Super basic ball skills for 5yo
March 21, 2016 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Uncoordinated 5yo. Uncoordinated parent. Noodling around in the backyard with a t-ball set, a baseball glove, and a soccer ball. What are some fun games we can play that will help lay the groundwork for actual ball handling skills?

As spring impends, we've been spending a lot of time in the backyard, and Micropanda has showed interest in playing with balls. What super basic skills should we teach him? Our #1 goal is fun, but we've done a good job sneaking in academic learning under the guise of fun - I just suck at sports too badly to know in what order to start teaching him sports things.

Right now he enjoys hitting the soccer ball off the tee with the bat, because it's bigger (and therefore easier to make contact with) than the wiffle ball. Which, ok, sure, fine - he's having fun and he's setting up the tee himself - great! (Also hilarious to watch) What should we try to teach him about swinging a bat?

I just got him his first baseball glove - small, decent leather, used so it's broken in. He's super excited about it but not really sure how to catch anything with it. Do we start with trying to play catch from 2 feet away? With trying to field (very gently rolled) ground balls? Catching has never come naturally to him, and he's struggled with it more so than the average kid.

Other things we'd like to work on are throwing, and kicking a soccer ball. He's learned to kick pretty well (except when he misses the ball entirely) - any ideas for building on that?

We're separately thinking of trying him in an organized class, but for now we are specifically looking for ideas to have fun with mom and dad at the park/in the backyard, while also helping him build some physical confidence.

Also welcome would be descriptions of what (developmentally) 5 year olds are generally capable of on the above fronts. Again, we're not pressuring him here, it would just be helpful to know what's a reasonable target for most kids and what's probably a few years down the line. We mostly don't want to invent games that are way too hard and will just be frustrating.
posted by telepanda to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Eh! Just have fun. At that age, they don't really have the attention span to WORK at it. Just get him used to setting aside the time to do the thing.

Coaches will all have their own methods so whatever you teach may be untaught. Have you ever seen a gang of 5-year-olds at ANY sport? There's nothing organized about it.

If he gets that he's to hit the ball off the Tee, he's WAY ahead of the game.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:48 AM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

USA Soccer has a youth skills manual (.pdf) for coaching, including U6, that might have some info for you, though it might be a bit more in depth than you want.
posted by ghharr at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also welcome would be descriptions of what (developmentally) 5 year olds are generally capable of on the above fronts. Again, we're not pressuring him here, it would just be helpful to know what's a reasonable target for most kids and what's probably a few years down the line.

I remember I had to bounce a ball when taking my kindergarten entrance exam when I was four. The lower school principal was talking with me while we bounced a ball back and forth. So near as I can figure they were testing to see if 1) I could socialize while playing, 2) I could bounce a ball with a reasonable amount of force and accuracy (i.e. didn't have to go chasing off after it, no nailing it directly at the principal's head), and 3) that I could start playing and stop playing a game that someone else wanted to play with me without throwing a fit.

It's much less about "skills" than it is about being able to roll with your peers at that age, I think. Tee ball isn't a necessary part of life, but getting along with others is.

At that age my brother and I played a lot of roll-the-ball-into-a-target type games. Sometimes the target was something we built out of blocks or whatever and needed to knock down. Sometimes the target was each other's heads. For the most part it was super basic hand-eye coordination stuff, and just a natural way to have fun together in an environment where balls were present.

Both of us also played peewee team sports (tee ball, soccer, basketball) through the Y, but that's by no means necessary to a kid's physical development.
posted by phunniemee at 8:01 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really like MamaOT for information like this about babies, though unfortunately it looks like that's her site's primary focus. I did find a guest article about bowling that offers some hints, and she's pretty responsive on Facebook if you want to see what she has to say about older kids. In general I think that special-needs/therapeutic advice is much more detailed and informative than run-off-the-mill publications, and you can always back out any accommodations it doesn't seem like your kid will need.
posted by teremala at 8:08 AM on March 21, 2016

Not suggesting tee ball league for the micropanda if he's not interested, but I have some experience with kids playing at that age. Five is about the age kids start tee ball and in many leagues they use a bigger ball than standard. In tee ball leagues it's really about teaching kids where to stand and what to do if a ball just happens to reach them when they are fielding. Every kid gets to bat every inning (wear sunscreen because it takes forever). The most advanced kids will have figured out hand position to catch the ball - fingers down for grounders, up for flies, but lots of kids will be flailing around out there. And that is 100% fine.

