"Baseball is a Game of Movement"
(youth baseball & youth softball)
Table of Contents - Articles
Your Kid Can't Hit ...picking the right bat
Examples of the Legs Swinging the Bat ...awareness is the first step in learning
Watch the World Series w/Your Kids ...hitters swing the bat with their legs
Bat Safety …don’t ask Ryan Braun of the Brewers
Advanced Training for Your Child ...what you need to know
Two Things To Help Our Kids Improve ...we are not talking about golf
Does the Coach Know What They Are Doing? ...find out what you can do about it
Help Your Child Out of a Slump ...you don't need to know how to swing a bat
Baseball is Like a Piano ...practicing at home is required
A Quality Glove is Important ...picking the right glove
The Duel Between Batter & Pitcher ...helping kids deal with pressure
Off-season Training ...ideas for indoor training
Your Kid Can’t Hit ...because their bat is too long!
Here’s the pitch; a swing and a miss. OK, buddy you’ll get the next pitch …pop-up, Alright, good; we made contact on that one. Pitch number three: weak ground ball to the first baseman …out again.
Why do many kids take looping swings under the ball, pop up or hit weak ground balls to the opposite side of the field? There are some mechanical reasons, but a major factor for many is they use bats that are too long.
When the discussion of bat size comes up the primary issue discussed is weight; length isn’t given as much thought (by parents). Regardless of weight, the longer the lever (bat), the more difficult it is to control. And while I am not a physicist (nor is it likely that many reading this are) I will suggest that a longer lever puts more stress (the feeling of weight) on the muscles in the wrists and arms. A longer bat feels heavier.
Why do kids want to swing such long bats? There are two reasons I am told by parents (and by some kids too):
1. The older kids, to whom younger kids look up to, use a longer bat and little kids naturally want to be like the bigger kids (or older brother/sister).
2. They think they need a longer bat to reach the outside part of the plate...not understanding that the sweet spot begins approximately four-plus inches from the end of the barrel. If their reasoning was correct they would need a bat that reaches four inches, or more, beyond the outer edge of the plate (how to properly hit an outside pitch is another discussion).
The first step to improving kids’ success at the plate is to get a shorter bat in their hands. Based on my experience working exclusively with the 12u age group over the past six years I feel the longest bat a 12u player needs is 29”. There is the rare exception of the kid pushing six feet who might need to go up to 30”. A good length for a Tee-Baller is 24” or 25”. Most kids age 9 or 10 will do fine with a 27” bat. Based on these two examples you can fill in the gaps based on your child’s age and size.
The most important factor in determining which bat is best for your child is to find one the feels good to them. This means taking them to the store and having them hold and swing as many bats as possible until they find one that feels right. The length of the barrel, width of the handle and distribution of weight along the length of bat varies, giving each bat a unique quality of feel. While your child doesn’t have the experience of a college star or a pro they will get to the point during your visit where they will tell you, “I like this one best”.
Regarding the issue of weight, it is my opinion that most (if not all) bats on the market are too light. It will be difficult to find a bat that is too heavy if you purchase one that is a good length for your ballplayer. Bat manufacturers produce a good percentage of bats to serve the lowest common denominator (kids who swing with their arms and not their legs) resulting in them making very light bats. I do not fault the manufacturers for doing this, however. They are in the business of supplying a product that best serves the broadest aspect of the market.
If your child is receiving proper batting instruction that has them utilizing the strength of their legs to power the swing you will be hard pressed to find a new bat that is too heavy. If finding a heavier bat is of interest, the place to shop is Goodwill or a second hand sporting goods store. My 5’ 2” 85lb, 10 year old son swings a 27”, 22 oz bat that I bought for $5 from Goodwill. I am not a cheapskate, but that is the only place I could find a ‘good’ bat for him. I would guess the thing is 20 years old. I am not suggesting you take your child to Goodwill and buy them an old bat, but if you want to find a bat that is a few ounces heavier that is where you have to go.
So here I am suggesting you ditch your kid’s bat and get them a shorter one; who am I? …just some dude up in Seattle where it rains all the time and kids only play the game six months a year. In order to better support the suggestion of going with a shorter bat I will extend the conversation to a few guys who were fairly accomplished hitters…
Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest batters in MLB history and a grown man who weighed 220-230lbs during his playing career started out his career using a 32 1/2 inch bat and did not go longer than 33 inches. Barry Bonds (who was a great hitter regardless of what types of enhancements he might have used late in his career) swung a 33 1/2 inch bat part of his career AND choked up. Babe Ruth is even quoted as saying that he would have been smarter to have used a shorter bat, which he did switch too later in his career.
“…I should have known all along, that I could do better with a shorter bat. ...going to the shorter bat was one of my best moves, and I have wondered many times since why any player would bother with swinging a stick an inch or two longer than was absolutely necessary.”
“…first 12 years of his career, he used a 32½-inch bat…”
How much should I pay for a bat?
Unless you are sure you have a child that is going to be a core member of the 11 or 12 year old All-Star team, I see no reason to spend more than $70 on a bat. There are many quality, name brand bats on the market for $50. There are more bats available the go well into the three digit range that have the space age trampoline technology that may perform a bit better. Your family budget might make that an option to explore.
However, when it comes down to it, the person swinging the bat contributes the lion’s share to success.
A couple of years ago I worked with a kid and had him try a 28”, 22oz bat from the batch I picked up from Goodwill. He ended up using it for his 12 year old season. Many considered him the best batter in the league and he was using an old thing that cost $5.
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Examples of the Legs Swinging the Bat ...awareness is the first step in learning
This is a follow up to the last post which addressed how much the legs are used in the batting swing.
0:31 0:40 0:49 0:59 1:55 2:14 2:42 3:23
The time marks are for eight swings shown in the highlights. Ideally, pause the video before each swing and scroll the screen up so that the batters are only shown from the belly button down, then play the swing. This will eliminate the bat and arms taking your attention from the swing. This will be particularly helpful for your child to focus entirely on the Legs.
