Whether you are a seasoned pro or a youth baseball player, I believe there is always a fear of the baseball. We just have to want to hit or catch the ball more than we are afraid of it. No one wants to get hit by a pitch, or take a bad hop in the chest. This is even more prevalent in younger players. All coaches have had to deal with players who are afraid of the ball, and all will agree it is difficult to overcome. So, how do you get a player to overcome that fear? And, what can I do as a coach to help them?
We have put together a little process that has helped kids overcome this fear. But we have to understand that each individual is different. Some might overcome this fear quickly, while it might take more time for others. That leads us to step 1 of our process:
We use tennis balls a lot, even if we are training high school and college recruits/prospects. They are harder to catch and hit. Even for these more “elite” athletes, the tennis balls give them a calmer mind, making training the proper movements more effective and efficient.
What tennis balls do for younger individuals is unbelievable. You throw a tennis ball at a player who is afraid of a baseball, and it is like you suddenly have an all star. Sometimes taking a step back and using tennis balls (or other soft type of ball) will give the player peace of mind, enabling them to get some quality work done.
I personally believe the majority of work done at the tee ball level should be done with tennis balls. That doesn’t mean you only use them, but WHEN a player gets hit, you wont take as many steps backwards as if you were using an actual tee ball.
SKLZ also makes a cool training aid that can serve multiple purposes, they are called Impact Baseballs (Save 20% at bit.ly/1nqasRH). They look like a wiffle ball, but their unique material makes them light and squishy. This is a great tool to use when you are trying to get a player to overcome fear of the baseball. Due to the fact it is even lighter than a tennis ball, and a baby fresh out of the womb could squeeze it, players tend to enjoy it a little more. Although its primary purpose is for hitting, it makes sense to use it for catching as well. We think it is a good buy since a coach can use it for multiple purposes. Impact Balls Video
While using tennis balls still, work simple. This means under handing the ball to the player while they try to catch it, or hit it. Taking their lower half out of it by getting them wide and athletic, and not allowing them to move their feet while they swing or catch, will help them as well.
At first, you will see them shy away from the ball. If it persists, you can put them on their knees. This will help eliminate the lower half even more.
We like to partner players up, give them a tennis ball, and have them walk with each other while tossing it back and forth. They need to maintain their stride (one walking forward while the other is walking backwards). We have seen this simple drill help kids who are scared of the baseball. If I have a player who is extremely scared of the ball, I always partner up with them. I make them walk forwards while I walk backwards. We both are lightly tossing the ball underhand back and forth staying roughly 5 feet away from each other. This gets the player use to moving, or stepping toward the ball that is being thrown to them.
The key to this is making this a game. If they drop the ball they go back to the line and start over until the complete the “course”. You can also do shuffles and techniques for older players.
Once you think the player is getting more comfortable catching or hitting the tennis ball, start gradually implementing the baseball. For hitting and catching, start with underhand toss. You can even switch back and forth from tennis ball to baseball with each throw.
Once you feel they have begun to get comfortable with that, start to hide the ball behind your back so they don’t know which is coming!
We created this drill using a tennis ball and tennis racket. It is simple, but it makes the individual move under the ball the proper way. It also puts their arms and hands in the way we like them to practice catching pop flies.
When we were throwing ideas back and forth for a fun activity at a camp, we decided to add water balloons to this drill. A long story short, it had an epic response. Watch some of these clips!
This is a great drill, but it also makes learning extremely fun. Having fun always helps with overcoming fear.
You will find through this entire 6-step process listed above that the fear is more mental than physical. While you should always correct them physically to make mechanics better, don’t correct too much at once. Focus on one mechanic and work hard with them to correct that one thing. Although we are focusing on a mechanic, we have to remember that their mentality is more important in this situation. Fear is difficult to overcome. As a coach, if you slow down the process and do your best to make the individual more comfortable, you will find greater success in helping them to overcome fear of the baseball.