Here is a target skills by age level(.pdf) sheet from a kids league. The tee ball stuff is the mechanics of the game. (I don't know anything about that league specifically, but reading through it the tee ball level seems correct.)

Mostly with a kid that age, I'd play catch. Throwing and catching are foundation skills which build coordination that's helpful in sport or in life generally.
posted by 26.2 at 8:30 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, just to clarify: I'm deeply aware that none of the sports stuff is necessary. Like I said, fun is the #1 goal. But there are things he wants to do and I don't know how to help him learn to do them.

For example, he really really really wants a ball to go into his glove. It, uh, steadfastly refuses. This makes him sad and want to quit. I have assured him that if we keep trying, the ball will go in eventually. However, I have no idea what's the best way to help him get it in there. I can take your ideas and turn them into a silly game.

I actually thought hitting the soccer ball off the tee since he can't hit the wiffle ball was a pretty smart idea on his part. I've advised him that the ball will go further if he stands next to the tee rather than behind it. Perhaps there are some other things I could tell him, if I knew what they were.

In conclusion, we intend to do nothing that doesn't involve laughter. Just need ideas for games to play that will help him get better at things he wants to learn to do.
posted by telepanda at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One little game that my 5yo loved and which seemed to help her get better (and get motivated to get better) at kicking a soccer ball is Nutmeg.

Basically, you take turns trying to kick the ball through each other's spread legs. It's so simple, but she enjoyed it so much more than kicking the ball into the little net we had. And you can start super close with your legs super wide so that it's not frustrating and then really easily make it more difficult on the fly as they get better.
posted by 256 at 8:51 AM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For example, he really really really wants a ball to go into his glove.

Is he able to catch (consistently) with his non-dominant hand, even without the glove? If he were tossed a small bean bag, would he have the hand-eye coordination to catch it (again, with the hand that would wear the glove)?

What if he is wears the glove and practices simply dropping a ball into it with his dominant hand? After getting the feel for closing the glove on the ball that way, he could gently toss the ball into his gloved hand, sort of side-to-side.

A baseball might be best for this kind of practice, since a softball may be too big and a whiffle ball is too light (more likely to bounce off than sink into a glove). He'd just have to understand that the baseball is, for now, only for practicing with the glove.

Also, we had fun counting successful back-and-forth tosses (without a glove) and trying to top our own records. When we got used to that, we changed it to counting in Spanish, so the better we did with our catching, the more challenging our counting became.

Have fun!
posted by whoiam at 8:59 AM on March 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Part of catching the ball in his glove is having a parent who can toss it in there. I like whoiam's idea of a beanbag (much less bouncy and rolly.) Start with tossing a bag back and forth, then try with the glove.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:28 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

For example, he really really really wants a ball to go into his glove. It, uh, steadfastly refuses. This makes him sad and want to quit. I have assured him that if we keep trying, the ball will go in eventually.

Yeah, if you're trying this with a whiffle ball it's not going to happen. Whiffle balls suuuuuck. Try a tennis ball. They're softer than a baseball, easy to see, and weighty/small enough to actually catch with a gloved hand.

99% of it to start though, like others have said, is that he needs to be playing with someone who can throw the ball directly into his glove.

Oh, also, make sure his glove is pliable enough that he can actually manipulate it with his tiny hands. That's one of the biggest things I remember from peewee ball--very few of the kids could actually close their glove. Can't catch a ball that's not thrown right into the pocket unless you can, y'know, catch it.
posted by phunniemee at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2016

Best answer: Baseball gloves are tricky! I've been the captain for my grad school softball team for a few years now, and a lot of people who come out have never played before. Even after a full season they will still have trouble using a glove. It's a hand-eye coordination problem combined with a completely new behavior. If you need to grab something, you're used to using your palm & fingers. With a glove, you want to catch it in the webbing, above your fingers.

