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Little League Practice Plans and Drills

You're a first time Little League coach and your first practice was an absolute disaster. You feel like you have just been  KO'd by the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. The big knockout blow came out of no where; it was sudden like a violent tropical storm. You really don't understand what went wrong. You played baseball in high school and watch the pros on tv. You say to yourself " I know the game,  but what just happened!?" First, don't quit on yourself or the team and then read these Little League Practice Plans to help create your blueprints for Little League practice success!

Little League Practice Plans : Time Limit Tips

Time Limit Tip #1 - Arrival & Departure

You should have firm arrival and departure times for your practices. The arrival time is more about you. If you tell your team that you will be at the field at a certain time then you need to be there at that time. Emergencies of course arise from time to time, but it is important to be consistent as possible in your arrival time. This will create trust and set expectations for your players. If you are on time consistently then you will find that parents will make a greater effort to get your players to the field on time. It is also important to have a firm departure time. If you announce that practice is going to end at a certain time then it needs to end at that time. Going over time is a big don't that will eventually have parents and players alike angry with you. Ending early is a different story. It is not a bad idea to end practice early once in a while. However, do not make a habit of ending early (or too early), because some parents may read this as laziness and you wouldn't be able to blame them. Also, when ending practice early and unannounced, you will need to prepare yourself to stay with any players that are waiting for their parents to pick them up. In general, it is a busy world which is why it is very important to have firm arrival and departure times.

Time Limit Tip #2 - Using Time Wisely

You should map out what you would like to do at practice in advance. It might be a good idea to have a notebook devoted to practice plans. A day or two before each practice you should write down what you want to work on in practice and how much time you would like to devote to each skill. This will help to eliminate wasted time on the field. There is nothing worse then wasting valuable field time by not having a well thought out plan. Think about it this way, for example : If you stop just five times for just five minutes each time because you need to figure out what to do next then you have wasted a mind-blowing 25 minutes which is simply unacceptable!

Time Limit Tip #3 - The Young Mind

Remember that we are dealing with youngsters with young minds. That being said "marathon" practices are out of the question and will not be effective. A practice should not go longer than 2 hours. It is important to not stay with one drill for too long because the young mind will get bored easily. This is why having a coaching staff that can run multiple drills at the same time is a necessity. This will allow players to rotate in and out of different stations which will help combat boredom. On the flip side, do not try to cram too many drills into one practice because the young mind will only retain so much information in one session. 

Time Limit Tip #4 - Practice Outline

I would recommend creating a practice outline that breaks down your practice into time periods. The time periods will have somethings that will be firm and not change while other time periods will be for drills that you can plug in and out of different time periods. I know this might sound a bit confusing so the following is an example of a practice outline based on a two hour practice slot of 4pm-6pm :

4pm-4:15pm : arrival, warm-up, play catch ( does not change) 

4:15pm- 4:45pm : fundamental drills ( this is where you would insert the fundamental drills that you want to work on for that specific practice; this would be a time period that could look different from practice to practice)

4:45pm-4:50pm : break time ( does not change; team rests, gets a drink of water, etc.)

4:50pm-5:30pm : Batting Practice (does not change)

5:30pm-6pm : Advanced Skills and/or Team Choice, Departure ( this time period will also look different from practice to practice; insert advanced skills you want to practice into this time slot, and if you have time let the team choose a fun activity like hits, runs, and errors. Maybe your team is having a tough day, and you want to lighten the mood to cheer them up. You could make the choice to skip advanced skills and just use the period for team choice)

You can of course set you practice outline to fit your team's needs and your own personal preferences. The general idea of having an outline is to again eliminate wasted time, establish structure, and establish expectations. This can help to establish trust in your program!

Little League Practice Plans : Start of Practice

Start of Practice Tip #1 : Set Up

Set the tone for your practice by simply being on time and being organized. I would suggest that you should try to be there 10-15 minutes before your scheduled practice time. Do the best you can to have your equipment set up in a neat and organized fashion before your players start to warm up. Utilize any early arrivals to help with equipment set up, and maybe reward those players somehow later in practice ( this will also be a way for you to encourage players to be on time). Being on time and being organized will set up a workman like atmosphere that will hopefully spill over into the start of your practice!

