Helping young hitters with a fear of the ball

Ran into this issue with a 9 year old I recently started working with. She was pretty raw in her fastpitch hitting mechanics when we first started, but with some good tee work (and practice) she was coming along.

Unfortunately, we were started working together at the beginning of the season so there was some urgency to get her game-ready. Which meant moving to front toss to give her some experience with a ball coming at her.

Once we started with that, it became obvious she had some fear of getting hit by the ball since her first move would be to step away and sort of lean away from the pitch. That makes it tough to swing effectively.

(In her defense, given what I’ve heard about the caliber of pitching she’s been facing it’s understandable. Lots of, shall we say, randomly thrown pitches.)

Still, that’s not good. So I started thinking about how to help get her re-focused on attacking the ball rather than being attacked by it. The weather helped me come up with a good answer.

It had rained most of the day when we were getting together for a lesson, so we were stuck using the outfield for front toss. It was pretty soggy out there too, so I thought it might be better to pitch Whiffle balls at her. I figured it would give her less to fear from the pitches as well as prevent my regular softballs from getting waterlogged.

It worked well, and she hit with enthusiasm as I’ve reported previously. She was actually having fun, and seeing that she could hit.

The next step was to mix in the Whiffles with regular softballs at our next lesson. I told her I would throw a Whiffle, then a regular ball, which is what I did. At first she was a little tentative on the regular softballs, but the longer we alternated the more confident she grew.

So much so, in fact, that she nearly took my head off with a couple of line drives with the regular balls, and did nail me in the thigh with one. I hadn’t bothered to set up my Jugs protective screen – I mean, really, she’s nine and just learning to hit. I can handle that, right? But you can bet the next time I met with her the screen was there.

Speaking of the next time, that session was all regular balls. I’m happy to report that the fear was gone (along with the stepping out), replaced by a girl who was looking to do some damage. Hopefully that will carry over into her games too. If it does, I hope that little pitcher she’s facing is wearing a mask.

If you’re working with a hitter who is uncomfortable in the box and afraid of getting hit, give this a try. If you can replace that defensive mindset with one where she is focused on taking aggressive swings it can do wonders.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on June 19, 2015, in Hitting, Instruction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Have a look at some of the finest Athletics in the country tonight, June 22 & 23 on CBS Sports. I know I’ll be watching……….

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  2. I’m going to my first college camp in two weeks. How can I stand out and make a good impression? In the morning we have individual instruction and in the afternoons we play games against other campers. I’m a little worried about hitting the pitchers, especially since I sprained my thumb on Thurs and can’t do anything except legs and abs strength training for a week.

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  3. Hi Hailey,

    Good to hear from you again. Hopefully your season has gone well for you.

    To answer your question I’ve actually written quite a bit about having successful tryouts, which is similar. Here’s a link to a search I did that should provide some good guidance. https://fastpitchlane.softballsuccess.com/?s=tryouts

    One of the core things you can do is hustle all the time and look like you’re enjoying the camp. Even when you’re working hard you can have a smile on your face.

    Be sure to wear something that will make it easy for the coaches or people running the camp to remember you. Coaches often refer to “the girl with the bright green shoelaces” or “the one with USA t-shirt.” They may not know your name but if they remember something about you they can look it up later.

    Try to also do one thing that stands out. Diving for a ball is an obvious one. Not everyone is willing to get dirty. Or if you’re in a scrimmage and on first base, maybe take the extra base on a hit to right (if you have a reasonable chance of doing so).

    Introduce yourself right away when you get there to the coaches or college players running the camp and thank them for holding it.

    Of course, if you can hit home runs that would be awesome. They always like that. If not, then take good swings and look like you mean business. There’s a saying among Dominican Republic baseball players that “no one ever walked off the island,” meaning when the scouts are watching they’re trying to get a hit, not take a walk. Show what you can do, and have fun while doing it.

    Hope that helps. Good luck!

    Ken

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    • Okay! Thanks so much. Do you have any suggestions of things I could watch/read to get some hitting tips while I’m recovering? The earliest I can possibly start practicing again is the 6th.

      Oh, and I ended the regular season hitting .360 with an obp of .660 and also had a fantastic All-Star tournament. My hitting felt amazing before I got injured. 🙂

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  4. Congratulations on a great season! Hopefully you can get back in that groove before the camp.

    Well naturally the first thing I would advise you to do is poke around this site. I’ve written a lot on hitting through the past few years. If you click on “hitting” on the tag cloud to the right it should take you to every hitting post I’ve done.

    Beyond that, you can go to the Discuss Fastpitch Forum (www.discussfastpitch.com). There’s a ton of great discussion on hitting here. Look at the Model Swings thread in the Softball Technical Hitting forum to see some videos of different players hitting. Not all of them are really model swings – there are a lot of bad ones that ended up being good hits anyway – but they’ll give you an idea.

    Also check out the USA Softball hitting videos with Mike Candrea on YouTube. That should keep you busy until you can get back in the cages.

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  5. Tore a ligament, having surgery in the morning and can’t practice until at least late Oct 😦

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  6. So sorry to hear that Hailey. There are still some things you can do while you’re rehabbing, though. You can study video of top-notch hitters, and watch some of the videos I recommended. If your injury is upper body, maybe you can do some one-handed drills (with the doctor’s permission). You can look into some vision drills that will help you track the ball better as a hitter. You can make one for yourself with one red, one yellow and one green bead and a 10″ length of string. You can watch videos of games or read books to learn more about the strategies. Treat it as an opportunity to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily have time for and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.

    Hope you have a speedy recovery and that you’re back out on the field sooner than expected!

    Ken

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