One mark of being a great coach is the ability to run an efficient practice. The last thing that players want is a marathon practice. During my days as a coach, I had three weeks to prepare my team from the first official practice date until the opener. Needless to say, that’s not much time when you have to cover the following; first and thirds, bunt coverages, cut relays, base running, pitcher’s picks, run-down responsibilities, and then throw in individual instruction! With this being said, conditioning gets thrown on the back burner a lot of the times due to time constraints. This may not be earth shattering, but combining low-level instructional aspects of the game with conditioning may help a coach to keep practice times to less than three hours (although I preferred a 2.5 hour practice). Put yourself in the shoes of a high school athlete that just went through a long practice and now they have to run basic sprints. It’s not the most exciting thing to do, so why not combine the training into practice? The following are some considerations for coaches in being efficient in structuring their conditioning into instruction.
This may have been my favorite while serving as a coach. I wanted my players to chew up the base paths and be on the aggressive side at all times. We EXPECTED base runners to advance on balls in the dirt. We did this by having aggressive secondary leads and anticipating the catcher’s knees hitting the ground. You can preach this all you want, but without actually doing it outside of a game situation, I wouldn’t expect your players to pick this up. This is also a great drill for catchers to work on blocks and recoveries.
1) Divide your team equally at each base
2) Have two or three rotating catchers
3) 1 coach on the mound with a bucket of balls
One player at each base will get their lead based upon the coach simulating coming set. The coach will then deliver the pitch and at that point players will get an aggressive secondary lead. The base runners shift their focus from the pitcher to the catcher, and anticipate the catcher having to block a ball. If the ball is in the dirt, the player advances. If the ball is received, they simply get back hard to the bag.
Vary the type of deliveries on the mound: Left-hand hang and read, slide step, mix picks, etc.
Rundowns for Conditioning
When I first started to teach rundowns, I wanted to instill the basic fundamentals before I entered into rundown responsibilities during specific situations (i.e. picked runner at first, second, third, or any other crazy situation you have seen in high school baseball). No matter how you teach the actual rundown (follow throw, peel back, verbals, etc) you can structure this into your practice.
1) Three separate lines that are 90 feet long – Use cones if you are inside or in the outfield.
2) At least two position players at each cone/base.
3) Outfielders will be used as the base runners.
4) 1 ball per line.
The base runner will start about 15 feet out from the cone/base. The position player will start with the ball nearest the base runner (simulating a picked base runner). From there, each line will execute a rundown utilizing whatever cues you give your team. I always preferred for the opposite position player to close the base runner down, dictate when the ball is given up by using a verbal and a glove flash (I’ll leave that up to you).
Save this drill for a rainy day where you are either inside or in the outfield. Even if your infield is under water you can still work on infielder drills while accomplishing some conditioning as well.
3-2-1 Base Running
As I stated earlier, sprints often are boring to players and become monotonous. Incorporate base running instruction with sprint conditioning and you will give your players more intent, all while accomplishing an interval style conditioning session. 3-2-1 is very basic: 3 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple.
1) Have your entire team line up at home plate.
2) 1 coach in front of the mound, first base, and at third base.
Singles: Each time a player runs a single, the must peek out of the box to locate where the ball is in play. The coach in front of the mound may signal a few things. Each will indicate whether the player makes an aggressive round at first, or runs through the bag. You can accomplish a few things in regards to instruction: If the player is peeking out of the box to locate the ball and is the player taking the proper turns at first base or running hard through the bag on a ball on the infield.
Doubles: In the doubles round the team will run two doubles and execute proper turns at first base. I used a cone between first and second base to simulate staying within the base path. Once the player gets within 15 feet of second base, consider instructing them to start picking up the third base coach. Consider consequences for not executing picking up the coach. Again, this is a way to reinforce the little aspects of the game that add up.
Triples: In the triples round the team will run one triple and execute the same things as in the doubles round. Make sure your players peek out of the box, make proper/efficient turns at first base, and pick up the third base coach as they approach second base and third base.
In simulating an interval-like effect, let each player reach first base before allowing the next player to start their sprint. Allow players to walk back to home plate before beginning the next sprint.
These three drills are a great way for a coach to be efficient in accomplishing instruction and sprint conditioning. As coaches, we are always striving to figure out ways to motivate players, keep practice upbeat, and become better as a team. Coaches do not have to set the world on fire with the most recent sprint conditioning model put out by the top strength and conditioning experts. Yes, there are times when conditioning should be on point, but given the nature of coaching high school baseball and the limited amount of time coaches have with players, combining drills with conditioning is a necessity.