This experience will help you and them to gain an acute awareness of how much the Legs contribute to the swing. For most kids the fact that the Legs contribute (significantly) to the swing is entirely foreign. Establishing an awareness of the Legs now will help them as they develop their batting skills.
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Watch The World Series With Your Child
…a fun, informative and bonding activity
When you sit down to watch the first game ask them, What does a batter use (which part of their body) to swing the bat? The logical answer, and kids are pretty logical, is a batter swings the bat with their arms. After getting that answer, tell your child, “Ya know, I’ve been told that batters swing the bat with their LEGS.” That will likely get you and odd expression from your child followed by something like, “Well that person sure is dumb.” Your response is, “Well let’s watch and see.”
During the slow motion replays, you and your child agree to not look at the batter’s upper body, but only look at the batter’s ‘pants’ (legs). Your child will see an aggressive powerful turning movement of the batter’s legs. In most cases your child will see that the legs start moving a hair sooner than the upper body and arms ….”The legs power the swing” ….Hitters ‘swing the bat with their legs’.
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How Do We Keep Our Kids from Getting Hit By a Bat? …don’t ask Ryan Braun of the Brewers
As a parent, what is your greatest fear for your child when they are playing baseball or softball? Getting hit by a thrown ball? A line drive hitting them while pitching? Taking a ball in the teeth from a bad hop?
Each of these scenarios can potentially result in a serious injury, but are considered to be ‘part of the game’ and are not entirely avoidable. There is another situation that can also result in serious injury that is entirely preventable: getting hit by a bat swung by another player.
Below is a set of rules that Baseball Positive maintains during its camps, batting classes and team workouts and, knock on wood, bat injuries have been avoided. Implement these rules in your league’s activities and keep this from ever happening to one of your kids.
RULE: All players are required to hold the bat by the barrel when moving from place to place. The only time a player is allowed to hold a bat by the handle is when they are preparing to swing^ at a ball.
^There are only two instances players are allowed to swing a bat during a league sponsored activity:
1. When standing at a spot that is designated by a coach/adult for working on the swing i.e. whiffle ball batting, batting tee, soft toss, etc.
2. When standing at home plate during batting practice, a scrimmage or a game
3. When multiple batters are swinging a bat (whiffle ball batting, tee work, etc.), no batter is allowed to move from their designated swinging spot until all participants have set their bats down.
4. No player is allowed to toss a ball up in order to swing at it i.e., ‘pitch to themselves’, play ‘golf’ with a bat and a ball that is on the ground or any other such bat swinging activity not clearly defined by a coach/adult.
Simply laying these rules out does not guarantee the kids’ safety. The coaches and adults involved with a baseball or softball activity must take a hawkish approach to enforcing these rules all day, every day, all season. We should only see kids holding a bat by the handle when they are getting ready to hit a pitched/tossed ball or when standing at a tee. Any other time we see our kids around the ball field they either do not have a bat in their hands or a carrying it by the barrel.
The incident (shown in the video) involving of Ryan Braun and Jean Segura never should have happened. There is an on-deck circle for a reason; it is a designated safe place to take warm up swings. All players and coaches know to be careful when walking near the on-deck circle and to walk wide of the in-deck circle when passing.
In this instance Braun was the third batter scheduled to hit and Segura was scheduled second. Braun wanted to start getting loose early and chose the top stop of the dugout stairs as a spot to take a few swings. He knew he as the third batter and twenty feet from him he could see the lead-off batter in the on-deck circle. He should have been well aware that the second batter would soon be coming up the stairs onto the field.
What makes this incident worse is Braun didn’t just take two handed swings that would keep the bat relatively close to his body. He swung the bat straight back behind him, in line with the stairs, with one arm. This sent the barrel of the bat nearly six feet behind him into the dugout where he knew there his teammates and coaches were located and might possibly be close by.
No player at any level of baseball has any business standing at the entrance/exit of the dugout swinging a bat. If Braun was that anxious to loosen up he could have walked down past the end of the dugout and stood where he could see the rest of his teammates and they could see him. The rules laid out above can’t be levied on a team of Major League baseball players, but most are followed using the common sense of a professional who has been around the game their entire life. Unfortunately, in this case, a grown man failed to use common sense resulting in an incident that jeopardized the career of his teammate.
Turning back to our kids; in order for these rules to be followed and for them to stick we must put ourselves in the minds and shoes of the kids.
First, young children still see the world almost exclusively through their own eyes. They are the center of the universe and their immediate wants and desires can override common sense and rules. Second, kids see the handle as being the only option for holding a bat (and holding can quickly turn into swinging). Finally, children (and most adults) don’t immediately change their habits the first time they are told. We must be diligent in helping them establish the habit of holding the bat by the barrel whenever they are away from a designated swinging area and carrying their bat. (We adults must also establish this same habit when we have a bat in our hands; kids take their cues from us.)
How do we motivate our kids to establish the safe habit of always holding the bat by the barrel when carrying it from place to place? Let them know that is how the pros do it (and point this out to them); and the pros are cool.
Many kids want to emulate the pros and most want to look cool. When implementing this rule we do so, from an adult’s perspective, to maintain a safe environment for the kids and we do so, from a kid’s perspective, because holding the bat by the barrel is cool.
Starting today, let’s teach our kids how be cool …and remain safe.
Batting Pros Carry the Bat by the Barrel...
See the video from: 0:15 – 1:10…
Watch how the batters hold the bat immediately following striking out. This is an example of how the pros carry their bat when they are not batting. The proper way to hold a bat, when not batting, is by the barrel.
