Baseball can be an extraordinarily frustrating sport to train in at any age. Now, toss a dad into the mix who hasn’t held a bat in years (or ever), and a kid who can barely even run without tripping, let alone use complex hand-eye coordination. Luckily, coach Jason Hill has some suggestions on easing children into baseball fundamentals, starting with catching a fly ball. Hill has been coaching sports for about 20 years now, including JV football, varsity basketball, and Little League baseball.
For catching a fly ball in the outfield, Hill stresses the importance of kids staying quick on their feet. “Outfield is, as many sports are, all about moving your feet and making sure you get yourself into position. Because if you don’t get yourself into position, it doesn’t really matter,” he says. “Your hand-eye coordination doesn’t have an opportunity to take over if you’re not in the right spot.”
Next, he urges fighting the instinct to try to move towards the ball while it’s traveling. Instead, the key for kids is keeping themselves behind the baseball as it moves. “I think that a younger child’s first instinct is to come in on the ball. You see them take two steps in and the ball ends up going over their head. Before you talk about the mechanics of catching the ball, you want to teach and talk about footwork and staying behind the baseball.”
Once a kid is in position behind the baseball, it’s critical to use two hands to catch, particularly when first learning to catch. “I know that’s kind of a clichéd adage,” Hill admits, “but I think it certainly is appropriate, especially at an early age. Securing the catch with two hands, that’s most important.” They’ll want to avoid catching the ball above their chin, even though the temptation is always to stick their arm way up to catch it in midair. Instead, Hill recommends aiming to catch it around chest-high.
As with any skill, tying these methods together requires practice, practice, practice. Hill suggests repeating catching drills in close proximity, only about 20-25 feet away from your younger athlete, and gradually throwing the ball from farther away as they master catching at each distance. And don’t be afraid to make the drills especially challenging. “Any drill work that you do, you want to simulate more difficult catches than probably what they’ll see in the game,” Hill says, “and I think you’ll see a greater success rate when you do get out in a game or scrimmage.”