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Training youth hitters can be like walking a tightrope. Depending on the athlete’s mental capacity and focus level, the intensity of training has to be adjusted from case to case.
Too much information given to the wrong player can lead to burnout and a miserable time for the hitter. On the other side of that, being too vanilla and boring to the wrong hitter can lead to boredom and frustration.
As a coach, instructor or parent it can be extremely stressful attempting to understand what each player can process and how far you can push them without going over the edge.
It is easy to watch a youth hitter hit and want to change 1,000 different things, but how enjoyable is that for the athlete?
You may be able to see the mistake but can you address it with the athlete in a way that is easy to understand and simple to fix?
So what are the important struggles to address? This could be different for each hitter but I wanted to address the MOST common mistakes.
However, understanding the mistake is only half of the equation. How can the struggle be addressed and fixed in a simple and enjoyable way for the hitter?
From the time an adolescent athlete picks up a bat, the desire is to just make contact with the pitch. In initial evaluations of youth hitters, we often see a desire to not miss instead of hitting the ball hard. Hitters only have a certain amount of time to develop bat speed and natural aggression within the swing.
It is often hard to get youth hitters and parents to understand that is it ok to be overaggressive at a young age. The goal should be to develop the speed and aggression needed to do damage past tee-ball. Accuracy and adjustments can be made at an older age. Let youth athletes be aggressive and athletic.
Using a different instrument than a bat can create a fun, enjoyable environment for a young player. It also limits the failure in the drill. No matter the age, athletes don’t like to fail. Mis-hitting a ball is seen as a failure and limits the aggression of youth hitters.
By taking the ball and bat out of the equation you eliminate the fear of failure and create an environment where the only goal is the move their body properly and aggressively.
Youth hitters start their career on a tee where the ball is in front of them, stationary, and below where their hands initially start. The desire for contact leads the hitter to move the bat directly to the point of contact (usually downward and on top of the ball). All of this is fine when the ball is on the tee and little Johnny gets roaring applause for touching the ball and keeping the tee-ball game moving.
However, as Johnny gets older this bat path can cause issues against a ball moving down towards him. I get it, youth infielders are bad and any contact on the ground will probably lead to a baserunner and your next 10 and under State Championship. Congrats….I guess. Teaching the hitter to properly swing the bat “on-plane” with the pitch aggressively will lead to hits later in life, which to me seems more important.
How it Helps:
Another drill that allows a young hitter to hold anything but a normal bat and hit a moving ball that creates so much stress. This allows the hitter to show aggression as well as an understanding of where the bat is moving.
A downward moving bat will lead to the hitter hurling it into the ground, aka negative reinforcement. Allow the hitter to be an athlete and try to keep the cueing as simple and athlete-friendly as possible.
I saved the most technical of the three for last. This is an issue seen every day in youth hitters and often ignored. I’ve yet to meet a youth hitter who has consistently great timing (arguably the most important aspect to hitting). This is a direct cause of the hitter’s stride tempo, rhythm, and direction. My issue with the direction of youth hitters strides is the giant “rock back” or “sway”.
Whether cued to “stay back” or “load up”, hitters rock back into their back knee and towards the catcher constantly. Not only is this incorrect for rotation but it also is causing the eyes and vision of the hitter to move away from the ball and then back to it. Their vision is now moving in two directions all the while trying to recognize and time the pitch.
Drill to Fix:
How it helps:
This is often a tough drill for young hitters to master. Their initial move to “load” their swing is to rock back, causing them to hit the wall. This drill forces an understanding that they can still turn in and load their pelvis without swaying back. Moving forward to balance is a vital component to the timing of a young hitter.
Youth hitters require a different style of instruction than older, more mature hitters. It is the instructor, coach, or parent’s role to instill the skills needed for proper development, while still allowing the athlete to compete in a fun, interactive environment. There is a fine line between skill development and information overload.
The hitter can only fix what they understand. Give the hitter exactly what they can handle and make it enjoyable for you both. The less struggle they encounter at a young age, the more likely they are to avoid burnout.
Training youth hitters can be a stressful, nerve-wrenching job. Yet, it often yields the most rewarding success’.