Sports parenting: Help! My son is afraid of the ball

This week I will address the sports parenting issue: “Help, my son is afraid of the ball!” 

A sportsparent asks:

My son loves to play and understands the game but is afraid of the ball. He played baseball Fall/Spring when he was 4. At 5 we joined a team that was crazy good and played with them Fall/Spring in modified coach pitch, 5 pitches if they miss then they get 3 swings off the tee. Now at 6 it’s the fall season and this league is much more relaxed and it’s all about having fun, they don’t even keep score until spring. It is 7U coach pitch. 

He cannot catch it. He moves out of the way and it’s super frustrating. He can field grounders and if the ball bounces before it gets to him he can get it. Last night while playing catch he kept stepping back away from the ball. I had him stand against a brick wall so he could not move back away from the ball and he actually closed his eyes when the ball came towards him.

My husband said if he can’t catch by the end of fall he doesn’t want him to play spring ball. He is a strong hitter. I think it’s too early to decide to pull someone from baseball at six and to give him time. My husband disagrees and thinks if those boys are throwing a ball to him and he’s still afraid of it he is going to get hurt.

My question is how do you get a little boy over his fear of the ball, or will he ever get over it?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

There are really two issues I want to address in this question: first, the issue of helping a child not be afraid of the ball and second, the issue of whether the child should play when he is afraid of the ball.

First, how can you help you child get over his fear of the baseball/softball?

I had to go to my husband-coach for this one. He has coached sports (football, softball, basketball) for 28 years.  He suggested that you begin by playing catch with your child with a tennis ball and with only a few feet separating you. Begin with grounders being gently rolled and teach him to open his arms wide, one to scoop the ball on the bottom, the other to scoop the ball on the top, like an alligator’s mouth. From there it is a small progression to tossing gently, moving farther apart, and then eventually moving up to a regular ball and glove and throwing harder. The idea is to get him totally comfortable with each stage of the progression. And always, always encourage.

Second, should your child still play when he is afraid of the ball?

I tend to agree with your husband on this one. Your son is only 7; he has plenty of time to play sports if he wishes. Waiting a couple of years until he is more mature and ready to handle the ball is not a bad idea. What’s the rush? You’re not preparing him for college at 7 years of age. If he plays in fear, closing his eyes and backing away from the ball, there is a much greater chance of him getting hurt. Some kids can really throw hard! If he doesn’t outgrow his fear of the ball, then maybe baseball is not the sport for him.

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  1. says

    I think your husband has a great idea about starting your son off with a tennis ball. In fact I have even used a pair of socks or a wiffle ball. The key is making sure that they understand that the ball cannot hurt them. Then slowly as they begin to succeed their confidence will increase and you can begin to progress. This happened to me when I was about 10 yrs old playing travel softball. I was fielding a hard hit ball and it hit me in the shin really hard! After that I was constantly fielding the ball to the side in fear that it would hit me. It took a while to get rid of that bad habit but eventually after practicing I changed my ways. I strongly believe in what Yogi Berra once said “Baseball is 90% mental, and 10% physical.” I know at this age there is a lot of physical to be learned but if they believe in themselves then they will do it. Stay positive and keep encouraging your son! One day it will just connect!

    • Janis says

      Yes, Sara, I’ve heard that Yogi Berra quote too and it is so true. Sox and wiffle balls are great ideas too. Actually, my husband coached high school softball for years and one of their hitting drills was with wiffle balls. Thanks for your thoughts!

      • says

        Actually, the Yogi Berra quote is “baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” Either way, extremely true and applicable!

  2. says

    Great article Janis and very good advice from your coach husband for the little ones. I’ve worked with a number of teens who actually develop this problem later, usually after sustaining an injury. At that point, there is some internal conflict resolution that needs to be corrected at the subconscious level. I use guided visualizations to help them do this.

    • Janis says

      For sure, Craig. Older kids are another issue, I think. He worked with some girls in h.s. softball who seemed a bit timid. His approach was a little more different than with young kids.

  3. says

    What good advice. The practice with a not hard ball is so simple and a good way to get your young athlete used to just dealing with the ball with the added benefit of quality time with Mom or Dad. The fear of getting hurt is a forever issue in sports. When kids are little there doesn’t seem to be an upside to playing through the fear. That said, a child who loves sports is going to deal with that same issue every season. The experience in my house was that my sons who loved sports were happy to play any sport that involved a ball, so maybe looking at other sports is a good alternative.
    Thanks for always offering thought provoking posts!

  4. says

    Ahh I was a coach and sports mom. I sure miss these days.. my kids too were afraid of the ball. I think they learned that fear from me. I got my front teeth knocked almost completely out with a ball. Yikes.. it was my fear the whole time!!! I am happy to report that my childern got over this fear and my college aged daughter is playing softball for charity and fun!!! I love the ideas you have and will use it with my granddaughter.. Thanks Coach!!!
    YouCanDo group

  5. says

    Awesome advice! I love your hubby’s recommendation to start off slow and the use of a tennis ball..if only parents would get more involved…sadly I’ve seen many parents that expect the coaches to do it all which of course is impossible, since practice makes perfect:) I also love your’s okay to step back allow the child to mature a bit more before continuing. Thanks for sharing :)

  6. says

    I just love how you are such an inspiration to so many parents who have children in sports! I would have loved to have had access to this great information that you share on your blog, when my boys were in sports. :)

  7. says

    My heart goes out to you….when it’s your child your whole being is involved in solving the problem….I know I have an only son and it’s totally consuming…I would not force him to play at all until he is older and until then play with him at home gently showing him the ball is no threat….good luck to you…

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