To Contact Jim Himebaugh the ATLL Coach Development Coordinator send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jim is always happy to answer your questions or come to a practice if you would like help with new drills or running a practice.
Throwing and Catching: The most fundamental of the fundamental skills. Playing “Catch” is where it all starts. There are several coaching points for playing catch.
Make sure everybody is aligned in the same direction (NO cross fire.) Using the outfield foul line as one side with the other players (throwing partners) in the outfield grass.
When throwing players should stand sideways to target. The front shoulder points at the target.
Start at shorter distances, 20 - 25 ft for younger (6,7,8) and 40 - 50 ft for older (10, 11, 12). Gradually increase distance to at least double. Use common sense to adjust distances to the team’s ability level. You don’t want to spend all your time chasing errant throws. Have coaches stand behind players to make coacing points (and pick up “escaping” baseballs.)
“Crow hop” Have the players learned to “click” their heels when throwing and hop in the direction of their target. As players get older, add front and back crow hops. Also, have the players put the ball on the ground between their feet and slightly out in front; then bend at the knees and scoop (two hands) the ball up, crow hop and throw. Footwork is very important, the ball will go where the front shoulder points.
Emphasize long-arming the throw by turning your throwing hand away from the target and behind the shoulder (so your first move is backwards), then bringing the ball forward and turning the hand. Follow through bringing the back shoulder toward the target. The last hand motion is to snap the wrist to give the ball a little more “giddy up”. Follow through and snap are especially important for pitchers.
Avoid short arming. Too many inexperienced players start the throwing motion with their hand above their shoulder and the ball facing the target, like throwing darts. While it gives players confidence to hit the target it threatens elbow injuries. Players will try to snap the wrist to add velocity, but this puts a great deal of stress on the elbow.
At older ages (11,12 and up) the infielders need to practice side arm and ¾ arm throwing techniques. Also, the infielders need to develop their footwork so they are crow hopping toward their target: scoop, gather, crow hop, throw.
Catching the ball should be done with emphasis on soft hands. This means do not reach for or stab at the ball. Let the ball come to you. Try to catch the ball in the glove pocket (and not in the webbing). “Give”, allow your glove hand to recoil as you receive the ball.
Infielders should work on catching with two hands to facilitate the glove-to-throwing hand exchange. A drill for the more advanced players is to catch the ball on the outside of the glove to teach two handed exchange. (It’s also a lot of fun!)
Outfielders often need to cover a longer distance to get to the ball. When running to the ball the fielder needs to bring the glove into his body so it is easier to run; reaching for the ball at the last moment.
Whenever possible, outfielders should try to get “behind” the fly ball with their feet cocked to make an immediate throw back to the infield. Emphasize catching and immediately getting the ball to the cut-off infelder.
Turning your hips and opening your shoulders to the ball are fairly advanced skills. These will be addressed later in setting up drill stations.
Developing catchers is very time-consuming and involved process. These skills will also be discussed later. But the first test for a catcher is to put on the gear and get behind the plate with a live batter. Some kids see the bat and flinch, while others see the ball and catch it. Do not let the “flinchers” be catchers!
Batting and Bunting: I shall go to my grave insisting that hitting a pitched baseball is the single most difficult skill in sports. Your objective is to take a cylindrical bat and hit around ball squarely. Coaching points:
Grip the bat so that the middle nuckle of the finges from each hand are alligned. This gives the wrists freedom of motion.
Stance is the most individual set up in baseball. That being said here are things to look for. A closed stance puts the front foot closer to the plate; this will allow the batter to reach the outside portion of the plate but makes hitting the inside pitch more difficult. An open stance puts the back foot closer to the plate and the upper body almost facing the pitcher. This leads to great inner half coverage, but difficulty to reach the outside pitch.
For younger players start with the plate basically in the middle of the stance and the feet more or less alighned with each other and parallel to the plate. Individual comfort will lead the player to stagger his feet. Don’t be too quick to change batter’s stance until he has had a chance to bat several times.
When the pitcher winds up the batter should move his hands backward and start to step toward the ball. When the pitch is delivered the batter should step where the pitch is located: to the outside on an outside pitch, toward the pitcher when the pitch is right down the middle, and toward 3rd base on the inside pitch (this allows the hips to clear so the batter can bring his hands through and turn on the pitch.)
