Bullpen Routine: Keeping Pitchers Sharp

Here’s a copy of the bullpen routines that we use for our pitchers.  This document was put together by our pitching coach, Mr. Ryan Bemont.  The “Base Bullpen” and “Short Bullpen” are the two that we use the most.  As well, we will modify these routines during the season as needed.  The modification is based on which pitcher needs to be penned and how often he has thrown.  For example, if we have a commonly used pitcher, we may use a modified short pen between starts just to stay sharp and focus on mechanics.  If it is a player that may not be throwing as much, the longer routines will come into play. The short pen is the primary routine used before a game.

FB= fastball

CU= change up

CV= curve

DON’T PACK UP EARLY

 “Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow, because something may occur may occur to make to make you regret your premature action.”

-Aaron Burr

This one is part respect for your opponent and part superstition.  I guess the old saying about not counting your chickens comes to mind.  With only one inning left in the game, sometimes players get the bug to start packing up the equipment bags as though they are in some sort of hurry to leave.  Maybe they’ve got a hot date or something.  This is never a good idea whether a team is either winning or losing. 

In the lead, it is extremely disrespectful to your opponent to start packing up in anticipation of a victory.  And who wants to give the other team added motivation to come back and beat you? Not me.  When behind, a player that packs up gear is showing disrespect to his own team.  This type of player sends a “we suck, we can’t come back” message  to his teammates.  This should never be tolerated.  Hopefully, another player will see this poor display in action and convey the proper message to the not-so-sharp player.  Otherwise, it will be up to the coach to explain the situation.  I have found that a little extra cardiovascular activity will typically remedy this type of behavior.

Some people are more superstitious about baseball than others.  “Early gear packing” seems to be a big one.  I can remember coaches and players saying that this habit was taboo for years.  I suppose the fear is that some innocent bench player that is just trying to be tidy will upset the baseball gods.  In turn, the gods will strike that team down with horrible luck.  Though, we all know teams make their own luck.  Besides, there are no baseball gods.  Right?

Infield Pop-up Responsibility

There is nothing worse than when two or even three players are standing in the same area and a pop fly drops between them.  It is so demoralizing for a team. It can change the momentum of a game.  Outs are precious.  The defense can’t give them away.  This unfortunate event is typically the result of  one or more of the following three things:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. Lack of knowledge of responsibility
  3. Lack of leadership on the field

  • A pop-up on the infield is the responsibility of all infielders until someone takes charge
  • You can never yell too loud
  • It’s OK to call “Ball” too early; never too late
  • On pop-ups bordering two zones, the player further away from home plate trumps
    • Outfielders trump 2B & SS
    • SS trumps 3B
    • 2B trumps 1B
    • 3B & 1B trump C
  • P should only have to field pop-ups on the front of the mound area
  • P should direct traffic by calling the name of the player in the best position to catch the ball 

 

Mountains: Setting Player Expectations

Below is a handout that I gave to prospective players during an off-season meeting. I drew it up about 6 years ago. Simply, it describes the types of players needed to have a successful program.  I also like to share this at the pre-season parent meeting. I guess it would be similar to the classic, John Wooden “Pyramid of Success”.  The link below has a great printable version of Wooden’s “Pyramid”.

http://www.coachwooden.com/

 

Bulldog Baseball Player Types

Mountain- a champion, dedicated student, serious about weights, encourages others, involved in other sports, + leader, goes to camps, always relaxed & focused, wants to do extra, bottom line is “will help the team”

Rock- good student, does lift weights, occasional detention for tardy, sometimes satisfied with performance, plays summer ball, could be a leader but sometimes chooses not to be, bottom line is “won’t hurt the team”

Gravel- up & down student, very seldom in the weightroom, In School Suspension, frequent detentions for preventable reasons, leadership is limited to weekend party locations, plays summer ball, bottom line is “if things are going well he’s fine; if things get rough he may jump ship and point fingers”

Dust- MUST BE ELIMINATED, poor student, no weights,  In School Suspension, Out of School Suspension, constant detentions, KO of classes, talks a good game, may be very athletically gifted (not willing to be coached), party scene is central focus, nothing extra beyond the season, bottom line is “he will destroy team concept”

 Where do you fit?

