One thing I learned in my 25 years coaching youth baseball is that there is no perfect way to coach hitters.I never considered myself an expert at teaching young 7-12 year-old ball players the most refined hitting techniques. The most success I’ve had with improving hitters’ techniques is when I didn’t over coach them. And I’m aware that many parents take their kids to private hitting instruction every week.
I’ve attended my share of baseball conventions and hitting clinics. Sometimes I came away more confused than when I went in. The hitting coaches I enjoy the most are the ones that simplify not just the hitting technique itself, but the explanation so young players will understand it. Most of the speakers at these clinics have incredible knowledge about hitting, but I believe many should work on targeting their lessons to younger players. The best speaker I ever saw was Bobby Woods because I could understand everything he said. Bobby later helped me produce a hitting video Hitting Drills & Techniques that has been viewed by a large audience. As far as what I see in hitting I’d like to share the five biggest mistakes I see young players make year in and year out and what I do to correct them.
Mistake #1 is a batter stepping towards third base with his front foot. For lefty hitters it would be stepping toward first. For young players, this might be the most common hitting mistake I see. Instead of stepping toward the pitcher or even just lifting the front foot and putting it down, many players step toward third.This can also throw off the whole rhythm of the player’s swing and also reduce the amount of power the player can put into the swing. If the batter does make contact and hits the ball fair, the ball usually is a grounder to the right side of the infield. This hitting flaw is easy to recognize. To correct it can take time. What I do is take two pieces of 2x4 wood, each about 36” long. Putting them on each side of the player’s feet during batting practice will force his front foot from stepping to the side. Very rarely do players actually step into the wood while batting. Coaches should have the batter practice stepping without even swinging for a few pitches. One session alone will usually not solve the problem, but over a period of time this can work more often than not with most young players. You can also use two bats, but I prefer wood because the bats can roll.
Mistake #2 is when the batter takes too big a step forward toward the pitcher. Many hitting coaches teach that batters need to limit excessive movement of the head. Some hitting coaches are even teaching their hitters that they do not have to step forward as long as they lift their front foot up and put it down when transferring their weight. When a player takes an extra big step, his head can drop a good 4-6” or more. Plus, stepping too far forward can limit the batter’s hip rotation and power. To help curb this, I will take a flat piece of wood, like a piece of ¼” plywood 4”x 36” long. This would have to be cut to size. I put it about 6-8” in front of the player’s front foot. He has to avoid stepping on it. Again, the coach or parent must give the player numerous repetitions to reinforce the muscle memory of the act.
Mistake #3 is when players lift their head too soon. Everyone who ever hit a baseball or a softball wants to see the result of their effort. At the youth level, batters will sometimes move their heads prematurely, losing sight of the pitched ball. This is almost equivalent to a batter closing his eyes and trying to hit the ball.
Young players tend to do the same thing when hitting off a batting tee. First, I have the player hit off the batting tee, and he must yell “hit” upon contact. This forces them to focus more and they will tend to keep their head and eye on the ball. The second technique is to color code a few balls. I usually use blue painter’s tape on some, yellow duct tape on others, and keep some unmarked. We have blue, yellow, and white balls. Do not over mark the balls with the tape. One small slice about two inches on each side is sufficient. A coach will throw the balls and the batter must track or follow the baseball into the catcher’s glove. He will then call out the color of the pitched balls once he recognizes the tape on it. The next step in this drill is to have the batter hit and yell out the color after swinging and making contact. I’ve had pretty good results with these two drills.
Mistake #4 is when a player stops his swing. I can’t tell you how many young players I’ve seen who have a tendency to not swing through the baseball. This happens when a player makes contact with the ball. His swing all of a sudden slows down. We all know the importance of the follow through. Again, the batting tee has given me the best results. I stand next to the hitter and just tell him to swing through the ball. This is a process that can take a while. Having the batter take numerous practice swings is also a good idea.
Mistake #5 is the upper cut. To help solve this, I use the “Chair Drill.” I set up a batting tee with a chair just behind it. When the batter swings, the bat must go past the highest part of the chair first. When swinging and trying to hit the ball off the tee, the batter must avoid hitting the back of the chair.
I like to use the term swinging “high to low.” The player understands this and knows what he has to do in this drill. In batting practice, I also ask my players to try hitting only grounders without chopping down on the baseball. This also helps solve the upper cut issue.
For these remedies to work, repetition is the key. With young players, keep it simple. My own “Hitting 101” lesson is the soft toss drill 6-10 feet from a fence or a wall with rag balls (rags wrapped in masking tape). I then tell the hitter he must try to hit the ball so it lands at eye level or lower. I have no scientific proof, but when the hitter does hit the ball at eye level or lower, it seems the batter is doing more things correct than not.
Hitting instructors are incredibly knowledgeable. They must convey their theories so both the hitter and the layman coach, like me, can understand the common nuances of this great skill. We all have to keep it simple and supplement all instruction with relevant hitting drills.
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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