We are in the thick of Summer Tournament Season with travel and games all weekend and sometimes mid-week games as well. It is easy for our kids to put off getting the practice reps they need to stay sharp, not to mention keeping their skill development on the rise.
Many of us took piano lessons as a child or made an attempt at learning another musical instrument. What was the constant factor in the effort to learn to play the piano? Extra practice at home. When learning to play an instrument, a child doesn't just spend the 30 or 60 minutes each week at their lesson, or the few times a week at school playing in band class and expect to become a competent musician. They practice at home as well.
The same goes for baseball and softball skills…
CONSTANT REPETITIONS IS KEY
Playing a lot of games (while this has great value for developing game sense) and going to a weekly summer practice is not enough for a young player to be as skilled as possible. Like learning to play the piano, a ball player needs to get drill reps in the fundamental skills of batting, fielding and throwing throughout the summer...beyond the time spent on the field.
The fact is, developing physical skills requires daily repetition of the proper actions of the fundamental skills in order for a young player to maintain their competence in execution and to continue improving.
But long grueling workouts are not required. Spending just 15 minutes a day can make a big difference in performance and improvement. Many drills can be done right at home in the yard, garage or on the pavement in front of the house.
Our kids (and us parents) are committing a lot of time to playing the game. Let's invest an additional 60-90 minutes a week to maximize the experience. Sure its fun to just go out and play, but might it be even more fun when our young players are performing to the best of their ability? Of course it would be! We all enjoy doing things more when we feel we are doing them as well as we can.
ENJOY TIME WITH THEM WHILE THEY ARE YOUNG
What a great way to spend time with our children. We PLAY with them and help them develop their softball and baseball skills at the same time. Even if its just those 15 minutes that we spend with them PLAYING each day, they know that mom or dad is thinking of them and making time for them. Not only does this help them to improve, we develop a stronger bond and childhood memories of this special time with mom or dad. Memories they will hold onto for a lifetime.
THROWING AND CATCHING
The foundation of the game is playing catch...but we want to play catch properly. Footwork is the key to strong and accurate throws (and arm safety). The feet are also critically important when catching (the ball doesn't always come straight to us).
When our kids throw, we want to encourage them to shuffle their feet (push with their feet to gain power from their legs) in our direction leading into the throw (the only player on the field who 'steps to throw' is the pitcher delivering a pitch). Watch the baseball highlights on TV tonight. When those big, strong, world class athletes throw the ball across the field, they don’t simply swing their arm to throw; they “Move their feet” to throw. (watch 0:45 - 1:10 of the video)
When throwing the ball back to our kids, intentionally throw it a foot or two to one side or the other - for many of us this happens without even trying ; ) Doing this requires them to “Move Their Feet” to catch. We also want to teach them to "Reach Forward to Catch". (Many young players haven't yet developed great strength in their shoulders, so they hold their gloves too close to their body when catching.) In the process they develop an important habit that will serve them well (and their team) come game time, especially when they are taking an offline throw at a base. When taking a throw at a base we always teach, "Ball First; Base Second".
Note: when making these semi-wide throws, we want to tell our kids in advance, so they know what to expect and can consciously work on developing this important habit.
A simple tip: when practicing the pitching delivery between games have our kids work from 30'-35'. This doesn't work their arm so much, and keeps them fresh and strong. More importantly, when they are not so concerned with 'just getting it there', they can put their focus on the mechanics of their delivery.
Have your young ballplayer take 30-40 good swings a day off a tee (and point out to them that hitting balls off a tee is something college and pro players do all the time - the tee isn't just for Tee-Ball). This takes less than five minutes, but goes a long way towards maintaining and improving swing quality and bat speed. The more the muscles repeat the swing action, the quicker and stronger they become.
LIVE BATTING: Pick up a dozen or two wiffle balls from the store. Following the swings on the tee, hit 30-40 live pitches to maintain and improve timing - and to have some fun too!
Wiffle balls are great because they don't break windows ...but more importantly, they don't fly nearly as far as actual baseballs or softballs. This means less time picking them up and more time swinging; or getting through a live workout quicker. Also, when using a wiffle ball, we can pitch from a shorter distance, which results in our being more accurate with our pitches. Our child gets a lot more quality swings this way. ...this again, is a big time saver.
Finally, because wiffle balls are not prone to causing the damage that a regulation ball would, we can practice live batting pretty much anywhere, including at home.
Note: wiffle balls can also be used for Tee work ...therefore you don't need to buy, or deal with, a screen to hit the balls into.
A bat and a field are not required to keep our players' fielding skills sharp. We can roll the ball and toss the ball to them. Also were are much more accurate in our placement. Watch 1:00-1:35 in the first video. In the second video look at the outfield coaches in the background, watch 0:30-0:50. Below is a diagram of a simple drill that gets a player a lot of fielding reps in a small space, in short period of time.
More ideas of activities that you can participate in with your child, to help them build their skills, can be found on the ‘Skill Building Warm-up’ page of the Baseball Positive website. There you will find a lot of simple and fun skill building activities you can do with your child at home.
Also, check out the Baseball Positive Coaching Guide