NB: This grad school team is my only coaching experience. I'll try to think through what a 5-year-old will need, but I've never done this before.

I'm seconding whoiam. Make sure he's able to catch cleanly with his dominant hand sans glove. Ruthless Bunny's beanbag idea is a good one, but I would then graduate to a ball before going glove. The advantage of using a ball is that he'll learn he needs to have "soft hands." That is to say, he can't just hold his hand up and then grab on to the ball when it arrives—he has to have a little bit of give as the ball enters the glove (or for now, his hand). Probably a tennis ball would work best—nice and soft, and unlike a Wiffle ball not subject to crazy fluttering movements. Keeping track of catch streaks and records might be a nice simple way to make it at least somewhat engaging.

Once you and he are confident with his basic object-tracking and catching skills, put on the glove. Make sure he is able to open and close it! The ball is not going to just fall in there and stick except in rare circumstances—it won't just "go in eventually" as you say. He's going to have to let the ball in and then wrap the glove around it. If it's too stiff for him to use it properly, it's not going to work. Sounds like you already have the break-in handled, but make sure his hands can operate the glove.

To get used to (1) the sensation of the ball going into the webbing instead of the palm and (2) the need to open and close the glove, rolling a ball on the floor or sidewalk (something nice and even, not a field) seems like a good idea. Make sure he gets his glove all the way down to the ground, that he aligns his body so that the ball is at his centerline, and that he's "sitting down" to reach the ball rather than leaning over. These last two points make it easier to see the ball coming and know where your hands are in relation to it.

Once confident with that, then I'd think it's time to play some catch. Start with nice gentle underhand tosses to begin, emphasizing the importance of (1) catching it in the webbing, (2) wrapping the glove around the ball, and (3) positioning his body so that the ball is aligned with his midline. That last point makes the hand-eye coordination a LOT easier. Points 1 and 2 are not so important at this point, but it's good practice.

Then you're ready to graduate to simulating catching thrown balls and pop flies—the "fingers up" catch referenced in the document linked to by 26.2. The skills here are associated with lifting the glove up to catch a ball, plus soft hands. This is another tricky hand-eye coordination problem, but now combined with fear of the ball. Get him used to catching the ball at his centerline (or as close as possible) rather than out to the side. It's way easier to make the catch, and although it's scary at first, using gentle throws and a soft tennis ball will mitigate the fear. Start with tosses pretty much directly at him, and once he's gotten that down, move on to throws off to one side or the other.

Side note: He should learn when to catch "fingers up" vs. "fingers down." Obviously fingers down for a ground ball, but a lot of people want to use their glove as a bowl to catch balls in the air. This should only be done if the catch is being made at the waist or below. Otherwise, the ball has a tendency to skip out of the glove, and if all the stars are aligned, into one's face. Above the waist, go "fingers up."

Batting is a little easier I think, especially for T-ball. Maybe don't go straight from a soccer ball to a baseball, but working your way down in size gradually seems like a good idea. Again, it's a hand-eye coordination problem, so most of the advice when starting out has to do with making things easier on that front. Have him swing level directly at the ball instead of chopping up or down. Try and make sure his head stays still and he's looking at the ball the entire time. Make sure he follows through instead of just trying to hit it and then stop the bat—this not only increases power but also, perhaps more importantly, makes the movement simpler.

As far as making it fun, I feel like I haven't helped a lot. But kids have great imaginations and he may come up with his own game-ified versions of these drills, which could be even more fun for him than whatever us Internet Randos could come up with. Also, if possible, try watching some baseball with him on TV or in person. It may be boring to most people, but if you exude enthusiasm then he might get into it, and then when you do drills he can pretend he's Freddie Freeman or Andrew McCutchen or whoever.
posted by dondiego87 at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2016

Based on my childhood experience - make sure there is a decent baseball glove involved. Some of the really cheap kids ones are so stiff and awkward a MLB player might struggle to catch with them. I went from being an awful fielder to competent when I finally saved enough allowance to buy a glove with supple enough leather that I could actually close it. It doesn't need to be expensive - just decent. I bought k-mart branded gloves up until I was twenty and they were good. Used gloves are also good because they will broken in which makes them more effective.

