Managing and coaching a sports team comes with a long list of responsibilities and duties. While professional baseball staff get paid big money to help keep the organization running like a well-oiled machine, many coaches volunteer or get paid very little. One of the chief responsibilities of coaches is coordinating and executing weekly practices. Planning a practice can be a pain in the ass, but the trouble is worth it in the end. It is very rewarding to pull off a series of well-executed practices and see the skills of players grow and develop. The satisfying feeling of “I did that” is up there with the rare but sincere expressed gratitude of parents and players. Knowing some of the top baseball drills and workouts goes a long way to getting the most benefit from practices and ultimately leads to more wins in a competitive environment.
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Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Maybe you’re a first time Little League coach and you got suckered into the coaching job by the rest of the parents who were too scared or lazy to step up to the plate. The fundamentals of baseball can be taught. Laying a solid foundation in a youth league will lead to much greater success for players down the road. Whether you’re playing in a youth league or MLB, repetition and muscle memory reign supreme.
For most coaches, it all begins with tee ball and it ends around high school baseball. Very few of us go on to coach our boys after high school. The baseball practice drills we discuss will range from those designed for youth players of 4 and up to 18 years old. Some of these are applicable for collegiate ball and higher leagues, so if you’re a professional coach surfing for ideas you may find something as well.
Instead of “winging it” and have practice descend into a chaotic mess leaving you looking incompetent, a much better strategy is coming up with simple practice plan. Practice doesn’t need to stick to a rigid schedule. Some drills may prove to be a big hit with your team, or maybe a certain drill seems to really be benefiting players and you want to spend an extra 10 minutes on it. That’s why it’s good to go into practice with a basic outline of what you want to accomplish and maybe a few notes with helpful reminders. A little deliberation will go a long way to holding a successful practice and it doesn’t require two hours of planning the day before.
The Most Important Equipment for Baseball Practice
Here are some items every well prepared coach should keep well-stocked. Having this equipment will lead to versatile practices that can incorporate a wide variety of drills.
- Five Gallon Buckets. The more of these you can get the better. In a perfect world, each coach will have one or two of these so they have their own personal supply of baseballs. This allows practices with multiple activities to run smoothly. A greater supply of balls also means players will spend less chasing stray balls during practice and can be done during breaks, after practice, or by coaches at a convenient time. Kids chasing after balls is the number one biggest time waster in practice. Side benefit: these buckets also function well as portable chairs for the coaches.
- Throw Down Bases. Ideal to build a mini diamond anytime, anywhere. They can be used as markers instead of cones when you need to give players the real feel of using a base. Also, makes for a more versatile practice set up if you’re doing multiple infield drills and need more than just the standard four bases.
- Cones. The 8-inch disc style cones that are commonly used by soccer coaches are the most ideal. These don’t get knocked over like the stand-up cones. Obviously these mark and indicate where players need to stand and facilitate understanding of the drill before it takes place.
- Wiffle Balls. The indispensable tool for batting every good coach keeps a large supply of. They make it possible to do a large number of swing repetitions in a relatively short amount of time. They are safe for the pitcher and can be pitched from a short distance. Additionally, they don’t fly fall so wiffle balls can easily be gathered to get in more swings. Sidenote: Some coaches substitute pickle balls (used in the racquet sport) because of their durability and some hitters prefer the feel of them coming off the bat more. They are also slightly easier to throw.
- Catcher’s Gear. Usually, the school or league will provide catcher’s gear. This gear becomes increasingly important when kids start to get bigger and throw harder. Most drills you can get away without putting it all on but it’s a good idea to keep a set handy for skirmishes.
The Five Pillars of a Successful Baseball Practice Plan
Baseball practice plans are as varied as skillsets, builds, and ability levels of a youth baseball team. Nevertheless, there are some key guidelines that nearly all successful practices follow.
- Warm-Ups & Conditioning.
- Skill-Specific Drills.
- Team Drills.
- Fun Drills.
- Water Breaks.
1. Warm-Ups and Conditioning
An essential part of any good practice are warm up drills. These drills get players bodies moving and warm which prevents injuries as well as increases player engagement and focus. Whatever players have been going through during the day, these initial drills give them a way to get into practice mode. Keep in mind, you don’t need to have them run to the outfield and back a hundred times to accomplish this either. While you may earn a reputation as a feared and authoritative coach, it’s not going to be the best use of time, in the long run, to do this every practice. A smart approach is to use warm up drills that condition while simultaneously improving speed and agility and/or baseball skills.
Examples of Warm-Up Drills
Light Jog Followed by Dynamic Stretching
Purpose: Warm up athletes and prevent injuries.
Equipment and Setup: Baseball field or mini diamond, enough square space for the team to spread out and stretch.
Execution: There are many ways coaches suggest warming players up. The best method most athletic trainers follow is dynamic stretching warm up rather than a static stretching one. You want to hit all the main muscle groups and allow players to get mentally prepared. Below is a great video example of dynamic stretching.
