Foremost expert on early learning sports development. Founder at Chicago-based Coach Pickle's Jelly Bean Sports.
Hitting a Baseball
Hitting is a fundamental skill and core competency children need to learn in order to play baseball. Highly complex, a baseball bat is more than just a tool. It is an extension of the child's body.
Our understanding of how the management of a baseball bat works for young children has been largely undocumented. Generally, if an official sized t-ball bat is utilized, you can expect it to be awkward and difficult for a young child to use. It only requires you to imagine holding a giant baseball bat. Your efforts to manage it will begin to fail over time under the weight and length. It will challenge your control, consume your thinking, and restrict even your best efforts. Your abilities to perform efficiently and effectively are limited at best.
Add-in the outside scrutiny for having improper form and the degree of difficulty rises even further.
Knowledge arises neither from objects nor the child, but from the interactions between the child and those objects.
— Jean Piaget, Cognitive Development Expert
Of First Importance
It is important to give children experience but also to consider their limitations. Given young children only learned how to walk a few years ago, we must keep in mind that they are still learning about their bodies. Albeit very active, struggles with balance and coordination still exist, especially when underutilized muscle groups are engaged as they will be with hitting exercises. Therefore, we must begin by working on the physical and mental coordination but do so without the burden and added challenges created by a heavy bat scenario. This requires "no bat" or "low-weight bat" modifications that I will share here.
Of first importance is building a child's love of the game, and all else will follow. Modifications to traditional teachings are needed if we are going to set young children up for hitting success.
Handedness of Children
With the use of simple modifications, young children can begin to get a truer sense of hitting's coordinated movements. They can also begin to learn the strategy that surrounds hitting and baseball in general. What you will teach them will show them how to have fun with hitting and not be frustrated in the early years.
The hitting exercises and coaching techniques in this article are designed for coaching introductory hitters. The Jelly Bean Way is a classroom-proven early learning sports development approach that will provide you not just the written instruction but also things like classroom video to watch. You will see how the lessons are set-up and also watch how the young children respond and perform to hitting taught the Jelly Bean Way.
"An all-too-common problem early learners experience in hitting is their hands do not always remain together when gripping the bat and they lose power and control in their swing."
— Dr. Kayden
Proper Hand Position Instruction
Hitting Kept Simple, Learning Made Fun
I invite you to try the Jelly Bean Way with your early learners. It offers a fun 3-step teaching approach that even includes a fun video aid that you can share with them. It can be a difference-maker that will help young children seed the learning.
Thanks for the visit, enjoy the content! ~Brad a.k.a Coach Pickles :)
Hitting Lesson Overview
Teaching Time: 5 Minutes
Equipment: Noodle, Plastic bat (optional)
Level of Instructional Difficulty: Easy
Ages Appropriate for: 2.5 years +
Keywords: hitting, baseball, batting, caterpillar, hands
- better understand young children's hitting limitations
- better understand "no-bat" teachings
- better understand "light weight bat" teachings
- better understand how to keep hitting simple
- better understand how to make learning fun
When I am working with young children, it is necessary for me to get an assessment of the knowledge they have around hitting. Beginning with some light-hearted activities is a great way to get kids to active but also excited about the process of learning how to hit a baseball. Since baseball is naturally a slower-paced sport, it is important to find ways to keep kids moving and engaged.
No Bat Activity
Noodle and Bubbles
A great introduction to hitting that more gauges children's investment in the process is through the use of noodles and bubbles. A pool noodle cut in half makes for an excellent bat-like substitute. It is also safer which is reassuring to parents watching from the sidelines.
After distributing a pool noodle to every child, I will blow bubbles with a bubble gun. Children are told to use their pool noodles to hit the bubbles. Young children's love and excitement for pool noodles and bubbles makes this activity part of the natural order when teaching hitting.
A great starting point is with how they functionally hold the baseball bat. This can be explored in a variety of different ways but in order to prevent over-coaching, it must be kept interactive and light. The "How to Hold a Bat" video demonstrates one way this can be done.
Noodle and Rings
Another great way to assess young children without a need for the bat is to use noodles and rings. In this exercise, I tell children we are going fishing. Their noodle is the fishing pole and the ring is the fishy. To catch the fishy, I roll the ring and children have to put their noodle inside.
This exercise is great because it keeps kids moving but it actively works on their hand-eye coordination. I like it because it is a relatively easy exercise to set-up, children are challenged by it and it gives me an early assessment of children's physical capabilities and mental abilities to focus.
Introductory Hitting Instruction
At the introductory level of teaching young children how to hit a baseball, there is a starting point that provides another no bat opportunity. It is a starting point you should seriously consider given the problem many young children have with keeping their hands together on the baseball bat.
I break down the grip on the baseball bat into parts for young children so they can understand why it is important. Jelly Bean Way is to call it the Caterpillar grip. The beauty of this technique, as you will see in the video below is it engages children, peaks their imagination and allows them to focus by keeping things interesting.
Teach Young Children How to Hold a Baseball Bat Coaching Video
Teaching the Caterpillar Grip
There are four basic steps to teaching the caterpillar grip.
Ask the kids, "Show me a fist" (extend yours out) Make another fist (again showing them). Then say, "Stack one fist on top of the other." (Again showing how it is done)
(Be excited) Ask, "Do you know what animal you just created?" (don't rush this, let them anticipate the answer) A CATERPILLAR!
