At Junction City High, we find ourselves constantly “playing from behind” with regard to the skill development of our athletes, since our community is so transient in terms of population. As a result, we spend a great deal of time establishing a workable base of fundamental skills to which we refer.
Our overall offensive philosophy is to “play to our strengths, while creating weakness in the opposition.” We do this in a variety of ways, both at practice and in games. Here, in outline form is that offensive philosophy:
AT PRACTICE HITTING
1. Coaches will teach from a consistent, base philosophy, with the following terms used during “coaching points” (from Lau’s “Absolutes of Hitting”).
- Rhythm and movement in the stance (never dead still)
- Relaxed, but quick, arms and hands (no white knuckling)
- Striding with the front toe slightly closed in the direction the ball is coming from (stay on the ball; avoid flying open)
- Weight shift from back side to front side
- Using the whole field to hit (go the other way, etc.)
- Finish the swing/have the bat head clear the hitting area before top hand release, if then2. Every drill, every rep must be done with a specific purpose in mind. We must work on our weaknesses, not just refine our strengths.
- Going the other way
- Pulling the inside pitch
- Moving the runner over, etc.3. Drills will include, but not be limited to:
- Tee work – encourage the use of a spare home plate and movement of the tee (inside pitch, heart, outside pitch simulation)
- Soft/side toss – insist on consistency in the toss and game-type simulation (ball out front, toss varies in location with regard to hitter, etc.)
- Machine BP in cage/tunnel – if this is to be of value, it is for the speed of repetition; work quickly and get out
- Live BP in cage/tunnel – coach throws (when available); only here after work in establishing swing fundamentals is done on tees, with soft side toss, off of machine; final smoothing of the edges before taking the field
- Live BP on field – again, every swing should be taken with a purpose: bunts, runner movement, etc., should be included in each round; concentration by coaches, players, managers, etc. should be at a game-like level
- Scrimmage hitting – the approach taken in games will be the approach we use in all scrimmage situations. (What is the count? What is the situation? What do I need to get done here?)
1. We will use active, intense drills to improve this aspect of the game, with a few underlying ideas:
- When working on defense (with runners providing an assist), runners will be in full gear with helmets (why practice any way other than how we’ll play?)
- Runners in defensive drills will not be limited to pitchers and outfielders; too many times we let infielders get out of these drills and it backfires in a game when they fail to react to situations they could/would have seen in practice
- When doing drills on base running, coaches will always occupy the first and third base coaching boxes…we must familiarize our players with using those coaches, and coaches will benefit from the reps as well.
- When conditioning, try to do so on the bases – anyone can run poles, but an aggressive offensive team will do its work on the paths; specialized positional running is of a coach’s choice
- Communication, communication, communication (coaches are paid to open their mouths and assume nothing)
IN GAMES HITTING
1. This is the time to take what we’ve learned at practice and put it into play.
2. Work the mental game even more diligently than in practice.
- Watch the pitcher work in the following locations: while he warms up in pen, while he takes his seven prior to a half inning, while he works to the three hitters prior to your at bat
- Play the mental game right along with him: look for tendencies – what pitch does he like while ahead in the count?; what pitch does he like while behind in the count?; what’s his “out” pitch; what did he do with me during a previous at bat?3. Move to home plate with a plan and a purpose. Clear your head and go to work.
- What do we need to get done here for our team to be successful?
- Sacrifice an at-bat, if necessary, for the good of the team4. Use the count and dictate to the pitcher, not the other way around.
- Make the 2-0 and 3-1 pitches be “yours” before pulling the trigger
- Ask the umpire for time if the guy on the bump has started dictating the rhythm; find yours and stay comfortable.5. Relax and play.
1. Speed kills, and sometimes it gets both teams.
2. We go full out from first step out of the box until we put the helmet back in the bag.
- When we’re retired, we leave the helmet on, hustle to the dugout and take if off at the bag.
- When retired to end an inning, we hustle to a coach, hand them the helmet and sprint to our position.
- Helmets never, ever hit the ground.3. From that first step out of the box, our base coaches are a runner’s guide, but not a crutch.
- Provide eyes, not instincts.
- Communicate with voice as well as gestures.
- Never err on the side of having told a runner too little
- Work with runners on recognizing moves, etc.4. Coach aggressively, not stupidly.
- Always know the count and game situation.
- Always know the speed of each runner involved.
- When the extra base is there, help us take it.
- If a young man is thrown out on a close play, stay aggressive and go after it again.5. On the straight steal, remember it’s OK to go back if it’s impossible to go forward.
6. On a hit and run or squeeze, make sure there’s acknowledgement on both sides, or ask for time.
David Svoboda is in his third year as the head baseball coach at Basehor-Linwood High School in Kansas, where he serves as a journalism, leadership and contemporary issues teacher.Prior to coming to Basehor-Linwood, Svoboda spent 10 years as a teacher and baseball coach at Junction City High School, where he managed the team to its first ever I-70 League baseball championship in 2002. Svoboda is a 1987 graduate of Kansas State, where he spent one season as a volunteer assistant coach. He also has an extensive background as a summer coach for 14-to-18-year-olds, with a head coaching record of 120-63 during summers in the 1990s.