8 Basic Drills for First-Time Baseball & Softball Coaches
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Thousands of first-time baseball and softball coaches take the field each year, and many wonder where to start. How do you keep a group of 10 or more Little League players engaged and learning over the course of a 90-minute (or longer) training session?
Your first step should be to develop a written practice plan that outlines exactly how you’ll segment your time. Doing so will help you limit downtime and plan a diverse practice that gives your team a chance to work on a variety of different skills.
Here are eight easy baseball and softball drills you can use to run a fun, efficient and productive practice.
#8. Two Ball
#1. Situational Batting Practice
Batting practice often concludes a practice for most teams, as you’re able to get work in from virtually every aspect. Hitters will take their hacks, another group can be on the basepaths working on situational running, infielders can be getting extra ground balls, outfielders can work on tracking the ball, and pitchers can be off on the side stretching or throwing in the bullpen.
In this particular case, we’ll focus on what the hitters can do beyond the norm to improve their game. When a batter steps into the cage, especially at the youth level, they’re often trying to hit the ball as far as they can each and every time. Essentially, hitting the ball without a purpose. So what can coaches do to make this everyday part of practice more fun and engaging?
The easiest solution is to have situational tasks for the hitter in each round. For example, in round one the player gets five pitches and has to get at least four successful sacrifice bunts down. In round two, the player receives five pitches and must successfully go opposite field and move the runner over. You get the picture.
Having the players focus on the task at hand and building a mini competition with the other players in their respective group will only bring positive results. You can take it a step further and have each group compete against each other and reward the team with the most successful situational hitting moments.
Just keep in mind that you may need to adjust the tasks based on skill level: Little Leaguers may not have the bat control to hit specific types of pitches to specific areas, so it sometimes makes more sense to focus on broader goals like “only hit pitches on the outside of the plate.”
2. Colored Ball Hitting
This drill is a great way to create focus and determination for each of your hitters, as well as to work on bat control. Often done during soft toss drills, a coach can have two or three different colored balls (typically smaller sponge balls or multi-hole Wiffle balls) at their disposal, and can toss all of them simultaneously to the batter at hand.
This drill is incredibly effective as it aids a hitter’s eye while also providing a colorful and fun-filled alternative to your normal soft toss. Each time the coach tosses the balls towards the hitter, he or she will call out which color ball they must hit.
It’s easy to gamify this drill. For example, a player can have 10 total chances to correctly hit the declared ball, racking up one point for each. This can lead to simple and fun competitions between players in small groups.
#3. Bunting Zones
Bunting is quickly becoming a lost art at all levels of the game. When young players turn on the TV or watch a game on their smartphone, they’ll often see Major League players swing the bat so hard they fall out of their shoes in an attempt to hit the ball 500 feet every time.
However, especially at the youth level, the importance of learning and executing the simplest parts of the game is vital in a given player’s development. One of those areas is bunting, which requires a good degree of bat control. While it’s not going to grab the headlines, a player who can handle the bat and place the ball wherever he or she likes can be a deadly weapon for a coach and team.
An easy and fun way to make bunting drills more impactful is to set up three “zones” in front of home plate. Using cones, bats or whatever you think works best, split up the space from the third base line to the first base line in front of home into thirds.
Let’s call the left third Zone 1, the middle third Zone 2 and right third Zone 3. When the coach is throwing each pitch, he or she will call out what the player should do. For example, if a right-handed batter is at the plate and he or she needs to lay down a successful sacrifice bunt with a runner on first, the goal would be to bunt the ball into Zone 3 (towards first base). If the player bunts into Zone 1, that’s not ideal but it can still work.
Creating a visual aid for the hitters will allow for quicker development of their bunting skills. Have fun with it since it can be a somewhat mundane drill, and award the batter when successfully placing the bunt in the correct zone.
Pickle! We’ve all been there as kids, in the backyard or at the school playground: two people with a glove and ball and one person in the middle trying their hardest not to get tagged out. While this childhood favorite always guarantees fun, it’s also a good drill for baseball and softball players’ development.
The most efficient way to practice this drill is to set up two stations on the infield: one group of three between second and third base, and another trio between first and second base. Since this is obviously a fast-paced drill, you’ll be able to run your players through many repetitions in a short period of practice time.
