The Ugly Truth About Video Gaming, What It Means To The Youth Hitting Industry, & How To Fix…

 

Literally taken by surprise, I was SHOCKED to learn…

…how many of my hitters – mostly male – are obsessed with Fortnite.  No, “Fortnite” isn’t an old English term used to describe a unit of time equal to 14 days (2 weeks).  That’s “fortnight”.  I’m talking about “Fortnite”, the video game that beautiful young ladies around the country are taking steps to do the following

For those who don’t know, what’s the “thing” with Fornite?  According to Wikipedia:

Photo courtesy: Fortnite Gameplay Trailor via GameSpot (YouTuber)

“Fortnite is a co-op sandbox survival game…Fortnite is set in contemporary Earth, where the sudden appearance of a worldwide storm causes 98% of the world’s population to disappear, and zombie-like creatures rise to attack the remainder.”

When I survey all my hitters about how long they play Fortnite in a day, I get answers all over the board, from zero to 6-8 hours in a day (on their day off).  Dang!  On average, it seems 1-2 hours is “normal” daily play time.  My sample size includes age 8 all the way up to Junior High and High School athletes (about a 50/50 age mix)!

Why should a coach care? 

Because of behavioral conditioning: delayed versus instant gratification.

As you may have noticed, video games have changed since we were younger.  They’re more sophisticated.  More sticky.  More addictive.  And studies show, have a similar effect on the brain as Methamphetamine.  During video game play, the brain is quickly and consistently being showered (rewarded) by the feel good chemical dopamine.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the book by Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover titled, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.  Can you see where I’m going with this?

The challenge to coaches and parents is video gaming will eventually take over physical sports, if we aren’t proactive.  WHY?  Compared to what the video gaming experience can offer youth athletes, learning a new physical motor skill can take too dang long!!  Don’t worry, I’m not calling for a ban of Fortnite…my hitters would KILL ME!  Just a little strategic behavioral conditioning.  Delayed gratification is the answer, and rest assured, it can be learned and trained.  We’ll get into how to do that soon.  But first, let’s learn about marshmallows…

 

The Marshmallow Study

If you haven’t already, check out the above video reenactment of the 1960’s Stanford Marshmallow Study.  It’s cute to watch the internal struggle, alone in a room, of a 4 or 5 year old leaving a single soft squishy off-white sugar explosion in your mouth marshmallow, in anticipation of a second one, if they can wait 15-mins.

The interesting thing wasn’t so much the physical study, but the effect after the study.  Over the course of 40-years after the original study.  They tracked the kids from school to their work lives, and as it relates to delayed versus instant gratification, how things turned out for them was fascinating.

What brought the idea of delayed versus instant gratification to my attention was a fantastic book by my friend Bryan Eisenberg titled, Be Like Amazon: Even A Lemonade Stand Can Do It.  In the book, Bryan references the Marshmallow Study and connects the dots to great business people being experts in delayed gratification (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as an example).

Furthermore…

CLICK HERE for a great article by James Clear about the Marshmallow Study, and developing the fine art of delayed gratification.  You can read the article.  Links to many of the original studies are in his post.  I’ll just pick out the interesting points for our purposes.  First, here are the benefits found in kids with better delayed gratification skills:

“The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.”

This is pretty cool, but there was a slightly modified version of the Marshmallow Study at the University of Rochester.  And I think it provides more insight for us coaches…

Before offering the child the marshmallow, the researchers split the children into two groups.

The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researcher gave the child a small box of crayons and promised to bring a bigger one, but never did. Then the researcher gave the child a small sticker and promised to bring a better selection of stickers, but never did.

Meanwhile, the second group had very reliable experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them. They were told about the better stickers and then they received them.”

…The children in the unreliable group had no reason to trust that the researchers would bring a second marshmallow and thus they didn’t wait very long to eat the first one.

Meanwhile, the children in the second group were training their brains to see delayed gratification as a positive. Every time the researcher made a promise and then delivered on it, the child’s brain registered two things: 1) waiting for gratification is worth it and 2) I have the capability to wait. As a result, the second group waited an average of four times longer than the first group.”

 

Are we Born with Delayed v. Instant Gratification?

I know what you may be thinking, “Can delayed gratification be taught?”  Here’s the whopper conclusion…

…the child’s ability to delay gratification and display self-control was not a predetermined trait, but rather was impacted by the experiences and environment that surrounded them. In fact, the effects of the environment were almost instantaneous. Just a few minutes of reliable or unreliable experiences were enough to push the actions of each child in one direction or another.”

Did you catch that? “…the child’s ability to delay gratification and display self-control WAS NOT A PREDETERMINED TRAIT…”.  Here’s the takeaway…

“…you can train yourself to become better simply by making a few small improvements. In the case of the children in the study, this meant being exposed to a reliable environment where the researcher promised something and then delivered it.

…We can train our ability to delay gratification…by promising something small and then delivering. Over and over again until your brain says, 1) yes, it’s worth it to wait and 2) yes, I have the capability to do this.”

James Clear offered these four steps:

  1. Start incredibly small. Make your new habit “so easy you can’t say no.”
  2. Improve one thing, by one percent. Do it again tomorrow.
  3. Use the “Seinfeld Strategy” to maintain consistency (focus on the process, not the performance).
  4. Find a way to get started in less than 2 minutes.

Instant gratification and Fortnite are the devil to youth sports participation!!!  Doesn’t mean we should ban video games.  But it does mean we coaches and parents MUST be more proactive with teaching solid delayed gratification principles.  Besides the 4-steps James Clear offered above, what does this look like with today’s young athletes?  Check out the following two posts titled,

The last thing I want to leave you with is this…

Whether you’re getting hitting information from me or someone else, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE teach human movement principles that are validated by REAL science, NOT because-I-said-so “bro-science”.  Opinions ARE NOT facts.  In this day and age of video gaming and the allure of instant gratification, there’s NO ROOM for hitting “opinion”.  One of my readers summed it up, short and sweet…

But before I let you go…

Ozzie Albies Swing Breakdown

Ozzie Albies Swing Breakdown Reveals REAL Ways To Hit For Consistent Power [An MLB Case Study]

 

In this Ozzie Albies swing breakdown video post, we’ll discuss:

  • What he IS NOT doing, and
  • What he IS doing with Catapult Loading System comparing righty v. lefty swings.

Compared to other Woolly Mammoth hitters in the league like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, Ozzie Albies stands at a vertically challenged 5-foot, 8-inches tall, and weighs only 165-pounds!  Jose Altuve may come to mind?  If so, then check out this post titled, “Jose Altuve Hitting Analysis Reveals A Pathway To Repeatable Power”.

Back to the Ozzie Albies swing breakdown…as of this writing (May 22, 2018), here is Ozzie Albies’s current line…

Ozzie Albies Swing Breakdown - Stats

Photo courtesy: Baseball-Reference.com

By the way, his left handed swing is dampening his numbers quite a bit unless he makes some adjustments to his mechanics.  His left handed swings make up about 75% of his at-bats.  We’ll go over this in a little bit…

 

What he IS NOT Doing

Ozzie Albies Swing Breakdown

Finger pressure, showing numbers, slight downhill shoulders, & hiding hands. Photo courtesy: TheAthletic.com

  • Squishing bugs,
  • Zero head movement,
  • Keeping feet inline with pitcher during turn and in follow through (scissoring),
  • Chopping down on the ball, and
  • Locking out front knee at impact on every swing.

Look, if you want the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to consistent power, then don’t look for it in the legs.  The legs are only 20% of the power game.  The other 80% is found in the spinal engine.  Don’t believe me?  Then check out this post titled: “Is Rotating Back Hip Through The Zone Necessary For Power?”  I tell my hitters, your spine engine gets you to the wall, and your legs get you over.

