No Shortcuts to Hitting Success
It always bears repeating to young hitters, “Hitting a baseball is the most difficult skill in sports.” Additionally, “The possibility of perfecting hitting doesn’t exist.” Those sentiments help players develop the mentality to survive the trials of hitting. (Check out Jack’s all new baseball hitting course here)
Even the greats, and especially one of the greatest hitters of the past 50 years, Tony Gwynn, whom the baseball community has lost way too soon, practiced endlessly, with the knowledge that the failure rate would be more than the hitting success rate. Along with the amount of practice necessary, hitting requires patience. Those who have that patience, no matter the skill level they begin with, prosper in the end. I have worked with many accomplished young hitters, who were impatient and quit. Other students, who had less talent, persevered through the tough times, worked hard and had solid careers through their high school years.
Accomplished hitters understand that no shortcuts exist for success. Learning the hitting fundamentals and applying them in games requires the passing of stages along the way, as just being able to pick up a bat and walk into games to hit effectively disappears for all, when the competition level increases. Those, who try to skip these steps of hitting, or do not pass them, encounter failure.
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Step One of Baseball Hitting Success
“If you can’t hit consistent shots off a batting tee, how do you expect to do it with a pitched ball?”
Show me a player who has trouble hitting off a batting tee, and you have a player whose hitting potential is limited if they ever had any hitting success to begin. I have never come across an exception to this – players, who cannot hit consistent backspin line drives off the tee, do not walk into games and start crushing balls. They have limited potential when they become challenged with game pitching. Correct swing mechanics only come with repetition of action and the batting tee is the first place to start and get that amount of repetition. Impressing young hitters of the importance of using a batting tee should be one of the first coaching tasks.
I get excited when one of my students begins to “smoke” consistent line drives off a batting tee because I know they have passed the first stage of batting success. Of course, just because players perform this first step doesn’t guarantee game success, but it proves they have the capability of doing it. Failing this initial test does not bode well for their hitting futures.
Passing the first step of hitting:
- Hit at least eight of ten hard hit balls into center field (preferably line drives) with the balls set at knee high and right down the middle of home plate. Batters stand their regular distance from home as they do in games and six inches behind the ball.
- With balls set on the tee at the player’s letters and standing one foot behind the ball, hit eight out of ten shots that would reach anywhere in the outfield, with popped up balls not counting.
- With two tees, one on the outside corner and slightly out front of the batter and the second tee on the inside edge and a foot and a half in front, players should be able to hit line drives on only the ball called out by a coach, after the stride foot lands.
- Note – With this first stage, it is essential that players learn to take the same stride for all pitches, learn the different points of contact and the separation of stride and swing. Additionally, batting tee practice is an excellent place to learn to prepare to swing with rhythm and correct loading of the bat.
Step Two for Baseball Hitting Success
“Can you translate the mechanics used for batting tee success to a moving ball?”
Once players become proficient hitting off a batting tee, it is on to moving balls for the next stage of hitting success. An vital coaching point is necessary here, and that is that distances maximize problems, so immediately going from the batting tee to regulation hitting distances is not the most beneficial way. The second step involves soft toss and dropped ball drills.
- Note – Flipped balls from straight on from behind a pitching screen is preferable to side flips when the screen is available. Dropped ball drills, when done correctly, works for stage two and creates a challenge, too.
Passing step two with flipped balls:
- Stride so the front foot lands before the ball gets to the hitting zone – many hitters incorrectly step and swing without a separation of the two
- Load the bat correctly – A common flaw has batters losing, or not going to, the best hitting position. An excellent way to make sure players are not stepping and swinging together and are preparing to swing correctly is for coaches to hold the ball instead of releasing it to check their initial moves.
- Finish the swing – Completing the swing in the correct position, with full hip rotation, high hands, and balance is the next key to passing this stage.
- Recognize pitch locations and points of contact, things begun with tee work are the next challenge with moving balls.
- Note – Developing a “great eye” at the plate begins with soft toss, so coaches should point out the importance of swinging at strikes only.
Step Three for Hitting Success
“Can you time the ball and control the bat in batting practice?”
After phase two, batting practice is the next area to apply the mechanics of stage one and two for added hitting success. The best batting practice is game like with increased speeds and distances. This pitching technique makes batting practice hitting more difficult but beneficial in the end.
Passing step three
- Time the ball – batting practice is about applying the mechanics and timing pitched balls.
- Have bat control – hitting balls in the appropriate direction require bat control.
- Know the strike zone – swinging only at strikes is critical in batting practice, so the same happens in games.
- Know yourself – batting practice should prepare players for knowing their hot and cold areas of the strike zone. Identifying one’s strengths and weaknesses help players know when and what to swing at in games.
- Note – A sign of right timing and bat control is hitting balls into the center of the diamond.
Step Four for Hitting Success
“Can you forget everything you practiced and learned and just do it?”
Often overlooked and the reason players struggle with bringing hitting success into games is the mental game. The mental game begins with amnesia of the fundamentals by developing a non-thinking approach in games. This mental process is more complicated than most think because the first three stages focus on mechanics. Getting beyond the thinking of how one does it and into the letting-it-happen stage often takes time. Passing the thinking stage is the reason I do not see the results of hard work until a great among of time passes when they let the thought processes go and hit without thinking.
Passing step four
- Focus – This test is difficult to ascertain because it is hard to know what is in a player’s head. Even having a small percentage of the thought process on anything besides seeing and timing the pitch is detrimental to successful batting.
- Trust your swing and mechanics – players must believe their hard work and fundamentals will pay off in games.
- Visualize – the ability to picture positive results, and one’s swing is
- Have confidence – as implied previously, positive thought processes are best, if not mandatory.
- Note – Passing steps one through three makes passing this stage possible because incorrect mechanics does not allow success that brings on focus, trust, and
Step 5 for Hitting Success
“Are you mentally tough enough to struggle, and not beat yourself up when confidence is elusive?”
Game hitting success comes and goes for all, but the key is learning from failure without losing hope and confidence by developing an overall optimistic attitude.
Passing Stage Five
- Combine all the lessons learned from stages one through four.
- Have quality at-bats – quality at-bats are good fundamental swings at good pitches, not just hits, as base hits are not under the batter’s control.
- Analyze game results to know what to work at when the never-ending process begins again at stage one.
- Have the mental toughness to stay positive through the tough times.
Finally, when players struggle to move from step to step for hitting success, they should not be in a hurry to move to the next step. Hitting success comes after many ups and downs and times where improvement is negligible. Only the patient, hard-working and dedicated survive.