T-ball is a game played around the world by children between the ages of 4 and 8. It is the entry sport for baseball and softball, says Bing Broido, author of The Baffled Parent's Guide to Coaching Tee Ball. T-ball is a modified version of baseball, played without pitching. Instead, players hit the ball off an adjustable tee. Most t-ball teams are coached by interested parents with varying degrees of t-ball expertise. Volunteer coaches focus not on winning or losing but on activities to teach the children baseball fundamentals, sportsmanship and love of the game.
Teaching Catching and Throwing
To work on speed and accuracy of throwing and catching, have the children form two circles that will race each other. The size of the circles will depend on the ages and skill levels of the players. The first player in each circle will toss the ball to the next, then immediately sit down. The second player turns and tosses the ball to the player on the other side and sits down. The object is to be the first circle sitting down. If a ball is thrown out of the circle, the player catching it must return to the circle before throwing it to the next player.
Set a big box, cooler or other container on one of the bases and have the children throw or bounce a ball into it from the outfield. Broido suggests turning the activity into a game by giving 10 points for getting the ball into the container, five points for hitting the container, and one point for the nearest bounce. This activity will help the players learn throwing accuracy.
Children may have a fear of balls hitting them, making it hard to learn fielding skills. When hitting balls to the players--or having them catch, coaches should begin with rubber balls or spongy balls to reduce this fear, gradually progressing to tennis balls and soft practice tee balls. Have the children lay their gloves aside and, using the soft balls, hit grounders or roll the ball to them so that they can pick up and throw back bare-handed. Then, hit balls to the left or right of players at infield locations. Insist on the fielding stance: crouched forward, glove open and down. The closest player to the ball should field it by moving with a step-slide, or crab-walking, three or four steps to the right or left, then throwing it back.
Teaching Base Running
Running the bases can be exciting for energetic children. Have two players both begin at home plate, suggests the T-Ball USA website. One player runs toward first base and the other takes off toward third. The race is on to see who makes it back to home plate first and steps on all the bases. To make sure players don’t collide at second base, have the first-base runner step on the outside corner of the bag and the third-base runner step on the inside corner.
Coaches should always include batting sessions in t-ball practice. While other coaching activities are going on with other parent volunteers supervising, pull the children off the field one by one to work on their batting stance and swing. Later, give each child several chances to hit the ball off the tee without worrying about running to first base. This will give the children both batting and fielding practice. At the end of your practice, play a short game of at least two innings to allow the children to put it all together.