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Hitters and Coaches: Make sure your Coaching Cues are Set up for Success!

Written By: JK Whited

In the course of a single game or season, a player will hear a lot of technique or mental approach advice from their coaches.  Many of which are technical jargon that a coach will throw at a batter or pitcher over and over again.  The coach may see a technical weakness or flaw in a player after a pitch or swing. He or she will then try to express to the player what he or she needs to do differently on the upcoming pitch.  The Baseball Rebellion is here to warn you that not all coaches cues or sayings are what the players needs to hear.

The worst part about this ‘hitting cues’ issue is that coaches can get quite frustrated with the player if he or she fails.  Players must have an inner filter or translator built into their ears so they can sift through the garbage and stay focused on positive hitting ideas.   In this article, we will look at common baseball coaching cues and what they should really mean to the player.  Keep in mind that not all coaches out there fall under this umbrella of bad coaching and almost all of them genuinely really want to help their players.

1.  Coach’s Cue:

“Elbow up!”

Coaches have been saying “elbow up” for a long, long time. Coaches started to say “elbow up” when youth players struggled with heavier bats.  The players would naturally hold the bat lower  and closer to their body to support the weight (which is normal).  The player would try to swing the bat and then they would smash the tee over or pop up.  To get the player to avoid the bat lowering, “elbow up” became very popular (along bats that are up to 13 ounces lighter than the weight) to help the little league player put the ball in play. This has led to a lot of other problems in youth baseball as well.

Player Translation:  A player should read this as, ” just keep the bat weight supported through the swing.”  This is when we keep our hands in a secure location right at armpit height, give or take about half an inch.  If the bat weight can be supported properly, the player will be much stronger through contact.

Try this: “Stay connected” or “Hands tight, turn the barrel.”

2.  Coach’s Cue:  “Throw your hands at it”, “Quick hands”, “Speed those hands up”, etc.

“Throwing your hands at the ball” has caused a lot of confusion for players over the last twenty years or so.  Coaches assume if a player is getting beat by a fastball then the hands, because the hands hold on to the bat, must be slow.  This brings the hitter to being more aware of the hands and the knob of the bat rather than the barrel (what we actually hit with!)

Player Translation:  Do NOT get fixated on “hands to the ball”!  Stay relaxed and ensure that your barrel is empowered with a slow forward move and then a fast turn.  We tell players all the time; top bat speed is not created at contact, but from behind our back shoulder much earlier in the swing.  In a high level pattern, the hitter will use their turn to literally throw the head of the bat.  Ever try pushing the bat with your hands and arms?  You might get it to go ten feet after a roll.  How far can you turn and throw it?  I’d say further.

Try this: “Turn fast”, “Big Turn”, “Belly Button Past the Pitcher” and “Power turn”

3.  Coach’s Cue: “Just make contact!” or “Just put it in play”

From an early age a player will hear a coaches say, “Just put the ball in play” or “Just make contact”.  “Just putting the ball in play”, whether its said to a 9 hole hitter who is really struggling or any hitter on the team with two strikes is a really dangerous thing to tell a young and impressionable hitter.  We don’t want to ‘avoid failure’ we want to strive for success!  A “just make contact” mentality will severely cripple the player as he or she grows and plays higher level baseball or softball.  The coaches know simply putting it in play will almost guarantee the player will reach the bases at ages 6,7,8,9, and maybe 10.  Everybody cheers and the parents and coaches applaud the kid, unknowingly lowering the player’s potential forever.  Players at a young age will automatically begin to slow the swing to ensure contact.  Coaches, I know you want to win the BIG 8u tournament in Beckley, West Virginia, but do not hold your players back.  As you can see in the clip below, the player puts the ball in play, and gets rewarded, but what did he really learn? 

His parents actually called that “hit” a ‘swinging bunt triple’ when they put that on their youtube channel, but we all know that play happens less and less as the game gets tougher.

Player Translation: Basically we want players under 12 years old to just “take another hack” meaning change nothing.  Encourage your kids to SMASH the ball and learn to Really Hit instead of learn to avoid striking out.

Try this:  “Drive the ball.”  This is more of a mind set.  It is more important that a coach or parent reminds their player that striking out is not a bad thing, as long as the swings are aggressive.

4.  Coach’s Cue: “Sit back!”

“Sitting back” is another physical queue that strips away power almost entirely.  You hear coaches using this phrase to express to their player to wait for the ball to get closer or as a cue to hit curve balls and change-ups.  Perhaps the batter is early on the pitcher’s fastball and is making weak contact due to having to slow their swing down.  The coach will say “sit back” or “stay back”  in order to adjust the timing.  Nope.  Our back leg is not where we want to wait.  Moving our weight forward is the main way we prepare our bodies to turn.  Staying back on the back leg is promoting either a “sit and spin” technique or a hands and arms only swing.  Now that’s two bad options!

