Youth baseball players must learn to catch the ball properly
By Mary Ann Tarr
Leave it to a guy named Steve Martin to bring his sense of humor to the youth baseball diamond.
Martin, the training coordinator for the Hamilton Township (N.J.) Recreation Baseball Association, has some fun ideas to help provide proper baseball instruction. If you do it right from the beginning, you may eliminate future problems, but he assures that even if there are glitches in a player’s mechanics they likely can be fixed.
“When I teach T-ballers, I start them from the get-go with good balance, good grip, good mechanics, good hip turn and squashing the bug,” Martin says. “When they’re that age, you have to relate to them. I go to the dollar store and I buy oven mitts and these spongy-type cutouts of bugs. They all got oven mitts and gloves."
“We want to teach kids to catch with two hands. Every kid has a glove and they want to catch the ball in the web. They put one hand out there, maybe they’re a little afraid of the ball. So we start with a short catch with Pickle-Balls, rubber balls, softballs. Using the oven mitt – their glove without a web – teaches them proper catching of the ball with two hands. Because it has no web, they have to hold on the ball with two hands. You can do groundball drills, maybe one-hop and nice easy toss in the air.”
Martin, who coached his two sons in baseball and his daughter in softball, says the oven mitts and especially the bugs are a big hit with the youngsters.
“They bring their bug to every practice, they bring their bug to every game,” he said. “We work on squashing the bug. There’s no rush. We show them, ‘This is what it’s supposed to feel like.’ Take their foot and position it. Some kids you can do it once or twice and they’ve got it. Some kids don’t get it in 10 times, so you do 11 or 12 until they get it.”
If bad habits evolve, it’s best to go back to the beginning and start over with a youth baseball player.
“If you have a player (age) 9 or 10 and he is still having issues with proper mechanics, be it hitting, pitching, throwing or running, what I do is I take that player or multiple players and go back to the basics,” Martin said. “Go back and build again from there. These younger players are sponges (who can absorb the proper instruction). Mechanics, either proper or poor, is muscle memory. At age 9 or 10, everything can be corrected, but it’s harder. They’ve established those poor muscle-memory habits.”
There are more pieces to the puzzle of creating a happy, properly trained youth baseball player.
“Especially with little guys and girls, you’ve got to make it fun,” Martin said. “And it doesn’t end at practice. Moms and dads, brothers and sisters can still go out and have a catch.”