Posts Tagged ‘preschool’

Feet Stuck in Cement? Try Balloon or Bubble Ball!

May 16, 2017

Baseball Balloons

So today I got a nice email from one of my BlastBall coaches who used the “Shield Ball” technique. Coach P’s kids had a great time, but she ran into an issue:

Thanks so much. We used the velcro paddles again yesterday – shield up, shield down and coaches were throwing. I need to find a better way to get the kids to use their feet to move towards the ball. I suppose, it’s just a certain fear that needs to be overcome with time.

Indeed, Coach P stumbled upon a key issue with young kids catching a ball in the air.  The combination of their focus on the right upper body mechanics combined with that Lizard Brain fear of that ball tends to pour cement around the kids’ feet.  Indeed if you picture just about any 3-5 year old trying to make their first catch, it is two hands outstretched with palms up, leaning over, with their feet so firmly planted on the ground you’d think there were roots growing from the bottom of those light-up sneakers.

So how do you change up this drill to get the kids using their “Crab Crawl” and shuffling their feet to the ball like we teach when they’re fielding grounders?

You don’t.

At least not at first.  As noted in the “First Catch” post, catching a ball in the air is hard, and if you’re using the ball and a Velcro pad where a pre-K kid may have maybe a second to make a reaction, you’re asking a LOT of a tot to get them moving their feet, too.

Instead of attempting to roll that particular boulder up the hill, let me suggest thinking about what kind of objects kids actually chase around that are already in the air.  Let’s skip butterflies, as those are hard to collect and a bit cruel to use.  Instead, let’s get round—balloons and bubbles.

Balloons (air filled, as it’s going to be a quick game if you use helium…) work wonderfully because as they float and move, they force kids to move their feet and track-and-catch.  And because they are light there is absolutely no fear.  Indeed, I’ve found it’s hard to get a kid not to chase after a loose balloon.

Bubbles work similarly.  Of course, there’s less of an opportunity to actually “catch” the bubble, but I have yet to meet the kid (or adult, come to think of it) who doesn’t enjoy bursting a bubble or two (metaphor sold separately).

So now that you get the general idea, here are some tips to use balloons or bubbles to get those kids moving their feet:

  • Bigger Balloons: I’ve tried a variety of sizes, and really your standard sized balloon works best, at least at first. The smaller balloons (say, like the size of a water balloon) works okay, but really doesn’t have the same length of lift or movement.  At least at first, you want the kids to have the time to see it, move their feet, track, and let it come down.  The smaller balloons can be helpful when kids have gotten the hang of it a bit more, and are a “fear-free” way to get kids catching once they’re moving their feet.
  • Bigger Bubbles: I’ve tried this a number of ways and I highly recommend the “bubble wands” where you can create a single, large bubble rather than the machines that let the bubbles fly free.  It is very difficult for young kids to focus on their footwork when there are a zillion bubbles darting around.  They want to run and pop ‘em all!  But the wands that make the big bubbles give you control.  You can make one big one, or a few at a time.  Not only are big bubbles super cool, you can keep them trained on a single target (which is what they’re supposed to be doing once a real ball comes into play) and make sure they are not just moving, but moving correctly.
  • Four-Way Footwork: Let’s talk movement. Like with ground balls, the most important movement we’re focused in on is that lateral shuffling of the feet (as mentioned earlier, I call it the “Crab Crawl”).  We don’t want them turning and running side-to-side and taking their eye off the ball.  Because of that, at the entry level I teach my kids to shuffle in every direction.  At higher levels of play, we replace a backwards shuffle with a “drop-step” back but I feel that’s WAY too advanced.  If they can shuffle their feet to the ball/bubble/balloon in any direction rather than just running after it, that’s a win.
  • High Flies vs. Low Throws: When using balloons (and to a lesser extent bubbles) you can control how high the object goes into the air.  For the high-flies, I’m a big fan of having the kids dispense with a glove, and even their hands.  Instead, their goal should be to allow the balloon to bop them in the nose.  This helps them track the ball longer and get the muscle memory to see the ball all the way in.  You can then progress to soft balls that combat gravity a bit less but still allow the kids to “bop” instead of catch.  With more straight-on throws, coaches can focus on the “catch-and-cover” method trying to get the player to “hug the ball.  This means putting their catching hand out like a shield (so “fingers up” or “fingers down”), but then wrapping the throwing arm around the balloon which will help them to understand how the throwing hand should help secure the ball with a regular two-handed catch.
  • Back to the Ball: Once the kids are getting the foot movement, it’s great to at least go one round at the end trying to do it with an actual ball. Even if they’re not immediately Willie Mays, it will help to reinforce the overall goal of putting the feet and the hands together.  Progressing back to the Velcro “shields” and telling them which direction the ball will be going can help stair-step their development.
  • It Works for Hitting, Too: I play a game called “Bubble Blasters” where I give the kids pool noodle bats and let them whack at bubbles, giving them extra points if they can burst one using the proper technique. You can use a soft bat for this, too, but pool noodles give you extra safety and can allow you to have multiple players giving it a go at the same time.  Balloons can work here, too, though they don’t have quite the same satisfying pop as taking a big ole’ bubble downtown.  For the more advanced players and/or on hot days, this game with water balloons can be a ton of fun (and a great game for a baseball-themed party).

