A T-ball practice is one of the hardest things to run as a coach. I have to say I am usually far more tired after running a one hour T-ball practice as compared to a three hour 12 year old practice. It’s sad that we make our newest coaches run the hardest practices. We give them very little training and this site is an attempt to help.
Start of Practice
The key is to keep things moving and to have EVERY minute planned out. If you think you can wing it, you can, but it won’t be as good as if you have a plan. Think about what you want the kid’s to learn during the practice and focus on that. Keep all team speeches to under 15 seconds. 10 seconds is even better. Get to practice early and set up the stations before anyone shows up. If you spend the first few minutes setting things up while kids are around, it’s just a recipe for disaster. Take control and show the team and the parents that you are in charge. Be clear with everyone, speak clearly and make sure you get on one knee when you talk to the players so you can talk to them face to face.
T-ball usually has a one hour practice. I highly recommend the first 5-10 minutes to go to the wide receiver drill. In this drill you have a line of kids and then you send one out for a pass and then toss them a tennis ball as they are running. They won’t catch it, but they’ll have fun. Set up a cone where the line should start and assign a parent to make sure the line is good (kids spaced and not touching each other). To start the drill, look at the player and say READY. Have the player say YES COACH! Then say GO!. Player then runs about 10 feet to a cone and cuts to the right and you throw ball to them. Underhand toss designed to have them catch on a slight run. Trust me, only one or two catches if at all will happen, but the drill gets kids moving and also gets them to learn that they are to listen to you. It establishes your classroom. Also if kids are late, it doesn’t mess anything up as it only takes 3-4 kids to start the drill and you can grow to 8-10 with no problem. If you have an assistant who can manage this you can start a new line and maximize more reps. At the end of ten minutes, get the players to come to one knee, tell them what you’ll be covering in practice, assign them an initial station and off they go. It’s usually good to practice getting them on one knee a couple of times. Have them do it, when they fall all over each other and goof around have them get up, run ten yards to a new spot and try getting on one knee then. I suggest 3-5 minutes of practicing getting on one knee looking the coach in the eye and not making noise is very good for the first practice. You must establish a learning environment and kids can’t learn if they are goofing around and not looking at the coach. Be patient, don’t lose your temper just say “OH! Guess we have to try it again and then run to a new spot and say ONE KNEE.” Establishing ONE KNEE as the classroom environment is really a good thing. I had one older kid when he met a kid who was going to play for me, looked at him and said, “Be ready for a LOT of ONE KNEE.”
End of Practice
To end practice, I highly recommend a game of pickle. Use tennis balls. The whole team can play at once, but its nicer if you set up players running between first and second and also third and home. Put a coach on each base. Instruct players they will be running back and forth from first to second or from third to home. The only time I really got worried about this was when one player came barrelling toward third after running from first to second and of course the players running between third and home could have collided with the player running from second. So take your time and make it clear they run ONLY from first to second OR third to home. Then have coaches throw the tennis ball back and forth and encourage players to run from one base to the next without being tagged. So the coach on 2nd throws to 1st and the runners all leave first during the throw. They are now in a run down and they go back and forth. Have coaches throw back and forth and make tags when players are close to the bag. So players will occasionally get out. Any player that is out has to go to the pither’s mound where coaches are around to toss them the ball. Three catches and they can go back to the game of pickle. Encourage coaches to get them to run and encourage players to pay attention and don’t just run into the fielder who has the ball. This teaches some awareness of baserunning and kids love it. It’s a great way to end practice.
MINUTS 20-50 should vary at the early season, mid season and late season.
Lets assume you have 9 kids on the team ( a good number for T-ball). Lets assume that early season you definitely have 3 assistant coaches, if yo uhave more that’s great.
Have players stand on a foul line about 15 feet apart with a coach opposite of them. Ideally you’ll have one parent or coach next to them. Give each parent a couple of tennis balls. Have parents toss underhand to player and player should not wear a glove. Player watches ball and tries to catch it. Have parents show player the ball then bring arm back slowly and then toss. When they show them the ball say READY and the player should assume a ready position with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent and weight on the balls of the feet. This is a good drill for establishing the ready position and doing a little bit to track balls in flight.