 

What he IS doing with Catapult Loading System Comparing Lefty v. Righty Swings

Please note: there’s quite a discrepancy between his lefty versus right plate appearances at this point in the 2018 season, so please keep that in mind.  A full season or seasons will tell us the true story, assuming he doesn’t change anything mechanically during that time.  Here are his stats batting lefty versus righty…

Ozzie Albies Swing Breakdown - Lefty Righty Splits

Photo courtesy: Baseball-Reference.com

Lefty swings in relation to using the Catapult Loading System:

  • Not ‘showing numbers’ to the pitcher very well,
  • Little to NO ‘downhill shoulder’ angle, and
  • Not ‘hiding his hands’ from the pitcher.

Righty swings in relation to using the Catapult Loading System:

  • ‘Showing numbers’ to the pitcher beautifully,
  • Slight ‘downhill shoulders’ between 6 to 10-degrees,
  • ‘Hiding hands’ from the pitcher like a champ!

The Plate Appearances are definitely not equal, so we’ll see what happens by the end of the season.  But my fear is, if Ozzie Albies doesn’t change the relationship of the Catapult Loading System to his lefty swing, he’ll see more right-handed pitchers.

Coaching Kids

Coaching Kids Reader Question: “How do you get your own kid to listen/trust your advice as a coach and not as a parent?”

Coaching Kids

My son Noah and daughter Gracen, who were 4yo and 1yo respectively, at the time of this photo.

Be comforted to know that most parents I’ve dealt with have a “coaching kids” challenge – especially when it’s their own!  And I’m preparing to have the same challenge with mine…already have coaches lined up who will be working with them when the time comes 😉

Let me start off by saying, this post IS NOT telling you how to raise your kids.  That’s not my place.  I’m offering advice on what works for me.   In addition, I’m not a child psychologist, or any other type of professional dealing in kid behavior.  Just like with everything on this blog, try it out for yourself, if it doesn’t work, then toss it.  Always be testing.

FYI, I may use the words “coach” or “coaching”, where you could also use the word “discipline” or “parent” or “parenting”.

That being said…

Over the years, I’ve received great advice from the parents of my hitters, before I had kids, and now.  When it comes to coaching kids, below is me throwing my brain up on your tech device screen!

In this post I’ll share:

  • The 30,000-foot view tips to keep “seasons of life” into perspective,
  • 18 ways to get your own kid to listen/trust your advice as a coach and not as a parent, and
  • Some high priority books and resources to read on the subject…

 

30,000-foot View Tips to Keep “Seasons of Life” into Perspective

When it comes to coaching kids, one thing to keep in mind from a 30,000-foot view…

I did a 6-week Men’s Fraternity class at my church a few years back.  The purpose of the class was to train and equip “Godly fathers”.  One thing that stuck out for me at the time, was that your perspective as a dad (or mom) MUST change with the season of life.  What does that look like?

  • Up to 12-years-old, parents are seen as coaches.  Most kids in this age range are less resistant to a parent barking orders.
  • During the psychological warfare teenage years, 13-years-old to college, parents are to be seen as a “listening” counselor.  God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – to listen twice as much as we talk 😛  And,
  • The years following college, young adults getting into their professional lives, parents move into the “colleague” season of life.  New families, babies, etc.

Another great piece of coaching kids advice for those parents who wear both the “coach” and “parent” hat, was to have the ability to be coach on the field, but mom/dad in the car and away from the field.

One more fantastic piece of advice I received from a coach at Fresno State my Freshman year, at a time when I was so frustrated the coaches were tweaking every mechanical movement I did on the field (at least that’s how it felt to me anyway):

“You don’t need to worry when we’re coaching you.  You need to worry when we aren’t.  It means we’ve given up on you.

Powerful.  That message changed my perspective on coaching the rest of my career at Fresno State!  Look, coaching kids is love.  Make your kids aware of that.

 

18 Ways to get your own kid to Listen/Trust your Advice as a Coach and not as a Parent

I want to preface this section with the fact, I haven’t mastered any of the following points.  That’s right, still working on them.  And I welcome the fear that this process will be a journey, and not a destination.  I’m far from being perfect.  I heard this expert’s advice on one of my wife’s favorite dating shows Love at First Sight:

“If you want to find a perfect person, then you have to be perfect yourself.” One of the frustrated men who got married on the show responded with, “But I’m not perfect”, and the expert added, “Then it looks like you get the message.” (liiight bulb)

We don’t have to be perfect as parents, we just have to be willing to learn, make mistakes, adapt, and try again.  The following list of 18 tips for coaching kids will help (especially when the kids are your own!)

  1. Don’t overdo discipline.  Making mountains out of mole hills – pick your battles. Being consistent with rules and consequences is HUGE.  Remember Goldilocks Golden Rule…too many rules, and they’ll rebel later.  Little to no rules, and they’ll walk all over you and everyone else.  Find the sweet spot.  Without consistent rules and consequences, they won’t build the necessary mental muscles to develop self-discipline when they’re adults.
  2. Avoid overuse and burnout – playing multiple sports or being involved in multiple movement activities is key.  Variety is fun to kids, and the spice of their life.  The same thing over and over can become boring, which leads to burnout.  Bodies engaged in a variety of movements is a healthy body.  Say no to Sport Specialization early on.
  3. Make sure they’re “listening” (the VAK Model) – did you know that in less than 5-minutes, you can get a ballpark of a player’s learning style by asking them a few questions, and watching for where their eyes go? Up to left or right – visual learner.  Side to side – auditory learner.  Down to left or right, and straight ahead – kinesthetic learner (feel).  Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) calls this the VAK Model.  This comes in handy when coaching a child, they don’t look at you, and you tell them, “Look at me when I’m talking to you”…they may primarily be an auditory learner, NOT visual.
  4. Be careful tone of voice – my 5yo son is very sensitive to tone of voice (auditory learner), so I have to be careful when coaching him. I must have good reason to raise my voice during times of correction with him.  Also, tempo of words are important when raising the voice or not.  You want to strive for keeping the voice under control even when raising it.
  5. Don’t question by entrapment – asking leading questions in order to trap them isn’t very effective.  It’s condescending actually.  I’m a work in progress on this one.  Putting kids through an interrogation is a terrible idea, especially if you don’t want resentment later. The key is coming off with genuine curiosity as to why they made the mistake they did.  Remember, they’re not perfect, neither are you.  Easy on paper, hard to apply.
  6. Caution them once, then let them make the mistake (providing mistake doesn’t do extreme physical or mental harm) – ever tell your kid to not do something over and over and over and over?  Lessons are more effective when we get ‘hands on’ experience learning them ourselves.
  7. Praise them whenever they do something you want them to do“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.  Behavioral conditioning is much more effective when rewarding for positive things, rather than punishing for the negative (i.e. taking things away).  See Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot The Dog in the resources below.  I take my 5yo to 7-Eleven to get his favorite candy RIGHT after school. We also award stickers for doing certain things like listening the first time, cleaning up messes at home, and being patient with his little sister when she’s hitting him!  10 stickers earn him a toy in the $10-20 range.
  8. Ask their advice, put yourself in a learning mode – genuine curiosity.  Be honest, you LOVE when others ask for your advice, and seem genuinely interested in what you have to say.  Our kids love giving THEIR advice.  Be interested in their thought process.  I find it fascinating how clever they are at their age.  Sometimes I underestimate them, and they surprise me.
  9. Patience – using guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm can be a real help with this.  The book resources below will help too.  Extreme patience in infectious.  Kids will model their parents.  If you’re an angry person, then chances are high your kids will be too.
  10. Understand what their big WHY is – what inspires them?  What motivates them?  Are they looking for attention (need significance), love (craving connection), routine (are they overwhelmed), or variety (are they bored)?  Knowing what’s driving their bad or good behavior can be a big help in prevention or promotion in the future.
  11. Show them the book, video, etc. you’re getting your info from – show them the hitting information you’re teaching them isn’t just “your” opinion.  Show them the science, experimentation, case studies, etc.  Give them proof.  Kids are pretty intuitive.  They seem to know when something has legs or when it doesn’t.  Give them proof.  Check out this post on How to Get Hitters to Buy Into the System.
  12. Give them options to “experiment” with – instead of saying, “Do it this way, not that way”.  Give them options.  You like options, don’t you?  Remember, these human movement principles are like bumpers in the gutter lanes of a bowling alley.  I don’t care what path the ball rolls down the lane, just as long as it stays between the bumpers.  A hitter’s stride type (aka “Float”) doesn’t matter, just as long as there is one.  Let them test, and choose which they feel more comfortable with.  Check out this post on Baseball Stride Drills: A How To Guide
  13. Show them high level movement examples – humans learn best by modeling.  Before there were “hitting coaches” – yes, there was such a time – hitters figured it out by watching other high level hitters.  And yes, it’s okay when coaching kids, to teach them high level movements.  Movement is movement.  Just like you wouldn’t teach an 8yo that 2 + 2 = 5 because they’re too young to learn the truth…you wouldn’t do the same with movement.
  14. Fun – coaching kids MUST be fun. I love positively teasing the kids.  I like making things up to see if they’re listening, “Where’s the keys to the batter’s box?”, “Do you know where the box of curve balls is?” “After running past third base, you run to FOURTH base…” etc.  Keep it light, and the drills fun. Check out this post on: TBall Drills: How To Coach Tee Ball Without Going Insane that may be of interest to those frustrated with coaching younger athletes.
  15. Keep expectations reasonable – “reasonable” doesn’t mean below their current ability level.  The expectations will depend on the age group.  Operating at or slightly above skill level will help players grow.  Learn to manage player frustration, know when to regress or progress a drill.
  16. Break things into small bites – make small circles at first.  The accumulation of many small circles build into a BIG circle snowball.  Focus on one movement principle at a time for a week or month, depending on the age and ability level.  Patience is your friend regardless of what decision the coach whose focus is on winning may be.
  17. Reward effort not talent – reward effort.  Reward process not performance.  “Good job!”, “You’re so smart”, and “You’re so talented” are not helpful pieces of feedback.  Coaching kids in character is best.  Remember, kids MUST learn life lessons through sports, not the other way around.
  18. Pat & Pop Method or the compliment sandwich – give the hitter 1-2 things you really like about their swing (the “Pat” on the back), before giving them the constructive criticism (the “Pop” in the mouth).  Or compliment-criticize-compliment sandwich.  You don’t like to be constantly criticized, and neither do they.  Teenagers often call this nagging.  Find the good before finding what needs to be corrected.

