It has always amazed me how tee ball coaches approach teaching their players the skill of catching fly balls. They will have their players, ages five and six, take turns while coaches will either hit or throw soft covered balls to them. And of course it is inevitable that one or more kids will get hit in the head or face. Even getting hit with these soft covered baseballs can harm, and worse can leave an emotional scar and negativity towards baseball. I have seen kids get hit in the face at this young age and refuse to step foot on a baseball container again. As coaches and fogeys, it is understandable that we are anxious to get our players to catch fly balls as soon as probably. Sometimes our impatience as coaches can turn youngsters a methods from baseball in preference to leading them back enthusiastically for the next practice. Leagues need to instruct their coaches to take a basic fundamental approach when teaching to catch fly balls. Whether you are teaching the most competitive high school infield the 6-four-three double play or five and six year-olds how to catch fly balls, leagues need to follow what I call the Progression Method.
There isn't any set age for when young players begin to feel comfortable catching pop ups. Many of the really young players afraid of getting hit will camp under a pop up very apprehensively. There are numerous drills a coach or parent can practice with their players. Some drills will work for some athletes and not for others. One of the first things a dad or coach will do to teach kids to catch is toss a ball underhand to them. Often times, young players will open their glove up with their fingers down and palm up when catching a pop up. I think this can be the wrong approach. When the glove is above the waist, which is where it must be when positioning oneself to catch a popup, players must be taught to catch the ball with their fingers pointing toward the sky, not toward the bottom as though catching a ground ball.
One of the first drills I have my young players perform is referred to as Blocking and is one without the use of their gloves. I take the softest ball I can find. It may well be a Nerf ball, sponge ball, Wiffle ball, or even a bean bag. I toss the ball or object to the player and he has to simply block the ball with his open hand, using his glove hand. I make sure the ball is thrown above the players waist for most of the repetitions so his fingers are up. When doing this drill, it is vital to go from one side of the players body to the other. This way the player is getting used to his hand going in front of his line of sight, which is hard for some youngsters. This is what experts would call a completely low skill drill, but one that may be a wonderful place first of all for five and six year-olds on the grounds that of the guaranteed success the players will have.
When coaches move from practicing catching a ball in close proximity to the more distant fly balls, one of the first drills I do is hit a soft covered ball off a paddle or racquet. In this drill I have the players use their gloves, but I have them use their gloves a various way. I explain to the kids that I only want them to make contact with the soft covered ball and any part of their glove. I do not want any kids catching the ball. Telling them not to catch the ball will do two things. First, you make the drill uniform, with the purpose attainable for everyone on the team. Second, the weaker kids will not feel bad if everyone catches the fly while he cannot. And lastly, you want the really young kids to holiday as much success as probably. This success will lead to more self assurance when a laborious ball is eventually used.
As with all drills the coach must reveal how he wants the drill done.
Another excellent technique I have used is with one of those Velcro balls and Velcro paddles for the young kids, and they love it. I will first throw up the Velcro ball by hand and they take turns catching it. My purpose is to progress from throwing the ball in close to further out as the participants become more comfortable. After one or two turns, I will increase the throwing distance and then use a paddle to hit the Velcro ball. This works wonderful and is another wonderful self assurance builder. The success experienced from many repetitions will lend a hand immensely when catching a laborious ball, which is the ultimate purpose. Using the Velcro ball and paddle is also wonderful during indoor practices. Wiffle balls and tennis balls are also simply right to practice with. The Progression Method is the key. You can even put in competitions. Even young players love contests and competitions. Coaches and fogeys will notice the wonderful differential in capability at this young age and may have to separate into groups by capability. Use of assistant coaches and fogeys who normally watch on the sidelines will be particularly helpful. Coaches must remind fogeys that young players advance their skills differently. I have seen fogeys upset when other young kids can do a task theirs cant. A lot of times in tee ball, coaches have to coach the fogeys as well as the players. Some players will not get the skill of catching a fly ball until they are nine or ten. Some won't ever get it. What we have to do is give young players the ideally suited opportunity to gain knowledge of the skill.
The key to teaching young players to catch fly balls is to do it by progression. Having them dive into the deep end with no holiday might open up the choice for an injury while never extinguishing their fear of the ball. Successful repetitions will lead to self assurance and give them the ideally suited odds of mastering this skill.
Fielding Drills & Techniques