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Youth Baseball Practice Approaches

Discussion in 'Coaches Corner' started by LoweTek, Feb 28, 2017.

  1. LoweTek

    LoweTek Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    1,257
    We've already started here in Florida. We're two games into the schedule already. My team this year is 10U, Babe Ruth 9-10 year olds. I know different coaches have different approaches for practices. We have one practice a week on the field and one in the batting cages. Especially this time of year, until March 12th anyway, there is barely an hour of daylight available to work with. So the time is precious.

    I have historically coached older kids (15U, 18U) and since I started working with the younger kids, I note they bring their own challenges. Attention span and retention being the most notable.

    Though I know it as a legitimate approach, it is not my style to plan out a practice like a project management event. I am aware of the primary skills challenges the kids have and try to have activities touching on improving these. Other than those, I observe game performance note deficiencies and select some key activities to work on those deficiencies. I'm still thinking about what I'm going to do first and how long I'm going to spend doing it as I'm driving to the field.

    For example, a light went on for me during the game this past Saturday when we were telling 2-3 different kids to backup certain plays. Then they simply didn't do it. I realized some of the kids didn't know what the word 'backup' even meant in a baseball context. So it became my first topic of practice and I spent a decent amount of time explaining what it meant and using a few simple examples of when to do it.

    I'm having quite a heated debate with one of my assistants about the length of a given activity during practice. He insists nothing should go on more than 10 minutes because there is not enough time and the kids need reps in so many different things.

    My view is to let the game performance deficiencies be the primary decider of time spent. I'd rather skip a particular throwing drill in favor of more time on something which needs strong reinforcement (such as my above example of the concept of backup). I might go longer than 10 minutes if I have their attention and they are engaged, shorter if it is clear I'm losing them, regardless of the activity.

    I'm interested to hear others' thoughts on the topic of practice organization. My approach is to have an outline in my head, start the work, and adjust as execution observation and attention span are assessed.
     
  2. Doug Beerabelli

    Doug Beerabelli Killer Threads Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    9,146
    The skill level of your players should dictate what you work on, but I suspect you know that. if they are advanced enough skillwise to warrant working on backing up plays at that age, that's a good thing.

    Having a practice plan is a good thing, with the main goal of keeping the players active and engaged for entire drills as much as possible. Breaking down into groups of 3 or 4 for activities, and rotating the whole team through them, is always a good idea. Maybe do tee hitting drills, or soft toss, while you do OF plays and IF work. Not sure if you have enough coaches and volunteers to do that every practice. I like the 10 minute limit idea, but you don't have to hold it exactly to that every time.

    Try to work in skills in drills that are fun, or have a game element to them. For example, if working OF throws to the plate, put a garbage can as home plate and award points for kids hitting or throwing into the can.

    I've also always like situational scrimmages. Divide team into two teams, play a game (coach pitch), but stop and point things out as you go along. Kids are hitting, running, and in field having to be ready to make plays throughout. Maybe change the number or outs or move baserunners around if you want to work on specific things. Perhaps have a batting order and have kids doing tee work or toss and hit with another coach as they prep for the next at bat.

    Keep em moving, keep it fun, keep it engaging...keep em from lacrosse!
     
