How to Teach Young Children to Field a Baseball
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"For too long, we have taught young children in the same ways we teach older children and settled for the mediocre results of these ways."— Dr. Brad Kayden, Early Learning in Sports Development Expert
How to Teach Young Children to Field a Baseball Teaching Video
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3-Step Fielding Instruction
Fielding Kept Simple, Learning Made Fun
The "alligator" position is an age-old coaching tradition of baseball. Taught for generations, it is when a child opens their arms wide and chomps the baseball as it enters their glove. The technique creates a fun visual young children can connect with and offers a basic enough introduction for them to easily remember what they've learned Unfortunately, it only offers them one part of a broader sports process and leaves them incomplete in their thinking about fielding.
The goal is to keep sports simple and make learning fun, but it is also to set young children up for success. So we need to help them see the skill of fielding, or any sports skill for that matter, as a process. This 3-step fielding technique will keep fielding simple and make learning fun as you help you coach your little leaguers to success. I invite you to try our 3-step technique and even to introduce our video visual aid as you teach it.
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Teaching Time: 4 Minutes
# of Steps: 3 Easy Steps
Level of Instructional Difficulty: Easy
Ages Appropriate for: 2 years +
Keywords or phrases: Alligator Low-to-the-Snow, Belly button, Throw
- How to Teach Young Children to Properly Hold a Bat
Keep baseball simple and make learning fun. Teach early learners Caterpillar Hands, the proper grip for holding a baseball bat and simple coaching verbal cue for making quick on-field corrections.
DIY Coach Script
Without a glove or baseball, challenge children to create an alligator's mouth with their arms and hands.
- Begin by extending your left arm out, hand and palm down and then your right arm out, hand palm up.
- Proceed to open and close your alligators' mouth, each time you close clapping your hands together and saying, "CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP!"
- CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! high and low and repeat several times to maximize the fun in learning.
Now, grab a glove and repeat.
Then, get ready for a new twist on this timeless baseball teaching. Kids love it and as a parent you will enjoy the unexpected twist of the alligator's stories we use to teach young children how to field a baseball in our classes.
In the next section, I will share the script that introduces our alligator, Ollie Gator, who lives, of all places, in the North Pole.
"As a coach, your job is to keep sports simple and make learning fun. The best coaches are able to teach children in fun ways that allow them to learn without them even realizing they're doing so."— Dr. Brad Kayden, Early Learning in Sport Expert
Early Learners will:
- Have fun.
- Learn what fielding is.
- Demonstrate the 3-step fielding steps taught.
Step One Teaching Graphic
1. Step One
Begin by pointing to your chin and ask (if children are over three) "What is this?" If they don't know, tell them and then explain following, "Alligators have chins too. In order to eat baseballs they have to keep their chins low-to-the-snow."
Demonstrate how the ball rolls through the alligator's legs if they don't put their chin low-to-the-snow.
Next tell children, "Make your alligator with your glove and your hand and then let's put its chin low to the snow"
Demonstrate the alligator's chomping motion with them at ground level, low-to-the-snow.
Step Two Teaching Graphic
Step Three Teaching Graphic
2. Step Two
The next step is a critical one that is easy to teach but often missed when teaching young children how to field a baseball. What makes it so important is it describes the step between fielding and throwing that makes the difference between effective fielding and not. In adult ways of thinking, it is the transitional point between fielding and throwing that falls at the belly button
As the instructional diagram included here suggests, it is what, at the end of step 2, the outcome should look like. If you set it up as directed, it should not take kids long to master this step in the process.
You step 2 by saying and tracing the path of the ball along (i.e. outside) your own body, "Once the alligator eats the baseball, it goes in his mouth, down his throat and into his... (point to your belly and let the kids answer: Belly.
Repeat steps one and two several times.
3. Step Three
Roll them each a baseball or tennis ball reinforcing, "Alligator low to the snow," after the ball's been fielded tell children, "Belly button". They will then put the ball at their belly button simulating the ball entering the alligator's belly. And now it is time for step 3.
The last and final step is simply to say, "Throw."
Do not be too worried about the form of the throw, whether your child steps and then throws or where the ball goes. Focus exclusively on the 3-step fielding process. Later you can go back, add components, refine skills and put everything together the way it is supposed to be.
Early Learners in Sport
When you teach young children, ages 2-5, you are working with some of the most impressionable and resilient athletes in sports today. While many of these accolades are reserved for elite "adult" athletes in sports, it is young children who are performing phenomenal feats in sports we do not see.
With the dawn of each new day, they gracefully defy and overcome their many physical, emotional and mental limitations that are just a natural product of their immaturity. Sports offers young children constructive ways to overcome their limitations, develop and grow.
- Have patience. Introduce only a few steps at a time. Children learn best by doing. Refine fielding a baseball and then add more instruction like running and throwing.
