Best advice for baseball hitting instructors
I would have liked to title this article, “Pointers for young, inexperienced coaches,” but I notice many veteran coaches need help, also, in my estimation. I do not pretend to know all the answers either, but my years of coaching have taught me some valuable things. I have been giving baseball lessons for 26 years now, up around 65,000 of them, or so. I have learned the hard way on many of the issues I often see with baseball hitting instructors.
I believe major league manager, Mike Scioscia, said it best in the forward to my book, The Making of a Hitter,” when he alluded to the idea that although hitting is very difficult, coaching hitting is just as difficult. Molding batters’ swings into efficient hitting machines take great coaching expertise, a willing student, along with coaching and player patience. Notice, that I did not mention an athletically talented student is necessary, though that helps, but I have seen many players, who were athletically challenged become good hitters.
Because players do not have to be greatly talented, although hand eye coordination is required, coaching expertise is paramount to molding effective batters. Many hitting coaches I have seen know hitting and were probably very good hitters in their day, but that does not make them proficient at coaching hitting. They fail to do some of the things that help players’ swings, from either laziness, or a lack of experiences. Of course, the experience only comes with working with batters enough and having a good eye for the swing recognition.
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In the hopes of helping baseball hitting instructors, here are some pointers that have helped me.
Advice for baseball hitting instructors
* Ask parent, player, and their regular coach, when available, for a quick analysis of hitter’s past game tendencies. Knowing if players are ground ball, fly ball, or strikeout hitters before the initial lesson, helps shape the direction of the lesson. However, baseball hitting instructors should prepare for different answers from others, as opinions often differ. Often, I hear one parent say one thing, the other parent something different, and the player, even another thing – that is a struggling hitter, for sure. Some hitters are fly ball hitters in games and groundball hitters in practice, adding to the confusion.
* Always, check out a player’s swing first with a few pitches of batting practice to see if the problem is obvious. Although starting a session with batting tee work and flipped ball practice can provide a good overall knowledge base, it is best to know a player’s strengths and weaknesses beforehand. It is important to realize that what players do on a batting tee and what they do with live hitting are rarely the same, especially with inexperienced players. I have seen coaches waste time teaching one thing and the player already performs that area well, but lacks in other areas. For returning players, a few initial batting practice pitches gives clues as to whether the player practiced any and if any improvement has occurred since the last hitting lesson.
* Explain and demonstrate correct hitting technique. Next, catch players in the act of wrongdoing. Change will not happen until players understand that what they are doing differs from the correct way. This is when coaching patience is paramount, as it gets monotonous, but necessary, to point out the hitting flaw every time. A key to good coaching is never letting the hitting fundamental mistake go without pointing it out. Having players stop at the point of error, at least as much as possible with the fast moving swing actions, is the next key step. With continual pointing out of wrongdoing, players eventually begin to recognize it and feel it, which is the initial coaching goal.
* Once players understand and know where their swing breaks down, the next factor has to do with convincing them that muscle memory change only comes with correct repetition. Said another way, they will only improve if they can practice it enough correctly, as some good swings and some incorrect ones, never allows improvement.
* Correction comes quicker with drills that force the correct action, so coaches should experiment to find the one or two drills that best address players’ weak areas.
* Next, finding the best words to motivate players to put in the extra time and the adherence to correct swings after lessons is the next and toughest coaching task of all. Players, who are willing to practice with the knowledge and methods necessary to improve, have a chance at reaching their hitting potential.
A few other necessary pointers for baseball hitting instructors
* Use side toss rarely – batting tee work, dropped ball drills and straight on toss behind a pitching screen, give better feedback than traditional side flips. I have found that side toss rarely challenges batters, except for a few drills, which most hitting instructors do not know. Side toss is fine as a warm up method for batters, who have good swings already, but does little to help players with swing flaws unless other props are used.
* Only set batting tees at knee or letter height for the best swing feedback. All other pitch locations become easier to hit after working those tee locations. Most importantly, insist on players being able to hit backspin line drives on each of those pitch locations before moving on to other swing drills. Until batters accomplish that, coaches, nor players, should become satisfied. Seeing batting tees down the middle of home plate and at waist level is the first sign of an inadequate hitting coach.
* Change speeds with all flip work and batting practice. Hitters without good swings can time the same speed pitches after a while, get away with the wrong swing mechanics, and believe they are doing things correctly even without changing to better swing habits.
* As alluded to earlier, it is difficult to stop the action of the swing once started, but coaches can easily have players start the swing from the right point and end the swing in the right position. Simply making sure batters start correctly before the pitch and end correctly, post-swing, goes a long way to helping players hit. Good hitting instructors do not let batters begin their swings from the wrong position at foot stride landing and work to help players finish their swings in the right position, too.
Finally, asking other respected coaches, or a players’ game coach, what they see from hitters’ swings is not a bad idea, as even the best of coaches sometimes miss obvious things, especially after working with the same player repeatedly.