Practice Planning is the difference maker to coaching baseball – at ANY level. Those that take the time and put in the effort to put together a tight itinerary provide a better experience for the players. That is a FACT.
Just as throwing or hitting is a fundamental skill for an athlete to improve upon, practice planning is a similar skill requiring development by the coach. It takes practice! But everyone wins when the coach improves his/her ability to plan a solid practice.
Coaches are more fulfilled – able to “lose themselves” to coaching once practice starts, able to more fully develop players, and able to incorporate more, and better prepared, help.
Parents are thrilled, as they see their athlete busy burning energy.
Athletes are… well, they’re busy burning energy!!!!
Here’s my current evolution of practice plan as displayed on the whiteboard at Cypress College pitcher workouts:
I take my own practice plan (yes, I carry an old-school clipboard daily) and write it on the whiteboard for my pitchers to translate. Listed there are 4-5 different specifics for that day’s workout, each of which falls into the general workout itinerary that they know very well:
- Foam Roll
- Dynamic Warm Up
- Throwing Program
#1-4 on the list above do not vary. We are meticulous and repetitive in nature, taking time EVERY stinking day to hammer our fundamentals with the warm up and arm care. Once we get into #5 The Throwing Program, different workouts start showing themselves. Viewing the whiteboard picture again, here’s the overview of what I planned for Monday specifically:
Bullpen schedule (left side of the red lines) – This portion of the plan is a bit chaotic, as the bullpens are the area of practice where I physically hang out and can most easily guide (and modify!). Regardless, I have scripted (1) an Execution round, followed by (2) a round thrown from the Stretch position, followed by (3) a round thrown from the Windup, and finishing with (4) a Batter or competition. For the Execution portion of the bullpen schedule yesterday, we threw our first 8 pitches with an emphasis on mechanical / power-producing principles that we believe and work towards. We throw these pitches with a primary focus on mechanics and execution and a very secondary attention to results or location.
However, the catchers are following the bullpen script and thus begin each bullpen with 6 fastballs (2 fastballs middle, 2 FB arm side, and then 2 FB glove side) before moving on to change-ups. Since we are still working execution, this means the pitchers will actual their first two off-speed pitches (pitches#7 and #8) while their focus remains primarily on execution (in this case, the finish position). Once those first 8 pitches are completed (the execution portion), the guys continue into the rhythm of their bullpen routine, throwing each off-speed pitch followed by a [ fastball + off-speed ] sequence. The bullpen continues into the windup, before finishing with a simulated batter. Total pitches thrown 35-40.
Pre-Bullpen – Carrying forward the practice planning absolute that no one stands around in line, those waiting to throw their bullpens have three stations to work through (I wrote this on the white board after I took the photo): (1) Flat ground & Hold Times, (2) Pickoffs, (3) Rest. During Flat Grounds, pitchers working in pairs take turns coming set, holding the baseball for a pre-determined amount of time, and then executing their off-speed pitches. The other athlete is down in a catcher’s crouch and providing feedback on speed, spin, or action. For Pickoffs, pitcher pairs take turns executing pickoff moves to 1B, spin moves to 2B, inside-turn to 2B, and picks to 3B. And for Rest, they sit. At the half-way point of the bullpen in front of them, they stand up and play easy catch with their partner to be ready for their turn on the mound.
Conditioning – Once a pair of pitchers finish their bullpens (we throw two at a time), they move to the other side of the fence for conditioning. Note: Those NOT throwing bullpens that day go immediately to conditioning after the throwing program is completed. Note #2: Keep in mind that each portion of our practice plan NOT listed on the white board is part of our daily “early” routine and the pitchers know it very well: jog, foam roll, dynamic warm up, J-bands, and then the throwing program or catch play. Catch play in itself has a complete plan that we follow (2-Knee Catch, 1-Knee Catch, Standing No-Stride, Hips & Heels, Long Toss, and then 1-2-1-3’s).
Thus, after athletes finish their throwing program (which varies by athlete depending on long toss time and intensity levels)… those throwing bullpens move into that area, while those OFF of the mound for that day move straight into conditioning. Got it? Good! Let’s get back to the whiteboard. The right-hand side of the board covers our conditioning plan:
Plyometrics – I love jumping around and think it’s one of the best ways to train explosive power. We did band-resisted lateral leaps this week. Again, check out Eric Cressey at Cressey Sports Performance. I’m a full fledged disciple!
Sprint Work – Simple straight-ahead day with 4 sets of 4 sprints. Important note: we mandate a timed-recovery in between each sprint. Example: Sprint #1 followed by 5 second rest. Sprint #2 followed by 10 second rest. Sprint #3 followed by 15 second rest. Sprint #4 followed by 60-second recovery. Then, on to the second set at a new distance.
Core – These guys know our various routines after months of training, but this workout basically followed a “core-tour”: top (crunches), bottom (leg raises), side (obliques), side (other side obliques), back (plank hold).
