I did my first coaching clinic in 2001. By my math, this would be 19th year of conducting clinics. I’m not going out of state or country this spring because I’m in uniform coaching again with Cypress College. By the way, we’re 4-1 thus far, with 10 games scheduled in the next 20 days. In addition to that hectic game schedule, I’ve got another nine coaching clinics on the calendar for the same 20 days. And to top off the coaching workload, the mighty mighty 6U Red Sox were just announced and practice starts Monday afternoon (followed by a pizza party).
That was a great tip incorporated into the coaching clinic itinerary last year: The early-season team get together. Rather than waiting for the end of the year, let’s get together within the first week of season and get to know each other. Doing this BEFORE we sit awkwardly next to one another in the stands all season is a great idea.
Here are the top 20 Coaching Clinic nuggets not involving specific drills or exercises:
- Extra Glove – Keep an extra glove in your gear bag / car.
- Extra Snack – Keep an extra snack in your trunk.
- Gear Duty – Assign a team parent, assistant coach, to gear duty – such an important role! This coach takes athlete responsibility from parent to practice transition. He can help to tie shoes, place gear in appropriate area, and then get the athlete fully engaged. Provide a smile, affix a name tag, offer a huge high five, and break the ice with a friendly smile. This role doesn’t last a single practice, this is a season-long helper!
- First practice dedicated to establishing expectations and structure – With the goal of creating focus, you must TEACH your athletes how to practice. Baseball is a game of routine, and this routine must be taught. Think of a teacher’s first day with his/her students in the classroom. They aren’t jumping into long lesson plans and complicated topics. Rather, they are establishing the environment of the classroom, the expectations for behavior, and the rules, guidelines, and structure for participation.
- Create Focus with your practice plan – Focus is not something guaranteed to a coach (understatement of the century), FOCUS IS EARNED.
- Players carry all gear with them during practice – Teach athletes how to carry all their baseball gear in two hands. Hand #1 holds helmet loaded with batting gloves, glove, and water bottle. Hand #2 holds bat.
- Players return to dugout area only once during practice – That is during the break between defensive stations and offensive stations. Otherwise, they are continuously busy and have water with them.
- Two Toes Blue Cones – This is most easily explained with the drill 3-Step Hitting. During hitting stations, place two cones down to mark where the feet are to set up (do this for both sides of the plate). I’d also recommend using a third cone to mark where the front foot is supposed to stride to. If those cones are the same color (blue, for example)… the phrase, “Two toes blue cones” becomes a catchy way to verbally smack the athlete upside the head and remind him/her to set his feet. Lots of time is wasted between swings with young athletes.
- Multiple Lines – At EVERY station / drill, search for opportunities to split into two groups. Rolling ground balls, break into two lines. Tossing fly balls, break into two groups. Bottom line: see every drill through the lens of a parent… how long is my kid waiting in line. And is that giving him plenty of time to get into mischief.
- Involve Receivers – At EVERY station / drill, search for opportunities to involve an additional athlete. Relay man, receiver standing next to you, ball pile, on deck hitter, baserunner, etc.
- Involve parents – Older brothers, parents should be utilized. Even if not running a drill, they can collect baseballs or serve as safety monitors. This is especially true during batting practice. There should be a parent in front of, or next to, every line of hitters waiting.
- Walk your bat – Much like they would walk a dog, the bat head needs to drag through the dirt / grass unless explicably told to swing by a coach.
- Coach Between Batter and Line – If ever conducting batting practice, keep the line behind YOU. That way, any thrown bat hits you before it hits an athlete.
- Baserunning as a Warm Up – Run the bases as part of the practice warm up. Two-birds, one-stone style.
- Connect It – Review what was covered at last practice. Using the bullet point immediately above, while conducting baserunning as a warm up… make sure you review the material covered during last practice first, before adding one new fundamental to this practice.
- Baseball Movements as Warm Up – Instead of a walking lunge, side shuffle, or karaoke… try the fielding triangle plus alligator chomp, outfielder’s crow up, and pitcher’s windup delivery.
- Same-Drill Station Work – This proved effective for us last year, and I had never planned to do it. Rather than run an infield drill (Group A) at the same time as the outfield drill (Group B), consider running the same drill for both groups. Meaning, BOTH Groups A and B are working the same infield drill… at two different stations with two different coaches. Then, BOTH groups will run the same outfield drill… at two different stations. I found this helped with retention as the athletes were seeing and hearing complimentary actions and keywords while training that skill.
- Early Activity – This concept is huge, and coaches give me great feedback at my clinics. Early Activity drills help to occupy the kids arriving, while providing for yourself the time to set up the field. Remember, you only get one break per practice (see #7). One of your assistant coaches owns this part of the workout and takes pride in setting the pace the practice to come.
- Front Toss – Please, please, please incorporate front toss into your batting practice. Especially when transitioning your team to “live swings” as season gets closer. As that dude in the video says :)… front toss makes everyone better!!
- Have Fun – Baseball practice isn’t supposed to feel like work for anyone. Make sure YOU have fun. If YOU have fun, your kids will thrive!