One of the biggest mistakes that coaches make is to not be prepared to run an effective team practice. There are many things to consider but insuring the experience is one they will enjoy and want to experience again is very important. Does this mean it has to be easy or won't hurt in some way? No, that's not what we're saying. We are saying that without some hint that it's enjoyable the team practice won't bode well for the long term success of the team. Mix it up.

Baseball is a great youth sport

First, understand and try to relate to the age group you're instructing. Each player will develop at a different rate. Some are in better coordination than others. Others have better balance, foot speed, hand-eye coordination, etc. In addition, some can handle the physical side of the game better than others. This is all determined by their personal development and there level of social development.

Next, establish some goals for the team and each player on the team. An example of team goals might be to win two more games than last season, win the league championship, improve the overall team speed, score "x" number of goals/points/runs, etc. Personal goals could be something like improve overall speed, balance, strength, etc. These goals should be part of the overall goal to become a team. Making sure they have fun along the way is a very important key to reaching the goals. Review the goals frequently.

Once you understand and establish some goals, you can begin to take it to the field. Before doing so though, you need to find 3-5 different aspects of the game you deem need to be worked on at your next practice. From this point forward assume we're coaching a baseball team. So here is what a practice schedule might look like: 1) establish 4-5 "stations" where there will be some level of instruction and high repetitions of the activity. These stations should be a "hitting off a baseball "T" station, hitting off a coaches live pitch, catching ground balls, catching fly balls, conditioning/balance station, etc., until you run out of room or coaches to help 2) each station will be manned by a coach, or Dad/Mom, that knows how to run the station (the head coach can instruct the assistants on what he wants to accomplish), 3) divide the players into equal groups and send them one group at each station. 4) rotate the players to each station every 15-20 minutes until all the players have been at each station once. To keep the players engaged at each station, make it a contest. Challenge them to be the first to hit 3 in a row, catch 5 in a row, throw it the furthest, etc.

The coach then needs to equip himself with numerous drills for each station. Before each practice determine what the collective team needs to work on and set that station up for those drills to improve that part of their game. An example for the hitting "T" station would be to have the player hit the ball off the "T" and 1) make sure they hit the top half of the ball, 2) work on hitting the inside of the ball-not the outside 3) work on hitting line drives 4) work on hitting to the opposite field, etc. Over time, and with a little patience, they will begin to understand the drills, become more efficient at the drills, improve at those drills and ultimately improve their ability to perform when needed.

There will always be a time where you sense that the practice is dragging. Be prepared and change it up by allowing them to scrimmage or what we always liked was to play "king-of-the-hill" where all the players grab a helmet and bat and wait in a line along the dugout (in a safe area) and one at a time they step to the plate where the coach will throw to them. As long as the ball is hit well, it counts as 1 hit and he hits again until he miss hits the ball. If he does not hit the ball well, then totals the consecutive hits and goes back in line and waits until all have hit. The person that has the most consecutive hits wins. Perhaps all those who didn't win run a lap around the field or they have to clean up the dugouts, etc. The winner watches (or joins in once he sees how much fun the others are having together). Remember, players love to compete!!

You'll be amazed at how many reps each player will receive in this model. In most cases, the players will go home exhausted. Most importantly, keep it fun, and safe, and you'll all walk away with a better experience.