This article will address what a typical t-ball practice may look like. Everything is a suggestion and the head coach should have his practice written out before ever taking the field. With all the modern technologies available to us such as smart phones, i-pads etc. my choice to have my practices written out has always been the index card. I have found this most convenient sticking it in my back pocket so I can pull it out and refer to it. My biggest improvement to this was making my own plastic covering to help curb bends and smudges on the card.
My practices at the t-ball level usually are planed for about 45-60 minutes. Do it anyway you want but I highly recommend the practices be shorter rather than longer. Planning a practice like this means having your team arrive on time is important. If a player arrives at a planned 45 minute practice 15 minutes late, that’s a third of the practice that is missed. I have found in every year I coached, no matter what the sport, that time is of the essence. And we as coaches have got to keep the pace of practices upbeat but not to the point where you skip over a teaching moment you want to tell the whole team. With baseball practices I give players numbers as they arrive. So the first person to arrive is number one the second number two and so on. When I do batting practice we start with number one as the first person to bat and so on. This technique works well motivating players to get to practice on time. It’s a technique that can be carried on beyond t-ball and one that should be mentioned to your parents at your “parents meeting.”
Within the structure of the practice itself, I love to integrate team drills with individual drills. Doing individual drills means utilizing your assistant coaches or parents. If I see a parent in a car in the parking lot, I have been known to pull them out of their car (high heels or not) and get them involved in the practice if only as a prop to run around. It is very important to do a warm-up before you begin the drill portion of your practice. The first few years I coached I neglected warming up but studies have shown that even with the youngest kids, warming up can help prevent injuries. The idea of warming up before going right into the activity itself is giving the kids some good lifetime habits. With t-ball age kids usually my first warm-up is to have them start running around the bases and then do some arm rotations and some other exercise like jumping jacks. Keep it simple and five minutes total warm-up is fine.
At the beginning the drill portion of t-ball practice, I love to get the team together and I usually do this designating a base saying, “Everybody at home plate.” You can have one designated base to talk to your team or change it up, “Everybody at second base.” We are familiarizing the bases to some and never assume 5 & 6 year kids know the name of every base. Make sure when you speak to your team that you, the coach is always facing the sun. Also it is a good idea sometimes to kneel so your eye level is very close to being even with the team’s eye level. Preferably your talk brief and get right to the drills. Out of all the skills: hitting, throwing, fielding and catching, it is hitting that players of all levels love. Using multiple tees having all the players hitting is a great way to start the practice. Either hitting into space or using plastic balls against the fence work.
The T-Ball Skills & Drills video. Over 30 creative drills!
After this, utilizing your assistant coaches and parents, dividing the team into individual or small groups works well when doing skills such as throwing or catching. Spacing is extremely important because of safety. It is now, that I integrate a fun game after the first two drills. Any game, and if you put in a baseball theme, that’s better. For instance running a relay race and the baseball theme is each player holding a glove with a ball in it and practicing squeezing the ball with their glove. This works great and utilizing two of the parents that you pulled out of their car so each team has someone to run around.
After this go back to another skill drill. So if the last skill drill was throwing, now when you divide the team up into smaller groups you work on catching and fielding. When you are dividing the team up, some players are playing their second t-ball season and some their first. You should develop in your head which players are a little more advanced than others and divide the team into stations with your assistant coaches and give them the drills according to their skill level.
And lastly end every practice with a team scrimmage giving every player at least one at bat and experience running the bases Rotate the players in the field so they get used to playing both the infield and the outfield. It’s during this team scrimmage you can explain teaching points such as what a force play is (try using the term “pushed” rather than forced) but try to keep the explanation brief and to the point.
I always leave an extra couple of minutes for another fun game to end the practice on a high note. I then end it with the team doing a lap, which I call a victory lap around the field because of how well they did at today’s practice. Reward young players with running rather than using it as a punishment. This pays long term dividends.
This is the basic template I recommend but any coach can change it anyway they want. The biggest key is to prepare before the season starts with a good list of drills. It may seem overwhelming at first but the drills will become more familiar to you as the season goes on. The practices you run with the drills you use will become strong advocates as to whether the players develop a passion and want to come back the following year. I have found that if you spend time planning to run stimulating practices, the results can be positively stunning! Play ball!
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.