The batter should “load” the backside (hands back) and step into the pitch every time. If he decides not to swing just keep the hands back and take the pitch.
When the batter decides to swing he should throw his hands toward the ball. Another way to think of it is point the knob of the bat at the ball and pulling the hands through. In either method it is all about hand-eye coordination; you hit with your hands.
A short batting stroke means keeping the hands closer to the body until contact, then a longer follow-through for power. A long stroke means “sweeping” the bat across the plate with your arms. Short strokes make for more contact.
Some younger players are afraid of the ball and pull their front side off the plate. Some kids get excited and pull off the ball early trying to jack the ball (home run fever.) The longer the batter can keep the front side on the ball the higher the success rate of making contact.
Batting skills will be addressed more in the drills.
Bunting is 50% desire and 50% technique. The batter has to stay on the ball longer and may get hit once in a while. Bunting is really “catching” the ball on the bat.
When bunting start with grip; keep the bottom hand at the bottom of the bat. The top hand slids up to about half-way the bat length (or a litle more). Go ahead and grip the bat with top hand fingers around the bat for control (bunting correctly means the ball will hit the bat above the fingers.)
Square the shoulders, NOT the hips, to the pitcher by pivoting on the toes. Holding the bat at shoulder level (any pitch above the bat is a ball, so don’t bunt it) and slighly angled up.
Stand in the front of the batter’s box to give yourself more fair territory to bunt into. Extend your arms a little so the bat is in fair ground; and you can “give” to deaden the ball on contact. Contact should occur above the top hand.
Watch the ball all the way to contact just like catching a ball in your glove.
Pitching: First let me say that the younger kids (8,9,10) should all be encouraged to try pitching (especially if they are left handed.) A wise man once said the key to pitching is throwing strikes. But be careful with young arms. Inexperienced players will become so enamored of throwing strikes they will use poor form to get the ball in the strike zone.
Keep the wind up. simple. Cut down on moving parts. Pitchers are successful by developing a simple, repeatable delivery. Which end of the pitching rubber you stand on is up to pitcher. (But if he stands on the third base side and always throws inside to right-handed batters, he must adjust and move over to the middle or even to the first base side and vice versa.)
First there is balance. A good pitcher will keep his head and shoulders above his hips, and his hips above his feet throughout the wind up. When pitcher picks up his lead foot he should be able to stop and keep his balance.
The wind up starts with a backward step with his opposite leg. Try to go almost straight back and no more than a 45o angle. Make the step relatively small (balance!)
Just before his opposite leg starts to come forward he should pick up his plant foot and turn it parallel to the rubber. (The outside of the plant foot will snuggle up to rubber.) To help with balance he may want to roll his shoulders a little forward.
After the back foot is planted the opposite leg starts to lift by bending at the knee; now the whole body rotates and you aim the front shoulder at the plate. How high the knee lifts is personal preference.
Now comes “drop and drive”. The lead foot turns and moves (drops) toward the plate landing with the toes angled in slightly to generate cross body torque or whip action. While the lower body is doing all this the upper body is busy separating the ball/pitching hand from the glove. The throwing hand loads up by turning the hand with ball away from the plate.
As the lead foot lands the throwing arm comes forward to the plate. The glove can be tucked under the lead arm pit. The release point is where the pitcher releases the ball. A repeatable release point comes with practice, practice and more practice,
If the stride is too long the pitch tends to sail high. If the stride is too short the ball will go low, even into the ground short of the plate. Again practice and more practice!
On the release of the ball a wrist snap will give the ball a bit more velocity.
Follow through by reaching for the opposite ankel and putting the chest over the front knee.
NO CURVE BALLS BEFORE AGE 12
Have pitchers try different grips using the seams to create movement on their pitches.
Fielding:When the ball is put into play by the batter the defensive team has to catch (field) the ball and try to get an out or keep the batter/runners to a minimum number of bases. Coaching Points:
Moving to the ball; if a fielder’s first move is toward the batted ball he is probably going in a direction that will take him to a place he needs to be. When the ball is hit everybody needs to be on the move.