TIMELY TRAVEL: Getting to Away Games on Time

 “Better never than late.”

-George Bernard Shaw

 school_busNo one likes to start a game late.  When a team arrives late, it’s has a tremendous ripple effect.  Players, coaches, umpires, parents, field maintenance personnel, and athletic directors, and local media are all affected.  Remember your game is an event. People make arrangements far in advance to be there. For example, let’s say a game is to start at 4:30 PM.  What is the proper time to arrive?  For my team, I would like to arrive at 3:30 and at the latest 3:45.   If you show up any later than that, everyone is making accommodations for your team and its lateness, which is resented by entire list of people previously mentioned.  Your team may be as polished as World Series champions, but if you show up late, the first impression your team will give is of Bush League champions.

Our conference may be the most spread out in the state of Illinois. Our shortest drive is 20 minutes.  On the flip-side, many of our opponents are 1 hour or better. Still 3 of those are very close to 2 hours.  Keep in mind that these trips are usually taken on “big yellows,” which is what we affectionately call our busses.  The drivers of these busses are instructed to drive at the exact speed limit, as they should. You can see how planning of road trips can be a nightmare.  To give our entire conference credit, the schools are all very good about handling the great distances.  On a given day that we have one of our longer trips scheduled, with the cooperation of our principal, we are able to get our players dismissed at 1:30.  The bus will leave at 1:45, and barring any extenuating circumstances we will arrive at the field at about 3:35 or 3:40.  If we make good time, and show up earlier, GREAT! 

Another way to be on top of this situation is to have some back up. The directions that bus companies give their drivers are usually good.  Although, on occasion they can be incorrect or out-dated.  With websites like mapquest.com it is easy for you as the coach to have some back up directions, just in case.  In turn, it’s always a good idea for the opposing coach to have your cell phone number and vice-versa.  This can come in handy for any one of a million variables that may come into play during the time in which your team leaves town and when it arrives to the destination.

Some coaches may be reading this and thinking, “Why do you need to be an hour early?”  Well, my answer is if you want to prepare your team to play that day, it takes time to do so.  Players will need to change shoes, stretch, run, throw, and perform their pre-game routine. Oh, I almost forgot, after 2 hours on a school bus, typically the closest restroom is in order. Nothing should be changed from what you do at home.  Good coaches allow time for good pre-game preparation.  If the coach is hurried, the players are hurried.  When people feel hurried, they get confused.  Isn’t it also possible that this confusion could carry over into the game?

PUT YOUR PRACTICE PURPOSE IN PRINT: The Importance of a Practice Plan

By creating a practice plan you give your practice a framework. Putting it on paper gives a coach a few advantages over other coaches that just “keep it upstairs”. Ultimately, the guys that go off the top of their head might as well be dumped on their head because one look at their unorganized practice would make even a bush league team cringe. Some may say, “Big deal, you’re making a list.” Yes, but the list is as detailed as you want it to be. A good practice plan allows a coach to group his players more effectively, manage practice time better, and motivate his/her players more easily.

Baseball and softball are very skill specific sports. Breaking your team up into small groups based on position is essential. For example, if a coach really wants to work on double play pivots with his middle infielders, does the whole team have to be working on this skill? No! The outfielders could be working on their footwork. The catchers, pitchers, and corner infielders could be working on bunt coverage. By separating into groups an hour worth of drill time could be condensed into 20 minutes, thus, leaving more time for other coaching points. The coach without this sort of plan on paper might have the whole team working on pivots. What a waste for the 10 players that may never play 2nd base or shortstop. Even worse, this same coach may have those 10 non-middle infielders just watching.