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Advanced Training for Your Child? …what you need to know
From time to time I hear parents state, “I am looking for an advanced level of training for my child”. I tell them there really isn’t much ‘advanced’ stuff for 12U kids to learn. The physical movements of the game are the same for a kid as they are for a Major League Player. What this means is MLB players aren’t doing much that would be classified as ‘advanced’. Those players are simply bigger, stronger, faster and more practiced in their movements, but those movements are nothing more complex than what they did when they were kids themselves..
This fact was reiterated to me by my ‘little’ brother Todd, a former Major League player (and current batting instructor in the Giants organization). He said, “let the coaches and parents know that the game I played when I was 12 is the same as the game I play now”.
I will add one thing to that comment, there is a difference in the game at the MLB (and teenage) level; that is the base runners lead off. However, that aspect of the game does not require additional training for 12U kids who do not play the lead-off game (I understand that some 11-12 year olds play lead off baseball, but the value in most of them doing so is for another discussion). The ‘advanced’ aspects of the lead-off game are more related to Team play, not so much individual skills or skills used by players ages 5-12.
The true ‘advanced’ aspect of the game comes into play for players when pitchers develop the ability to consistently locate pitches and throw a decent off-speed pitch. This aspect of the game doesn’t evolve until kids are 14 or 15, at the earliest. At that point the ‘advanced’ aspect of baseball is more mental than physical. (Right now our goal is simply to keep kids in the game long enough to experience it at an ‘advanced’ level. Less than 25% of youth players continue to play the game past age 12.)
At that point in the evolution of a player we start working on their mental approach to the game. Batters learn to go to the plate with a plan based on the game situation (inning, score, location of runners, number of outs, etc.) and a knowledge of what types of pitches a pitcher has and their ability to locate those pitches. We talk to pitchers about their approach to a given batter, again based on the game situation and what knowledge we might have of the batter (running speed, power, likelihood to pull the ball or hit to the opposite field, etc.)
Kids aged 12 and under really don’t need ‘advanced’ instruction. They still have a ways to go to master basic movement skills. A big factor in gaining this mastery is related to their size and strength (movements in baseball, unbeknownst to most, require great strength); factors that ‘advanced’ instruction provide little, if any, impact. Getting good sleep, eating right and giving kids time to grow physically are what young players need (along with us adults staying positive with them and giving them the moral support they need to maintain a desire to keep playing the game).
What a 12U ballplayer really needs to improve their skills is repetition of fundamental movements and disciplined oversight to ensure they are executing and repeating those movements correctly. What they don’t need is a lot of information clouding their brains and causing confusion.
The daily repetition of fundamental movements does not end after age 12. It continues all the way through a Major League career. Go watch a High School, College or Pro workout and you will find the players working on the same basic skills we work on with our kids. There might be a guy with fancy sunglasses on the bill of his cap and a windbreaker with a cool logo standing next to the player, but the talk between him and the player isn’t that complex - really, that is the truth.
And the components of the actions used in the game aren’t nearly as detailed as some of us instructors and broadcasters tend to make them out to be. These skills pretty much break down to ‘A, B, C’. The key is proper and disciplined repetition of the movements making up the skills. Ensuring this happens is where the coach/instructors job comes into play. A former elite athlete or baseball guru is not needed for a child to greatly improve. What is needed is a coach or instructor and can connect with a young player and gain their trust and respect, so the player will listen to and apply the feedback they are given. Consistent and solid oversight of a player’s work, along with simple and clear feedback, is what constitutes ‘advanced’ (and quality) instruction.
Non-baseball examples of how something that looks complex, but is just a combination of fundamental movements are found in dance, gymnastics, figure skating, etc. The combinations of movements of these athletes look complex and ‘advanced’ when in fact these athletes are simply stringing together movements that are fundamental to their sport.
If, as a parent, you want ‘advanced’ instruction for your child, find an environment where they get coaching that is kept simple and easy to digest. You want an environment where disciplined repetition of quality fundamental movements is a central component of the activities. Involve them with people who provide that instruction in simple terms and maintain clarity and simplicity when supporting the instruction.
Hopefully such an environment will lead to your child continuing in the game past age 12. If they are still playing at 14 or 15, at that point, there may be a need for them to get some ‘advanced’ instruction.
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Two Things To Help Our Kids Improve: Tee, Time …no we're not talking golf
An earlier blog post (found on this page) “Baseball is Like a Piano” discusses a key ingredient for our young softball or baseball player to have the best possible experience: working on their skills away from team organized activities. Just like a child learning the physical skills required to succeed in learning to play the piano needs to practice at home, so does a child who plays baseball or softball.
Just like aspiring young piano aficionados have equipment at home to practice on, the young ballplayer needs equipment to practice as well. Fortunately the equipment needed by a youth softball or baseball player doesn’t cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. What is the key piece of equipment for our young ballplayer? - a Batting Tee.
A batting tee can be found at the local sporting goods store for around $25. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just something that will support a ball so a kid can take a whack at it. A ball isn’t even required; a rolled up pair of socks can serve as a baseball or softball. I know this to be a fact because as a child I hit socks off a Tee in my bedroom (I am not sure if my mother was aware I was swinging my bat in the house).
Batting is said to be the most difficult action in all of sports. This statement refers to hitting a live pitch, but as golfers know, hitting a stationary ball off a tee is not that easy either. Why is hitting a ball (moving or stationary) so difficult to master? Because the primary movement in swinging a bat (or club) is rotating the lower half of the body. When was the last time we (or our kids) rotated the lower half of our body in our daily activities? Unless we are a dance instructor it might be difficult to remember the last time.
Kids run, jump, skip and climb. These and other daily activities involve the leg muscles working, more or less, in straight lines. Then we hand them a bat and ask them to hit a ball, an activity that requires the lower body to rotate, an action they rarely or ever execute in their day to day activities, and we wonder why they struggle. Yeah, but we tell them to ‘keep your eye on the ball’ and to ‘line your knuckles up’ and to ‘raise that back elbow’. Unfortunately these things have little, if anything, to do with the actual swing itself. “The legs swing the bat” and when the legs swing the bat, they rotate.
