Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Run a Youth Baseball Practice

By Mickey B

If you are new to coaching youth baseball or have been coaching for awhile but struggle with it, here are some do's and don'ts for running a youth baseball practice session. It is not really that complicated. In fact, after reading these you will probably say, "Well that's just common sense." However, it has been my experience that more than 80% of youth baseball coaches do not use any of these suggestions.

1. Don't try to "wing" it!

Do show up with a game plan. You are dealing with kids. Remember these two things: they want to have fun, and they get bored very easily. With a good plan of action, you will be keeping them busy, they will be learning, and all of you can have some fun.

2. Don't forget about the parents.

Do ask some of the dads to help with practice sessions. Most youth baseball leagues allow you to have an assistant or two during games. That does not mean you can't have four or five during practice. Some of the dads may have played ball in high school or college. Where I live there is a good chance that they played professionally. Their help is vital to running a successful practice.

3. Don't talk down to the kids.

Do establish good communications with them. They already know that you are in charge, but they don't know what your guidelines are. Before they ever step onto the field for the first practice, establish the ground rules. Greet each of them by name, look them in the eye, shake their hand, and tell them you are happy to have them on the team. Then let them know what you expect. This should include things like showing respect for everyone else, paying attention to the coaches, and maintaining a good attitude.

4. Don't allow the activity to focus on one or two players while everybody else stands around.

Do have several different drill stations set up. Each station should have one of your assistant coaches or volunteer dads running it. Be sure that the coaches and volunteers know exactly what you want taught and that no single player is getting all of their attention. Split your players up evenly and have each group start at a different station. It is usually a good idea to separate siblings and best friends. That way they are more likely to pay attention to the coach and less likely to goof around. Allow fifteen to twenty minutes at each station and then rotate the groups to the next work area. It is also wise to have your helpers teach at different stations from one practice to another. This will give them experience at teaching the methods that you want. You will be visiting each station to check on the progress of the players, give praise to those who are working hard, and interject tips that might help a player improve.

5. Don't let a practice session run too long.

Do limit the time from one hour to ninety minutes. This time should include water breaks and progress breaks. Progress breaks are short periods when you call everyone together, have them take a knee, and tell them about the good things that you noticed them doing in their drills. You can also address any issues that you might have seen, but be careful not to single anybody out. That should be done on a one to one basis.

6. Don't embarrass a player in front of his friends.Do not yell at him nor demean him in any way.

Do have a talk with a player who misbehaves. Calmly let him know that you are disappointed in his behavior, but that you are confident that he is able to do better. I am talking strictly about misbehavior here. If a player merely makes a mistake there is nothing for you to be disappointed about. You just have to give him a little more time to develop his skills. Always provide encouragement to a player, even if you think he will never improve. I have seen amazing things happen to kids after they have gone through puberty.

7. Don't end practice on a sour note.

Do ask your players what they liked about practice and what they did not like. Ask them if they had fun. If they didn't, find out why. Remember, youth baseball is a game. The kids just want to have fun. You should also remember to thank the players for showing up on time, paying attention, and putting forth their best efforts.

As I said earlier, this is pretty easy when you think about it. After a few seasons it will seem natural to you. Just establish a plan of action, line up your volunteers, and go do it. Have fun!

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