  3. soup17

    soup17 Member SoSH Member

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    136
    I've been doing this for about 7 years (14 seasons) now - you and your assistant are both right in a way. I put together a very detailed practice plan for each practice (PM for a copy of one if you'd like), but I often deviate from it, based, as you say, on their level of engagement. I use stations a lot, so the players aren't doing the same drill for too long. You get all of this, but you do things differently, which is great - I just happen to be a planner.
    You are correct that you need to test that they understand what you mean when you tell them to do things. Some of them may have had no idea what backing up a base means (things that for the older players you are used to are probably more familiar). Some of them even have different understanding what things like getting your butt down mean when fielding grounders.
    Your assistant is generally correct in that you don't want to have players doing the same thing for too long, but sticking to a rigid 10 minutes doesn't make sense. However, where he is wrong is that it seems he wants to cover a lot of stuff during a practice. If you take your hour and cover 6 things, you'll be lucky to get them to retain 2 or 3. I like to focus on a few skills or items during a practice and even within a drill. I've seen 1 hour practice plans laid out by coaches that say: individual defensive skills (15 minutes / 4 stations), individual offensive skills (15 minutes / 4 stations), and team offensive (15 minutes / 2 drills) and defensive skills (15 minutes / 2 drills). and within each drill, working on one thing for each player. For example, I have one player who has a lot of issues with his swing. Last week, we worked on his hip turn and back leg action. I am hopeful that he has mastered it in his practice on his own so we can start working on the other issues he has (hand position, head position, weight distribution, etc. - long list). For individual defensive skills, we'll work on one or a couple specific aspects of fielding grounders or fly balls (e.g., hands in front, soft hands for grounders or drop step, not running with the glove extended for flyballs). Then for team defense, we would work on backing up bases for example - you can do situations with runners so you put pressure on your defense and your players get some practice baserunning in game-like situations.
    It all really depends on what you are trying to do. If you are trying to prepare slightly higher level players for high school, as I have been with my now 12U players, most of whom I have had since 9U, we spend a lot of time on individual skills, and chief among them is throwing. We have a standard throwing progression we do every practice and pre-game. I focus a lot on this because I have had both our local HS coaches tell me that the biggest issues with players showing up for HS tryouts is they don't know how to play catch. Consequently, I focus on that a lot.
    However, with house / rec level teams, I work to improve their individual skills, but I won't attempt (in general, unless a player is REALLY coachable and willing to work on his own) to fundamentally change a less than optimal swing. I'll try to work with that player to maximize his chances to make contact with the muscle memory he has already developed, simply because you can't fundamentally change a player's swing in a few minutes a week for 12 weeks and have it stick. Team-wise, I'll focus on what is costing us the most. Something like backing up bases would be a great choice to teach them - relatively easy to grasp (just requires hustle) and will save a lot of bases over a season and possibly get some outs. I always tell them two things, neither of which I came up with on my own: "if you are in the same place at the end of the play that you were in at the beginning of the play, you are in the wrong place;" and, "you may back up a base 10 times and nothing happens, but the 11th time, backing up a base could be the difference between winning and losing." And of course, you have to recognize and reward it when they do it - as simple as saying "I see you, Mookie!" when the RF backs up the throw to 1st instead of picking his nose. If we don't know what we are doing baserunning-wise, we might spend a bit more time on that (although I use baserunning for warming up at the beginning of every practice anyway).
    I hope this is helpful - kind of a stream of consciousness.
     
  4. mikeysox

    mikeysox lurker

    Messages:
    22
    I've coached for a couple years now, always kids in the 10-12 range. We are in the northeast and our games don't start till April so I am very jealous!

    I do tend to plan out practices ahead of time, in part to make sure each of the three coaches knows what to do. My assistants are really co head coaches and we know each other well so that's a big advantage. I try not to have more than three major components for a particular practice. I also hate having kids standing around so I try to come up with stuff that keeps everyone as active as possible.

    In my view, throwing the ball well makes a huge difference at this level. Our Spring season league has a wide spread in terms of talent and the kids in the outfield are typically a bit shaky. A good throw can be the difference between a double and an inside the park home run. So, I start every practice with about 15 minutes of throwing, starting with t-drills and working up to long toss. I have the kids start as soon as they arrive so we don't hold up practice waiting for late commers.

    After throwing we do some running to get loose - form running and/or base running. That's maybe10 minutes.

    If there is a particular thing I want to teach that day, like run downs, we will do that for a little bit. But, when all three coaches are there, I like to set up stations to give kids as many reps as possible. One station is usually defensive situations with me hitting and a couple kids acting as base runners, another could be pitching, and the third hitting off a tee with a coach. We would do that for about 30 minutes. I try to always close with BP with the non-hitting kids playing defense. Each kid will get about 10 pitches.

    As you can see, we keep it pretty basic. We only have one practice a week and at this age group many of the kids aren't up for anything more complicated. The regular kids really need to work on the fundamentals and the good players are going to be good no matter what. Practices for our summer travel team are very different.
     
  5. Saints Rest

    Saints Rest Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    Question from the other side: My son turned 5 in December. He's very good at hitting live toss when playing wife ball, and he can throw pretty well, with accuracy. He's only ever played with wiffle balls and tennis balls, and never with a glove.

    I'm thinking of signing him up for Tee Ball this spring. (We are in CT so season starts 4/1.) How can I best get him involved with a glove and hard-balls/bats?

    Side note: He has ADHD.
     
  6. LoweTek

    LoweTek Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    I should be clear, this is rec league. The majority of the better players are with various travel teams. However, due to complicated player freeze rules (e.g. sons of managers and coaches going to certain teams), my team was in a very good drafting position. The only kid we had frozen was a 7th rounder. Other teams had 3-4 kids they were freezing most being first through fifth rounders (by their own [over]-rating). Simply put, the others basically had no draft picks until the fourth or fifth round. So I wind up with arguably three first rounders and two seconds, etc. in the first few draft rounds.

