Game Speed Practice Can Pay Off Big

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Practicing at game speed has been an integral part of Ron Polk’s Hall of Fame coaching career.

The former Mississippi State baseball head coach is the winningest coach in any sport in the history of the Southeastern Conference.

He enters his 10th season as Alabama Birmingham’s volunteer assistant coach.

Polk retired from Mississippi State in 2008, following his 29th season at the school. He currently ranks 14th all-time in NCAA coaching victories with 1,373.

“The basic concept of game speed practice is something that everyone should do in all sports,” said Polk.

“And that is to have your practices structured like you play in a game and practice at game speed. When players get physically and mentally tired, you stop whether it be playing defense, hitting or any other aspect of the game.

“That is why we only allow our hitters to take six or seven cuts at a time in any station. In a game, you won’t have 25 cuts in a row unless you foul off a lot of pitches. We give them breaks. We tell them when you get tired, stop. If you are going full speed, you will be better prepared. It doesn’t matter what hitting station the player is at. We want every hitter to wear a helmet every time he hits in any fashion as well. If he doesn’t, it is not the same as in a game.

“The same thing goes for defense. Each player will only get five or six ground balls in one sequence. Baseball is a game played in spurts. So we practice in spurts just like a game.

“If you don’t go full speed in practice and then go all out in a game, you will have a hard time adjusting to real game conditions.

“We try to simulate bunt defenses, double steal defenses and pickoff plays. We have our own signal system which all the players go through. We have a wipe off signal. If we are going through bunt defenses and double steal defenses, I will locate myself in the dugout just like in a ball game. We try to have runners on base. We try to make everything in practice as game like as we can.

“You obviously won’t have umpires out there or have game uniforms on and you don’t have big crowds in the stands. But you try to simulate what games will be like.

“The same thing is true with scrimmage games. You try to simulate situations in a game. When a guy makes a play in a ball game, you want him to feel good about himself because he has made that same play over and over again at game speed in practices.

“Where coaches run into a problem is where a player don’t feel comfortable because he says to himself, ‘I have done it a couple of times but don’t feel confident because I haven’t done it over and over again.’ Baseball is a game of repetition.

“The other thing is that we try to practice things which happen over and over again in games. You can spend time on things that don’t happen often, but not as much as the normal plays you see all the time. The things we work on all the time are bunt defenses, fly balls, communication on popups, ground ball communication with balls in the 6-hole and 4-hole, cutoffs, relays, tandem double cuts, players who go to the wall, picking up ground balls.

“Other areas include fly balls over a shoulder or the do or die play on the infield. Spend a lot of time on the basic, routine plays rather than spending a lot of time on rundowns and backhand plays in the hole by the shortstop which will happen once a year as he gets the guy out at first base.”

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Coach Polk also talks about the value of precision practice planning, the value of homework assignments for players, why players have two playbooks and why game-speed practices pay off big in games. He also delves into why virtually all running is done on the bases and not in the outfield or from foul pole to foul pole and why coaches rarely talk to each other in practice. In addition, Coach Polk discusses the problem of base running during pre-game batting practice because it never is done at game speed. So why do it? Polk also talks about penalty rounds in hitting with his players so they stay much more focused and special pitching counts to work on with hitters, plus more.

Ron Polk’s Baseball Playbook

The best book ever written on coaching baseball was compiled by Ron Polk many years ago called the Baseball Playbook. It features 520 pages of instruction and costs $30. Go to the following web site: for more information.