Baseball Instruction/fear of striking out

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I am losing patience with my son because he has talent for a 7 turning 8 year old playing up with 9 and 10 year olds. My son hits great in the cage with fast speed pitching, but when he gets up at the plate his anxiety of striking out is causing him to basically watch strike three causing me to get upset.  Need some help with confidence building and patience.  I could also use some help with my own temper I am very competitive and I dont wont to turn my son away from sports

Answer
Let Them Know You Are There For Them
Let Them Know You Are  
Dennis:  Thank you for your question.

You certainly have a lot going on here.

Lets start with the positive, your son hits great in the cage with fast speed pitching.  Since it is in the cage, it must be either off of a pitching machine, or an adult arm; both of which provide, in the players mind, a sense of confidence and security that they will not be drilled by the baseball.  With that confidence, they are free to concentrate on seeing the baseball, tracking it and putting the bat on it.  There is no game pressure hitting count, they can't "fail", as there are no strike outs and always another pitch coming#  He is free to work on his mechanics, which at his age are minimal and fun to work on#

When outside that environment, he has many more things to deal with, and at the moment none of them may be positives for him#

"Playing up", at his age, may create some issues#  The age difference doesn't seem like much; but it is in those age brackets#  He is looking at pitchers who generally throw harder than his age equivalent, with little guarantee there will be consistent control that comes with it#  For the pitcher, it is an advantage#  For the hitter, a disadvantage#  Even playing at their age equivalent, no one wants to get hit with a baseball#  Teaching him how to protect himself from this fear goes a long way to allowing him to concentrate on hitting, rather than survival#  On my site I have a page dedicated to the fear of being hit.>  There are steps you can take to help relieve some of that stress that comes from this inevitable situation which occurs in baseball.  Having a plan to minimize the damage from those hits by pitch, affords some degree of confidence and they can move forward.

If indeed, he is in over his head playing with 9-10 year olds, he would be better served, at this point in time, to stay within his age bracket. Success builds confidence.  There are plenty of opportunities built into the game to be unsuccessful, without the added burden of personal fear, or being overwhelmed.  Neither is fun and will soon lead to his wanting to do something other than baseball, as it is no longer fun.

Kids usually don't develop an anxiety over striking out, his anxiety is coming from upsetting you, or possibly his coach also.  He is also a younger player, attempting to live up to the abilities and expectations of older players within the team structure.  All of it can lead to what is called, "paralysis by analysis".  He is so tied up in telling himself not to strike out, or worrying about striking out, all he hears in his mind is strike out. The image implant is "strike out", and the word "don't" cannot block out the strike out image. He is locked up and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, followed immediately by the thing he dreads most, your being upset, as well as any others who may react the same way.  


For someone struggling with strikeouts, what they need to hear is a hitting plan, that provides them with a realistic opportunity to put the ball in play.  It can be as simple as you are looking to hit the first fastball strike that you see.  I would assume at his level he isn't seeing curveballs, or at least he shouldn't be.  If he is, he is still looking to hit the first fastball strike.  Now his focus for the at bat is, "hit first fastball strike".  Hitting earlier in the count helps to keep hitters out of 2 strike counts, where that next strike is the fatal "curse" of striking out, and it's subsequent disapproval from those he most wants to please.  

Sometimes when you explain this to them, they only hear fastball and not the following "strike".  If they go to the plate with a plan to swing the bat, not take pitches, their successes will increase.  Putting the ball in play is a good thing.  It makes the hitter feel good and it forces the opponents to "play the game".

When they have that hitting plan as a skill set, just like throwing, catching, running and hitting, it is easier to move from those fears of failures, to increased feelings of confidence.

The definition of a successful at bat is:
1.  Focus on seeing the ball out of the pitcher's hand.

2.  Get a good pitch to hit.

3.  Put a good swing on the ball.

4.  Hit it hard somewhere.

It will help if you can figure out why it makes you so angry if he strikes out.  Is that the only failure within the game that frustrates you, or do errors and base running mistakes cause you to get angry as well?  He is only 8 years old, if you truly wish for him to stay interested in sports, he won't be able to carry that load on his back, and firmly locked in his mind.  

Branch Ricky quote, a full mind is an empty bat!"  Yogi Berra said, you can't think and hit at the same time!"  Both are correct.

Your family and your son are all headed for some truly great family memories that last a lifetime.  When things go wrong on the baseball field, there is always another pitch, another ground ball, another stolen base opportunity.  Nothing is terminal or fatal in baseball, except our inability to put it behind us and live in the moment. There is always another game.

Every pitcher, batter, fielder, base runner faces tough situations.  None of them always comes through.  Everyone has emotional reactions.  Everyone fails.  The manner in which we control our emotional reactions to them will indicate the quality of our mental discipline.#Harvey Dorfman Sports Psychologist#

I would recommend a book written by Mr. Dorfman, The Mental Game of Baseball, a guide to peak performance.  Your son is not close to ready for this book; but I believe it will provide you insights into baseball that may allow you to allow him to survive those failures that are so prevalent in the game, learning from them and ultimately learning much about life in the process.

You can find this book on Amazon, or you can get it through my website, http://www.theoleballgame.com.  Cost is the same for either.

You may find information on my site that will be helpful to you and your son as you go forward.

It has to be ok for him to experience the failures generated by playing baseball, without fear of disappointing, angering or embarrassing the people he most wants to please.  Be there for him.  Right now he is feeling he is on an island, with no boat to get back to the mainland.

You don't need to have all the answers, you just have to understand what he is going through and let him know he is trying and you love the effort.  If he has skills, they will rise to the occasion, when his mind is free to "turn it loose!

Yours in baseball,

Rick  

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Rick Bundy

Expertise

I can answer all questions relating to the fundamentals of baseball from t-ball to college, individual and team instruction, game strategy, drills, practice organizaton, coaching philosophies and, last, but not least, the mental game.

Experience

4 years little league 4 years high school baseball( 2 varsity) 2 years junior college baseball 1 summer, Central Illinois Collegiate League, Galesburg, Pioneers 2 years, four year college

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I am the owner/builder of theoleballgame.com, a website for playing and coaching youth baseball.

Education/Credentials
Retired teacher 31 years (retired 4) 36 years high school baseball coaching/15 as a head coach/19 varsity asst, 2010 was the 36th. I am in my 10th year as a coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks Training Centers, the official youth baseball and fast pitch softball camps of The Arizona Diamondbacks.

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