2009 National Webball Hitting Challenge Winning Essay
Thank you all you Webball readers who read my article and voted to make my hitting tips essay the winner in all four categories.
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If you haven't read the 2009 National Webball Hitting Challenge Winning Essay, here's the article that I wrote.
How to hit better in the shortest period of time
by Coach Andy Collins
Depending on the age (and experience) of the player the answer might differ, but for this article I'm going to be speaking to getting a younger aged hitter (through age 14) hitting better (or anyone who’s mechanically challenged) by tomorrow or the upcoming weekend. And for those of you that have a team of players in that age range, how to have them hit better by the end of the season, just in time for playoffs.
From my 35 years of experience the best way to hit better in the shortest period of time comes down to 3 things, hips, eyes, and getting the player to work 1 on 1 with a trained batting coach and practice what they are being taught.
The use of hips and eyes in hitting are closely intertwined, but over the years I have to say the first one is the biggest problem I see that I can fix almost immediately. I try to put a lot of my tips into easy to remember catchy phrases, so the coach or player doesn't have to think a lot, but it references a lot of what you want the batter to do.
Knee to the Pitcher
I call the first one, “Knee to the Pitcher”.
Watch all of your kids and see if they all finish their swings with their back knee pointed to the pitcher. If not, this is the fastest way to make an improvement to their swing. You don’t even have to know how to get them to do this.
I’ve never seen a kid that couldn’t figure a way to do this on their own.
Take them aside on a tee, have them hit a few balls and tell them you want them to finish their swing with their back knee pointing to the pitcher. It's a cheap way to get them to turn their hips and use the big muscles of the legs, back and torso to do the work only the wrists and arms were doing before. They’ll figure out their own way to get this to happen and they’ll be amazed at how much harder they hit the ball, then it’s not so hard to get them to do this all the time, because who wouldn’t want to hit the ball harder each and every time they come up to bat. I’ve never seen a kid that couldn’t figure a way to do this on their own. What also comes into play is intentionality. If you have a kid already hitting hard and pointing their knee to the pitcher have them "hit it harder". Once they intend to, them seem to do so.
You may say “but now they’re pulling their head away more than ever”. That’s why I said the eyes were closely intertwined with the use of the hips.
I use what I call “IKEY-MIKEY” to keep their head in the right position watching the ball. I picked this up from Ray DiMarini and the kids like the sing-song sound of it more than Dusty Baker's Ike and Mike.
In turning the torso to get everything into it, your hitter will probably be rotating his head as well, so he's not really seeing the ball, so I have a little game they can play.
Have the kid take two imaginary characters with them to the game. Take the first one out and put it on their lead shoulder. His name is IKEY. Then take the second one out (MIKEY) and put it on the back shoulder. Now when they get in that strong slightly bent over position to hit and they're looking up at the pitcher's release point, the batter's chin will be on IKEY. If they track the ball all the way in, their eyes will go from the 46' or 60' distance all the way into the hitting zone slightly out in front of them where they'll make contact. Their chin will now be on MIKEY as they follow through.
What this does is forces them to watch the ball more (it also creates a nice compact swing). You pick up the information early by watching the release point, you're looking for grip, seeing if you can see the seams on the baseball and the spin of the ball.
When they practice their swing off the tee, the way to know if they've ended up on MIKEY is if they can see the hole of the tee when they've finished their swing.
These are the two biggest bangs for your buck.
Get a batting coach
The next fastest way for any kid to get better at hitting is to get a good coach, who can teach hitting one on one and understands how to get those hips and eyes working and encourages them to practice on their own what's been taught in the lessons by taking 50, 100, 200, or 300 swings a day.
A good coach will make sure they master these first two things as they also help them hit high, low, inside, and outside pitches and as the hitter progresses and matures they will teach keeping their “Hands inside the ball” and using a pre-motion ("Hands go back when the pitcher's goes back"). Then in my experience it takes a little longer to mature into "Sitting Dead Red" (which is baseball jargon for good pitch selection or as Mike Epstein likes to say "Get a Good Pitch to Hit"). All important to hitting better, but certainly won't happen by the weekend or even by the end of a season in many cases.
The rotational vs linear debate
I've seen kids who were taught the "hands to the ball", "squish the bug", linear swing approach and others who were taught the Ted Williams' hips lead the hands, slightly upper swing rotational approach and the kids were hitting fine with both styles.
I believe the latter approach will take them the farthest and have them hitting it the hardest. I get to have some students who come to me for lessons for years and I have some 10 – 12 year olds, both boys and girls, hitting it 200-250'. But to get that to happen takes a lot more time to explain and to do than what we're addressing here in this article.
Keep it fun!
Since two-thirds to three-fourths of all of the kids we coach will be out of baseball at age 12, do we really want to get hung up in the amount of scapula loading and degrees of torque for 80% of the kids we teach?
This is what takes the fun out of it for them.
I've seen too many coaches get all caught up in the nuances of the finer points of trying to teach one style or another while missing out on just getting them to "point their knee to the pitcher" and "Ikey-Mikey" and totally getting the kids messed up.
Get them using their hips, seeing the ball into the hitting zone and if you can be the coach (or find them a coach) who has a good track record of getting kids to hit better by getting them to do these two things, then progressing them through the other areas of mature hitting, this will certainly suffice for the majority of kids who define fun in playing baseball as hitting better and striking out less (regardless of style that is being taught).
Oh, and it doesn't hurt to put a $350 bat in their hands either :)
Here's some free hitting lessons for the Webball readers and voters.