Baseball practice is one of the most important things that a team can do to hone their skills. Because of how important practices are for a team, coaches must know how to keep practices efficient by making the most of every moment in every practice.
Running an efficient baseball practice means choosing drills that keep the attention of the player. Practice should be fun enough to keep players engaged and drills should train players in every aspect of the game, which includes:
Being efficient at practice doesn’t only mean the team will improve quickly, it also means that players will have more fun and keep their attention on the drills at hand. Read on to learn everything you need to know about running an efficient baseball practice.
Goals of an Efficient Baseball Practice
If you’re trying to run an efficient baseball practice, there are a few goals to keep in mind. Here are some of the things you should think about when you’re trying to improve the efficiency of your practice sessions:
- Keep the attention of the players. Any drills where players are forced to stand around, waiting on, or watching others, will cause them to lose focus. Instead, choose drills where all players are constantly engaged with the drill at all times.
- Keep the practice fun. If the practice ends up being a slog of punishing wind sprints or other intense drills, you will lose the interest of players pretty quickly. Conditioning is important, but don’t focus too much on conditioning. Remember that at the end of the day, baseball is just a game. Make sure that your practice drills reflect that.
- Choose drills that exercise multiple skills at once. You only have a limited amount of time to practice. It’s necessary to choose drills that exercise the players in several areas at the same time. This will maximize practice efficiency.
- Use drills that allow players to cross-train. It’s good to have players who are dedicated to certain roles on the team. But it’s even better to have players who are solidly dependable in a variety of roles, from second base to catcher. Even if they don’t use these skills on the field, knowing them makes them more versatile players.
If you keep these goals in mind when you’re setting up your practice sessions, you can make the most out of your time. Following the guidelines above will also ensure that the players on your team stay entertained and engaged. The more fun the players have at practice, the more they’ll actively learn while they do it.
What to Look For in Drills to Run an Efficient Baseball Practice
One of the most important aspects of conducting efficient baseball practice is to choose efficient drills. Here are some of the key things to consider when choosing drills:
- Player engagement: Efficient drills engage the largest number of players possible at one time, with minimum waiting around for anyone. Any time players spend waiting instead of practicing a skill is wasted time.
- Skill development: Drills should be chosen not only on their ability to keep players engaged, but also on how much they are able to teach players about different aspects of the game. Drills that incorporate physical conditioning along with gameplay aspects (like drills that involve stealing bases) can teach players while building up their endurance and strength.
- Scrimmage: When you’re looking at drills for efficient baseball practices, also take into consideration scrimmages. Before the season starts you’ll want to look at something that allows you to simulate actual games. Scrimmages will help players prepare mentally for going through the motions of a game. Scrimmages can also lessen the negative effects of performance pressure when it comes time to compete. (Source: Baseball Positive)
Practicing All Parts of the Game in Baseball
Along with choosing drills that help keep players attentive, coaches should choose practice drills that teach players every aspect of the game. This allows all players to consistently improve their skills across the sport, even if they specialize in a certain role.
Here are the different parts of baseball that should be addressed through drills in each practice:
- Catching: Catching is a fundamental skill to have for all ages of baseball so practicing is crucial. Catching drills help coaches identify which players would make good catchers and which need to work on their catching skills in the outfield.
- Pitching: Many coaches choose one or two pitchers for a team as soon as they find players with a talent for it, but every player on a team should be tested for pitching ability. Pitching helps to train throwing accuracy and can help with general throwing ability in the field.
- Batting: Batting is a skill that needs to be practiced by all members of the team every single practice session. Some players may naturally gravitate towards batting while others are weaker at it. For all players, it’s an important skill to cultivate. A strong batting offense can easily turn the tide in a baseball game.
- Throwing: Throwing is one of the most important skills that a baseball player needs to learn. This means throwing the ball hard and fast, but with a controlled motion, so it ends up where the player wants it to go.
- Stealing: Stealing is an important skill for players to both learn how to do and how to defend against. A team with a strong stealing game can weaken another team’s psychological defense by making them nervous about stolen bases.
- Strategy: Along with teaching the practical skills involved in baseball, baseball practices should also address the more strategic aspects of the game. Gaining a deeper knowledge of what to do in specific scenarios (both offensive and defensive) can lead to a more effective team on the field.
- Team Bonding: Practice is not only good for teaching practical skills for the game, but it’s also a great way to instill bonding between the players on your team. Practices are one of the best ways to reinforce bonding because they allow players to interact in a non-competitive atmosphere.
- Physical Conditioning: Knowing the ins and outs of the game of baseball are important for players, but it’s also important for them to be in shape. While running laps and other calisthenics are arguably nobody’s favorite part of baseball practice, these drills will help build up a team’s endurance and focus on the field.
As you can see, there are many things that baseball practices need to address to be an efficient use of time for both the players and the coaches.
Tips for An Efficient Baseball Practice
When you’re running a baseball practice, there are several things you can keep in mind that can make the practice run more smoothly. This means that players will absorb more and get derailed less by boredom or distraction.
