How do you teach 5 year olds to play baseball?
July 3, 2008 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I thought it would be fun to volunteer to help out with my son's first baseball team. Now I'm the coach, and twice a week I have about a dozen 4-6 year olds looking at me, expecting to learn how to play the game. I'm rapidly running out of ideas here. How do I keep the very basics of the game fun, interesting, and instructional?

Most of the instructional materials I've found is aimed at older kids, 9-12 year olds, practicing skills like hitting the cutoff player and situational hitting, while some of my players need to practice remembering which hand to put their glove on. This is a non-competitive training league (there's only one team) meant just to introduce the concept of baseball, and most of these kids aren't even in school yet. They range in ability from being able to hit soft-tossed balls into the outfield to not having the arm strength to hold a bat up straight.

I'm looking for any ideas here.
posted by GhostintheMachine to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Alternate basic drills with games like tag.

For drills, just work on the basics. Throwing and catching, pitching, hitting (with a t-ball setup if they miss more than a few times).
posted by zippy at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2008

This is baseball and not t-ball? Or whiffle ball? I've never heard of kids that young getting straight normal baseball without modified equipment to make it physically possible for them to play. T-ball related resources are also probably closer to your age range as well.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2008

I forgot to say - the kids will have fun as long as you're not too serious. Crack some jokes, don't put them in competitive situations, just play and they'll play too.
posted by zippy at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2008

To quote a wise man, "You hit the ball, you throw the ball, you catch the ball..."

This might sound obvious, but make sure they understand the basic rules of the game.

My husband, at age 6 or 7, was (he thought) out on a third strike, but the catcher dropped the ball. He had no idea he had to run to first, and the resulting tumult around him led to his lifelong hatred for the game (which is only now starting to abate as I indoctrinate our son into the Red Sox Nation. Heh.)

Invent games that are centered around remembering the rules -- making sure you always touch the bases, for example, or remembering how many outs make an inning, or remembering how you actually get other players out. Kids this age are very much attuned to making sure everyone follows "the rules" as a developmental thing, so its the ideal age to make sure everyone learns and remembers the rules of the game. Repetition is the key, but you don't need to spend the whole practice doing one thing. Have a pattern - ten minutes of this, then ten of that, then ten of another.

Really, your job here is to give them super-strong fundamentals. Drills in catching and throwing. Get a big piece of cardboard (or a tire) and have a target for them to throw at. Find creative ways to do catching practice. If they can throw and catch, know the basic rules backwards and forwards, and maybe can get a hit once in a while, they'll be doing great.

And kudos to you for volunteering, by the way.

This is baseball and not t-ball? Or whiffle ball? I've never heard of kids that young getting straight normal baseball without modified equipment to make it physically possible for them to play.

Tomorrowful, when I was a kid, it was normal for kids to play Little League as young as age 5. As long as the bats are the right length, and the pitcher moves in some, there's no reason little kids can't play baseball with a glove, a bat, and a ball, just like big people.
posted by anastasiav at 10:13 AM on July 3, 2008

Search for t-ball related resources. They will be most helpful. At that age you aren't teaching baseball, you are teaching the basic skills, how to catch , throw, hit, which base to run to, the very basic rules, etc.

A couple of drills I used with the 5-7 age group that were quite successful:

Goalie Game: Set up two cones and place one kid between them. Roll and bounce tennis balls at him with the the goal being him to play goalie and stop the balls. Do this first without baseball gloves. It forces them to get down low to make the stops. Then when you add the gloves it is already natural for them to get down low to stop the ball. This was probably the single most successful fielding drill I ever used. It really works in getting the kids to stay down on the ball.

Square Game: Set up 4 cones in a square, with you in the middle. Again, tennis or whiffle balls wrapped in duct tape to start without gloves. You toss the ball to the kid at cone A. He catches, tosses back and runs to cone B. Repeat around the square and add baseball gloves when they can catch barehanded. Then start tossing it while they are on he move. It really teaches how to catch on the move, which is an important skill.

Do batting practice with whiffle balls wrapped in duct tape if you are actually pitching to the kids. They have enough weight to be pitched from 30 feet away, and helps the kid learn to hit without worrying about being hit by the ball.

I bought a video from Amazon that was a great source of ideas - The 59 Minute Baseball Practice. I still use a lot of those drills with the 14-15 year olds I'm coaching this summer.
posted by COD at 10:16 AM on July 3, 2008

Be organized and keep the drills short and your goals simple.

For throwing, use a point, step and throw drill to give them good habits. It's more important for the ball to go straight to the target than it is for it to get there in the air.

For ground balls, emphasize getting the glove on the ground and keeping the ball in front of them. Almost everything they field off the bat will be a ground ball.

For catching, use tennis balls if they are backing away. Emphasize pinkies together when catching below the waist, thumbs together when catching above the waist.

