Topic: Overcoming fear of being hit by a pitch.


lobasso    -- 02-02-2006 @ 1:24 AM
  My son, 8, suddenly developed a fear of being hit by a pitch.  He has a beautiful natural swing that is now completely neutralized.  Even before the ball is released, he steps back with his front foot.  

I've tried talking him through it, but it now seems like it has become a part of his swing.  

Any ideas how to make a scared kid hang in there for the pitch?

Joe


THop    -- 02-02-2006 @ 7:15 AM
  Joe:

Don’t have a lot of time this morning. Here are a couple of great threads. Be patient. My youngest son didn’t overcome most of his fear of being hit until his junior year of high school (age 16), no kidding.

Don’t get me wrong he was a good rec and high school “singles” hitter (all stars and honorable mention (region) HS. He had a great batting average but was never able to hit a lot of doubles, triples and home runs until his desire for them overcame his fear of being hit (ability/desire to “stay dug in”). I actually think his girl friend had a lot to do with it.

This alone really complimented my years of teaching him simple and solid swing mechanics, strike zone judgment (hit middle in and out strikes where they were pitched), capitalizing on the fastball counts, executing the 4 situational hitting skills etc., etc. All of which enabled him to be a very good hitter in his first 200 college games.

Be patient

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Bob_Byrd    -- 02-02-2006 @ 8:13 AM
  We have been getting a lot of posts on our discussion group about
players bailing out or not swinging because they are afraid of getting
hit by a pitched ball.

This is frustrating for both the player and the coach. What’s the name
of that baseball movie, “It happens every spring?” Starred Ray Milland.
Well we get these posts every spring.

There are always a few players that exhibit extraordinary fear in the
batter’s box. It’s a coach’s job to do all he can to help these players
and it’s a difficult task. The first thing I do is to talk about it to the
group.

I tell them that getting hit is part of the game. It happens to every
player. I tell them that it hurts but that the hurt will go away quickly.
Don’t sugarcoat it. Tell them the truth but it is also the truth that the
pain goes away.

Professional players have fear. 90+ MPH will do that. The difference is
that they have learned to control it. They couldn’t be effective any
other way. You can’t be a hitter and be consumed by fear.

I explain that there are 2 specific techniques for dealing with this part
of the game.

I point to their face, side, stomach and neck. Then I ask what would
hurt more, those areas or; I point to the back, upper shoulder, calf and
gluteus maximus.

They all respond as they should and I tell them that those areas have
more ‘padding’ and will not hurt as much. Those are the areas that will
get hit if you learn these
two methods.

The first technique is to ‘see’ the ball all the way out of the pitcher’s
hand into the
hitting zone. Whether it is a pitch that might hit them or not they have
to learn to learn to concentrate on ‘seeing’ the ball all the way.

In order for hitters to have success they have to learn to see the ball. If
a player misses that first tenth of a second when the ball comes out of
the pitcher’s hand he will not be a good hitter.

I tell them that the human eye is like a camera. When it focuses on an
object the background loses focus. It becomes hazy. So if your
concentrate on the pitcher’s arm slot (where the ball will come from)
too early you will lose clarity.

Pretend that there is an imaginary ‘window’ just above and to the right
of the pitchers throwing shoulder. (RHP)
It is out of that window that the ball will come. Don’t concentrate too
early on that window.

So I ask my players, “What should you concentrate on?” (Involve your
players by asking questions when you have a skull session.)
Some hitting coaches tell their players to concentrate on the hitter’s
face. But I don’t like that approach. It’s not specific enough and the
pitcher has a chance to intimidate a young hitter. We want our hitters
to be the intimidators.
I tell my players to concentrate on the letter of the pitcher’s cap. Begin
focusing on the letter when he takes his step back or when he lifts leg
if he’s pitching from the stretch.

