Many parents, fathers especially, dream of watching their kid growing up playing baseball and being in the major leagues someday. Others figure there’s a possibility that they might someday earn a scholarship through baseball and pay their own way through college. Still, most parents get their kids into sports, particularly baseball, so they can participate in team sports and learn important values, to keep them healthy and active, and to lessen the likelihood that they turn to drugs, commit crimes, or suffer from substance-abuse later on in their teen years and beyond. Whatever the motivation or reason to teach a child to play baseball, it is well worth the effort and it can create the most beautiful and lasting childhood memories for a child.
My motivation a few years ago came from the fact that my son walked up to me and said,”Daddy I want to learn how to play baseball.” I remember being thrilled and so happy for my kid to want to learn a team sport and get off the computer that he was so firmly attached to. I had always tried my best to encourage him throughout his young life to play baseball, basketball, or football and he never showed interest in sports.
As a former professional baseball player and Little League coach, I know a thing or two when it comes to teaching kids the fundamentals. Even if you don’t have any experience or are not particularly coordinated, you can teach your kid how to play baseball by teaching them the basics. After that, they are either going to love it or not! It’s up to them to take it as far as they want to go.
Before we dive into this quick course that anyone can use, here are the basic items you will need; A glove, at least five baseballs, a batting tee, a batting helmet, and a metal bat.
There are three basic areas where anyone without experience can teach their kids how to play baseball:
1. Teach kids how to catch the ball. This one takes a lot of patience and a lot of practice, especially for kids in the 4 to 10 year old range. You can start by buying them a glove using this size chart to make sure their glove is the right size. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a new glove. As a matter of fact you may be able to borrow a good glove or find a used one on Craigslist or the classifieds.
Start by tossing them a soft rubber ball to their glove hand side, away from their face and body, from just a few short feet away. At first, you want your child to catch the ball with his glove in front and to the side of his or her body with the glove turned palm up. Teach your child how to move the glove under the ball, then teach your kid how to close the glove as the ball strikes it in the pocket. Once your child masters this after a few days, you can teach them to reach above their head with their glove and you can toss the ball above their head. Next, you want to try some advanced techniques such as tossing the ball to one side for a while, then the other side, above their head, and at their feet so they have to stretch down to catch it.
Praise your kids for making catches and continue encouraging them. The worst thing you can do when you are trying to teach a child something is to criticize them for not doing what you told them to do. For example, you shouldn’t say something like, “Johnny, why are you turning the glove this way if I just got through telling you to turn it the other way?” Instead, use positive reinforcement by saying, “Wow, Janet, great catch, here’s another one. Aw, nice try, turn your glove this way when you are trying to catch it.”
2. Teach your kid how to throw a baseball. Instead of having them stand up and throw the ball, you will have them get on their knee and place their lead foot forward. So, for example, a right-hander will put his or her right knee down and his left leg bent forward towards the intended target and a lefthander will have the left knee down and the right leg bent forward. See the example image.
From this position, you can tell your youngster to start with the ball in the glove, then to put his or her arm back, and finally, to throw the ball forward. To make this exercise easier, call out the positions as such; glove, back, throw! As an alternative that also works well, you can say, “glove, back, up, and throw.” This adds an extra step where you child can bring the ball back directly behind him or her before putting the arm up and throwing. Also, to make this easy, you can place a bucket of baseballs right next to your child so he or she can reach in and practice their throw over and over.
The reason this works so well to teach not only proper form but arm strength as well is because your kid will be locked in and not worried about foot placement just yet. Once he or she has mastered this throwing form, it’s time to have them stand up so they can learn how to throw by stepping forward with their free foot. For righties, they will step with their left foot as they throw and vice versa. Pay attention to their form as they throw the ball. Are they cocking their arm back before they throw it or are they keeping their arm too close to their torso? Ideally, you want your child to throw the ball with as much natural power as possible. If you imitate the image used above, you should have no problem drastically improving in a relatively short amount of time.
3. Teach your kid how to hit a baseball. I left the one kids have the most fun with for last, intentionally! You see, for some kids, all they want to do is practice batting and they can easily tire out and lose interest in learning how to catch and throw.
A batting tee is essential if you want to teach your child proper batting form. Even Major League ballplayers sometimes use batting tees when they are working on proper swing form!
You can get a fairly good and inexpensive batting tee at Toys R Us for under $15.00 and it is well worth it and probably the most important piece of equipment you will buy for your child.
Have your kid stand with legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart. The feet should be facing the batting tee as seen in the image below. The front foot should be parallel to the tube with the baseball on top of it.
Your child should grip the bat as shown above with no separation between hands. When he or she is ready to take a swing, the bat should be cocked back and loaded and as the swing begins, the front foot should make a small step (2 to 6 inches) as the arms extend with the barrel of the bat striking the baseball as the wrists turn over. The idea is to keep the eyes on the ball and strike the ball just as the wrists are breaking and following through. There will also be a natural shift in the legs. When the bat is cocked back, the weight will shift slightly to the rear leg and body, and when the swing starts, there will be a torque action in the body as the hips slightly rotate when the hitter steps forward.
There are many different ways Major League baseball players take swings due to many different factors having to do with different theories and natural abilities. However, by using the above basics, you will allow your child to develop or strengthen his or her natural swing. See you in the Big Leagues!