When you coach baseball at the lower levels — I’m talking Little League here — don’t get too fancy. Remember these are young children and you have to keep them moving and engaged. You don’t want kids standing around and being bored, or sitting down and picking blades of grass.
Some Practice Ideas
Let’s say you have 12 kids on your team. Divide them up into three groups of four players. The first group goes to third base and stands in a line. You stand at home and hit the first kid a ground ball. He has to throw it to first. You hit the second kid a ground ball. He has to throw it to first. The point of this exercise is simple. You want the kids to practice getting a ground ball and throwing it to first as much as they can. Hit them ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. You can have a parent or older kid playing first base. After the kids have taken at least 15 ground balls, move the parent to second base. Now the kids have to take at least 15 more ground balls and throw them to second.
Meanwhile, the second group of kids is going to practice hitting. Take them to a corner of the outfield and have a parent throw them wiffle golf balls. Not a regular size ball, but wiffle golf balls. You can pick them up at any sporting goods store. Each kid gets five swings a piece. Then the next kid takes five swings. You do this as long as possible. The wiffle golf balls are much smaller than a regular baseball and they force the player to focus on the ball and swing through it.
The third group of kids goes to the outfield. Three kids stand in line and one kid stands by you. The player by you represents the cut-off man, which they have to hit with the ball chest high. Do not hit the ball with a bat. Have the kids stand about 20 yards away and throw them a pop-up. They have to catch it, position themselves properly and throw it to the cut-off man. Do not throw the pop-up right at the player – throw it to the side of in front of him or her. Make them move for it. This exercise is all about tracking the ball, catching the ball and throwing it to the cut-off man. Do as many reps as you can. Then line all four kids up and throw a ball over each kid’s head – much like a football pass. This makes the player turn and catch the ball over his shoulder. Do not overthrow the ball, just toss it high enough over the kid’s head, so he has to turn, track it and catch it.
Have the kids change stations – ground ball, fly ball and hitting stations when you think it is time. Note that each station is designed to give each player as many reps as possible in catching ground balls and fly balls, while making a good throw to the base or to the cutoff man. The hitting area with the golf wiffle balls is again, designed to give each kid as many reps as possible in tracking a small ball and swinging through it. At this age, little league age, it is all about getting as much fielding and hitting in as possible and that is what these stations will accomplish.
A good drill to end practice with is to pair off the players and make them stand about 15 yards apart. Then the first play throws the second player a ball that bounces in front of him. This is “short hop” practice” and gives the players numerous reps in handling bad hops. The short hops should not be thrown hard. This is just to improve the glove work of each player.
To give you an idea of the sorts of things you can try, here’s a brief video of some practice drills:
There you have it. A short practice where no player is standing around and they get as much practice as they can in handling groundballs, fly balls, throwing and hitting.