Some kids just have a natural physical ability to play sports, specifically baseball or softball. The rest of us had to learn and practice, practice, practice. Personally I had the reflexes of a cat and was an aggressive and mean child growing up…perfect for playing Little League baseball. As a follow up to my previous article on how to teach your kids to hit a baseball, here are some helpful tips for how to help them learn to catch a baseball…
Coaching my boys through T-Ball and into Little League allowed me to share my lifelong knowledge of baseball with the young players on our teams. I worked hard to make every practice worthwhile and fun at the same time. Learning to catch a baseball provides skills your kids will hopefully keep with them the rest of their lives. So here are the basics… and a little secret for you aspiring coaches (Dads).
FEAR FACTOR – Regardless of all your intentions, some kids are just afraid that the ball is going to nail them. Resist the urge to simply peg them with the ball to show them “it doesn’t hurt”. That only validates and reinforces the fear. Just like my other article on how to hit a baseball, start out using big balls…soft vinyl balls…or volleyballs in order to help them learn the basic in a fearless environment. Don’t use any gloves so that 1) they learn footwork and hand placement; and 2) you can clearly see what they are doing and their hands are not hidden inside or behind the gloves.
FOOTWORK – No matter how a ball is hit or thrown to you, your best opportunity for catching it cleanly is with good footwork. First year players really benefit from focusing on moving quickly to “square up” your body to catch the ball. Position players will sprint to a spot and set up themselves to receive the ball STRAIGHT ON. As your kids get older and more experienced, this is even more critical. Setting up to catch the ball eventually transforms into setting up your body to be in the best position to properly throw the ball after the catch. It all begins and ends with the right footwork. Practice side-shuffling; hopping; charging; and dropping straight back. All these drills can be done without even using a ball.
THE HANDS – Any balls hit or thrown all around you are almost intuitive to catch. The “overhead” shot; on your “glove side”; and even a “backhand” can seem like a natural motion. Where catching a ball gets harder for beginners is when the ball comes straight at you either on the ground or as a line-drive. And remember, with the proper footwork your child is already in position to make the catch by being in front of the ball…so most catchable balls end up in this “juggle zone”. This is the area where your child will spin their glove left-right-up-down in a valiant effort to line up their glove in order to catch those balls coming straight at them.
THE SECRET – So here is how I teach kids to catch those straight-on balls. I drill them with two very easy rules in every practice until I can see they have developed an automated reflex approach. This is called the “Pinkies & Thumbs” drill.
Pinkies – Any ball hit (or thrown) towards you that is below your waist is called a “pinkies” catch. What this means is in order for your child to catch this ball they need to put their pinkies (little fingers) of each hand together in a side-by-side manner. Spreading out their fingers and forming a big basket – one bare hand and one gloved hand.
Thumbs – Any ball hit (or thrown) towards you that is above your waist is called a “thumbs” catch. The opposite of the pinkies, this requires your child to put their thumbs of each hand together side-by-side, again forming a two-handed basket with proper hand placement to catch and throw.
COACHING – This “pinkies & thumbs” drill puts their hands in the perfect position to catch the ball in their glove; secure it with the bare hand; and be ready to pull the ball out for the throwing motion. It’s really simple and easy for your kids to remember. You can easily run this drill with a repetitive hand motion (not even throwing balls) by calling out loud “pinkies” or “thumbs” and mimicking the proper hand placement with them. Plus it provides you as the coach with a quick and subtle verbal reminder during the game if a player misses a ball. Just simply call out “pinkies” if a player misses a grounder…or yell “thumbs” on those fly balls or pop-ups.
So there is my simple how-to approach to help you teach your kids to catch a baseball. Remember to practice with them regularly…but most of all remember to make it fun! I hope this article helps please post your comments and check out my other post on Teaching Your Kids To Hit A Baseball.
Are you a Cubs fan? My good friend John debated “Should I Let My Son Be a Cubs Fan?”