The art and/or science of hitting is one of the most discussed topics in all of sports. Almost every study has found that hitting a moving baseball is the most difficult skill set to learn in any athletic endeavor. A simple fact is that if you succeed one out of every three times that you bat, you are considered to be an outstanding hitter…33% can get you to the Hall of Fame…actually .300 is worthy of praise! However, if you approach the teaching of hitting with that in mind, you will create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, and that can cloud a youngster or tyro’s mind. The key is to be positive and keep it simple!! FACT: You cannot think and hit at the same time!!
Hitting a baseball is simply “See ball, hit ball, and run”! Most coaches and players over think this skill set and create mental “stiffness”, consternation, and try to focus on the mechanics rather than the “feel” of hitting. It is important to remember that a batter(of any age or at almost any level) has about .5 seconds(1/2 of a second) to react and swing at the ball. Moreover, the pitcher is attempting to deceive the hitter and is throwing downhill(mound is 10” above the hitter. Hmmm..if you blink or try to think, the ball is by you and it is impossible to hit it! Furthermore, there are about 50+ things a batter must do in order to just hit the ball, let alone make solid contact and have the ball fall safely to the ground. Impossible? Of course not, BUT, one must start simple and find the method to impart the process in the student without filling their head with steps or things to think about when they are at the plate! ZEQ!!!
The easiest method to teach a youngster to hit a baseball is to give them a stick/dowel and a rock(small). Have them throw the rock up in the air and then swing to hit it! This begins the process of eyes to ball(rock) and will allow them to work through the hand-eye/eye-hand mechanics of just swinging and hitting a moving object. Simple? Of course, but this is a very important step in the primary development of learning how to hit. After a short time, the youngster will figure out that by casting his/her hands it is impossible to hit the ball consistently and they will make adjustments to a short, quick swing with an “inside” the rock(ball) swing. This simple exercise demands quick hands and a short quick swing…the rudiments of hitting. Most importantly, it demands and requires the keys to successful hitting: mental control, focus, balance, and relaxation.
ZEQ is Zero Error Quotient. Simply said, abide by Occam’s Razor, and keep it simple…s-i-m-p-le. Allow the beginning hitter to relax and swing with ease. As the teacher, do not fill his/her head with cues/hints or other innocuous information. Simply eliminate the errors of quantity and focus on the simple physical skill set of swinging a bat to hit a ball. Once, after extensive practice repetitions, the player learns the muscle “memory” to swing with efficiency, the key is to step up to the plate with an empty head(“Full head equals empty bat!”), relax, take a deep breath, and simply swing the bat! ZEQ!!!
The Teaching Process:
Hitting begins with the feet. It is very important to find a balanced stance which empowers the hitter to be relaxed and in proper position to hit the ball. Each player will be different in that all players have individual differences. Mechanics are the same for everyone, but the style and set up will be different. There is no “cookie-cutter” recipe as to stance, hands alignment, etc, as each person is different and must find the most efficient way to set up for a short, quick, “inside the ball” swing! The goal is to “load” the bat and find the set up that will best lead to a fluid stroke that will allow the flexibility to get the hands to the ball in the simplest manner…it must allow the batter to just “trust their swing”. Again, the process takes time and will necessitate repetitions…most of these should be on a tee and not with a moving ball. The longer a coach/parent can keep from throwing balls to the player, the more of a chance of teaching successful hitting!!
The player must learn and repeat the basic mechanics and stroke until they are second nature, and can be replicated without thought! Tee work is tedious but will produce a smooth, short and quick swing. Teaching hitting is drill oriented and takes TIME!! Key drills will emphasize a “silent” head, quick hips, ball-side shoulder closed, good extension, and strong core/hip/leg drive. Moving the tee to various spots to simulate different pitches will develop visualization as to “hitting the ball” where it is pitched. This latter step is key in simplifying the mechanics of hitting and will allow maximum results from minimum effort.
NO THINKING ALLOWED! The most difficult step in teaching solid hitting mechanics/techniques is to eliminate thinking and focusing on the mental aspect. Hitting is a visual skill set. The EYES must pick up the ball from the release point(pitcher’s hand) and learn to react to the spins/rotation to the ball. This takes time and one cannot think, but, just “see it and hit it”. Again, repetitions and visual drills will empower a player to be able to do this without actually thinking about it.