So the hitter concentrates on the pitcher’s cap until his front foot hits
the ground. When his front foot hits he immediately transfers his
concentration a few inches to the ‘window.’ The ball will come out of
that window and he has a much better chance of picking it up.
This important part of hitting takes a lot of practice. Young hitters have
to learn to concentrate. Remember there are some fear issues to deal
with. These are some drills I have used over the years with young
players.

Colored Baseballs
Paint 3 baseballs red, green and black. Put two hitters in the left and
right hand batter’s box without bats. This is a competition. I would
have a player stand behind me with the balls so I could turn around a
put one in my glove without the hitters seeing the color.
Hiding the ball as a pitcher should I execute a ‘mock’ delivery. The
competition is to see which player can call out the color first.

Curve or Fastball
Same situation, hitters in both boxes without bats. Normal baseball
and a catcher behind the plate. I throw either a fastball or a curve ball
to the catcher. The two players compete to try to identify which pitch
first. They call out curve or fastball and they take an imaginary swing.
(You can also add strike or ball to his drill and they swing at fastball
strikes only. So instead of calling out fastball or curve, they either
swing at a fastball or don’t swing at a curve ball.) After the drills I talk
about it with them. I ask if it was easier to see the ball using this new
technique. Another benefit with these drills is that you can identify the
players who are having problems and you can work with them one-on–
one after practices. Identifying the spin of a ball is good to get them to
concentrate, but if a hitter doesn’t ‘see’ the ball until he can see the
spin it is too late. So I don’t use that as a drill. I may occasionally ask
them which way the ball was spinning when they come into the dugout
after an unsuccessful at bat but I don’t drill it.

Second Technique
The second technique is to teach players how to get hit. Remember
those vulnerable areas? We don’t want them to get hit there.

Teach them to turn and pivot inward, tuck the head, drop the bat
downward, and expose the back of the body to the pitch. They don’t
back out of the box but turn inward with their feet pivoted, but in
place. Dropping the bat head is important because we don’t want them
to give a strike to the pitcher by causing a foul ball. That has happened
many times. The hitter tucks his head and turns inward but leaves the
bat high and guess what? The ball hits the bat. So I have all the players
go through learning the correct moves in a group. And then I put them
in the batters box and hit them with tennis balls. The next day I’ll put a
few tennis balls in the ball bag and during batting practice I’ll hit each
player with one or two to gage his reaction.

With a group of 13 year-olds I hit them with real baseballs just hard
enough so the ball doesn’t drop (about 30 MPH). It hurts a little but
they get over it and it really helps teach them to stop jumping out of
the box on an inside pitch. Understanding that the hurt goes away is
vital to controlling fear.



Bob Byrd


stylemismatch    -- 02-02-2006 @ 5:02 PM
  With a group of 13 year-olds I hit them with real baseballs

Parents must love seeing you throw baseballs at their kids      I've had good success with teaching the proper way to get out of the way and then throwing a few tennis balls at the kids.  The other drills mentioned sound good also, I'll try some of them this year.  

In addition, I would add that some kids 'step in the bucket' without even realizing that they've done it.  I've seen a few coaches set an equipment bag behind the hitter for this, followed by the hitter tripping over the equipment bag and getting totally frustrated.  I take a piece of plywood or 1 x 4 and placed it behind the hitter. Not so thick that they'll trip over it but rather feel it when they step on it.  (My son was one of these, I'd mention not striding toward 3rd and he'd argue with me till he was blue in the face that he went straight to the pitcher.  Having that little bit of tactile feedback with the 1 x 4 did the trick in a hurry.)




coachtom4    -- 02-02-2006 @ 5:08 PM
  I just want to second the majority opinion that the player must want to overcome this fear and that the education and drills will help.

However, I did do something a couple years back that seemed to help one kid (9 year old) in particular.  Not sure if it is good or bad, but it seemed to help.  

When our pitchers were practicing I put him in the batters box.  I then stood right behind him with a glove.  He could not back up because I was right there, though he sure did try.  If something was coming inside I caught it and allowed him to "turn away."  

Again, not sure if this is good or bad but it was a few years ago and thought I would share the experience.

