Ease inside-ball fears by starting slow, soft

ASK CAL

Youth Sports

October 14, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My son is 10 and has been playing baseball since he was 5. He was always a very good batter until last year when he was hit in the arm by a stray pitch and it broke his arm. Now he is understandably worried every time he is at bat. As a result, he hasn't had a hit yet this season and he is starting to get down on himself. His mechanics are great, but he just is too hesitant and fearful at the plate. I have given him extra batting practice and many drills to boost his confidence, but during the game, the result is the same. He says the issue is the kids who pitch are more erratic and this is what scares him of getting hit. We have tried everything and can't get past this. Could you please help him with a few possible suggestions that we could try together?

Michael Kelley, Atlanta

DEAR MICHAEL -- Fear is the biggest issue we see when young players move from T-ball or coach pitch to a situation where other kids are pitching to them. The best solution that I know, which I have written about here before, is to show your son firsthand how quickly he can get out of the way of pitched balls. I equate it to dodge ball. Kids seem to inherently have a knack for getting out of the way of objects that are thrown their way. To prove this, have your son stand in the batter's box as if he were batting with you throwing foam rubber balls that won't hurt directly at him. Start with some easy ones, and then throw them harder and harder until you are throwing the balls faster than the pitchers he faces. Make sure he recognizes that none of the pitchers he will face can throw as hard as you and that he still can get out of the way every time. Once he is comfortable avoiding pitches, mix in some strikes with the errant throws and have him swing. It sounds as if your son already is a confident hitter when you pitch to him, so the idea is to make him feel just as confident in his ability to get out of the way of inside pitches.

DEAR CAL -- What do you think about kids getting "juiced up" before soccer games? I don't mean on steroids, but on these high-caffeine energy drinks. Lots of the kids in our son's under-12 league make a habit of drinking one or two of these before every game.

Stephen Murphy, Topeka, Kan.

DEAR STEPHEN -- I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure that ingesting high levels of caffeine is not a great idea for children. However, I'm a firm believer that it is the responsibility of the parents first and coaches to monitor and limit this type of behavior. If those drinks aren't accessible to the kids, they can't be consumed. I've read many studies that talk about the value of drinking a cup or more of water before exercising and about drinking mixtures of water and sports drinks during activity. I can't remember reading anything, especially something aimed at children, that says it's a good idea to ingest high-caffeine products before competition. If the products aren't available to the kids, they can't drink them. Parents can keep the products out of the kids' hands, and coaches can establish team guidelines about what is acceptable before games.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askripken@baltimoresun.com.

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