Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Lessons from the Pop Fly Catch #SOL18 #TWTBlog
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Slice of Life: Lessons from the Pop Fly Catch #SOL18 #TWTBlog


I look up.  My eyes follow the ball as it soars through the air.  As it begins to drop, I cover my eyes.  I can’t look.  My stomach churns in anticipation of the inevitable.

I relived this moment over and over again for years on the sideline of my son’s baseball games.  In Little League, the pop fly was stress provoking.  From the moment the ball left the bat, you knew someone’s night was ruined.  The vision of the ball hitting the green grass as all eyes rest on the player responsible for the drop is forever etched in my mind.


The player who was picking the daisies and didn’t see it coming.

The player who overran and missed it.

The player who got there had the glove perfectly positioned and then forgot to squeeze.

The players who each kept their eyes on the ball but didn’t see each other coming.


So many moments, that to this day I cannot see a pop fly without feeling a sense of dread -even at a Red Sox game.  Everyone surrounding me in the stands looks perplexed when I shriek and cover my eyes because the pop fly for experienced players is an easy out.  The pitcher tries to get the batter to hit a pop fly because it is the easy out.  Everyone else in the stadium is cheering and I am still on the sidelines of Little League.

I wonder how this play goes from the most difficult out to the easiest out for a baseball player.  When does this transition happen?  How do they learn to catch it with such precision?  Do the players still have a twitch of anxiety as they wait for the ball to land in their glove? What can we learn from these players and the moves the coaches make to teach them?

Here is what I know.  I sat and watched coaches hit endless pop fly balls at the players on my son’s team. They hit pop fly balls over and over and over again.  No matter how many times players dropped it, the coach hit it again.  The coach never stopped believing the players were learning. They didn’t give up because the players weren’t ready.  They didn’t give up because they thought they weren’t teaching it well.  They didn’t stop when they caught it once or twice.  They continued to hit pop fly balls to the player every practice over and over and over again.

Malcolm Gladwell shared the 10,000-Hour Rule in his book, Outliers.  According to this rule, it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master in most fields. He believes the key to success in any field, is simply a matter of practicing a specific task. (Outliers, 2008) The process “takes time,” he says. “You need to make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes.”  It seems to me coaches take this theory to heart over the lifetime of a baseball player.  My son’s coaches gave feedback, suggestions, and explicitly taught how to track the ball for years.  His coaches noticed and named what the players did and showed them how to do it better year after year.  Coaches expected approximation and knew it was going to take years to perfect this catch.

I think educators have a lot to learn from the 10,000-Hour Rule and how baseball coaches scaffold the pop fly.  We need to create space in our daily schedules for students to do the work, to approximate, to reflect, to learn, and to perfect.  We need to stop expecting students to learn how to do something after one or two lessons. If we teach it and they don’t learn it, it simply means they are in the zone of proximal development.  They need time for us to coach them as they continue to learn.

We have the opportunity to create this space each year, and we can also vertically create this space to get the 10,000 hours.  If we shift our stance on assessment from a deficit model to an opportunity model, we give our students six years in elementary school to perfect and experience success.  It feels that we may be so focused on meeting and exceeding standards that we miss planning for the journey along the way.  We need to spend more time in vertical teams planning for approximation and the time our students need to experience success.  How do we coach them?  How do we make connections to what they learned in the prior years?  How do we communicate where they are in the process to the following year’s teacher?  How do we move beyond numbers on a spreadsheet or data wall to gathering and sharing the information needed to celebrate approximation and scaffold success?

As teachers, we all get that churn in our stomach around this time of year.  We see 20-25 pop fly balls soaring towards us every day and we not sure we can catch them all.  We need to remember that we can’t catch them all and ultimately it is not our job to catch them all.  It is our job to teach each student how to catch the ball on their own.


  • Avatar
    Kevin Hodgson
    Posted at 11:08h, 13 November Reply

    Baseball and learning … nice connection.

  • Avatar
    Peter von Euler
    Posted at 23:58h, 13 November Reply

    This is really interesting. I think you’re right about the need for time. The other part, though, is that we need to give kids enough latitude to find the fun in the work. As a kid, I absolutely loved shagging fly balls. If someone was willing to hit flies to me, I would chase them down for hours. It was pleasure. It didn’t feel like practice, even though it was. I think reading is like that for some kids, but it’s harder to help kids find writing just as much fun, especially if they’re in a unit of study that doesn’t appeal to them. That’s one of the biggest obstacles for me.

  • Avatar
    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 01:11h, 14 November Reply

    So much goodness here., I might be encouraged to let a few balls drop myself. I’ve been pondering lately how to foster more independence and risk taking – maybe it’s about feeling that ball drop and knowing you can get back up and try again.

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 02:52h, 14 November Reply

    “My son’s coaches gave feedback, suggestions, and explicitly taught how to track the ball for years. His coaches noticed and named what the players did and showed them how to do it better year after year. ” THIS. Lucy said in a keynote that “perfect practice makes perfect” or something along those lines. It’s not just the doing to get to 10,000 hours, but the doing with intention–and in a lot of places there isn’t enough time and space for the approximations that catching pop-ups need in order to become routine.

    BTW, Wasn’t it George Scott who missed the pop up in a world series game?

  • Avatar
    Posted at 18:55h, 14 November Reply

    This post is an excellent reminder about what really matters when we’re teaching kids. It takes a lot of slow to grow. (Don’t know who said it, but it’s brilliant.)

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