So there you have it.  First catching without a glove, and now without a ball!  I’m good as long as it’s not catching without a coach…

Have FUN out there!

Bossy on the Baseball Field

May 23, 2014
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That tickle monster wasn’t about to touch Tenley!

She stood there, pink pool noodle held aloft like a light saber, just awaiting her opportunity. The boys were trying to whack me silly as I dashed, darted, and tried not to think about the plantar fascitis that’s cropped up since I started trying to keep up with the preschool crowd. Sometimes I’m not sure if this whole coaching thing is keeping me young, or making me fully feel all of my middle age.

After a few cursory bops, little Tenley decided to hang back, her eyes fixated on the small black bag that dangled over my shoulder. For inside was the cornucopia of Fuzzy Flies I would occasionally toss in the air. For in my “Super Silly Sluggers” game, bopping me with the noodle was worth one point, but if you could take a real baseball swing and hit a fuzzy when I tossed it in the air, it was worth 10.

Tenley didn’t want to play. She wanted to win.

And that’s the way she’s been since I met her. Verbal, intense, and always wanting to let you know what she thinks about baseball, stuffed animals, her vacation plans—you name it.

This little girl is the poster child for the #BanBossy movement started by Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”

She is also the poster child for why that movement is wrong.

BanBossy-ButtonOther than its alliterative quality, the attempt to ban a word is about as good an idea as trying to force a verbal and intense child into becoming a quiet, good little girl. It doesn’t work, as this excellent piece by the LA Times explains, and ends up reinforcing all the negatives rather than channeling the power of that word (or child) to become its best self.

A few weeks before, we had played a different game with our puffer ball friends. “Hustle!” she implored as Andy casually ambled over to pick up the evil, alien fuzzy fly he had vanquished by allowing it to bop off his nose “Go put it in the box!” she pled, her little pink shoes darting up-and-down anxiously.

Again, Tenley was dead serious. The Kinhaven Preschool Sparkling Stars had to save the world. And Tenley was darned well going to make sure they made it happen.

This “Fuzzy Flies” drill, which begins the Spaceball! section of my FUNdamentals class, is one of my absolute favorites. It really combines so many great aspects of baseball. This game is ostensively about introducing kids to catching fly balls. But for many kids, it is much more than that.

lizard brainIt’s about learning how to face our fears. For allowing a ball to bop you in the nose challenges that “Lizard Brain” that makes you want to turn away from what might be dangerous rather than to stare it down. And turning away from a fly ball is the very best way to be hurt by it. I think there’s a metaphor in there somewhere…

Of course, I have to don pair of those googly alien antennae on top of my cap, because, well, I just have to. Then in my best retro-1950’s alien voice, I begin.

“Greetings Earthlings! From deep space, an army of lethal Fuzzy Flies are descending. If 10 of them land on the ground, they will multiply into millions and take over the world! There is only one way to deactivate them, and that’s to bop them with your nose!”

Tenley, as usual was a star. But she knew she couldn’t do it alone.  So she was ready to take charge and make sure the job got done. And then when we played “CoachN Says” she made sure that when others might be going for one of my clever tricks by being extra silly, that the goofy guys on the team didn’t take the bait.

Leaders have to be bossy—by nature they tend to be “idea people” that are thinking along with whatever is happening, and volunteer their opinions quickly and forcefully. It is a great trait to have.

Baseball, however, is a team game, and what I’ve noticed about kids like Tenley is that they by nature feel like they know what they’re doing and want to be in control. Neither are bad traits, indeed they are great ones. But, much like the word “bossy” they can be expanded beyond their traditional notion.

With Tenley, it all started with, “The Tale of Gus & Coach Grumpy Pants” (yes, I will write that story here). The notion being that by clapping and cheering for your teammates and making them feel better, you are helping the whole team, and therefore, yourself. And with every game we played, when she started to get a little anxious for her turn, I reminded her that there was no way she’d get the sticker for her hat unless everyone contributed.

I saw all this manifest in Tenley near the end of our first session. It was our very last fuzzy flies game. This time the kids had the balls and were throwing them at me, gaining a point for every hit. When I yelled “FREEZE!” the kids had to use proper form to throw it at me. I gave them a choice of 2, 5, or 10 point throws, and I move to an appropriate distance back to let them have at it.

As per usual, they managed to win the game, and we were at the end of our time. But as I was running to get the star stickers to adorn their hats, I heard Tenley’s voice. “Coach-Coach-Coach!” she yelled anxiously. To be honest, I was tired, and really wanted to dole out the stickers and go home. I turned around about to tell Tenley that we needed to get a move on, when I saw Mark standing cross legged, bottom lip quivering. “Mark never got a turn!”

Of course, I apologized to Mark, and gave him a couple of extra throws to bop the old coach, but I gave Tenley the biggest high-five his preschool shoulder could handle, knelt on the ground, looked her straight in the eye, and said, “Now that is what being a teammate is all about.” She smiled as if she had just scored the winning run.

It was then I knew what her nickname would be—the only nickname I’ve given to two different players—Cap. For while one of my captains feared competition at first, and the other started wanting to do nothing else, both of them found themselves as leaders, using the best of what they are to make themselves and others better.

To me, that is the best of bossy. And both that attitude and that world should be celebrated.

So if Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t like bossy, she can send it over to me on the baseball field any old day.