I have drills on the Video page of this site that kids can do to develop their rotational skills for batting. However, in addition to doing these drills a youth baseball or softball player needs to swing the bat, over and over, to develop the muscle memory and skills needed to consistently and successfully do so in a team practice (the time from which a coach makes line-up decisions) or a game.
Making a $25 investment in a Batting Tee can do wonders in helping a child develop their batting skills
The second thing we can give our young ballplayer is our time. Gosh, we brought them into the world, then signed them up to play, the least we can do is spend 10 minutes a day tossing the ball back and forth with them – just 10 minutes a day!? The most fundamental skill in softball and baseball is playing catch and many kids do not do this enough to develop a minimum level of competence in order to execute a throw or a catch in their team practices or a game. Not only do their muscles need repetition, but also their eyes. The more repetitions a child’s eyes get seeing a ball flying towards them the more skilled their brain will become in matching up the ball with their glove.
The good news is that we don’t have to travel far in order to play catch with our child. In most cases walking a few steps out our front or back door is all it takes to find a spot to play catch.
One of the aspects of softball and baseball that makes these games so popular is the social component. Conversation is a big part of the baseball and softball experience. Players socialize in the dugout and they socialize while playing catch.
Understandably, in today's busy world, it can be difficult to find time to hold an extended conversation with our kids. Another contributor to the problem is finding a scenario where we can gain and hold our child's attention. However, many parents report that the time spent playing catch with their child is the time they have their most in depth conversations with them.
While playing catch a child is ultra-focused on the person they are playing catch with – in this case its mom or dad. How many other activities can give us our child’s undivided attention? It is also reported by many adults that, when looking back on their childhood, some of their most vivid memories of spending time with a parent are from the time they spent playing catch.
There are the two things we parents can do to help our kids get the most out of their experience playing baseball or softball. Get a Batting Tee for them, so they can work on their batting skills (they don’t need a partner to do this) and give them few minutes of our Time each day. Get them swinging the bat more and let's start playing catch with our kids; we just might find we get to know them a little better in the process.
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Parents, We Have Questions About the Coaching? …is there anything we can do?
We are in the thick of spring, practices are in full swing and many leagues have started their playing schedules. As parents we likely have stuck around and watched a bit of the practices and seen a few games. Hmmmm, not exactly what we expected. We thought our child’s batting would improve more and that the pitchers would be throwing more strikes. And the errors, my goodness what’s the deal with all the mistakes? Why isn’t the coach teaching these things? The kids should be playing better, shouldn’t they?
Maybe we haven’t played before and don’t really know the game. We put our kids into baseball and softball for our kids to learn and improve. But our child is not improving as much as we expected. Gosh, they have a coach, isn’tit the coach’s job to teach them skills, teach them how to play the game and have them improving more than we have seen?
Some of us might think to ourselves that we know the game a little bit; played it some in our youth. Maybe we have a few ideas of how the practices could be more productive or how to teach some of the skills a little better. It’s probably about time to call the coach and make some suggestions.
Before we go any further, let’s first identify who the coach is. The coach, in most cases, is a parent just like us. Their child is playing on the team; the team needs a coach, and fortunately that parent volunteered to coach the team.
That is the key word we must keep in mind before we conjure up thoughts of questioning the coaching of the team or our child. It is important to understand that professional coaches don’t suddenly appear in every neighborhood, by the dozens, across the US, Canada and the world each spring.
Those coaches appear from the homes in our neighborhood, they are our neighbors and the parents of our kids’ classmates at school. They shop at the same grocery store, attend the same church and walk the same streets as us. Most of these parents, er coaches, are not experts in the sport. They are simply regular folks volunteering their time to enable our kids to have an opportunity to play. Many parents do not understand how lucky the kids are to have a coach at all. Most leagues find themselves scrambling each year to fill coaching vacancies right up to the start of practices.
It is important for us to understand this before we think of questioning a coach. We first need to consider just thanking them for even being there. Coaching is a big time commitment. It’s not just the 90 minutes or 2-hours on the field for practices and being at the games. The hours put into coaching double when we factor in time invested away from the field.
These volunteer coaches attend a variety of pre-season meetings, they collect equipment and cart it around for the entire season and, among other things not mentioned here, they have to prepare for those practices and games. That preparation time is juggled around managing their other kids who are not a member of the team they are coaching. Our kids’ coaches must coordinate with a spouse who is likely picking up some extra domestic duties in order for the coach to fulfill their commitment to the kids on the team - our kids. Most coaches also sacrifice something in their work life in order to coach. They have to figure out how to scoot out of work early on some days, not to mention that coaching takes up brain space; it is inevitable that their work production suffers somewhat during the season.
Wow, maybe we really should give our child’s coach a big THANKS! for making the commitment in the first place and forget about the criticisms that have been in our thoughts lately.
But that is easier said than done. We really do believe some things could be done better; maybe a different kid should be pitching today or a couple of positional changes would be good for the team.
The good news is we can impact these things …next year WE can volunteer to coach. Before that big neon sign in our brain starts flashing, “No Way!” we can rest assured that most anyone who cares about kids can coach youth baseball and softball. It doesn’t matter how little or how much we know about the game. It just takes some time and energy. And what could be better than spending a half dozen hours a week with our own child and their friends playing in the park?
Don’t worry about not having much knowledge of the game. It is easy to learn to coach youth baseball and softball. They are arguably the simplest of the team sports to coach. There are no fancy Triangle Defenses or West Coast Offenses to master. The players are positioned pretty much the same as they have been for the past 150 years. The fundamentals of throwing, batting and fielding are much simpler than it appears and it doesn’t take much to learn to teach these skills.
The fact that you are reading this blog means you have found all the resources you need to coach at the 12U level.
