In my first Baseball Chronicles book, one of my most popular articles in terms of feedback was “Four Things Coaches Should Practice But Don’t.”
The four things I mentioned were: Pitchers not practicing fielding from the mound, catching a foul ball near a fence, players not sliding and practicing fielding wild pitches or passed balls. Reading some of the feedback I got, many of the readers were a little misconstrued about my point. There must be hundreds of things we coaches should practice, but don’t. I just picked four of them that I see coming up year after year. So keeping with the spirit of practicing rather than just telling your players, here are five more things that come up over and over again that most coaches do not practice or go over.
1) Calling timeout. About once every couple of years I witness a runner sliding into second and he either gets up without calling time out or calls time out and it is not acknowledged it by the umpire. A smart infielder will put his glove with the ball in it on the baserunner as he gets up from his slide. And he gets called out when he slips off the base if only for a moment or assumes he has time. We have to teach our young players that calling time out in organized sports is a lot different than calling a timeout in one’s own backyard. Coaches should practice having their players slide into a base, then call “time out” with the coach playing umpire. The coach should purposely not acknowledge the time out right away keeping the baserunner on the ground. Each and every player should go through this at least once.
It is the same situation when the batter asks for time. Coaches should also practice this teaching players not to step out of the batter’s box until the umpire gives them time.
2) Rundowns with too many throws. I’m obsessed with this. We practice rundowns almost once a week. Many youth baseball coaches teach to run the runner back to the base they came from. I take the pro-active approach that rundowns are a gift to the defensive team and you have to come away with the out. The ideal number of throws is none. And after that, I teach my players that the ball should not be thrown more than once. I use the term “sprint mode” and teach my players once you get the runner into this sprint mode, it is hard for him to stop and change directions and that is when we take our one and only throw. This has to be practiced.
3) Baserunners Stopping At First. We see it all the time. A player will hit a slow grounder and run to first base only to stop right at the base like the base is a wall thus slowing himself up being called out when if he ran through the base he would have beaten it out for a base hit. We tell our team to run through first base but how many of us take time to practice this? This is one of the easiest things to do and when you practice this, it will stick in the player’s head. Set up a cone ten feet past first base and have your team get in one line. On the “go” command they run one at a time and sprint past the base up to the cone. Simple but it works and must be practiced even with your best baserunners.
4) Covering 1st On Grounder To Right Side. Another one of my obsessions. Ever see a youth baseball game when the ball is hit to the right side of the infield and the pitcher stays frozen on the mound? This can have a manager get gray during the course of the day. We practice this giving each pitcher a chance from the mound. He simulates a pitch and I will throw a grounder between the first and second baseman. The pitcher has to run off the mound to cover first. A key here is to make sure the pitcher hits the first base line about 6-10 feet before the base then turn it up toward the base. Whoever fields the baseball must lead the first baseman with the baseball. This should be practiced with a baserunner simulating game conditions.
5) Bunting at high pitches. Every player who plays for me in our league knows that we bunt a lot. Each and every player must become proficient bunters during the course of the season. We even practice bunting with two strikes a strategy most baseball purists will frown upon. We are always changing our bunt signs to make sure the opponents are not picking it up. Even with all this practicing, it drives me nuts when a player is given the bunt sign and on the next pitch, it is above his shoulders and he offers at it anyway. So now the batter is putting himself in the hole with one strike on a ball outside of the strike zone and the other team knows we are bunting. Coaches must tell these young ball players that when they are given the bunt sign, it does not mean they have to bunt at all costs. We want them to bunt at balls in the strike zone. This must be told to the players and practiced. We practice bunting a lot in batting practice and whichever coach is throwing, I tell them to throw balls out of the strike zone. So we are practicing having my players recognize buntable balls and pulling their bats back if the ball is out of the strike zone. Coaches need to practice this.
I mentioned in my first Baseball Chronicles that practices are the place to teach and games are the place to reinforce what is taught. I don’t know of any other formula that is the most effective to the majority of young baseball players. Even with practicing many of these mistakes that come up again and again we have to keep reminding ourselves that these players are still kids twelve years old and under.