Start of Practice Tip #2 : Playing Catch

A tip for playing catch? Absolutely! We have talked about expectations and setting tones. You can totally destroy the momentum of your practice by not setting your team up correctly to play catch. For example, during the first practice of the season you yell out to your team "Grab a partner and play catch for a few minutes to loosen up." without any instructions. What you may end up seeing is players playing catch too close to others, three way catch, groups that are criss crossed or back to back, etc. All this can at the very least cause chaos and at worse serious injury! Players should line themselves up on either of the foul lines with one partner ( if numbers are uneven you or another coach may have to join in) directly across from them and not too close to the next pair of players. Players should also be instructed to start out further a part and just "lob" the ball to each for a few throws before getting a bit closer for more on line throws. And at no time should players be throwing "heat" at each other. Players should also be instructed to practice accurate throws and properly receiving the ball. This can also become a mental edge for your team as they gain more experience. It can be very intimidating for an unorganized team to watch your team run out to play catch properly!

Start of Practice Tip #3 : Warming Up

Stretching, sprints, and laps are not really a necessity at the Little League level. However, it can be useful in helping to at least get the "blood flowing". It can also help with the structure of your practice routine. Again you can set the tone for structure early in the practice by having a quick but organized warm up routine that can include simple stretches, some jumping jacks, and a little running. You could even decide to "kill two birds with one stone" by doing some basic base running as a part of your warm up routine. Again structure and organization is the key. This can be yet another mental edge for your team over the opposition!

Little League Practice Plans : Basic Little League Practice Drills

Instead of getting into a lot of detail in this section, we will simply get you on the right track. We will discuss some basic drills and identify what drills run good together like peanut butter and chocolate! You will then have an idea of how you can plug your drills into the practice outline. Later, we can figure out where to find resources for information on detailed Little League practice drills!

Basic Little League Practice Drills Tip #1 : Base Running

Basic base running skills that should be worked on in practice are running through first base, rounding bases properly ( hitting inside corner of the base), stealing bases, tagging up, and sliding. The following is an example of a base running drill and some suggested drills that can be run at the same time :

Tagging up from Third Base Drill - 

Players needed 8 total ; 2 base runners (who take turns), 1 short stop, 1 third baseman, 1 pitcher, 1 catcher, 2 Left Fielders (who take turns)

Instructions : 

Coach hits (out of his hand) a pop up to the left fielder after the pitcher delivers a pitch to the catcher ( the catcher will simply hand the ball to the coach after receiving the pitch). 

Skills being practiced :

Base runners work on properly tagging on fly balls and can also work on sliding when the play is close. Left fielders work on fielding a fly ball with a runner tagging. The infielders work on general defense and positioning in this situation. The pitcher is also getting some work. If the pitcher tires simply eliminate the pitching from the drill and skip right to the coach hitting the pop up. 

Suggested drills to run with this drill -

Assuming you have a team of 12 then there are 4 players left over. A second coach can take those players to right field and run a simple pop up drill. Another option is for the second coach to take only 3 and a third coach can catch a bull pen session for a pitcher. 

Basic Little League Practice Drills Tip #2 : Infield Defense

When working with your infield it is important to practice fundamental skills repeatedly and correctly. It is also important to promote quick thinking to help decision making during games. Do this by running drills in which you are calling out different plays and making your players react quickly. You will also want to practice range (by hitting balls to left and right of players, in the hole, and slow rollers). The following is an example of an infield drill and some suggested drills that can be run at the same time :

Infield Range Drill -

Players needed 6 total; the 6 infielders (P,C,1B,2B,3B, & SS) and 1 coach

Instructions :

Place 4 balls in front of each player with one ball to the left, one ball to the right, one ball right in front, and one ball about 5ft in front. Call out plays for your fielders to make and they grab each placed ball to make throws to the base you want them made. Repeat until each position player has thrown from every possible angle to every base.

Skills being practiced :

Players will learn the fundamentals of making range throws without having to also focus on fielding the ball ( put the two together for a more advanced drill) and you can focus primarily on the proper throwing mechanics by taking out the fielding.

Suggested drills to run with this drill -

Again assuming you have a team of 12 then this will leave 6 players left over. A second coach can take three players to right field to run a pop up drill. A third coach can take the other three players to left field to practice bunting.

