Great. You signed your child up for baseball, and you want to head to the park for your first practice together. The sun is shining. The equipment is packed. You cleared your afternoon schedule. You watched a few YouTube videos for practice ideas. It’s a great opportunity to bond. What can go wrong? After an exciting seven minutes of practice, your child is crying, threw their glove on the ground, and you are yelling and disappointed. What just happened? A great afternoon plan just went up in flames.
First, don’t worry. You just went through the same thing millions of parents before you went through. With some tips and a different mindset, it can turn out the way you planned it - a great bonding experience with smiles. You should know that coaching your own child is the second hardest job in the world, so you are allowed not to be great at it. I know…if it is the second hardest job, you want to know what the first hardest job in the world is. It is being the pupil being coached by their parent. Baseball is a difficult sport, so teaching and learning it is no easier. The point is to take it easy on yourself and your child. Slow down, enjoy the ride, don’t push too hard, and you can have years of fun and great memories.
Here are some tips to help your journey:
Plan short sessions of practice.
Anyone can get useful information from this article, but it is intended for parents of newer players eight years old and under. What a short session means varies for different personalities and ages. For ages six and under expect 10 – 15 minute sessions or even less. Ages seven and eight can be 15 – 30 minute sessions. Keep in mind we are talking about children practicing with a parent. They will be able to practice with coaches for longer periods. Older players that already developed an appreciation for the sport will be able to practice much longer with a parent. Work on only one thing (throwing, catching or hitting) per session. Even if your child doesn’t appear to be succeeding, they are improving and learning. For example, it may take a while before they can catch the ball, so be encouraging even if they drop the ball often. When they drop the ball when they try to catch it, they are improving their hand-eye coordination.
Have another non-baseball activity planned to do right after practice.
Do something else fun after baseball. An easy thing is to practice at a park with a playground. After your short practice session, let your child enjoy the playground. Your child will associate the good time at the playground with the practice session. They will be more likely to want to go out for the next practice. Other things you can do after your short practice is stop for ice cream or frozen yogurt. And yes, even a reward (or bribe :) ) like a small toy (under $5) on occasion is OK.
To get more practice in, have more short sessions, not longer sessions.
Be ready to practice anytime, anywhere. Don’t always depend on going to the park. Be able to practice a little in front of the house. This makes having more short sessions easier. Once your child seems to be hitting the end of their attention span, congratulate them with a high five, and go inside to watch some TV together. Don’t try to stay out longer because you think they need more practice. Even practicing indoors is an option. Try turning a dining room or kitchen chair around for a target, and have your kids throw rolled up socks into the chair. Soft Nerf balls work too. Again, these are real easy ways to some baseball in for five minutes, and then drop it. Less intense more pleasant sessions will increase their appreciation of the sport.
Be respectful of a child’s limitations.
Today’s children are starting in sports at a much younger age than today’s adults did as children. At these young ages, strength, agility, hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and attention span are a rare commodity. If you have memories of excellence in sports in your youth, it is likely it wasn’t at ages under eight years old, despite how you remember it. Baseball is a difficult sport for experienced adults, so it is exponentially more difficult for young children. In other words, take it slow, and let your children develop at their pace. It takes years to become somewhat proficient at baseball, so don’t expect to get it done in one afternoon at the park.
In summary, when children are allowed to develop an appreciation of baseball, they will have a great time, and create plenty of memories to take through life with them. They will learn some of life’s lessons, make great friends, and encounter memorable roles models. They will need your help through their journey. Be patient and encouraging, and you and your child will have a great trip.