A Different Practice [ARTICLE]

A Different Practice
By: Coach Marty Berson

Albeit that I have coached for decades this being my 50th year, every season presents a new learning experience. This year despite stealing an inordinate number of bases my team still did not fully comprehend our base running concepts. In a controlled environment of drill oriented practice the team always responded as though the comprehension was there. However in the heat of battle under game conditions their recognition of the things worked on in practice was absent.

The answer why is simple, they knew what to expect and how to respond to the particular drill. Coaches can be lulled into a false sense of security and deceived into believing that the team has accrued the comprehension and technical skills exhibited in practices. For most players the game moves too fast. At game speed they fail to recognize and react to the very things that were the emphasis of practice. As hard as we have tried to instill an aura of freedom to be reactive and not robotic most players unfortunately remain robotic. This is a bane of frustration.
Our belief that drills remain an essential and important aspect of a practice plan has not deviated. Initially drills are a necessity to facilitating the building blocks of reactionary instincts. However, once we believe that our athletes have absorbed our concepts and techniques during practice must be tested at game speed. Then and only then will we have accurate information of our learning progress. As the saying goes "the proof is in the pudding".

In observing game after game it is too common to see players failing to do the basic fundamentals on a routine basis. The emphasis of the observations are not of the physical but the mental aspects of the game: outfielders throwing to the wrong base, pitchers not backing up bases or not getting off the mound to field bunts, baserunners picked off or getting poor jumps, hitters not going up to hit with a plan, hitters who routinely fail to move runners from second base with zero outs, simple rundowns turned into a circus. These are just a few examples. In the controlled environment these mental breakdowns are much rarer. Based solely on observation of positive practice results it's no wonder coaches get frustrated when in the heat of battle their teams can't execute as they had in practice.

Next season we are planning practice plans that are going to be less controlled and more situational and game like. Unpredictability is the key component. The more we can enact with live situations, the better we can evaluate the reactionary skills of our players. Our plan is to choreography as many different scenarios of the same situation as possible. Example runner at first base: straight steal, sacrifice bunt, run and bunt, slash, run and hit and delay steal. We will repeat these scenarios over and over until we are satisfied that we can adequately both defend and execute offensively. We will present as many different offensive and defensive options for the multitude of situations at every base with single or multiple base runners that may occur in any game. Every offensive or defensive situation can be replicated over and over. Unpredictability is the key element. Our plan is to implement this form of practice three times a week; all live and as close to game speed as possible. The unpredictability aspects should greatly aid in revealing the team's reactive abilities or lack thereof.

There are obvious challenges in running reactionary practices. Our pitchers will be asked to throw more and our players will be asked to play at game speed, which could lead to injuries. Both must be closely monitored. The other practice days will be more controlled to address problem areas. Obviously this is a different practice approach. We are going to prove to ourselves one way or the other that this practice format will better prepare our players for any and all potential game situations. We are resolute in our commitment to transforming our player from being ROBOTIC to being REACTIVE.

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10 Jul 2018

By Coach Marty Berson
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