Watching a lazy game of baseball on a May afternoon can present the false impression that it is an easy game to play. Players will tell you that they don’t call it “hardball” for nothing. For youth baseball players, there will come a time when they are struck by a ball. Whether it is a missed fly ball, a throw from mom in the yard, or a pitch, all of a sudden youth athletes realize something: this thing hurts!
Getting hit by pitches is a part of baseball. Helping young ball players get over their natural fear of the ball is a part of youth coaching. Today, we will discuss some methods and mindsets which can help your team take the field with confidence this year.
Young Baseball Players Dig Into the Box
The first sign that a youth baseball player is afraid of getting hit by the pitch is where they stand in the box. Players may tend to navigate towards the back corner away from home plate. Not only will this show a coach that a player may be afraid of a hit by pitch, it will also make effective batting nearly impossible. For the vast majority of youth players, the following guidelines will lead to a comfortable position in the batter's box:
Front foot aligned with the front of the plate. While “depth” does not correlate to closeness to the plate, it is a variable that should be eliminated when possible. Most players will be comfortable in the middle of the box, with their front foot directly lined up with the front of home plate.
Hitters can comfortably touch the opposing side of the plate. Comfortably does not necessarily mean without a bit of forward lean, but it should not take a herculean stretch to reach out and touch all parts of the plate with the bat.
Teaching Youth Players to Hang in the Batter’s Box
The fear of a pitched ball generally manifests itself in two ways: 1. The batter will take a position too far from home plate (addressed above) or 2. The batter will bail out when the pitch is thrown. These are natural reactions to a hard leather sphere hurtling towards a batter.
It is important for youth players to understand a key concept:
Getting hit by a pitch almost never causes injury. The injuries that do occur, are most frequently caused by the batter opening up and “bailing out” exposing their face and other vulnerable body parts.
While we don’t want to scare our youth athletes, the focus should be on the fact that striding directly back towards the pitcher in an athletic stance is in fact the safest position in the batter’s box.
Consider having your squad take batting practice or soft toss with no stride from time to time. This will essentially entail players taking a wide, balanced stance which would be the end result of their stride, and remaining there. They can then practice staying in proper position and driving the ball. For kids with a fear of getting hit, these drills can be done with wiffle balls or tennis balls to start.
Drills to Eliminate Fear of Getting Hit by a Pitch
Additional drills to help young baseball players get over their fears include:
Turn away drill - there is no way to avoid getting hit with a pitch at some point in one’s baseball career. It is going to happen. So we teach our youth athletes to eliminate risk and get hit in the safest and least painful way possible. Players should turn away from the pitch (rotating towards home plate), dip the bat down, and get their head down. This protects the chest, face, and private parts. Players can practice this movement with no pitch or with wiffle balls/tennis balls.
Mixing in bean balls into regular batting practice (with softer balls) - an extension of this concept is throwing in a few “hit by pitches” in normal batting practice or soft toss. Note that we certainly do not want to hit kids with a baseball in batting practice. Consider throwing one or two wiffle balls or tennis balls towards a player to test their ability to protect themselves.
Hitting from a knee - to eliminate happy feet, this drill take foot movement out of the equation entirely. Have youth hitters kneel on their back leg with the front leg extended out towards the pitcher. Soft toss and enforce that the hitter is remaining solid in the batter’s box.
Focusing on Good Reps - at the end of the day, fear of a pitched ball is eliminated only when it is normalized. As coaches and parents, we should never fixate on getting hit by a pitch and instead focus on the fundamentals of hitting through repetition until the fear goes to the back burner.
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