Youth Baseball Solutions for Hitting Issues
Many mental obstacles exist that can get in the way of being an effective hitter. Let’s explore some of the youth baseball solutions for hitting problems and see what can be done about it to help young ballplayers.
- Fear – This is a most prevalent issue in young hitters – especially one that has been hit a few times at a young age. The ball does hurt and nobody likes pain.
Youth Baseball Solutions to Overcome Fear
- It’s important to try to have the hitter expect every pitched ball to be over the middle of the plate. Before pitching the ball ask the hitter where he expects the ball and make sure he says over the middle. Then throw it and see how he reacts. If it comes at him teach him how to get out of the way, usually by turning away from it or ducking.
- A good batting machine can be useful because it will pitch consistent strikes and the hitter can hit without fear of the ball coming at him. Try to have them keep the same aggressiveness and thoughts when they are in a game as when they are in the batting cage. Easier said than done of course.
- Use a softer ball when pitching to the hitter can help. Tennis, whiffle and rag balls are great and the hitter will feel more comfortable facing these balls. Hopefully, with time the hitter will overcome his fear.
Note: Be careful of mistaking stepping away from home with fear of the ball. I’ve had many students whose parents thought their child was scared of the ball when in reality they just did not understand the proper fundamentals. Many of these students think that to get the bat out to the ball it makes sense to step out. This can be corrected with some good hitting fundamental front side drills.
Note: Repetition and practice can reverse fear.
Note: If nothing seems to work it may be best to take the young player out of the competitive league for a year or two. If they want to keep playing have them keep working at their game and put them back in at a later date. The accuracy of the pitchers will improve greatly as they move up in age levels and that may help to overcome their fear. Finding coach pitch or machine pitch leagues at the younger age can certainly help in this matter.
- Nervousness – This is a common symptom of most hitters of all ages. Many parents express that their young hitter gets too nervous. The youth baseball solutions are many. It is important to explain to the hitter that nerves are normal and can be a good thing because they get the adrenaline and energy going. You have to convince them though that they can only use this energy if they concentrate on watching the ball better. By putting all their concentration on the ball this will eliminate the ability to think about the nerves. The best way to relax a little is to have the hitters take a deep breath before getting in the batter’s box. I know this sounds simple but the hitter needs to realize that even big leaguers get nervous. The big leaguer, for the most part, has learned to concentrate on the here and now to use the nerves in a positive way. Another thing that might help and something my mother always told me to do out on the field was to “smile”. This is a hard thing to do if one is too nervous so getting the youngsters to smile can really break the tension.
2. Parental Pressure & Fear of Failure – Another common feeling of players is the pressure to do well. All kids want to please their parents and when they do not perform well they think that they are letting their parents down. All athletes have a fear of failure, some more than others. The more pressure the parent puts on the player the greater the fear of failure. Too much fear of failure will lead the player to feel like it is not worth playing anymore. This pressure, fear of failure and not wanting to play anymore can put a huge strain on a relationship and one that I’ve seen last for years between the player and the coach (parent). Unfortunately, the hitters themselves cannot alleviate this pressure unless the parents ease up somewhat. This is a delicate area but if the parents seem approachable then the coach can mention something to the effect of the parents being a little too hard on their child. It is important for parents to judge the effort and not the results. It is important for your child to realize that they are so much more than how they perform on a playing field.
Youth Baseball Solutions for Pressure
3. Self-Pressure – Some players put too much pressure on themselves. Hitting is a tough art for the players who put a lot of pressure on themselves. As a youngster moves up in levels the competition will improve to the point where the hitter will make more outs than hits. Some players have a difficult time with failure. A good coach will constantly be trying to teach this type player the art of patience and the nature of the game. Some of my most often stated comments to the hitter were the following.
- “Your goal is not to prove anything to anyone but to improve.”
- “Don’t worry about hits – try to have as many quality at-bats as possible. A quality at-bat is to put good swings on hittable pitches”
- “You are one swing away from putting it all together and because you don’t know when that swing may come stay positive”.
- “Remember the good at-bats and forget the bad ones or this game will drive you nuts”.
Youth Baseball Solutions for Confidence (or a lack of)
This is a huge part of hitting. The number one job of the good hitting coach is to try and develop confidence in each hitter. Here are some things the coach can do for a hitter.
- Get them to believe in their swing.
- Keep reminding them of a nice hit the hitter had – preferably in a game or in practice if needed. “Remember that hit you got for us to win.”
- In practice, put each player in game situation hitting situations so that when the situation occurs in the game they will have been there before and will be more prepared.
- Tell the hitter that they remind you of a certain big league hitter.
- Don’t teach mechanics in the game. Remember that is what practice is for.
- Keep reminding them to believe in themselves. There will be times when no one will believe that they will get a hit but tell them to always believe in themselves.
- Give them something new to try before the next game. Keep the idea as simple as possible and even make up something if you are not sure what is wrong. As long as the hitter has some hope for tomorrow then all confidence will not be lost.
- Let them know that you are pulling for them.
- Teach them what it means to have “quality” at-bats. Quality meaning putting good swings on good pitches. Teaching the hitter that that is all they can really control anyway.
- Keep the hitters focused on never “giving up an at-bat.” That idea means to stay focused no matter what the score of the game is and no matter what the results of the hitter’s previous at-bats. Many hitters will get down after making an out or two and be mentally finished before their next at bat.
Recognizing the Signs That a Hitter’s Confidence Is Affected
It is important for the coach to watch for signs that the hitter is losing or has lost confidence. Some of these are as follows:
- The player’s body language and facial expressions are the most obvious. If the hitter is hanging there head or appears disgusted then this is the most obvious sign that a player’s confidence is waning. Any change in the player’s normal behavior may be a sign also. Hitters who would rather bat near the end of the batting order than at the top of the order generally are short on confidence and may need a boost in confidence.
- A loss of aggressiveness at the plate. This usually will show up in one of three ways:
- The hitter will simply not swing the bat.
- The hitter takes a pitch right down the middle and then proceeds to swing at the next pitch no matter where it is located.
- The hitter will only swing when behind in the count. These hitters want to be forced to swing the bat so they wait till they are in counts where they need to swing and this usually means with two strikes on the batter.
Here are some often used youth baseball solutions that coaches should not do.
- The coach should not overwhelm the hitters with instruction and with too many things to work on.
- Don’t ignore any team member – especially the weaker hitters.
- Don’t show disgust by looking away or rolling the eyes when the hitter doesn’t perform the way you want.
- Let the player blame their bad at bat on the umpire. Rarely does the ump blow all three strikes that the player gets.
- Don’t give false praise. There is a fine line between staying positive and giving false praise. Most players will realize that what you are saying does not apply to them and they may start to tune the coach out. Saying “hang in there” is better than “you did great” when the player had an obvious rough day.
Most youth baseball solutions require a trial and error approach as well as a great deal of time to correct. Coaching and player patience are necessary and in time, the correct youth baseball solutions will arrive.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.