Your child asks to play baseball – now what?

One day, seemingly out of left field, your child says, “I want to play baseball.”

Kids all over Canada are saying the same thing, out of the blue… Blue Jays, that is. Thanks to a widespread outbreak of Blue Jays fever, youth baseball registration is on the rise. Baseball Canada reports that in 2016, participation in organized baseball grew by 15,000 players nationwide, a 14% increase from the previous year. Some regions, particularly around the Toronto area, are seeing a spike of 25% or more.

If a would-be Troy Tulowitzki in your family is showing a sudden interest in the sport, you may have questions, such as:

WHAT’S THE FIRST THING I SHOULD DO?

Play catch with them, says Trevor Nyp, general manager of Playball Academy Canada, an indoor baseball and softball training facility in Kitchener, Ontario. “My number one suggestion would be to take your child outside and just have fun throwing the ball around,” he says. He advises keeping the throwing distance short at first, to build confidence. To help teach accuracy, Nyp says kids should begin by “pointing at their partner with their glove arm as they pull the ball back with their throwing arm. As they throw, they should step toward the target with their opposite foot.”

If your child wants to try batting, Nyp advises using a hitting tee and a junior-sized bat. Set up some makeshift bases and review simple rules like which direction to run, the difference between “safe” and “out,” and so on. Nyp also suggests watching some baseball with your child and discussing what you see. “Exposure to professional or amateur baseball helps beginners understand simple concepts of the game,” he says. Tune in to a Blue Jays broadcast or go to a local youth baseball game to watch a cousin or neighbour.

WHERE CAN WE GO FOR MORE?

If you need more space than your backyard offers – in other words, if you’re tired of retrieving fly balls that went over your neighbour’s fence – head to a nearby diamond or open field. You can also do an online search for a local baseball training centre. Their staff will be able to provide expertise and advice based on your child’s goals and stage of development. You may want to book some time in the batting cage or invest in a private lesson. While a one-on-one session with a qualified instructor is effective to refine a young player’s skills, Nyp encourages parents to stay closely involved. “A lesson can help reveal how motivated the child is and how he or she responds to constructive feedback,” he says. “When I’m instructing, I want parents to listen in so they can use the same teaching points when they’re playing with their child later on.”

WHAT ABOUT JOINING A TEAM?

Baseball and softball registration occurs in early spring, and many local associations will host an open house or free “try it” clinic where kids can practice a variety of skills in a low-pressure environment. A March Break baseball camp may also be a useful short-term experiment before signing up for a full season. Check your local baseball or softball association’s website for details about pre-season events, as well as an overview of the various divisions or age groups.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED TO BUY?

“A newcomer doesn’t need very much to get started,” says Nyp. Youth teams typically provide uniforms, hats, bats and additional protective gear for the catcher and pitcher positions. Your child will need a proper-fitting baseball glove, a batting helmet and athletic footwear (running shoes or baseball cleats).

MY CHILD PLAYED A DIFFERENT SPORT LAST SUMMER. WILL HE BE ‘BEHIND’ THE OTHER KIDS?

“It’s never too late to try something new,” says Nyp. “In fact, baseball can be a drag to very young children who aren’t quite ready for the sport’s mental demands.” If your rookie player is enthusiastic and keen to learn, you will be amazed at how quickly he will pick up new skills. Both structured and unstructured play are beneficial, so encourage free play as well. Have him bring his glove to school and invite friends to toss a tennis ball at recess. The way things are going with baseball these days, others will be joining in before you can say Josh Donaldson.