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.