There is no parent or coach who does not want to build confidence in their players. They don’t want their players to live with regret. They don’t want to see their players quit by the age of 13. So why is it so common that nearly 7 out of 10 will quit?
It’s all about Player Development!
Kids develop at different speeds. Yet, we don’t develop kid’s skills for their success at the next level, but instead, focus on them winning today. When kids play, it is dominated by the most physically developed athletes. The kids who take longer to mature, lose interest before their bodies catch up.
Many kids are told to “just make contact“, “hit the ball on the ground” or “swing down on the ball.” Kids have to field the ball correctly, make a good throw and have it caught by another player just to record an out. While there are certainly situations where you want to hit the ball on the ground, developing kids so that you can win games today, with error prone fielders, does not help anyone’s development in the long term. Hitting a baseball is one of the most complex collection of movement patterns in sports. So why do we want to restrict or ingrain inferior patterns in our youth players today?
Rarely do you hear older guys rave about that moment when they were 10 years old and they hit this hard ground ball to third, the fielder bobbled it and threw it over the first baseman’s head and their teammate scored the winning run. By the time you get to high school, college and beyond, this strategy will not work effectively. Anyone who has advanced beyond youth ball knows that line drives are where success lies.
Does this actually make sense?
We’ll see this later, when we review the science of hitting a baseball.
I can’t thank Casey Fisk enough for a post he shared titled Hitting Vs. Pitching Vs. Hitting. While I did not “get it” until I started preparing my first practice plans, I realized that I needed to help kids to embrace failure. Helping them learn that the outcomes are not important, but that it is the process that we follow that matters.
As my buddy and professional batting coach, Bobby Tewksbary shared with me, “It’s a matter of controlling your thoughts. If you expect to get a hit, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. So what should you expect? What should you be confident about?
Getting a hit is a wrong outcome to focus on. Instead, get ready on time, swing at good pitches, be accurate. This will give you steps to retrace to assess both good and bad performance.”
Are we preparing our kids for failure?
Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports. One reason we lose so many young athletes by the time they turn 13 is because they haven’t learned the lessons of valuing the process over the outcomes. But they also did not learn what a good swing feels like. Of course, we all love to win and hate to lose. We love putting up runs on the board. But, if we don’t teach them to embrace the fact that failure is normal, even expected, then how are we preparing them for the real world?
The lesson to take away is that, as Bobby and Ted Williams pointed out, it is easy to strike out when you are so stressed over getting out, that you swing at anything just to make contact near the strike zone. That is an easy way to fail.
Pitchers want hitters to hit the ball on the ground!
They know that those balls are harder to lift into the air. It doesn’t matter if you are Billy Hamilton, one the fastest guys around, or Albert Pujols, one of the slowest guys. 85% of the balls hit on the ground are outs.
How one coach’s failure can mean your success!
You must also understand attack angle and launch angles:
and the physics of hitting a baseball.
As a guideline, here are the Launch Angles for different types of contact:
- Ground ball: Less than 10 degrees
- Line drive: 10-25 degrees
- Fly ball: 25-50 degrees
- Pop up: Greater than 50 degrees
|BATTED BALLS OUTCOMES FOR 2013 MLB REGULAR SEASON|
|Batted Ball Type||OBP||SLG||OPS||ISO||wOBA|
What kind of hits do we want our kids to learn to swing for? Line drives.
Our intent shapes the drill!
Mike Bryant was an outfielder in the Boston Red Sox system, but only played in the low minors. He only lasted two seasons, 1980 and 1981, before being sent home to Massachusetts with a .204 average. Before he left, though, Bryant absorbed a principle from Ted Williams that he would never forget.
“We’re going to learn how to do two things,” said Ted Williams, the Hall of Famer whose famous mission was to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. “We’re going to hit it hard and we’re going to hit it in the air.”
Bryant could never properly apply that for himself. It might have been too late, as those patterns were not ingrained into him in his youth. I am sure he regretted learning it much later in life.
Mike’s favorite verse, the one he recited endlessly to both his sons when they first picked up a bat: hit the ball hard and hit it in the air.
So it was that the first time 5-year-old Kris Bryant swung at a hardball pitch from Mike, he hit under the ball, as Williams advised, and blasted it about 130 feet, well into the outfield of a Little League diamond near the family’s home in Las Vegas.
Let’s teach kids to succeed for today and tomorrow.
Drills to teach hitting the ball hard and in the air
1. Home Run Derby
Find a spot in your yard, or in the house in which you can “hit” a homerun. It could be over the sidewalk in the front yard, off the basement wall inside or even hitting a ball over the roof of the house. For younger players, get yourself a few of those big plastic balls you can buy at Walmart. The ones that are in those ball pits. Start with the big ones to encourage contact, as they progress or get older, you can use the smaller plastic balls (you can always use Juggs lite-flight balls or Sklz Impact balls if you have little space). You will be surprised how far your kids can hit them with a wiffleball bat. Praise them when they hit them hard! When they hit home runs, go crazy and make them feel good!
2. Line Drive Challenge
3. Extended Tee Drill
4. Skip the Rock Drill
5. Change the Aim, Revise the Intent
Bonus: We also started evaluating the SledgeBat to encourage our players to learn how to hit more line drives. Sadly, our evaluation is on hold while my son is healing his broken arm.
No one becomes a slugger overnight! But…
Hitting a round ball, with a round bat squarely and hard enough is incredibly challenging. We need to expect our kids to strike out. To swing out of their shoes and miss the ball. Praise their effort. They tried to hit it hard. They are going to hit weak fly balls and pop ups. Just because they missed hitting the ball in the right spot. Praise the effort to hit it hard and high. As their body, skills and abilities improve their mechanics and mindset will be aligned.
I hope you get to celebrate many of these moments as well…