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Skelly

Advice On Mental Hitting For Youth

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Hi all,

New to this forum and to coaching youth baseball. My own baseball playing career took me up through Division I NCAA and I was fortunate to work with many, many excellent coaches in my career. Because of these, I learned a lot about teaching the physical side of baseball, and I'm having a lot of fun passing that on to a great group of youngsters.

However, what I need help with is the mental side. I was fortunate that I always had a pretty upbeat attitude during my career and rarely got into mental slumps. So, I don't have much experience in how to coach kids out of psyching themselves out.

The biggest issue I have right now is that the "best" player on our team is not hitting in games. He's a really exceptional athlete - I've heard he plays up one age level in travel soccer and hockey, and he's far and away the most physically gifted kid on our team. He's our #1 pitcher and has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.50 WHIP. He fields like Scott Rolen. He crushes the ball in practice. But, in games, he's gotten ONE HIT so far this year - an infield single that he legged out on a pretty weak ground ball to third.

Clearly, his stumbling block is mental. He puts so much pressure on himself to carry the team and perform in games that he's stiff and frozen at the plate. There's nothing wrong with his fundamentals. More practice won't help - he does everything as perfectly in practice as any 10-year-old can can be expected to do.

Even though our team is winning and he's pitching well, my heart breaks for him every game because he so badly wants to hit and show what he can do. The harder he tries, the worse it gets.

Those of you who have been coaching kids for a long time, I'm sure you've seen this before. What tips and techniques do you have for kids who can't relax in games, whose minds won't let their bodies do what they know how to do?

Many thanks in advance!

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Hi Skelly,

This actually a pretty common problem with kids especially some of the very talented ones. It sounds like he is "locking up in the box" as I call it with my kids and actually my daughter did it for a 2 years before I finally got some advice on it. Kids (especially the really talented ones) can get a bit picky and it could just be as easy as he just being to picky and trying to find the perfect pitch to hit. When a kid is that good they will sit on good pitches hoping the next one will be a HOME RUN pitch. The other thing he may be doing is while keeping his head on the ball his eyes can still be coming of the ball a little to soon. The way I tried to fix both of those with pretty good results so far this year is by challenging the player to try and aim the ball to the opposite field in batting practice and then in the following game. Some kids may take a few practices to get confidence with it but if this kid is a good athlete it probably won't take long. Hope this helps. It helped my daughter and 2 other players last year.

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Obviously I am answering this way late but maybe it will help someone next year. I find that most kids that age that are frozen in the box are thinking about not striking out, or even more often worried about getting hit by a pitch. You mentioned in practice that he is fine, is that with kids pitching to him? If he is doing fine against kids pitching to him in practice then it is more then liking him thinking about a negative outcome. Let him know it is OK to strike out it is part of the game. My kid was so worried about striking out he would just put the bat on the ball but would not swing hard. Finally one of the parents of one of the better hitting kids come up to him and told him to swing hard and don't worry about striking out.What a world of difference that made overnight.

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I'm even later than concerned parent, but I think the mental aspect is in every way just as important as the physical aspect. I would echo ConcernedParent. Try to find out what's wrong by talking with the player. Is he afraid of getting hit? Is he afraid of strking out? Those are two of the most common problems. If the player does not know (or is afraid to admit) then you need to do some investigative research.

Like CP said, have kids pitch to him in practice to alleviate the fear of facing youth pitchers. There are a lot of kids that crush off the coaches, but get antsy and dance in the box, or set up so far away from the plate that they won't hit anything, or they will just freeze. If he is afraid of striking out, let your kids know that it is OK to strike out. Even the Major Leaguers strike out.

One thing I do to prevent the "negative thoughts" is to give them a positive thought to take with them up to bat. The current one we use is "See the ball, hit the ball" or "See the ball, hit it hard". This focuses the kids on an action and a positive thought as opposed to a negative performance affecting one like "I don't want to strike out again", or "I really need to get a hit this time".

Just my two cents.... Also curious if he got out of his slump ...

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