I’ll never forget the look of frustration on the young coach’s face when he approached me at my team practice. Being the type of coach which becomes totally engrossed in the minuteness of every play, every player’s action and re-action on the playing field, I’d have normally delayed talking to him until after practice, but he looked desperate.
He introduced himself as a brand new coach of an Atom I team, the first year of hitting live pitching, and was having an issue trying to teach 2 of his players to hit. The issue was they would not stay in the batters box and try to hit, for as soon as the ball was released, they’d Bail Out backwards out of the box, turn their heads towards the backstop or look down at the ground and not even see the ball.
“I’ve tried everything I know to do,” he said “any suggestions?”
I gazed up at the blue sky, as if seeking Divine intervention, rubbed my chin in deep thought, then asked him a question.
“Have you tried the Hit Them With The Pitch Drill?”
“What do you mean,” he asked, looking at me as if were an ogre “actually throwing at them?”
“Yea, kinda,” I said. Then continued to explain a drill which I had used through the years which had worked 99% of the time, nothing in baseball is 100%.
Obviously, unless there’s an undetected underlying problem, the reason kids bail out of the batters box is they’re afraid of getting hit by the baseball, which would hurt.
It’s ironic, something we regard as a cowardly act, in the reality of basic human survival instinct, is a lot smarter than standing there in harm’s way tempting fate. Therefore, we as coaches must approach this problem as a Reconditioning of a normal instinct issue, not a cowardly or timid act. So how do we accomplish this?
Hit Them With The Pitch Drill.
1. Be sure to inform the parents of what you intend to do in order to avoid any problem with an over protective Mother, or Father for that matter.
2. Get a bucket of tennis balls, 12 to 24 in order to not waste time retrieving them, as you will not use a catcher.
3. Make sure the player has his proper safety equipment, helmet, shoes tied, etc. in place. Talk to him, off by himself as to not embarrass him in front of his peers, in a calm voice. Tell him you understand his issue, Not Fear, about being hit with ball, but you’re going to show him it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as he thinks.
4. Throw the first couple of tennis balls down the middle of the plate. There’s always the slim chance the coach pitching may encourage him to stay in the box, but don’t hold your breath.
5. Assuming the player begins bailing out, start throwing the ball behind him, intentionally trying to hit him, which is the main purpose of the drill.
6. Calmly explain, time & time again if necessary, the basics of staying in the box and watching the ball. The point here is to drive home the fact, backing out is Not keeping him from getting hit with the ball, and staying in and keeping an eye on the ball may be the better option.
7. Don’t concern yourself with hitting the ball. The intended goal of this drill is to keep the player in the batters box.
This drill will accomplish numerous things:
A. It’ll convince the player he must watch the ball, because bailing out and tucking his head was not preventing him from getting hit.
B. Because you’re using tennis balls, being hit will not hurt as badly as he may imagine, which helps reduce the fear of being hit. You never want to totally eliminate the fear of the ball, as there will be times to get out of the way.
C. It won’t take long to condition the mind and body, staying in and hitting is the normal course of business.
You may…. Probably… will have to perform this drill several times before its completely successful, although I have had kids which were hitting by the end of the drill.