Look at the Coaching Guide page and the Practice Plans page on this site. Also, it is possible that by the time you are reading this, content will up on the Video page. All this information is provided to make coaching a youth baseball or softball something that anyone can do, do well, and have a great time doing it.
The next time we feel a criticism for the ‘Coach’ welling up in our minds we need to remind ourselves that they are just a mom or dad like us. If we really want things to be different, we need to check with the person in the mirror. That person is no different than the current coach other than the fact that the commitment of time and energy to get out there and coach has not yet been made.
And we need not have anything to fear in taking the job ...except those pesky parents that might bug us because they don’t understand what it’s like to be in the shoes of a youth softball or baseball coach.
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Help Your Child Get Out of a Batting Slump …you
don’t need to know a thing about swinging a bat
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Note: there are references below to batters ‘who understand how the swing works and know the feel of their good swing’. (These references are necessary to put the concept of a ‘slump’ into perspective.) Filter out these references and just take away the comments about what the batter does (and does not) have control over and what to think (and not to think) about when standing at the plate. (If you are confident your child has had the requisite instruction to have an understanding of their swing, and there are a few that do, the entire article will be helpful.)
These ideas apply to batting practice and scrimmage, as well as to games.
First, we want to recognize that pre-teen and early teenage hitters can't really get into a slump.
While there is the challenge of managing one’s emotions and mental perspective at all ages, and these factors can effect confidence and focus while in the box, until a batter has a solid understanding of their swing and has gained consistency in their swing, they don't really have the foundation to be 'eligible' for a slump.
Batters who aren't accomplished in the understanding of their swing and don't yet have a 'feel' for their swing are just up there giving it their best shot - again this describes most every 12U player and many players in their early teens.
The use of the word 'slump' at these age levels only opens the door for negative thoughts and makes these kids more prominent candidates for a loss of confidence ...this word can also become a crutch or identity, which a young player could latch onto and use as an accepted excuse. - If it were up to me, the word ‘slump’ would be banned from being uttered within earshot of any youth baseball or softball player.
For middle and older teens, and beyond, the way to get out of a slump is to go back to the one thing the batter can control - their swing. They had it before, their muscles have the memory of that good swing in them, but they likely are letting their thoughts go beyond their swing.
I tell batters to remember that "The Pitcher is Your Servant". The rules say the pitcher has to throw the ball through the strike zone. The fact is the rules say the pitcher must 'bring the ball to you'. Just allow the pitcher to do as the rules mandate and then apply the good swing you have spent years developing do the rest - and don’t worry about what happens when the ball leaves the bat ...it’s out of your control.
Next, we want to help the batter get their thoughts and focus into the small space in which they are doing their work. That space is about two feet long ...from the launching point of their hands (near their back shoulder) to contact (near their front foot) and extension through the ball. Thoughts of what the ball might do prior to contact are, more often than not, going to interfere with the quality of their swing. Thoughts of what the ball might do after the ball leaves their bat will, more often than not, interfere with the quality of their swing.
Finally, we need to remind players that batting is the most unfair thing in all of sports ...Its 1 against 9. We can get a perfect pitch every time, make a perfect swing every time and hit the ball on the screws every time and still be 0 for 4 at the end of the day. The stats say it was a bad day, but it may have been the best day of hitting the ball of the player's life*.
The most important thing we can tell your young batter is to believe, before every pitch, that the ball is going to come right down the middle. They have no doubt in their mind they are going to swing the bat at every pitch. Only at the last moment, IF they see the pitch is bad, do they halt their plan to swing.
We want our kids, when they are batting, to think, “YES, YES, YES…” prior to and during each pitch. When they see that it’s a bad pitch, the thought process becomes, “YES, YES, YES …no”. When they see that the pitch IS good, the thought process is, “YES, YES, YES …YES!”
At the youth levels of baseball and softball want to help the kids develop a proper mindset when standing in the batter’s box. We want them thinking YES, YES, YES, I am going to swing the bat at this pitch …and every pitch …unless, at the last moment I see that it’s a bad pitch.
*I need to vent on one of my pet peeves. The statement: “A hitter can fail 7 out of 10 times and still be considered great”. Great hitters do not fail 7 out of 10 times. They succeed 7 out of 10 times and four of those seven still result in outs. I believe this type of talk leads to batters not being as focused as they can each time at the plate. “Coach says I can fail 7 out of 10 times, so it doesn’t matter if I don't do good this time up” (resulting in a less-than fully focused batter).
Let’s drop this phrase from the vernacular of the game – please. When working with younger kids let’s share with them the above thoughts: “YES, YES…”, “Batting is 1 against 9…”, “Keep the focus on the one thing you have control over – The Swing”. A young player can accomplish these three mental and physical points every time up - and by doing so they can ‘succeed’ every time up.
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How is Baseball Like Playing a Piano?
…both require extra practice at home
Jenny it's time for you to practice your piano; remember what Mrs. Polowski said, ‘you need to spend 15 minutes practicing each day at home between your lessons’.
Many of us took piano lessons as a child or made and attempt at learning another musical instrument. What was the consistent factor in our efforts to learn to play and instrument? We practiced at home. We didn’t spend the 30 or 60 minutes each week at our lesson or the few times a week at school playing in band class and expect to become competent at our instrument.
The same goes for baseball and softball skills…
Simply attending practice is not going to do a lot for a child’s softball and baseball skill development – especially when it rains the first three weeks of the practice season.
Developing physical skills requires daily repletion of the proper actions in order for the muscles to become familiar with, and competent in executing, the skills. Practice time is dedicated to preparing the team. Not a lot of time is available for individual skill development.
We put our kids into baseball or softball ….they need to practice at home in order to get the most out of the activity.
Spending 15 minutes a day, working on the game they are committing 3 ½ months of their young lives and to which we are committing money and time to shuttle them to and from the park, is not a lot ….but can make a huge difference in their development …AND the amount of enjoyment they get out of the experience.