I am also a big advocate of social grouping at practice. For instance, we break up into 3 to 4 small groups for batting practice. I am the one that determines what players are in which groups. If allow the players to group themselves, they would always end up with the same players based on the buddy system. Thus, they are never building bonds with their other teammates. As well, buddies are more likely to mess around when no one is looking. Of course, my players would never do that. Yeah, right. They sometimes don’t like the fact that I pick the groups, but this is not a democratic process.

Efficiency of time is of the utmost importance with the teenage mind. A practice plan gives your practice a steady flow and quick-moving feel. By placing a time limit on a portion of your practice, a coach can be sure not have that session run too long. It is imperative that the video game, ESPN highlight, music video trained minds in which we are dealing not be under-stimulated. When a session drags on it becomes uninteresting and ultimately counterproductive. The time limit will prevent that from happening. It’s OK to go a little over the set time limit, but most of the time you’re better off to move on to the next portion of practice and return to the dragging session another day. Next, it stops your practices from turning into 3-hour marathons. I feel that a complete practice with 12-18 year olds should rarely last longer than 1 hr. and  45 min. Anything longer than that becomes drudgery for players and coaches. Lastly, by saving the practice plan, a coach can make notes on it for use in developing the next day’s plan or for future seasons’ plans. I know a football coach that has 30 years of practice plans filed away. This may sound crazy, but it’s really not. He explained it to me like this, “Some years are better than others, I want to be able to go back and review what was working in practice during good seasons.”

A curriculum and instruction professor in college discussed “advanced organizers” with our class one day. He started the class by acknowledging the word “TEST” written on the chalkboard. Nothing more, nothing less was written on the board. Being 40 paranoid college students in the room, we were relieved when he did say something about it. Our anticipation of an upcoming exam or possibly a pop quiz had all of us on the edge of our seats. There was no test scheduled for a month. He went on to explain that our focus on him and class was at its height due to an advanced organizer. The word “TEST” was the advanced organizer. It gave a group advance notice of an upcoming event. This tool can be as specific or as vague as you want. In this case it was vague. If your practice plan is posted for your players to see, it can have the same effect. For example, many drills are used daily. If the specific drills are written on the plan, the players will know when to expect a drill change. The transition to the next session will go much smoother. Alternatively, a vague note will spark players’ interest about a portion of practice. For example, I like to include an occasional skill oriented game in my practice plan. Just by putting the word “game” as one session of your practice, your players will anticipate that session eagerly. They will also work harder in preceding sessions, not wanting to lose the opportunity to play the game.  

 Here’s an example practice plan:

practplan

No matter what age of players that you may be coaching, a written practice plan is essential. Another good friend of mine says it like this, “KTSB”. That means “Keep Them Suckers Busy”. The plan eliminates idle time. Idle time leads to unnecessary distractions. Plan everything even down to the water breaks and the length of that break. If you plan for a three-minute water break, it will last three minutes or less. We’ve all seen practices and that the short water break turns into a 10 or 12 minute bull session. Well, if may not seem like a big deal, but in reality that could turn out be 10 to 12% of your practice time. What a waste! By planning for the rest periods at practice, announcing the length of the rest periods when they come, and sticking to that time, you’ll be much happier when the team transitions back to work mode. You’ll find that your team leaders, knowing that the break lasts only lasts a predetermined amount of time, will be back on the field ready to go before they actually need to be.

Nothing is cooler than having a player tell you that they really enjoy your practices, because the time goes so fast. Pace is everything. The trick is to mix pace with purpose. Chocking a practice plan full of activities for the sake of filling time is not the point. As a coach, you are a teacher. Each practice (or class) has a goal. Is it introduction of a new skill? Review? Quiz?

Lastly, I love hearing horror stories about the bad behavior of players. “Wait ‘til you get this kid. She/he is a real handful.” Or “That kid never practices hard.” As coaches we need to thrive on that challenge. Providing a quickly paced, skill filled, purposeful practice on a daily basis will typically meet that challenge head on. If you decide to wing it, without writing out a plan, you asked for it. The problem kid will eat you up, just like all of the other chumps that tried to work with that kid and couldn’t get it done.

POLISH PRE-GAME: Ideas on How to Design a Great Pre-game Routine

No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes a whole orchestra to play it. 

