I get a number of questions each year about structuring practices, what to teach, what drills to use, etc. It can be difficult to answer these questions because there are a ton of great drills, many important things to teach, and of course a very limited time to try and accomplish everything you want to accomplish. This post is really geared toward the youth team that is starting practice in the spring and the season ends at the beginning of summer.
For those short seasons with young players, I’ve learned over the years that it’s much more important to continually work on basic skills than it is to try and cover a lot of situations. Simply put, if your team can field well, play catch, hit, and run the bases then you’re going to be okay. If you mess up on the occasional cut-off play or bunt situation, that probably isn’t going to make or break your season.
So if you buy into that philosophy for your team, then it really simplifies your practice planning. Rather than trying to cram in a bunch of situational baseball, you can instead focus in on basic skill improvement that your team will use every inning of every game.
The danger of working on the same basic skills most of the time is that your practices can quickly become routine and boring to the kids. Telling a young player to field 30 ground balls so they can get better doesn’t work with most kids. Instead come up with different drills and games to work on those skills. Kids love to try and achieve goals and compete against other kids on the team.
For example instead of simply hitting ground balls to the infield and have them make a throw to first, use the bucket of balls drill that accomplishes the same thing but gives the kids a goal and something to work for. This is just one example, but almost any drill can be modified slightly to have the kids either work toward a goal, a personal or team best, or as a fun competition.
In the end if you can get kids focusing on the basic skills during practice because they have an interest in achieving a goal, then you’ll see a big improvement when they are in similar situations during games.