This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Baseball by Daniel Keller.
Drill 1 Thumbs Up, Pinkies Down
One bucket of baseballs, tennis balls, or safety baseballs; cones
This drill teaches the receiving position of the hands. It also provides an opportunity to teach athletes to use two hands when catching a ball.
Teach the athletes how to position their hands to most easily catch a baseball. Any ball above the belt requires that the thumbs be brought closer together so that the fingers point up to the sky (photo a). This ensures that two hands are used to catch the ball. Any ball below the belt requires that the pinkies be brought together (fingers point down to the ground) (photo b).
With the athletes facing you between the side-by-side cones, move through the receiving positions as a group. When you point up, the athletes should move their hands up, connecting their thumbs. When you point down, the athletes should flip their hands around so that the pinkies touch. The first part of this drill is simply to feel the hands turn over and move from “thumbs” to “pinkies.” The second part of the drill is to understand the concept of when to use each position—on a ball above the belt, use thumbs; on a ball below the belt, use pinkies.
1. Live tosses. Toss the ball in predictable locations so athletes can practice moving to the baseball. Have them start with their hands out at their sides, pointing straight out in front of their bodies with the palms facing each other. This way they can feel the hands move up and down from the same starting location.
2. Carry the tray. Instruct athletes to assume a position similar to a waiter carrying a tray full of burgers and fries. The palm of the glove hand should face the sky. Once the athletes are in that position, you should toss the baseball on an arc so that it will land just behind the athlete’s glove-side shoulder. Stand 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.5 m) in front of the athlete. Be sure to keep the tosses away from the athlete’s head. Encourage athletes to make sure the throwing hand clamps down on the baseball once it enters into the glove webbing.
Eyes up. Many young athletes will close their eyes or take their eyes off of a flying baseball. Obviously, this is a huge hindrance to their receiving ability and is a habit that must be broken. Use lots of patience and be sure to toss the ball well away from the body. As the athlete slowly learns to trust you and grows confident that the ball will not be thrown at him, his focus can naturally turn to catching the ball. Those athletes who are unsure about their own ability to catch the ball cannot waste any energy worrying about whether the ball will be tossed at them.
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