 

Coaching Books & Resources

CLICK HERE for a post by the Positive Coaching Alliance titled, “7 Must-Read Books Of All Genres For Parents”.  Here are the books mentioned in that post, and a few others helping solve the question we started off with in this post:

Some I’ve read, and others are currently on my reading list.  This is a perfect segue to shamelessly plug my “sticky coaching” book on Amazon… 😛

best swing in baseball

Best Swing in Baseball: Here is a Method Helping Mookie Betts – And Many Others – Consistently Crush The Ball

 

In this best swing in baseball video, we’ll discuss:

  • Data and reasoning because personal opinions are seldom useful,
    Best Swing in Baseball: Mookie Betts hitting inside pitch and 'showing numbers'

    Mookie Betts (via my Twitter feed) ‘showing numbers’ at landing on inside pitch…Hitting Guru #57 “should NEVER ‘show numbers’ on inside pitch” objection based on personal opinion with ZERO data to back claim :-/

  • Anatomy Trains, The Spinal Engine, Dynamic Body, WeckMethod, Matt Nokes, Homer Bush, Aaron Miles, and numerous past and present professional hitters agree with CLS,
  • Objection #1: Increases Time to Impact because turning away from impact – twisting balloon analogy,
  • Objection #2: Hitter loses vision and tracking of the pitch – “back eye test
  • Objection #3: Not on inside pitches – hitting “belly button” catcher’s glove,
  • Can eat soup with spoon, fork, knife…but only one way is more effective. Teaching hitting is the same.  Apply human movement principles that are validated by REAL science, NOT “because-I-said-so ‘bro-science'”, and
  • The information is out there, so hitters will find it for themselves, either you will be able to take credit for teaching it or you won’t. Results don’t lie.

Still don’t believe the best ‘show numbers’?  CLICK HERE for a post I did recently titled, “Why I Teach Hitters To ‘Show Numbers’ (And Maybe You Should Too)”.

Don’t be like opinion-based Hitting Guru #57…have solid data and reasoning to back up your “opinions”.

Answering Baseball Stride Drills Reader Question: “How Important Is Forward Momentum I Know We Must Go Forward But Does It Matter If Stride Is Big Or Small?”

“…Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks.  She  went for a walk in the forest.  Pretty soon, she came upon a house.  She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.  At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge.  Goldilocks was hungry.  She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

“This porridge is too hot!’ she exclaimed.  So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.  ‘This porridge is too cold,’ she said.  So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.  ‘Ahhh, this porridge is just right,’ she said happily and she ate it all up…”

More in a bit on how Goldilocks and the Three Bears relates to baseball stride drills, but first…

In the following post, we’re addressing the following concerns regarding baseball stride drills (also works for softball):

  • Stride direction and amount,
  • Stride type (experimenting with the ‘Float’),
  • Head movement from stride, and
  • Controlling center mass in stride.

Before getting into the how to baseball stride drills guide, I want to preface that the PURPOSE of a stride shouldn’t be power.  CLICK HERE for a Zepp swing experiment that may confirm this.  If it’s power you seek, then I’d advise looking at the Spring Loaded category.  What purpose does a stride serve?  A stride is for timing and initiating directional force.  CLICK HERE for this post on that.

Let’s get started…

 

Baseball Stride Drills Direction & Amount

Watch this video from Chris Welch at ZenoLink.  Using data and science, he’s found reasonable markers in guiding baseball stride drills

 

Here are highlights from baseball stride drills video above:Baseball Stride Drills: Stepping in Bucket Drill Using Bands

  • Stride length should be about 3.75-times hip width (hip-center-to-hip-center)*,
  • At landing, stride direction is to be closed about 10-degrees (straight forward toward pitcher is zero-degrees), and
  • Stride landing foot position to be about 65-degrees open (pointing perpendicular to home plate is zero-degrees, and straight at pitcher is 90-degrees).

(*Denotes 3.75-times hip-center-to-hip-center is length of stride measured from back foot to stride landing.  NOT the measurement of the stride itself.)

Chris says in the video that if a hitter is under or over striding, then they’re hampering body’s ability to create torque.  Stride landing MUST align ball of the foot with ball of the foot.

CLICK HERE for a post I did on how to fix “stepping in the bucket” using Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT).  With the image to the right, it’s another one of my baseball stride drills using colored bands to fix stepping in bucket or crashing the plate.  If the hitter is crashing too much with their stride, I get them to feel stepping out, and the reverse is true if they’re stepping out.  I use variance to get them in the middle (blue band).

…Goldilocks Golden Rule. 

 

Stride Type (‘Experimenting with the Float’)

For most intensive purposes, there are 3 stride types:

  • Leg kick – medium (Mike Trout) or large (Josh Donaldson),
  • Slide step – most Big League hitters use this.  Aaron Judge, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto, and Andrew McCutchen just to name a few.
  • Toe-tap – I recommend this for my younger hitters. Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, and Victor Martinez employ this.

