One of my pet peeves in life is being on time. My wife thinks I’m overly obsessed with it, and maybe I am. I just want to be on time whenever I have an appointment. This no doubt comes from my mother’s side of the family, who were never late for anything. I remember reading the book “Instant Replay” as a kid about the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers. In it, the author, Jerry Kramer, talks about how there was regular time and there was “Lombardi Time.” It worked when the team had to be on a bus at 8am, regular time. The team had to really be on the bus at 7:45am, which was Lombardi time. If a player was late, Coach Lombardi would fine him. Of course youth coaches cannot fine any of our players for anything. But there are certain things we can do to motivate our players to get to our practices and games on time.
In youth sports we are competing with a lot of extra curricular activities. Karate, piano lessons, and the school play are only a few that have come up over the years. If you as coach are able to organize stimulating practices that are limited in time, upbeat, and are fun, the kids on your team will insist on not missing your practices. I know this is a fact because I have had parents rearrange their schedules because their kids do not want to miss baseball practice. I’ve seen parents go all out with these other commitments looking for alternative times for piano, karate, etc., at the insistence from the player not wanting to miss any practices. I have even had a father, a youth basketball coach change the time of his basketball playoff game because his son wanted to go to baseball practice. In addition to the great creative practices you will be running, baseball practice is where you should do most of your teaching, and not during your games.
Now we have the team interested in our creative fun practices, but we also want to get our players there on time. Youth baseball is unlike a school team sport and you cannot force players to practice or even force them to be on time. So the onus is on us coaches to constantly be creative by introducing new fun drills that will go together with our teaching points. There are certain things you can do as a coach to ensure your team develops good habits. I never punish a player for arriving late by having him do laps, push ups, etc. But as coaches we can reward the players that get there early or on time.
I love to keep my practices shorter rather than longer. My practices usually run no longer than 60-90 minutes. My first video The 59 Minute Baseball Practice shows how to organize these shorter efficient practices. If a player arrives fifteen minutes late, he can miss almost 25% of the practice or a full quarter of a practice. I have tried a number of different tactics to motivate players to arrive on time. The first thing I do is try to make sure I am almost always the first person to get there. This in itself is a great motivator as you will always have those kids or parents that want to beat the coach to practice. And as they arrive, I give each player a number and they keep that number throughout the practice. Whoever arrives first is number one and when it comes to batting practice he or she goes first. The players remember this and after a couple of practices, you will notice the difference with players arriving early to get a good number. I always have a good time when one parent takes more than one player to practice, and I yell over, “Whoever is on the field first is number one.” Watch the kids hustle to beat their teammates to the field so they are designated number one and will bat first. It is also fun to see if two kids get to the field at exactly the same time and the argument that ensues. I usually have to play peacemaker and throw in an extra swing to keep the troops calm. The point is I am having the players get into the mode of arriving on time. When I explain this system, I make sure I tell them I have an old arm and there is no guarantee that the number eleven or twelve hitter will get the same number of swings as the rest of the team. I let them know that the first five or six hitters are sure to get their allotted swings.
Another technique I use is to start practice with a mini batting practice even before warm ups. When you do this, you’ll see players arriving after you are in the midst of this with a questionable look on their faces. Some even think they misunderstood when practice was and will think they missed it because coach Schupak always runs batting practice at the end. After you do this a few times, you'll notice the players arriving early and telling you that they go first. Don’t do this technique every practice, but every once in a while. You’ll get some players who will ask if you are going to have batting practice first at the next practice and you have to be a little evasive.
“You’ll have to come on time or early to find out.”
By getting your players in the habit of arriving on time, aren’t we preparing them when they go out into the real world? Isn’t it better to be early than late? Don’t we want to have a lasting affect on these kids even after they are through playing baseball? I like to think I made a difference and hopefully you do too. Practices, especially early on, will set the tone for a successful and fun season. The kids take notice when the coach arrives early and organized. Use these techniques to get your players to arrive on time.