For both catching and ground balls, have them throw to another coach after fielding each ball.

To keep them entertained, you can divide them into two teams and turn the drills into races. If you can have several coaches or parents around the field each running a different drill, and you can keep the kids moving, they won't have a chance to get bored.

For hitting, have one player hitting from a tee with one in the on-deck circle. The player in the on-deck circle should not have a bat. Trust me on this. Put the rest of the kids around the infield, skipping the pitcher's mound if you're nervous. After each hit, the infield should throw to first. After 6 or so swings, the batter runs when he makes contact. Have a coach at first base to make sure the player runs through the bag. Emphasize a flat level swing and a correct grip.

At the end of every practice, play Pickle. Put one adult on each base and throw the ball among them. The kids are supposed to run the bases without getting tagged out. If they are tagged, they go to the pitcher's mound. If an adult misses a catch, there's a jailbreak and the kids get to scatter to the bases. If the adults manage to get every kid onto the pitcher's mound, the adults win. This should get close to happening, but never, ever happen.

Finally, make sure that each player succeeds at least once in each drill. This may mean that you have ramp down your expectations or your measure of success.
posted by donpardo at 10:18 AM on July 3, 2008

Wow, twice a week is a lot for that age range. When our son did T-ball, they played once a week, for about an 1 to 1-1/2 hours max, and everyone was tired and sated by the end of it. From what I observed in our son's peer group, they were up for learning some skills, but "teaching them the game" was too lofty a goal. In addition to basic throwing, catching, and hitting skills, we also worked on having them stop on base (and not leave base when another batter stepped to the plate), having them run within the base lines, and not being afraid of the ball if it came near them. In our group of 25 kids, one kid had honest-to-God talent and a natural feel for the game, and everyone else was just there to have a good time and do this thing that their dads wanted them to do, so we kept it light and tried to make it as fun as possible.
posted by mosk at 10:18 AM on July 3, 2008

Sorry Tomorrowful, I never really put a distinction between baseball and t-ball. It's all still the same game to me. But you're right, it's not "straight normal baseball" we're playing. First of all, there is only one team, total, and only 15 players signed up so even on days when they all show up they can't be split into two full teams.

So a typical "game night" starts with having the players run the bases, calling out the names of the bases (first! second! third!) as they go along. Then I'll break them into three groups - one hitting (either off a tee or soft tosses from a coach), one playing catch, and one fielding grounders. Once everyone's rotated through the three groups we play a game of baseball, one group up to bat and the rest in the field. When the batter makes contact, they go to first. With every "hit", they move up one base. The fielders just have to get the ball in to the pitcher. There are no outs, and once everyone's had a turn at bat it's over. I run them around the bases again, and everyone goes home.

I'm just wondering if there's something more I should be doing. I keep it light, and just encourage them along while giving them small pointers. I figure there's only so much they can learn at one time (just working on getting the baserunners to not chase after the ball is a big deal), so I keep it simple. But I also don't want it to get boring or overly repetitive.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:22 AM on July 3, 2008

(damn, should have previewed)

Wow, lots of great ideas. Part of the issue I'm having is the sheer range of ability. Would it be a bad idea to group the players according to their weaknesses, and focus more time on improving those things, or just give equal time all around and just let the development happen naturally?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2008

Perhaps you could do some simple nutrition lessons? Would provide a break from practicing and give them info they need to know!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:58 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Would it be a bad idea to group the players according to their weaknesses, and focus more time on improving those things, or just give equal time all around and just let the development happen naturally?

( I've never taught baseball, but I taught gymnastics to all levels and ages for many years.) I think it's sometimes much easier for the kids and coaches to split up the practice gropus according to levels and focus on specific drills. However, kids that age can't do the same thing for a very long time, so maybe spend no more than 10-15 minutes in the groups . Kids can also figure out that they are in the second string if the groups are the same each time, so maybe mix it up a bit- different focus groups for catching and throwing than for batting and running, for instance. There are some parents who appreciate the extra attention on certain skills, and others who get offended, so that's another good reason to shift the groups around each time.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:09 PM on July 3, 2008

Ok, well, they all were pretty good answers, so I've just highlighted the ones that I've used most.

Really, thanks for all the responses. We're 2/3rds of the way through the season now, and the players all seem to be having a lot of fun and are improving, too.

Another one I've had a lot of success with is tying the bases to the backstop, at about the player's chest height. The oversized "safety" first base goes in the middle, one of the other regular sized bases is near it at the same distance away, and the third one is placed further away. The players line up around home plate, take a step forward, then throw a ball at the first base. If they hit it, next time up they go for the second base. If they get that, they try the third. So they're basically challenged at their own level.

So thanks again, everyone.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:08 AM on August 1, 2008

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