If you volunteered to coach a young team this season, think U-8 or even younger, you have to know that coaching very young players is nothing like coaching an older team. First off, young players aren’t usually super invested in the sport yet. They are there because their parents signed them up or they wanted to hang out with the friends. They are probably more interested in running the bases than perfecting their batting stance And if you add the fact that young players typically can’t focus for very long regardless of what they are doing, you realize that running a successful practice can be a lot like herding cats!
Here are three tips for coaches to help keep their young players occupied at practice:
1. Keep them moving.
There is nothing more boring than standing around for 20 minutes while you wait in line to take a turn shooting on goal or swing a few times in the batting cage. Instead of having 14 kids standing around doing nothing, break them up into smaller groups and keep them rotating from drill to drill. Kids have notoriously short attention spans so if you can change up what they are doing every 10-15 minutes or so (and keep them moving the whole time throughout) they won’t get bored and start picking dandelions in the outfield out of boredom.
2. Ask what they want to do.
Let’s be honest, no one likes to run ladders (formerly known as suicides, that’s how much we hated them). How many of your drills elicit groans or blank stares from the kids? How many do they give up halfway through? While we’re not suggesting you let the kids run practice, find out what their favorite drills are and work a few of those into the practice schedule. If the players actually enjoy what they are doing they are much more likely to stay focused and engaged. After all, the main reason young kids play sports is because they want to have fun, right? So keep it fun and keep them coming back for more!
3. Turn drills into games.
In baseball/softball, players need to practice hitting the cutoff man when trying to throw from the outfield to home. While practicing proper throwing techniques is important, it can also get really boring after 10 minutes. So take that boring drill and turn it into a competition! Divide your team in half and have them throw down and back up the line. The first line to finish wins and the losing team has to help pack up after practice (or whatever you want). By making those boring drills into competitive games you give your players a reason to hustle when they might normally start to lag. A little friendly competition is great – it pushes players to be their best, helps them work better as a team, and more.