Yesterday I put on a pitching clinic for a local league at Garfield High School near downtown Seattle. It had been years since I’d visited Garfield. Pulling into the parking lot I found a world famous name in front of me: ‘Quincy Jones Performance Kids baseball training shoes’. Want To Run More Productive Practices and Develop Better Players?
Great coaches give keep their players moving constantly and maximize the number of repetitions in skill development activities in each practice. They chuck away their bat and deliver balls in drills by rolling, throwing and tossing the ball. A key to skill development is repeating the same good actions over and over and over. For this to happen we need to consistently deliver the ball to the same spot.
What percentage of the time can we, using a bat, hit a ball ten feet to the second baseman’s right while standing at home plate? What percentage of the time when rolling the ball from 20’ away? When using a bat, we shank the ball, pop it up, line it past the player or hit it too wide. And what do these errors by the coach, in delivering the ball, do to help our players get the reps they need to improve?
College and pro coaches run fielding drills every day without a bat, why don’t we do the same in youth baseball and softball? A theory that I have is many of us show up early to the park to watch a college or pro game and see the coach standing at home plate hitting balls around the field to their players in pre-game warm up. We then make the mistake of copying this warm-up activity when running drills in our practices. An effective drill session has 3-4 groups of players on different parts of the field, with coaches running drills by rolling or tossing balls to their players. These drills are run in compact spaces, they are fast moving and, most importantly, the plyers are getting mass repetitions and repeating fundamentally sound actions. When I was coaching in college, driving to high school games to scout players, I went past hundreds of youth practices.
I would see this having just finished a college practice where our coaches had been rolling and tossing balls to our players in many of our drills. Just the other day I drove past my local high school where the girls softball team was practicing. Fifteen or 16 girls standing around, waiting, while the coach stood at home plate hitting a single ball around the field. A misconception about ground ball drills is the ball needs to be delivered fast. Developing fielding skills is more about footwork, timing, and angles then the act of catching the ball. Through repetition, the players will develop the hand-eye coordination for catching ground balls. I constantly see youth coaches in practices hitting rocket ground balls to their kids.