The first impression that many first-time baseball players receive of America's pastime is swinging a soft ball off a tee. If a player doesn't enjoy their time in tee ball, there's a good chance they won't move on to Little League, and then high school, and even the Major Leagues. If you're a first-time coach or even an experienced coach looking to expand on your practice plan, JustBats is all about helping.
As a coach, it is your job to not only teach these tee ballers the fundamentals of the game but to make sure they're having fun in the process. All the while, you need to ensure you are organized, engaging, and motivational. While there are many different kinds of drills you can run, these are the top five drills that put the fun in fundamentals:
1. Running the bases.
At this age, it is more about getting outdoors and exercising, which is why running the bases is a great starter drill. Bring a stopwatch and see who can run to a base in a given time. Start by leading the pack and naming each base as you round it. If you're energetic, when you get to home plate, celebrate as if someone hit a grandslam in the bottom of the 9th inning to win the World Series. The kids will love it!
Or, to teach your team how to sprint out a groundball, you can have them race down the first baseline. Place yourself just past first base down the foul line and have them race past you and then jog back to home plate and do it all over again (high fives are a must as they run past you). Both of these base running drills are a great way to get your players active and working up a sweat.
2. Partner toss.
Get them to learn to love playing catch. Every dad's dream is to have their tee baller ask them to go out into the front yard for a game of catch. Have each player get with a partner of their choice and stand about 10 feet apart. If you have an odd number, this is your time to shine! Throwing is essential in the game of baseball and should be worked on at every practice. Before you begin, go over the proper mechanics of the throw. Break it down into sections and have each player go through it step-by-step during their throws.
3. Dirty Diamond.
Split your team into two groups. Place each group on either side of a line (preferably one in the outfield). Put the same amount of baseballs on each side of the line and yell, "go!" Give them 60 seconds (or however much time you feel is appropriate) and have them throw the balls back and forth as quickly as they can. The team with the most amount of balls at the end of the time has the dirty diamond, and the other team wins. Keep in mind that it should be voiced that the players DO NOT throw the balls at each other. Simply throw them over the players or on the ground to the left or right.
4. Station work.
This one is assuming you have assistant coaches. It is extremely important to minimize the amount of down time when coaching tee ball players. These younger players need to be constantly engaged and moving; otherwise, they'll get bored quickly and start falling off into la la land. Split your team up into groups of 3-4:
- Batting practice. Have players take batting practice off a tee or, if they're crushing it, soft toss. For players that seem to be struggling and are starting to get visibly frustrated, bust out a mini soccer ball or dodge ball. That's guaranteed to increase their confidence. This is also a great opportunity to talk about hitting mechanics to each player. Keep those hands back, feet shoulder width apart, and emphasize good hand position. Once they get the hang of those fundamentals, you may move on to more in-depth mechanics, such as coming through the hitting zone with a level plane, adding a step to start their swing, or following through. Don't forget to focus on keeping your eye on the ball!
- Fielding. Preach about not getting scared of the ball. Pop flies may be a rough starting point so it would be best to work on grounders and work your way up.
- Stretching / Bodyweight exercises. Ask any elite baseball player about the importance of staying in shape and remaining flexible, and they'll tell you that stretching and working out are a part of their daily routine. Have the groups work as a team and count to ten together for each stretch. Pushups, situps, and jumping jacks are all great ideas for players of this age.
Everybody's favorite game. There is no better way to end a productive practice than a competitive game of pickle or rundown. This is when a baserunner is stuck between two bases and is in jeopardy of being tagged out. Place yourself on one base and your assistant coach on the next. Have kids go one at a time or all at once. Tag each kid out until you get them down to one and start it all over again. This is guaranteed to be a home run with the players.
What do you think? Do you use any of these drills at your tee ball practice? Which one is your favorite? Did we leave out your favorite?
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