Of course, there are variations to these, but these are the three broad categories of stride types.  I call the stride the ‘float’ and ‘fall’.  The ‘float’ is a momentary shifting of weight back towards the catcher before falling forward.  Matt Nokes calls this the ‘Ride’ and ‘Stride’.  Some hitting coaches don’t like this idea, but the reality is this is human movement.  The Chinese have been practicing exactly this move in Tai Chi for thousands of years…in stepping to my right, I have to make a brief weight shift to the left first.  CLICK HERE for a post analyzing this dynamic move.

I included a lot of video examples (CLICK HERE) of MLB hitters using these different stride types to help guide your baseball stride drills. In that post I concluded with this:

“When it comes to [baseball stride drills], Forward Momentum is the objective.  How we get our hitters there doesn’t really matter.  Just give them examples of how to accomplish more FoMo, and allow them to tinker and test until they find something they’re comfortable with doing.”

…Goldilocks Golden Rule.

 

Head Movement from Stride

There’s been few online Hitting Guru #57’s saying we want minimal to zero head movement when hitting.  They claim, the more the head moves, the less your eyes see the ball.  And they point to Barry Bonds as their champion.  On paper, this conclusion looks great, and with Bonds as their poster child seems argument seems pretty reasonable.

However, what science says and what the top 50 hitters in the Major Leagues are doing reveals something completely different.  The opposite actually.  Listen, I agree minimal to zero head movement when hitter’s stride foot lands.  And if baseball stride drills are done correctly, this should be a natural result.  But I don’t agree with minimal to zero head movement GETTING TO stride landing – BEFORE the turn starts.

In this post titled, Softball Hitting Tips For Kids: Why Late Head Movement Fails & Early Head Movement Succeeds, we discuss:

  • The Myth of ‘keeping the head still’,
  • Proprioception & dynamic movement,
  • First baseman stretching to receive a throw, and
  • Watching TV upside down.

The biggest bomb NUKING minimal to zero head movement argument, is this 2013 article by Dan Farnsworth at FanGraphs.com titled, Breaking Down the Swing: Best Hitters of 2012.  Farnsworth compiled a list of the top 50 hitters from the 2012 season according to Fangraph’s batting component of WAR (this is a big deal metric).

He looked at side views of each of these hitters from highlights of the 2012 season, in which each player hit a home-run.  Farnsworth says the main complaint coaches have with early head movement, is that moving the head forward “speeds up the ball”.  This may be true, however during the stride the hitter hasn’t made a definitive decision to swing yet.  In the Head Movement piece of the article, Farnsworth concludes:

“Next to no relationship here.  I think this one can be considered dead, simply based on the fact that all of them moved forward to some degree.”

Did you catch that?! Farnsworth revealed in his research of top-50 hitters in 2012, that ALL moved their head forward to some degree.  You see, head movement is inevitable in ALL dynamic movement.  Early is okay, late is not.   Don’t sit there and point to hitting outliers like Barry Bonds, and tell me the top-50 hitters of 2012 all had it wrong.  It was true then as it is now.

Besides, did you know fresh out of the box, humans come with “video stabilizer” eye software?  Ask an ophthalmologist.  In addition, your knees, ankles (Achilles tendon), and hip joints act as shock absorbers too.  If we start our hitters in an athletic position, and most importantly, they land in one, then the hitter will be fully optimized for minimizing the ball “speeding up”.

If you’re still skeptical, then check out this post titled, Perfect Swing Hacking With Forward Momentum.  We discuss:

  • Balance without thinking,
  • Debunking a common objection & a study, AND
  • Perfect swing examples.

Not too much, not too little, just right…Goldilocks Golden Rule.

And last but not least…

 

Controlling Center of Mass in the Stride

Center of Mass (COM) in the human body is located at the belly button.  This was established in the womb.  The umbilical cord is the center of an unborn child’s universe.  I say this to demonstrate the importance of COM in controlling human movement.

Now, we don’t want baseball stride drills to promote too large or too small of a stride.  Remember? Goldilocks Golden Rule.  Chris Welch from Zenolink said the stride should be about 3.75 times hip-center-to-hip-center, and aligned are back ball of the foot to front ball of the foot at stride landing.  How do we teach this though?  In this post I received the following question from one of my readers…

One specific issue I see in a lot of my players is timing and getting over the front knee too far at contact. What are some good tee drills for staying back and any idea how I can get them to feel it when done correctly.”

In the post titled, Discover Science Of Successful Learning Secret To Fix Lunging (or any swing flaw for that matter!), as it relates to controlling the COM of our hitters, we discuss:

  • Reader question about lunging,
  • “Bean Bag” study from Make It Stick book,
  • WHY we separate PROCESS from PERFORMANCE with hitters learning something new,
  • How it takes time to change ineffective movement momentum into effective, and…
  • Training 4-5 days per week, for AT LEAST 5-mins each day.

And remember the …Goldilocks Golden Rule.

11 TBall Drills & Tips, So You Can Be Confident You’re Preparing Players For The Next Level

In researching this coaching tball drills post, I did a Google search for “coach tee ball”, and one of the Google pre-populated search terms that came up was coach tee ball without going insane.  Apparently, there’s a book being sold on Amazon with the same title by a Robert Doss…who knew. 

I had to laugh because the dad of one of my online hitters, Lawrence Sutton Jr. (link is to his Perfect Game profile), shared over the phone he was pulling his hair out trying to coach his two twin 7yo daughters how to hit.  Let me give you a little context about [son] Lawrence…

You may remember [son] Lawrence in this post titled, How 175-LB 15yo Is Consistently Hitting The Ball 400-FT With…BBCOR & Wood.  Well now Lawrence is hitting those ugly yellow dimple balls out during batting practice.  He’s hitting baseballs over 360-feet…off a tee!  He’s registering over 94 to 96-mph off a regular tee using a PocketRadar.  He’s also hit balls in games over 425-feet. By the way, he’s about 6-foot, 1-inch, 180-pounds…and gets mistaken for a college Freshmen during unofficial visits, but he’s a Sophomore in High School!!

Let me repeat…so now [dad] Lawrence is trying to coach his TWO TWIN 7YO DAUGHTERS…yes, A LOT of patience needed.

Look, I can’t say my situation is exactly like [dad] Lawrence, but I do work with a lot of hitters from 6yo to pro guys and D1 college gals.  Half the hitters I work with are 12yo and younger, and the other half are 13yo and older.  In addition, my son Noah turned 5yo this past December…and this is his first year of tee ball…AND wait for it…I’m now helping coach his tee ball team.  BAM!  A lot of my parents said this day was coming.  Those who can’t see me right now, I’m tipping my cap 😛

In this post, I wanted to share with you advice I offered [dad] Lawrence over the phone about “how to coach tee ball without going insane”.  I know some of you coaches out there can offer some advice as well, so please share below in the comments.

Here are my 11 tball drills and tips (in no particular order):

  1. Patience through guided meditation apps
  2. Don’t have high expectations
  3. Have a long wick to frustration
  4. Failure is going to happen…A LOT
  5. Build fun into practices and games (joke with the players)
  6. Positive reinforcement training
  7. Minimal to NO mechanical teaching
  8. More emphasis on external cues
  9. Extreme adjustments
  10. Focus on throwing and catching
  11. Getting them ready for the next level

 

#1: Patience through guided meditation apps

First of all, if you’re not going to have the patience for coaching tball drills, then you’re not going to enjoy coaching.  Period.  There are two great guided meditation apps out there:

  • Headspace, and
  • Calm.

I prefer Headspace, which I’ve been using over the past couple years.  Minimal investment of money, and between 2 to 20-mins investment of your time each day.  Helps me focus better, think clearer, expose my creativity, and especially for coaching tee ball – become more aware when you’re losing it, so you can relax in a shorter period of time.  It’s totally transformed my interaction with my wife, kids, and hitters.

