T-Ball Practice at Home
Little League Structure
The little league in our town is 100% volunteer-driven and we're so appreciative of all the wonderful parents who contribute their time to coaching and managing the teams. For both my kids' teams, there was one practice at the beginning of the season and then they went straight into games. For the kids who arrive early, the coaches might practice catching and throwing with them before the game, but other than that, the only exposure they get is 2-3 at bats and a bit of fielding during each game.
Both my kids took a T-Ball class prior to the season starting, and have been enrolled in a multi-sport class on and off since they were a little over 2 years old. The classes definitely helped in getting the basics down in terms of form, and also teaching them how the game works. They also served as the basis for me to practice with them and coach them at home.
The way I think about it, any practice they get at home helps sharpen their skills, and makes the games more enjoyable for them. As long as it's not raining outside and we're free, we bring out the bucket of balls, the batting tee, helmet, and bat to our backyard. I set up the balls by the tee and one kid hits the bucket of balls while the other kid is in the field. I will usually spend some time with the kid at bat to work on their form, and then switch over to fielding. I have it set up so the kid in the field throws the ball towards our oak tree, which is approximately where first base would be.
Fielding and Batting
My coaching is entirely based on what I learned from watching their T-Ball class, and what the kids tell me their coaches instruct them to do. It's sufficient, from what I can tell. For the kid who is fielding, I remind them to use alligator hands, then form a "T" with their body, followed by and "L", and then step and throw. For the kid at bat, it's railroad feet, soft knees, proper distance from the tee, elbows up, bat straight, and eyes on the ball. The coaching will likely evolve as their skills develop, but this is the main gist of it for now.
Practice Schedule and Catching
We alternate batting and fielding days with catching and throwing days. Their catching needs a lot more practice at this point, so it's really me throwing the ball to them and them trying to catch it barehanded with both hands. I remind them to receive the ball, rather than pushing their hands out towards the ball. This is very much in its early stages, and we are all still figuring it out.
Habit Formation and Incentives
After the initial novelty wore off, there was some resistance to practice, particularly from my daughter. She would get distracted or bored, and wander off towards the swings or want to sit and rest. I decided to try and apply my understanding of habit formation, and instituted a reward of them getting to pick a treat-type snack for after practice. So long as they have a positive attitude and use proper form during practice, they can pick out whatever treat they want. It's usually a lollipop or small candy. This has worked to shape morale in the direction I was hoping and practice has been going a lot smoother.
Even though each practice is not very long, the consistency and extra time honing skills outside of games has really made a difference. We see very noticeable improvement from game to game, particularly with my son, who enjoys the sport more than my daughter. He also has a more engaged coach, which makes a difference, and he listens to the coaching and applies it to his game. It's a fun activity and a good way to spend some time outdoors.