Full disclosure: none of the games and activities in this article are original. In fact, the only original part of any of these are the modifications we have made over the years and the fun the kids have.
I bet if you ask 90% of the kids who have left a sport – and certainly in baseball – over the past few years, the answer they give you as to why they left will be: it just wasn’t fun any longer.
Now, there are a million reasons why a sport can stop being fun. We won’t touch the delicate subject of aggressive coaches, parents with unrealistic expectations for their 8 year old, or obnoxious fans, rising costs, etc.
What we will do is focus on the coaches, parents, fans, and players still involved in the game to help them keep things “fresh” and fun.
I’m writing this today about 2 months into indoor practices in the Midwest, which severely hampers your ability to do a number of drills, etc. But what it does not hamper is our ability to engage our team in a little fun while they learn.
Here are a few examples of games/activities we do to help break up the monotony of practices:
- Relay/Base Races: yes, nothing is better than a good ‘ol fashioned relay race! Nonsense you say? Nothing to do with baseball you say? WRONG! How do you motivate a kid to run faster? You make it competitive. We show them how to mechanically improve their running style, and since we have 3 team captains we have them pick teams and their running order. Then they do a full court sprint back and forth, relay style. You could do the same outside running the bases after practice. The team that wins gets a drink while the other two do suicides, ladders, or burpees or picks up equipment if at the end of the practice.
- Hot Stove: this is a good one to wrap up a practice. Line up your entire team along a baseline (indoor gym) or OF grass (if outside). Have one player come out as the fielder. A Coach hits the ball to the fielder who has to make the play and a good throw back to another Coach. If he makes it, he goes to the end of the line. If he doesn’t, he is “out” of the game. Progressively increase difficulty of the play until you have one player left. That player can get a drink, win a prize, or whatever you need to do to make it fun and worthwhile. The rest of the team runs laps, or some other way to work on their conditioning. This drill emphasizes the ability to make basic baseball plays under pressure.
- Smash & Dash: this is a personal favorite of mine that I stole from Justin Dehmer after reading one of his books. You split your team into either 2 or 3 smaller teams. One teams bats, the other(s) are split among 1B & 3B as fielders. The batter gets one swing to hit the ball fair. If he misses or hits a foul ball, he is out and is awarded zero points. The fielders -starting from 1st and 3rd – both must “catch” the ball before the runner reaches a base. If the batter rifles one down the 3B line, the 3B player must field the ball and throw it to the 1B player. Neither player has to touch the base or tag the runner. They just have to both have had possession of the ball. Points are awarded to the batter for each base he touches. There are two things that are learned here: 1) communication between fielders has to be very strong, and 2) batters must be aggressive and pick up the ball quickly. Variations include: set up a tee low and outside, high and inside. Do soft toss from the side or behind the batter. Pitch from an angle to the batter. Whatever you decide, it will help the batter’s hand-eye coordination. We do this inside with limited flight balls and 30′ bases without gloves to add an extra wrinkle. You can play as many rounds of this as you like, the team with the most points wins.
Here are a few other ideas to help any aspiring coach out: give your kids recognition for trying hard, improving their skills, having a great team attitude, or other parts of the game that have nothing to do with wins and losses. Take a few minutes to remember that these are kids, and “earning” a piece of gum from the coach just for hustling back into the dugout means the world to them.
If you have other games, activities or ways to keep this great game fun please share in the comments section below or contact us.