Whether you’re taking your first shot at coaching youth baseball or you’ve been doing it for decades, the first practice of the season is a big deal. You will meet new kids (and parents), and you will have to quickly discover where they fit on the baseball field. You want every kid to be a better player and person by season’s end, and that starts with a strong first practice.
Here are some tips to get the season off to a great start.
WHAT TO BRING
First, there are a few basic items you might consider bringing to the first practice:
- First Aid Items
- Water for the entire team, either a Gatorade cooler or individual water bottles
- Bats, balls and other baseball coaching equipment
LEADING UP TO THE FIRST PRACTICE
Most leagues start the season with a draft in which players are assigned to their teams. Once your team is filled out, you should have a list of each player’s name, address, phone number and email address. Consider sending out a message—a letter, email or even a group text—that includes a brief introduction, your contact information and any upcoming events.
HOLD A PARENT MEETING
Either before the first practice or the day of, hold a brief meeting with the parents. This is arguably the most critical part of the preseason process. Consider going over the following information:
- What each child will need for the season (required and optional equipment).
- Where the games will be played, with directions to each field.
- Assign parent responsibilities for the season, which can include everything from assisting with coaching to running the concession stand.
- Let parents know which behaviours will not be tolerated during the season (coaching from the stands, coming onto the field, yelling at umpires, etc.). Reassure parents that you and your fellow coaches will be available to address specific concerns in private.
- Tell parents the importance of bringing their kids to each practice. Those who don’t practice should get less playing time.
- Ask parents to make you aware of any special needs their children may have (allergies, medical conditions, etc.).
Perhaps most importantly, set expectations for the season. Try to explain that kids have different skills. Some will be infielders, others outfielders. Some will pitch, some won’t. Tell parents you will do your best to help each kid develop, but that it is simply unsafe to put players at certain positions before they are ready.
Once every kid has arrived, gather your players together and introduce yourself. Tell them how long you’ve been coaching, your experience with the game, and maybe a few fun facts about yourself (favourite team, player, superhero, food, etc.) Next, take a minute to introduce any assistant coaches.
Then, go around and have each kid say their name, age and answer a fun question. Keeping it short and sweet will help make the kids feel at ease.
COVER THE BASICS
The first practice is the perfect time to go over the basics. Review the rules that are specific to the league and age group, things like stealing, leading, sliding, etc. Chances are you’ll have kids that have never played the game before, so take a few minutes to go over the responsibilities of each position.
For younger players, say up to age 12, consider opening practice with light stretching. Not only will this teach the kids a valuable lesson on getting loose, but it also gives you the chance to share the itinerary for the day’s practice. If you don’t tell the kids up front what is planned for the day, there is a good chance they will spend the entire practice peppering you with questions about what’s next. Lay it out up front.
You may also want to work in some warm-up drills. For younger players, it can be as simple as running the bases—it’s actually a great way to start and end practices.
Because you are likely meeting some of your players for the first time, and because it’s possible some of them have never played the game, focus on basic drills during the first practice. Cover a little bit of everything.
Consider breaking the kids up into groups of four or five. Send each group off with a coach to work on different fundamentals: fielding ground balls, catching fly balls and hitting basics are good places to start.
NEED A DRILL?
Looking for a fun, safe drill for the first practice? Try the Tire Drill. Set up a tire somewhere on the field; try using bungee cords or something similar to hang it from a fence. Use cones to set up throwing stations that will simulate infield positions: second base, shortstop, etc. Simply have the kids take turns trying to throw the ball through the tire. You can even turn it into a game by awarding points: 3 points if the ball goes through the tire, 1 point if the balls hits the tire, etc.
This is a great drill to find out a little bit about your players. You’ll see who has the strongest, most accurate arms and who may need some work. Plus, because they’re throwing at a tire, you don’t risk someone getting injured by a wild throw.
Before you send the kids home, take a few minutes to recap what you went over in practice that day. Focus on one key takeaway (ex: step into the throw).