~H.E. Luccock

Your pre-game infield/outfield routine is extremely important. First impressions are important, aren’t they? Well here’s your chance. A fungo routine should be organized, positive, and keep everyone involved. If it is well structured your team can gain an edge in the “intimidation” factor.

For the routine to be effective, it has to be organized and practiced. That’s right, you need to practice your pre-game practice. You should run your pre-game routine around 30 times prior to the first game. If you have a youngner group of players, often times the amount of practices that you are allowed is less.  My advice its to practice it as much as you can, but maybe add levels of difficulty to it as the season progresses.

You and your players should shift from drill to drill in unison, quickly and efficiently. This tells your opponent that your team means business that day. If I have to tell my players where to go and what drill to start during pre-game, that says that my team is undisciplined and not well-practiced. I love showing up and seeing opposing players stumble around their supposed routine. As well, I doubly enjoy seeing their coach getting frustrated when it is going smoothly. My players and I can smell the blood in the water.

Keep in mind that being organized doesn’t mean flawless. Keep in mind that it is a pre-game practice. If a player makes a physical mistake, that’s a great time to make one. Better then than after the first pitch. The only time a reprimand should occur is when a player or players show a lack of hustle, not a lack of physical skill. Do not verbally reprimand your players for physical errors during this time. If a ball is misplayed come right back to that player and allow him to shore up his technique and boost his confidence. A positive vibe during this time is essential. Praise players all during this session. Also encourage the other players to encourage each other verbally. “Chatter” during this time keeps your guys loose and focused on the task at hand at the same time. To encourage positive talk during our pre-game infield sessions we’ve incorporated a specific point at which the chatter is to begin. We perform a “silent round” of fungoed ground balls. During this section the players simply focus on proper fielding and throwing technique for ground balls. When the round is done I say, “Hey Dogs! Ready to go?” I then announced the name of the next round, “5-4-3” which is a double play round. As well, the announcement of “5-4-3” serves as our players cue to begin chatter. The atmospheric contrast between the silent round and the chatter is a great attention grabber. The focus of our players is increased, and the other team knows who’s in town. I like to finish our full pre-game session with a loud team led “break”. For example, we use “1, 2, 3, TEAM!!!”

If you’d like to see a diagram of our routine click the link below:

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/pre-game-infieldoutfield-routine/

Organization is key. For the “teacher slash coaches” reading this, it’s all classroom management. Keep them moving with a purpose. A great way to do this is to have 2 or even 3 fungoes going simultaneously. We use 2. Standing between 2nd base and the mound, I start working cuts to the outfielders. Meanwhile, an assistant coach works ground balls and bunt fielding technique to the idle infielders. Later we add a second 1st baseman, or “short 1st” and work double plays and single put outs. I stand in foul territory on the 1st base side or home plate and my assistant stands opposite to me on the 3rd base side. Later still, we work our catchers’ throws to bases and pitchers covering first base during the same session. We try to get as a many important skills covered during a short period of time (usually 12-15 min.) as we can. In the same vein we try to get each individual player as many “touches” or times active with the baseball as we can. It really is a thing of beauty when the routine becomes etched in players’ minds. They move form session to session like clockwork and much more gets done. It will take time and practice though. Lastly, remember 2 or more fungoes going at once is a great idea, but this also means that 2 or more baseballs are flying around too. Baseballs will get loose. Keep this in mind when designing yours. Finally, when designing something for junior high players, modify for ability level. Arms are simply not as strong at that age. Modify, but don’t dumb it down.

Here are some cool Youtube clips that I found.  They are good examples of a teams maximizing their time and touching upon many skills during pre-game. The first two clips are baseball and the third is a softball example.  Fastpitch softball teams, often times, have very quick and efficient pre-game routines. There are a ton of things to be learned by watching  good softball teams do their pre-game routines. Although, these are not the only examples. My advice is to watch what other teams do and ultimately create something that is yours. 

Please feel free to comment. Especially, if you have any ideas to share 🙂