How to Prioritize Baseball Practice
(and Softball too!)
The Practice Plan Series
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This How to Prioritize Baseball Practice (and Softball too!) article has been excerpted from The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click to learn more about our new hitting drills book).
In The Practice Plan Series, we guide the coach through developing an effective practice plan for the season. Using a top-down approach, the coach formulates their player skill development plan step-by-step. Upon finishing Step 5 of this series, the end product is perfect practice plans customized and synchronized with the team’s priorities.
Prioritize Baseball Practice (and Softball too!) – Objective 1: Prioritize Offensive vs. Defensive Skills
Prioritizing is crucial for optimizing training. In this objective, the coach analyzes and assigns a percentage of practice time to each major skill area. There is a chart at the end of this drill for the coach to complete. Let’s begin by describing two prevalent coaching philosophies.
Great Pitching and Defense
Having a quality pitching staff is the consensus among coaches as the #1 priority for winning games. Combining great pitching with a team that makes difficult plays and prevents runners from moving up or taking extra bases makes for a tough team to beat. On these teams, hitters get reps in the cage but not much coaching or customized development drills. Pitching and defense comprise 85% of practice time. Players are encouraged to seek private hitting instruction.
Great Pitching and Hitting
Other coaches strategize that errors are still going to happen whether the team takes 15 minutes of infield/outfield or 2 hours. These teams score 6-8 runs every time they step on the field, pitchers reliably throw strikes, and the defense makes the routine plays. Players take a round or two of infield/outfield and then hit for 2-3 hours. Coaches and players dedicate themselves to the team’s systematic hitting improvement plan. Pitchers are assigned a pitching coach and allowed time to go through their pitching drills during every practice. These coaches also win games.
To help decide between these two philosophies, here are two considerations:
- Offensively oriented players are more likely to make the high school varsity team as freshmen and receive a college scholarship. While graduates of hitting first teams are still pretty good on defense, they do not achieve these goals because they are defensive wizards. It is because they can hit well.
- Becoming a quality pitcher requires adhering to a consistent schedule and investing large amounts of time, far exceeding time allocated by even the teams which prioritize pitching. If a pitcher is unwilling to put in significant time outside practice, they should find a different position. In the long run, they will be a more fulfilled player.
Use Multiple Tracks to Prioritize Baseball Practice
Regardless of philosophy, making the best use of practice time necessitates having multiple tracks. Multiple stations, combination drills (batting practice with defenders and baserunners), and scrimmages boost how much a team can accomplish in the time available. For this reason, the percentages should total 150% – assuming half of the available practice time is devoted to more than one skill, and the other half is single-tracked. Change this total percentage to fit your team’s ability to multi-track, based on coaches’ number and expertise.
To complete this drill, fill out the form (below). Estimate how much practice time to dedicate to each category of skills.
Category Percentage of Team Practice Time Building Rome Series Example
Hitting, Short Game, Situational ?? 50%*
Defense ?? 40%
Pitching ?? 40%
Baserunning ?? 10%
Warmups ?? 5%
Administrative ?? 5%
*During ½ of all practice time, there is at least one station devoted to hitting.
Prioritize Baseball Practice (and Softball too!) – Objective 2: Prioritize Hitting Skills
In this objective, the coach begins to “drill down” in the perfect practice plan, prioritizing types of hitting drills.
“The skilled batters performed significantly better when focused on the environment than on the skill, while the unskilled batters had the exact opposite result. This led the researchers to conclude that while skilled batters have internalized knowledge of the skill of hitting that performs best when uninterrupted, unskilled hitters need to focus on ‘step-by-step’ execution of the swing to be successful.” (Fortenbauch, 2011)
The drills recommended below adhere to this (above) advice:
Beginning (Elementary School)
- Primarily utilize drills in Tools I through VI found in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details). Over half of the drills should be games.
Developing (Middle School through High School JV and Club “B” Level and Club 12A-14A)
- Primarily utilize drills in Tools VIII through XXXI found in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide.
Experienced (High School Varsity, Club 16A-18A, College, and Pros)
- Primarily utilize drills in Tools XXVII through XXXI found in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide.