He did get better and actually had a few hits towards the end of the season.

Tom




lobasso    -- 02-03-2006 @ 2:01 AM
  Gentlmen:

Thank you

You've given me some direction and its a good feeling to know there a lot of helpful coaches out there.  

We'll see how it goes.

Joe LoBasso


treylortrache    -- 02-03-2006 @ 7:41 AM
  I agree with all the excellent info on this topic...one thing I would like to add is how I helped a kid overcome his fear of the ball as a 12yo.  He constantly stepped out so bad he was almost out of the box on every swing.  I tried everything, nothing worked.  After a talk with his father I found out he hated to run for discipline.  With his dad's full support  I decided to use that.  One week of practice every time it was his turn to hit, he would get in there and step out...I made him drop his bat and run to the foul pole and back.  While he was gone another kid stepped in and took swings.  When he returned he was instructed to get back in there and "dig in".  Next pitch, he's back in the bucket and drops the bat and runs again...This went on for about a dozen trips to the foul pole that day, and several more trips the next practice. We started to call the right field foul pole his "girlfriend Polene". He hated it so much, he decided to try and dig in so he wouldn't have to run.  It worked...for the rest of the season he hit better and stayed dug in for his at bats....Inexplicably, he played for another coach the next year and went back to old habits...
      


stylemismatch    -- 02-04-2006 @ 10:20 AM
  he played for another coach the next year and went back to old habits...

So in the long run, nothing was accomplished.

Call me soft or whatever, I've never been a fan of using punishment as a teaching method.  In another life I was a flight instructor, as part of getting that rating I had to learn a ton of material about the learning process (and flight instruction is a lot like coaching baseball in that we're dealing with multiple motor skills, plus multiple mental tasks).  It all fits in perfectly with what Bob, THop, and everyone else here teaches.  Things like breaking difficult to learn tasks into smaller, easier tasks.  

One of the more important areas I had to cover was what helped students to retain what was learned.  There was something called 'primacy' - that which is learned first is most easily recalled (thus it's important to make sure kids and flight students learn to do it right the first time, it's hard to break bad habits).  Another item was the effect that 'attitude' has on retention.  Students retain a learned task better when there is a pleasurable outcome (praise is one such pleasurable outcome).  Students retain next to nothing if they're in a fearful state of mind (that would include afraid of being hit by a ball OR afraid of being told to run).  Except in a few rare instances (such as a real head-strong know-it-all), negative reinforcement (punishment) is a poor teaching tool.  

Instead of punishing a kid for being afraid of the ball and stepping in the bucket it would have been more effective to work with him using several different drills such as have been covered by the previous posts, praised him (just something quick like a high-five) when he did the drill right, and just calmly pointed out mistakes when he did it wrong.  It's more difficult and time consuming to teach/coach this way, but that's why we get the big bucks, right?


virg    -- 02-04-2006 @ 11:04 AM
  lobasso,
Why do you say he's afraid of being hit? Because he says so, or because you see him stepping out?

virg


lobasso    -- 02-05-2006 @ 4:00 PM
  He says so.  In fact, its becoming an obsession that's affecting his whole game.


virg    -- 02-05-2006 @ 8:45 PM
  lobasso,
At age 8, that the pitching scares him suggests it's coming fast enough to hurt. Is it? Has he been drilled?If so, slow it down awhile. If not, then maybe he needs a little R&R until he craves action again.  

virg


treylortrache    -- 02-08-2006 @ 8:01 PM
  hey stylemismatch....I respect your opinion and the scientific flight school study that precipitated it....BUT, to say that negative reinforcement is ineffective or not as effective as positive reinforcement is quite a politically correct stance to take....but dead wrong in the real world of results.  If you would read in my original post I had tried all the drills and teaching with this particular kid...and nothing worked.  He was told he must be more afraid of failing at the plate than getting hit with the ball before he would change...I merely acted as a catalyst to that process by enforcing a consequence in practice when he failed to execute the fundamental of "digging in".  I will say that I believe in the importance of positive reinforcement and use it liberally...but there are times when a consequence of discipline must be applied when expectations aren't met...."spare the rod spoil the child"...it's old as the hills.  Usually I employ a baseball related drill as the consequence to reinforce the corrective action, that is the preferred method...but sometimes if a kid refuses to comply and exerts his will over the one in authority it is outright defiance and must be treated as such....you can't coddle and praise them out of it, there are certain times you just gotta get on that @$$.