    Relatively speaking, I have a very good team. I have a kid I think is the best player in the league. He is a 1B/LHP who throws a lot of strikes. Last Saturday as the SP in 3 IP he struck out 8 and the other guy grounded out to him. He threw 39 pitches to accomplish that line. Game was over in 3.5 innings due to a 10 run rule. Looking at the other teams so far, we could easily go undefeated. I have two other kids who are good pitchers also. As long as I manage the pitch counts effectively, nobody else has anywhere near the pitching depth.

    Last week the opposing SP walked the first four batters he faced and they all scored. We have a four run per inning limit. So as you might imagine, it's a bit of a different challenge to keep the kids on task.

    As for planning out practices in any great detail, this is difficult due to unpredictable participation levels. I generally meet with the other coaches at the start and propose my approach for the first 30-45 minutes, ask if they have anything they would like to get done and go from there. I stay flexible as my assistants are legit baseball people. One a former college assistant coach and the other played four years of D-1 college. I generally take their suggestions very seriously and adjust my thinking and plan as needed.
     
  7. LoweTek

    LoweTek Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    ...have a catch, Dad.

    Seriously.

    That and some soft toss hitting with the soft baseballs they use in T-Ball.

    I will say my experience is the least knowledgeable coaches have T-Ball teams. So you have to be on your toes as far as teaching sound fundamentals. Throwing is the most important, IMO, followed by fielding, baserunning and a sound swing. Look on YouTube. There are plenty of decent videos showing proper technique for these basic skills. Watch a few on each topic. You will quickly note the consistencies, regardless of the suggested technique details.

    Almost every kid who has ever come to me from T-Ball (or any lower level really) threw the ball incorrectly. Avoiding his getting into the habit of an apparently successful throwing technique which is fundamentally wrong, may be the best thing you can do for him. Bad throwing is the number one deficiency in kids, by a mile.
     
  8. Saints Rest

    Saints Rest Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    Thanks. And I know this sounds dumb, but can you be most specific? We play catch with bare hands a lot, with different sorts of balls, inside and out. He's just now getting good at catching a ball with two (bare) hands, no flinching. He throws very accurately generally. His hitting skills are pretty great, so I've thought, but so, also have I been told by a number of adult friends who coach older kids.
    I assume I should get him a glove, yes?
    FTR, I stopped playing baseball in 8th grade when I switched to lacrosse. I'm coordinated enough to throw, catch, hit, but I have zero knowledge of how to teach any of this to a rambunctious 5yo.
     
  9. mikeysox

    mikeysox lurker

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    When my son was 5, we got him a little glove and he and I would play catch with a tennis ball. After a while we moved up to one of those kinda squishy tee balls.

    That said, a coach I know recently relayed a story Tim Lincecum told him, which was that when Lincecum was a kid, his dad leaned a wading pool against the wall in the back yard and told him to throw the ball at the pool as hard as he could. Dad's theory was that if he and little Lincecum played catch, dad would baby his throws and son would mimic dad and never learn to throw right. That does makes sense to a degree, but I always loved (still do) playing catch with my son. I assume he ignored how I was throwing since his arm is already way better than mine.
     
  10. LoweTek

    LoweTek Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    Yeah, get him a glove. Try to find a starter where opening and closing it is easy for him. Try to move to the squishy t-ball type balls as soon as possible. Tennis balls present their own challenge to success because they are bouncy.

    Here is a decent throwing primer:
    http://probaseballinsider.com/baseb...ow-a-baseball-part-2-mechanics-of-throwing-2/

    Try to teach him to catch with two hands whenever possible. IOW, as he is catching the ball, step laterally so the ball will be caught toward the throwing hand. The throwing hand is nearby to the glove as the ball arrives. Cover up/protect/secure/retrieve the ball as quickly as possible with the throwing hand for the return throw in the same motion if possible.

    The key fundamental for throwing, as is mentioned in the link, is as the baseball is taken back behind the player it is facing the ground; the palm of the hand is down until the motion forward to actually throw. Keeping the glove hand up and tucked to the shoulder as the throw is being executed also makes a big difference and takes pressure off of the throwing shoulder (as opposed to hanging the glove hand to the ground when throwing). Think of the glove shoulder as a gun sight at the end of a rifle. Use it to aim the throw always pointing the glove shoulder at the target during the motion. Don't let him get in the habit of throwing facing his target. Keep a nice, loose grip out in the fingertips (not in the palm) and fire away. Rinse, repeat 10,000 times or so.
     
  11. Heinie Wagner

    Heinie Wagner Member SoSH Member

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    More important than "not enough time" is how long is their attention span. After a certain amount of time, kids lose focus, how long depends on their age and some other factors. I'd say for 9-10 year, rec team (no tryouts, no cuts) 10 minutes seems about right.

