For the past 14 years, Danny Hensley has run one of the most successful high school softball programs in Florida.
The head coach has guided Niceville (FL) High School to a state championship in 2011, as well as three state runner-up finishes and five state tournament appearances overall. Niceville has won at least 20 games in all 14 seasons under Hensley, a one-time winner of the National Coach of the Year award.
A major component for Niceville’s success is due to Hensley’s military background.
Hensley, who spent 21 years in the Air Force, says his service helped shape the life lessons he now imparts on the diamond.
“Work ethic and self discipline are the backbone of a strong program and team,” Hensley said. “I think the military instilled discipline in me and I'm able to convey over to my players. I learned in the military that I was capable of a lot more than I had ever done before and I use that as example to my players.”
The military taught Hensley the type of consistency that he’s used to shape the Niceville program. The coach believes building positive habits in practice translates to results on game day.
“We talk about having a developing a process every day at practice. The reason being is because this can be such a mental game and if you don't have a process to go to you will get eaten alive during the pressure situations,” Hensley said. “We practice every day on using the same routines and talk about making sure regardless if we are 10 runs ahead or 10 runs behind or the winning run is on 3rd base with two outs and I'm up, ‘I will go to my same routine’. That is what makes teams successful during the playoffs because that enables them to calm down, get their heart rate down and make good decisions.”
Hensley shared an overview of what a typical Niceville practice looks like:
10-15 minutes of throwing drills: The players start out on knees concentrating on keeping their elbow high and having a good wrist snap; Then to their feet working out core muscles in their throw with a stomach twist drill; Finally the regular throwing motion at about 20 feet and backing up 10 feet about every eight throws until they are around 80 feet.
Five each: relay throws, double play throws, fake throws and receiving throws applying tags on base runners.
1 hour of defensive drills and team defense: Ball rolls, forehand, backhand, short-hop, bunts, barehanded, fielding and throwing from different angles, drop-steps, taking proper angles, throwing to bases, turning double plays, throwing and getting in the right cut-off positions, backup positions bunt coverage, 1st and 3rd base coverage, fly ball coverage and communication with each other.
1 hour of hitting: Pitchers and catchers hit first so they go to the bullpen and pitch after they hit. The hitters start out on the tees and take 10-15 swings from different angles, then go to one cage and bunt and slap off pitching machine. Then the next cage and hit off one of the coaches and then go to the field and hit off another coach. The pitchers also throw live to the hitters. There’s also bunting and slapping stations.
Conclusion: Base running for training and conditioning.
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