If you want your players to bring all the enthusiasm possible to every practice, then you must exercise all your enthusiasm in keeping practice fresh and fun. You should promise fun from the start and deliver on that promise consistently. If that’s not already the case, you can start now.
At the beginning of practice, have the players do something fun as an enticement for having a high-energy, successful practice. Fun ideas could include a homerun derby, base-running races, or throwing-accuracy contests from the outfield to a cutoff to a base. At the end of practice, promise what fun is to come in the next practice, and remind the players to bring the same energy and enthusiasm next time out.
That will have your players excited to get to practice and bring them there with smiles on their faces. A reminder of the treat to come later in the session gives them the idea that they have to stay engaged, attentive, and working hard in order for that fun portion of practice to begin.
In turn, that makes for more productive practice, so that over time your players improve their skills, and baseball and softball become even more fun for them and for you. This approach also teaches life lessons in delayed gratification and working for life’s pleasures.
Of course, the “fun” in practice need not be confined to a specific activity you’ve promised. You can introduce fun through corny jokes, trivia quizzes, and getting-to-know-you games, such as players talking about their own ideas of fun.
You also can weave fun into the necessary elements of practice. For example, all of the above can happen during warm-up jogs, stretches, and throwing drills.
It’s important to keep routines fresh. There is a time and place for tradition, and many proven stretches and exercises can be used every day. But the more you can vary, the more the players stay on their toes, not knowing what’s next, the more alert the reactions and responses.
Just about any drill can be made fun by introducing an element of friendly competition, such as counting successful reps as a team. As long as you and the players keep it positive, there are few moments that preclude jokes, nicknames, chatter, and little rewards for enthusiasm and hustle.
There really should be no end to the fun you can have with Little League, which means there should be no end to kids wanting to continue playing ball.
You can learn more about the importance of keeping things fun in this video of PCA National Advisory Board Member and Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker, which is included in PCA’s website of free resources at www.PCADevZone.org.