Base Running Drill: Runner at Second Base “Decision Drill”

runner at 2nd drill

This drill was developed due to a fatal mistake that I had made.  The mistake was using the most ridiculous 6 word sentence that any coach in any sport  ever uses, which is, “THEY SHOULD KNOW THAT BY NOW!”  Never assume that your players know the right things to do, especially in situational aspects of the game.  Just because you might be a good teacher of the game doesn’t mean that any other coach that your players have had are good teachers. What I was running into was, that when runners were on second base with less than 2 outs they were getting greedy on ground balls hit to 3rd base and shortstop.  They would wait for the infielder to throw the ball and then attempt to take third base.  Or, they would increase their secondary lead so much that they were too far from 2nd base. Some of you are reading this and are thinking, that’s what  they should do.  I will admit that in little league and against some of your poorer junior high and high school competition, that getting to 3rd base in this situation is very easy, but I don’t think that is the correct way to prepare young baseball and softball players for real competitive situations.  In reality, a good team will look the runner back, fake a throw to first and pick the runner off at 2nd base, or throw over to 1st base and the 1st baseman will throw the runner out at third. I just don’t think that kids are consistently given a set of rules for how to react when they are a runner at 2nd base with less than 2 outs.

Needed for this drill:

  • 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, SS, & third baseman
  • Line of base runnersin short CF. Don’t be afraid to have 2 base runners go during each repetition. Have one runner stand deeper than the other runner. This is a good way to increase reps.
  • Coach and catch-in person at home plate

Here are the rules for the base runners that they are given before we run this drill:

  1. Ball hit in front of you (3rd base side of the runner) take two steps back towards 2nd base.  Find 2nd baseman in order make sure the throw from 3rd or SS isn’t coming to 2nd base. Basically, it a no go.
  2. Ball hit at you, break for 3rd base.
  3. Ball hit behind you (2nd base side of the runner), break for 3rd base.
  4. Make sure line drives get through. There is nothing worse than losing a runner at 2nd base on a line drive to SS, especially to end and inning. What a momentum killer!

Benefits of the drill:

  • Runners get realistic look at an awkward baseball situation
  • Emphasizes the important of being in scoring position and how not to lose it
  • Infielders get to simulate a real situation too. 3b and SS get work looking runners back. 2b gets to react back to the base. All of them get fielding practice.
  • As a coach, you can have a runner make a mistake on purpose.  This will lead into more coaching points. For example, have a runner get off to far and get in a rundown.  Rundowns can never be practiced enough.
  • Players are forced to think!!! And they are given the tools to make it easier.

If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to comment. Your thoughts are welcome!!!

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably enjoy the following:

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/baseball-softball-fielding-drill-fungo-baseballsoftball/

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/baseball-softball-fielding-drill-the-bucket-game/

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/throwing-progression-for-accuracy-arm-strength-playing-catch-the-right-way/

Baseball & Softball Fielding Drill: Fungo Baseball/Softball

First things first. Let’s define an underused word in baseball and softball circles. That word is……… FUNGO. Here is the definition from the following source:

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fungo

fun·go (fngg)

n. pl. fun·goes Baseball A fly ball hit for fielding practice by a player who tosses the ball up and hits it on its way down with a long, thin, light bat.
 
Fungo bats are usually 36 or 37 inches long.  Due their thinner, lighter design, they are a very versatile tool for any coach. It is so much easier to hit hundreds of grounders and fly balls with a fungo than with a regular bat.  As well, with the prices of today’s top end bats, a $35 fungo makes more sense. Don’t dent the $350 war clubs in your bat bag.
 
They can either be wood or aluminum. I encourage you to use a wood one. If not, I will make fun of you like I do my good friend Bill Booker at LaSalle-Peru H.S. for using his aluminum one. If you choose the wood fungo, I would recommend taping the barrel.  If you hit a good number of fungoes, the tape will increase the durability of the bat. I took the tape off of one once. The barrell was like sawdust, but I re-taped it and it was ready to go.  One season, I figured it out, between the  high school, American Legion, an junior high seasons I had hit over 10,000 fungoes. Tape it up!
 
