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The way team hitting / batting practice is organized, and the culture that is created during practice can be either very helpful or damaging to your baseball/softball player's ability to take quality swings and not feel afraid to take them. Here are just a handful of situations or batting routines that might be happening to your player at practice and if you are a coach, let's take some time to perhaps rethink how your baseball/softball team's hitting time is being used.
Yes, this does happen! Before I get to critical on coaches and their practice plans here, it should be said that I love defense. I was a catcher my whole career and love making defensive plays and stopping runs from scoring. It's crucial for the outfield and infield to be able to communicate and work well together, but do we really need to skip hitting so that there can be 3 hours of bunt coverage? Especially on a play that gets ran once a year! Every baseball and softball player in the lineup will get at least two at-bats in a game. The one secret play, that never works, is not worth the time. Do the math, get some swings in.
Practice Solution: If you have to have entire practices dedicated to defense, just be sure to do the same for hitting. Even if a player has what might be considered a "bad swing," at least they can develop timing with their bad swing and have more of a chance for success.
One of the more frustrating things for us to see is a player that has a good swing but gets worse because his coach can't throw front toss or batting practice. It is even more frustrating when the coach who just bounced five balls in a row gets mad at the hitter for not swinging. Most young players are afraid of their coaches already and don't want to"talk back." So what happens? The player will undoubtedly start taking awful swings at awful pitches just to appease the coach and ruin his own practice time. Every time the coach throws a bad pitch, the player should take, which can even be used to the hitter and coaches benefit. If the coach continues to throw poorly, the player should then be allowed to go work off the tee or go through dry swings where they can practice good movements.
Practice Solution: Coaches should practice throwing strikes overhand and front toss. Before any us at Baseball Rebellion became a full-time instructor, we had to become great at front toss and BP. Not to say we don't make mistakes, but baseball and softball hitters, especially ones learning new movements, have to have a certain level of consistency with each pitch so they can focus more on their swing. If one of your responsibilities as a coach is to front toss or throw batting practice, you need to be somewhat good at it, or you will only make your team worse.
If you are not currently an in-person or online client of Baseball Rebellion, it's challenging to visualize practicing a baseball/softball swing without hitting a ball. All of our clients know how to train at home with no bat, no ball, and have huge gains in their swing. Taking your team or player to a batting cage or even bringing in a "portable" batting machine to practice seems like a good idea in theory.
The problem with machines and creating a good swing occurs in the timing of the pitch, especially if your swing has a good loading phase. If you have followed Baseball Rebellion before then, you know we like to see hitters have a nice rock back or sway move to get some momentum started. Guys like Jose Bautista are great examples of this type of negative to positive move. For the hitter to properly execute the start of this move, they must use the load phase of the pitcher as a visual to know when to start. Since most pitching machines have zero to very little pre-release action, the hitter can struggle at getting started, therefore throwing off their entire swing pattern. This is especially difficult for baseball and softball hitters who have just started to learn this type of movement.
There are many different types of pitching/batting machines out there, and some are better than others. Any machine that shoots the ball out without any warning is one to watch out for. These can be extremely frustrating to a hitter with movement. The ball will suddenly appear which gives it the perception as fast, but the speed of the ball is normal to slow, causing the hitter to suddenly jump forward but then realize they are super early getting their front foot down. Unless you are very in-tuned with your body and timing, there is very little hope for consistent or powerful contact. No baseball or softball player out there wants to look bad in front of his teammates and coaches, so they will begin to strip away movement from their swing. Ultimately the once good swing is now sliced down to a panic-induced wrist snap. Months of training and money has been wasted.
Some machines like the classic Iron Mike model is the only one that I think can accurately give the hitter some kind of timing mechanism. But even that can be hard if the batter can't see the arm come around and back to the top.
Practice Solution: This is a tough one because I do understand the need to take swings with a moving ball and as mentioned earlier, and good throwers can be hard to come by. For players, if you can't work on good timing with a negative to positive move forward, then my advice would be to start with your front foot already down. If your mechanics are already good, you can still work on lots of other parts of the swing like hip rotation, front and back leg action, and barrel path, just to name a few. However, if the hitter's mechanics are already bad, I am afraid these types of machines can only cause more frustration and negativity.
