The First Practice: Kicking Off Your Season
Encountering a shark in the ocean, a rattlesnake in the grass, and an IRS agent at your front door are all terrifying experiences. However, you don't need to add "conducting your first baseball practice" to that list, too. If you've never coached a youth baseball team before, that first practice may weigh on your mind for weeks. Even if you have coached a season, your nerves are likely to be frazzled and excited before you meet your new players. You have a lot at stake when you step on the field to practice for the first time because your first impression sets the tone for the season and provides your kids with a pretty good indication of what's in store.
Not to worry, you can get through this nerve-wracking time.
Greeting your team for the first time
Making a great first impression is oh-so-important when greeting your players for the first practice of the season. Having positive contact with the kids before they even have a chance to earn their first grass stains helps put them at ease.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to make sure that your initial greeting goes smoothly:
- Beat the players to the field. Make sure you're the first one to arrive. Greeting each player and his parents as they arrive sends a positive message that you're enthusiastic about getting started. If you pull up a few minutes before the practice is supposed to start, you give the impression that you're disorganized, too busy, and unprepared for all the responsibilities that coaching entails.
- Make everyone feel comfortable. As soon as the kids climb out of the cars and make their way to the field, welcome them with a friendly smile and hello. You don't want a child to stand off to the side, wondering whether he's at the right field or if anyone will talk to him or even say hello.
- Chitchat. You should begin establishing bonds right away. If time allows, talk briefly with each child to find out a little bit more about him. Ask him how long he's been playing baseball, what team he played for last season, and what positions he has played in the past. Taking a genuine interest in your players — which they'll recognize and appreciate — is the foundation for forging special relationships with them — one of the benefits of both playing and coaching organized baseball.
Formally introduce yourself and any assistant coaches you have at the start of practice once everyone has arrived. The introduction helps to alleviate your players' anxiety and makes them more comfortable. You can do it in the infield or gather the kids in the dugout, whatever is most comfortable for you.
During your intro, share some quick tidbits about yourself, including the following:
- Whether you prefer being called "Coach," "Coach Brad," or any other moniker. (Feel free to use any funny nickname you may have that will get a chuckle out of the kids.)
- How long you've coached and where.
- Details about your coaching and playing background.
- If you have a child on the team.
- Your favorite major league team or player.
After the coach introductions, you can have each child stand up and introduce himself to the rest of the team. Ask him to relay his name, age, and favorite team.
Keep the player introductions short and to the point. Some kids are going to be overly shy, and the last thing you want to do is traumatize them before the practice has even begun.
Choosing the skills to focus on first
Before the first practice arrives, you should have a plan in place for which drills you want to begin with and how those drills will lead into the more intensive practices to come.
If you're coaching a beginning-level team, chances are many of your kids have never played baseball before — or any other type of organized sport for that matter. Because of the somewhat complex nature of the game — from the fundamentals of batting to the art of playing the infield and outfield — your best bet is to ease your players into the first practice by picking out some basic drills to focus on first.
Using the first couple practices of the season to cover some of the most fundamental skills — such as batting stances and proper glove positions for grounders and pop ups — establishes a solid foundation that you can build on without overwhelming your players in the process.
If you're coaching players with a little more experience, you can utilize the first week of practices to refresh your players on some of the basics. Use the first couple practices to really evaluate your players and your team's strengths and weaknesses. For example, you can cover the most basic elements quickly, but you should move on to more advanced techniques, such as executing bunts to move runners into scoring position, hitting the cutoff man, and turning double plays, among others, almost immediately.