It is said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first impression you want to make on your team is that this is going to be fun!
Make it so from your first practice. Bring plenty of energy to the field, along with jokes and riddles. Be willing to be corny. Smile. Laugh. Encourage and reward your players when they do the same. Just make it genuine, and how could it not be genuinely fun when you get to coach and they get to play such a great game?
“But, what about winning?” you may ask. Well, winning is fun, and to a great extent, having fun makes you a winner on and off the field. So, here are some ideas on how to make practice fun.
Everyone tell a joke or funny story during warm-ups. That way, the outgoing kids establish their leadership and the introverts start to come out of their shells. That begins to engender a confidence that feeds into their plate and field performances. It also helps the players bond so that they’re willing to “go to bat” for each other in challenging times.
Recognize birthdays and other milestones. Give your players the sense that you care about them. Have the player whose birthday comes next sing Happy Birthday to today’s birthday boy or girl. Give the players a little chance to express pride in their school grades or a sibling’s accomplishment.
Make every drill a competition. Kids love to compete. They’re keeping mental score even when you are not. Zig-zag drill? Whoever completes it first, or whoever completes it cleanly, or with the fewest drops after several trips down the line gets a treat. Timed base-running? Make it a relay race.
Keep things moving. No standing around waiting for reps. If you’re doing run down drills with five players, and you have 9 or 10 others on your roster, run three run-down drills. You may not be able to watch all three at once and be able to technically pick apart each throw, but technically picking apart each throw is no fun, anyway, and the other 10 players who would have been left standing around are now engaged, appreciative of the fun, and maybe tired enough to listen intently to your summary praise and criticism of their drill.
Test players in different positions. Give players a chance to audition all over the field. Help your natural pitchers, catchers, and shortstops understand the humility that can come with playing right field. When they better understand what their teammates’ experience is waiting for some action, they will empathize and become better teammates. Celebrate achievement. Positively reinforce accomplishment as often as possible. Be careful not to over-do it, or your constant faint, shallow praise will fall on deaf ears as will your future sincere, earned praise. But, any time any player legitimately steps it up a notch in effort or results, celebrate. Sometimes with ice cream.
Three words. Home run derby.