- Hands-off. Do your best to use a hands-off approach. The use of an easy 3-step fielding formula phrase that rhymes - "alligator low to the snow," "belly button," and "throw" is designed for you, the coach, to more easily communicate the skill being learned without the need to manipulate children's positioning or movements with your hands.
- Encourage children. Being open, encouraging and using children's names, often makes you, as a coach, more well received and puts you in better control of kids. Children live for praise and positive feedback and when received, it builds their confidence, improves listening capacity, develops their emotional maturity, and enables a child's ability to find value in self-discipline and self-improvement.
- Avoid frustration. Focus on the positive, find the small wins of fielding a baseball and praise them. Perfect fielding does not exist at the early learning level. Children get better as they practice more. Make sure, as a group, they know the basic language and can demonstrate steps.
Early Learning Coaching Best Practice: Prepare Children to Learn
Early Learning Coaching Best Practice: Instruct to Young Children's Best Interest
Instruction relative to children's interests. Construct your lessons in such a way that you use food, animals, body parts or other relative objects or things children generally are accustomed to knowing about. In the case of fielding, the alligator has been used for generations. Learn how a child's belly button and snow help with teaching the full fielding process.
Early Learning Coaching Best Practice: Offer Activities with a Sports Theme
Early learners require an active learning environment, one that offers both a dynamic and entertaining learning experience. The best early learning programs and coaches accomplish this by planning to offer many activities with a sports theme inside of one sports class. The length of each activity varies but usually ranges between 1 to 4 minutes. The way an active learning environment is created is by incorporating elements that young children will respond to. Learning aids like bubbles, rings, cones, dots, noodles and parachutes are examples and creating activities around these objects will set you up for success as a coach in the minds of both the parents and children.
Establish A Teaching Baseline
Often getting started is the hardest part. As a parent, teacher or coach, your first instinct will be to jump right in. You will want to immediately start teaching children what you think they need to know about fielding or the topic you're about to teach. However, when you teach young children how to field a baseball, for example, it is important to remember that there are typically three sides to the equation, yours, the children's and the parents'.
Believe it or not, children bring with them their own expectations to sports. Parents bring a separate set, and you, who holds all the responsibilities to teach young children how to field a baseball, another set entirely. If you're new to coaching, which I would assume most of you reading this are, especially considering the early learning phases of sport are where most coaches get their start; you are no doubt wondering how does a coach successfully balance all the expectations?
It's a great question not enough entry-level coaches ask themselves and as a result, they are misguided in their practices and usually too heavily weighted in their thinking in one area, usually themselves (i.e. my way or the highway approach) or parents (i.e. win-at-all cost approach). In extreme cases an inexperienced coach will combine these two volatile approaches and find himself in the news for child abuse or for fighting with a parent or referee. In either of the two approaches, children's expectations have failed to be considered and they become like pawns being moved across a chess board, instead of athletes getting the proper training and development.
The way you manage expectations is to use a simple baseline. Your thinking when coaching to teach young children how to field a baseball should begin by thinking synergistically. This requires using a blended approach that figures all expectations into your teaching plan. This is easier than you might think.
Generally at the introductory phases of sport, parents' expectations align closely with children's. What parents want most is for children to have fun and what children want is no different. As a coach, your job is to keep sports simple and make learning fun. The best coaches are able to teach children in fun ways that allow them to learn without them even realizing they're doing so. As you have already seen, this blog shows you some examples of how this is done.
Keeping sports simple and making learning fun is a baseline fit for all youth coaches, not just early learning coaches. You hear so much about athletes' discipline and how that relates to winning and sports success. Winning and sports success is actually more a product of coaching discipline than it is athlete discipline. Follow the best practices of those who are most effective and reference benchmarks relative to the group you are teaching, and you will find the winning and sports success that top coaches at all levels of sport experience.
Use of Learning Aids
The use of learning aids (i.e. cones, rings, dots) is not something new to sport. However, the types of learning aids and prevalence in their usage have evolved as the number of early learners in sport have grown. Today learning aids include kid-favorites like bubbles, cones, dots, rings, parachutes, and noodles. They can play an important role in early learners' development and effectiveness of your coaching when teaching young children.
The value of learning aids are innate to a child. They represent something fun that has magnetic power over children; its universal appeal to children instantaneously has a positive effect on their abilities to focus and follow direction. They serve as valuable mechanisms that will help you to translate sports in more effective and efficient ways young children will respond to, mostly because, for the first time, they are able to understand sports on a term they most relate with, fun.
As a parent, teacher or coach, it is difficult to simply tell a child to field a baseball and just to expect they all will know what to do. But when you find a learning aid that is a universal adored among all children, like bubbles, and tell them to catch the bubbles; they are essentially learning the basic concept of fielding. The bubbles allow them to exhibit the skill of fielding in a confidently and self-gratifying way that works for young children and should also work for you as a coach. There is no better way to inspire young children to learn sports then to allow them the freedom to practice fun activities with a sports theme.