What better way to spend time with our children than to PLAY with them and help them develop their softball and baseball skills. By spending just 15 minutes each day PLAYING with our children (gosh, we brought them into the world, let’s spend some time enjoying this brief moment in time with them while they are young) we can help them improve, develop a stronger bond with them and create memories they will hold onto for a lifetime.
The most important skill to develop is playing catch. We can step a few feet outside the front or back door and toss the ball with our kids. When we play catch with them an important part of the activity is to throw the ball a few feet to one side of them or the other. In practice and in games thrown balls will rarely come straight to them. They will be required to “Move Their Feet”, which take their hands to the ball in order to catch it. We can better prepare them and help them to develop that all important aspect to catching throws – “Moving the feet to catch” by not throwing the ball straight to them.
When our kids throw to us we want to encourage them to shuffle their feet in our direction prior to throwing. Watch the baseball highlights on TV tonight. When those big, strong, world class players throw the ball across the field they don’t simply raise their arm over their head and swing their arm to throw; they “Move their feet” in the direction of their target.
When ‘moving the feet to throw’ a player engages the strength in their legs (our legs are MUCH stronger than our arms) to provide extra power to deliver the ball. Also, when a player ‘moves their feet’ in the direction of their target they create momentum towards their target. The result will be more accuracy, in addition to added strength, in their throws.
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. You will find a lot of simple and fun skill building activities you can do with your child at home or at the park.
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A Quality Glove is Important
...and you don’t have to spend much
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Walk into a store and it seems there are more different types of gloves than people in town. How do you determine which one is the best match for your child? The first thing to consider is that Baseball/Softball is a ‘game of playing catch’ and a glove is the one piece of equipment a player uses more than any other. It is important to get one that is going to enhance their play.
Even if your child is just trying out Tee-Ball you want to provide them with a quality glove. That doesn’t mean a big investment on your part. There are many good options on the market in the $30-$35 range. If you look hard you might find something for as little as $20. From my perspective there are three types of gloves on the market: ‘toy’ gloves, real ones and ‘pro’ gloves.
I see a lot of kids on the younger end of the age scale show up at the park with a vinyl glove with a picture of Diego, or Dora The Explorer, on it. A child would do better with their bare hands than with one of these. Don’t buy a glove from the toy section of your local department store. Walk a few more isles down to Sporting Goods and find a glove there, or go to the nearest sporting goods store. In either place you can find a glove that will do the job and not break the bank.
Today many quality leather (or faux leather) gloves that are soft and fairly well broken in can be found in the price range mentioned above. If you have a nine or ten year old child that is showing a real passion for the game you can move into a higher end glove and get into a price range closer to $70-80 and easily up to $100+. My feeling is that unless a parent is confident their child is going to take the game beyond age 12, stick to the $30-$50 range. And even if they are a superstar, before age 12 -IMO- there is no need to go past $50; there are plenty good gloves out there for kids.
Gloves are sized by the length from the heel of the palm to the tip of the pinky finger. Most gloves have the size stamped on them or have it built into the model number i.e. “GPP1002” (10” – model 02). Many Major League middle infielders will use a glove that is approximately 11 inches to 11 ¼”. Third baseman will generally use something in the 11 ¼ to 11 ¾ range; Outfielders will often use a slightly larger glove. Why do I mention the size of gloves used by the pros (grown men)? Because many kids use gloves that are TOO BIG…sometimes as big or bigger than the pros.
Keep in mind that the bigger the glove the heavier it is. Put a 12” glove on a 50lb kid and they aren’t going to have the strength to move it to catch the ball.
Like bats (see “Your Kid Can’t Hit…” in the PARENTS section of the site), many kids think a bigger glove will help them catch the ball better or help them reach more balls. However, if the glove is too big and heavy, they are unable to control it well enough to have a chance at making a play in the first place. Smaller gloves are easier to move and handle. Many kids misinterpret the webbing between the thumb and pointer finger as being the place the ball is caught. The ball should be caught at the base of the webbing between the base of the thumb and pointer finger; the webbing is there to fill the hole between those two digits.
A ten inch glove is about the right size for most kids age eight and under. In most cases an 11” glove is big enough for kids age 12 and under. You might stretch it to 11 ¼. For kids age 9-11, look for a glove between 10 and 11 inches depending on the size of your child. Of course kids come in all shapes and sizes so there may be some variance from these suggestions.
Breaking In, and Caring for a Glove
A discussion for breaking in an expensive pro model glove is the subject for another article. I will give some basics here assuming you are purchasing a less expensive type of glove mentioned above. As stated earlier, most gloves these days are made of a soft leather and are pretty well broken in when purchased. They loosen and gain a personal shape for the player after a short period of use. There are a few key points I will share here.
First, the glove closes with the thumb tip touching the tip of the pointer finger. Many kids make the mistake of breaking in their gloves with the thumb touching the pinky finger. The natural close of the human hand is thumb to pointer finger …you can test this right now.
To help form the glove, grab a bat at its mid-point and pound across the palm of the glove with the barrel of the bat hitting the base of the palm below the pinky finger and the end of the barrel hitting the ‘pocket’ at the base of the webbing. This will loosen up the glove and help create the desired natural fold of thumb to pointer finger. You will want to tighten the laces on the glove (and re-tighten them one or two times during the season) depending on how much you child uses their glove.
Finally, always place a ball in the pocket of the glove when it is not in use. This helps maintain the shape of the pocket ensuring that the ball will ‘stick’ better. A glove that is stored without a ball turns into a flat pancake and loses its form making it easier for the ball to pop out when the player is attempting to make at a catch.
Take Your Child to the Store to When You Buy a Glove
A glove is a very personal item and is a big part of the life of many kids. Being involved with the purchase of the glove in many cases is a long held memory of childhood…and a special moment spent with Mom or Dad. Remember, we don’t need to spend a lot of money on a glove for a 12u player, but we want to be sure to get them a ‘real’ glove, not a cheap one made of vinyl. Break the glove in properly, keep the laces snug and always keep a ball in the pocket of the glove when it is not being used.
