Wondering How To Coach Hitting?
It All Starts With One Thing...
Hitting is a very difficult thing to do, especially for a young kid. So an article about how to coach hitting can be tough to write. There are so many pieces to hitting a baseball that it's hard to know where to start.
While there is no "one size fits all" coaching system that will turn every kid that steps into the batter's box into Albert Pujols, there is one thing that transcends all other aspects of hitting; athleticism.
No matter what other issues or problems a young hitter may have, a lack of athleticism will always limit how good they can be. Likewise, increasing a kid's athletic ability will always make them a better hitter. There aren't very many things we can say "always" about, but as personal trainers and baseball coaches, we believe that it's accurate to use it in this situation.
This doesn't mean that a baseball player has to become a better athlete than they already are to be a better hitter. Sometimes it's just a matter of using their body in a more athletic way. When baseball coaches think of ways to coach hitting, they should think first of ways to improve how their kids use their bodies.
Look Like An Athlete
When a lot of young kids step in the box, it looks like they're afraid to injure the dirt under their cleats. They creep in and stand very still at the plate, behaving like the pitcher is a deer that has just made eye contact with them and they don't want to spook it. Stiff, motionless, and nothing like a great athlete.
When a defensive basketball player confronts the ball carrier on the court, do they run up and stand perfectly still? Or do they get into their legs and have some good movement and rhythm in their lower half? Attempting to defend a basketball player while holding perfectly still in front of them would be almost impossible.
Being a great hitter at the plate from that stance is just as tough.
I think we can equate this to any position on any field and make the point. Athletes have some movement in their bodies, they are deep into and inside their legs, and they get into some physical rhythm with their own bodies and with the pitcher's movements.
While the basketball stance is a bit of an exaggeration of what a hitter should look like, it gets the point across very nicely. Here's a great example:
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Hitting Is Explosive
There is no way to be as explosive as we can be from a perfectly still position. Try to jump up as high as you can by first bending your knees and then standing still as a statue, then jump.
Now try the jump again but allow your legs to bend in rhythm and lower your body into a powerful position before exploding upward. The natural movement that your body added in the second jump, when you weren't trying to stand perfectly still, is what it takes to be explosive.
One of the main issues we find with hitters is that they simply don't think of hitting as an aggressive or explosive action. They've heard so many coaches tell them to hold their head still, have really good balance, don't over rotate, and so on, that their focus is to move as little as possible. While all of these coaching cues have their merit in the right situation, the result is often a kid that is afraid to be an athlete in the box.
The truth is that we can accomplish all of those things when we coach hitting, as long as the approach is balanced and the player understands what a good and firm base feels like.
In fact, coaches who are worried about the head moving too much should check out the lower half a lot more often. A hitter who is stiff and has very little bend in their legs will have to move up and down to hit a pitch far more than a kid who is in an athletic stance and is able to shift into the swing from that position.
Win The Mental Battle
In truth, a lot of the frozen bodies are caused by something other than coaching cues or insufficient athleticism, they're caused by fear. A lot of kids are afraid of the ball coming out of a pitcher's hand or the situation they're in at the plate, and it shows by making their body very stiff at the plate.
This fear does two things.
First it fossilizes the hitter and makes it impossible for him to be a good athlete and explosive hitter at the plate.
Second, it shows the pitcher that the hitter is scared and has very little confidence.
Those two things together are a deadly combination for the hitter and they immediately put the pitcher in charge of the situation. There is nothing a pitcher wants to see more than a kid step into the batter's box and look like he just swallowed concrete. It increases the confidence of the pitcher, and makes him believe he's better than the kid at the plate.
On the other hand, a hitter who comes to the plate and immediately looks like a confident athlete has the exact opposite effect. He steps in, makes eye contact with the pitcher, has a little wiggle in his hips which are squarely between his legs and in an athletic position, his bat has rhythm and healthy movement in it like he knows exactly where that barrel is and what it's about to do.
The great thing about fear is that it's mental, and the great thing about stepping into the box like you own it and you're about ready to crush the ball into the upper stratosphere is that it makes you forget about fear.
Stiffness solidifies nervousness, while rhythm and aggressive movement eliminate it.
Winning the battle of confidence is a huge part of the battle in hitting, so when we coach hitting we need to coach confidence as well.
It Also Makes Your Swing Better
Did we mention that all of these things will make the hitter better at what he's doing? This is not a mechanical article, but that doesn't mean that being athletic and having rhythm at the plate doesn't improve your mechanics.
Swinging a bat starts with the bottom half, the number one reason to engage the bottom half from the very beginning.
Hitters who stand perfectly still at the plate are usually the guys who swing almost entirely with their hands and arms. The hands start way before the lower half, so they have very little adjustability or power. The hitter who steps in with good bent knees and a solid load into the back leg will have energy available in the backside of the lower half, which he can use to start an explosive swing.
The feet gather momentum and energy from the ground and transfer it to the big muscles of the legs and hips, which rotate and transfer the power to the core which finally brings the bat to the ball.
None of this can happen if the lower half doesn't start the swing, and in order for it to start the swing it must be active from the beginning.
Everyone Can Do It
The best thing about this advice is that every hitter can do it without changing his swing or his body. He just has to change his approach and the way he uses his body when he steps into the box.
Again, there a thousand ways for a coach to teach this to kids. Equating the batting stance to a basketball player, or a boxer, or a shortstop fielding a ground ball, anything that helps them understand that power and rhythm are crucial pieces of hitting.
For most youth hitters, if all they did was engage their lower half better and take a swing like they wanted to break the baseball, they would make themselves far better hitters. When it comes to how to coach hitting, athleticism and aggressive intent are great places to start.
And if you actually want to set yourself on the ultimate path to elite athleticism, check out Eric Cressey's High Performance Handbook, it's awesome.