Player Translation:Your timing is bad.  Period.  Stay in your own rhythm, now match your move according to the pitcher’s.  If a pitcher is throwing the ball slower than our bat speed, which happens a lot to our hitters, an adjustment in movement timing and tempo must be made.  How you move forward and how you turn the bat should NEVER change because of the pitcher, but you can move slower or if you have good tempo, you can move later in the pitch sequence.  If you are consistently early you just have to allow the pitcher to come through his motion longer maybe even at release.  It just depends on the tempo of the pitcher’s move and the pace on the thrown baseball.

Try this:  “Patience leads to power”, or “Move Slower and Sooner, Turn Later and Faster!”.  Remember coaches…Don’t get confused or distracted…the SWING and the TURN are the same thing.  They happen late and fast.  Everything else in the swing just gets your body ready to turn.

5.  Coach’s Cue: “Stop dipping your shoulder, you’re popping up”

“Stop dipping your shoulder” you will hear at practices and games across the country.  If a player pops up just once, it must be because they are dropping their back shoulder and getting under the ball.  The truth of the matter is that they are probably not dropping their back shoulder enough.  This causes a linear hand path, a pushing back leg and a downward swing plane.  This will cause a clipping of the back side of the ball rather than coming through it the center of the backside head on.  This is used so often in all ages of baseball and softball.  We WANT to drop our back shoulder to get the bat on plane with the ball.  This is MOST important when the pitch is lower than belt high, which we know at high levels is almost all the time.

Player Translation: Do not worry about your back shoulder as much as what part of the ball you are coming in contact with.  If the goal is to square up the back middle, and you continue to hit the under side of the ball, then adjust your vision.  Try looking at the top half (notice I said “look” at,  NOT “swing” at) and see if that does not bring your barrel more towards the middle of the ball at contact.

Try this: “LOOK at the top half of the ball here”  or “SEE the top half”

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the coaches that use these queue’s are not trying to hurt the players.  The hitter should know that most coaches do not want to discuss hitting with a player.  How could a 14 year old know more about hitting than the coach, right?  You can not and will not be able to bust through the egos of most coaches out there.  Players in the Baseball Rebellion have to have a short memory of what their coaches say (from a hitting technique side of things) and learn how to translate what is said during games and practices.  The sooner the “hitting translator” is installed, the better.  For the most part, it does not get better at higher levels of the game.  The coaches and managers will get harder to speak with and the egos will be even bigger.  Know your swing, and have the translator ready.  Most will not be this nice about your swing changes.

We hope all coaches really take the time to think about the coaching cues they say to kids about their swings.  We hope that players understand the ‘translation’ of these coaching cues and make sure they always remember that coaches are there to help them and only want the best for them.  With the translator installed, coaches can focus on the role model side of coaching and know they’re saying the best coaching cues to make their players enjoy the game as much as possible and play at their very best.

JK Whited, Leader of the Baseball Rebellion

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26 thoughts on "Hitters and Coaches: Make sure your Coaching Cues are Set up for Success!"

  1. Charles Sherrill says:

    With apologies to Chas, this Baseball Rebellions best hitting article yet! AWESOME! Oh, and I LOVE that Tom Hanks clip. Between Hanks choking on his bewildered frustration the player’s wide-eyed, eager to please demeanor (all they want is a little attention!), it totally captures my youth coaching experience! But I’m a sucker for pop culture references so keep ’em coming. Next week, you need to write an article that explains how I can cope with listening to the coach in the cage next to me spouting this stuff without ACTUALLY killing him!

    You guys are well on your way to compiling the best collection of youth baseball content on the web! Keep up the good work!

    You should think about doing a bootcamp / certification for youth coaches! (Not hitting instructors per se, but youth team managers and assistants?) Maybe an online course…that would be awesome!

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Charles,

      Can not thank you enough for your support and kind words. I thought this was a fun article to write and would hit home with a lot of parents. Coaches that use these cues are obviously not trying to hurt the kids potential. However, it is important to identify the wrong cues to ensure the hitters growth and lack of confusion from lessons, to practice, to games. Glad you liked the videos! More to come!