 

#2: Don’t have high expectations

David Epstein, in his book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, talks about “learn-ability”.  It’s the ability of an athlete to adapt and learn something new over time.  To help put coaching tball drills into perspective, the bell curve of young athletes looks like this:

  • Left hand side long tail = below average “learn-ability” athletes, take longer to learn something new (these are few),
  • Majority middle bell curve = average “learn-ability” athletes, take a reasonable amount of time to learn something new, and
  • Right hand side long tail = above average “learn-ability” athletes, take a very short time to learn something new (these are few).

Most of your tball drills and expectations should be setup for the majority middle bell curve.  You’ll then want to have a regression-progression plan for your below and above average learners, which we’ll discuss later in this post.  The point is, set reasonable expectations, and understand what you’re up against.

 

#3: Have a long wick to frustration

If you haven’t noticed, kids pick up on frustration pretty quickly.  And oftentimes you can’t fool them.  Believe it or not, kids just want their adult counter-parts to be happy.  Studies show that when hot tempered anger or animated frustration enters the mix, learning stops.  The focus falls onto survival.

They’re modeling you when learning how to react to “speed bumps”.  And if coach (or mom/dad), is extremely animated when frustrated or angry, then they’ll learn that’s how you deal with it.  Guided meditation helps hide the mental meltdown button.  Here’s another powerful word I use often with my kids…and hitters…

The following YouTube video is Dr. Carol Dweck doing a speech on the power of “yet”…

I highly recommend her book Growth Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success.  The power of “yet” will help mold your tball drills to be growth mindset oriented.

 

#4: Failure is going to happen…A LOT

Think back to when your kids were learning to walk.  Did you teach them a thing or two on how to do it?  What cues did you use?  Internal ones? External?  “Walk as hard as you can, as far as you can” cues?  NO!  Figure It Out (or FIO) and Gravity were their best teachers.  The best tball drills are designed with failure in mind.  A LOT of it.  Swing and miss.  Swing and miss.  Swing and miss.  And multiple that by 100 at this age!

I’m here to tell you, it’s okay.  They’re 4, 5, or 6 years old.  Even one of the best hitters to ever play the game said hitting a ball is one of the hardest things to do in any sport – Ted William.  You can’t get 7 wrong on a school test and climb the education ladder.  Hall of Famers get it right 3 out of 10 times in baseball.  Keep on a poker face (hold the judgement), give positive reinforcement during tball drills when they get a productive outcome, and encourage the heck out of them.

 

#5: Build fun into practices and games (joke with the players)

Play games at the end of practice like Total Bases, Last Man (or Woman) Standing, Russian Baseball (kind of like cricket), or any other fun game.  Use it as a reward if they get their work done.  Speaking of which, tball drills MUST not go any longer than 60-mins (preferably 45-mins).  Adults forget 4-6 year olds have the equivalent attention span of a gnat.  Keep practices short and sweet.

I like to “flirt” with my players and hitters…not in a romantic way, you weirdo!  In a playful way.  I tease my Middle School and High School hitters about the video game Fortnight, and how all the pretty girls are looking to get 100,000 signatures on a petition to ban the video game because it’s robbing them of their “guy time”.

When we’re talking about running to different bases with the tee ballers, they learn about 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, and FOURTH base…wait minute, is that right?!  I ask them if they have the key to the batter’s box.  Or if they could fetch me the box of curve-balls.  I tease the heck out of them on down times.  Keep them loose and on their toes.

 

#6: Positive reinforcement training

The best resource for this is the book by Karen Pryor titled, Don’t Shoot The Dog:  The New Art Of Teaching And TrainingKaren has trained dolphins, horses, dogs, and humans.  This form of training has taught chickens to turn the page of a book.  True story!  And trained two pigeons to play ping-pong.  Another true story!  Studies show we’re driven more by positive than negative reinforcement.  That’s not to say negative reinforcement training isn’t effective, because it is…give one chimpanzee an apple, then take it away, and they’re peeved!  Give another chimpanzee two apples, then take only one away, and they’re just as peeved!  However, if you want to build lasting habits, positive reinforcement training is the way to go.

Let me give you some examples of this:

  • My 5yo boy Noah gets any $1-2 candy at 7-Eleven immediately after school.  He also gets an ice cream scoop immediately after going to his gymnastics training.  He earns stickers for doing productive things, and after earning 10 stickers, he gets a toy of his choice within financial reason.
  • For the boring redundant parts of my business I play my favorite music in the background (right now it’s Eric Church, songs: “Talladega”, “Springsteen” & “Record Year”), and most times have a sweet green tea within reach.
  • Karen Pryor told a story in her book Don’t Shoot The Dog, of when her daughter took a night class for working professionals.  The Professor would always start the class off with the “Who finished last night’s homework?” question.  Only 25% of the class would raise their hands.  She’d then lectured the class on the importance of doing their homework.  After one of the classes in private, Karen’s daughter talked the Professor into praising those who did do their homework instead of belittling those who didn’t.  After about of week of using positive reinforcement training, 75% of the class were raising their hands after the “who turned in their homework” question.

You MUST read Karen Pryor’s book.  Your coaching will never be the same.

 

#7: Minimal to NO mechanical teaching

(Get more information on the Backspin Tee, or the RopeBat at TheStartingLineupStore.com)

Above is my 5yo boy Noah hitting a Smushball laser in a Backspin Tee with a Ropebat.  Look at him ‘show those numbers’!

Remember, they’re 4, 5, and 6 years old.  I have local and online lesson requests from parents with kids in this age range I turn down.  And by the way, it’s possible to teach a 2yo how to hit a moving ball.  I did with my son Noah.  Not forced.  He loved the movie Sandlot at the time and got a little tee ball set for his birthday.  CLICK HERE for a post on how I progressed him to hitting an under-hand thrown baseball sized whiffle ball using a long slim yellow whiffle ball bat.

I give the following advice to parents seeking swing help for their 4-6 year old hitters

  • Being athletic in their stance.  Bend at waist, chest over toes.  Bend in the knees.  Start that way and maintain that position to stride landing.  It’s easier to teach if they’re playing other sports like soccer, basketball, gymnastics, dance, and/or martial arts.
  • Grip on the bat.  Handle of the bat lines up in the middle of the hand – base of the finger tips, top meat of the hand.  I’m not even concerned if their hands are together at this stage.
  • Balance when swinging.  They should not be falling toward or away from the plate.  However, we may use these cues to correct one side of the extreme.  In other words, if they’re falling away from the plate, then I would tell them to fall towards the plate, to get them to balance.
  • Fungo toss is great as a progression.  Hitter tosses ball up to him or herself and tries to hit it before it hits the ground.

That’s just about how technical I get with tball drills for hitting.

 

#8: More emphasis on external cues and variance

We do a lot of external cuing.  Hit the ball over there.  Hit the ball up or down there.  Hit the top half of the ball.  Hit the bottom half of the ball.  Hit the ball in on your hands.  Hit the ball off the end of the bat.  Hit the ball in the middle (sweet spot).  Try hitting this ball with this heavy bat.  Try hitting the ball with this Easton Pro Stix whiffle ball bat.  We hit from different distances providing we’re progressing to LIVE toss.  Reverse strike zone drill where they’re swinging at “balls” and taking “strikes”…they like it when I bounce it and they have to hit it!

What’s important is for them to try different ways.

