Teaching Baseball FUNdamentals.
Today I am going to discuss teaching baseball fundamentals. What are baseball fundamentals. To quote one of my all time favorite movies, “You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball…” (“Bull Durham,” 1988) that about sums it up.
Throw the ball.
When throwing a baseball you are going to want to teach young players to use their whole body. Small arms with underdeveloped muscles tire quickly. If their mechanics are right they will be able to throw more without getting and sore and strengthen those muscles. There are going to be two types of throwers at an early age throwers and pushers (some people call it throwing like a girl). I met my wife playing co-ed softball, there are a lot of guys in this world that would like to throw like some of those girls.
Throwers are easy just make sure that they are repeating there motion for the most part release point is not as important as some may say it is alright to throw sidearm as long as the elbow is above the shoulder. Most kids won’t do this though so 3/4 or over the top are best. Make sure the elbow is above the shoulder. Most players will lean to the side a little when throwing so the shoulder drops a little.
The pushers are a little more work. Most of the time a player pushes the ball when they throw is because their hand is not big enough to control the baseball. This is a problem. All you can do is have them grip the ball with their whole hand until you get the pushing under control and then try to take one finger off at a time until they can get a good two finger grip. Most players just starting out are going to use 3 or 4 that is fine as long as they can control the ball.
To help the pusher break his habits you can do a drill I call, “LOAD, ROTATE, THROW.” You will set the player up facing side ways to the target so that their throwing hand is behind them. Put a ball in their hand and have it facing away from their target. At this point they will lean their weight back into the inside of their back foot a little. That is the LOAD. Rotate is simple the player will turn their hips and shoulders to the front to face the target keeping the ball in the same place. That is Rotate. Then comes the throw. All the player has to do is fire the ball as hard as they can to the target. Make sure that after they release the baseball they continue to reach for the ground until their arm naturally arcs up to the other side of their body. Doing this drill during warm ups should get the player to stop pushing the ball.
Catching the ball.
Some things are easier said than done. Catching a ball is a scary prospect for most kids. In an earlier post on hitting I mentioned the sock ball. You might need a few of these socks aren’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things and if you are anything like me you have a basket full of them that don’t have matches anyway. Duct tape is not that expensive either and roll goes a long way. Plus you can fix lots of other stuff with it. Roll up the sock so it looks like a ball wrap the duct tape around to hold it together. Presto a nice soft safe learning tool. With really young player these are a must have.
Start the players off paired up only a few feet apart. They do not need gloves. Start with the players tossing the ball back and forth underhand. Make sure they use their glove hand to catch and their throwing hand to cover. Once a pairing has tossed it back and forth successfully meaning both players caught the ball they get to back up one step. You can make it a competition if you want. You will probably notice as I did early on in our no score T-ball league that the only people that don’t want to know what the score is are the parents. The kids will ask you non stop if they are winning or if they won. Once they get far enough apart after a couple of steps each have them start tossing overhand. The pairing that gets the farthest apart are the winners.
Once you have catching a sock ball down have the kids get their gloves and give them baseballs. Some of the kids will still be struggling with confidence at this point pair them up and let them catch a sock ball with their gloves for a bit. Remember to focus on catch with the glove cover with the throwing hand. When doing this drill keep it controlled. Nobody throws a ball until you say. Make sure that the receiving player is ready with their glove in front of their chest and throwing hand next to it facing the ball. Always keep your eye on the ball it is the only thing on a baseball field that has a chance to hurt. Once the receivers are ready tell the throwers to throw. Have any missed balls retrieved and repeat. Again for each successful attempt have the players back up a step.
Hitting is fun. Every kid wants to hit. That is why I always save it for last. If you want a team to pay attention and get good at playing defense tell them they can’t hit until they get through all the other drills first. Hitting is simple start with a lot of front toss work and then as you get pitchers developed or if you are accurate enough or another coach is and have the stamina to do it you can throw some live BP. I would strongly recommend that you field a defense while working on hitting and have them complete the play. Putting a bucket at first and a bucket at second base usually speeds up the process of recovering balls.
You can also have extra batters getting ready to hit doing shadow swings trying to imitate timing the balls that are being thrown to the live batter. If you have the equipment available and the extra parent power you can set up a hitting net with a tee. Once players leave T-ball they are reluctant to go back to hitting off a tee. Just remind them that it is for practice only and all of the big league hitters do it every day.
When working on hitting with T-ball players I have seen a lot of coaches having their player hitting the ball to left field or 3rd base. That is not a good lesson to teach. As a hitting coach I am going to tell you the best approach is middle, middle, middle. If your players are set up right at the plate and swing properly the ball will go straight back up the middle. If you have a player set up properly and the ball goes anywhere else they are going to have some bad habits to break as they get older.
Feel free to leave comments questions or concerns below I love to interact with baseball people everywhere.