We see you out there, alone on the mound, head bowed, your confidence waning. But we also see your bravery in getting out there in the first place. And your determination to finish two very long innings of work.
So we have prepared the following instruction manual for 9-year-old youth baseball pitchers:
First and foremost, nobody’s perfect. No one’s expecting you to throw a strike on every pitch. If you throw three strikes in a row, you’ll be voted into the 9-year-olds’ Hall of Fame.
All of us make errors. You will make your share. It’s OK. Learn from it, then forget it. Remember what Coach Ted Lasso said to his players in a TV series you probably didn’t watch: Goldfish have only a 10-second memory. They just move on. Be a goldfish when you’re on the mound. Just keep pitching.
If you walk six batters in a row, try not to stress out. Take a couple of deep breaths. Take four if you need to. Then keep pitching.
If you plunk a batter on top his helmet, your tears are admirable. It reveals your compassion. But keep in mind that at the rate of speed your pitch was traveling, it probably would not have killed the fly sitting atop that batter’s helmet.
If a batter hits one of your pitches, that’s good. It means you threw a strike! It also gives the fielders a ball to chase, which means they won’t be so bored. It will also get the parents and grandparents on the sidelines very excited. They love it when something resembling real baseball takes place.
Whatever you do, do not look at the batter. He or she is irrelevant unless they’re standing on top of the plate. Hopefully a coach (or the umpire) will direct them to the nearest batter’s box.
Your job is not to pitch to the batter. Pitch to the catcher, the second most important person in the game besides you. Pitch-catch. Pitcher-catcher. Play catch with the catcher. Disregard the kid who happens to be in the batter’s box. Throw the ball to the catcher’s mitt, preferably across home plate, preferably without the catcher having to stand up and hold his mitt high over his head.
After every pitch (unless a batter hits it), the catcher throws the ball back to you. But catchers are at a severe disadvantage, lumbering around in all that gear, looking like a fully-armored medieval knight heading toward some poor horse that is his only hope of forward progress. He then launches a tentative toss toward the mound with very little conviction, which lands precisely 1 foot in front of your mitt and bounces past toward the shortstop or second baseman who generally look astonished to see a ball trickling past them on the way toward the outfield grass. At least it gives them fielding practice. They then heave another tentative lob that bounces past the mound again. This happens four or five times before the ball finally reappears in your mitt. None of this is good for your concentration. So after each pitch, we advise walking toward the front of the mound to increase the likelihood that the catcher’s throw will reach your mitt on a fly. It’s more efficient and the walking will do you good.
No matter how many coaches call out well-intentioned directions, sometimes contradicting each other, don’t let it confuse you. Just keep pitching.
Some of the coaches’ reminders are valuable. Think about what they said at the end of the inning. Overthinking on the mound leads to temporary physical paralysis in most 9-year-olds. Keep it simple: Throw to the catcher, over the plate if possible. And don’t forget that the shortest distance between you and the catcher is a line-drive, not a loopy lob.
If the ball is wet because the coaches insist on playing through the rain, or if it gets coated in dust during the dry summer heat, untuck your jersey and rub the ball clean so it doesn’t slip out of your grip, which might cause the batters to suffer flashback nightmares later.
Above all, do your best. And if you stick with it and work at it year by year, your best will get better.
Pitching is a stressful position. All eyes are on you. If you’re the type of kid who shrugs off stress, it’s not a problem. If you’re the kind who doesn’t handle stress well, keep going back to the following basics:
No one’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We love you anyway. Take deep breaths. Wipe the ball clean. Focus on the catcher. Don’t overthink. When you throw a bad pitch, be a goldfish. Just keep pitching. And most important, keep in mind that no one is going to remember how you pitched when you were 9 years old. But we will remember how proud we were that you did.
Keep the previous paragraph on a piece of paper in your pocket. Pull it out and read it between pitches if you need to.
Then keep on pitching—for the rest of your life, even after you stop playing baseball.