Help children align all their knuckles. As you see their stacked fists, there will be four knuckles on one fist and four knuckles on the other.
Getting down on their level, start at the top knuckle and begin counting their knuckles.
Count the top fist's knuckles, "1-2-3-4" and then on the bottom fist's "5-6-7-8". Celebrate with them saying, "You did it, you have a caterpillar."
Seed the learning by having early learners count Mom or Dad's fists: caterpillar segments. Children absolutely love doing this. Even if they don't count the caterpillar's segments correctly, the idea is that they are building understanding an understanding that their fists need to stay together.
Show the children your fists together. Tell them, "When our fists are together the caterpillar is fixed."
Step three is to show children how to separate their fists, or essentially "break" the caterpillar. This is done by your example and actually saying, "Break it!" As you do it. It is best to overemphasize the movement by putting one fist below your belly button and the other over your head.
Then give the next instruction, saying "Fix it!"
Spend some time having fun breaking and fixing your caterpillars. Again this seeds the learning nicely so later when they needed, they can respond in kind automatically adjusting their grip when asked to "fix" their caterpillar.
Finally, ask them the obvious question. So, what animal do we make when we hold a baseball bat? The answer, Caterpillars! Show me with your hands.
If you follow these three easy steps with your early learner, he will quickly and easily begin to understand the value of keeping his fists together and learning how to effectively grip a baseball bat.
- How to Teach Young Children to Field a Baseball
Keep baseball simple and make learning fun. Learn an easy 3-step way to quickly and easily teach young children to field a baseball.
Hitting Instruction (Continued)
As with most everything in sports, hitting is progressive. However, it is where you start that often dictates how deep you can go in developing children's talent. In this case, there are several no-bat and lightweight bat opportunities to consider beyond establishing young children's knowledge of Caterpillar Hands.
Teaching Bat Control
Early learners, as they get older are able to understand and retain more. At about age four, it becomes possible to introduce more advanced instruction.
The following early learning script uses a simple interactive story that can teach young children bat control in a fun and imaginative way.
Teaching bat control is an easy and fun process that is a blend of story and basic knowledge children already have.
At the outset, I will sit young children down and ask them questions. The first is, "Where does the rain from?" The children will tell me, "The clouds."
Next I ask them, "Where are the clouds, (pointing up) ...high in the sky or (pointing down) ...low to the snow?"
Children will tell me clouds are "High to the sky."
Tying it all back to baseball and hitting, I will ask them, "What do we use to hit a baseball?"
Children will tell me, "A baseball bat."
Next, I will ask them, "Where is the top of the bat?"
At this point, I will let children locate the top of the bat that I am holding. I will cognitively challenge them by pointing and saying, "Is it here (bottom of bat)? My letting children locate the top of the bat and then communicating where it is to me gives them a voice in the process. It also makes them "feel" something. Young children will forget what you say but not how you make them feel.
Moral: Have patience: The more you allow children to do the work, the more invested they will be inside the learning process and remember what you coach.
Finally ask, "Where do we hold a baseball bat?" Again, let the child locate it. They will often point and not know what the handle is called. This is called the handle, can you say, handle? It is the handle of the baseball bat.
With safety in mind, distribute the baseball bats. Ask them to hold the bat high to the sky. Testing their bat control and mobility practice putting the bat down (e.g. on their shoulder) and then high-to-the-sky. Repeat this up and down motion 5x's prior to hitting from the tee.
- How to Teach Young Children to Shoot a Basketball
Keep basketball simple and make learning fun for early learners. Teach Pizza Position, the proper form when shooting a basketball.
New Hitting Technology
The process of teaching hitting has evolved. A new technology is revolutionized early learning hitting development.
THE HIT ZONE AIR TEE
The hit zone air tee offers an intermediary between the static tee and coach pitch. Its electric motor blows air and allows the ball to hover on a vertical plane. The movement of the ball challenges young hitters to have greater focus and anticipation. Different than the pitch ball that requires a greater sense of focus and anticipation, the air tees provide a nice balance. Maybe the biggest advantage is young children love them.
- Have patience
- Be hands-off in your coaching
- Teach to all children not just the best learners
- Be kind, avoid frustration...have patience
© 2008 Dr Brad Kayden
Dr Brad Kayden (author) from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL on May 25, 2011:
Thanks for the comments. Several requests for more information. Stay tune for more posts. Please refer to our website at www.jellybeansports.com.
Brent Viger on May 25, 2011:
I am really struggling with getting my 6 year old to hit a ball. Would like more info on your program. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Coach Michael on January 19, 2011:
Good info. Teaching cues do work best. I will try the catepillar. I use other cues to remind the players to align feet with plate, make sure they have plate coverage with the bat, and to load (shift weight back before swinging).
Greg. on December 09, 2010:
Great advice, wish me luck.
francisco on October 06, 2009:
tryiung to coach my 5 year old is hard could figure out how to explain to hold the bat awesome idea would love more info email@example.com
Melissa Gough on June 17, 2009:
Would love more info on your program! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
increase vertical on December 16, 2008:
I was still wondering at your info's ideas..Thanks for sharing the ideas..Its really a pertinent info..Thanks for the great Hub!Such a cool and nice to glance up this site