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Are Your Players Game Ready?

Few coaches will argue that practices should be geared toward teaching skills and fundamentals. But how does a player prepare for what happens in an actual game? Repeating the fine points of a swing or a pitcher’s proper throwing motion for hours may help in mastering that skill, but does that have any effect on getting ready to play come game time?

Yes, says USA Baseball 18U National Team Manager Andy Stankiewicz.

“The fundamentals have got to be at the forefront,” he said. “The technical aspects of the game obviously are important. If those are in place, and it’s done with a lot of repetition, the body will take over and do what (it’s) been trained to do.”

Stankiewicz is returning for his second stint as manager. He led the U.S. to a gold medal in the 2014 COPABE Pan Am “AAA” Championships in La Paz, Mexico. The team will go for its fourth straight World Cup title this September in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

He offered his advice for making sure players are game-ready when they take the diamond.

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Organize your practices to be as game-like as possible. Most workouts lack the speed and intensity of an actual game, so Stankiewicz encourages coaches to speed up drills and other situations, while keeping it fun and not getting in too much of a rush.

“I think that’s going to benefit you come game time,” said Stankiewicz, who has also been the coach at Grand Canyon University the past six seasons. “Try as best you can to make up competitions, whether it be repercussions for the loser. It doesn’t really matter, but they need to understand something’s at stake, that you’re not going to go through the motions in a game.”

An orderly flow also makes a difference. Stankiewicz recommends a setting with high reps and lots of energy to get those competitive juices flowing. It can be a challenge to keep players from standing around or waiting in line, particularly if you have only one coach for 12 to 15 players. If you have the luxury of a full diamond and half a field, use both for keeping your team busy at all times. Otherwise, bring in small groups of about four to six at a time for drills.

Start individually. To strike a balance between fundamental work and game situations, Stankiewicz recommends starting with an individual skill, then bringing the team together to apply it. For example, if you’re doing first-and-third defense or bunt defense, have each player work on drills that will prepare him for bringing the team together for that type of defense later in the practice.

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Create game-like situations. Even if you don’t have the ability to hold intrasquad scrimmages, you can still create situations that happen during a game, Stankiewicz says. Say you want to practice moving runners over with nobody out, then one out. Put a runner on second, and divide the rest of the team into two or three groups, using a point system to keep things competitive.“I think that’s a good way to individualize the work that’s going to be used in fundamentals, then, 20 minutes later, you bring the team together and the guys are ready to do it as a team,” Stankiewicz explained.

“Try to make it like there’s something that’s going to happen at the end they don’t want to do,” he said. “I like to see guys get ticked off or upset because they lost the drill. It creates a high-energy environment.”

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of team chemistry. It’s a tough job for a coach at any level to keep every player happy, especially if they’re on the bench. Every player has a key role in the team’s success; it’s the job of a coach to communicate that role to each individual.

“You can only play nine,” Stankiewicz said. “Our job is to figure out ways to get those guys (on the bench) involved, whether it be a spot start here or there, or just to pinch-hit. Just let them know they’re a huge part of things, that they’ll be needed down the stretch.”

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr. Photo coutresy of USA Baseball.

Baseball, Baseball Tips & Drills