These are a few tips you can follow to help develop a strategy for efficient baseball practices:
Perform Stretches and Warmups Before Baseball Practice
While stretching and warming up might seem to slow the practice down, preventing injuries by encouraging players to stretch makes the entire team more efficient. You wouldn’t want to lose players to preventable injuries like muscle strains or joint sprains when they practice.
Get to Know Your Players
It’s impossible to keep everyone coordinated if you don’t have a strong idea of what every player’s role is on the team. As their coach, you should know your players’ strong suits and weak points. It’s also most efficient to have a plan for what drills will be run at each practice so you can place players where they need to go based on their skill level.
Let Players Try New Roles
Practice is the perfect time to let players work on team roles that they’re weak in or that they don’t normally play. For instance, changing the lineup by allowing non-pitchers to try pitching or putting the infield in the outfield can help keep players on their toes. Most importantly, letting players try new roles is precisely what will make them more well-rounded on the field.
Prepare the Team Before Practice
Email makes it easy for coaches to stay in touch with players. Make a point to keep players informed of what’s expected of them at each practice and even send out a practice schedule the night before. If players are already prepared for what drills are coming then there won’t be as much milling around figuring out what will happen next.
Communicating with the players about the goals of practice drills can help them keep these skills in mind while they practice. It’s also good to communicate clearly how a drill will be conducted well before the players are expected to start it.
Keep Things Light and Kind
Nobody wants to be on the team, where the coach is constantly screaming at people. The decreased morale that comes with a browbeaten team can make practices much less efficient.
Break Up Big Groups
Setting up drills with too large of a group is one of the leading contributors to players standing around digging their cleats in the dirt. Make sure that practice groups are broken up into small enough sets that someone is doing something all the time.
Don’t Be Afraid to Call it a Day
Get good at “reading the room” when it comes to the mood of the players and their attitude towards practice. There may be some days when the whole team seems out of it and distracted. There’s no harm on days like this to call it quits a little early. This can prevent drops in morale or frustration. It’s better to call it and try another day.
Use Stations to Swap Things Up
Stations are a way for players to rotate between different drills. Science has shown that switching gears between different tasks can make people more psychologically efficient in executive decisions, so running practice this way can improve players at all levels of their game. (Source: Psychology Today)
You should have a plan for your practice before you ever step foot on the field. This is the best way to get a jumpstart on making your practices more efficient. There are lots of ways that you can help improve the efficiency of your players without frustrating them in the process.
Drills for an Efficient Baseball Practice
Knowing which drills to run for practice can help make the whole process run smoothly. It’s too easy to lose control over player attention if the practice schedule is kept too loose or focuses too much on one drill. Instead, use intensive drills that focus on skill-building and team communication.
Here are some drills you can try for a more efficient baseball practice:
- No-Look Flies: One important outfielder concept to teach is to teach outfielders how to sprint to the point that a hit ball is headed without having to keep their eye on it the whole time. Through drills like this, outfielders can be taught to run more efficiently. Players can run faster if they are in a normal sprinting position, not craning to track the trajectory of the ball.
- Pitch Blocking: For catchers, one of the most important drills to learn to improve their efficiency is to teach them to block pitches. This involves catching pitches that hit the dirt. Pitch blocking can help develop a catcher who helps prevent base steals. It makes the pitcher more confident in the catcher too. (Source: Baseball Catcher)
- Pitch Framing: Pitch framing is the art of glove movement during catching that helps give the impression to the umpire that a ball is a strike. Teaching catchers how to pitch frame with their catcher mitt during batting practice can make them more effective behind the plate. (Source: Medium)
- Base Running: Rather than making players run wind sprints or laps in the field to get their physical conditioning in, have them practice stealing bases and base running instead. The key is to focus on proper base running tactics (such as foot placement and dodging a tag). This allows players to be strategic while also strengthening their endurance for base runs.
- Stations: Running stations at a baseball practice involves setting up smaller groups to practice specific skills like fielding grounders or pitching and having players rotate between them. This helps reduce the amount of time that players spend between activities. Watching stations can also help coaches learn to differentiate which players are talented in which skills.
Troubleshooting a Baseball Practice for Efficiency
There are several common issues that decrease the efficiency of any baseball practice. If these issues aren’t actively addressed by coaching staff, they can end up undermining the entire team. Below you’ll find some of the common issues that tend to crop up.
Missing Players and Coaches Reduces Practice Efficiency
Without plans in place, players missing practices (and assistant coaches missing practices) can make practices feel chaotic. This, in turn, can cause players to get a lot less accomplished. The more players miss practice, the more missing practice becomes acceptable. This weakens the team overall.
Coaches must take it upon themselves at the beginning of the season to communicate clearly and let both players and parents (if coaching children) know the expectations of the team with regards to showing up for practice. There are legitimate reasons for missing a practice (such as a religious holiday or illness). There are also illegitimate reasons, like not “feeling like it.”
Here are a few tips for helping to hold players accountable for absences:
- Require players to attend a practice even if they are injured. While a sprained ankle or another minor injury may prevent the player from physically practicing, they can still learn from the more strategic points of the day’s practice. They can also often help the team in other ways that don’t include batting or fielding – like learning to record each play in the scorebook. It’s also important for players to attend practices for the morale of the team.