2. Skill-Specific Baseball Drills
Skill-specific drills are offensive and defensive drills. These are the bread and butter of any baseball training plan. They give players the opportunity to practice fundamentals and mechanics. Sometimes, these drills are also known as position-specific drills. Skill-specific drills is a wide umbrella category that covers infield drills, outfield drills, throw/catch drills, pitcher drills, catcher drills, base running drills, and hitting drills. These drills are the best way to develop good habits and muscle memory in each player.
While there are many, many choices on which skill-specific drills you want to implement in your baseball workouts, it’s important to keep in mind that there is one main limiting factor on which drills you select. That factor is how many coaches consistently show up and can be counted on. If it is just you, you’ll want to do a lot more team drills to aid in keeping everyone together and focused. If you have an assistant coach and a few helpers, players will get much more one–on-one time and you’ll be able to set up a more thorough practice.
Examples of Skill-Specific Drills
Purpose: Develop directional bunting skills and “soft” hands.
Equipment and Setup: Three hula hoops, a few bats, 5 gallon bucket of balls. Position a hula hoop in front of home plate, in the first base line, and in the third base line.
Execution: The coach or pitcher will pitch to players at home plate. Before each pitch they will call out a color, and the batter will attempt to bunt the ball near or into the designated hoop. This is an excellent way for players to develop control in their bunting. To make a competition out of this drill, simply award points to each hoop made and tally the score at the end.
3. Team Baseball Drills
Team drills include the whole team and focus on the element of team work. Players learn how to work together and where they fit within the team. They are the core of any good baseball practice plan. It is a good idea to be careful of how many and which team drills you use in a single practice. This is because many times these drills will lead to players waiting in line for their turn and can lower player engagement. It’s smart to reduce this wait time as much as possible.
Outside of facilitating team work, another one of the main benefits of team drills is that it simulates real game situations. With all eyes on the player that’s active, it increases the pressure and the individual’s desire to perform well. Nobody wants to look bad in front of their peers and coaches.
Examples of Team Drills
Full Count or 2-1 Scrimmage
Purpose: This drill is designed to speed up a normal duration scrimmage therefore putting more pressure on the batter and pitcher.
Equipment and Setup: Game equipment (bat, gloves, baseball, helmets), and baseball diamond.
Execution: Decide on the starting count for each hitter. Other than the count, everything is the same as a normal scrimmage. This drill accelerates the scrimmage and allows you to do it in less time, or get through more batters in the same allotted time as a normal scrimmage. There is no room for error the pitcher will try and throw strikes and the batter will do their best to hit them. This drill also enforces players with the attitude that they are going to get a hit when stepping up to the plate.
4. Fun Baseball Drills
Though this may be labeled as the “fun” category, it simply means drills that help the team unwind and remember what sports are all about. Typically, fun drills can be as straightforward as team batting exercises towards the end of practice or as creative as a made up game that everyone enjoys. These drills are usually saved until the end of longer practices, as focus is beginning to fade after a long day of school and physical exercise. You get a bit more freedom and can be more liberal with these types of drills with younger teams, especially Tee Ball. These types of drills also include skirmishes which is a great way to wrap up practice.
Examples of Fun Drills
Relay Base Running
Purpose: This helps your players practice base running skills and have a fun competition while doing so. There is an additional ball handling element as well.
Equipment and Setup: 2 baseballs and four bases.
Execution: Divide the team into two groups. The first group will line up at second base and the other group will line up at home plate. At the coach’s whistle, the first player at each base will begin to run and round the bases. When he makes it back around to his team, he hands off the ball to the next player who follows in his footsteps and rounds the bases. The first team to have the last player in line go around all the bases wins. You can vary this drill by having the players wear mitts and toss the ball instead of hand off, or throw the ball once they reach first or third.
Purpose: A fun game with a little competition. This is a classic that has become a tradition in baseball fields across the country.
Equipment and Setup: Ideally a full diamond, can be played on a mini diamond. Four bases, gloves, bat, and ball.
Execution: Have all the players besides one (who will be the hitter) spread out across the field, roughly equally spaced. The coach acts as the pitcher and pitches to the batter. Different defensive plays are assigned a number of points. Fielding a multi-hop ground ball is 25 points, a one hop ground ball is 50 points, and catching a ball before it hits the ground is 100 points. The first fielder to reach 500 points gets to bat next.
5. Water Breaks
Breaks for water and regrouping are often overlooked by newer coaches, but are a key cornerstone to any baseball practice. You don’t want one of the kids flopping over from dehydration. That will always put a damper on practice and possibly result in very angry parents. In all seriousness, dehydration is a big issue and player safety should always be number one. Keeping all of your players hydrated will help keep energy levels and team morale high.
The average baseball practices runs from about an hour to two hours. Generally, a two hour practice will include a minimum of two water breaks and a maximum of four. How hot it is in your practice environment, what type of drills, the intensity of the drills, and the age of your players are the main influencers governing how many water breaks are necessary. A nice side benefit of water breaks is that it allows coaches to come together for a brief discussion on progress and to figure out responsibilities for the next set of drills.