Most professional baseball players take hundreds of swings every single day. Most professional basketball players take hundreds of practice shots every single day. There is no question that repetition of basic drills is effective. However, youth athletes are fundamentally different from professionals. Not many kids will be able to focus on a single drill over and over and over. For that and many other reasons, introducing drill variety is paramount as a youth coach. Using a variety of drills builds technique, keeps players motivated, makes practice more fun for kids, and ultimately will lead to a better experience for young athletes.
A bored player is not a productive player. This is true at all levels, but is certainly the case with youth athletes. Practices should be something kids look forward to as an opportunity to have fun and improve. Instead, they are often seen as slogs through repetitive drills. Varying drills regularly is a great way to combat this practice fatigue.
Work with your squad to identify what they will enjoy, what they need to work on, and what will keep your young players motivated. Often times, kids will become frustrated when they are unable to succeed within certain parameters.
For example, a basketball player might be a great ball handler and distributor, but not as adept at shooting. She may then become discouraged by missing more shots than her teammates in practice. But on a day where the focus is shifted to cone drills and team passing, she may excel.
The other primary reason for changing things up is to keep the focus and the enthusiasm of your young players. There are some kids who would love to wake up in the morning and dribble a basketball or take batting practice until the sun went down. For the majority of youth players, the coach must go the extra mile to make sure that they have some fun and retain their focus during practices and games.
Varying drills and activities is a great way to keep practices feeling like a game. Yes, that might seem silly since the sports we play are games. It is important to remember that young players might view practice as an obligation rather than a game. The bottom line is that kids have a short attention span (link to short attention span blog).
Try incorporating some of the following into your baseball or basketball practices to keep your squad entertained while developing their skills. Who knows, maybe a player will discover a love for the game he or she never knew they had!
Four Corners - there are a few iterations of the four corners drill, and this one focuses on team defense and keeping a fast pace. Each player must line up behind a base (the players should be evenly distributed). Starting at home plate, the first player throws to third. Then the player on third throws to second, and all the way around the horn. After a player makes a throw, he or she must run to that base and get in the back of the line. This is great for fundamentals and for a bit of exercise!
Broomstick and Ping Pong Ball - Disclaimer, this one should be reserved for youth players who are already comfortable with the fundamentals of hitting. It’s as simple as it sounds - have your players hit with a broomstick (or fungo). This can be done with anything from a ping pong ball to a ball of tape to a wiffle ball.
Team Rotation - Have the team take the field in their positions and a batter up to bat like a real game scenario. After the hitter puts the ball in play, everyone rotates. The batter takes the field and a fielder gets in line to bat. This gives kids the opportunity to field at every position, keeps them moving, and makes sure the whole team is engaged.
Fingertip drill - young players don’t have Shaquille O'Neal sized hands, but they still should not be palming the ball when dribbling. This drill requires players to move the ball up and down the court using only their fingertips.
Mirror drill - as simple as it sounds, but tons of fun and a great way to improve defensive footwork. The “offensive” player does not have a ball, but he or she must attempt to shake the “defensive” player only using side steps along a baseline. The defender’s responsibility is to mirror the offensive player.
Cone drill - Line up three cones per player at center court. Players must shoot from a designated spot (three point line, top of the key, etc.) For each made shot, a player must run to retrieve the cone, bring it back to the spot, and continue shooting. First to retrieve 3 cones and make a shot, wins.
Pittsburgh startup Hustle Training is quickly rising to one of the most popular sports drill apps out there. Their website, along with their mobile app puts players and coaches at the top of their game by providing skilled workouts and drills crafted by coaches, trainers, and professional athletes, and informative articles to take your team to the next level.
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