John Roschella doesn’t want his players standing around at practice. The best way to prevent that, he’s found, is to have a plan.
“I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen as far as inexperienced coaches, is that guys go in without a plan of what to do at practice,” said Roschella, who coaches the Western Howard County Renegades 14U team in Maryland. “And then they’re standing around for 10 or 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do.
“You have that conversation with your assistant coaches ahead of time and they know what the expectations are, and you put together that plan.”
Roschella’s practice plans usually focus around pitching, defense and base running, because those are the areas in which he feels his players can gain the most.
A typical Renegades practice is broken up into three half-hour segments.
The first usually has one coach in the field with the infielders, one with the outfielders and one with the catchers, each working on position-specific defensive responsibilities.
“It gives kids a small group and gives kids the ability to focus on just their particular skill, and that’s been very successful for us the last couple of years,” Roschella said. “We try to keep it very specialized.”
The second segment is typically utilized for overall team defense, practicing cut-off throws and making sure every player knows where to be moving in every situation.
“If the ball is moving, you should be moving,” Roschella said of his team’s defensive philosophy. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are on the field, you’re moving somewhere, and so we do about a half-hour of team defense drills.”
The final portion is usually reserved for something a little more fun, which often includes an offensive element as well.
“Sometimes we’ll do a two-strike drill,” Roschella said. “You have two strikes on you — it’s either a ball or you have to put the ball in play somewhere. Or we’ll do a bunting competition, or we’ll do other things like that. The team likes that, we’ve been doing that for several years now.”
If there is time left after that, the team typically practices base-running.
Notably absent from Roschella’s practices is a strong emphasis on hitting. Roschella doesn’t have the kids doing any standard batting practice at a regular practice, preferring instead to concentrate on defense and base-running.
“There’s nothing more wasteful than having kids standing around,” he said, noting what often happens during batting practice with the rest of the team in the field. “A lot of times, we don’t even do BP. Field time is so important. What we want to do is practice defense.
“We’ll do a separate practice for BP, where we’ll show up at the cages and focus on BP for those days. That allows us to do two cages at a time and kids rotate in and out and they get a lot more cuts that way, and it’s not as disruptive to our defense.”
Of course, as Roschella points out, each team and its strengths and weaknesses are different. Practices should be designed to stress the areas of the game each individual team needs to work on, and that can change depending on the team and even from week to week for any one team.
“It’s impossible to do everything in a practice,” Roschella said, “so you have to pick and decide what’s important to you and your team.”