Coaches: 5 Ways to Put the 'Fun' Back into Fundamentals

The following article appears in the 'Coaches Clinic' section of the September/October 2017 issue of Junior Baseball. To purchase the issue, click here.

Sometimes you just have to lighten up, relax, breath, play, or even clown around.

As coach of the Mankato, Minnesota 13 year old traveling team, I knew I had to vary my practice routine. Our schedule was very demanding. With our league schedule and tournament schedule, we were playing five or six games a week. I knew if I said “let’s take some infield” one more time, I might have a revolution on my hands! When we had a break over the Fourth of July, I decided that it was time to break out my “Light” practice before the revolution started. I was going to put the word ‘fun’ back into fundamentals. I planned a station-to-station practice with my coaches that would accent fundamentals but in a unique way.

We had five unusual activities:

1) Juggling: We took each player through a simplified juggling instruction. I took the players from one ball to eventually three balls. I stressed with each prospective juggler that it wasn’t something that they would master overnight, but with a little practice they could improve. As an amateur juggler myself I knew that it helps the players to increase their eye/hand skills. In a matter of weeks, players can improve their skills. Jugglers are not hard to find. There are jugglers out there if you need help. If you can’t juggle yourself, one of your players or parents probably can. Fundamental: Improving eye/ hand coordination.

2) Egg Toss: Two players stand 10 feet apart from each other. The object is to toss the egg back and forth without breaking it. After each toss, the players step back one step. The winning players are treated to an ice cream certificate. Fundamental: Soft hands

3) Balloon Toss: The same activity, but much cooler for the participants who splash each other. Fundamental: Soft hands and teamwork.

4) Shoot for the Bucket: A large metal bucket is set up 50 yards from the players. Hit the bucket and win some ice cream. Fundamental: Throwing to the base

5) Balloon Launcher: The favorite amongst all the players. Get a bag of water balloons and start launching them into the air. The players stand 60 yards away and try to judge the trajectory of the balloons. There is no fear of being hit. The players can wrap their gloves with plastic wrap but most didn’t care. The launchers can be purchased at a boat store. Some launchers can project the balloons over 100 yards. Fundamental: Judging fly balls.

The practice could also include relay races, a slippery slide for practicing sliding and three-legged infield. We kept our focus on eye/hand drills and throwing, because of the heat. Some of the players may be skeptical as you begin the workout, but with proper explanations they can begin to correlate the activity to the skill. The coaches should take a few minutes before each drill to explain the objective. It usually takes a few statements such as “imagine you’re trying to catch a high fly ball...only it’s going to explode when you catch it”. At the end of the practice you will be met with laughs and remarks such as “hey, that was fun!”

The timing of the practice is very important. Choose a time when tension may be high or morale low. Breaking up the rhythm of the ordinary sessions is important. Sometimes it takes a good smack from a water balloon to wake up and put fun back into the fundamentals. -- Patrick Ryan