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Overcoming the Fear of Swinging

Parents are probably not paying over $100 to sign their kids up for Little League only to see them try to get walked.

The truth is, kids who are looking to draw walks because they are afraid to swing probably are not going to be walked. Youth umpires intentionally call a big strike zone to encourage kids to lift the bat off their shoulder and swing. Not to mention it would be tough for younger kids to throw strikes in a major league strike zone.

Even with encouragement to swing the bat, there are still some kids who just flat out refuse to swing. Whether the player is afraid to be hit, does not like the pitches he is receiving or is afraid of striking out, it’s up to the coach to try to help a player overcome the habit.

“I’d rather have a kid go down swinging every at-bat than someone who is afraid to swing,” said Cody MacLeod, a Quincy (Mass.) Little League coach. “At least there’s a chance they’ll hit the ball. You can’t be upset with a kid if he’s trying.”

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It’s an easy problem to assess. But it’s not as simple to fix. MacLeod understands that, which is why he has a few different approaches he takes.

“These kids are young so they still have time to develop plate discipline,” he said. “So I’ll always tell these kids who refuse to swing that they have to swing at least twice in their next at-bat. I’ve even developed a sign I’ll throw at these kids that means they have to swing unless it’s above their head or they can’t reach the ball with their bat.”

Of course, MacLeod is not going to toy with a player’s approach if he already seems to have the right idea at the plate. But he acknowledges that some kids might be embarrassed if they strike out swinging. When MacLeod knows a player does not hit well from seeing him in practice, he does not care. “No kid is going to remember that game they walked twice,” he said. “But if they get a big hit, it could end up being the highlight of their week.”

MacLeod also mentioned bringing his son, who played high school baseball, and a few of his friends to talk to the kids before the season. He said that while his son and friends talked with the kids about just anything they wanted, he made sure his son gave a speech on the importance of swinging. “I just figure that if they hear it from someone else, they might take it to heart a little more,” he explained. “It can’t hurt.”

MacLeod said he had heard about coaches rewarding kids for extra-base hits with something from the snack bar. “It sounds like a pretty good idea,” he said. “But we don’t always play at a field that has a snack bar. I’ve given away some of my junk wax baseball cards to the kids before. But I made sure everyone got some and just gave kids a little bit more if they did what I asked.”

From GameChanger and Thomas Joyce.

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