- Set forth an attendance policy and take attendance. Taking attendance at practice can show you which players take the team seriously and which are just coasting. Setting up consequences like being benched for a game for missing more than 75% of practices can help encourage players to attend when they’d otherwise skip.
- Learn to accept when players have a legitimate reason not to attend. Youth baseball leagues and adult baseball leagues are going to be much more casual about allowing practice skips than a high school or college team. If players can’t attend, make sure they know to notify the coaching staff immediately.
- Be flexible. The point of cross-training players in every role in baseball and keeping practice plans versatile is so that you can quickly change things up if you run into an issue with multiple people missing practice at once. If you have small group drills ready to go, it won’t matter if you miss a few players.
When it comes to reducing attendance problems, being firm and consistent with your expectations is the key to getting good results. It’s also the key to getting players to practice on time, every time.
Focus on Teaching Scenarios
One way for coaches to be more efficient in their baseball practice sessions is to focus on teaching the scenarios that crop up during practice rather than just taking turns hitting. Players need to be conscious of more nuanced plays such as stealing or pitch framing so that they can be more situationally aware on the field.
When looking at different drills to gauge their efficiency, look to see what kind of concepts the drill is designed to address and whether it can work multiple areas of proficiency at once. For example, some drills test both a player’s throwing ability and their ability to communicate loudly on the field.
The best way to get a leg up as a baseball team is to have a plan in place for any situation. What happens when someone hits a long fly ball into the outfield with a runner on first base? Outfielders should be trained exactly how to respond by muscle memory. This way, they can instantly react rather than thinking about how they’re going to react during the play.
Over time, this can make them more efficient players and improve their effectiveness in the field.
Recognize Strengths and Weaknesses
As you get to know your team better, you’ll learn the players as individuals. Every player has their quirks on the field and some may be harboring baseball talents you were unaware of. Working a diverse range of drills during practice is one of the things that can help make the team versatile during a ball game, no matter what is going on play-wise.
Once you’ve identified the strengths and weaknesses in your players, it’s easier to craft practice drills designed to address those weaknesses while also helping to enhance the strengths the players already have. Don’t allow anyone to rest on their laurels—even if your pitcher is excellent, they should always be working on learning new stances or signals to improve their communication with the catcher.
How Long Should Baseball Practice Be?
While many teams may practice for a full two hours, this practice has limited benefits for the team. Most people will lose interest in a task after a half-hour, and science has shown that the human brain requires rest to work efficiently after 52 minutes. (Source: Business Insider)
A baseball practice should last between ninety minutes and two hours. Ideally, a baseball practice shouldn’t be longer than ninety minutes, but for bigger teams, it can last up to two hours. Players begin to lose focus after two hours of baseball practice.
While shorter is better, fifty-two minutes of practice isn’t quite long enough to run an effective practice, so coaches will have to consider other things to help keep players engaged. Here are a few things coaches can do to help maintain focus during practice, no matter how long it is:
- Break up the practice into short drills. Don’t make any drill longer than twenty minutes. Switching to new drills can help keep players mentally sharp. It can also help keep them from feeling like practice is taking forever. If your players know that you’ll be conducting a ten-minute warmup with four twenty-minute drills ahead of time, they’ll stay more focused.
- Break up hard drills with playful drills. Inserting mini-games into practice that help develop baseball skills (such as tag and keep-away) can bolster player fitness. In addition to that, these games also give players’ brains a break from having to focus on absorbing new skills and strategies. Be sure to shift the tone of your drills often each practice, and you’ll see players getting more engaged.
You might think that an efficient baseball practice is a short baseball practice, and to a degree, that’s right. There’s no point in keeping players on the field for three hours—they will lose interest way before practice concludes, and they’ll start looking for ways to skip practices if they can. The worst thing for a team’s efficiency is when players stop caring about improvements due to burnout or boredom.
Instead, coaches should focus on keeping practices as short as possible while also allowing players time to work on a variety of skills. Keeping practice efficient means getting a lot done with refining team mechanics and skills. This is true even if you’re not spending hours out on the field at a time.
Scrimmage Puts Baseball Practice Skills to Use
Along with specialized drills, sometimes a good old-fashioned game of scrimmage is the most efficient way to get a sense of how well the players can put those skills into practical application. Scrimmage teaches players the following skills:
- How to prevent runners from advancing: Preventing runners from getting bases is the name of the game while playing defense. That means focusing infielders not only on fielding the ball fast, but also on being able to decide in real-time if they can throw out a runner. This also applies to learning how to throw out runners who steal.
- Seeing live pitches: Practices are excellent for honing in on batting skills, but going up against live pitching is a whole new level. In practice, players will mostly see strikes, but going up against someone who wants to strike you out will make you a better hitter. Just being able to see live pitching against live pitchers can go a long way to getting players ready for the start of the season.
Efficient Practices Equal Effective Players
Now you know exactly how to run practices in an efficient way. If you make a commitment to stay organized when setting up baseball practices you’re going to see a much more coordinated team effort when it comes time to take the field for real. The more often a team practices together in an efficient manner, the more those skills will translate into plays that make a difference against the rival team.