College Baseball Practices
Want to waste your time? Go to a college baseball practice and watch unproductivity with your own eyes. Now, before I begin I want to state that I am not speaking on behalf of all of college baseball teams as there are many programs going about their business appropriately, however I am speaking about the experiences of myself and my peers at many different collegiate programs at all levels.
So what exactly does a typical collegiate baseball practice look like? It looks like a futile 2-3 hours filled with aerobic-based running, bunt coverage’s, rundowns and countless other unproductive drills that have no focus on player-development. The individual has no room for personal development of their skills that in the long (and short) run will greatly impact their program. The equation is simple, good players equal a good team which equals wins. Wins are the name of the game yet coaching staffs across the country seemingly avoid trying to create them through player development.
With this post I am going to start from the top and work my way down through a daily practice plan for infielders and outfielders only that a lot of college teams like to use. Pretty much every program in the country precedes their baseball activities with a warmup, a great tone-setter for what is to come during the allotted practice time. The warmup is an awesome indicator for me when I evaluate a college program. You can really tell where the intent of the players and coaching staff is during a warm up. A typical warmup from my experiences and observations goes as follows: a jog to center field, a static or general dynamic stretching routine and then time to throw. There is no consideration for the movement patterns and demands of a baseball player nor individual mobility and stability deficiencies. I could write an entire post dedicated specifically to the warmup, but the meat and potatoes of it is simple. Meet the demands and stresses placed on baseball players, don’t just let athletes “get loose”.
As a practice moves forward, a typical progression leads to throwing, another vital yet underutilized phase. There are two major issues I have when it comes to throwing, the first being it is a rushed process, the second is wasted throws. Putting a hurried time restriction for throwing at practice drives me absolutely insane. Everybody prepares differently and some guys need more throws, especially those who utilize long toss which can take some time. I’ve heard of and seen throwing time allotted to as low as 10 minutes which is simply just not enough time for a lot of players to prepare for the tasks at hand that day. This is especially true when factoring in arm care work that can happen pre and post throwing. I’ll give you the example of myself to demonstrate. Before I go to throw I utilize Jaegers Bands and TAP conditioning balls. Typically with the band exercises and the heavy ball throws plus long toss and possibly even some pull down work, my throwing progression can eat up around 20-30 minutes. Allotting only 10 minutes for that simply just won’t work.
Ok so let’s assume now that defense is the next step in this collegiate practice and I want to start with a question; how much “team defense” do you see professional baseball teams go through? Probably none, but that does not mean they aren’t getting their work in. Instead the focus is position specific and individual coaches are working with smaller groups of players at similar positions. So there could be a coach working with outfielders on fly balls, the corner infielders working together making 5-3 putouts and the middle infielders turning double plays. Now flashback to the college practice. What have I typically seen? A lot of “in and outs” meaning the players get to their respective positions and take fly balls and ground balls as a team. I’ll give you a sample of this. Each outfielder makes two throws to second, third and home and is then done. The infielders proceed to make a throw home, two to first, a double play, a deep ground ball and a slow roller. By my calculation, each player receives 6 batted balls in a span of 10-15 minutes. I’m no math major but that is less than one batted ball per minute. All in all, the team defense work on a consistent basis simply does not provide the reps that a more individual focused defensive program would.
Once defense is said and done with, hitting will typically come into the equation. This is often done through a means of on-field BP which is a great tool to evaluate ball flight, spin and adds the element of depth perception most cages can’t provide, however using only on field BP is robbing hitters of quality reps. The reason for this is the fact that only one hitter can take swings at a time and with a large roster, this can be quite time consuming. A time consuming BP equals less reps.
Finally I’ve saved the best (or worst) for last with that being conditioning. Cookie-cut, aerobic-based and extremely tiring conditioning essentially has no place in a collegiate program that wants to succeed. However with that being said, coaches continue to run their players into the ground for a multitude of reasons, the biggest being for mental toughness purposes. Talk to any sort of sport psychologist or mental coach and running is certainly not what they will prescribe for a lack of toughness. However if you want your athletes to have poor movement patterns, slow down and hate the end of practice, then conditioning is the route for you.
I’ve basically bashed a lot of traditional methods and provided the “what” and “why” for the issues but it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t provide a “how” with regards to fixing the problem. So I’ve put together a sample practice plan within a 3 hour time-frame typically allotted for a collegiate team.
3:00-3:15: Dynamic warm up both general and specific to daily tasks including ankle, hip and t-spine mobility and movement prep both forward, backwards as well as laterally. You can use equipment such as hip bands or longer bands to prep the body.
3:15-3:25: Specific throwing prep. Rhythmic stabilization exercises, deceleration, internal and external rotational qualities.
3:25-3:50: Throwing progression. This varies on the individual and program but as an example, a long toss session has plenty of time to see its course in this time slot.
3:50-5:30: Infielders head to the infield. Begin with a simple drill such as a hand rolled ground ball progression. Ex: third basemen will take turns rolling and bouncing gb’s at themselves and then progress to making routine 5-3 and 5-4 throws. (This should take 5 minutes, good pace and energy) Next, proceed to have two fungo hitters hit ground balls to each position. Ex: One hitter hits balls to the shortstop for 6-3s as the other hitter hits 5-4s. It’s easy to get creative and mix things up here. (15-20 minutes) Finally, I would mix in some challenging, team oriented work such as pop up communication and even a fun game like 27 outs. All in all, infield defensive work should have taken roughly 50 minutes.
While this is going on, I’d send my outfielders to the cages. I’d have already discussed a plan for these hitters about short-term and long-term goals for their swing and approach so it would be easy to get to work. For example, we’d begin to iron out some mechanical deficiencies with front toss and easy overhand bp and progress into some game situational work such as hitting breaking balls or working on specific counts. There are so many options in the cage but this is just a theoretical example.
After the first 50 minutes I’d have the infielders and outfielders switch. The infielders would go through their own hitting progression while the outfielders would do a version of what the infielders did, just specific to their positional needs. Reading fly balls, coming up throwing on ground balls, feeling out the wall and communication with other outfielders would all come into play. This would take another 50 minutes.
5:30-6:00- Recovery. It’s boring, it takes long and it’s not sexy but daily recovery work is crucial for a team that wants to stay healthy. Start with soft tissue work from a foam roller and lacrosse ball and go from there based on the individual. A strength and conditioning coach and athletic trainer can provide great insight on this.
Before I finish I’d like to say that I understand there is a need to work on team drills like bunt coverage’s and such but for the most part, individual skill is going to equate to a better overall team. Build up a bunch of individuals who move well, play good defense, hit the ball hard and stay healthy and you have yourself a winner.