Here’s how to set it up: position one player with a glove at first base and another player with a glove at second base. The baserunner will take a normal leadoff from first base. The coach or player standing near the pitching rubber will then pick off the baserunner, who will purposely get caught in a rundown.
A successful rundown drill will result in the two players with gloves working on effective communication. If the fielder without the ball calls for the ball too early in order to lay the tag down, the drill will continue. Rundowns create great teamwork among infielders, while also improving baserunning skills.
As a coach, be sure to praise the infielders when they successfully tag out the baserunner in less than three throws (at higher levels, like high school, you should be aiming for two throws max). However, there’s nothing wrong with also giving props to the baserunner if he/she got creative and avoided being tagged, as they’re working on speed and agility.
#5. Team Relays
This is another classic childhood game that also translates well into a coaches’ daily practice plan. This is an outstanding way to start practice, particularly at the end of your normal stretching and long toss sessions. Additionally, it can get the entire team involved and produce a lot of energy on the diamond.
Let’s say you have 14 players on your squad. Send them to the outfield grass and split them into two groups of seven. Have them make a straight line and space them apart equally. An easy way to do this is to make sure an individual from each seven-person line is parallel with each other, from start to finish.
With the ball starting at the same side of each line, the coach will yell out “go!” and the players will have to successfully throw the ball and transfer it to the next individual down their respective line. Similar to the rundown drill stated above, this is an extremely fast-paced drill and it will create a lot of healthy competition for your players. Focus on their footwork: players should be getting in the proper receiving position, ready to quickly unload the relay.
Additional ways to improve the players’ skills during this drill would be to create extra focus and attention to detail during the transfer of the ball from the glove to the hand. If you receive the ball from your teammate, but drop it or don’t cleanly transfer it, then you must throw the ball backward instead of forward.
#6. Outfield Priority
You see it at every level of the game: a routine fly ball can turn into a circus due to outfielders not properly communicating with each other. The early stage of practice (particularly if you have the team split into positional groups) is the perfect time to bring your outfielders together and build trust and camaraderie within the unit while learning the proper positional priorities.
This drill obviously needs to have multiple people participating at once, and can feature as many outfielders as you want. The more people who are involved will equal more fun and the ability to teach your group quicker!
Before the coach begins hitting fly balls to the group, he or she can specify the ground rules. For example, if you don’t say the keyword (“I got it!” “Ball, ball, ball,” “Mine, mine, mine,” etc.) before making the catch, then it doesn’t count. It’s imperative that the outfielders are talking to each other and make it clear who has the best positioning and tracking of the ball headed their way.
For youth players, you could change up the keyword of the day before catching a fly ball into something fun and quirky. For example, have the outfielders yell out “ketchup!” or “potato!” for one practice and let the hilarity ensue.
#7. Rapid Fire Ground Balls
This is a great way to end your traditional infielders’ positional work during practice. At the conclusion of your normal ground ball work at each position (third to first, short to first, second to first, 6-4-3 double play, 5-4-3 double play, 3-6-3 double play, etc.) have your infielders all gather at their respective positions and prepare them for rapid fire ground balls.
For example, your third baseman will be at his or her usual spot while the coach is hitting a fresh ground ball the split second he/she throws the ball across the diamond. This will make the fielder have a constant head on their shoulders and be prepared for whatever may come next (a ball hit to their left, hit to their right, a slow roller, a high chopper, etc.).
Since the ground balls are coming at a non-traditional rate, this will create a fun and competitive environment for your team and coaches. You’re also likely get some players that begin diving at balls and getting dirty, which will certainly get a rise from their teammates. Just make sure they’re still utilizing proper footwork and mechanics, as this drill can become a little bit chaotic.
#8. Two Ball
Easily one of the most popular pre-game drills for high school and college level players, “two ball” is suitable for any skill level and gets a large number of players involved while having fun and improving their hand-eye coordination and handwork.
This drill can be conducted with a group as small as three people or with up to double-digit participants.
The game is started with one individual holding two balls — one in each hand. This player then underhand tosses both balls to any other person in the circle.
The person on the receiving end of the toss must handle it cleanly using only one hand/arm and their body. If they drop either one of the balls, they lose their spot in the circle.
However, if the person who initially threw the balls makes a poor toss (e.g., one ball is off the receiver’s body) then they are the one to leave the circle.
The winner is the last player remaining in the circle.
Related reading: 7 Fun Baseball Drills for Kids