 

#9: Extreme Adjustments

This works like magic.  Check out for following video that’s great for tball drills…

 

#10: Focus on throwing and catching

CLICK HERE for an audio interview I did with NCAA Division-1 Hall of Fame college baseball Coach Bob Bennett.  One of the questions I asked him was if my team was getting ready to win the Little League World Series, but only had 4-weeks to train, what would you work on.  And do you know how he responded?  Playing catch and pitchers throwing strikes (obviously, the latter is irrelevant to coaching tball drills)Fielding ground-balls and playing catch are VERY important because 95% of coaches at the lower levels are teaching their hitters to hit ground-balls.  Why?  Because they know kids can’t play catch at that age!  If you want to win a lot of games, then obsessively teach your players to play catch.  Take advantage, this is low hanging fruit coaches 😉

 

And FINALLY #11: Getting them ready for the next level

Coaches MUST maintain a Growth Mindset at all time, and should never just coach for the current level.  Like Wayne Gretzky said:

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Coaches MUST be looking forward when developing players…always.  My son’s Pre-K teachers are doing everything they can to prepare him and his classmates for Kindergarten this next year.  So why can’t Little League coaches prepare their troops for the big field?  So in the context of coaching tball drills, start using the progression I used with Noah in the aforementioned linked article on how to teach a 2yo how to hit a moving ball…

  • Hitting off tee is essential at first, but slowly shrink the diameter of the bat, moving the tee up or down after every swing, and use different size and colored balls.  Variance if your coaching tball drills friend.
  • Once they’re consistent hitting the ball off the tee, grab the fat plastic bat and beach balls!  Start underhand tossing, and as they start hitting the ball more often, then slowly shrink the ball down to baseball sized whiffles.  Once they’re hitting those whiffles with the fat barrel plastic bat, then start slowly shrinking the barrel diameter down.

This is a progressive winning strategy that worked for my son.  It may or may not take longer, but that’s the art of learning.  Embrace it.  Have A LOT of patience.  And coaches, go forth and make awesomeness…

How Your Central Hitting “Operating System” May Be Causing You To Lose Out On Scoring More Runs

How To Maximize A Hitter's Contribution To Run Scoring Process  

Photo courtesy: MopUpDuty.com

Recently, I had a conversation with a coach on Facebook who thought the following quote from Josh Donaldson was “horrible advice”:

“If you’re 10-years-old and your coach tells you to get on top of the ball…tell him NO.”

I’m not getting into the positive or negative of Donaldson’s statement, but the coach’s responses that followed his “horrible advice” comment got me thinking.  Come to find out, the loud and clear message was this coach despises when hitters strikeout. Often referring to this offensive outcome as “disgusting”.  What was interesting was this one principle was central to how and what he teaches his hitters.

So I wanted to do a hitting “operating system” thought experiment.  In reading what follows, please keep in mind what the main objective to offense is, according to FanGraphs.com

“In baseball [or softball], we care about run scoring (and prevention) and so when looking at offensive statistics, we want to find statistics that tell you something about how much a player contributes to the run scoring process…again, we care about a player’s contribution to run scoring and if you treat everything equally you’re not getting a very accurate measure of those contributions.” 

In this thought experiment, we’ll discuss…as a hitting instructor, what would happen if:

  • The Time To Impact Metric was Central to the “Operating System”?
  • Minimizing a Hitter’s Strikeouts were Central to the “Operating System”?
  • Maximizing Batting Average were Central to the “Operating System”? And,
  • Maximizing OPS were Central to the “Operating System”?

Now, that being said…as a hitting instructor, what would happen if…

The Time To Impact Metric was Central to the “Operating System”? 

If you’re new to this term, here’s the definition of Time To Impact according to Zepp:

“TIME TO IMPACT is the amount of time (in seconds) from the start of the downswing until impact of the bat with the ball. The closer to ZERO your swing is, the quicker your bat is to the ball. The faster the time to impact, the longer the hitter can wait to start the swing. Time to Impact also measures how short a player’s swing is. Time to Impact measures their coordination of both their hand and the bat barrel to maximize swing efficiency to the ball.”

CLICK HERE for amateur, High School, and Pro ranges for both baseball and softball.  What would be the top 2-3 priority hitting concepts guided by this principle?

  1. Point-A to B barrel path (shortest distance between two points). Default hitting strategy would be “Knob to the ball”.  “Swing down”. “Barrel above the hands”.
  2. Most likely using more linear elements in the swing for both upper and lower half (i.e. ‘showing numbers’ will be a no-no).  Maybe similar to a Charlie Lau style of hitting.
  3. Minimalist view of the swing…wide feet, no stride, minimal hand and head movement, etc.  May not believe a hitter can train timing, so the view is that it’s all about bettering the hitter’s reaction time.

Look, there’s a healthy range for Time To Impact, not taking too long, and not being so quick the barrel is not in the impact zone long enough.  You can see that range in the previous Zepp link.  Remember, we want to formulate hitting principles that encourage how to maximize a player’s contribution to the run scoring process 

Moving on,

As a hitting instructor, what would happen if…

Minimizing a Hitter’s Strikeouts were Central to the “Operating System”? 

What if you despised hitters striking out so much, you often referred to this outcome as “disgusting”, like our coaching friend above.  What would be the top 2-3 priority concepts guided by this principle?

  • Protecting hitters from swing and misses at all cost.  Very defensive just make contact swings, especially with 2-strikes.  May subscribe to barrel on plane of pitch early and stay on plane longer.  Less margin for error.
  • Believes in hitting ball hard and on a line.  However, low liners and ground-balls are preferred, especially with 2-strikes.  Don’t care as much about extra base hits, doubles maybe, but not homers.  They aren’t worth the risk.  Swings taught at the advent of astro turf fit this type of hitting perfectly.  Hard and on the ground.
  • Mechanics may look like: wide no-stride feet, bug squishing, minimal head movement from start of swing to finish, choking up (especially with two strikes).  Very defensive type of swing.  On board with boosting Ball Exit Speeds, but will not agree with optimizing Launch Angles.  Besides hitter strikeouts, this coach absolutely hates getting the ball in the air (too much of an out risk for them), unless it’s a low level line drive.  High batting average and low strikeouts are very important to this coach.

Listen, if this is you, I’d highly advise checking out this VERY popular post titled, “The UGLY Truth About Hitting Ground Balls”.  I’m not going into every argument here, but the math and geometry don’t lie in demonstrating ground-balls are gross.  The main reasons are:

  1. Ask any pitcher, and most (if not all) will tell you they’re taught to keep the ball down in the zone, to get the ground-ball.  So, if the default strategy – or safety net to the line-drive – is to hit ground-balls, then you’re teaching hitters to do what pitchers want them to do.
  2. Because of reason #1, there are 5 fielders on the infield (yes, the pitcher is considered a fielder) with less space to cover.  There are only 3 outfielders with A LOT of space to cover.  And lastly,
  3. Most double plays are turned on the infield (probably THE WORST hitting outcome in the sport), and if you’re pinning hopes and dreams on an infielder making an error or ball taking a weird bounce, then you’re focusing on things you can’t control.  High level coaches and players don’t think that way.  WHY? Because it’s silly.

Again, we want to formulate hitting principles that encourage how to maximize a player’s contribution to the run scoring process.  A defensive swing doesn’t do this. 

Next, as a hitting instructor, what would happen if…

 

Maximizing Batting Average were Central to the “Operating System”?

In Golf, precision is key.  The least strokes possible.  Being able to control the club head has a lot of value because one small deviation at impact is exponentially compounded hundreds of yards from the tee box.  The last hitter to hit .400 was Ted Williams in 1941.  Tony Gwynn came close in the strike shortened year of 1994, hitting .394, and hitting around .370 in three separate full seasons.  And Gwynn had a mere fraction of the power Williams did.

