By: Quentin Brown
When someone thinks of a baseball or softball “hitting coach” the average person would think about specific hitting terms such as stance, loading process, staying connected, getting extension, line drive, and just the overall teaching a player how to swing the bat efficiently. This is correct, however there is a lot that goes into developing young hitters. As a coach for many years now, I feel a lot of coaches hinder young hitters from being successful through the overcoaching of swing mechanics.
The mechanical components of the swing are important yes, however you have to coach mechanics when a player is doing something drastic that hinders success such as stepping out, dropping their hands, or lunging forward, however we overcoach by talking mechanics every single swing. Even when a player has a good swing, I see coaches talking mechanics and changing that players swing based on the unwanted results of that swing. This could be 6 or 7 things within one round of hitting and now that player leaves the cage with their brain on overload and ultimately, they didn’t get better from the round. In this way, we are not setting hitters up for success and it can be detrimental towards the overall development of each player. Every player is going to have multiple things that need to be worked on therefore trying to be too mechanical in the instruction of the player will cause frustration and a negative view of themselves as a hitter. Drill development to target the areas that need improvement is the key to improving the mechanical side of the swing. However, that is only a small piece of the puzzle.
The first thing I try to develop with the players I work with is the knowledge and understanding of what their overall goal is as a hitter. I teach hitters to have a goal of consistently hitting the ball out in front, as hard as they can with a middle approach. That is it. That is all I try to accomplish with each player early in their hitting progressions. I don’t care per say where the ball goes, as long as they are on time and have hard contact with that pitch. (I have found that trying to accomplish this goal corrects a lot of mechanical issues as well as a lot of timing issues). I see coaches scold a player for hitting a hard shot in between 3rd base and Short Stop, and then tell him some mechanical thing to do so they don’t “roll over” again and demanding the next pitch be a line drive up the middle. This is where having a goal and sticking to it comes into play because that ball should be celebrated. The player got the barrel out in front, a little bit too far, and hit the ball hard to their pull side. There is no need to coach mechanics. Now I know the hardcore coach says do we want to teach that it’s ok to hit ground balls? No, but we should have our players understand what is a bad miss and what is a good miss. A bad miss is when the player is late to the baseball or flares a ball the opposite way getting jammed up. A good miss is when the player is slightly out in front and hits a ground ball to the pull side. Both swings the player “missed” it, however he or she understands which swing is closer to the swing they ultimately want.
Now they have an external goal instead of trying to change something in their swing. I believe the more a coach can teach a player to listen to their body and achieve certain external goals, the more successful they can be in improving that player. Know when to talk mechanics and know when to let the players figure it out. We as coaches have to guide them through. If a player is hitting ground balls consistently, try not to dive right into mechanics, however simply instruct the player to think about hitting the ball in the air. You will normally see that players body react and move in the correct manner fixing his roll over issue without talking mechanics. If you see a player who drops their back shoulder and hits the ball in the air all the time, simply tell them to think about trying to hit the next couple of balls hard on the ground and up the middle. You will normally see that player hit a line drive immediately. There are ways to get the results we want as coaches naturally rather than trying to mechanically manipulate each player. I see too many coaches teaching kids to be robots with a stiff and rigid swing, instead of learning how to listen to their bodies and adjust pitch by pitch.