Youth Baseball Batting Practice-Tips for progress
Most youth baseball coaches miss out on one of the best opportunities available to them. Youth baseball batting practice is the most underutilized tool in the coach’s toolbox. Have you ever asked yourself, how can I get more out of my team’s offense?
Failing your players
Most youth baseball batting practice goes like this. The coach stands on the mound with a bucket of balls. The players go out to their positions, and any extra players fill in space between them. One player stands in the batter’s box and hits while the other players try to make plays.
This system allows the coach to throw fewer pitches to the batter. The players in the field do nothing productive, and the first five hitters usually get a good BP session after that the coach rushes everybody else through because of time restrictions.
So how should youth baseball batting practice be run?
First, we have to agree that batting practice is practice for the hitters. You are going to focus your attention on getting as many swings as you can for each player on your team. Defense is not that important.
Now that we are in agreement let’s move on to the process. For the sake of this discussion, we are going to use a hypothetical team that has 12 players. To run this system effectively, you will create hitting groups. Try to make the groups even. On our team, we have four groups of three hitters.
Group one is usually the top 3 hitters in the batting order. One player is the batter while the next player will be on deck. The third player will be doing soft toss with another coach or tee work on their own.
The batter will be in the batter’s box, or I prefer to move them back a couple of feet from backstop so that fewer balls leave the field. The coach will be throwing pitches to this batter from a distance of about 25 to 3o feet, not the full distance.
The on deck batter will be in a place where they are not going to get hit by stray balls but can still see the coach. While this player is waiting, they should be doing dry swing drills. Working to maintain or improve their swing mechanics.
The third batter will set up at the hitting net. Working on solid mechanics not trying to see how hard they can hit a ball into a net 5 feet in front of them.
Running BP this way is going to keep three hitters all woking on getting swings at the same time because youth baseball batting practice is about the batter.
What happens during bad BP
That sets up the how of batting practice now we need to explain what we are going to do. Most coaches just throw ball after ball to the batter that is at the plate. Some hitters will see 20 to 30 pitches in a row. Trying to get a player to hit the ball is hard work. Repetition is necessary. However, you have to remember that most players will only swing on average 2 to 4 times in a given at bat. If they get four at-bats in a game, the are only looking at taking 16 swings. So taking 30 swings in a row during batting practice is going to make them tired.
When players begin to get tired, they start to compensate. Compensation creates bad habits. In conclusion, what you are doing to try to help your players is probably hurting them. Therefore, spacing the swings out and giving them a purpose is what you should be trying to do instead.
Running a good BP
Youth baseball batting practice will be broken down into three rounds. In the first round, you will have your players go through some situational hitting. Next, you will work on developmental hitting. Last you will do a round of free swings to see if the player incorporates what they have worked on into a game swing.
The situational hitting round covers fundamentals needed to manufacture runs. Sacrifice bunting, bunting for a hit, moving a runner into scoring position with a hit, and sacrificing in a run according to the defense, i.e., infield in or back, are necessary skills every hitter should possess.
When doing situational hitting, the coach should ask every player on the team to get a sacrifice bunt down. Some of the faster players you may want to have practice bunting for a hit as well. You should also work on moving a runner with the infield in by hitting a ball in the air. Next, you will want to work on getting runners over hitting behind the runner. After this, you will want to work on the hitter getting sacrificing runs in when the infield is playing in by hitting a ball in the air to the outfield. Finally, you will work on getting a sacrifice to get a runner to score when the infield is back by hitting a ball on the ground.
Situational hitting gave your hitter two bunts and three to five swings in the first round. Now you will move on to the second round in your youth baseball batting practice.
In the developmental hitting round, you are going to be working on your player’s ability to focus all of their effort on mechanics. Good mechanics are going to help a player hit the ball to all fields, but the best way to work on them is to hit the ball back up the middle or to the opposite field. Pulling the ball happens all by itself it takes discipline to stay back and hit middle/opposite.
The developmental round will consist of hitting 6 to 8 balls middle/opposite. If a player is struggling, you can give them a couple of extra but no more than ten swings.
The final round of a quality youth baseball batting practice is the one the players like the best. Free swings are exactly that. Now that you have worked on team needs and player development the players get to show off what they can do. It is alright for players to pull the ball in this round. As a coach, you are going to throw eight to ten pitches to each player watching to ensure that they are maintaining their form as they try to hit the ball all out.
You will run through the remaining groups the same way. All of your players will get a couple of bunts and between 17 and 23 swings. More importantly, the hitters are strong because the swings are spread out over three rounds. This BP system ensures that they are getting useful quality swings and not developing bad habits along the way.
Keeping in mind that youth baseball batting practice is for the hitter you may want just to have the other players shagging in the outfield. However, because youth baseball practice is limited, you may want to run some other defensive drills during this practice time.
As long as you have qualified assistant coaches, you can have infielders taking ground balls between pitches. The outfielders can work on fly balls as well. The coach hitting the extra balls must make sure to only hit them in areas where it is safe. Only hit extra balls between pitches to the batter. The other option would be to shield the players with a protective net in a designated fielding area.
Another thing that you can incorporate is to have the batter run out his last swing. Running it out will allow the fielders to try to make a play. It also gives each hitter a chance to do some baserunning.
Run all of the extra defensive drills like any other drills you run in practice. Do every drill with the purpose of getting better. You don’t want defense interrupting your hitter’s efforts to get better.