      -JK

  2. Billy Bean says:

    I think even these cues will confuse a player as much as the old cues.
    turn the barrel I don’t even know that means?
    “Stay relaxed and ensure that your barrel is empowered with a slow forward move and then a fast turn. ”
    Anytime you say SLOW…. I think you slow down a swing…

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Billy,

      Yes, I can see where the cues we use may seem confusing. I’m unfamiliar with how long you have followed The Baseball Rebellion and the information we have put out there. Our followers, who are familiar with our movement patterns, hear these cues a lot. Turn the barrel describes how the bat turns in congruence with our body, around our axis. Most hitters that we see day to day use a lot of arms and hands in the swing. This will force the bat to the ball on a linear path downward through the axis of their body. If you noticed, slow was describing a FORWARD move that we teach. Just like a pitcher’s windup is not fast, but the explosion of the turn is. The TURN is the swing. Again using “turn” as cue, not “hands”. The forward movement of the hitter is used to engage the body to ensure maximum turn speed, again like a pitcher down the mound. On a side note, slowly relaxing forward gives a hitter more adjustability to make better choices from pitch to pitch. Nothing explosive starts from a static and still position.

  3. dsjlocke1 says:

    I’ve found myself saying the exact same things to my team and my son. Thanks for the wake-up call. Great article.
    J.Locke

    1. Chas Pippitt says:

      John,

      Don’t beat yourself up! You don’t know what you don’t know…until you know what you didn’t know…HA!

      Chas–

    2. jkhittingrebel says:

      John,

      Happy we could help! Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  4. Hunter Southerland says:

    Hey Chas and JK, I love what you guys post about hitting. I’m going to be a junior in my next high school season. I just wanted to ask a quick question. I find myself using a more upper body swing rather than the lower body working as well. It’s almost as if the hips are just “turning” rather than exploding. I have pretty quick hands so sometimes my hands/arms/shoulders take over the swing. Is there any tips/info I can get to help with this issue? Hopefully I can get a response so I can continue to work hard on my swing. Thank you!

    1. Chas Pippitt says:

      Hunter,

      Its not just you that struggles to get their hips engaged and ‘exploding’ into the swing, its most kids your age that have been brought up in the ‘quick hands’ age of hitting.

      Without seeing your swing, it’s impossible to tell you exactly what to do, but I’d advise you to read the previous blog posts on superthrust and Momentum. Whatever you do, don’t push with your back leg or your arms and you’ll be ok.

      Chas–

  5. Spencer Horn says:

    I will be printing this out to hand to all of my sons coaches in the future, ha! You should create a top 10 printable checklist of do and donts to hand out to little league coaches. Complete with your logo and website address in the event they are seeking help!

    Two thumbs up.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Spencer,

      Ha! Yes that is an interesting idea. For any coach who wants to learn more, we are always ready to help. Thank you for the support!

      JK-

  6. Richard Alvarez says:

    Great article! Wondering how you guys feel about the coaching cue “hit the inside part of the ball”? Am I correct in thinking that this is similar to hitting the ball deep in the zone?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Richard,

      Unfortunately no, it is the polar opposite of letting the ball get deep. When you try and “hit the inside part of the ball” the hitter will keep the knob of the bat out in front of the barrel. When the knob stay out in front, the barrel will slide across the chest. You can not possibly hit the ball deep in the zone with a SLOW sliding barrel. The barrel must be turning around the hitter’s back shoulder early in the swing. With this cue, the hitter’s barrel will drag and only be able to hit weak balls the opposite side AT BEST. Hitters that follow this cue will be robbed of powerful and explosive swings for life. I could go on about this. Just remember we hit with the barrel of the bat! Not the knob.

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  7. travis says:

    chas, im a little confused with what you mean when you say “avoid using the word hands”. idk if ive been taught wrong but my coaches use the terms “hard with the top hand, soft with the bottom” saying drive hard with the top arm/hand and the bottom is almost a guide for the ball to the ball. so are you saying the should be NO hands or arms used at all? thats its just a flow of motion and the core explodes them arms through the zone? very intrested in hearing what you have to say. i know it will be something helpful. thanks

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Travis,

      Well Travis, I think you almost answered your own question here. “Hands” are a bad cue for players because to use one’s hands IS to use one’s arms. Try to do anything with your hands where you don’t extend your arms out. Once hands and arms begin to leave the body they slow down, and become weaker. Driving the top hand will cause the hitter to think downward with a back arm pushing motion. The arms MUST stay bent and connected with the upper body through the turn. This will allow all of the energy generated from the forward movement and hip thrust to be transferred into the hands and finally into the bat. We want our guys to let the hands act more like a hinge so that the barrel can immediately be accelerated deep into the zone, NOT at contact.