Basic Little League Practice Drills Tip #3 : Outfield Defense

When working with your outfield it is obvious that they will  practice how to properly catch fly balls. In addition, they should be working on making strong and accurate throws, proper footwork, proper positioning, range, game situations,communication ( calling for balls) and general fielding ( one hoppers, slow and hard grounders, line drives, etc.). The following is an example of an outfield drill and some suggested drills you can run at the same time :

Basic Outfield Pop Up Drill - 

Players needed 4 total and 2 coaches ( one to work the machine and one to instruct)

Instructions :

If you have a pitching machine then I would suggest using it for this drill because the machine will allow for accurate pop ups so you can focus on the very basics of catching a fly ball. Set the machine up in left or right field and send pop ups to waiting players in center field. Start with one outfielder catching fly balls with one watching, a cut off man, and a player taking the throw from the cutoff at the machine. Players will rotate. After a while you can have two outfielders at the same time and work on calling up for the ball.

Skills being practiced :

Proper fundamentals of catching a fly ball , footwork, accurate throws, and communication.

Suggested drills to run with this drill -

Assuming you have 12 players then you have 8 players left over. You can run some type of infield drill with 6 players. The last 2 players could be base runners or you can run some type of side session ( pitcher & catcher, bunting mechanics).

Basic Little League Practice Drills Tip #4 : Hitting & Pitching

Hitting and pitching are skills that mechanics and fundamentals must consistently be worked on and monitored. A slight change in a player's mechanics could throw off the swing or take a few miles per hour off a pitcher's fastball. Practicing poor mechanics can lead to bad habitats that will be tough to break later. Hitting and pitching drills for the most part are run together although you can run them separately to work on specific mechanics before putting the two together. The following is an example of a hitting & pitching drill and some suggested drills you can run at the same time.

Pitching & Bunting Drill -

Players needed 7 players ( 1 batter and 6 infielders) and one coach

Instructions :

Pitcher throws a pitch and the batter attempts to bunt it. If batter successfully bunts then batter runs and defense attempts to make a play. Rotate players after a few successful bunts.

Skills being practiced :

Pitcher gets some work and learns to field the position in a bunt situation. Infield learns to defend against the bunt and batter practices bunting skill. 

Suggested drills to run with this drill -

Assuming you have 12 players then you have 5 players left over. You can run an outfield drill with 3 players and a side session ( pitcher & catcher, hitting off the tee, etc.) with the other 2 players. You could also choose to use some left over players as base runners so infielders can practicing defending the bunt with runners on base.

Little League Practice Plans : End of Practice

End of Practice Tip #1 : Clean Up

Players should be helping to put away equipment and make sure the field is cleaned up ( any litter they may have left on the field or in the dugout).

End of Practice Tip #2 : Communication

End of practice is a good time to make sure all important information for upcoming games and events is communicated. At this time you could also choose to get a headcount for these upcoming games and events.

End of Practice Tip #3 : Departure

Make sure all players are accounted for and have rides home. Do not leave players alone at the field. If a player walks home that should be communicated before practice. It's a good idea to have a permission slip signed by an adult stating that the player can walk home from practice.

Little League Practice Plans : Resources

No matter how good you think you are or how smart you think you are; there is always room for improvement. Don't ever assume that you know it all just because you played four years of college baseball or you watch MLB every day on television. On the flip side, if you are a novice then don't be too shy, embarrassed, or prideful to seek out help. Remember, it will be your players who will benefit or suffer from your performance as a Little League coach!

Resources Tip #1 : Your League

Ask league officials about resources the league might have on hand. Pick the brains of coaches who have the experience. 

Resources Tip #2 : Videos

Look for Little League instructional videos in stores and online. Ebay and Amazon might have some good deals. The Tom Emanski instructional videos (which I used) are a great resource for information on different baseball mechanics and drills. If you want to go the free route then simply search youtube.

Resource Tip #3 : Books

A trip to the local library or book store might be the key to unlocking Little League coaching success for you. You will find there are many instructional books for Little League coaches and at reasonable prices.

Resource Tip #4 : The Internet

I touched on this a bit already and you can find a boat load of information on the internet. Where should you look for it? I would suggest Little League message boards and other Little League specific sites.

Little League Practice Plans : Final Tip

Practice What You Preach :

Hopefully you will be telling your players things like "Don't give up" , "Have fun" , "Cheer up", "Get'em next time", and " "Do your best". Simply follow your own advice. Have a plan, have a positive attitude, and have a little fun because baseball is supposed to be fun after all!