As part of the proper preparation for successful hitting there are other considerations that must be taken into consideration. As alluded to earlier, balance is key; balance is power and will allow the creation of torque and flexibility of movement. The stride must be minimal or even replaced with a toe tap. Most youngster create inhibiting problems with striding: weight forward, out of balance, hands dropping, eyes and hands losing their synchronization, etc). The size and weight of the bat are instrumental in hand/bat speed. MOST every youngster has a bat that is “cool” but dysfunctional. Generally, they are too heavy and too long; they need light bats that they can handle(not vice versa), and in most cases should still choke up for more control and power. The basics are very much common sense and can be taught by anyone.
The mental preparation for successful hitting requires relaxation and letting the bat simply swing. Most youngsters swing too hard and with a tight grip. The bat should be held very lightly until contact which allows the muscles flow to the ball. Most importantly, the bat should swing through the ball, not at it! The primary focus of the hitter must be “hit vision”. This basically is the process of visualization. The batter should “see the ball” and where it will land prior to the pitch. Find a target for the ball to land that is within 80% or so from where you would want to actually hit the ball. This will ensure a smooth, relaxed swing with a higher rate of proficiency. “Hit vision” will give the mind a clear vision of the goal without the pressure. Swinging with less ferocity allows the mind and body to work together in a more supple motion, and the chances of making good contact will increase at a greater rate. Moreover, forget making mistakes and outs: focus on a fluid swing(short and quick). Do not try to kill the ball or out-swing the pitcher…simply drive your hands to the ball and follow through..viola! “See it, hit it…run!!!”
Albeit, hitting a ball is not easy and will require hard work, diligence, and the ability to adjust to each pitch. The actual at bats are the easy part. The tough part is doing the work off the field, with a tee, and working on drills and perfecting the swing and skill sets necessary. Repetition is the last and most important stage of learning. Studies have proved that it takes 3500 repetitions to perfect a physical skill set and 10,000 hours to master a skill. If a player will not work at it and do the tedious fundamentals, then hitting a baseball will be a very unhappy experience with poor results. Certainly at the youth level a player can get by with athleticism and physicality, but this will be a paper tiger and dissipate as he/she continues to play the game.
ZEQ in its formative stages, especially for youth, is worth the time and effort. As a player develops and advances to higher levels of play, one can then begin the process of working on various adjustments and drills that will improve strength, visual acuity, and power. As a youngster or beginner, it is best to keep it simple and learn the fundamental mechanics of hitting and visualization. Just have fun and GAGPTH!!!
- Rock/whiffle/sponge ball and stick or dowel; Simply throw the item in the air and hit it…anywhere! Primal but effective in teaching the basic swing and hand-eye. Will necessitate watching the “ball” hit the stick! Later can advance to a small bat and ball.
- Use wood bats in all drills. Wood does not forgive and will demand that the ball be hit on the sweet spot. This will help develop a swing “to and through” the ball with some “POP”! “Stubbies” or smaller cut off wood bats are even better in increasing hand and bat speed.
- 20-30 basic swings a day; take 20-30 seconds between swings to relax and re-load. Simply swing the bat with proper mechanics to “remind” you muscles of the correct swing pattern. Keep the head “silent” and the eyes on the imaginary ball. Can use a mirror to evaluate the swing.
- Hit off a tee with feet together. This will help focus on balance and a tight swing. Also, hit with eyes closed after two practice swings with eyes open.
- “Hands Inside” drill with a “stubbie” bat and off a tee. Swing the bat with the knob TO the BALL. This will increase hand/bat speed and develop the proper swing plane.
- One-handed drills: Use these with a “stubbie” to insure the proper swing plane and to keep your front side “closed”.
- Hit from both sides of the plate to develop balance and visual acuity. Also, will strengthen both hands and help keep each hand balanced without letting one dominate the swing arc.
- Practice swinging without a ball in order to emphasize a FULL fluid follow through. Do this to ensure hitting through the ball and not at it. Learn the feel of the follow through. Visualize a ball and drive it in a gap.
- Set up a tee and hit to various paper targets…inside, middle and outside. Set the tee up in order to facilitate hitting the different pitches. Trust your swing and visualize hitting the target before the swing.
It is recommended that a player have a basic tee, bag of whiffles, and both a wood bat and regular metal bat. “Stubbies” are easy to make or can be purchased. Be sure the bats are light and the “stubbie” is not more than 18” long and weighs no more than 18 oz.
The next step is up to YOU…GAGPTH and KWTP!! ZEQ!!!!!!!!!