Coaching hitting lessons I learned along the way
Of the over 65,000 baseball lessons I have given over the years, I know there is some percentage of lessons that did not work. I don’t believe that was because of what I was teaching. it had to do with little-known factors of coaching hitting that took me years and many lessons to comprehend.
Like me, many hitting coaches have the best intentions, but there are some thoughts that are easy to make that hurt more than they help. Of course, every hitter is different, so it doesn’t mean every scenario below messes every player up. But, coaches should be aware of the possible dangers of the following coaching hitting views.
Coaching hitting views that lead to bad advice
#1 – Thinking a player is taking his eye off ball when they swing and miss
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Every time a young player swings and misses or strikes out, most adults yell, “Keep your eye on the ball.” They believe that is the reason for a lack of contact. I have rarely seen a player take their eye off the ball on purpose, if at all, but their swing mechanics causes them to pull their head. Addressing the player’s baseball swing mechanics solves the taking the eye off the ball issue. Players will begin to understand what over-swinging means with the correct fundamentals. It also helps to point out that hitting is hard in the first place, pitchers make good pitches and some pitchers are dominant. All those contribute to players missing balls, too. My coaching tip – “I want you to swing as hard as you can, but control your head when you do.” “You get three strikes for a reason, if you miss two balls and belt the third, you still accomplish the goal.”
#2 – Thinking what a player does on the batting tee or with flipped balls is what they will do with live hitting
If only it were that easy. Many hitters look like all stars on the batting tee and with coach flipped balls, but it all changes when facing a pitcher. The change may occur in batting practice, but if not then, when facing a game pitcher. The fear factor comes into play for many young hitters, and timing is always a difficult thing to perfect. Coaches often spend a great deal of time based on what players do on the tee, only to find out everything is different when facing a pitcher. For that reason, I always try to pitch a few balls to players before going to work on the batting tee. My coaching tips – “Let’s take a few swings to see what is going on before we do some tee work.” “Hey, that’s great, you proved you could do it right on the tee, now we just have to apply that to the game.” “It will come, you are so close because I saw you do it correct with the flipped balls.”
#3 – The opposite of the above, thinking tee and flip work are a waste, and only taking batting practice
Because working some on the tee doesn’t bring immediate results in a player’s swing, many feel it doesn’t help. But, getting enough repetition to perfect one’s hitting mechanics without batting tee and flipped ball practice is rare. Additionally, it is difficult to make swing changes with a pitched ball. Diverting the mind between watching the ball and one’s swing fundamentals is counterproductive. My coaching tip – “You get timing from batting practice, but the best swing comes from the practice on the tee and with flips. You need both.”
#4 – Thinking All Hard Hit Balls in Batting Practice are the result of the right swing
Batting practice is usually performed with non-game like pitches, so it is easy to look like a great hitter then. That is OK because coaches want players to have confidence going into games. But, batters can get away with poor mechanics and inadequate timing in batting practice, but those flaws show up in games. As a coach, I am always telling players the direction they should have hit balls that would give them the best chance of success based on the pitch location. In that way, players develop a better ideas of the correct swing, timing and bat control. My coaching tip – “Wouldn’t you rather have hit a foul ball than a little dribbler to the pitcher on that pitch.” The point is that the proper swing fouls off tough pitches, the incorrect swing often puts balls into play but weakly. “You can get away with that swing in practice, but not in games.”
#5 – Thinking the way to challenging hitters is with speed
Many accomplished hitters’ careers came to a demise because they could not adjust to slower pitches. When I tell players, “Here comes a tough one,” it is almost always a slow one. I want them to understand that anyone can hit the same speed after a while. Adjusting to different speeds and keeping the same swing for all speeds is the key to success. Of course, throwing game type speeds is necessary too. My coaching tip – “It’s tougher hitting a slow pitch well than a fast one because there is more time to screw up on the slow ones.”
#6 – Thinking players have to swing at every strike thrown in batting practice
Coaches often act like it is a sin when players take a good pitch in batting practice, yet players take called strikes in games all the time. I don’t mind when players do not swing at a good pitch in practice, as long as they tell me they knew the pitch was a strike. My coaching tip – “That’s OK, as long as you do not have two strikes on you.” “Now you have a good gauge of the speed.” Of course, kids should not make a habit of failing to swing at good pitches because that annoys a hard working batting practice pitcher.
#7 – Thinking there are different ways to hit a baseball consistently well
Many baseball people believe there are many different ways to have batting success. No, there are different styles of hitting, but all swings must entail the basics. From an Ichiro to a Bryce Harper swing, some basics have to be there. If one cannot get the sweet spot of the bat to the back of the ball with the correct hand, body, and head position, failure results. With young players, having them begin the swing from the same position and bat angle with a balanced initial stance and finishing the bat in the manner the best hitters do is necessary. If that coaching makes a coach a “cookie cutter” coach, so be it. At least those cookies can hit and those sweet hitters get to the point where they can develop a personal style later in their careers. My coaching tip – “When you get to the big leagues you can do it your way, until then, do it like this.” At a young age, it is best when players keep it simple, no matter how talented they are. When they progress to high school they develop their styles that may or may not work, but that is a better time to experiment with different styles, once the fundamentals are in place.
Finally, other common coaching-hitting mistakes during batting practice are throwing the same speed with every pitch and throwing too fast from short distances. I have written of the problem with those batting practice methods before.