Monday, March 31, 2008
Correct Batting Practice Methods For Little League Baseball Teams
In my twenty years of coaching youth baseball, I am always looking for the most efficient practice methods for every aspect of baseball. It took me only a few years to realize that most youth baseball coaches and myself were running batting practice, not incorrectly, but not efficiently. From what I have seen with the typical batting practice, a coach will pitch a predetermined number of balls for each batter with the fielders fielding the hit balls and throwing them to first base. Usually the coach will yell something like “run the last one out”, and the batter does just that. If the ball is an infield hit, they try to throw him out at first. If it is hit into the outfield, he usually runs until he is thrown out. This is all well and good intentioned, but it is wasting valuable time when a coach wants to run an efficient practice.
Here is the most efficient way of running a batting practice that I've come up with. First of all, let me say this. Batting practice is just what it is, batting practice. Batting practice is not fielding practice or base running practice. So all youth coaches and parents should really define what a youth batting practice is and what they want to get out of it.
Most of my youth practices do not run more than one hour. Every minute of wasted time will affect all other aspects and time of any other drills or techniques I want to accomplish. The first thing a coach needs to have is an over abundance of baseballs. The league will provide baseballs but I always make sure I purchase a few dozen extras. I try to work with three-dozen and keep an extra dozen in my trunk. And don't think I'm not frugal accounting for every baseball at the end of practice. I try to make sure we find each one, and after practice, we comb the field to make sure we got them all. Usually we find extras and end up with more than what we started with.
Now, here is the actual logistics and set up that I do about 95% of the time I run batting practice. I'm a big proponent of bunting. I set up two cones on the third base line, about six feet apart, approximately where the bunt is suppose to go. I set up two empty buckets, one about three feet behind second base and the other one at the far base of the mound toward second. I have another bucket with the baseballs on the mound easily accessible to me. Now, this is a key. As a youth coach who wants a well-run practice and a lot of repetitions for the kids, I move up almost to the front base of the mound to pitch. I do this mainly so I can throw strikes consistently. For safety purposes, an “L” screen would be required from a shorter distance for safety. If your league doesn't have any, make them get them.
I have the first person up at bat with the 2nd and 3rd player ready to go. I have the 3rd hitter (or double on deck hitter) on the outside of the screen hitting balls on a batting tee using pickle balls (plastic) or wiffle balls with another parent feeding the balls on the tee. I always have the number 2, or on deck hitter, ready to hit.
The batter bunts the first two pitches. For each successful bunt, the player receives an extra swing. I usually give a player five swings besides his two bunts. So if a player lays one bunt between the cones, he get six regular swings. If he lays both bunts between the cones, he gets seven swings (the maximum per hitter). Now, there are certain things that have to happen to make this work. Remember there are two buckets strategically located. After the bunts, when the hitter swings away, wherever the ball is hit, the fielder tosses it toward the bucket closet to him. If it is hit to the outfield, he will throw the ball as close to the bucket behind second base. If he hits it to the infield, the fielder will toss it to the bucket behind the pitcher's mound. Reinforce to the players that they must toss to the bucket on one or two bounces or they will tend to play basketball with the baseball and bucket.
Now the point here is that the fielders do not make a play to first and the hitter does not run the last one out. We get more repetitions in a short period of time. The players are always facing the hitter. One might ask, isn't this boring for most of the players in the field? Well, not really. Because of the amount of balls hit in a short period of time, the ball is usually hit all over the place. And the coach throwing batting practice will keep one or two extra balls in his glove and is ready to pitch the next ball right away. When out of baseballs, have the players in the infield hustle to gather up the balls, combine buckets, and we're ready to go again. This works great!
Batting practice is a favorite of any baseball player at almost every level. Do not deny batting practice at any practice. And always look for the most efficient, safest procedure to help enhance your whole practice.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Another Guest Article!!!!
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 20 years. He is the producer of the best selling baseball video “The 59 Minute Baseball Practice”, as well as “Backyard Baseball Drills”, “Winning Baseball Strategies” , “Pitching Drills & Techniques” plus four more. He is also author of the popular book, "Youth Baseball Drills". He is President of Videos For Coaches and the Youth Sports Club and can be reached at: www.VideosForCoaches.com
Back in the late 70's an old college professor of mine was fond of saying, "Don't confuse activity with accomplishment." Jump forward about eight years and imagine me observing a coach running practice for his Little League team. At the start of practice most of the 10, 11, and 12 year olds are very enthusiastic. As the practice progresses I notice only two forms of activity taking place. One has the head coach throwing batting practice, with each hitter getting 10 to 15 swings while each pitcher takes a turn throwing to the assistant coach as the others stand and watch. I, too, stand and watch and I don't know who is more bored-the players or me.
When I saw a member of the board of directors, I commented on how poorly I thought the practice had been run. The board member responded, "If you think you can do a better job, then volunteer to coach." (Me and my big mouth!) But I did just that. And my first practice, though planned differently, ended up being two tedious hours of batting practice and pitchers throwing on the sidelines. Exactly what I had been so critical of myself! After that first practice I told my wife that there must be a better way. Even though I had a master's degree in Phys. Ed from Arizona State University, baseball was the major sport I was least knowledgeable about.
So, I decided to research alternative practice methods. I observed a variety of teams during practice ranging from seven year olds to college level players. I noticed that the best practices were not necessarily the longest and that the most organized coaches wasted little time. On most of the drills every player was involved. It was amazing the way some coaches integrated fun and learning and how creative some of the drills and games were. I began to use some of these techniques with my team. After a little trial and error I was actually able to run a more effective practice in half the time.
To run a practice like this does take preparation, mostly at the beginning of the season. But coaches need not look at this as a chore. It can be as much fun for you as it is for the players.
The youth baseball coach, whether it's Babe Ruth League, Little League, or local Park and Recreation Dept., should make a list of drills at the beginning of the year that they are interested in trying. The idea is to be creative. When my oldest son was eight, I began a practice with a simple relay race, consisting of two lines of six players each. To put a baseball theme into the race, I had each player wear their glove and hold two baseballs in it. The learning benefit of this relay race was to teach kids the importance of squeezing the glove. Another year I was teaching players how to bunt. When the team took batting practice, I put one cone 10 feet directly in front of home plate and another cone 10 feet to the left of the plate. Each player gets two bunts before his regular swings. For each bunt that goes between the cones, the player earns two extra swings. This motivated the players to focus when they bunted. And, it worked!
If a coach plans five to seven drills of ten to twelve minutes in length for each practice, the players will be more attentive and less bored. Don't worry about players not liking certain drills. About a third through the season they will let you know which ones to weed out.
The youth baseball season is unlike any other season. Fathers sneak out of work early, families rarely eat dinner before 8:30 at night and the laundry room is active day and night. As parents and coaches, we should make practices more interesting and fun because during a typical youth baseball season, players spend as much or more time practicing than in actual games.
Be creative and have a great baseball season!