Before I get to what a hitting coach would focus on here, I wanted to address the elephant in the room.  In the day and age of Sabermetrics, Batting Average isn’t a useful statistic in deciding a player’s value.  In a FanGraphs post titled, “Stats to Avoid: Batting Average”, they put forth two reasons to avoid looking at BA as a useful metric:

  1. “Batting average ignores a segment of offensive actions just because they aren’t “hits,” and 100 years ago, someone decided a hit and a walk were fundamentally different.”  And,
  2. “The second major flaw is that batting average treats every hit equally even though certain hits are more valuable than others. Batting average treats a single and a double like the same thing, even though a hitter who only hit doubles would help his team score a lot more runs than a hitter who only hit singles.” 

That being said, maybe a better stat would be Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). Not the best, but better than BA.  FanGraphs.com defines BABIP as:

“Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. A ball is “in play” when the plate appearance ends in something other than a strikeout, walk, hit batter, catcher’s interference, sacrifice bunt, or home run.”

Okay, so what would be the top 2-3 priority concepts guided by this principle?

  • Getting on the plane of the pitch early with the barrel, and maximizing that time.
  • Place a high emphasis on barrel control, both horizontally (across the field) and vertically (optimizing Launch Angles).  The best hitters in the world can put the ball where they want, when they want, during batting practice.
  • This Joey Votto interview post describes this approach, it’s titled, “Joey Votto: Why Coaches SHOULD NOT Be Obsessed With Launch Angles”

I LOVE this approach, and I feel coaches have done a poor job of training their hitters in it in the past (including me).  Teaching hitters to hit the ball where they want, when they want.  Why can’t we have hitters in High School batting .600 to .800?  Or Little Leaguers hitting .880?  I know it can be done because I did it when I was 12yo, in addition to hitting 30+ homers.  Using Batting Average (BA), or better yet Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), is a great start to encourage how to maximize a player’s contribution to the run scoring process.

The challenge I have with it though, neither of the BA or BABIP metrics take walks and/or homers into account.  Remember “contribute to run scoring process”.  Which leads me to, as a hitting instructor, what would happen if…  

 

Maximizing OPS were Central to the “Operating System”?

Have you read the book MoneyBall by Michael Lewis, or watched the movie with Brad Pitt?  If you haven’t…THEN WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!!!!  lol, kidding.  OPS stands for On-Base Percentage PLUS Slugging Percentage.  There are better metrics, but this is a good one to start with if this is new to you.  FanGraphs.com defines it as:

“On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) is exactly what it sounds like: the sum of a player’s on-base percentage and their slugging percentage. Many sabermetricians don’t like OPS because it treats OBP as equal in value with SLG, while OBP is roughly twice as important as SLG in terms of its effect on run scoring (x1.8 to be exact). However, OPS has value as a metric because it is accepted and used more widely than other, more accurate statistics while also being a relatively accurate representations of offense.”

It’s one of the best metrics to formulate hitting principles that encourage how to maximize a player’s contribution to the run scoring process.  On-Base Percentage (OBP) measures how often a player gets on base.  And Slugging Percentage (Slug%) measures how many extra base hits a hitter hits.  ISO, or Isolated Slugging (aka “raw power”, takes singles out of the equation), is better than Slug%, but I don’t want to complicate matters. Remember, the object of this game is to get runners on, and knock’em in.

 Okay, so what would be the top 2-3 priority concepts guided by this principle?

  • High frequency of hitting the ball hard.  Increase Ball Exit Speed, or how fast the ball comes off the bat.  However high Ball Exit Speeds with low Launch Angles are no good.  A few years ago Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball 123.8-mph…on the ground, one-hopper to the second baseman…double play. Ouch.
  • Optimize launch angle range between 15 to 25 degrees.  This is the ideal line drive range, and optimizes batted ball distance.  Some hate talking about Launch Angles, but every batted ball has a launch angle, even bunts.
  • Mechanics that optimize both of these are key.  How do we optimize Ball Exit Speeds?  (Hint: that’s what Power Hitter 2.0: Engineering The Alpha does).  What mechanics optimize Launch Angles and hitting more line drives?  (Hint: that’s what The Pitch-Plane Dominator does).  And importantly, my hitters don’t sacrifice swing quality for power.  We get both!  My hitters lower their strikeouts, mis-hits, fly-balls, and gross ground-balls with these online video courses.

I think there’s success on whatever part of the spectrum coaches find themselves on.  However, what if you lived on a planet that used forks and knives to eat soup?  What would happen if an alien came down and surprised them with a spoon?  Teaching hitting is the same.  There may be thousands of ways to teach hitters, but one way is most effective.  What is that way?  Applying human movement principles validated by REAL science, NOT “because-I-said-so ‘bro-science'”, to hitting a ball.   Have a higher standard for your hitters.

We as coaches have to reverse engineer the our swing strategy based on what the game values, which are runs!  The more runs your team can score (and prevent), the more WINS you get.  Don’t lose sight of that coaches.

Don’t Teach Rearward Barrel Acceleration Without Understanding Pitch Depth First

 

There are a few “gurus” out there promoting a rearward barrel acceleration, which I agree with.  However, in teaching young hitters the concept over the past few years, with no disregard for pitch depth, some of my most clean hitters – mechanically – were having challenges getting to the inside pitch.  Rearward barrel acceleration is good, but MUST not be a blanket teach for all pitch depths.  The best hitters, like Mike Trout, alter the timing of the barrel’s release off the back shoulder.

Mike Trout Swing Case Study: Hitting The Catcher's Glove

Mike Trout swing case study: hitting the “catcher’s glove”. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

Enter the content of this video.

Here’s what I tried to do in the above Mike Trout swing case study:

  • Select Mike Trout home-run swings that were based off similar pitch type, location, and pitch speed,
  • Same game would assume same catcher and catcher’s position relative to the hitter,
  • Same camera view, and preferably the same camera zoom setting,
  • Comparing inner third of plate pitch location barrel path versus outer third, and
  • Same pitcher would help control timing variable.

This was A LOT to ask, so truth be told…unfortunately, not all these points are affirmed in this case study.  Let’s compare Mike Trout’s 200th and 201st career homers on September 29, 2017…

Pitch #1:

  • Gonzalez was the pitcher
  • 86-mph FB? outer third part of the plate, mid-thigh high
  • Homer to LCF

Pitch #2:

  • Vincent was the pitcher
  • 90-mph FB, inner third of the plate, mid-thigh high
  • Homer to LF

A couple notes on Mike Trout’s “alligator arm” swing on Pitch #2:

  1. Okay if late on the inner half of the plate (purpose is to barrel up ball and that’s what Mike Trout is doing on pitch #2),
  2. NOT okay if doing off a tee, if on-time during soft-toss, or during dry swings (basically when timing is irrelevant or minimal), and
  3. CLICK HERE for a recent post on how to fix alligator arms, and how to practice what Mike Trout is doing with hitting the different “catcher’s gloves”.

I’ve Lied To You for A Couple Years Now…Joey Votto On His 2018 Approach

 

The Josh Donaldson interview last year was awesome, but I think THIS interview with Joey Votto may be better.  It doesn’t have the same let-the-beast-out-of-cage feeling that Donaldson contributed, but I feel Votto gives us more of a glimpse into the true art of hitting.  What Votto shares confirms what my hitters have been working on this past off season…line drive barrel control.  Precision.

Look, I love teaching my hitters the process of how to increase Ball Exit Speeds and to get the ball off the ground (optimal Line Drive Launch Angles), but as Joey Votto says, it’s not the whole story.  And this is where I’ve been lying to you for a couple years.  Actually, not lying, just not sharing the whole story. 😉

Let me explain…

Joey Votto 2018 Hitting Approach

Joey Votto talking about controlling the line drive, setting goals like getting on base half the time, & using batted ball as feedback for future swing adjustments. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

My friend and professional golf instructor Lee Comeaux knows golf, and brought this idea of “precision” to my attention a few years back.  He understands springy fascia and the spinal engine, which is a PLUS.  Also, over the past few years he’s mentored his teenage daughter to hit .600 in Texas fast-pitch softball leagues.  But most importantly, he comes from a sport where precision is king.  Ask any golfer if they’re as obsessed about Ball Exit Speeds and Launch Angles like we are, and they’ll look at you as if a third eye grew in the middle of your forehead overnight.

