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Teaching Kids to Catch a Baseball
Catching a baseball can be a difficult task for young ballplayers. It takes a lot of practice and patience on both the kid and parent. One of the biggest problems is that some kids will be scared of the ball so understand what they are capable of and work with them.
The first thing i would like to talk about is the glove. They need to use a glove rated for their size and age. I've seen six year old kids using a size 12 adult glove. This is to big for their hands plus I feel it doesn't help in learning to catch a ball. If they use a glove rated for their age they can get a better feel for the ball. Their hands are doing the work not just the glove. If looking for a glove an infielder's glove will be smaller than outfielder's glove with usually a 2nd baseman's glove being the smallest.
Now lets start on catching. When you are getting ready to receive the ball start in an athletic stance. This means body balanced,feet about shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and be relaxed. Start with both hands close together, chest high, elbows bent and relaxed-not locked straight out,this restricts movement. The fingers should be pointing up with the thumbs facing each other. The hands should be far enough from the body so they can move freely. When the ball is thrown towards you be ready to move to get in front of the ball. Try your best not to reach for it. Move your feet and catch it in the center of your body. At an early age this teaches good habits. I know there are times when you have to catch a ball to the side but don't do it unless you have to. Work on moving your feet to the ball. It also teaches a young kid to understand where his throw should be. When the ball gets to you keep your elbows bent, relax your hands, and watch the ball all the way into your glove while bringing the glove towards your body. This will help develop what is called soft hands.
If you can't get in front of the ball and have to reach for it turning the glove the correct way is very important. If the ball is above your belly button your fingers are up and thumbs in like discussed earlier. If the ball is below your belly button it is fingers down and thumbs out. This is tough on a lot of young kids. A lot of times they don't get their hands turned around causing them to what looks like slapping at the ball, the ball hitting the glove then falling out. Practicing low throws will fix this. If the throw is glove side it is thumb up and fingers pointed out from your body. If the throw causes you to reach across your body it is thumb down and fingers pointed out from body. You are still moving your body towards the ball. Do not stand flat footed and reach for the ball. Like mentioned earlier keep your hands relaxed. This is very important in catching a baseball. There is something in baseball called hard hands. This is from the hands not being relaxed and not bringing the ball towards your body. Think about the difference between a ball hitting a soft pillow or a brick wall. Your hands need to have some give.
A good way to practice catching is to use a tennis ball with no glove. I use to stand close and tell my kids which way i was throwing. At first I would make them put their hands where they needed to be before i even threw the ball. Understanding the positioning of the hands is a lot of the battle and with a tennis ball the kid can focus more on their form and not worry about getting hit with a hard ball. The fear of a baseball can be your worst enemy and something i've seen take a couple of years to get over.
Good luck and remember be patient.