(This may seem out of left field for some of my readers, but here’s some helpful info for folks with young baseball players. And baseball season is upon us–YAY!)
Okay, Mom and Dad, consider this scenario: You’re sending your kid down a dark alley where flesh-eating zombies lurk. Your child may carry one weapon, either a 4-foot-long broom handle or a 30-foot-long utility pole.
Which would you choose?
Though my Texas pals might balk, bigger is often not better. That’s certainly the case with youth baseball equipment.
I’ve had the maddening joy of coaching kids at every level in baseball, from tee-ball to high-school-age state tournament teams. At every level I’ve seen kids struggle because of one common mistake—they’re using gear that doesn’t fit them.
I realize that buying your kid a new bat and glove shouldn’t be rocket science. However, there’s a lot to consider (way more than I’ll attempt to address here), but I have a few tips to help you pick what’s best for your kid.
Bats can be insanely expensive, so I understand the urge to get your kid one they can “grow into.” I also realize that many folks equate big hits with a big bat (that mental image of Junior taking his victory lap after that walk-off homerun is awfully alluring). However, when it comes to baseball bats, bigger usually means slower and sloppier. I’ve seen countless kids struggle with a bat that’s just too big for them; as a result, they develop all kinds of bad swing habits.
Hitting coaches will tell you, big hits come from bat speed through the hitting zone, and swinging the right size bat is a critical component. A bat that’s even an inch too long can wreak havoc with a kid’s ability to hit a baseball (which is already among the hardest things to do in all of sports).
I’ve seen dozens of height/weight charts for selecting the correct bat length, but there’s an easy method to figure out what’s best for your child.
ARM Them With The Right Bat Length
This is nothing groundbreaking (I think I stole this idea from MLB’s Tony Gwynn), but not enough folks know this easy trick.
To determine the proper bat length for your kid, have them hold an arm out to one side. Place the knob of a bat on the kid’s sternum and hold the bat against the outstretched arm. In that position, your child should be able to bend their fingers around the barrel and touch the top center of the cap. If they can’t, that bat’s probably too long. If their entire wrist folds over the bat, it’s too short.
If you’ve already purchased a new bat and you’re just now discovering that it’s too long, relax. As long as the bat’s not too heavy (I’ll address that shortly), just use the ARM method in reverse to figure out where their hands should go. Have them touch the top-center of the bat as described earlier. Place the bat handle against the chest and see where it meets the sternum. That’s where their bottom hand should go (i.e., “choke up” to that point).
As stated before, the best hitters have the greatest bat speed through the hitting zone. For this reason, your kid needs the lightest bat possible. Consider some MLB scandals: before steroids became as common as bubblegum, guys would illegally “shave” and “cork” their bats to gain a hitting advantage. Lighter is better, and this is critical for youngsters. As they grow and develop their skills, they’ll start moving into heavier bats. But if they start out swinging a log, here’s what develops: feet all over the place; off-balance; helmet rocking around like a bobble-head; hands out too far as the bat swings the player (instead of the other way around) … and sulking as they head to the dugout after strike three.
Bat Weight Dispersal
Pick two different bats with the exact same measurements, and the WAY your kid swings them might be totally different. All bat models are weighted differently. Some are evenly balanced from grip to barrel; some have more “meat” at the end. My oldest son (who now plays college baseball), struggled at a young age with bats his friends were using to crush the ball. Even though the size and weight fit him perfectly, the way the bat was weighted didn’t match his swing.
How do you figure this out? Swing before you buy!
Most sporting goods stores have a place where your kid can safely swing a bat. After determining the right size, we always grabbed a few different models and asked to use the store’s indoor driving range. They would set us up with some wiffle balls and I’d have my son swing away until he figured out which one felt the best. I watched his mechanics, but I was really looking to see which bat he wielded with the most confidence.
To be short and sweet, the same rule applies: smaller is often better, especially for young players. I once coached a kid who took a lot of good-natured ribbing from his buddies because of his “baby” glove. However, this kid was one of the top infielders in the league and had some of the best hands I’d ever seen. He completely controlled the glove, and that’s what you want. If your kid’s hand disappears inside the glove, it’s too big. You want to be able to see the base of the palm. Also, most gloves are now game-ready, meaning your kid should be able to open and close it with ease.
Keep in mind, these are just some pointers (there are always exceptions and variations). However, before buying any gear, check with your child’s league about specific regulations (especially with bats—what’s “legal” changes all the time, and you don’t want to buy that $300 stick only to learn that it’s now banned).
Please share this with the baseball parents in your world. Some of them will thank you for it (and so will their kids).