Get them back at-bat, stat
| 3 min read
A game or two after getting hit with a pitch, Dan Keller’s 9-year-old son started scooting back in the box. The pitcher was throwing hard and he was scared of getting hit again.
This very real fear can paralyze even your best hitter, says Keller, a longtime baseball coach and founder of Dugout Captain. While more common in baseball – thanks to the overhand pitch – softball players deal with getting hit, too.
Here are some ways coaches can help their players get over their fear and start slugging again.
The first step in helping kids conquer their fear of getting hit is actually teaching them how to get hit. There’s a technique to it. “Drop, tuck, turn,” says Keller.
First, drop the barrel of the bat. This prevents the ball from hitting the bat and getting called a foul. Next, turn away from the pitcher. The ball will hit the player’s back (or backside) instead of their more vulnerable body parts. Finally, tuck the chin into the chest. This protects the face and lets the helmet take the hit – which is what it’s designed to do! Teaching players to “drop, tuck, turn” helps them protect themselves without getting injured.
Knowing how to take a hit gives players a bit of reassurance. But really, it’s about a player’s swing mindset. Fear needs to be replaced with a determination to swing.
“This is not an easy fix,” says Keller. “It requires some one-on-one cage time and repetitions.”
Deric Yanagisawa, the head baseball coach at Fountain Valley High School in California, created a drill that works wonders. Using tennis or whiffle balls, a coach alternates a good pitch with a throw that hits the player. Work up to two pitches, one hit, then three pitches. Then make each pitch-throw random. If the player reacts to a hit correctly – drop, tuck turn – then they get to huck the ball at the coach. Both swinging and reacting safely become automatic.
Having your players follow a “three pitches, three swings” exercise during a game is another good method to help remove the fear mindset when it really matters. The player must swing at the first three pitches they see, regardless — and success is defined as swinging each time. It takes the thinking out of an at-bat completely.
Coaches need to understand that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. It might take players several games to feel comfortable at the plate.
“Make sure you handle it with grace, love and patience,” says Keller. It’s a very common issue that’s totally valid — and should be taken seriously.
Dan Keller is part of MOJO’s Partnerships & Strategy team.