What good is Ball Exit Speed if the ball is not going towards the hole?  And Launch Angles matter depending on the distance to the target.  And by the way, the angled club face kind of takes care of Launch Angles for golfers anyway.

Put yourself in a golf mindset for a moment.  Imagine thinking about hitting, like you would golf?  Precision.  In the above interview, Joey Votto mentions the best hitters can hit the ball where they want, when they want.   This may not be 100% true in games, but during Batting Practice most surely.  How many of your hitters can do that?  Not many of mine, but we’re working on it.

Precision.  This is not being talked about or taught in today’s baseball and softball circles.  How to control the line drive.  The height AND width of it.  Why are we so obsessed with the vertical aspect of the field and not the horizontal?  So many coaches out there believe a hitter can’t have power without sacrificing swing quality.  An increase in power doesn’t have to dampen Batting Average and/or increase a hitter’s Strikeouts.

Precision.  How to control the line drive.  It’s not easy, but it CAN be done.  Hitters CAN have a high Batting Average (even though BA isn’t a good indicator of value anymore, according to Sabermetrics), power numbers, and low strikeout totals.  And I think Joey Votto touched on what I feel is just the tip of the iceberg.  Here are the few key things to look out for in the above interview:

  • This idea of Precision. Controlling the line drive.
  • Setting hitting goals and reverse engineering purpose of the swing.
  • The idea of using a batted ball as feedback to make adjustments (not new for golfers btw).

Without further adieu, here are…

 

My Joey Votto Interview Notes on his 2018 Hitting Approach

  • About 0:20 second mark, Votto believes talking Launch Angles isn’t telling the whole story, how complete you are as a hitter, rebuts Josh Donaldson’s “ignore coach if he tells you to hit a ground-ball” comment, all fly-balls are not good fly-balls,
  • About 1:30 minute mark, Votto talks about how hitters like Donaldson, et al. can hit a ball with any trajectory to any part of the ballpark, he uses golfer with a bag of clubs metaphor, doing anything you want at anytime is the story we’re not telling, best hitters can do everything – he brings up Mike Trout (diverse array of skills),
  • About 3:00 minute mark, Eric Byrnes asked Votto how his approach has changed since coming into league in 2007, give away less pitches, anytime he takes a swing there’s intent or purpose to each swing (not being reckless), since he’s aging as a player, Votto isn’t able to make up for swing inefficiencies he could with a young athletic swing,
  • About 4:30 minute mark, Byrnes asks Votto how he is super-human with his walk to strikeout ratio when the league really doesn’t care about inflated K quantities, making a conscious effort to cut down on K’s, goals – looked to Sabermetrics to see how he could hit .340 or .350 last year and math said he had to strikeout a bit less, mentioned a few years prior his goal was to get on base half the time (OBP would = .500), chokes up, the “con” was it led to softer contact at times, ability to foul off tough pitches, buys a better pitch later in the AB, spreading out, seeing ball a little deeper,
  • About 6:50 minute mark, Votto was asked about how he has the highest batting average in his first AB, how important is starting game off with good momentum, separated each AB like it’s their own thing, focusing on one AB at a time, every single game over an entire season, sticking with plan in the long run, Jay Bruce “to hit homer, you have to miss homers”, focus on process,
  • About 8:40 minute mark, Byrnes asked Votto, “I have a 6yo boy at home, what’s the #1 thing you’d teach him about hitting?” Let the ball be your feedback.  Spending too much time on mechanics, ball is going straight in the air, ground-ball, in the air, is the ball coming off 4-seam, on a line with backspin, story about watching Albert Pujols with Cardinals on a line with backspin.

How To Hit A Ball 400-Feet By Streamlining 8,000-Pounds Per Square Inch Of Force In ONE Direction

Most likely, Little Leaguers and 12-year-old young ladies won’t be driving the ball 400-feet anytime soon.  I know that. However, the point of this “Pounding the Nail” drill video post is how to train hitters to direct their swing force optimally.  In the above video, we go over…

  • Thanks to Matt Nokes,
  • Define Directional Force, takes 8,000 pounds per square inch, in one direction, to hit ball 400-feet,
  • What is a Lumberjack trying to do? Lean in and compress the baseball,
  • Using colored bands on ground to simulate pitch location directional force (see image of plate and colored bands below), and
  • Stand out front of hitter with external image (nail).

I like to pair the above “Pounding the Nail” drill with the following “Shorten Swing” drill…

 

However, I’ve evolved my thinking on the latter video.  And here it is:

  1. The “catcher’s glove” ball marker closest to the actual catcher is outer 1/3 of plate right-center approach (for righty, reverse for lefty),
  2. The “catcher’s glove” ball marker inline with the back foot is middle 1/3 of plate dead-center field approach, and
  3. The “catcher’s glove” ball marker inline with hitter’s belly button is inner 1/3 of plate left-center field approach (for righty, reverse for lefty).
    Pounding the Nail Hitting Drill

    It takes 8,000 pounds per square inch of force, in ONE DIRECTION, to hit a ball 400-feet.

I see coaches generally teaching a “kicking back” of barrel towards the catcher.  I found deeply accelerating barrel same for all pitch depths to be ineffective for my hitters.  As you’ll see in the syncing of these two drills, the distance between what catcher’s glove the hitter hits and the depth of impact is the same.

For example, the DISTANCE between hitting catcher’s glove position #1 above to optimum impact on the outer 1/3 of the plate SHOULD MATCH hitting catcher’s glove position #3 above to optimum impact on the inner 1/3 of the plate.  You still following me?

I was teaching the same blanket “deep barrel” acceleration as everyone else, but my cleaner hitters mechanically were having a challenge barreling up the inner 1/3 pitch.  You see, their swing path was taking too long in getting to the inner 1/3 pitch with the generalized “deep barrel” approach.

I recommend watching video of top hitters smashing the inside versus the away pitch and in most cases, you’ll see a difference in what catcher’s glove they’re hitting.  Remember the objective is directional force.  Matt Nokes says that is takes 8,000 pounds per square inch of force, in ONE DIRECTION, to hit a ball 400-feet.  Practice syncing these two drills with your hitters in the following progression:

  • Dry swings first,

    “Pounding Nail” Drill colored band staggered impact setup to simulate pitch depth (for a righty, reverse for a lefty)

  • Tee next,
  • Then soft toss (DO NOT work the “deep” catcher’s glove position here, unless you’re okay with donating your teeth!)
  • And when you get the hitter to LIVE, make sure they understand before pitcher throws the ball, they default to the middle approach, and make the smaller adjustment in or out, depending on pitch depth.

PLEASE NOTE: once the hitter gets to LIVE, make sure they understand the following:

  • Most optimized force = pounding nail over correct part of plate (ex. for righty, driving inner 1/3 to left-center),
  • Optimized force = slipping lines, and pounding one nail over (ex. for righty, driving middle 1/3 to left-center), and
  • Sub-optimal force = slipping lines, and pounding two nails over (ex. for righty, driving outer 1/3 to left-center).

Just think about it, if it takes 8,000-pounds per square inch of force in one direction to hit a ball 400-feet, and that’s optimal…what happens if the hitter uses “Sub-optimal force” like in the above bullet point?  Right! It’s going to take more force to hit it farther.  I dunno how much, but taking a guess in the aforementioned sub-optimal example, it may take 12,000 or 16,000-pounds per square inch of force to hit the ball 400-feet pounding two nails over, so make it easy..hit it where it’s pitched!

After this lesson, typically the “light-bulb” goes on with my hitters.  I hope this helps!