May 2, 2011 How to teach catching fly balls
Teaching little kids how to catch fly balls is a very tricky thing to do. Maybe I’ll start with a few examples of what NOT to do?
-Don’t ever, ever, ever bring a hard baseball to a 4,5,6,7 year old to teach them how to catch fly balls. Don’t even bring a ‘squishy T-ball ball’ (RIF – Reduced injury factor ball).
They are going to get hit with the baseball. Notice I didn’t say they ‘might’ or ‘maybe’ they will. They will. Control this situation! The hardest thing you want to use is a tennis ball. Nerf balls, ragballs, etc. are all great alternatives. You want them to get used to being comfortable getting under the ball correctly. When you transition to a baseball you want them to get under pop flies from instinct.
-Don’t start on the field with your child in the outfield and you at home plate with a bat.
Start off less than 10 feet from your child and underhand toss a ball to their glove hand shoulder with a slight arc. Work on the correct positioning of the arm, using two hands, correct positioning of the glove, getting underneath the ball, etc. Once they show progress with these things, start to increase the distance and height of pop-flys. Baby steps!
-Don’t get mad when your child refuses to get under the ball.
It’s scary. Kids don’t want a ball flying near their faces. Teaching them correct mechanics is not only safe, but will give them confidence. This takes lots and lots of time. Don’t rush this process, but be supportive and keep throwing popups!
Glove to the side of the head, not in front! You’ve got to be able to see the ball uninterrupted until it hits your glove. Make sure the glove stays to the side of the head to track the ball.
Arm bent – not straight. The glove hand arm needs to be bent when the ball gets to the glove if the player is under the ball. Catching the ball with an outstretched arm fosters bad habits and mechanics. With the glove closer to the eyes, less mistakes and misses will happen. You can’t make fine adjustments with an outstretched or locked arm.
Non-glove hand up near the glove (NOT touching the glove). 2 hands! Two reasons for this – to keep the ball secure in the glove and erase mistakes, and a ball transfer is going to be quicker if the hand is already near the glove. I suspect this might also give your child another sense of protection, which could help their confidence.
All kids can learn to track fly balls, but it takes tons and tons of work. Don’t forget to make lots of time for fly-ball practice and tons of reps following this progression. Good luck!