Below, you’ll see two fungo bats in comparison to a regular baseball bat.
Two Fungo Bats in Comparison to a Regular Baseball Bat  
Alright, let’s get to the drill. “Fungo Baseball/Softball” is a great drill for fielding and base running.  It’s the same as playing an inter-squad scrimmage, except the pitchers do not throw live, and the hitters toss the ball to themselves and hit fungoes where they want.  It is set up as a competitive game with an endless amount of teaching points. I really like to do this drill early in the season in order to simulate some real game like situations, and also when you’re on a hot streak and you’re looking to keep your team sharp on the little things like relays, backing up, and communication.
 
Here’s the set up: 
  1. Break your team up into 2 or 3 teams. If you do 2 teams you’ll need 8 or 9 on a team with a player for each defensive position. If you only have 8 on a team you can eliminate either the pitcher, catcher, or one outfielder based on what is a priority for your team that day.  If  you only have 12-15 players on your team break it up into 3 teams of 4-5. Then place two of the teams on defense and one team hitting fungoes. No matter what, have the teams and batting orders pre-made before practice. This will eliminate unnecessary downtime during practice.
  2. The game can last as long as you want. I recommend no longer than 45 min.
  3. You play 3 out half innings, just like a real game.
  4. Each inning can start differently in order to add a twist. I would encourage you to script it. For example:
  • 1st inning- nobody on base
  • 2nd inning- runner on first
  • 3rd inning- bases loaded
  • 4th inning- ????? whatever you want, be creative!

Offensive rules:

  1. A swing and a miss = out (you’ll be surprised how many of these you’ll see)
  2. Home run= out
  3. Foul ball= out (rules 1,2, & 3 are there to encourage work for your defense & no wasted time)
  4. All other outs are accumulated according to regular rules.
  5. Base runners are limited to a one step lead or no lead at all.
  6. No bunts. Full swings only.
  7. No stealing.

Defensive rules:

  1. Pitcher must simulate a pitch to start the action, only then can the hitter swing.
  2. In the case that an outfielder catches a fly ball in foul territory it shall count as 2 outs for the offense.
  3. All defensive players must perform a pre-pitch walk-in or “creep step” with the pitchers motion.

As I had previously mentioned, the amount of teaching points is limitless.  The length of the game will really depend on how often you stop the action in order to discuss points related to base running, backing up throws, fielding techniques, and etc.  If you have assistant coaches, have them distributed throughout the field in order to help with certain teaching points on the spot, thus eliminating full stoppages of the game.  Now get out there and start putting the “FUN” back into fungo. I know that’s pretty corny, but I couldn’t help myself 🙂

If you have any comments, suggestions, or additions to this post, please feel free to comment.
 
If you liked this post, you’ll probably enjoy the following:
 
 
 
 

 

 

Tips for Baseball Pitchers: Finding Target Line

Target lineThis one is for baseball pitchers that miss wide of the plate, either right or left.  A common thought on pitching is for the pitcher to get everything they’ve got going towards the catcher. In other terms, we want the pitcher to get all of their weight and momentum going in the correct direction. For example, I like to ask a pitcher how much they weigh. If the say “175 pounds”, then I say, “Well you need to get all of those 175 pounds going in the correct direction.”  We do not want  25-50 of those pounds going in some other direction.  Loss of  effort and force in the direction of our goal (the catcher’s mitt) means lost velocity and control. 

“Target line” is a term that many coaches use with pitchers.  It basically means that there is an invisible line from the center of the rubber that extends through the center of home plate. As pitchers become more advanced, they can adjust target line on their own in order to hit different spots.

