I love your youth baseball tips I have read so far on your site. I have a son that has a fear of getting hit by a pitch. He has just started Mustang league, which is the baseball league where our players start pitching to each other. He is a great contact hitter and hits great off of me in batting practice. He even hits well with me throwing faster pitches. However, he freezes up during his games and will not swing the bat. He says that he is afraid of the ball sometimes.
Any ideas or tips to get rid of his fear of getting hit?
COACH HENZE’S ANSWER
Teaching a scared batter how to overcome his fear is something that can be done!
The fear of getting hit by a pitch is very common among youth baseball players. Many youth baseball pitchers don’t have very good control and some of them can throw the ball pretty hard. This combination can cause some anxiety for you baseball hitters. This fear of being hit affects the player’s ability to develop a good swing and approach at the plate. This can lead to much frustration and the young ballplayer could lose the enjoyment he receives from the game. We don’t want that to happen!
Many youth baseball players that are scared batters put themselves in a bat position by stepping or lunging away from the pitch. This puts them in a position to get hit in the side or front of the body. Once a batter has been hit a time or two, it can become very difficult for them to overcome those experiences.
The best way to deal with the fear of being hit is to teach kids the simple way to avoid getting hit. Often, young baseball players that are afraid of getting hit will “step in the bucket” and bail out of the batter’s box. There is no way they are ever going to hit with this approach. By coaching the player to get out of the way properly, you can also emphasize that stepping in the bucket actually exposes the front of their body and face to the pitched ball. The correct method protects the front of the body and the face. It also puts the back in a position that allows the ball to glance off, which hurts much less than a direct blow.
You should practice this method as a station during batting practice. For the first few times, have a coach stand 10-15 feet away from a player in the batter’s box. Use either tennis balls or some sort of soft ball. Start by tossing the ball softly over the plate, the batter should not swing. Then start moving the ball inside. When the hitter thinks he will be hit, he should turn his body away from the pitch.
NOTE: Rather than giving the kids instructions about how to bend their back and where to keep their arms, etc., tell them to turn and place the end of the bat directly on the ground behind them. This forces then to turn away and duck down to place the bat on the ground. They seem to understand this and have an easy time repeating it.
As the kids get good at turning away from the ball correctly, add to the drill by throwing some of the balls over the plate and some that they have to get out of the way of. On the balls over the plate, have them hold or stride like they are going to swing.
If during the drill, the player starts stepping in the bucket and tries to back away, stop the drill and have them hold their position. Show them where the ball can hit them in this position and ask them if they think it will hurt worse getting hit in this position or in a position where they are better protected.
During regular batting practice, remind the batter about the proper way to avoid getting hit. Practicing this consistently will help all of your players!
Lastly, be patient and give lots of encouragement to your player. Encouragement will help build his confidence and he will conquer this fear much quicker. This will be a process and, over the course of time, he will become comfortable at the plate.
NOTE: It is also my opinion to continue to teach aggressiveness at the plate. Sometimes, if the player becomes a little more aggressive, he loses some of his fear of getting hit. As he starts hitting the ball harder and more consistently, he becomes the aggressor which helps alleviate some of his fears.
Thanks for the question Darrell!