The Case For No Gloves In Youth Baseball & Softball!
Playing baseball or softball without gloves seems foreign and antiquated. I maintain Little League and Tee Ball experiment with players not using gloves. Before you decide to commit me and throw away the key, take a deep breath, relax and I’ll explain why playing baseball and softball without gloves for say the first two or three games of the season may lead to better ballplayers in the long run. I’m not looking to put the glove manufacturers like Wilson or Rawlings out of business. In fact if my theory holds true then the glove companies will even realize better sales in the long run.
The baseball glove is one of the most wonderful pieces of equipment ever invented. It has become part of a player’s body so to speak and the best players in baseball can do magical things with their glove. If you are a baseball fan as old as me, you may remember the 1970 World Series and the incredible fielding plays by third baseman Brooks Robinson. It was like his glove was programmed to go where the ball was going to be. Imagine if our kids were able to make those kind of plays? Well maybe. But from what I have seen too many young players are becoming dependent on their gloves.
Some young players seem to just put their glove out and expect the catch to be made automatically rather than work to make the play. I’ve seen too many young players reach for the ball and thus they never move their feet laterally toward the ball the way they should. Young kids have got to be taught to move their feet. Just because parents spent two hundred dollars on a glove, doesn’t mean it will automatically make the play without the correct effort by the player. Life doesn’t work like this. A surgeon doesn’t become good because he is handed the best scalpel made just as a professional golfer doesn’t make a 15-foot putt every time just because he has an expensive golf club.. So how can we take the gloves off our young baseball, softball and tee ball players and get improvement at the same time? And this is from someone who constantly is preaching the virtues of the baseball glove that infielders can stop the ball with their glove and not necessarily catch it and still make the play. Here we go:
1) For Tee Ball if the season is 10 games long, the first two are played without gloves with an adult playing catcher. For this there will have to be a few changes. First off a very soft covered ball has to be used. I don’t care if it is a nerf ball or something similar. If the bats have to be adjusted for the ball then do it. Keep in mind in tee ball many parents have never bought a glove before. And when they do, they go to the toy store and see in the sports section a sign that says “Official Tee Ball Gloves” which are nothing more than something that looks more like a pancake rather than a glove and is almost impossible to catch a ball. Probably something made overseas.
2) For the third tee ball game I would distribute gloves with velcro in the pocket and have the hitters hit a ball with velcro on it so when the players tries to catch it, it sticks. There is nothing like developing confidence and muscle memory.
3) I would then move to real gloves. This “progression method” will work as long as the coach practices with his team correctly. Ideally if leagues can do it financially they should provide tee ball players with their first glove. This will ensure correct gloves are used.
4) For older players 7 and 8 I would try the “no glove” method also for two games. Provide the pitcher with a glove (mostly as protection) if that age group pitches and of course the catcher. But encourage and challenge the rest of the team to play without their gloves for at least a couple of games. Again safety is the most important part of youth sports and unless the right ball and parameters are set before the season, gloves will have to be used. But as young players leave baseball for other sports, it is up to parents and coaches who love the game to think outside the box. We have to make the game more interesting with stimulating practices and better teaching of skill techniques. We all know that baseball is slow compared everything accessible to kids today including video games. But the effort has to be made to retain players in baseball.
Marty Schupak has coached youth baseball for 25 years. He is a national speaker and his youth baseball coaches clinic "T-Ball and Beyond" has been attended by thousands of youth coaches around the world. Many of his players have gone on to play in high school, college and beyond. His latest book "Baseball Coaching: A Guide For The Youth Coach And Parents" has been required reading for some leagues.