A lot like bunt coverage practice, there is a definite time and place for situation hitting practice. But often baseball and softball teams spend countless hours of hitting/batting practice time on nothing but hit-and-runs, slashes, bunting, two-strike approaches, etc. Again these are times that may only happen one or two times a game, hence the name situational.
Now if you are dedicating the opening round of batting practice to a few bunts and one or two hit-and-runs, that is one thing, but making entire rounds dedicated to hitting the ball backside on the ground can be detrimental to a good swing. In rounds like those, the hitter is forced by the demands of the coach to hit every pitch, even inside pitches, to the backside of the field. Again, the hitter, being afraid to disappoint the coach, will adopt a weak backside mentality, creating a slower delayed turn of the barrel to flick the ball that way. Then when the game comes around, the coach wonders why his team can't drive the ball. The "backside approach" round can work for very specific cases of timing issues but usually not for the whole team. These types of rounds will create mental and physical issues in most baseball and softball hitters that could take a long time to overcome.
Practice Solution: Immediately after a brief situational round, allow your hitters to "let it fly." Get them ready to do what they will most likely have to do in the game, Hit! I think a lot of coaches out there would be surprised in the performance of their hitters if they introduced more power rounds in their practice or even dedicated one to a home run round. Not only would the players have ready their aggressive mindsets, but they would also have a lot more fun knowing they have the freedom to go for it. Less fear and more aggressive hitters should be what any baseball or softball coach should strive for. Don't be afraid to see how a player can develop over time with this kind of practice. The baseball and softball players that we work with everyday start to learn how to hit doubles on purpose and their mishits become hard singles. As a hitter, it feels great knowing you can make mistakes and still get on base.
I chose this topic as number one because it seems to be what all of my clients have in common. We spend months before the season getting their swings to be powerful and consistent. During this process, they are allowed to move freely through the entire swing then reset before the next pitch. In this resetting time, they have they can regain their composure, think about and make adjustments, and then take another good swing.
Coaches have to remember that practice time is the hitter's time to get better and not their time to see how many swings they can take in two minutes. Too many of our hitters will see us during the season, after months of training, and all of a sudden they have a shorter yet weaker swings with no finish. Before they even get their shoulders fully rotated, they are slowing down and hopping back into their stances. They cut out their rhythm, their forward move, and their finish to get ready for the next pitch. Time and time again they fall victim of the "practice culture" in baseball and softball. When they finally do take a full and aggressive swing at practice, the coach will already be throwing the next pitch before the player has a chance to reset. So when the player decides not to swing because they are not ready, they get yelled at. Now fear has been installed in the young player, and they cut down their swing to make the coach happy. This happens every day for some kids, and all of us here at Baseball Rebellion have to work on getting them back to where they were two months ago.
Practice Solution: Take less, but better swings. The old saying goes "quality over quantity," and nothing could be more true for baseball and softball swings and practice. With every quick restart with zero time to think, your hitters are getting worse. If you have a limited time for hitting at practice, then use the time wisely. Cut each round down by three or four swings and let the hitters focus on their swing and training, whatever it might be. If you're a player with this issue, don't be afraid to let a pitch go by from time to time or ask the coach to slow down. All players should be able to speak to their coaches and ask for time. It is the player's practice after all.
To sum it all up, I understand how difficult it is to be a coach at any level. Every level of baseball and softball has its obstacles to hurdle when it comes to practice. Things like field time, coaching assistance, even balls can be hard to come by. I don't want this article to bash on all coaches, everywhere, who try hard to do it right. But trying hard and not knowing, are two different things. We have tons of FREE articles on here that can help you become a better coach. If more coaches took the time to improve upon some of this issue, everybody and the sports of baseball and softball would benefit. Lastly, if one of your parents is taking a player on your team to see a professional instructor, please respect their choice to outsource their information and invest their money. Let their players focus on his or her specific goals and work on their swing regardless if you think it's right.
JK Whited - Hitting Instructor for the Baseball Rebellion