The best place to rebuild a team that is struggling is in practice. However, the coach must “push the right buttons” to get the required results. Let’s take a look at some Baseball Coaching Tips for a Practice and Drills That Will Build Team Confidence.
A team that is struggling will need structured practices. The coach should be taking a couple of hours a week to carefully plan practices so there is no waited time and field time is quality time. Time must be used wisely because a team that is struggling may only have a short window to make a nice run to end the season.
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#2 Positive Encouragement
Losing is frustrating for everyone and dwelling on it won’t change it. The coach needs to keep the spirits of the team up if the team is going to have a chance to turn things around.
#3 Keep It Fun
Keeping practices fun will allow the team to “stay loose” and will help with performance. If players are under constant pressure from an over bearing coach then they most likely will not perform well.
#4 Getting Back to Basics
A struggling Little League team needs a practice that focuses on the basics. Getting back to the basics will set a foundation to build upon. The coach must get away from advanced drills and concepts in favor of building a foundation with some of the following drills.
-Structured Warm Ups
The best way to set the tone for getting back to basics and organization is to make sure opening warm ups are structured. To put it simply, the coach needs to make sure that players are playing catch with a purpose. The purpose should be good throwing and receiving mechanics. The players should be partnered up in pairs and set up in rows along one of the outfield foul lines. To make the warm up fun and engaging, the coach could set up a skill competition to end the warm up. The first pair to complete ten “clean” throws will be the first two batters in batting practice.
– Relay Drill
This is a throwing drill that requires a minimum of three but preferably four players. The players will be spread out and instructed to begin throwing in a relay format. The coach needs to focus on teaching good throwing and receiving mechanics. The coach could also turn this into a skill competition. Another good idea is for the coach to record the data so that week to week improvement can be seen by the players.
*Note: Baserunning drills are great to start off practices because they literally get the players warmed up. They can also be used at the end of practices as a fun challenge.
-Inside the Park Home Run Drill
This baserunning drill will have players run the bases beginning and ending at home plate. Players will focus on hitting the inside corners of the bases which prevent wide turns that can slow a runner down. Again, the coach can record data (timing players) and show players improvement from week to week. Another learning strategy is to demonstrate the differences in times when players run the bases correctly as opposed to incorrectly.
– Running Through First Base
This is a very easy concept and drill. Players are simply practicing running through first base in an attempt to beat out a throw to first. Immediately after running through the base, they should slow their body down by using the “breaking down” technique, chopping their feet to slow down. They should look to their right to see if the ball got away and, if not, turn to the right, returning to the base if there is no overthrow.
-Rounding First Base After a Base Hit
This is another very basic base running drill but a very important concept for players to learn and master. For this drill, a base coach should be placed in the coach’s box. Runners will be instructed to run and round first base. The base coach will either tell them to continue on to second base or come back to first base. The round will be large for a hit to left field and shorter for a hit to right field.
-Fly Ball Drill
This is a simple drill that will focus on the fundamentals of catching a fly ball. The ball should be caught at the highest comfortable point and on the throwing side if possible. Players should have momentum towards their throwing target when making the catch and be able to quickly crow hop and throw. It is best to use a pitching machine to give each player a perfect fly ball every time. The coach should give each player two or three attempts and then move to the next player.
– Running Catch Drill
The running catch drill will be a very simple drill that will focus on the basic mechanics of running after a fly ball. Unlike the fly ball drill, this drill is best utilized with the coach throwing the ball. There is also a fun game the coach can run that goes along with this drill. The game is football but with gloves and a baseball. The coach will be the QB for both teams. It’s a fun way of getting players to better at running down balls hit away from them.
-No Gloves Drill
This drill will help infielders develop the natural instinct to field a ball with two hands. For safety, the coach should use a tennis ball or softer “safety ball” for the drill.
-Basic Infield Drill
After several rounds of the No Gloves Drill, the coach can have the players put back on the gloves for a very basic infield drill. Players should be split up and rotate between playing second base and shortstop. A coach can play first base or players who regularly play first can play and focus on skills for that position.
-Pitching from the Stretch
The inexperienced, struggling team that is being fitted for this practice probably has pitching issues as well. If this is the case, much like the other skills discussed, then it’s time to get back to the very basics. The “wind up” is the superior pitching motion but it can be complicated for a young pitcher and especially a struggling one. Going back to pitching from the “stretch” is a great way to get back to basics and hit the reset button. Once the pitching staff can throw consistent strikes from the stretch, the transition can be made back to the wind up.
-Game Situations & Batting Practice
An inexperienced, struggling pitching staff needs game experience in practice to develop and hone skills. The coach should allow pitchers to throw batting practice and create game situations like scrimmage games. The coach, much like in games, will have to monitor pitch counts in practice. The last thing a coach wants to do is to burn out a pitcher in practice.
#10 Batting Practice
-Tee & Soft Toss Drills
This is a very basic hitting drill and sometimes players take this the wrong way. They see this as “baby” or “Tee Ball” drills. However, hitting a ball off a tee and soft toss hitting drills are great ways to learn the fundamentals of hitting. The coach should start with the tee drill. During the tee drill, the coach can break down the swing into several simple steps. The focus should be on performing each step correctly. After a couple of rounds, the coach can instruct players to take full swings putting the steps together. The coach can then move onto soft toss where the players can continue to focus on fundamentals and not worry about a standard pitch coming in at them.
-Close Range Batting Practice
The close range batting practice will be the next step in rebuilding the offense. An adult coach should pitch for this type of practice because it will involve pitching a few feet in front of the regulation pitching rubber. For added protection, a pitching fence (l screen) or net should be used. The coach will throw close range medium speed pitches to batters. Again, the batter can focus more on fundamentals and less on handling a difficult pitch.
The next logical step for the struggling offense would be batting practice from the pitching machine. The machine can be set to throw a more difficult pitch but the location won’t be in question. The batter can work on fundamentals, handling a more difficult pitch but not worry about the unpredictability of a live pitcher.
A baseball coach must be able to adapt to situations. If the team is struggling then something has to change and it usually starts with practice. Customizing a practice to fit the needs of a struggling team will help the team get on the road to improvement.