By: Matt Nicholson
The game of baseball can fundamentally be broken down into three primary skills: throwing, catching, and hitting. When young players have an interest and passion for the game of baseball these are three skill areas where they should look to improve their game.
Playing catch is essential to the game of baseball and involves little to no equipment. Kids grow up wanting to toss and throw things, but learning to use their bodies in the most efficient way to throw accurately and protect their arms are most pivotal for their development.
When working with young athletes looking to grow as baseball players, the two biggest words that I will use are consistency and process. Consistency of finding a movement pattern that is efficient and repeatable is the ultimate goal. This takes time and effort over a period of time with a mental approach and focus. Activity should not be mistaken for achievement and if one is not working on improving the right areas of a desired skill or incorrectly performing movement patterns then it is difficult for them to really get better.
To become a better thrower, most kids need to work on finding a good release point where they are staying on top of the baseball, rather than flicking the wrist from underneath where the ball tends to float or sail without much velocity. This means having a clean take away and proper sequencing. This included taking the ball out of the glove, creating separation with a down and then upward arm path, as they stride towards the intended target.
This will help them to get on top of the baseball and feel connection in their lower half before just releasing and pushing the ball, thus causing less strain on the arm, more velocity (from larger muscle groups), and more accuracy. Throwing whiffle balls and tennis balls in addition to baseballs and throwing hard to best help develop a repeatable motion can best help younger players improve as throwers.
Hand eye coordination is essential to the game of baseball and the fundamental skills of hitting and catching. Fielding the ball is a form of catching that involves proper positioning and a desire to stop the baseball. There are a number of aspects that go into fielding a baseball, but for younger players their body positioning and approach are two of the most important to set them up for success.
This starts with an athletic stance with a wide base, keeping our butt down with a flat back. The body is low, arms are extended with slight bend in the elbows and glove out in front of the body. The glove should be open with the off hand ready to transition the ball out of the glove and into the throwing hand. See photo below for proper body positioning.
Once they can cleanly field ground balls then they should work on their approach to the ball. It is common for many young players to sit back and wait for the ball to come to them instead of having a proper approach to the ball. Players should keep their feet moving around the baseball, while staying low and finishing with their momentum always going in the direction of their throw. There is a lot more that goes into this skill that I am not going to get into today but I feel it is often overlooked by youth coaches. Feel free to reach out anytime to discuss an infielders approach to fielding a ground ball.
Offensively, players can work to become better hitters by improving timing and maintaining a process. Often times young hitters will rush through things without taking time between reps to mentally think about what adjustments should be made and how they can get their body into the right positioning.
When hitters allow themselves to find an approach (check feet, stance, and set-up prior to each swing) and maintain their approach it helps them to start in a good position to make a better and more consistent swing. Rather than focusing too much on mechanical adjustments it is beneficial for young hitters to use the ball as their direct feedback. More often that not ‘mis-hits’ are a result of poor timing rather than poor mechanics. One of the most difficult things for young hitters to do is to get themselves to make a timing adjustment based on speed when they are either early or late, without changing their swing. Young players are often afraid to fail, but if they learn to fail correctly by feeling their body and making self-adjustments between swings it will help them develop immensely.
Improving these three fundamental skills are important in helping young players improve their game.