If an old glove fits the hand, fits its job and is functional, it's still fine Youth sports

ASK CAL

April 08, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- I'm debating my shortstop-playing son that it's better to have a glove that's seasoned and broken in well than to get a new one each year. What do you think?

Len Kozlowski, Chicago

DEAR LEN -- There are several considerations when it comes to buying gloves for young baseball players, including whether the glove fits, if it is functional, if it is the proper glove for the position or positions that he plays and your personal budget. Certainly a glove that is broken in and still in good enough condition to use is preferable to a stiff, new glove that isn't going to be broken in until late in the season. As long as the glove doesn't have holes in the palm and is not too small, it should be fine. If some of the rawhide used to keep the glove together is worn out, you can either purchase some new rawhide along with a glove repair kit and fix the glove yourself or take it to a local sporting goods store that sells gloves and have someone there get the glove back into working condition. Believe me, if you buy a new glove for your son and he starts dropping thrown and batted balls during practice or tryouts, he's going to come looking for the old model.

I think that there may be a larger issue here that is even more important then the actual condition of the glove. No parent wants to send a child onto a field of any kind with equipment that is less than adequate, and no parent wants to deprive a child of something that he or she really wants and will use. However, the value of equipment and the need to take care of it is important to learn. If a child has a glove that fits and has worked well, there is no reason to buy a new glove for the sake of having the latest model. Gloves are not cheap, and kids should be introduced to the concept that you have worked hard for the money it takes to buy their equipment. If there is an expectation on their part that you will buy them a new glove on a yearly basis, they are less likely to understand the value of the glove they are using today, which means that they may not take care of it properly and are more likely to lose it.

DEAR CAL -- I coach a team of 13- and 14-year-old softball players. Is there any advantage to having them practice hitting off a tee, or should we concentrate on live pitching?

Beth Porter, Fort Wayne, Ind.

DEAR BETH -- The advantage of having kids hit off a batting tee, just like having them perform other hitting drills such as soft toss, short toss and so on, is that it gives the coach a real opportunity to teach and help them develop a swing that will be more effective when they face real pitchers. It's really difficult, nearly impossible, to take a kid who is struggling against live pitchers and fix any flaws in his or her swing during a game or live batting practice. It's hard enough to hit a ball traveling at a high rate of speed and moving all over the place without having a coach harping on you to keep your hands back, shorten your stride, swing down to the ball, get your hips open and so on.

Drills provide the proper setting for a coach to work with players on individual weaknesses without the pressure of teammates, opposing players and parents watching and without the pressure of a competitive setting. Drills are designed to help players feel what it is like to employ the proper mechanics and experience success doing so. The ball is moving slower or not at all, and balls can be tossed to certain locations to force the hitter to swing a certain way. The conditions can be controlled to allow the coach to adapt the lesson to a specific player's knowledge and ability level. It is an environment that is conducive to teaching, absorbing and developing muscle memory.

The great thing about the batting tee is that the ball is stationary. For that reason, we like to use the tee to develop a very important component of the swing known as the weight shift. Every good hitter has some sort of a weight shift. Weight shift simply is the action of taking the body's weight to the back foot to gather energy before exploding forward. This is similar to a snake that recoils before striking or a fighter who pulls his fist back before punching to get more power.

Other drills can be used to work on other components of the swing, but for tee work we like young hitters to get a feel for going back before going forward without having to hit a ball that is moving. To accomplish this, we have them take their time and exaggerate the weight shift back to the point that they actually lift their front leg off the ground (almost like a pitcher) before going forward. From that point, we want them to shift their weight straight forward and to swing as hard as they can while focusing on the ball. If they do this enough, the weight shift should start to occur naturally when they face live pitching, which will increase power and bat speed.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Submit it by completing the question form at www.baltimoresun.com/askcal.

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