Players should be conscious that the reason why the practice will focus on the defense is because as a team, we've made 15 defensive errors in the last game. Baseball teams rarely win games when they commit that many defensive errors. Be careful to not just change elements of a practice based uniquely on performance and not have a real sustainable progress plan. Perhaps the first half of any practices should be devoted to the development of the basic skills or priorities and the second half should be devoted to improving the elements related to the game. The coach should share with players the practice plan and the different drills they're going to do. It's a matter of preparing the players for the practice. If necessary, the coach can also use the pre-practice meeting to reiterate the importance of respecting the team rules. It is also important to periodically review the team objectives and player's personal goals that were set at the beginning of the season. Players should always practice in order to meet their personal goals and also work with teammates to meet the team objectives. If a goal is achieved, a new one should be set. If a goal is unrealistic, it can be adjusted. Finally, if the action plan needs to be modified (i.e. add tasks), it can be discussed.

FWNLL Training Director put together a series of practice plans and tips for your use. These practice plans can be used as your templates for your team's first practices of the year. These are organized and designed generically for all levels of baseball and softball. Links are to PDF documents that should help you execute every practice with a purpose and intent.

T-Ball Practice Plan 1.pdf

A Ball Practice Plan 1.pdf

A Ball Practice Plan 2 .pdf

AA Ball Practice Plan 2.pdf

A-AA Ball Practice Plan 1.pdf

A-AA Ball Practice Plan 2.pdf

AAA Ball Practice Plan 1.pdf

AAA Ball Practice Plan 2.pdf

 

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