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Coaching Youth Sports

Keeping practices interesting and building skills

This is not so much as a family story, but a note about coaching recreational sports; how I went about it in coaching both youth baseball and youth soccer.

Often we sit as parents or grandparents on the sidelines and watch well-meaning coaches work with our children. Parents become coaches mostly because they have a child on the team. Today, in our litigious society, youth sports leagues require managers, coaches, and assistant coaches to be certified. This normally includes a background check and graduation from a local recreational sports certification course. The requirement can also include concussion training, prevention of abuse training, and first aid/CPR/AED training.

I don't disagree with the requirements, but just note that despite all this training we still have coaches who have difficulty finding ways to keep practices interesting and to set good examples during games.


  • The baseball coach pitching in the batting cage with one player batting and the rest outside waiting their turn.
  • The baseball coach hitting balls with one player fielding, one player catching balls thrown in by the fielder, and the rest waiting their turn to field.
  • The soccer coach who has players taking turns on penalty kicks with the goalie getting lots of work and the rest of the team standing in line until it is their time to kick.


  • The coach who comes to a game without a plan that delineates who will play what inning or half or period and at what position. Yes, a game situation can change things from a plan, but you need a plan to work from.
  • The coach who gets so engaged in winning that he lets weaker players "ride the pine" way too much. Hey, there are traveling leagues for your son or daughter.
  • The coach who loses his composure in his dialogues with umpires, opposing coaches, and fans.

So what is important?

Keep it fun.

  • Hit five pitches in a row in the batting cage and get a piece of candy.
  • Make five catches in a row in the outfield and hit a target at least once on the throw in. The target can be a two plastic 5-gallon buckets stacked on top of each other.
  • For right-footed soccer players: Kick left footed and knock down a target set up inside the goal.

Build skills.

  • Players get better with repetitions. Set a standard for "reps" in your practices. For baseball what does it take for every player to get - as part of practice - 40 swings at a ball and 40 chances to field a ball? Not sure? Have a friend or family member pick out an average player at one of your practices and count at-bat swings and fielding opportunities. You might be surprised at the results.
  • Resist the urge to scrimmage. No matter how wonderful and exciting are a coach's skill drills and challenges, players will always say that scrimmages were the most fun part of practices. The good news is that scrimmages create game-style competitiveness and are much easier to manage than running drills, but let's look at baseball: Is one pitcher throwing, one catcher catching, one batter trying to hit, and seven other players standing around in the field waiting for something to happen skill building?

    So what do you do when only the one certified coach is available for practice?
    Here is a baseball example on how to keep all the players involved:

      • Access to a batting cage and a soft toss area; and access to a practice field.
      • Enough balls for the batting cage, the soft toss, the infield game, and the outfield game.
      • Two or three 5-gallon buckets or suitable "targets" for the outfield game.
      • A whistle and a watch (to time and signal station changes). Wrapped candy for rewards.

    Station Location Players Actions (Note 1) Points
        1 Batting Cage Area #1 and #2 Bat in the batting cage  
        Coach pitches to Player #1 1 for ten straight hits (Notes 2 & 4 & 6)
        Player #2 watches, helps pick up balls  
        2 Batting Cage Area #3 and #4 Soft toss  
        Player #3 hits 1 for ten straight hits (Note 5 & 6)
        Player #4 soft tosses  
        3 Infield Area #5 through #8 Hotbox Rundown  
        Player #5 Pitches
    Pitcher starts on the mound with the ball, Covers 1st
    Player #6 Plays First Base
    Player #7 Plays Second Base
    Two points each for making the out at 1st
    One point each for making the out at 2nd
    Minus one for any fielder making a wild throw
        Player #8 is the Base Runner on First
    Base runner takes a lead off base and lets himself get caught in a rundown
    Three points ending up safe at 2nd
    One point for returning safely to 1st
        4 Outfield Area #9 and up Fielding and Throwing  
        Player #9 is an Outfielder One point each time the throw hits the bucket or whatever is used as the target (Note 7)
        Player #10 is an Outfielder One point each time the throw hits the bucket or whatever is used as the target (Note 7)


      Note 1: All players wear a batting helmet and keep their gloves and bats nearby.
      Note 2: Players #1 and #2 retrieve pitched balls at the end of #1's session.
      Note 3: Instructions first on rundowns; what a fielder does and what a runner does.
              What fielder backs up what base
              How fielders should not block the base line
              Where fielders stand (Hint: Not on the base)
              What direction if possible to chase down the runner
      Note 4: A ball that is not thrown well (by accident) does not count against a player's string.
      Note 5: A ball that is not tossed well (by accident) does not count against a player's string.
      Note 6: Maximum of five points at this station
      Note 7: Players partner in teams of two and about 60 feet apart.
              Each player has a plastic 5-Gallon bucket.
              Players throw back and forth, each trying to hit the other bucket on the fly. (1 point).
              The receiving player tries to field the ball in the air or on the first bounce. (No points)

      If a coach implements this, and has a station change every five minutes, then a 12 player team can rotate through all 12 stations in 60 minutes, leaving time to work on other things.

    Incentives: (You may need to adjust the point awards per station in the above team-wide drills.)
    • Practices: Award candy for points.
    • Games: Consider purchasing small gold stars at a sewing store and at the end of each game award stars for performance. Of course, a coach will have to work to keep the stars reasonably balanced, so that even the weaker players earn their stars. So what will happen to the stars that are issued? Do they somehow get lost or do they end up sewn onto the player's hat by the very next practice? What do you think?

    And to my soccer friends, I have not forgotten you. Here are some thoughts on Coaching Youth Soccer

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