When kids first take up baseball, many are afraid of swinging a bat aggressively.
There are a number of reasons for this, says Dan Keller, who coaches the Mighty Mighty Padres, a 5U Pony Baseball team in Fountain Valley, California. Even at an early age, kids are afraid of failure, especially if they swing and miss several times. Their mind goes into what Keller calls “make contact” mode. They also don’t want to let down their parents, coaches, or others who are important to them. Some even have a fear of hurting their hands if they swing too hard.
“Ironically, it hurts more the slower an athlete swings,” explained Keller, who also runs the free online coaching resource Dugoutcaptain.com.
Coaches are always looking for new and innovative ways to make practices more fun, while still teaching the game. Keller uses a water balloon drill to spice up his team’s batting practice and help players overcome their fear of swinging a bat. The idea was adapted from a similar drill used by Keller’s good friend Nick Kumpis, a professional golf instructor in Southern California. Kumpis used water balloons to encourage young golfers to swing through a drive.
Keller recently introduced the drill at a Mighty Mighty Padres practice, with rousing success.
“(We had) happy kids, happy parents, lots of smiles,” Keller told theSeason. “I get lots of positive feedback from coaches across the nation about the simplicity of making kids smile by hitting water balloons.”
Skill Set: T-ball
Difficulty Level: Easy
Number of Athletes and Coaches: Entire Team
Average Time to Complete: 15 Minutes
Equipment Required: 75 water balloons, 1 batting tee
Goal: Teach young hitters to overcome their fear of failure and learn to swing aggressively, and have a little fun in the process
Description: This can be run either as a side station during batting practice, or an early activity. Each hitter gets five swings at water balloons. You can also do soft toss or front toss if you have extra balloons left over. Be sure to have plenty of water balloons; some will break, and players will notice if they don’t get an equal number of swings. For safety purposes, watch for wet bat grips and other players sneaking in hoping to get sprayed.
Along with teaching kids to overcome fear and that it’s OK to swing hard, hitting water balloons serves a number of other purposes, Keller explains. It breaks up the monotony of practice, creates healthy competition, and best of all, it’s fun. But like most things, it’s easy to overdo it. Keller recommends only using the drill once in a while during the season.
“If they love it, and the coach doesn’t mind the extra cost, time, and effort, then run it again,” he said. “Water balloon BP can be a single station during batting practice, so even if the initial novelty wears off, I don’t think the drill loses any value at all. I’ve yet to see a kid blast a water balloon and not smile.”
Which proves you can have fun and learn a valuable skill at the same time.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
Check out other hitting drills for all age groups here.