Dan Keller mentioned in Session #89 of the Youth Baseball Edge podcast that he liked a drill he called the "Buffet Drill" where he strung together several skills. I've also done the same drill (except I called mine "Training Camp", the name of which might have turned off some kids) but without the competition aspect that Dan wisely incorporated.
I've been asked to elaborate on that drill so here it is, now including the competition aspect Dan used.
- Reinforce many skills in one drill
- Get them used to performing when rushed
- Get them used to moving around
- Get their heart rate up
- Encourage hustle even when feeling tired
Here's a graphic of what it looks like. This is obviously not a professional drawing but, hey, at least it's easier than trying to explain everything only with the written word.
Deciphering the graphic
- The lighter green boxes represent a station
- The orange arrows represent where the kids go for the next station
- The black arrows represent the kids' movement inside the station
- The guy holding the clipboard represents a coach or a volunteer parent
- The cone represents where the player starts off when starting at that station
General flow of the drill
- Say a player started at station #6. This is the throwing station. Have a pile of balls at that cone. The player picks up one ball and throws the ball to the coach/parent. After that one throw, the player hustles to station #1
- Now at station #1 (the grounder station), the player gets in a ready position near the cone. The coach/parent rolls or bounces a grounder to the player, who fields the ball and rolls the ball back to the coach (no throws). The reason for no throws is to avoid the coach running out of balls if several players chuck wild throws.
After rolling the ball back to the coach, the player hustles to station #2
- Now at station #2 (a conditioning station), the player does a duck walk in the direction indicated to the other cone. When the player reaches the other cone, s/he hustles to station #3
- Now at station #3 (a bunting station), the coach/parent soft tosses a pitch to the player who gets one attempt to put it on the ground if the pitch is a strike. After the bunt attempt, the player hustles to station #4
- Now at station #4 (an outfielder station), the coach/parent does a football fly pattern with the player where the player has to catch the fly ball on the run. Catch or miss, the player rolls the ball back to the coach and hustles to station #5
- Now at station #5 (another conditioning station), the player faces three baseball buckets in a row, turned upside down. The player goes up to the first, does a "box jump" on top of the bucket, making sure to land straight down and not at an angle. Then the player goes to the second and third buckets to repeat the process. The player then hustles to station #6. This completes the first rotation
General drill principles
- Break up the kids so they're divided up equally among the number of stations. Don't have one long line all starting at station #1
- Kids can move from station to station either counter-clockwise (or clockwise—doesn't really matter)
- When they go through all the stations and come back to their starting station, that's one rotation
- Have the kids hustle to the next station; no walking
- You can choose to have the kids do this in a total-time format (e.g., 15 minutes) or a total-rotations format (e.g., 7 rotations)
The nitty gritty
- You can have as many or as few stations as you want; this is very flexible
- Plan for the number of stations based on the number of kids you expect to show up at practice. For example, if you have 12 kids show up for practice, 6 stations should be the minimum...that's only 2 kids per station, so kids move through the stations fast
- You can swap out a drill at one station for a drill at any other station. For example, instead of a bunting station, you can do a fielder diving station, where the player practices diving for a ball. Just be mindful of where the kids end at one station and where they should start at the next station so that the flow makes sense
- Assuming you change your stations each practice, you'd walk the players through the rotation and explain/demonstrate what they will be doing
- You don't have to do two conditioning drills—in fact, you don't have to do any conditioning drills. The drills in the graphic are just examples
- For the throwing station, you can change what you throw on different practices. One day, for example, you can have the kids throw on the run. Another day, you can have the kids throw a heavier ball. Another day, you can have the kids practice throwing from a different arm slot, etc.
- For the infielder grounder station, you can practice form one day, forehands another day, backhands another day, pivots another day, etc.
- Instead of a diving station, you can do a "HR Thief" outfielder station where kids pretend they're jumping at the wall and leaping to snatch a home run
- For conditioning drills, if you don't have buckets, park benches also work. Other options include jumping over equipment bags, side shuffles, power skips, ladders, reverse duck walks, high knees, shuttles, etc
As Dan mentioned, you can add competition after two rotations. The thought is that the first two rotations is to get the players acclimated to what is expected of them at each station. Once they get familiar (usually by the end of the second rotation), you can factor in competition by doling out points and seeing who accumulates the most points or timing who has the fastest rotation or however you want to handle competition.
Note that adding competition usually means you'll need additional coach(es)/parent(s) to help keep score/time.
You can do this with kids as young as seven (though you'll obviously need to ratchet down the skill complexity accordingly) and go all the way up to college. At Vanderbilt University, Tim Corbin does something like this called the "Omaha Challenge" in the offseason, using things like sled pushes, weight training and stair climbing in place of baseball skills (see Day 1 of their 2017 Omaha Challenge here).
The bottom line
I've done this at the beginning of youth practices but you can do it anywhere in your practice—middle, end, whatever. Give the drill a fun name (e.g., "The [team name] Skills Challenge", "Baseball Olympics", "Baseball Ironman", etc) and kids will have fun with it.
Remember, you're the coach and the kids will follow your demeanor. If you pump this up as "fun" and "challenging" instead of "tiring" and "work", they'll be more enthusiastic.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.
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