I love hosting Coaching Clinics because conversations can and do go in very different directions. When discussing catch-play, for example, I sometimes say, “Play catch until you’re about to break a nose… then blow the whistle and wrap it up.” There’s a gut feeling you get when you are creeping close to things falling apart. And it’s an acquired skill to know when enough is enough.
That line of thinking definitely holds true for this Drill suggestion: FOUL LINE DRILL
I just ran this drill at Practice #14 for the Mighty, Mighty, 5U Padres. Interestingly enough, I’d call it a huge success. Couple points to make about the success of this drill:
Fundies First – Just before running the Foul Line Drill, we ran a variation of Fundamentals: Cuts & Relays. We have run this drill several times, with the primary focus teaching the three keys to the “Relay-Man”. Those are: (1) Make a big-X, (2) Be vocal (relay, relay), and (3) Turn Glove-Side. So, we reviewed those fundamentals immediately before applying them to a more involved drill.
Bubba-The-Bucket – Borrowing Coach McGovern’s famous nickname, Bubba the Bucket has been introduced in an effort to get kids to smile, have fun, and charge through the same drill multiple times. For the Fundamentals: Cuts & Relay drill, I used bungee ball tie-wraps to hang the bucket inside the catch net. Worked well, especially when I told the kids that you were only allowed to throw at Bubba if you executed a cut-and-relay correctly.
Next, we moved immediately over to the Foul Line Drill, set up using the mini baseball diamond. To begin, we used underhand flips and a very slow, deliberate pace. I wanted the athletes to see success and understand the application of a cut and relay. There miiiiiight have been another two reasons: The majority of my kids can’t catch a thrown ball. And more than half of them really can’t throw all that well 🙂
I love this drill. On the site, we filmed Foul Line Drill using a12-year old travel ball team. Now these kids could play a little bit, and they were a complete mess during filming – didn’t play catch well at all. As you’ve seen in Dugout Captain, I love that… because it’s real! Kids don’t play catch well. Heck, the NAIA team I’m helping to coach currently doesn’t play catch well. They made 6 errors in one game over the weekend. So, coach!!! Don’t get mad… COACH!!!!
Here are another several points to why this drill rules:
Keywords – Bagman, Relayman, Outfielder (I need a cooler name for outfielder – please leave a comment below!). We coin these phrases and shout them often. During games, I roam the field like a sheepdog. Constantly asking questions to and providing encouragement of my players such as: “Where are you going with the ball if it’s hit to you? Ready position when that ball is being pitched. Please put your glove on the correct hand!” These keywords truly work when the ball is in play. Ground ball gets past the infield… past the outfield and bam! There goes my shortstop running into deep left-center field. I shout to said infielder to stop and become the Relayman. It really is awesome to see them stop on command, make a big X, and start chirping “relay, relay, relay.” Of course, it’s equally entertaining when this happens at other times during a baseball game where the Relayman has nothing to do with a play!!
Progression – The Foul Line Drill falls in line with our incremental progression to teaching baseball. In this case, the end goal is for an athlete to see a ball get smoked into the outfield gap, understand who’s on base and how many outs there are, and execute their (appropriate) responsibility. This is a HUGE challenge and takes years and years and years of practice. Dugout Captain practice plans attempt to lay out the path to familiarity with these drills in this order:
- Fundamentals: Cuts & Relays
- Foul Line Drill
- Bagman & Relayman
- Roles, Rotations, Responsibilities
The fourth step in this progression is commonly referred to as “Team Defense.” How many outs? Who’s on base? Okay, ball is hit… what do I do? Where do I go? What responsibility do I have? It’s more of a team activity, than a drill. For high school and college programs, some variation of this is run several times a week.
Here’s a short video I scratched together to show my thinking in setting up practice. Most importantly, setting everything up BEFORE we start practice. If I’m going ask for, and keep, focus for 60-75 minutes… I have to minimize all downtime.
I want to be able to wrap up one drill… point to a set of cones across the way… instruct my little monsters to form a line at THAT blue cone… and immediately get started with the next activity. As you’ll see in the video and sketch, all that was required was:
- Throw-down bases to form a mini-diamond – Used these for Foul Line Drill, a defense station during batting practice, and for baserunning to wrap up practice
- Dynamic warm up cones – Used for Buffet Drill as warm up
- Catch net and cones for the drill Fundamentals: Cuts & Relays
The rest of practice is moving stuff around. We break for water and rest before hitting. Besides assembling a batting tee, we each grab stuff move into position for 30-minutes or so of hitting:
- Front toss – Grabbed a bucket of balls, one throw-down base, and a handful of cones… and walked over to the backstop (assistant coach #1)
- Wiffles – Grabbed a bag of wiffles and some cones (parent volunteer)
- Tee – Grabbed the batting tee and a bucket of balls (head coach)
- Receiving – Call this “fly-balls” if you want, but this coach grabs needs only three cones and the bag of tennis balls (parent volunteer)
- Defense – Used the mini-diamond, a handful of safety baseballs, and a parent-volunteer to help catch throws (assistant coach #2 and parent volunteer)
Couple more points to make about the success of this practice:
- Parent Involvement – Reading above, you can see that we put five other parents to work. Myself, two assistant coaches, and three more parent volunteers. None of those parent volunteers ever actually volunteered. In fact, they are all so cool and helpful that they don’t really ever offer 😉 However, ANYTIME I ask, they say yes!! And I am not bashful at all about asking. Thanks guys!!!
- Volunteer Roles – One of my best parents also has a younger son (I’d estimate just under 2 years old). So, when he has the mini-human… we don’t get him as an active parent volunteer. However, he is the MAN and has carved out a very, very helpful role. Before practice, he helps to set up the catch net, assemble the batting tee, and tie my son’s shoelaces (seriously). In fact, he’s become Uncle Lance for the amount of time he has spent assisting my little dork to take care of his crap! Huge bonus: He’s always early to practice. While I get the field set up, he legitimately wraps up snack duty and plays babysitter to my 5U son.
- Communication – We mix things up, but I do my best to communicate well. How are we rotating for batting practice (individually vs. groups). Who is in charge of when to rotate? Typically, that goes to our front toss coach as he has the most definitive time to rotate. On the contrary, tee work, defense, and receiving all move a bit faster. Back to communication: Prior to practice starting, I get together with my assistant coaches and explain the flow of practice and their specific roles. They aren’t bashful to offer suggestions or tweaks – sometimes we make the change, sometimes I leave it up to them, sometimes I tell them their idea sucks.
- Baserunning – By the time baserunning hit at this practice, my five-year olds were on the verge of meltdown. But because baserunning is quick, involves running, and was already set up… I pushed through! We ran Home-to-First one time, followed by Base-Hit-Turns one time. Assistant coach standing at first base. Other assistant coach and several parent volunteers picking up the gear and loading up my man-wagon.
I’ll finish with this word of encouragement. On the same day that this practice was run, I was at a college practice in the morning. Coaching college kids is waaaaaaaay easier than coaching 5-year olds. Stay strong, play hard, and have fun!