The real fight with this one is to get the player to understand how to perform the physical task of staying on target line with their front foot, and placing it into their muscle memory. The earlier that you teach this concept, the easier it will be. I start teaching this concept to players as young as 7.  But a 15 year old that does not stay on target line may have 8-10 years of bad habits built into his muscle memory and it will take longer to correct.

How do we get the pitcher to target line?

  1. Begin from set position or “stretch”. Make sure the front foot (strike point foot) has the ball of  that foot has target line running right through it.
  2. The foot in contact with the rubber (post foot) can either be even with target line or slightly offset (behind). It really is a comfort level thing for the pitcher.
  3. After balance or knee lift, the front foot that started on target line should land slightly open(45°), but back on target line. If the foot lands totally open or pointing at the catcher, the hip will open up too early and a velocity loss will occur. Compare this to how a front foot should land when a player is hitting. A great tool to use to teach this skill is a balance beam or simply a 2×4.  If  don’t have either of those, draw a line in the dirt or use a line on a gym floor.  Have the pitcher go from the stretch to strike point repeatedly. If the pitcher’s front foot lands off target line the beam will give instant feedback.
  4. Encourage pitchers to direct their chin towards the catcher as well.  This will prevent unnecessary force going away from target line.
  5. From the wind up, young pitchers seem to start with their feet directly in the center of the rubber. Well, too often this encourages them to be off target line. I like to start righties on the left half of the rubber and lefties on the right half.  As pitchers get older they can vary this position.  For example, as a pitcher gets older throwing the ball right down the heart of the plate is not always the best thing to do. Adjust target line to meet their efforts to hit corners and also to come inside from the opposite side of the rubber.
  6. Another great drill to reinforce this concept is “step behinds.” It is described in the following post: https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/throwing-progression-for-accuracy-arm-strength-playing-catch-the-right-way/

Here are some cool clips from Don Cooper of the Chicago White Sox. A good friend and I were actually at this clinic. I’m a Cubs fan (and a new D’backs fan….Go Clay!!!) and even I’ll say he was an AWESOME speaker!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjnbLg3UzKQ&feature=PlayList&p=F9D23C1C6B677D76&index=29

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTndWLd0skk&feature=PlayList&p=F9D23C1C6B677D76&index=28

Please check out this poll related to pitch counts. I want your opinion!!!

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/pitchcounts-baseball/

 

Baseball & Softball Fielding Drill: The Bucket Game

Bucket Drill

This is designed to be a fun fielding drill. Divide the players into 2 teams. Place one team at SS and the other at 2B.  Have 2 coaches alternate hitting to each team. Each coach will need a bucket of balls.

Objective: Field a ground ball cleanly while moving forward and hit one of  the two buckets placed on home plate. 

Scoring: One bucket should be placed on top of the other. The top bucket is worth 3 points. The bottom bucket is worth 1 point. The top bucket is worth more in order to encourage better throws that a catcher could handle in a game situation.  It’s up to you, but I allow younger kids to bounce it in, and it still counts. Depending on age and the skill level of your group adjust the scoring accordingly.

I like to draw a line in the dirt as starting point for 2 reasons:

  1. If you don’t, the players will start creeping closer to the bucket in order to make the throw shorter as the drill continues.
  2. You want to keep the players in the habit of moving forward on ground balls. They must actually field the ball in front of the line, but they can’t cross the line until the ball is hit by the coach.
  3. It also allow me to adjust the depth.  One day your team may do it at the edge of the infield grass, and sometimes deeper. Depth could also be varied throughout the game.

I recommend hitting through each team 5-7 times.  The team with the most points wins. I also suggest making it worth something for the winning team.  The winning team could have their end of practice conditioning cut in half, or maybe they could watch the other team put all of the gear away. Be creative.  I like the competitive nature of the drill, and it simulates an aggressive throw to the plate.  Players of all ages (t-ball to college) will really get into it. Enjoy 🙂

If you have any variations on this drill or ideas on how to make this drill better please leave a comment.

