Mental Toughness in Sports Parenting and Fear of the Ball
Have you ever had a younger child; (usually under ten) who is AFRAID of the baseball; a youngster who is afraid of getting HIT by the pitch or is intimidated; literally SCARED of the pitcher. This may seem trivial to some adults who are accustomed to watching big league hitters stand in the batter’s box and dig in against the likes of Aroldis Chapman (105mph) but it can BECOME a HUGE problem with a younger child.
It can make a child NOT want to play. Children this age will quit playing altogether over this issue so it HAS TO BE addressed with compassion and reason rather than frustration.
And man o’ man, you know it can certainly get frustrating if you ever wrestled with; coaxed, pleaded, and (almost literally) begged a child to …
“Just STAY in the box” … to no avail.
Tough. Tough. Tough. Doubly painful and hard because you, as a coach/parent are genuinely TRYING to help.
As a mental skills instructor; a mental toughness trainer and peak performance coach, I am amazed at how many children react to the ball this way. It is a common issue. Very common.
The small youngsters are the best and most fun to work with but they can be very tough to manage; particularly if your intentions are in all the right places but you are dealing with some very real fears on their parts. If you are frustrated dealing with any of these issues, give me a shout. I have programs that get results in all these situations; programs that will take you from where you are as a sports parent to where you want to be!!!
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Obviously as a coach/parent you want the child to (a – participate in this great game and (b – learn and understand the psychological truth (and “life lesson”) that the key and the “secret” to success herein; like a lot of “life lessons” is to accept the fear and “deal with it” with intelligent action.
Face the fear with strength and intelligence.
However, children this age do to not want to participate in activities that SCARE them; especially with the POSSIBILITY OF BODILY HARM.
They WILL NOT … !!!
You as a parent or coach CANNOT JUDGE THEIR REACTION as an adult. You will get nowhere first and foremost because …
… NOBODY does … Nobody wants to participate in activities that scare them. Not just children but adults as well. In fact human beings of all ages, sizes, and shapes will unanimously beg their way out of that deal.
Simple. “Fear of bodily harm” is the single most important and powerful instinct our mind possesses. By far.
There are two basic fears that impact human beings: (1 – fear of the unknown which, although I am listing it “first”, it is actually secondary and (2 – fear of bodily harm. The fear of bodily harm originates in our subconscious mind and it is the single strongest emotion we have; KEEP THIS BODY/ THIS “PERSON” ALIVE. (That sound you hear is your subconscious mind screaming at the top of its lungs).
The subconscious mind’s major job in fact is to “keep us alive”. It is the mind which runs our body; heart, lungs, etc. and it is the same instinct that motivates us to run away from bears in the woods and tigers in the jungle.
So … trying to TALK a child this age out of being scared … and most certainly trying to BULLY a child out of being scared through yelling, etc. … is NOT NOT NOT going to work.
This issue: “how to get out of the way of a pitch” and “sliding” are two issues which should be taught to the smaller children on a MANDATORY basis by the leagues. Most leagues have “slide” rules and many many children experience fear of being hit by a pitch at some point.
Here are some reasonable suggestions:
The proper way to avoid getting hit by a pitch is to have the player REACT by turning his/her head down by simultaneously TURNING and KNEELING DOWN and AWAY towards the BACK of the batter’s box. A right handed hitter for example would “turn his/her head/spin/kneel” all at the same time toward his/her right and the back end of the box; drop down onto his/her left knee; drop his head/batting helmet down; and drop his/her bat head down onto the ground.
Directions are simply reversed for a lefty; i.e. turn to the left.
What we do NOT want the hitter to do is to “back away” from the plate. This is exactly where a pitcher would throw if he/she was intentionally trying to hit the batter. If the player “ducks” …
… the player will turn their body into the smallest target available and offer the softest and least vulnerable parts to be hit; i.e. the back and the rear end of the batter.
Okay, showing the kids how to do that is first and, accompanied by some reasoning; i.e. “See and feel how little you are … what a small target you are … usually does the trick to alleviate a great deal of fear.
Continue to REASON with the child. Tell them that there is no INTENT on the pitcher’s part. No pitcher at this level is TRYING to hit a batter. If a pitch gets away, it is an ACCIDENT.
This alone offers comfort to many children. Intention is key in interactions and relationships. One can forgive an accident; but not necessarily forgive an “intentional” action.
A trick I have used is to get the child into the kneeling position and lob (what I call) “softies; i.e. cushioned … or “whiffle” balls onto their backs and bottoms and show them that the consequences are actually not all that intimidating.
A baseball is of course harder but it is generally quite amazing how much fear is alleviated by this “rehearsal” action; especially if repeated several times.
Finally explain to the child that they are, in fact, even REWARDED by getting a free trip to first base.
Most of the younger children have enough knowledge to know that getting to first is a “good thing” and will be rewarded with cheers and claps from the crowd and their teammates.
Reward for their troubles!!! Not a bad deal. There’s an old saying (in a variety of forms in basebal) which goes something on the order of …
“The pain will go away but the walk will last forever.”
Don’t force this issue. Go through and repeat this rehearsal UNTIL it works. Stay positive. Keep the dialogue centered on support and encouragement. Point out the other children having fun and participating and it WILL work.
TUNE IN TOMORROW for Part2.
The process works when we work the process so here is the process …
KAIZEN: Constant Improvement.
LEARN and GROW. Break it down!!! Slow it down!!! Do it Correctly!!!
HABITUATE: Correct habits. Do it correctly over and over and over again.
“If you are a player or parent or coach struggling with a performance issue or a coaching/teaching or even a “relationship” issue between players and coaches and parents that just isn’t responding to instruction and hard work, then call me now and let’s fix it. The tip I gave you in this article is just the start. If you’re sick and tired of competing with EITHER a MECHANICAL ISSUE that is impacting performance OR the twin gorillas; FEAR and DOUBT on your back and ready to be done with it, I’ve got a systematic process that takes care of any interference you have to the ultimate performance potential that you have seen short bursts of…and want to see it show up consistently! I can help make you feel great about who you are. Call me or email me right now while you’re thinking of it!” I work with clients all over the country by using video and ZOOM over the internet!!!