To field a ground ball the infielder needs to square his shouldes to the ball, bend at the knees (like sitting on a bucket), put the glove almost on the ground with the palm of the glove pointed at the ball as well as the nose and eyes; the throwing hand should be palm down and over the glove; look the ball into the glove and cover the ball with the throwing hand. Allow the momentum of the ball to draw the hands into the belly. As the fielder “gathers”, he needs to align his feet toward the target (1st base), crow hop and throw.
Even if the fielder is forced to field the ball on the run, keep the glove (palm) toward the ball. Also keep your nose and eyes pointed toward the ball.
A slowly hit ball may force the fielder to charge the ball. Glove, eyes and nose all stay on the baseball. Field the ball on the glove hand side, scoop the ball and bring it to throwing hand, using a ¾ arm or side arm (even “submarine”) motion,, throw the ball to the base. The footwork should always make for a throw with the opposite leg leading. If the ball is hit very slowly the fielder may opt to use the bare hand to scoop the ball and throw. This is a rather advanced skill for the average youth player.
Back hand plays in the infield start the same way as any other play: step toward the batted ball, glove, eyes, nose all pointed toward the ball. When the fielder has caught the ball he needs to come to a stop with his plant foot (throwing hand side) firmly on the ground; one quick step toward the base and throw!
Outfielders should take a good angle to cut the ball from going through the gap. Emphasize getting the ball back in the infield (see above). To drill going back on the ball have fielders face the coach starting about 10 feet away. Have the fielder back pedal a few steps then toss a “fly”at an angle. The fielder should open his shoulders and hips to the ball, run it down and make the catch over his back shoulder.
Practice: Drills and More Drills for Practice: First things first! Little Leaguers are kids. Keep practice moving and have the kids move from station to station (drill to drill) quickly; build in water breaks (of course players should have access to water at anytime especially when it’s hot!) Keep practices to1 ½ hours (90 minutes) to 1 ¾ hours. After that they are not getting better, they’re just getting more tired.
Below is a suggested Practice Schedule:
Jog and stretch: a quick jog around the outfield to get the blood flowing. Stretch, emphasizing the arms and shoulders (10 minutes)
Tossing: start close 20-25 feet for younger players, 50-60 feet for older players. Back up every few minutes (stop when the players struggle to be accurate at longer distances) Emphasize crow hopping. As the season progresses add in scooping and throwing. (10-15 minutes depending on age.)
WATER BREAK (3-5 minutes)
Fielding Drills: Break team into three groups of about five players each. Group A takes ground balls at shortstop, group B takes ground balls at 2nd base area. Hit the ball right at the fielder to teach getting down (sit on the bucket),gather, crow hop and throw. After the player fields a ball he switches sides between short and 2nd base. Group C is in the outfield grass with coach on one or the other foul line. Group C will practice catching fly balls (toss pop ups to younger players; hit fly balls to older players.) Coach on foul line; players in Center Field. Rotate stations Group C to SS, Group A to 2nd, Group B to OF every 5-10 minutes until each group has done all three stations.
Infield Practice: Group A at 3rd base, Group B at 2nd base, Group C at 1st base. Group C will actually have two 1st base bags (one about 10 feet up the foul line, almost in the outfield grass, the other a little bit closer to home.) Group A will field the ball and throw to the 1st base closer to home, Group B will field and toss to 1st base closer to the outfield. Group C will take a throw from 2nd and then take a throw from 3rd, then rotate out. If this gets too tricky for the kids, use just one 1st base and have one 1st baseman take two throws (one from 3rd and one from 2nd) before rotating out. After every player has taken 10-12 chances rotate: Group A to 2nd, Group B to 1st, and Group C to 3rd. Have a coach at each station to instruct the players. Coaches don’t rotate. 1st base will be the toughest as throws will get past the fielder and must retrieved quickly. One coach at home hitting the grounders and timing so players won’t be throwing two balls at 1st simultaneously. 10-15 minutes will likely suffice for everyone to get several reps
Batting Practice: Group A will hit off a tee or Soft-Toss (depending on age) into the back of the backstop; Group B will hit off “live” pitching (3-4 players fielding, one batting)*; Group C will be well into foul territory (safety) with a coach tossing to a bunter# Rotate stations every 10 minutes.
