Little league is just around the corner! Before you bring out the chewing gum and sunflower seeds, help your child prepare for the challenges of the game by practicing key skills and instilling confidence.
- Don't just focus on one field position. Little league teams might have three people who all want to play first base, but only one will be chosen as the main first baseman. It's good to cultivate the skills of your child's favorite field position. (Even if the coach chooses someone else as this year's first baseman, next year's team might present new opportunities to pursue the position. And besides, reserve players are often subbed in when a child is unable to play.) But make sure you practice the skills of different positions as well - on a competitive team, there isn't any guarantee that your child will end up in his or her desired part of the field.
A child who wants to play second base might end up in the outfield, for example, where fly-ball skills and a powerful, precise arm are necessities. The bottom line? Practice grounders, catching regular throws and fly balls, and throwing precisely over short and longer distances.
- Batting cages. Every little league player wants to be productive at the plate, but good hitting is the result of practice. No matter what kind of power your child can summon at the plate, focus and technique are acquired through time spent at the batting cages. Remember how Nolan Ryan practiced his fastball pitching underwater? The batting cages can help your child succeed in a similar way; if you help your kid grow accustomed to seeing and swinging at faster-than-normal pitches, the comparatively slower pitches of little league will seem far less intimidating. Much as Nolan practiced in more challenging circumstances, your little leaguer can benefit from exposure to a true fastball. Just make sure you teach batting cage safety as well.
- Teach protective batting. Just as there are safety rules for batting in batting cages, your child must also learn to protect his or her body when batting amidst the excitement of the little league game. Anybody who's ever watched a little league game knows that many pitchers haven't yet developed great control. Many learn to throw hard before they learn control (the greater of the two challenges). Batters should always keep their eyes on the ball - not just to make better contact with the bat, but also to determine whether an inside pitch is going to hit them. A batter who can't dodge a pitch should protect his or her chest by turning the front shoulder in toward the plate, so the wild pitch hits his back. Any impact on the backside of your body will be less dangerous than one along the front.
- Pitching practice. If your child wants to pitch, then you can help by being the loyal practice catcher. Provide a target for the pitch and call out balls and strikes. Remind your child that all umpires have different strike zones. You can prepare for this by adjusting your strike zone from day to day, promoting flexibility.
- Introduce your child to the field. If your little leaguer has never played competitively before, plan a trip to a local field prior to the start of the little league season. Players should feel the grass and dirt beneath their feet, look out onto the field from the batter's box, run the distance between bases and (if they want to be pitchers) stand on the mound facing home plate before entering competition. The exposure will make their initial little league experience more comfortable.
- Instructive videos. If you never played baseball yourself as a child, you might feel ill-equipped to teach your child some of the basics prior to little league. Thankfully, there are many instructive videos available for children. Watching them with your little leaguer allows both of you to learn together, paving the way for more exciting practice sessions.
- Psychological preparation. We as parents sometimes act on overprotective tendencies, and other times fail to fully appreciate the potential insecurities our children face among their peers. Little league might become your child's favorite activity. The team might be very cohesive and supportive (the aspirations of any team). But children can sometimes be rather cruel without even realizing it. Sometimes the weakest hitters are heckled by their own teammates. At other times, a dropped fly ball can make your kid the recipient of some unsportsmanlike sentiments. In order for your child to fully enjoy little league, you must prepare him or her for possible mistakes as well as successes. Instill confidence, but also prepare for the occasional blooper (they happen to everyone!). As a parent, you have the ability to fortify your child against potential hurt and unnecessary stress.
Help your child accept and be proud of his or her abilities. If your son longs to be a home-run hitter, but physically is capable of consistent base hits rather than power, help him recognize the importance of this contribution to the team. If your daughter is a pitcher who's been struggling with control, remind her that, even if her teammates are scowling, they don't have the guts to get up there on that mound.
Take interest in your child's budding passion for the game. Not only is your confidence contagious, but your time and support will help your child succeed out on the diamond. Play ball!