Training Youth Players
Training kids at this age takes patience. More patience than kids who have already been playing the game and the catching position for a while.
Kids may display two spirits that the coaches need patience with…
I would just say fear, but, playfulness is many times the way fear presents itself. Coaches are unaware of the fear that players are experiencing because all they see is the playfulness. When they see the playfulness they assume the kids are not focused and are being disrespectful. It’s not the case, usually.
When kids are fearful they will have a few different responses. Some cry, some shy away from the ball, some act goofy. There are many different ways that fear will present itself. But rest assured, it is typically fear you are seeing rather than the symptom the kid presents.
Think of it this way….
When you go to the doctor because of a cough, the doctor doesn’t look at you and say, “well, you have a cough.” You would not need the doctor if that is all he did. You want to know “why am I coughing?” To find out why you are coughing the doctor must do some diagnosing. Some digging so to speak. He has to look past the symptoms which is simply the way the illness is presenting itself but is not itself the illness.
In the case of a young catcher, fear is typically the diagnosis but the symptoms present themselves differently with each child. Some kids may actually become aggressive with you, but it is more than likely stemming from fear and is not to be taken personal. They need healing from the fear. They need guidance out of their irrational fears.
Not every kid is afraid. Every kid is different. Some will approach the position fearlessly and don’t mind catching the ball or getting hit by the ball. Those kids make the coach’s job easy. It’s the kids who have the fear that force you (the coach or parent) to step up your game.
The kids who do experience fear could potentially be some of the best catchers once they overcome their initial fear. But how will we or they ever know that if we, the adults, are not guiding them through their negative emotions? They need help.
To help you understand their fear a bit and develop your empathy for them think of it this way….
You’re walking down a sidewalk, suddenly you get to what you perceive to be the end of the sidewalk and it is at the edge of a cliff with a 500’ drop. You suddenly stop. Then someone walks past you across the canyon, seemingly walking on air, but there is actually an invisible walkway that they are walking down. And, they have walked across before so they have no fear. They just walk right passed you and continue walking, all the way across the canyon. You are sitting there confused.
Thus far into our example, you know what is like for the fearful child to watch others catch fearlessly. But you still don’t understand the fear of the fearful child.
Back to our example….
Lets say you just watched that person walk across the canyon, seemingly on thin air. Now someone comes rushing up behind and you and pushes you really hard off the cliff….What’s your initial reaction going to be? If you said fear then you’re an honest person. You would experience fear. Because your mind doesn’t know there is something there to catch you. You would probably scream and land on the invisible walkway. Your heart would be pounding and you would have to check to see if you were still alive. And you would probably be freaked out to see that you could see to the floor of the canyon but you were somehow not falling because you were on the invisible walkway. And you would probably jump back to the cliff to feel safe. Then you would tip toe on to the invisible surface like you were testing the temperature of the water in a pool. It would take you a few taps with your foot to trust that their was in fact a surface there to hold you up before you committed to walking across. Think of a dream where you are falling and you truly think something bad is happening then suddenly you wake up only to realize, oh, that was just a dream, I’m actually ok. That is what this example is about.
Are you starting to understand the plight of the fearful child yet?
To help this player pull out their potential you will have to walk them across that invisible walkway. What they are perceiving as a threat is not truly there. And until their mind perceives the reality that their is no threat present, they will continue to present the symptoms of fear. And if you do not show patience and care with them, you will lose them.
My dog was in a car wreck with me two years ago. We were in my dad’s truck, we were moving at 57mph down the road. We came to a traffic light, green for us, caution yellow arrow for the on-coming car turning left across two lanes. She turned without seeing my red truck barreling at her at 57mph. I slammed on the breaks and veered left.
We clipped her tail end as I was unable to completely avoid contact. My dog was in the front seat with me. My air bag deployed, slamming into my chest. My dog slammed into the dash board on his side of the truck. By the time the truck spun to a stop, my little guy was underneath my feet.
We were all ok. No major injuries. At least no visible injuries that is.
The psychological trauma that my dog faced was somewhat significant. Prior to the accident he was never fearful of riding in the car. He actually displayed a desire to ride in the car.
After the accident, different story. He was apprehensive. Neve wanted to get in the car. Resisted hoping in.
It took him over a year of riding in the car to understand that he was safe. I don’t know what his dog brain was thinking, but I can only imagine it was replaying that wreck. So his little mind portrayed vehicles as danger.
So what were his symptoms? He displayed apprehension. He could have been considered “disobedient” as he would forcefully resist getting in the car, pulling away at the leash to avoid getting in the car. While in the car he would shiver the entire ride. That was my dog’s personality though. A different dog with the same experience may have shown aggression to stay out of the car. My dog just happens to be gentle so he showed his fear in a more resistant or disobedient way. Kids are the same way and will display symptoms of fear in different ways.
There were a few ways I could have chosen to handle that situation. I could have been mean to him, forceful, yelled at him, forced him to “toughen up”. Would he even understand that though? He’s a dog.
No, he wouldn’t understand that. What he would understand from that approach is that his master, the one who cares for him, is mean and he would become even more afraid and feel even more isolated in his fear and lose some trust in me, making him feel even more isolated.
What I did instead was gently put him in the car. Assured him with my voice that he is ok. I petted him while he was in the seat to give him a sense of security. I gave him treats in an effort to help him find more comfort in the car. The reasoning behind the treat strategy was because I thought if he ate food he would associate the car with a safe place since he eats his food in a safe place. The attempt was to rewire the brain. To cause pleasure feelings to go off while in the vehicle in an attempt to override the negative feelings.
My approach seemed to work.
It took time, but he is back to normal in the car now. No fear whatsoever. He even sticks his head out of the window.
What are some strategies you can use to help kids overcome their fear?
Make them feel safe
Associate their gear with safety
Ease them into the position
Don’t give in to their symptoms (be authoritative but not authoritarian…explanation below)
Just remember, you are addressing a somewhat irrational fear. It’s not fully irrational, because there is a bit of danger involved with catching. Getting hit by the ball hurts. But, the irrational part of the fear is telling them that it is much more dangerous than it is and it will hurt more than it actually will. That is what you are addressing. You don't give into the irrational fear, but you teach it and lead it to the truth.
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian
1.) able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable
2.) commanding and self-confident; likely to be respected and obeyed.
Synonyms-assured, confident, trustworthy, reliable, dependable, authentic, valid, accurate, assertive
In my own words, being authoritative is knowing that you are the authority and because you know, truly know, you are the authority you do not have to act or try to display your authority over the kids. You already are the authority. So just be that.
This is the best type of leader
1.) favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.
Synonyms- dictatorial, despotic, tyrannical, oppressive, repressive
In my own words, being an authoritarian leader is one who shows very little to no empathy or compassion. To the authoritarian, it’s all about doing everything the “right” way. When in reality the “right” way is simply whatever they say to be true and not necessarily right to begin with. An authoritarian leader can be one of the worst types of leaders and do a lot of damage to certain players. They also display very little patience. This is not good for the fearful child. Are they bad for all players? No. Some players respond well. But a lot of players don't.
If you are a parent or a coach, you already are in a position of authority. You ARE the leader. You don’t have to show anyone that YOU are in charge because that is already understood. Are there times where you will need to take charge when things are getting out of hand? Absolutely. Being authoritative does not mean being a push over. It is being truly confident and displaying that to your players.