If you like this drill, check out this one:

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/7-point-drill/

Baseball Pitching Drill: “3 Hops”

pitching3hopsdrill

I really like this drill for players ages 12 and up.  This comes with one reservation. If the player can not hold a balanced knee lift for 7-10 seconds, this drill is probably a bit too advanced.  For me, a balanced knee lift is defined as the knee lifted towards the rear armpit so the the upper leg is parallel to the ground or higher with the weight gathered over the back foot.  Meanwhile, the player needs to be able to do this with out tilting his shoulders back in order to maintain balance. If that is the case, then the player should simply work on getting to that position, being able to hold it & repeat. Only then, is the “3 hops” drill is appropriate.

This drill is outstanding for players to develop body control and core strength.  Ultimately, we want the pitcher to be able the control balance throughout  the hops. If the player loses balance at any point prior to the 3rd hop, he should stop and begin again, as opposed to finishing the rep in an incorrect manner. After the last hop, it’s imperative that you pay attention to foot strike as the player throws the ball. It should still be initiated on the in-step ball of foot and with weight 75-80% back, just as it should as if the pitcher were throwing a pitch without the hops.  The foot should land slightly closed, not pointing directly at the target in order to prevent premature hip rotation. One goal of the drill is to be able to maintain good mechanics despite the hops, not create a bad habit, such as, landing heavy on the front foot.  Thus, one variation you may want to try is to have the pitcher freeze at foot strike after the 3rd hop without actually throwing the ball. Then, check for proper foot strike and ball position. Lastly, I suggest starting to teach this drill on flat ground.  Then, move up to the mound. This will increase the player’s chance of success with the drill.

Initially, I like to include verbal cues with this drill. Such as:

  1. “Ready” (starts in stretch position)
  2. “Balance” (make sure they’re here before 1st hop is cued)
  3. “Hop, Hop, Hop” (1/2 second between hops) 
  4. “Go!” (meaning throw)

As the player becomes accustomed to the drill.  The coach should reduce the verbal cues and allow the player to self-coach and pace himself.  Finally at mastery, you should be able to have your more disciplined players do this drill on the side as part of a bullpen session on his own. Lastly, don’t be afraid to bring the player(s) back to basics with the verbal cues from the coach.

Baseball & Softball: Throwing Progression for Accuracy & Arm Strength “Playing Catch the Right Way”

IMG_0222One question that I get all the time is, “My son or daughter’s arm needs to get stronger. What can I do?”

Well, I really think it depends on age. For players ages 5-11, I say…… “Mechanics, Mechanics, Mechanics”. Learning to use larger muscle groups more effectively is the key.  This is difficult, because much of it requires balance and core strength, which the majority of these players ages 5-11 have very little. Teaching concepts, such as:

  1. Getting weight on the balls of their feet prior to throwing
  2. Weight slightly back
  3. Reaching back and showing the ball as if someone was standing behind them. This is especially difficult with girls because they really have to fight “big ball, little hands”. I saw it when my daughter first picked up an 11″ ball, from playing with a 9″ baseball in t-ball. Then I saw it again this year when she transitioned into a league that uses a 12″ ball.
  4. Eyes on target. I like to tell kids to pick a spot in their partners glove the size of a dime, see it, and throw to it.
  5. Step with the glove-side foot towards the target. Although, I suggest refraining from telling them to “point their toe at their partner”. I believe that this eventually promotes players, especially future pitchers, to landing heavy (too much weight forward).  Focus on getting the whole leg and foot  going towards the target in a soft, but aggressive manner.
  6. Extend the previous step by teaching a crow hop to help smaller bodies use momentum.
  7. Getting elbows “equal & opposite” distance from each other after separation.
  8. Release ball in front and let arm follow through after release. I like to tell kids to “waive good-bye”.
  9. Finish with a “clean glove-side”. This simply means allowing the glove-side elbow to collapse as the throwing arm comes through its motion. When the glove-side elbow remains stiff , the glove will finish below the waist.  Often times this will lead to players losing accuracy, usually high.
  10. Lastly, make sure that their “playing catch” partners provide a good chest high target. You should emphasize that recievers of throws have their thumbs together at chest level in order to help their partner.

