Catching the ball can be quite difficult for a young player who is new to the game of baseball. Most young kids are not very coordinated with their dominant hand, let alone with a glove on their non-dominant hand. It can be quite awkward for them at first.
Here are a few tips and drills that I like to use when I’m teaching kids to catch a baseball.
Ask your players to point to the part of the glove that they are trying to catch the ball with. You’ll find that many will point to the palm of the glove. Anytime a ball hits the palm of the glove it is going to bounce off and potentially out of the glove. Explain to them that they are trying to catch the ball in the “pocket” or “web” of the glove and show them where that is.
Inspect their glove. Is it too stiff for them to close? The younger the player, the less grip strength they are going to have. It is very important that the glove is broke in and has some flexibility so that they can close it. If their glove is broken in, does it have a pocket? Many kids do not understand how to break a glove in so that a pocket is created for the ball. If their glove is stiff or has no pocket, you will want to give them some guidance on how to properly break their glove in.
Have them try putting two fingers in the pinky hole. Many experienced players, especially outfielders, put their ring finger and pinky fingers together in the last finger hole in their glove. In my experience, most youth players have never heard this tip, and when they try it, it makes it easier for them to close the glove around the baseball.
Understanding the correct way to catch the ball
Ideally, every ball we catch in baseball is going to be out away from our body. Catching too close to our body leaves little room for last second adjustments and makes our arms, hands and gloves stiff. Many young kids, however, keep their elbow close to their side while trying to catch, instead of reaching out to get the ball.
Help them form a new habit of reaching out for the ball. Teach them to have a ready to receive position. Whenever your team plays catch, always have the player who is going to receive the throw hold his glove out in front of his chest, showing his palm as a target to his throwing partner.
Just playing catch is not enough
While playing catch is beneficial, it is not the most efficient way to teach a kid how to catch the baseball. If you coach young players then you understand that a game of catch is more like a game of “fetch” for beginners. Players don’t get nearly the amount of reps they need to learn to use the glove properly. Focused drill work is a much more efficient means of developing glove skills.
Training the glove hand
The glove hand, which is our non-dominant hand, is much less coordinated than our dominant hand. It takes a lot of work to get comfortable and efficient in our use of the hand for catching.
Without a glove on, toss a bean bag or a frisbee back and forth with the player and have him catch it barehanded with only his glove hand. Both tools will force the player to pinch his thumb and fingers together, mimicking what the hand will have to do when catching with a glove.
Strap the velcro paddle to a kid’s hand and they are automatically forced to use have their palm open and toward the ball to make the tennis ball stick. This is perfect practice for catching a baseball with a glove on!
Once the player begins to improve at catching those objects, move up to barehanded catches with a ball. Use a softer ball when doing these barehanded drills. Baseball sized or smaller Nerf balls and tennis balls work great for this.
Progression tip: When the player begins to develop some catching skills, begin to challenge them. One way to challenge them is a rapid fire catching drill. With a bucket of baseballs, stand about 10 feet away from the player. Have them stand in an athletic stance, with their glove up and ready to receive. Begin flipping the balls to the player in a quick progression. Go as quickly as the player can handle. Have them catch, then toss each ball out of the way. After a few, begin to move the flips around on them to challenge them even more. Flip some up high, some low, and some to each side of them. Remember this is supposed to be a quick reaction drill, so keep the balls within arms reach so the player doesn’t have to move out of his athletic stance.
Learning to go get the ball
Learning to catch the baseball involves more than just developing the glove hand. Players also need to learn to move their feet and go to get the baseball. One way to train players to go get the ball is to use a bigger ball without a glove. You can use a large rubber ball or even a football. Footballs are great not only for learning to catch, but they are also a great tool for teaching throwing mechanics. Have your players take turns running routes and throwing the football to each other.
A drill you can use to help players get used to moving after the ball is the short toss reaction drill. This is a very simple drill, but effective in getting kids to go get the ball. Set the drill up with one player standing about 10 feet away facing you in a ready position. You will then flip a ball underhand to a random spot within 2 or 3 steps from your player. Have the player go a few times in a row, and each time flip the ball in a different spot. Make sure you move him left, right, forward and back.
Often, instead of going to get the ball, young players will want to move away from the ball from fear of being hit. Check out our post that’s loaded with tips and drills to help players get over being afraid of the ball.
A game of catch with Mom or Dad
It takes time, patience and a lot of reps to develop the ability to catch the baseball. If you are a coach, encourage the player’s parents to work on non-dominant hand-eye-coordination and using the glove at home. They can do drill work with bean bags and frisbees, or simply play catch. Playing a game of catch regularly at home can do a lot for a kid’s catching ability, but more importantly, it can create memories that last a lifetime.