Have you ever noticed that the amount of time spent practicing baseball and the amount of time actually playing games is extremely lopsided? Starting at a young age and continuing through high school and college, athletes put more time, effort, sweat, blood, and tears into practicing compared to actual game time. As a coach, you should know this more than anyone. You need those practices to help your team and individual players develop their skills. The more ground balls they can field, the more swings they can take in the cages, and the more bullpens they can throw will help them better prepare for the actual games. If all these practices are meant to make the player and team better, then is a team who puts in more practice time better than one who puts in less? Absolutely not. It is not about the quantity of practice, but rather the quality. In order to have quality practices, you have to maximize practice time. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your time on the practice field.
1. If you’re on time, you’re late. Once you set your practice time, make it known to your players that you expect to start practice at that time, not a second later. That means, if practice is at 4 PM, players should be arriving 10-15 minutes before this time to get their cleats on, equipment ready, and get the small talk out of the way. A 4 PM start time does not mean you show up to the field at 4 PM. At 4 PM, players should be starting their warm-up routine.
2. Have a written schedule. Break your practice down into different parts: warm-up, infield/outfield, hitting, positional breakdowns, etc. Dedicate a set number of minutes to each aspect and make sure your other coaches are on the same page as you. When time expires on a specific drill be ready to move on to the next one. If you anticipate that your players may have trouble with a specific part of practice, be sure to allow extra time to work on those fundamentals. Post the schedule in the dugout before practice so players can review what practice will cover that day. And stick to the schedule. Baseball players love routine and structure.
3. Emphasize hustle. Make sure your team knows that you only have a set number of hours to practice and that you don’t want to waste valuable minutes transitioning from one part of practice to another. No walking from one part of the field to the other. If a player needs water or needs to get equipment, he should do so when it will not slow down the pace of practice. Any down time needs to be limited (unless it’s in the practice plan) so as to get the most out of your team’s practice time. This atmosphere of hustle will translate to the drills themselves and later into games.
4. End practice on time. If you want your time as a coach to be valued by your players, you need to value their time as well. Taking practice over the allotted time shows the same disrespect to your players as them showing up late. Furthermore, when the team knows that practice will end on time, they will be more apt to take the time they have on the field seriously.
These are just a few ways to manage your time better when on the practice field. There should never be a wasted moment when you could be spending it improving your players’ skills. The more efficient you and your players can be in practice, the better prepared your team will be when it comes time for a game. Quality over quantity.