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The Duel Between Batter and Pitcher …does any sports experience better prepare a child for life?
The core element of softball and baseball is the competition between pitcher and batter. This is unique in that the actions of a single player on each team can significantly impact the game. In most instances the result of the pitcher-batter confrontation rests squarely on the shoulders of the two individuals involved.
Unlike the pitcher-batter scenario, the action in other team sports involves many players coordinating together and they are often following the direction and decision making of their coach. When an individual makes a mistake in these ‘safer’ environments it is much easier to minimize personal responsibility or to rationalize that a poor result was because of ‘somebody else’. This is not the case in the environment of pitcher versus batter. As a pitcher, it is you who yielded the hit, issued the walk or induced the out. As a batter it is you who made the out or got the hit.
Working through the pressure of the showdown between the pitcher and batter prepares our children to better deal with the more serious pressures waiting for them over the horizon in the real world. It can be argued that no sports experience better prepares a child for life than the duel between pitcher and batter.
In baseball and softball, all eyes are on these two players. Their successes and failures are seen by everyone watching. Even more, two individuals are aware that everyone is watching. There is nowhere to pass the blame when things don’t work out, while a glorious accomplishment is short lived and must soon be earned again.
Through the ups and downs of the pitcher-batter match-up kids learn that much of what happens to them is a direct result of their preparation and actions. The fact that one must move on regardless of the outcome of the moment is learned while on the pitching rubber or standing in the batter’s box.
Learning that one must accept responsibility for outcomes, within the context of a child’s game, can play a significant role in kids developing keen a sense that they play the greatest role in how their life unfolds. On the other hand our young players also come to recognize that in some instances, when things don’t go their way, it is a result of forces outside their control.
In baseball and softball, as in life, an outside entity over which one may have little control, can adversely impact their efforts. A defensive player robs a batter of a hit or commits an error resulting in the pitcher having to face additional batters. There are also bad calls made by the (volunteer) home plate umpire that leads to an ‘unjustified’ walk or strike out.
The individual getting the short end of the stick in these cases has to work through the moment and hopefully, through the guidance of a coach or parent, learns the lesson that factors beyond their control impact their life adversely from time to time. The immediate lesson, if we help our kids come to the realization, is that there are no asterisks in a box score stating, “It was someone else’s fault”. Recognizing that a person must continue to push forward in spite of adverse circumstances is an invaluable lesson to learn as a child.
The lessons learned during the duel between pitcher and batter, within the safe confines of a youth softball or baseball game, will strengthen our sons and daughters for the bigger challenges in life that lie ahead and when the stakes are higher.
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Off Season Training …have you considered all your options?
Daylight savings time has come to an end and the wet, cold and dark days of winter are right around the corner. Now we start to think about how we can help our kids improve their skills during the off-season. The most prevalent options are 1. Hit in a batting cage, 2. Get involved with a local club team that runs off-season workouts, 3. Work with a private instructor. Each of these has its merits and benefits. However, we are not limited to these options.
Rent a Local Gymnasium
A gymnasium, approximately 90’ x 50’, provides a large space where almost any baseball skill can be practiced. And renting a gym is inexpensive. In urban areas, there are a lot of organizations that rent their gyms: public and private schools, boys and girls clubs and community centers. Many communities have additional private and non-profit groups that have similar type spaces that are available for use. Most of these facilities can be rented for $40-$80 an hour. If we share that cost between a half dozen families, this option is affordable for most anyone.
In smaller communities the options are fewer, but less red tape and the inherent trust from ‘knowing each other’ makes up for the lower number of options. Most every community has a school or two with a gym.
Keep in mind that basketball takes up a major chunk of gym time, but through a little investigation and a few phone calls open time slots can be found and reserved.
Note: You will find a full range of responses from gym administrators regarding this type of activity in their facility. Some will say ‘no way’, some will have insurance requirements you may not be able to fulfill. Others, when hearing that you want to get a group of little kids together to play, will welcome you with open arms and possibly have a lower ‘kids’ rate.
Objectives: Repetition and Fun
Repetition is a key factor in developing physical skills. Kids in the 6-12 age group, more than anything, just need to play more in order to improve their skills. There is a wide variety of drills and activities that kids can do in a gym setting and there is plenty of equipment designed for indoor play. In addition to skill development, the open space afforded by a gym is more conducive for energetic kids and having fun versus the confines of a batting cage.
Below is a short checklist of items needed for running baseball and softball activities in a gym
Baseballs or Softballs Conducive to Indoor Use – One Dozen. These are often referred to as ‘Safety Balls’. Safety baseballs cost $25-$35/doz., softballs are $5-$10 more. Most sporting goods stores carry these types of balls and there are oodles of suppliers on the internet. Below are two links. The first was found by Googling ‘Baseball Safety Balls’. Through the second link you will find the brand name ‘Incrediballs’. These are made of cloth and are very safe, but do cost about $10 extra per dozen:
Safety Balls - (Level 1 balls are very soft and Level 5 balls are moderately soft. Level 10 balls are pretty hard and I would not recommend them for indoor use. Brands may rate their balls differently. The best thing to do is give a ball a squeeze and you can determine if it is appropriate.) </span>
Incrediballs - these are balls made of tightly compacted cloth. They are regular size and weight, but are a bit softer than what is ideal. However, if you have limited facilities to choose from and there is push back regarding using 'baseballs or 'real softballs' this is an alternative that should be approved for use by the facility operators.
Batting Tee(s) - 1 or 2. Your local youth league likely has a good supply of tees. If the kids in your group are members, it is quite possible the league would loan you a couple. You might consider purchasing a batting tee; there are many on the market for around $25. A tee is possibly the best investment you can make for your young ball player. Tees are used as a training tool by players at all levels including college softball players and Major League baseball players - Josh Hamilton Working Out Using a Batting Tee.