* Put a bucket at 2nd base and a bucket with BP pitcher/coach. As the fielders retrieve the batted balls fill up the bucket at 2nd base and swap out with the bucket behind the BP pitcher. Have the batter move back towards the backstop (use a throw down plate or base) to keep from having so many balls go foul. The BP pitcher should kneel and get closer to the batter (be comfortable and safe) to throw more strikes to younger players.
# put two players behind the bunter and two out in front to field the ball. Keep a bucket of balls with coach/pitcher; fielders should retrieve balls and put them in the bucket. Again use a throw down plate or base to get bunters to move up toward fair territory.
Throughout practice pitchers should be called out one at a time to practice on the side with a catcher and pitching coach. Each catcher should catch no more than two to three pitchers. Catchers should always be in full gear AND WEAR A CUP!
Catchers can be coached between pitchers. First, teach them stance: wide feet (toes slightly bent in), butt up, no squatting, bare hand tucked under butt, glove (target) out away from the body. Second, teach them to receive the ball by “giving” with the ball and moving glove hand toward the center of the plate. Watch the ball all the way in. On the low balls in the dirt drop to knees and roll shoulders forward to make a concave reflector; the glove should be on the ground between the knees. Keep the eyes and nose pointed at the ball and slide side to side as needed to block the ball. All these techniques can be practiced by a coach toss the ball to the catcher from about ten feet.
For final drill have kids pretend to hit the ball and sprint to 1st base. Have the 1st base coach mix it up by telling kids to run through the bag to beat the throw or turn 1st base and go to 2nd. Have them slide into 2nd. From 2nd base they can “score” by running on the next batter’s hit, turning 3rd (have a coach directing them) and sliding in at home.
As the season progresses the infield drill becomes customized to players at specific positions. Teach players to cover the bases and about force outs Hitting (tons of) ground balls to fielders before putting them into positions should always be included in practice.
Train at least 5-8 pitchers and 3-4 catchers.
Get parents and older sibs involved. They can catch for the coach hitting grounders or help retrieve wild throws or keep track of balls from the tee or soft toss. Have the “Regular” coaches to coach technique
Infield./Outfield Drill: After some time with the kids, coaches should be able to get a feel for positioning players. When running an infield/outfield drill never put more than two kids at any position. The drill always starts with the outfielders.The emphasis is to teach outfielders to catch the ball and return it quickly to the infield. Mix it up with ground balls and fly balls to the outfielders (I prefer more grounders.) Keep it simple: any ball hit to the left of 2nd base the cut-off is the SS; any ball hit to right of 2nd base the 2nd baseman is the cut off. The other middle infielder covers 2nd base. For plays at home plate the 3rd baseman takes throws from left and the 1st baseman takes throws from center and right. The pitcher backs up the “lead” base. MOST IMPORTANTLY: stress to the outfielders to get the ball back in the infield. When the outfielders are done with two throws to 2nd, 3rd and home have them come to outer edge of the infield (stay on grass) to back up the infielders and retreive balls that get past the infield. Starting with 3rd basemen hit a couple of balls to each infielder and have them throw to home (to get players moving and throwing) to your best two catchers (alternating). Starting again at 3rd base have them field and throw to 1st (BTW: catchers often make good 1st baseman.) Go all the way around the infield, 1st basemen will step on 1st with their heels, then strech to receive throw; on grounders to 1st, the player will field the ball off 1st base,and then touch the bag; two tries for each fielder. Roll a few bunts out in front of the plate so the catchers can throw to 1st. Finally, have the infielders throw to 2nd base for a force out on a runner at 1st. 3rd and SS throw to 2nd baseman covering bag; 2nd and 1st throw to SS covering the bag. (At older levels players can work on getting a double play, but emphasize getting the lead out at 2nd.) The above infield/outfield drill should be run before every game. Be consistent with the drill and by mid-season the kids will do the drill quickly because they know what is coming.
ABOVE ALL: HAVE FUN. YOU ARE ON A BALL FIELD WITH KIDS. ENJOY!