Once he gets older I recommend an indian rubber lacross ball and the school wall (just be aware they speed up on the first bounce!).

My other favorite fielding practice as a kid was to play 'fielding goalie' with my brother. We setup objects representing goal posts at either end of the yard and each had to defend our own 'goal'. You throw a tennis ball at each others goal with the requirement that it bounce at least once before going in. We did this for thousands of hours. You widen the goals and increase the distance as fielding competence and arm strength increases.

You can also use a tennis racquet as a bat and a tennis ball to hit pop-flies if you are not a competent batter yourself.
posted by srboisvert at 10:33 AM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking of more ease with larger balls, basketball can be fun for young ones. We got a Lil' Tyke style all-plastic, super light basket ball hoop and ball kit to help with little big light thief's hand-eye coordination and such. We initially put it at full height so he couldn't just drop it in, but now we've lowered it for his little brother to get involved, and the older guy actually threw the ball and made it into the net, without us prompting, much to our excitement (and then his).

For basic coordination and social sports, you can play bounce-pass games, which may be a good lead-in to playing catch with a mitt (I say as someone who has never been great at sports, including catching baseballs as a kid). Once catching larger balls is easy enough, then you can use tennis balls, and work on targeting (bouncing over things, throwing it through things, etc).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2016

Someone mentioned the problem might be the glove. There are widely-available, cheap Velcro circles that strap onto a hand, and they come with a tennis ball that hooks onto the Velcro (usually under some name like "Fun Toss" or something). The point being is that the catcher just has to have his hand in the vicinity of the ball to receive it, rather than having to close a glove over it to hold on. I think that's a good idea to start with.

If you roll the ball to him (like a grounder), can he get his glove on it? If not, roll the larger balls to him, then lightly bounce them, then lightly bounce the smaller balls, then do some bigger bounces for each. The goal should be to get his body in front of the ball first and foremost, and then to catch it.

Side note: it's probably a good idea to buy numerous balls of all different sizes and densities. The little plastic play balls in the grocery store, kickballs, Nerf, super balls, etc. You can never have enough. I'm 35, and every time I go to Target, my wife yells at me because I've found some ball to bounce around the store.

With regard to batting, kicking, or just about anything else, the key thing here (and one of the foundational movements of almost any sport - throwing a football, shooting a hockey puck, hitting a forehand in tennis, etc.) is hip rotation. Make sure he's not just swinging the bat with his arms, but instead using his hips to move his torso. Likewise, with kicking, he'll generate more power by planting his non-kicking foot and rotating his hips to swing the kicking foot around. This is probably a little more advanced than a five-year-old can handle, but it's a great habit to get him into.

One thing that might be helpful is for you to look up some drills online to improve *your* skills, and then use your experiences getting better to help you figure out how to translate them into something the youngster can understand. There is a ton of material available, and it's remarkably easy to develop baseline competence in most athletic pursuits.* This helps you not only play better with him, but also to empathize. If he's having trouble with something that you also struggled with, you can reassure him so that he doesn't get frustrated.

*You won't be competitive, of course, but considering your competition is a small child, you won't need to be.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:00 AM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cornhole? It's a beanbag-in-the-hole sort of game and it doesn't have to be super formal. I played a lot of pickleball against the garage door when I was a kid. At such a young age, repetition will give him an edge. Hell, any kid will almost infinitely play ball if he gets to bat while you pitch.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2016

Oh and one other important consideration - handedness! Sometimes people don't realize when a kid is left handed. My brother was and my parents didn't clue in to until he was around seven.
posted by srboisvert at 2:47 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

A thing that kids who play ball do a lot: self toss. Start by just hold the ball in your throwing hand and jamming it into the glove, twisting it into the web to learn how it feels to get the ball in the sweet spot of the glove. Then toss it in from a few inches away. Practice squeezing the ball in the glove. Then toss from a foot away. Then, toss it gently in the air -- just a few inches -- and basket catch. Just get used to the feeling of holding, tossing, and squeezing the ball. This is a good "hands-only" (you mostly don't have to look) while watching tv.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:31 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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