The backyard is a frequently overlooked location to improve the baseball skills of all ages of athletes. It doesn't require much equipment, and expensive batting cage rental, an organized team practice, and only requires a few minutes each day to help a baseball player improve. This article will cover some drills you can do in the backyard to better make almost any age baseball player.
Hitting is something that we can work on in the backyard. When baseball players get older than t-ball level, we have to account for the fact that they are likely to hit the ball over or through the fence, but we'll talk about that in a moment.
In the backyard, we can work on the three h's for hitting: hips, head, hands. We use our hips to hit, this helps us with power. We keep our hands close to our body during the swing, this lets us swing faster. Finally, we keep our head on the ball throughout the swing, which helps us see the ball. All of these can be trained in the backyard!
First, hitting starts with the athlete's feet. The backyard is where we can teach the footwork with hitting. Practice having your baseball player get into a stance, load (i.e., shift their weight to their back leg), then pivot their back foot as they turn their hips into the pitch. Have them do this as a warm-up for hitting!
The next drill uses a rubber mallet. Set up to hit next to a batting tee instead of using a baseball bat using a rubber mallet. Photo one shows a picture of one of my disabled baseball players set up to do this drill. The idea is to set up next to the tee as if the athlete is using a baseball bat. The stance and footwork are the same. The difference is that the mallet forces the athlete to keep their hands inside when swinging.
This drill is also done off a batting tee and reinforces the H's. The athlete sets up next to the tee. As they swing the bat, they attempt to hit the ball with the knob of the bat. While reinforcing footwork and keeping the head down, it also helps teach keeping the hands in while swinging.
The backyard is also an appropriate place to work on batting via soft toss. This doesn't require much space and still allows the athlete to put everything together to coordinate hitting a baseball.
Now, the backyard is a terrible place for athletes older than t-ball age to hit a baseball. Why? Because they'll hit the ball outside the yard, into a fence, or a house window. Baseballs, softballs, and even Wiffle balls are going to be bad for this. The best alternative is to purchase some sand-filled baseballs to practice hitting in the backyard.
The backyard is a great place to practice how to pitch. You may not be able to get the right distance or correct mound height, but you can work on the motions and learning the skill. You can do several great drills in the backyard.
The freeze drill emphasizes the stride and ensures the athlete's body is in the right positions during the stride. Often mistakes here are seen with where the ball ends up as a result of the pitch. Have the athlete pitch from the stretch. First, they will get their sign. Then they will come set, then move into the stride. At this point, they will freeze when their front foot contacts the ground. This gives you a chance to make adjustments. Once the athlete is in the right position, have them finish the pitch from that frozen position.
Windup vs. Stretch
There are situations where we pitch from the windup and situations where we pitch from the stretch. It's important to practice both. In the backyard, we can work on the footwork and even simulate pitching from both.
If you have enough room to do this safely (by that, I mean you can safely catch the pitches without being killed), then pitching can be practiced in the backyard. The challenge is that as athletes get older and throw harder, you may not have enough room in the backyard to react to the pitch and catch it!
Finally, you can purchase baseballs that are heavier than normal baseballs. These can help develop upper body strength and emphasize the need to use the legs and hips when throwing. This type of catch can also be done with different pitches and grips.
The backyard is a great place to practice almost every skill that a catcher needs to an extent. You can put down a home plate, or something that represents home plate, and go from there!
You can practice blocking movements in the backyard. Practice how to drop down, how to push to either side and drop down, how to lean forward, how to protect the throwing hand, etc. I like to use this as a warm-up for catchers:
- Block to the middle three times
- Block to the left three times
- Block to the right three times
- Move around the plate and block to each corner to the right and to the left.
Second, you can roll balls to the catcher that angle in different directions so that they have to react to it and block the ball.
While you can't work on throwing accurately to each of the bases in the backyard, you can work on the footwork and stance behind doing that. Call out the situation (Dropped third strike! 2nd base! 3rd base!). Have the catcher work on exploding up, angling their body to the appropriate base, getting their hands up near their ear, and preparing to throw.
The backyard is excellent for teaching the fundamentals behind framing pitches. Catching with the arm extended, making little movements with the wrist to frame the pitch, etc. This can be done by having the catcher get into their receiving stance and tossing them the ball to work on this. You can work on situations (outside pitch, high pitch, low pitch, etc.) very effectively.
Stances and Receiving
While it's difficult to pitch to a catcher in the backyard, you can work on having them practice their stances and have them catch baseballs that you throw to them.
Fielding is challenging to replicate in the backyard. Grass gets in the way. I don't recommend hitting ground balls to baseball players in the backyard. You are better served by throwing/rolling ground balls to them. Work on getting your athlete into an athletic position (baseball ready!). Moving so that the ball stays in front of them, using both hands to trap the ball, and come up prepared to make the throw the correct base.
Like fielding, it's challenging to hit pop flies to a baseball player in the backyard. You can toss the ball up into the air so that they can practice calling it, getting under it, using both hands to catch it, and then setting up to throw to the appropriate person.
All types of conditioning exercises can be done in the backyard, and they don't even require much equipment.
Total Body Exercises
- Jumping rope
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
- Bear crawls
Push-ups, with walkouts: (get in the push-up position, walk the hands forward as far as is comfortable, then walk them back)
Three-way shoulders: (get in the push-up position, raise the right arm in front of you, now raise it to the side, now raise it behind you, then repeat with the left arm) are great ways to develop the shoulder joint.
Squats, lunges, inchworms, crab walks, and hip raises can be done for the lower body. Then planks, crunches, leg raises, etc. can be done for the core
There is a myth with some baseball players that the work done in an organized practice is enough to make their players better. The truth is that baseball players need to practice outside of their 1-2 practices a week. The backyard provides a lot of opportunities to improve baseball skills!
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