Practice Planning for Fun
It is said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first impression you want to make on your players as a coach is that this is going to be fun!
Make it so from the start. Bring some energy to the field, along with jokes and riddles. Be willing to be corny. Smile. Laugh. Encourage and reward your players when they do the same. Just make it genuine. And how could it not be genuinely fun when you get to coach, and they get to play such a great game?
"But what about winning?" you may ask. Well, winning is fun, and to a great extent having fun makes you a winner on and off the field. So, here are some ideas on how to make practice fun.
Everyone tell a joke or funny story during warmups. That way, the outgoing kids establish their leadership and the introverts start to come out of their shells. The newly outgoing players begin to gain confidence that feeds into their performances at the plate, on the mound, in the field, and perhaps most importantly, in the dugout. It also helps the players bond so that they're willing to "go to bat" for each other in challenging times on or off the field.
Recognize birthdays and other milestones. Let your players know that you care about them. Have the player whose birthday comes next sing happy birthday to today's birthday boy or girl. Give the players a chance to express pride in their school grades or a sibling's accomplishment.
Make every drill a competition. Kids love to compete. They're keeping mental score even when you are not. Zig-zag drill? Whoever finishes it cleanly first, or with the fewest drops after several trips down the line, gets a treat. Timed baserunning? Make it a relay race.
Keep things moving. No standing around waiting for reps. If you're doing rundown drills with five players, and you have 15 on your roster, conduct three rundown drills. You may not be able to watch all three at once and technically pick apart each throw -- but then again, technically picking apart each throw is no fun, anyway, and the other 10 players who would have been left standing around are now engaged, appreciative of the fun, and maybe tired enough to listen intently to your summary praise and criticism of their drill.
Test players in different positions. Give players a chance to audition all over the field. It's fun for them to learn, and it's fun and productive to have your regulars in those positions help their teammates learn. Meanwhile, your natural pitchers, catchers and shortstops will come to understand the humility involved in playing right field. When they better understand what their teammates experience while waiting for some action, they will empathize and become better teammates.
Celebrate achievement. Positively reinforce accomplishment as often as possible. Be careful not to overdo it. Faint, shallow praise will fall on deaf ears as will your future, sincere, earned praise. But any time any player legitimately steps it up a notch in effort or results, celebrate -- sometimes with ice cream.
Three words. Home run derby. Modify it so that all players can see success and have a good time.
You can learn more about the importance of keeping things fun in this video of PCA national advisory board member and Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, which is included in PCA's website of free resources at www.PCADevZone.org.
More free resources for youth- and high-school-sports coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes from Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) are available at www.PCADevZone.org. Information on partnering your local youth baseball team with PCA for workshops and other training is available at www.PositiveCoach.org.