Home Book Reviews Book Review: Play Ball. 100 Baseball Practice Games by Tom O’Connell

Book Review: Play Ball. 100 Baseball Practice Games by Tom O’Connell

by Matt Smith

Play Ball: 100 Baseball Practice Games by Tom O’Connell (Human Kinetics, 2010), 226 pages

Many baseball teams in Britain, whether adults or youths, are working hard at their indoor training sessions right now, with ‘Spring Training’ just around the corner, albeit not quite in the Arizona or Florida climate enjoyed by Major Leaguers Stateside. Often it’s in the preseason period that teams have the most time to develop their skills and coaches are busy trying to find new ways to organize training sessions that are both useful and enjoyable.  If a quick glance at the coaching manuals on your bookshelves makes you long for a new source of inspiration, ‘Play Ball’ may provide it.

Tom O’Connell is a well-respected baseball coach with years of experience.  The sum of that experience is what prompted him to write a new coaching manual:

“Through the years of clinics and hot-stove discussions, one thought kept irritating me. Why is it that at practice we work on drill after drill after drill, our players master the drills and look better and better, but they keep making the same mistakes in games? Maybe, I thought, they are just getting better at doing drills”.  In O’Connell’s eyes, coaches have got into the habit of teaching, when their objective should be to facilitate learning. 

 ‘Play Ball’ is designed to help you do just that. 

The book contains 100 baseball practice ‘games’, not ‘fielding drills’ or ‘training exercises’.  They are split into chapters of between ten and eighteen games relating to core baseball skills, such as ‘Throwing Games’, ‘Catching Games’, ‘Infield Games’, ‘Outfield Games’, ‘Pitching Games’ etc.  Each game includes a succinct introduction of what it is designed to do, details of the equipment required and how to set the game up, a clear ‘procedure’ description of both how the standard game works and suggestions on how it can be adapted to suit different skill levels or specific requirements, alongside a useful diagram.  Each ‘game’ ends with a list of ‘coaching points’ for the coach to look out for as the ‘game’ is being played.

A skill level rating (basic to advanced) and an age rating (‘8 and over’, ’12 and over’, ‘All’ etc) are attached to each game and this information, plus other details, is very helpfully included in a matrix at the beginning of the book, allowing you to easily identify which games you might want to utilise depending on what skills you are seeking to develop and the age/skill of the players you are coaching.  Finally, a selection of ‘Practice Plans’ gives you some pointers on how to incorporate the games into training sessions of different lengths.

The details provided for each game and the user-friendly layout of the book immediately make it a useful coaching tool, but its main strength is the nature of the ‘games’ that it contains.  O’Connell makes a great point about how learning skills is only half the battle. “Just as mastering multiplication tables doesn’t mean students have learned math” he writes, “mastering the mechanical skills of baseball, although important, doesn’t mean that players have learned the game. They need to learn not only to play the game technically but also how to connect the dots tactically”.

And that’s what the games allow you to do.  The approach is excellent for coaches because each game can be adapted easily, “shaped” as O’Connell puts it, to suit your objective.  They allow the coach to freeze a play when a mistake occurs, re-set the situation, allow the players involved to work out where they are going wrong and then give them an opportunity to try it again.  And the games are designed to challenge players and to add an element of competition into the practices, rather than allowing anyone to just ‘go through the motions’ while completing drills that they’ve done a hundred times before.

O’Connell’s ‘Games Approach’ is all about allowing players “to learn the game through enjoyable learning activities featuring gamelike practices that create realistic situations through which they can develop baseball sense”.  It’s not a revolutionary concept, but the best ideas rarely are. 

Take one game called ‘Doubles’.  A player hits the ball off a tee or a toss and then has to run to first and then to second as if he or she has hit a double.  The fielders must make three throws, touching a base after each, before the player gets to second base.  If they do, the player is out.  If the runner beats them to second base, the offense scores one point (there’s the competition element).  The only requirement is that the third throw must go to second base, so that means the fielders are not simply following a pattern (throw to third, then to first, then to second etc), they are having to react and make split-second decisions (there’s the ‘baseball sense’ element), while coping with the possible distraction of the base-runner and the pressure of beating the runner to second (there’s the ‘gamelike’ element).  All the time the coach is watching to make sure the fielders are throwing and catching the ball in the proper way, while the batter gets some practice in running the bases.

Reading through the games makes you appreciate exactly what O’Connell is getting at and why he thinks this is a better approach than a traditional ‘drills’/teaching method.  In particular, they look like the sort of activities that ballplayers will enjoy taking part in.

Whether you are coaching a little league team, adult newcomers or more experienced senior players, Play Ball should offer you plenty of ideas to incorporate into your training sessions this spring and beyond.

Have you read “Play Ball: 100 Baseball Practice Games”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you recommend any other similar books? If so, let us know.

You may also like

1 comment

Brent Henze January 27, 2010 - 4:08 pm

As a long time baseball coach, I would like to hear more about this book. I haven’t read it yet, but it sure looks interesting and it seems like it has great information. I am going to await some more reviews before purchasing, so if you have read this book, please post a review. I am looking forward to hearing more about this.

I actually have my own youth baseball site, so I may end up reading this book and using the book as a resource on my site. I just want to make sure I have good info before publishing. Send me a note here or on my web site by clicking here.



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.