riverdog    -- 02-10-2006 @ 12:48 AM
  I coached a young fella a couple of years ago that kept leaning back on every pitch.  I took him in the cage, put him in a wide open batting stance and threw balls at him (slowly)from about 45'.  As soon as he got comfortable with the fact that he could get out of the way, I closed his stance up a bit and threw the same speed.  Over a period of a couple of weeks, every BP he had to take some "ducking" practice in the cage with me or one of my assistants.  It worked.  He just needed to know that he could get out of the way.


riverdog    -- 02-10-2006 @ 12:52 AM
  I coached a young fella a couple of years ago that kept leaning back on every pitch.  I took him in the cage, put him in a wide open batting stance and threw balls at him (slowly)from about 45'.  As soon as he got comfortable with the fact that he could get out of the way, I closed his stance up a bit and threw the same speed.  Over a period of a couple of weeks, every BP he had to take some "ducking" practice in the cage with me or one of my assistants.  It worked.  He just needed to know that he could get out of the way.


riverdog    -- 02-10-2006 @ 12:52 AM
  I coached a young fella a couple of years ago that kept leaning back on every pitch.  I took him in the cage, put him in a wide open batting stance and threw balls at him (slowly)from about 45'.  As soon as he got comfortable with the fact that he could get out of the way, I closed his stance up a bit and threw the same speed.  Over a period of a couple of weeks, every BP he had to take some "ducking" practice in the cage with me or one of my assistants.  It worked.  He just needed to know that he could get out of the way.


stylemismatch    -- 02-10-2006 @ 9:48 AM
  ...but sometimes if a kid refuses to comply and exerts his will over the one in authority it is outright defiance and must be treated as such....you can't coddle and praise them out of it, there are certain times you just gotta get on that @$$.

No disagreement on that.  For instance, we've got a player who tries to get away with not running all the way to the fence when we're doing sprints.  He gets to do it over again until he goes all the way.  However, in the case you mentioned it didn't come across as the kid being defiant, but rather holding a deep seated fear.  In that case it seems that an approach like what riverdog mentioned (3 times because he hit the 'back' button after posting    ) would be more appropriate.  




THop    -- 02-10-2006 @ 1:29 PM
  Fear:
The way that deep-rooted fear affects the baseball swing doesn’t get discussed a lot on the internet because video can’t capture it I guess (same goes for physical strength or lack thereof). But fear is a very real thing in hitting (and fielding) a baseball and should be addressed by all coaches.

Every hitter from 1st year kids pitch to the MLB Hall of Fame experienced and dealt with a deep rooted fear of being hit with the pitch. How many power hitting MLB hitters DO NOT wear a front elbow protector?

All of the hitters that advanced, learned to deal with their fear. Most of the ones who didn’t, did not. I read where Evander Hollifield said it’s why he quit baseball at age14. It is exactly why the best pitchers (at any level) can throw inside strikes to keep hitter’s honest.

Discipline:
Teenagers need it. They also “crave it as long as it is fair and consistent and makes baseball sense”- Ron Polk at the North Cobb High School baseball banquet in 1999.

Coaches need to learn how to draw the line with players (especially teenagers). Let them know that you are there to help them in baseball and in life, but you are not there to just please them or make them happy in every way possible (that’s for tee ball only).

In my opinion, baseball-excellence dads make better coaches than the college or ex minor league players who have never experienced fatherhood. They know how to teach multiple baseball skills (not just instinctively perform them) and they know how to draw the line between buddy and coach as well.

THop



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