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Make baseball practice fun!

Baseball practice, if not structured properly, can be a long and tedious two-hour experience for everyone. That is why most coaches have changed their way of practicing. Gone are the hours of batting practice with one athlete working and the rest of the team bored stiff shagging balls.

The modern BP consists of a multitude of interesting drills, stations, and repetitions.

Many of the drills are competitive in nature, and, above all, fun. Whether we are outside or in the gym, we will end our practice with some sort of game. Teams are formed and a small wager is made (losers run 5 poles: do push-ups, etc.).

Sometimes we'll let the captains choose teams. Most of the time we will make up the teams, post them, and then announce them at our pre-practice meeting.

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The overall objective is to put a spark into practice sessions while keeping the competitive juices flowing. We want to make practice fun for everyone and have them looking forward to practice each and every day.

Following are some favorite games we play:

RIGHT-FIELD GAME

Purpose: To get players to hit the ball to the opposite field. We set the team up just as in a normal ball game, except for taking the entire left side of the diamond out of play. This includes third base, forcing the players rounding second to head straight for home plate. (Yes, right through the pitching mound!)

We set up an L-screen close enough to the plate to have the runner consistently moving toward the inside of the plate. Play is normal except that third base is out of play as I mentioned above, and each team gets five outs per inning. We play this way because we include everybody in the game.

We can thus have 15 players on each side, all of them playing defense at the same time and all of them on the right side of the field. (See Diag. 1.) Balls and strikes count, but anything hit on the left side of second base is considered an out.

We generally play nine innings.

BUNT GAME

We play the bunt game indoors or out. Inside, we mark the gym floor with athletic tape to indicate the boundaries. Outside, we use pylons or mark up the infield dirt. (See Diag. 2.)

Teams are chosen and a coin flip decides who bats first. There are no outs or innings to follow. Teams simply take turns bunting: Player 1 from Team A bunts, then Player 1 from Team B, Player 2 from Team A, and so on.

Depending on the time you want to spend, determine the point value a team must achieve in order to win. A quick game may be played to 10 points, while longer games could go to 25 points or more.

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Award teams one point for the bunts that stay in the areas indicated in Diag 2. Take a point away from a team every time a bunt stays right in front of the plate or is bunted back to the pitcher. (These are double plays!).

Each bunter gets one strike per at-bat. If he bunts the ball foul, or misses completely, his turn is over and no points are awarded. A called strike also ends the turn, but not offering at a pitch outside the strike zone will get the hitter another pitch. The first team to the pre-determined number of points wins.

As the team improves its bunting, you can make the boundaries a little tougher or add a two-point area for "perfect" bunts.

GROUND BALL GAME

Teams are determined and take turns (this includes the outfielders) fielding ground balls.

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They take turns in the same order as in the Bunt Game: a player from one team, then one from the other, etc.)

Fielders must field a ground ball and make a good throw. A mis-played ball or errant throw eliminates the player from the game.

The coach hitting the ground balls is judge, jury, and executioner. If, in his judgment, a ball was bobbled and the base runner is declared safe, the errant fielder is eliminated.

The coach will begin with easy ground balls and work his way up to harder shots.

PITCHERS' DUEL

To make sure our pitchers aren't standing around waiting for a catcher, my assistant coach came up with what we call, "Pitchers' Duel."

After the pitchers have stretched and warmed up, they will take an old bat and balance it, barrel down, on home plate, preferably on the corners! They will then take turns, working on form, not velocity, to try to see how many times they can knock over the bat.

This is good for location, especially keeping pitches down in the strike zone. A typical high school bat is about 33 inches in length. When stood on end, it comes to the average person's hip. Pitches at or below that height should be pretty good pitches. Pitches that miss above the hip will be in the "happy zone" for most hitters.

CUT-OFF RELAY GAME

We play this game in a tournament format with anywhere from four to six teams involved. Two teams are selected to go first. They stretch single file across the outfield (from foul pole to foul pole).

A ball is given to the first man in line. On the coach's signal, the first man will throw to the second, who will throw to third, and so on.

Once the ball reaches the last player, it will be relayed in the same fashion back to the starter.

Up and back in one circuit and you can predetermine how many circuits will be played. The team that finishes the circuit, and gets the ball back to the starter first, wins.

We generally play a best of three series. When the first two teams are completed, the next two play. We then have a winner's bracket and the two best teams that day will play a best of three championship series.

HUSTLE BALL

By far, our favorite game with which to finish practice. Once the game is introduced, practiced, and refined, we can complete a seven-inning ball game in 30 minutes or less!

We set up with four ball buckets, an L-Screen, and a stopwatch. Empty ball buckets are placed in the following locations: One in foul territory behind first base; one behind second base; and one besides the catcher.

A full bucket of baseballs is placed behind the L-Screen for a coach to throw. One coach will be the pitcher for both teams and one will keep time on the stopwatch. All baseball rules apply for Hustle Ball.

The coaching staff will predetermine time between pitches and between innings. We start off relatively easy, as the players get used to the game and try to work down to where you are giving 10 seconds after a hit or out for the next pitch and 30 seconds between innings.

All hitters step into the batter's box with a 2-1 count. Any ball or strike received by the catcher is placed in the bucket beside him--not thrown back to the pitcher. If a base hit or out is recorded, the defense has 10 seconds to get the ball in and the offense has 10 seconds to get the next hitter into the batter's box. The coach with the stopwatch will let everyone know the time left by counting down when 5 seconds are left (5,4,3,2,1 ..... pitch is thrown).

If an out is recorded by the first baseman, he places the ball in the bucket beside him. Outs or base hits to the outfield are returned to the relay man, then to second base where the ball is placed in the bucket and the 10-second count down begins.

Once the third out is made, the 2B or SS is responsible for bringing in their bucket and putting the ball in the coach's bucket behind the L-Screen. The 1B and C are responsible for bringing their buckets to the mound as well.

The team entering the field works in reverse in that their 2B/SS must retrieve the now empty bucket from the pitcher's mound and take it back to behind second base.

The new 1B is responsible for his bucket and the catcher's bucket is thrown back to home plate. Failure to do any of this constitutes an automatic out.

Teams have 30 seconds between innings to get ready. If the first batter of the new inning is not in the batter's box, helmet on, ready to hit, when the time is up, a pitch is thrown and is always a strike. If the defense is not ready and in position at the end of 30 seconds, a pitch is thrown and the defense must deal with the batted ball despite being out of position.

NOTES:

1. We also call outs if whenever bats or helmets are left near the playing field or if we catch a member of a team not sprinting on or off the field.

2. Catchers can hit with their shin guards on to save time.

3. If a catcher makes a third out, keep the opposing catcher in for one out.

4. Coaches serve as umpires

5. Players may keep their gloves near their position on the field to save time.

These and other games are used to keep practices fun and competitive. We can reinforce a variety of skills while keeping our athletes motivated and challenged. Players come to practice with great attitudes and work hard during our sessions because they look forward to some sort of competition near the end of practice. They know that a poor practice can cancel out any one of our competitions scheduled for that day.

With these games, we keep our practices moving and finish with a flurry.

By Skooter Roebuck, Head Baseball Coach Brownsville (PA) Area High School
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Title Annotation:BASEBALL
Author:Roebuck, Skooter
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:1654
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