Whiffle Balls - 1-2 dozen. These are used for hitting off the tee(s). They are also what you would use for some fun game play by the group at the end of a workout (we still use a regular bat, not a plastic whiffle ball bat). Whiffle balls sell for $10-$15/doz. and can be found at most sporting goods stores. Standard whiffle balls do have a tendency to split, however. The best quality ball available, and a much better investment, is a ‘Pickle Ball’. These are much sturdier and often last for years. Pickle Balls cost around $25/doz.
Throw Down Bases - These are easy to transport rubber bases that can be bought in a set from a sporting goods store or online. A set of lightweight bases is around $15; heavier and sturdier bases are available for about $25. These can be found at most sporting goods stores or on the internet.
Bats and Helmets - Be sure to instruct the kids to never drop a bat on a gym floor. When they are done hitting off a tee, they are to set the bat down gently. When you are playing a game, have the player hand the bat to an adult as they begin to run to first base. Take good care of the gym and you will be welcome to come back again and again.
Anytime there are multiple players swinging at balls off a tee at the same time, they each must wear helmets; not to protect them if hit by a ball, but to protect them against injury from a bat.
Workout Activities and Drills
Note: Diagrams and instructions for all the activities listed below will be added to the Coaching Guide over the next few weeks. Additional content will be added throughout the winter and spring.
> Playing Catch Practice
> Drill Rotation:
Ground Ball Footwork – roll ground balls to the kids’ right and left from 20’ away.
Ground Balls, Fielding and Throwing to a First Baseman. Instead of hitting the balls to the kids using a bat, throw the ground balls to them. This is more accurate and eliminates flubs and misses 100%. The person acting as the first baseman can be an adult or child. I find using an adult to be best. When a child is acting as the first baseman poorly thrown balls or missed catches slow down the flow of the activity quite a bit.
Side to Side Move and Catch – start with four balls, stand 20’ from the player. Make a semi-firm shoulder level toss 5’-10 to’ their left, the player moves to catch the ball (then drops it off to the side), you then immediately toss the next ball 5’-10’ to their right. Repeat back and forth. The simple act of moving and catching and getting multiple repetitions improves skill and athleticism. The older the player, the quicker you can run the drill.
Same as above, except you bounce the ball to the player, so they are catching near waist level.
Fielding Ground Balls Followed by a Short Underhand Toss - to a base covered by another player. Position a player 20’ from a base and roll a ground ball approximately 5’ to the base side of them. They move to the ball, field, and then continue toward the base executing an underhand toss to a second player at standing at the base. Position yourself about 20’ from the player to whom you are rolling the ground ball.
Tossing Short Fly Balls – send a player off in a given direction, after they run about 10’ toss the ball another 10’-15’ beyond them. The arc of the toss does not need go higher than 10’. The act of catching while running (and getting many repetitions in a short period of time) is the objective. Run the kids back at 45 degree angles, in at 45 degree angles, straight in and straight back - don’t run them into a wall :)
Tee Work – set a couple of tees 15’ from a wall and have the kids hit whiffle balls (pickle balls are ideal) off the tee toward the wall.
Live Swings – position yourself 20’ from a batter and pitch whiffle balls, from a knee. (I will post a video with detailed instructions on pitching technique that will turn you into a strike throwing machine.)
Pick out a few of the activities listed above, divide the kids into 2-3 groups and set up drill stations spread out around the gym. Work for 3-4 minutes, and then have the kids rotate stations. After they have gone through each station set up a new set of drills and run the kids though the rotation again.
After the drill session, set up a diamond in the gym and have a whiffle ball game for the last 20-30 minutes (there is nothing wrong with parents participating too). A scrimmage also has developmental value. The kids get additional swings, they experience performing in a competitive environment, get multiple opportunities to react to the ball off the bat, run the bases and deal with basic game situations. It’s not real baseball or softball, but the kids are playing the game, getting reps and having a blast. The mix of work and play will develop skills and further engrain a love of the game in your young ball player. In some environments it may be possible to scrimmage using “Incrediballs”.
Let’s first put things in perspective. We are not preparing for the Major League baseball season or to perform for college scouts next spring. These are kids. The simple act of playing and getting repetitions will help them improve. It is not to say that getting some basic technical help is bad idea. Below are some ideas for stepping up the level of learning in these workouts:
Get a coach from your league involved. They have a child the same age as yours and live close by.
Many high schools now require their students to complete a given number of community service hours. Recruit a player from the local HS Varsity or JV to join you at the workouts. The kids love working with teenagers and look up to them. Simply having their presence at a workout inspires and motivates young players.
The Baseball Positive website will be adding instructional content, drills and video throughout the fall and winter months. Moving forward, this site will become a resource for everything you could need.
Some professional instructors are mobile, especially if they live in your neighborhood. It may be possible to work out a deal for them to come to the gym and work with your kids. There is some cost involved, but dividing that among the group makes the cost per family reasonable.
Get Involved in Other Sports and Activities
Getting your child involved with traditional winter sports or other non-sports activities during the off-season is very important. It is not make or break time for baseball and softball careers at this age. In fact, getting involved with other sports has many benefits:
Reduce the chance of overuse injuries.
A young body gains strength and increased coordination by going through the different movements required in other sports.
Many actions and techniques in other sports are similar to those in baseball and softball. Experiencing these outside the baseball or softball environment will increase your child’s athletic aptitude. It is quite likely their chances for success, when they get back to baseball or softball full time in the spring, will be higher as a result of playing other sports.
Participating in other activities gives your child a mental break and reduces burnout.
Keep ‘em hungry. Spending time away from one sport (or moving it down the priority list) for a while can be rejuvenating. When the calendar turns and it is baseball and softball season again, following a break, our kids will find a renewed excitement and eagerness for playing the game.
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