My spring practice plans for the college guys actually involve more details that this winter plan. I’ll have a complimentary “mobility” drill paired with each medicine ball exercise… and I’ll script a “rotator cuff / scapula stability” drill paired with every plyometric exercise. Honestly, it’s a poop-ton of work and takes a good 30+ minutes daily.
To show you an entertaining contrast, here are some of the activity names for what was planned for my practices last Spring: Hula Hoop Throwing, Obstacle Course, Treasure Map Challenge, and Hitting Grip & Stance. Too funny!
Uhhh, okay dude. What’s the point of all this?!?!?
The practice planning principles used for the two events are identical
One practice involved entertaining 13, 5-year olds with mass activity, fun, competition, and limited downtime. The other involved developing and entertaining 17, 18-20 year olds with mass activity, fun, competition, and limited downtime. All we did was insert different drills and modify the amount of adult supervision involved. Certainly, if we could have had a coach at each of the activities going on at the college pitchers practice – we would have!!! At the 5-U level, that’s non-negotiable – we MUST have a coach at each station. But at the college level, one coach can “manage” five different activities because athletes have been taught the ‘why’ and are responsible to put forth their best effort.
10 Examples of Why Practice Planning Never Changes:
- If I don’t plan effectively, I’m caught trying to execute a practice on the fly and it sucks. I hate it, it’s no fun. And ultimately, the kids suffer. I know that, and that makes it suck even worse. And so it makes me WANT to plan out an effective practice plan. My sanity + kids development = plan practice. If you haven’t learned this yet, you will. Or, you’ll save yourself the headache and listen to us that have learned the lesson the hard way.
- No downtime – My assistant pitching coach sometimes refers to these community college level athletes as “13th graders.” 🙂 You give these guys more than a couple minutes of downtime, and the herding cats analogy is completely in play. Conversation topics and adjectives used may be (drastically) different, but shenanigans and tomfoolery are not unique to a certain age.
- Small groups rule – During these winter workouts described above, much of the practice is conducted in workout pairs. They play catch with someone on a similar program. Then, they toss medicine balls, jump, sprint, and fire through their core workout together… it’s awesome to watch a couple pairs on medicine balls, a couple pairs on on plyo’s, one pair on pick offs, one pair on flat ground, and two guys firing on the mounds!!!
- Fundamentals Layer – We follow a progression, a curriculum. Much like the DC Athlete Development Plan found at the Resources section of MyDugout, my pitchers are working through a programmed plan. While each has their own challenges and specifics that we’re working on, I believe certain absolutes to be true and foundational. Thus, we are starting these first four Winter Workout bullpens by reviewing mechanical absolutes. And we’re following the training plan highlighted in my book.
- Constantly Learning – We NEVER arrive or stop learning. Heck, I “borrowed” the split-stance medicine ball throw from a recent email sent out by Cressey November 17th. In fact, I added it to my own library of exercises to ensure that we are constantly changing our workouts (see #6).
- Fun Trumps All – We mix up what we do, we preach competition, we involve music, we throw the football around after practice. Personally, I jump into the workouts whenever I can. Selfishly, I need it. And from what I can tell, the athletes love it. I show humility and a willingness to get my sweat on WITH them. I get to slap someone on the back and challenge them. Lead by example that competition is fun, that getting after it is the cool thing to do, that we old-guys would and do PAY hard-earned money to be put through the workouts they get to crush.
- Teach the Why – Today’s athlete wants to know why. I’m pretty sure that my own 5-year old’s favorite word is ‘why.’ Although, he pronounces it more like ‘whyyyyyyyy?’ That said, any drill is more effective when the athletes are challenged to understand why. You want me to hit through this soccer ball coach? Hmmmm, tell me why. You want me to get down into a fielding triangle coach? Hmmm, tell me why. Let the explanation be fuel for execution. At the college level, this takes lots of time and dedicated practice. But once understood, it leads to a season of hard work and eliminates the need for micro-management. At the younger ages, this management can’t be eliminated, but it can be refocused into instruction and coaching rather than parenting or disciplining.
- Energy and Optimism – This falls in line with #6, but a coach is as good as the energy he/she brings. I believe that the younger the ages you coach, the more energy and optimism you need. You can NOT be afraid to let it rip, be goofy, yell, and dance. Interestingly enough, this is 100% true at the college level as well. Respect must been earned first, but it is also important to create a positive atmosphere and culture.
- Structure – While we want variety in our drills and exercises, there is strength in structure. Athletes at every age crave structure. Structure creates focus. Work hard in your young team’s first couple practices to establish a familiar practice structure. That allows you to hold athletes accountable and soon dive more into the content of that structure. And the sooner a practice flow is familiar, the sooner you can modify and shake things up. The “skill” in this case is for the athlete to learn HOW TO PRACTICE.
- Love – An athlete has to know you care before he cares what you know.
And THAT is why I coach.
Play hard, have fun.