It’s important to secure some one-on-one time with each player on the first day, ideally before the actual practice begins. Introduce yourself, ask each player about his or her prior experience in the sport, the positions they played, and their goals for the season.
When everyone is in attendance, take additional time to tell the players more about yourself. Share with them your experience as an athlete, what you do besides coaching and whether you have any children on the team. Go over your expectations from the players, whether it’s on the field or in the dugout, and your own goals for the season.
It’s important not to make any promises or guarantees because the players will remember this and you will lose credibility if they don’t come to fruition.
Once the initial meet-and-greet session is completed, get the players to form a circle with you in the middle and demonstrate some simple stretching techniques. In future practices, nominate a player to be the person in the middle leading the stretching. This is a good way to develop leadership skills among the players.
After getting stretched out, split the players into groups of two and have them play catch. This is also a good time to begin the evaluation process. Take note of the arm strength and accuracy of the players, those with solid throwing mechanics, and the ones with soft, dependable hands.
Have the players then line up at second base to take ground balls and throw to a first baseman. Second base is a good position to start because the throw is shorter and those with weaker arms won’t feel overwhelmed.
If you have any left-handed throwers, first base would be a good place for them to start, as left-handers seldom get the opportunity to play anywhere else on the infield, especially as they get older.
Then move the players to the outfield and start by hitting balls on the ground and gradually work towards fly balls. It’s important not to situate the players too deep in the outfield, or hit balls too high, as the possibility of getting struck in the face or head is greater in the outfield. Leave an empty bucket in the outfield with the players so they can deposit the ball after fielding it, thus protecting their arms on the first day.
It’s important over the final 15 minutes of practice to incorporate a fun drill, something that will send them home with smiles on their faces and enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
One example of a fun drill that can also incorporate base running and give you a glimpse of each players’ speed is a relay race on the bases. Split the team into two even groups, with one group at second base and one at home. Have the runners at second base sprint to third and then home, at the same time the runners at home are sprinting through first base and into second.
As you get to know each player, you can match them against each other based on their speed, and the first to reach home or second base is the winner.
Bring the group back together for a final chat. Stay positive. Discuss what went well that day and what impressed you, and then remind them of the next get-together. This is also a good time to bring the parents in close and let them know of your expectations as adults, from punctuality to proper manners during games.
Finally, wrap up practice with a team cheer and then make sure you’re the last person to leave the field.