After catching for 10 minutes, players will be getting a little antsy. Now get half to go to 2B and half at home. When you say GO, the player at home runs from home to second and the player at second runs from second to home. Have base coaches at 1st and 3rd to get them to touch each base. Get them to run through home. Kids love this one as its a RACE and what kid doesn’t love a race? They are learning the direction to run the bases and they learning to actually touch bases.
This is the toughest. Have them stand 10-15 feet from a coach and stand on the left field foul line facing the 3B dugout with a coach also standing on the foul line. Have them turn so their belly button faces the 3B dugout. Feet wide shoulder width apart. Say READY and they put their hands together. Say BEND KNEES and they bend their knees and lean slightly forward. Say AIMER — their lead arm will point to the target. Say BUNNY EARS TO THE FENCE and at this point they use 2 fingers or maybe more to hold the ball and bring it above their shoulder and point to the left field fence. Their arm should be lined up with the foul line. Now say THROW and they throw the ball. Have the coach catch or retrieve the ball and then run and hand it back to the player. Skip the 30 minutes of throwing to the player and have the player retrieve it slowly. The key check points for this drill are that the player should bend knees, get weight on ball of foot and bring arm back so that their elbow is above their shoulder. Work on accuracy and encourage players to actually hit a target (the hands of the coach catching the ball). It helps to have 20-30 tennis balls for this drill so you don’t have to go chase all of them. Its best if you can wander around and correct issues and let everyone else do the catching. After a couple where everyone does the same thing at the same time, turn the assistants lose to direct players in the steps. Early season you should keep doing this every practice.
I suggest working in stations so you can do batting one on one with a player for a few minutes. So figure you have 10 players and you want 3-4 minutes a player to really talk about hitting. So you set up stations around the field and every 3 minutes say SWITCH and have one player rotate from one station to the next (other remain at their station). Player you are working on with hitting rotates, so you are running a one person station.
For stations I’d suggest
Left Field has 3 players and put three hats on the fence and have players try to hit the hat with a baseball from 10 feet away. Coach at that station starts players at 5 feet and works them backward. He calls out the same throwing steps we just discussed.
Center field has catching. So now have one coach with tennis balls throwing to each player.
Right field has ground balls. Coach rolls ball and players try to get in front of it and then cover the ball in their glove. Roll easy ones and work players on covering the ball and getting in front of the ball, popping up and throwing using their throwing steps.
Home Plate has you working with a T and have them hit a ball off the T. Draw a line for them to put their feet on before the swing. Make sure their contact point is out in front of home. Many T-ball coaches set the player up so their contact point is lined up with their belly button. This is simulating a player trying to hit a pitch that is mostly past him. If you watch hitters, they make contact (for a ball over the middle) a little in front of the plate, not when its half way past them. Work on getting them to turn their back foot and keep their eye on the ball. Many T-ball coaches yell ELBOW UP but I see no value. Just keep them from spinning and have them try to keep their eye on the ball. Have a bunch of balls ready to go so you aren’t chasing balls. When the hitter hts 5-10 balls declare victory and move on . Also move on if you have had the hitter more then 3-4 minutes.
At this point you have played a few games. Hopefully the team has learned one-knee and you are having fun. Now start to introduce the notion of fielding and throwing. So keep your LEFT, CENTER and RIGHT field stations and PICKLE and WIDE RECEIVER. But change your hitting station. Now have a fielder stand at pitchers mound and fielder at first base. Roll the ball to the pitcher and have them throw to first. When you roll it, count down from 5 as in FIVE – FOUR – THREE – TWO-ONE and the idea is to get it to first before you get to one. In T-ball most batters get to first by 5 seconds. So this station only needs two players but its good to do. You can move your hitting station somehwere else -maybe down the 3B line and have them hit off the T into a hitting net so it doesn’t take up much space.