Thursday, September 20, 2012
What To Teach Your 4-Year-Old Future Star
I often wish that more kids were taught a few basic things when they were around the age of three or four. If they learn it then, it's like riding a bike - they'll never forget it. Their muscle memory will be correctly programmed for life.
So for all the proactive dads of preschool prospects out there, here are some basic things you may want to teach your kid about baseball. Your wife will give you grief, but don't feel guilty. If he winds up playing baseball and loves the game, he'll eventually thank you for helping him succeed and have fun. He may not even play beyond Little League, but those Little League days will be less of a struggle.
1. Throwing: Many young kids do not just naturally pick up a ball and throw it correctly. If you want to lay the groundwork for an accurate, safe and powerful throwing motion down the road, show him how to properly separate the hands and take the ball back. Demonstrate how to close the front shoulder and hip to his target and separate his hands with the fingers on top of (not behind) the ball and thumbs pointed down. Both hands will go up and away from the body with the palms away. I tell kids to show the front palm (the glove) to the target and the back palm (the ball) to whatever is behind them, nearly opposite the target. Show it and throw it. Otherwise the throw may be more of a push, with less velocity and more stress on the arm. Pulling the front arm back into the body (tucking the glove) at the point of release will help too.
2. Hitting: Two basic things - turn the back foot and finish high. Your little man will never hit the ball very hard if he doesn't open his hips. Rotating the back foot is the key that unlocks the hips - heel off the ground and shoe laces facing the target. If he finishes his swing with the hands and bat behind his back, teach him to finish higher. That's how he will eventually hit line drives with backspin that carry into the outfield and beyond. Watch any pro hitter - the hands are above the shoulder in the finish. This only scratches the surface on hitting, but it will provide a good foundation for a powerful swing in a few years.
3. Catching: Don't worry - catching a moving ball is tough. It's probably the last skill the kid will master. You can speed up that process by tossing him some type of ball where there is no fear factor. We used to throw a Nerf basketball in the playroom and see how many we could catch in a row with our bare hands. The important thing is to receive the ball gently with thumbs together and fingers up. For grounders, the wrists come together with the throwing hand closing down from above. If kids can learn at age four how to catch bare handed, it will come easier when they start doing it with a glove.
Keep in mind that if your son is like mine, he doesn't want to listen to you tell him how to do anything, especially play a game. Don't be like this guy, constantly instructing your kid how to perform the simplest of tasks, right down to eating cereal. I hate that guy, and he's showing his kid the wrong stuff anyway.
I learned early on that if you just casually show them how you do it, not even tell them how they should do it, they will usually mimic you. My oldest son and I would sometimes compare our swings in the back yard. "Here's how I do it," or better yet, "look how Jeter does it," became common phrases. Kids are great at mimicking, and it's an effective way for them to learn. They are visually oriented, and generally want to emulate their dad or their heroes on TV.
Good luck. And don't forget to make it fun. It's never too late to teach good habits. But it sure is easier when they're young.