For the mighty, mighty 5U Padres, we are officially two practices into our season. I captured my thoughts before AND after the first practice on video. Anyone that’s coached youth baseball (youth sports really) will relate to the controlled chaos. Along with that, I shared 8 lessons learned. Can’t wait for the next Padre party!
- Practice is the Easy Part – With the lack of daylight, we have a 4:00pm practice start time. That means I picked up my son at 3:15pm (at least for the first practice), and left the house closer to 3:00pm. I had to bring a change of clothes, a snack, his baseball gear, and then everything we needed for practice. And as my nickname is the Dugout Captain, that means I had to load up my bag with tricks – name tags for kids, flag to post in the ground so parents know which team we were, baseball cards for giveaways, etc, etc.
- The OTHER stuff is hard work – Luckily, my co-coach is a teacher, football coach, and all-around great guy… he reminded me that we need to finish practice with team-building exercises. Stuff like, “Say something nice about the person to your left.” or a “player of the day (+ why)” This not only brings the Life Lessons into our Athletics, but it gets everyone saying each other’s names and breaking down any barriers in communication.
- Repetitions are Going to be a Real Challenge – We have 13, five-year olds. First, that’s too many five year olds 🙂 I have to imagine the goal for each team was 12 and there simply were an odd number of registered athletes that meant each took 13. That said, at our first practice each athlete got roughly six swings! That was with two tees, two backstops, two coaches manning the tees, and two coaches manning the lines for safety purposes. Quickly, I ordered a third tee and intend to break the team into 3, 4, even 5 hitting groups going forward. At the second practice (last night), we used: Tee #1, Tee #2, and Soft-Toss-Wiffles. I did the soft-toss, which was great to quickly see who is tracking a moving ball and anticipating the arm-swing of soft toss. All-in-all, I was encouraged at their ability to track the ball and make contact.
- First Practice Focus is STRUCTURE – I really liked what we did. We focused on laying out the flow for practice, the expectations for athletes and their families, and took our time to make sure that all athletes were comfortable with the STRUCTURE of practice. For warm up, that meant learning the layout of our warm up area and an opportunity to move slowly back and forth across it. We involved baseball movements during our warm up, with an emphasis on the fielding triangle (called “the alligator mouth eating grass”). Forthrowing, we introduced our line structure and footwork cones through Hula-Hoop Throwing. Basically, it was 80% learning (to follow direction, use cones to create order, be aggressive) and 20% throwing technique. And this explains why we only got six swings per athlete – the focus was on learning the stance, batting tee approach, on-deck safety, and handling the bat around others. I’ll be working hard going forward to make sure we increase the number of swings per athlete.
- The 5-Year Old Wall – My guys hit the wall at just under 1 hour, 15 minutes. Especially my own kid, who got whiny, cold, and tired just after the hour mark. Luckily, baserunning keeps kids warm :), we can move quickly, and jack up our coaching energy up to power through the last station of practice. I have plans for a couple 90-minute practices next week, and I’m realizing I need to be flexible and pay attention to the focus level. That said, I’ve been happy with athlete focus through two practices.
- No Partner Throwing – This drill worked great. And the series will be effective. #1 – legs, #2 – arms, #3 – put it together… and all involve pegging the assistant coach standing in the outfield. Parents like the structure, athletes ALL get to throw every repetition, and we’re getting instruction while also warming up.
- Wait, We Hit Off a Machine? – Who’s idea is this: 5U athletes hit off of a machine?!? I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut on this and see what we can do to coach up the athletes in the next 15 days. Sheesh. Seems like a bit of a stretch for about 11/13 athletes on our squad.
- This is Gonna Be Quick – Two practices per week (at least until games start) means two shorter work-days and a frantic pace in general. With dinner, bath, books, bed pretty much right after we get home, Mondays and Thursdays are a blur. With my unique schedule, my weekends are virutually non-existant. Saturday AM Coaching Clinic, Saturday PM Coaching Clinic… Sunday AM church and family, Sunday PM Coaching Clinic. Add to that Wednesday evening coaching clinics, a full load with Dugout Captain, and two small humans aged 5 and 2. I can already feel that these next three months are going to fly by.
