This is an excerpt from Play Practice-2nd Edition by Alan Launder & Wendy Piltz.
Softball and Baseball
Fortunately, the games of softball and baseball can be introduced through the lead-up game of tee ball, which simplifies the batting technique by allowing players to hit a stationary ball from a tee. The reduced perceptual and timing demands allow beginners to focus on developing a natural swing pattern as they strike the stationary ball. Other small-sided (3- to 5-a-side) games can be played as introductory activities using the diamond sector with a batting and fielding team structure. The equipment and scoring system can be varied in these games. For example, grip-ball pads and a Velcro ball can be used with beginners. The batter must throw the ball out and run the bases, scoring a point per base covered. While the batter runs, fielders gather the ball and throw it to each of the bases, calling stop when the ball reaches home base. Batters keep a tally of the total points they score in an inning before changing roles. Different balls and striking implements can also be used in these introductory games. The key factors in promoting learning in these introductory games are the following:
- Maximising the opportunity for learning through the use of small-sided sector games
- Shaping the appropriate play space to establish a fair contest between batters and fielders
- Selecting appropriate equipment for individuals in the class or group
- Allowing participants a degree of choice in the selection of equipment or play conditions
The following series of small-sided sector games can be used as a progression for introducing softball or baseball. The equipment can be chosen to suit the developmental needs of the group, and the dimensions of the game can be adjusted accordingly.
Sector Game With Scoring Zone
This game is described in the introduction, and it can be played initially with a group of 3 students per sector. The batter tries to hit the ball from the tee, past or over the fielders, and they tally the runs scored from 3 hits. Each player then rotates roles from batter to front fielder to back fielder, with each batter keeping their score. During these games, players focus on their batting technique, first ensuring they are set up an appropriate distance away from the batting tee with their bat back ready; second initiating a small leading step, turning the belly button forward to initiate the swing; and finally focusing closely on the ball as the arms extend and the bat drives through the ball. This game can easily be converted into a 3v3 game simply by combining groups from two sectors. When this occurs the batting team can have one player undertake the role of feedback giver who helps to coach using some of the key focus points introduced earlier.
Sector Games With Baserunning
As indicated in the introduction, the initial sector game can be extended simply by adding a rule that for any scoring hit to be valid, the batter must run and beat the ball to first base, which is positioned at a distance that will allow some chance of success. This adds another level of complexity to the sector game, increasing its alignment to the real game while still retaining a high level of participation.
It is possible to vary the playing area in sector games. For example, a smaller section of the diamond can be used for a 2v2 sector game. In this game, the boundary for fair and foul territory can be defined by a line extending from home through first base into the outfield and a line extending from home through second base into the outfield. An outfield boundary can be included by running a line of markers across from the extended lines. The distance between first and second base must be shortened, and a ‘fair hit line' 3 meters (10 feet) out from home base can be included to ensure the playing space can be covered by 2 fielders. The batter must strike the ball, land it within the boundaries, and then run to first base, scoring one point for making it safely. The fielders must gather the ball and get it to first base before the runner. If the runner makes it safely to the base, she is faced with a ‘forced run' to second base, when her team-mate has the bat. This means the player at first must run to second base as soon as the ball is struck and reach the base before the fielders gather the ball and throw it to second base. In this situation the fielders are faced with a decision of throwing the ball to either first or second base in order to get a batter out. They can of course try for a double play by quickly moving the ball to one base and then the other before either runner makes it safely. Once the baserunner reaches second base, she returns to home to continue batting in the next innings. The batting pair complete three innings, then tally their score (1 point for each safe base gained) before changing roles. The focus for this game can be directed to batting technique, baserunning, fielding, accurate throwing to bases, or specific components of games sense.
3v3, 4v4, or 5v5 Sector Games
Using All Bases (Diamond)
As indicated in the introduction, the natural progression is to include all bases in the diamond and to play either 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5 sector games. The number of players can be extended further depending on the class and the nature of the unit plan; however, small-sided game play has the benefit of involving more players in the action. When smaller numbers are included, it is important to adjust the bases in the diamond to create a fair contest for batters and fielders. It is possible to include a back boundary and a fair hit line forward of home base to ensure a fair contest. Home base for baserunners may also be moved about 10 metres (35 feet) to the side of its normal position, particularly when a batting tee is being used, to improve safety by avoiding congestion at this area. A batting team area can also be defined to ensure player safety. As outlined in the introduction, these games can be used to improve games sense, particularly in relation to applying an understanding of the rules and tactics.
The progression for sector games outlined above provides a platform for development for all aspects of skilled play. With beginners it is possible to initially play with a softer ball so that fielders do not need gloves, and batters can easily strike this ball from the batting tee. Gloves and the specific softball or baseball can be introduced at any time, through individual and partner challenges initially and then by returning to the variety of sector games using the mitt and either a softball or baseball.
Individual and Partner Challenges for Fielding Technique
Grip-ball pads are an ideal way to introduce players to the concept of catching the ball with a glove before they actually start using the mitt and a harder ball. This novel and engaging equipment promotes success, since the bright catching surface provides a good target for partners to throw to. The sound of the ball hitting the pad provides immediate feedback when a catch is made, and it is possible to extend the throwing range using the smaller ball. Learning to use the mitt for catching and fielding progresses on from using the grip-ball pad as a new challenge for individuals to master. The challenges and target games outlined in the lacrosse section can be applied. Some examples are outlined below.
- Players work with a glove and ball in their own space on individual challenges including catching the ball with the glove up high overhead and catching the ball as it drops lower with the glove held out in front. Throwing technique can be developed concurrently by including distance and accuracy challenges or by playing the bombardment game described in the cricket section.
- Partners can work co-operatively on throwing and catching, roll-and-field, and high-catch challenges. Combining techniques, variation, and time challenges all help to enhance motivation. These games can be developed into partner target games when the challenge is to try to roll the ball across your partner's endline as they try to field the ball and prevent it from getting past. Distances between partners and the length of the end zone can vary according to the individuals in the group. Similar games can be designed to improve high catching technique.
Striking the Moving Ball
Players can progress from striking the stationary ball on the tee to striking a moving ball fed cooperatively by a team-mate. The feeder positions themselves 3 to 4 metres away from the batter in line with home plate and at a right angle to it. The ball is fed to the batter using an underarm slow pitch with a level trajectory aimed at the front hip of the batter. This can initially be practiced in pairs with one player feeding the ball to their partner, who strikes the ball into a fence or net area. Once they become confident in feeding and in hitting the moving ball, they can revisit any of the earlier games, using this method to replace hitting from the tee. As mentioned in the introduction, once pitching has been introduced, it is possible to play sector games where the batting team provides the pitcher or where there is a restriction on the nature of the pitch. In these instances it is possible to play with a ‘backstop' who is positioned several metres back from home base, rather than including the role of ‘catcher' using full protective equipment. These pitching conditions allow a transition in game development to occur without letting the pitch completely dominate the game. Teachers will then need to decide whether it is appropriate to include full pitching and catching into the game using all of the appropriate safety equipment.