Coach, I know that baseball isn’t your primary sport, but what can I do to teach players on the 7-year old team I’m coaching not to be afraid of the ball?
Teaching kids not to be afraid of the ball is a multi-step process. I’ve been brought in as a consultant (a night of free apps and Fireball at Beef O’Brady’s is my fee) by a couple of local teeball coaches to teach this one skill to their players.
I like to start out with fairly standard infield practice. I have the six and seven years olds line up around the infield grass, and I then proceed to hit ground rockets at them, but with teeballs. The kids who get in front of the ball and knock it down like men get the okay and stay on the field. The crying losers who remain then are forcibly ushered out to the parking lot to ramp things up a bit.
I start off with basically the same drill on the parking lot, except I use baseballs instead of teeballs. I require the players to stand about 10 yards away from me, and I again hit the ball as hard as I possibly can on the ground at them. I usually take some rocks and scatter them in front of the fielder to add an element of randomness to how the ball bounces. Again, you will have a few sobbing players who actually do get in front of the ball because they are afraid of what awaits them if they don’t.
Their fears are well-founded. My next step is to pull out a sack of old billiard balls that I bought a few years back during a liquidation sale for a bar that had gone out of business. I then proceed to hit those balls at light speed toward the remaining players. At a certain point during that drill, I require the players to toss their gloves to the side and do the drill bare-handed. Usually by that point, we’ve had 3 or 4 kids quit baseball for good, which is just as well. But you’ve always got a handful of kids who don’t quit, yet still won’t get in front of the ball.
That’s when we ratchet things up to DEFCON 1, and it requires the participation of a couple of other coaches. We line the remaining players up against a brick wall in the parking lot. Three or four of us – the “Firing Squad” — then stand about 10 yards away with bats and a bucketful of golf balls. We all simultaneously start hitting the golf balls at remaining players as hard as we possibly can. As you can imagine, by that point you’ve only got useless players left, so we just stick with that drill until the remaining kids run away and quit.
Then you return to the field and see what you’ve got left. Inevitably, it will be a tough, championship-minded group of six and seven year old kids who aren’t afraid of the ball. If that isn’t what teeball is all about, I don’t know what is.