For older players (ages 12 & beyond) here’s a typical throwing progression that  I’ve used:

Daily Throwing or “Playing Catch” Progression

  1. On Knees; place throwing elbow on glove at chest high & elbow up; allow  upper to remain still & only bend elbow and release the ball; make sure hand extends downward after release (hand should not look like it’s throwing darts); possibly use a ball with one ring of tape around it in order to emphasize proper rotation; 8-12′ apart; 10-12 reps.
  2. Flat Footed Facing Partner; emphasize “equal & opposite” elbows & “clean glove-side”; Twist torso; 15-25′ apart;  10-12 reps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  3. Glide (Transfer weight on balls of feet);   place feet on target line at a distance as thought they’ve already strided the glove-side foot to throw; opposite foot position of the previous step; rock forward-back-forward while maintaining the nose over the belly button; release ball to partner on 2nd forward movement; 20-30′ apart ; 8-10 reps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  4. Step & Throw (separation & strike point); Basically, just like #5 listed above ; now emphasize glove-side foot landing on the in-step ball of foot at about a 45 degree angle; 40-60′ apart based on age & strength; 10-15 reps.
  5. Step Behinds; baseball pitchers only; for balance & target line; start in a stretch position; back foot steps behind front foot towards target; knee lift towards rear armpit & throw; great chance to work on touch pitches like change-ups; 45-60′ apart; 10-15 reps
  6. Long-toss; gradually moving back from each other; using crow hops; emphasize “no rainbows”; straight throws as if they were an outfielder throwing through a cut-off man; the highest a ball should get is twice the players height; get to a distance where partners are one hopping each other; 100-130′ apart based on age & strength; 5-7 reps.
  7. Run Daily; Running helps the arm recover.

On a regular basis, players need to do more than “loosen up”.  To often this “loosening up” time ends up being a social session for not only the players, but also the coaches. Thus, this allotted time usually lasts longer than necessary with no goal in mind. Arms need to get stronger as the season progresses.  Be patient. In turn, keep an eye on your team. If you’ve played 6 games in 5 days. It may be wise to have a light arm day. Rest is necessary. That’s you have your team “loosen up” with 5 minutes as the maximum, or do not throw at all.

Please click below and visit my poll on pitch counts. I want your opinion. Please vote!!!

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/pitchcounts-baseball/

Baseball Instruction from MLB Network: Diamond Demos Marathon

This Sunday, June 7th, the MLB network will be having a “Diamond Demos” marathon from 12 noon to 3:30 pm (CST). Diamond Demos reminds me a little bit of the old, Johnny Bench “Baseball Bunch”stuff.  The only thing missing are the poor child actors, the San Diego Chicken,  Tommy Lasorda in a wizard costume (engulfed in a puff of smoke), and more powder blue than legally allowed.

Cast of "The Baseball Bunch"

Cast of "The Baseball Bunch"

Man, I miss that show.  Seriously, there was some great instructional advice on the Baseball Bunch. I specifically remember the episodes with Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, and Ozzie Smith (all of which were notorious Cub killers). Here’s an interesting link to a New York Times article about the Baseball Bunch and a must see clip:

http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/remember-the-baseball-bunch/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es04Seu21bQ

Diamond Demos is an in studio show that features MLB players and managers, both current and former, giving excellent instructional information for all ages. Everything from bunting to baserunning is covered.

 I know it’s channel 213 on DirecTV. Unfortunatley, Dish Network and some cable companies do not carry the MLB network. For your convenience, I’ve added the MLB network link. You can find their on air schedule very easily. Get those DVR’s Ready!!!