    One of the biggest reasons kids give up on baseball is because it's "boring", one of the biggest reasons it's boring is that coaches spend too much time on one things in practice. I've seen brutal two hour practices on all situation fielding for 10 year olds with the only thing being accomplished is coaches getting frustrated.
     
  12. Cumberland Blues

    Cumberland Blues Dope Dope

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    Something I found really useful when I coached the little kids - play catch with them on their knees. Start with tennis balls and no gloves - then add the glove in when they're catching most of them barehanded. It gets them to move the glove the right way because they can't dance around the ball to always catch on the same side - and the barehanded portion will help them get their fingers up when they add the glove.
     
  13. Saints Rest

    Saints Rest Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    My son had his first T-Ball practice yesterday. Quite an eye-opener for me in so many way. Theoretically his team is comprised of 4, 5 & 6 year olds. (My boy is 5).

    Some observations:
    • My boy is way in front of many of the others in terms of fundamentals. (I had taken thee advice of those posts upthread and we've been playing a decent amount of catch in our yard).
    • The coaches, as noted above, seem like super nice guys but not so accomplished at the actual coaching. Practice was supposed to be for an hour. It last about 25 minutes. At one point the head coach said "wow, they have a lot of energy." The kids did some calisthenics (5-year olds need to warm up? They are in perpetual motion all day long!), then one drill, fielding grounders, then a brief talk about positions and bases, then done.. (Funny part: The coach introduced the drill as "Alligator Chomp" or something similar. My son said "I don't know what that is because today is my first practice ever." The coach then explained how you put one hand, with the glove, down on the ground and when the ball rolls into the glove, you chomp down with your other hand, like an alligator. My son then said "Oh, that's grounders!")
    • I can already sense there is one Dad who will be the one yelling at his son all the time "Liam, pay attention! Liam, turn around! Liam, get in line!" This was all from the sideline where the other parents were.
    • I sent an email yesterday before practice to the coach and his assistant offering to help in any way I could, but they have not responded. I did help anyway by standing behind the assistant coach during the Alligator Chomp drill when kids would overthrow him.
    • I saw the boredom part happen. Kids loved the grounders drill for about 2-3 times through, then I heard "I'm bored" from at least one kid, along with the less verbal indicators of wandering off, throwing gloves in the air, etc.
    • During the talk about positions and such, my son, who having ADHD is often the first to wander off, sat perfectly attentively listening and answering questions while other kids wandered off and threw their gloves in the air. My son: "Why are they throwing their gloves in the air??" Then of course, monkey-see, monkey-do, kicked in. Sigh.
    • Getting his own "uniform" and cap was the highlight of his day. He insisted on wearing both the shirt and cap to bed. Finally convinced him to put the cap on the floor next to his bed, but it was the first hing he put on when he woke up this morning! Big negative: his team name is the Cardinals so now he keeps asking me "Do you love the Cardinals? Are the Cardinals better than the Red Sox?" etc. Lots of hedging there by Dad.
     
  14. Cumberland Blues

    Cumberland Blues Dope Dope

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    4,692
    T-ball is 95% cat-herding, 5% baseball. Talking about positions in t-ball is pointless - there'll be a couple kids on every team who are really into baseball and will already know the positions, and the rest won't care. Keep them moving with a bunch of short drills, races around the bases and other games. Play as few actual "games" against other teams as possible (pray for rain on game day) - complete waste of time as kids get bored on the bench waiting their turn at bat and start doing all the stupid stuff 5yr olds do when they're bored, and they'll be pulling up grass in the field and take a bad hop to the chin because they aren't paying attention when the one kid on the other team who can actually hit cranks one right at them.
     
  15. Saints Rest

    Saints Rest Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    6,630
    Any suggestions on how to help the coaches without being "that douchenozzle trying to tell them how to do their job?"
     
  16. Cumberland Blues

    Cumberland Blues Dope Dope

    Messages:
    4,692
    With kids that little - you really need to break 'em into small groups....offer to take a few and work on something - be it grounders, catching, throwing, whatever. I was lucky when I coached t-ball, there were a couple other dads who were always willing to do this. We'd have three groups of 3-4 kids and we'd each work with them on something different. Then we'd swap groups every 10 minutes or so. Then we'd usually still end up spending the 2nd half of practice on game logistics - just getting the kids somewhat acquainted the positions on the field (infielders throw to first...outfielders throw it to 2nd - or at least in the general direction of the infield) and what an inning is supposed to look like (batting order - running bases) because, even if you're really lucky (like I was) - at most half the games will get rained out.
     

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