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My Daughter Can't Catch!

by Dave
Friday, May 05, 2006

A viewer writes in:

"My 9 year-old daughter is playing her first year of softball and she is afraid to try to catch flyballs.   It's driving her coach and me nuts!   Is there anything I can try to help her?"

Let me begin by saying if your nine year old daughter's inability to catch is driving you nuts, you are nuts to begin with!   If it drives her coach nuts, maybe he shouldn't be coaching!   I'm very sorry if this sounds overly harsh.   I'm simply trying to make the point that it is entirely NORMAL for a nine year old to have difficulty catching and demonstrate an unwillingness to even try.   It is the parents' and coaches' responsibility to overcome this.   If they can't, it is entirely their fault, not the fault of the child.

I fully believe that any human being can learn to catch.   It is an acquired skill, not one we are born with.   Teaching a young girl to catch requires a lot of patience and a lot of repetition.   Here's my approach for parent:

First, commit to getting out in the yard two or three times each week for 15 - 30 minutes.   Next have your daughter drop her mitt on the ground.   Now stand a few feet away from her and toss the ball softly to her.   Make sure she catches it with two hands!

Once she is regularly catching the ball with both bare hands while still just a few feet away from you, have her put her mitt on and do the same thing.   Again, emphasize catching with two hands.   Tell her that the mitt is not some magical thing which catches the ball by itself.   It is merely a hand extender and something that protects her hand when the ball is coming very fast.   Aside from
that, catching with two bare hands and catching with a mitt is pretty much the same.

Once your daughter can catch a ball lightly tossed from a few feet away, move a couple feet back away from her.   As she improves, move further and further away.   Each time you play catch, start at the beginning with mitt off, then put it on, then move away, a few feet at a time.   Before many iterations of this basic game of catch, you won't need to do start with the glove off or be all that close to your daughter.   But always start a little easier than you think you need to.   It ALWAYS pays to repeat the simple stuff before moving on to the more complex.

After your daughter can catch the ball well enough from 20, 30, 40 feet, it is time to start in with easy pop flys.   Again start just a few feet away, no glove, and toss a couple pops no more than 3 or 4 feet over her head.   Then put the mitt on and throw them a few feet higher.   Emphasize catching with two hands but do not require her to catch the ball directly over her head.   That is actually an unnatural method and some studies indicate that nobody, not even world class softball and baseball players, really catches the ball right over their heads.   The right way is in front of the head and slightly to the side.

Your daughter will most naturally try to catch the ball on her glove side.   That's OK for now but eventually you want her to catch on the throwing hand side in order to speed up the ball transfer after catch.   That might not come easily and the way to deal with that is to lightly toss the ball to the throwing hand side and force her to begin to catch on that side.   But exercise extreme patience with this.   It might take several months before she is good at catching the ball on the throwing hand side.

You want to practice catching as much as you possibly can.   If you can do it 4 or 5 times each week, maybe 15 minutes before practice, that's a great idea.   You are committing to a lot of repetition and she WILL learn to catch and judge the ball this way.

This is all you need to do to teach your daughter to catch a simple flyball - the kind she will encounter playing with 8, 9 and 10 year old girls.

Additional Thoughts


Randy from Virginia writes in with some more drills for teaching youngsters to catch:

First Drill - Used when teaching them to catch a thrown ball.   Right after the bare hand stage when first working with the glove I had both my kids close the glove, hold it back facing the thrown ball, hold it up in proper position and then just contact the ball with the back of the glove (i.e. knock it on the ground).   After they had mastered that I simply had them turn the glove around and catch the ball.   This approach avoided two problems.   First, it avoids the common problem of using the glove as a basket, even when the ball is chest (or face) high.   That always scares the dickens out of me.   Second, they quickly build trust in their ability to "defend" themselves with the glove without having to concern themselves with catching the ball at the same time.   This simplifies the learning process.   This drill has been used by many parents I know now and been 100% successful in a very short time period for those parents that are actually willing to work with their children multiple times a week.

Second Drill - Used with fly balls.   Add catching a cloth ball in the barehanded stage.   I actually bounced it off their foreheads (up close of course) to prove it didn't hurt if it hit you.   When using a glove we moved to tennis balls.   Same "no fear" concept.   The interesting added advantage is you can use a tennis racket when you get to higher fly balls.   My boy, who is seven, now loves to get the "Major League fly ball" - one hit really high with the racket.   Also, tennis balls require "soft hands" or they bounce out.   This makes catching the real thing relatively easy.

Thanks for the great tips, Randy!


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