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Baseball practice

Take swing at teaching kids

Start training early with fun activities, local experts say

Go ahead. The Abominable Snowman no longer lurks outside your door. It’s safe to venture away from the warmth of gas-forced air, now that the Great Tundra of 2013-14 has finally loosed its icicle tentacles from our scarf-covered throats. Tell the little ones not to be afraid of the stuff that will be turning green soon. It’s called grass. It’s supposed to be like that – all lush and prickly and cool and wet in the mornings.

It’s time for kids at play; for chalk on the sidewalk; for scooters and bikes; for bats and balls.

And so the young parents step into the cul-de-sac and underhand a bouncy ball to their young one, who of course doesn’t catch it, but dutifully gathers the ball and heaves it back. Regardless of the child’s gender, history tells us the ball goes in one of three directions: A) a 90-degree right angle in which it invariably lands beneath a parked car; B) magically backward, rolling 50 feet down the street; or C) laser-accurate at the father’s midsection, or thereabouts, with the velocity of Nolan “The Express” Ryan in his prime.

Clearly, some coaching is necessary.

But what kind, and how much?

Depends on the child’s age, says Bill Derbyshire, former Elmhurst High School baseball coach and president of the Wildcat League, established in 1961 for boys and girls ages 6 to 15, in which the motto is “everybody makes the team.”

“We try to work with them beginning at age 6, when they throw the ball and it doesn’t go straight up in the air, and it kinda goes in the direction that they’re looking,” Derbyshire says. “We start them out right away, working with that fundamental.”

A common error for the overzealous parent is to begin teaching the child the difference between a two-seam fastball and a four-seamer at the age of 3, or the preferred front shoulder position while at bat. Meanwhile, said child may be pondering if butterflies get hiccups.

“We’re hesitant to drop any lower than (6), just because attention is not very long,” Derbyshire says. “We thought a 6-year-old would be a good place to start.”

Regardless of the child’s age, make coaching fun, says Caleb Kimmel, executive director of the World Baseball Academy, which provides instruction.

“I’m thinking through the eyes of my 3-year-old,” Kimmel says. “He likes garbage trucks right now, so when we hang out, we play with a lot of garbage trucks. It all comes down to what does your child enjoy and how do you engage in that activity? That’s a big thing. Make sure they have fun. Make sure they’re smiling when they’re being a part of that enjoyment.

“Earlier is better. When I’m with my 3-year-old, we’re working on him hitting targets; nothing more than it’s fun and let’s try to hit the corner of the couch with the ball.”

Still, it won’t hurt to put a ball in a toddler’s hand and let him wing it. Then repeat the process over and over – all the while, making sure the activity is enjoyable for all parties.

“The basic muscle memory, you want to try to instill in the kid as young as possible on proper mechanics of throwing, running, hitting – all those things,” Kimmel says. “The younger you start them in basic fundamentals, the more their muscle memory will take into effect, which is always helpful.

“If they’re having fun, how do you start showing them the basic fundamentals of balance in a fun way? Your goal is still fun. You still want to make sure that fun is included in whatever activity you’re doing and then you slowly introduce some concepts of baseball, for balance, concentration, how to hold a ball, how to hold a bat.

“So much of it is balance and concentration, and the reason why is if you’re not balanced, you’re not in control of your body. If you’re not in control of your body, you cannot repeat the same movement consistently. And from a concentration standpoint, if you’re not concentrated on something, it’s going to get really frustrating.”

Like crawling beneath the parked car to get the ball.

stwarden@jg.net

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