I sent this as an email to our Little League team, in expectation that they need some guidance and that their parents would love for them to have some activity/direction. I need to start taking some of this advice to get myself ready for MY season, assuming it starts at some point!
I’ll admit that I was absolutely gutted when they announced that our season is delayed until at least April 6th. I look forward to every practice and game as much as the players. My normal off-season was spent attempting to improve myself as a coach: pitching conference, USA baseball certifications, intense study, and new gear. So, this has been quite a shock.
That said, there are things that each player can do to prepare for when our season restarts. The two things that I shape our team our around philosophically are: Throw Hard, Run Fast. Neither of those requires a baseball practice to get better at, so you can put your efforts in this surprise “off-season” to good use.
Of course, one of our main methods is “long toss” or what USA Baseball calls “interval throwing”. For this, it’s best if you have a partner who throws at least as hard as you do. Start at further than “social distancing” apart (6 feet!) and keep moving further apart as long as you can throw it successfully in the air. If one of you can throw further, having the other bouncing it OR in extremes, using two partners to relay the throw back is fine. If you can’t find a partner, make sure you have 5 or 10 baseballs and throw at some kind of target. As you get further apart, the angle of your throws should get higher. Once you’ve reached your limit, work your way back in with each throw, lowering the angle, but keeping the effort the same. This trains your arm to throw hard direct at your target. Hit your partner in the chest (his glove will stop the ball!) with every throw. At 10 years old, you want to be throwing 120 feet at your peak. For those of you who are 11, your goal is 135 feet. Our bases are 60 feet apart, so you want to double that – throwing from behind the plate to 2nd base is only 100 feet (that’s the goal distance for 8-year-olds!)
I talk about the importance of balance and we do some of that in our warmups, but not enough to really work on it. One of the best ways to work on it anywhere is to pick up a ball while standing on one foot. I like to lift my opposite knee up like I’m in my windup, then swing down to pick up the ball. Then, I repeat it, but set the ball down. Doing this ten times with each leg really improves you balance and works your core muscles. Core muscle strength, balance and body control will all help with your ability to Throw Hard.
Since core muscle strength is such a good thing, it also makes sense to do crunches or situps as well as try ‘planking’ for 60 seconds or more. If you set 100 crunches/situps as a goal, plus 60 seconds of planking, you’ll do well. Each day, do those 100 reps and 60 seconds, even if you have to do 10 at time. When we reconvene, we’re going to have a contest for the longest plank as well as the longest throw.
The best way to develop speed is by running. We don’t need you to run a mile. We just need you to be able to run 60, 120, 180 and 240 feet as fast as you can. Jogging 240 feet doesn’t help. One of the good ways my basketball coaches used to work on our speed was by doing shuttle runs. You need three lines or three cones to use as markers. Set them down 30 feet apart, so that it’s a total of 60 feet. Start at the first cone, run to the middle one and then back. Then run to the far one and only back to the middle, returning to the far one to turn around and run back to the start. Do ten or twelve of these a day. If you can have someone time you, that’s best. That way you can keep track of how much you improve.
I used to lament when I’d see players who couldn’t touch their toes, especially if they used to be able to do so. The good news is that I didn’t understand what was happening. In your age range, you’re still growing and sometimes, your bones grow faster than your muscles. When that happens, it the BEST time to train for speed. So, if you suddenly can’t reach your toes, that’s good news for your spring times.
I expect everyone on the team to come back from our off-season faster than when we last met.
Some notes for catchers
Spend time in your gear. I do have a complete set of gear that belongs to the team if there is a catcher with out their own set. (Make sure to disinfect the helmet, just in case!)
If you get in your crouch, you can either have someone toss you a ball to catch bare-handed with your glove hand or bounce it off a wall. You want to have “soft hands” so you catch the ball rather than have it bounce out of your glove. The most improvement comes from holding a ball with your last two fingers while catching the ball with the other three. You might need to use a golf ball or something else small for guys with shorter fingers.
Here’s one of my mentors, Jeff Smith, doing it with major league catchers from the Twins on the first day of spring training in 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Dty9ZLuUqI
Practice chasing a ball that’s gotten past you. This is best done by putting three balls on the ground several feet behind you. Get in your crouch with your glove and have a partner call out “1”, “2” or “3” for you to go grab the ball that’s toward 1st base, in the middle or toward 3rd base. Your partner can cover the plate like the pitcher for you to throw for the tag. One pro tip is that you can slide on your left left leg (if you’re a righty) when you go for the ball. The shin guard protects and allows you to slide easily. If you do a dozen of these a day, it will bring big improvements in our defensive play.
Practice pitching! Have a partner take video of you throwing. The best angles are: facing you from the side and from 3/4ths forward. The angle from behind tends not to be as revealing, but does allow people watching to see the location of the pitch. It’s better if you have a target to throw at and to have someone else tell you whether it’s a ball or a strike, but that’s not required. Every time you throw, write down how many pitches you throw. Treat it like a game and if you throw more than 20 pitches, don’t pitch 2 days in a row. If you throw 36 pitches, take 2 days off. Never throw more than 50 pitches until after we start practicing. If your shoulder or elbow hurt, don’t throw that day or stop throwing when it happens.
If you take video of your pitching, we can figure out how I can help you analyze it to determine what might help you do better.
Some of the indoor cages are open, but even with cleaning at the top of their list, most of them are too tight a space. Since you want to keep 6 feet away from other people, indoor cages might not be feasible.
The batting cages at Simpson, Minnie Howard and Brenman (over at the baseball field) are never locked, so you can either have someone pitch/toss balls to you or take a hitting tee. I like to use the SKLZ impact balls (yellow and black), especially if someone’s going to be doing soft toss near you – less risk of injuring them. I order them off Amazon for $16/dozen. They’re indestructible in comparison to the cheap white ones and they come with a bag. https://amzn.to/3b01yCZ
Basically, I want everyone to keep training. I don’t know when we’ll be back on the field, but if you spend at least one hour every day, you’ll be ready when we do.