Practice Motivation for Youth Baseball

1 Easy Coaching "Hack" That Dramatically Improves Your Drill Progressions

One of the most challenging parts of coaching youth baseball is working with kids of different skill levels.

You've been there right?

You've got some kids who've been practicing on teams, or at home with their Dads, for years. And other kids who've never put on a glove before.

So how do you design a practice that keeps all of your kids motivated, engaged and having fun... without overwhelming the beginners... or putting the experienced players to sleep?

Before I answer that, let's get into some nitty gritty sports psychology for a second... then I'll show you some practical ways to solve this problem with your own team.

How To Keep ALL Your Players Motivated

Kids play sports to have fun.

And they have fun by reaching their optimal level of stimulation (or "arousal" as sports psychologists like to call it).

If your practice drills are too easy or repetitive, their arousal level is too low, and they're bored.

If the drills are too hard, their arousal level is too high, and they get stressed out or anxious. They tense up and have trouble with fine motor control.

So the key to making your practice fun is fitting the difficulty of the skills to be learned to the ability level of your athletes. You want to the task to be difficult enough to be challenging, but not so difficult that they see no chance of success.

Sports psychologists call this the "Flow Zone" - the heart pumps more oxygen to the working muscles, attention is heightened and focused, and motivation is increased.

So that's simple enough, right?

But the challenge comes when you have athletes with wildly different skill levels.

The Flow Zone

Working With Different Skill Levels

Say you've got three kids on your team of 10-11 year olds.

  • Jimmy

    Playing organized baseball since he was 4

  • Joey

    Coordinated kid who picks things up quickly

  • Johnny

    A bit behind developmentally and never played organized sports before

A more difficult drill would put Jimmy and Joey right in their Flow Zone, but leave Johnny stressed out, anxious and unable to perform.

An easier drill would be the perfect Flow level for Johnny, but might bore Jimmy and Joey to tears.

So What Do You Do?

The simple solution is to break up your team into smaller groups, then use stations to help each group get into their personal Flow Zone.

For example, say you spend 30 minutes of your practice time on hitting.

Set up two hitting stations and split the team up into two groups. Your more experienced hitters with you, and your less experienced hitters with one of your assistants.

If you don't have an assistant to help out, get one of the Moms or Dads onto the field to supervise a station and give them a skills checklist to follow.

Hitting Station A (the more experienced kids) would run three hitting drills for 10 minutes each, with a focus on reinforcing the proper mechanics and improving their tactical hitting skills.

For example... an "inside-outside-up-the-middle" drill... a 2-strike hitting drill... and an off-speed or curveball hitting drill.

Hitting Station B (the less experienced kids) would focus more on basic fundamentals, with lots of instruction on the phases of the swing.

For example, a dry swing drill... a tee drill... and a soft toss drill.

Obviously you would adjust these drills depending on the age and competitive level, but the concept remains the same. More customized drills that hit your players right in that Flow Zone, and keep them challenged, engaged, and interested in what you're teaching.

Do you think this strategy would work for your team? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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