My goal this season is to be present at every event – to lose myself to the kids at practice! So far so good, two practices down and I’ve prepared well. I don’t say that to boast, I say that selfishly. My opinion is this: If I prepare well, I GET to coach. If I don’t, I’ll pay for it in frustration, stress, and anxiety. Those 5-year olds can be vicious and I intend to be prepared before going into battle with them. Mighty, mighty Padres… I’ll see you Thursday!
Annnnnd, what the heck!! One more video to share as I’m getting dangerous with this blog technology. This one is much less entertaining (no kids to bring chaos-energy into the mix) and was filmed on Saturday after a morning clinic with CSA in La Crescenta and an afternoon with Toluca Baseball. Off to visit Ramona Pony Wednesday night!
6 thoughts on “8 Thoughts after 2 Practices”
Good Luck Dan! I went through it twice! I always formatted my drills with minimal player movement so it doesn’t turn into cat-herding. And being animated, high energy helps (I’m sure you’re already talking non-stop to your players). Baseruning is last ’cause that’s when it gets dark.
I NEVER understood the machine hitting. What was the league thinking?
I love your description of the craziness of managing a young team!! As a fellow manager/coach that has gone through Shetland up to now Bronco 11/12u I totally get it. Right now I’m helping out on my Shetland 6u kid’s team while managing my Bronco team with my older son. The anxiety that us coaches go through trying to prep and think about all the variables and factors that are in play while trying to make it educational, fun, and rewarding is no joke. But I will say that your Dugout Captain practice plans make my life SOOOOO much easier!! Thank you so much for all the hard work you are doing with this site and league. RE: Machine hitting, to be clear 5u gets 5 pitches off the machine and then 2 off a tee if they can’t hit the machine pitched balls (for the first half of the season). Obviously the goal is to get the kids hitting pitched balls. When my older kids were in 5 and 6u we had coaches pitching (no machines). The problem was that there were too many coaches pitching unhittable pitches to the kids and it just wasn’t working well. So they brought in the machines to level the playing field and hopefully get consistent hittable pitches. I always use a throwing motion with my arm before launching the ball off the machine so they can start getting the mental timing of the arm motion to the ball flying.
This is AWESOME info Captain Ryan, and thanks for the kind words. I had no idea there was a combo of machine-to-tee… that makes total sense. It’s good to hear that the machine works – I have yet to try it. Certainly, we’ll charge it with a positive attitude and get those kids ready to attack.
Really enjoy your drills and perspective. I’ve been coaching Shetland 6U for 3 years as my oldest is 8U and my youngest is a first time player at 5. One thing I really try to highlight at the beginning of the season is to call out the players who are being good teammates and listening well and trying their best. The baseball skills will come. I don’t reward kids who make a catch, I reward the kid in the dugout who started a chant for his teammate at the plate, or who picked up someone who made a mistake. They won’t all be good baseball players, but they certainly can foster a path of them being good teammates and trying their best. And my best drill for this age is a 2 person race from home to first. Getting them to run thru the bag. When they race, it’s a competition and everyone has fun. Hopefully it will stick come game time, but that’s not a certainty. I’m still shocked at the 8U kids I see who stop on the bag at first on a groundball. Best of luck – Steve
Thanks for the comment Steve. I’ll put my squad to the test tomorrow and do the home-to-first race! Perhaps competing down to a single champion for a prize? Those kids are lucky to have someone your perspective. I couldn’t agree more with teaching the art of doing one’s best – Life Lesson 101. ~DK
Dan – I usually pair the kids up based on equal ability, then the winners face the winners. I try not to award a champion, but praise each time someone does it the right way, which include touching the base, breaking down and looking over their right shoulder to the fence. The kids know who’s the fastest. I used to have them swing plastic bats at a tee but I have too many young kids this year so I have them with their backs facing first. They have to quickly turn around and get out of the box. If you have a one, a flat base it is a good idea to put next to first. It can get feisty at the bag with two of the older kids coming down the wire, fighting for first. Good luck!