      I know this is a very technical response. Just remember to always swing with your TURN and think less of actively using your hands. You will find out, if done properly, how little you need hands in a swing. They almost want to just fall in place!

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  8. Jamie says:

    Please tell me more about looking at the top half of the ball to hit the middle. Does this have anything to do with the pop up cure article ?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Jamie,

      Yes! We get our players in a high level swing path. This meaning they will get their barrel in the path of the pitch early and then turn and release it up through the remaining part of the “hitting zone”. Of course the perfect spot on the ball is slightly below the center line. Because we are all not 6’4, 220 lb monsters, missing on the underside of the ball will not help us. So we want our players to see the top half and then swing up through the top half of the ball. If they miss, they should miss on top creating hard TOP SPIN ground balls or low line drives. Hard top spin balls will shoot off the dirt/grass rather than slow down like back spin will. Obviously this is not an optimal result, we still want to smash balls over the infield on a line. If we miss, its on the top half for most. This is especially true if your player is flying out a lot. Remember, the swing must be up for this to work properly.

  9. Mike Traywick says:

    I discovered Baseball Rebellion about two months ago. Today, I can’t get enough of it. Great job guys. I look forward to learning with you. 63 years old and learning more and better technics everyday.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Mike,

      Welcome to the Rebellion! Thank you for continuing to seek out new information and challenging the status quo. Only going to get better!

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  10. Jon says:

    I am not an advocate of getting your elbow higher than the plane of your shoulders, but I think making the term keep your elbow up a negative could hurt some hitters. Most great hitters have their back elbow parallel to the ground or higher if their front shoulder is significantly lower than their back shoulder in their stance.

    I know you do not want to get your elbow too high, but I think when people read that a high elbow is bad, they will think that it should be down and that is even worse than too high. As long as you turn your upper body in one piece and drive that back elbow into the front side of your back hip, a high back elbow will actually increase your bat speed.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Jon,

      I agree that the elbow should not sit too low either. When the back elbow up is cued to hold the bat up and commence the swing with the arms and hands, it becomes a real problem in youth hitters. Coaches cue the elbow and bat to stay up, to then go back down. Keeping a high back elbow is doable if the hitter is aware of the correct swing pattern. Most youth players are not aware of that pattern. The great hitters we watch will raise that back elbow for the “rowing” action in the load. Big league players also use a tip and rip method of the barrel where their back elbow will get really high in attempt to gain early bat speed. Very difficult move to master for youth players.

      I like your comments about turning the upper body in one piece but I do not think driving your back elbow into your back hip is also correct. The back elbow will stay in the “rowed” position until release, whenever that may be. Sometimes early in the turn if the pitch is away or late in the turn if the pitch is inside. We see a lot of guys that “use” the back elbow by starting in a high position and then lead with it in the swing. Also known as elbow drag.

      It is hard sometimes to know what EVERY player will take away from a cue like “elbow up”. There are better ways than what is currently acceptable in today’s youth leagues.

      JK Whited-

  11. Travis K. says:

    This was a great article to see because it touches on a subject that I talk about all the time as an instructor. Without getting into what cues are bad or good, I will say that as long as the player you are working with understands your cues or terminology, cues are o.k.. The problem comes when they don’t which unfortunately is too often. You are right about most coaches/instructors, they do not want to talk too much, or give thorough explanations. I am not in that group. The goal for me is to get every player I work with to have just as much knowledge about the hitting mechanics as what I have. If they don’t know the reason they are doing something, it does them very little good. It is not good enough to just do the movements without understanding the reasons for those movements. Without a thorough understanding of hitting, players will be ill equipped to make their own adjustments, and hitters are always having to make adjustments.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Travis,

      Thanks for the comment and insight. I completley agree. Coaches at all levels put kids through drills and exercises because that is what they were put through. No questions asked, just blind following. With all the money spent on baseball nowadays, I hope parents and players are asking how and why certain movements are the right ones. Sad thing is, when a player does finally ask why, he is looked at as an insubordinate and punished for asking. “Just do it because I played baseball” should never be considered good coaching.

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  12. Gordon Cervenka says:

    As a volunteer youth baseball coach with a lot of great parent volunteers helping out this is a really helpful article that I will share to help unify our communication. It’s also so much more positive, constructive and actionable than the usual feedback mentioned that most of us grew up with as youths ourselves, which is the only foundation for many volunteer coaches.

    Thanks!

    Gordon Cervenka

  13. James Clark says:

    Awesome piece!
    Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard one of those bad cues. Keep em coming, I’m always interested in learning new and improved ways to teach our kids.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      James,

      Thank you for reading and good news, we are only going to get better!

      JK-

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