Prioritize Baseball Practice (and Softball too!) – Objective 3: Determine Practice Formats
In this objective, the coach plans how they will organize and structure effective practices. The following checklist provides formats the coach can choose from and then modify to fit team and individual needs:
First Half: Break-out stations.
- Pitcher Station. All but one catcher helps catch pitchers. Each catcher rotates through the infield station. Ask league-certified helpers to catch. Ideally, the pitching coach is not tied down to catching a pitcher. Pitchers work on mechanics, spins, locations, and strategy.
- Infield + One Catcher Station. Catchers practice throwing to bases, bunts, popups. Infielders practice infield skills.
- Outfield Station. Outfielders practice outfield skills.
Second Half: Entire Team.
- Situational infield and outfield defense. Optionally, include baserunners.
Hitting, Pitching, Defense, Baserunning, and Situations
First Half: Four stations. Assign one coach or league-certified helper to each station.
- Station 1 – Live BP or Machine.
- Station 2 – Front Toss.
- Station 3 – Tee.
- Station 4 – Assessment (click the link for our free article detailing how to periodically evaluate hitting improvement and set goals Establish an Assessment Process and Schedule for Hitters).
Second Half: Face Game-Like Pitching.
- Option 1 – Scrimmage by breaking into three teams – each team includes one pitcher, one catcher, two infielders, and one outfielder. One team bats, two teams on defense. Rotate after three outs. Play three innings.
- Option 2 – Friendly game with a nearby team.
- Option 3 – Rotate hitters, baserunners, and defenders. Everyone gets at least three quality at-bats facing competitive pitching.
Divide the team into three groups.
- Rotate each group through hitting practice in one-hour intervals. Three-hour coaching commitment. One-hour player commitment.
- Individualized instruction.
- Players rotate through four stations (15 mins per station). Station 1 – Live BP or Machine. Station 2 – Front Toss. Station 3 – Tee. Station 4 – Assessment
Combo – All Baseball or Softball Skills
Be patient with combo practices (typically, the first try is a “circus!”). After that, players enjoy the fast action.
- Place a net in front of each base, in front of the pitcher (or machine), and center field (5 nets).
- Place a ball bucket at pitcher, second base, center field, and with each of the two coaches (5 buckets).
- One coach in foul territory hitting groundballs to the infield, and the other coach in the opposite foul area hitting flyballs to the outfield.
- Coaches hit groundballs/flyballs between each pitch to the batter.
- Infielders and outfielders alternate fielding balls hit from BP and coaches. Accurate throws to a designated base.
- Return balls to second base and outfield buckets, then rotate to coaches and pitchers when full.
- Each hitter runs out their last hit. Then, if safe, they continue running the bases until put out or score.
- Rotate players in to hit. Do this for the entire practice, with a team administrative break in the middle.
- Caution that defenders’ arms don’t get overly tired.
Team Building Day
- Choose one of the myriads of team-building ideas available online. The best activities require intense cooperation and interaction amongst team members.
- Complete administrative details.
- Distribute uniforms and gear.
- Discuss and set team goals.
- Select team captains.
Skill-Building Competitions Day
- Take one practice to divide into teams and play skill-building games for the entire day.
- Great for off-season or early mornings (High School/College).
- Supervise it yourself or hire a professional to conduct it.
One Day Baseball or Softball Skills Camp
- Select a day to have a four to six-hour team practice. Break the practice into one or two-hour focus sessions. Use one session for team building (see above).
- Join other teams to have multiple concurrent break-out sessions with outside private or college coaches conducting each session. In addition, rotate campers and team coaches through each session.
Prioritize Baseball Practice (and Softball too!) – Objective 4: Establish an Assessment Process and Schedule
The foundation of an effective assessment system is the player and coach working together to share feedback and execute a development plan customized to accelerate the player’s development. When both players and coaches track progress over time, skill development is most rapid. In this final objective, the coach develops an efficient and consistent assessment process containing age-appropriate metrics (click the link for our free article detailing how to periodically evaluate hitting improvement and set goals Establish an Assessment Process and Schedule for Hitters).
The Practice Plan Series
Using a top-down approach, the coach formulates their training plan step-by-step. The outcome is individual practice plans which fit the team’s priorities. Click each of the links below to build your practice plans for the upcoming year systematically.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series for a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!