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Christian Yelich Says Barry Bonds Taught Him A Drill That Changed His Career…

 

 

I agree with ‘swing down'…

Christian Yelich & Barry Bonds: 'Swinging Down' in the 'Launch Angle' Era

Christian Yelich and Barry Bonds swing comparison. Photo courtesy: Jomboy Media YouTube channel

Let that sink in for a bit.

Some are pissed I just said that.  But those who've followed me for some time are nodding their head in confirmation because they know better.

Because guess what?  It depends.

‘Swing down' shouldn't be used as a blanket teach.  I have two things for you…

  1. Jomboy Media VIDEO: “Christian Yelich says Barry Bonds taught him a drill that changed his career” (watching it will reveal its relevance to this post), and
  2. Below is Chapter-2 of the new book I'm working on.  It's a longer post, but I think you'll like it.  Goes well with the Yelich-Bonds video above, like grass fed red meat and a fine red wine.

Thank you Grandpa Mike for sharing the video.  You know who you are.  Enjoy!

———-

WHAT AN OLD SCHOOL SWING FEELS LIKE & THE PROS AND CONS?

In Chapter-2, we'll look at what an old school swing feels like and the pros and cons.  We'll be discussing:

  • How can someone tell Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez what they say about hitting is wrong?
  • Pros to old school feel mechanics,
  • Cons to old school feel mechanics, and
  • So, how do we interweave brainless data and confusing real v. feel hitting cues?

How Can Someone tell Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez what they Say about Hitting is Wrong?

Now, some of you out there have seen the video of Alex Rodriguez demonstrating how he swung down. Maybe you saw the preseason interview of Mike Trout discussing how he gets on top of the ball.

Or how about Albert Pujols on the MLB Network revealed he swings knob down to the ball?

‘Swing down'.  ‘Getting on top of the ball'.  ‘Knob to the ball'.  ‘Keep barrel above hands' is another one.  Nowadays, these are some of THE most despised hitting coaching cues on the market.  I was one of them.  “Was”.  About 2-3 years ago.  Now I have a different perspective and approach.  These cues DO work.  But it depends on the case.  And if reading or hearing those words made your blood boil…you can change too, believe me.  Here's how…

First, let's clear up and define “swinging down”. Well yeah, the hands do go down to the ball. And depending on how high or low the ball is, the hands will go down more or less. This is true.  But coaches HATE these cues for a different reason.  Here's the thing… if you watch players like A-Rod, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols physically demonstrate what swinging down means to them, you see them using a chopping motion. Yes. The barrel and hands travel down to the ball. But not ‘hands drop'.  That's different, and is a swing flaw we MUST fix.  In the high level swing, we see the barrel go down before coming up.

Here's my beef with ‘swinging down'…

When swinging down is translated into a NEGATIVE attack angle.  Meaning the barrel is going down towards the impact point.  Is not coming up.  And this is what hitting greats like Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols are demonstrating in interviews.  And where the confusion starts.  If you watch their actual swing on film, slow motion swing, what you're going to see is a POSITIVE attack angle.  Meaning, barrel elevating up to incoming ball descending down. Yes, even in Fastpitch Softball (more about this in Chapter-7).  Barrel coming up to impact, positive. Barrel going down to impact, negative.  We clear?

So if what these great hitters are saying and demonstrating isn't what they're actually doing, then what's REALLY going on?

Well, here's the thing … it's the mysterious case of real versus feel What's really happening on video doesn't square with what the high level hitter feels they're doing.  Two completely opposite things.  Take Mike Trout.  Let's look at his real (9-year career average batted ball numbers before start of 2020 season):

  • Ground-ball rate: 36.8% (League average is 43%)
  • Fly-ball rate: 40.8% (League average is 37%)
  • Line drive rate: 22.4% (League average is 20%), and
  • Homerun to fly-ball ratio: 21.4% (League average is 9.5%).

Significantly below average ground-ball rate.  Check.  Slightly above average fly-ball rate.  Check.  Slightly above average line drive rate.  Check.  And well above average home-run to fly-ball ration.  Checkmate!  This proves his performance – the real – doesn't jive with his feel of ‘getting on top of the ball'.  I want you to go to YouTube, search “Mike Trout slow motion swing”, and watch…

His barrels goes down, then comes up to the ball.  Up.  Positive barrel attack angle.  Not down.  Not on top.  Not a negative attack angle.

Before you get upset I'm telling Mike Trout, “You know ‘nothin'!”  Here's the beautiful crazy of this whole thing.   Coaches, understand this … the body is always one or two steps behind the brain. Thinking happens fast. There's zero friction with thoughts.  Nothing. It just goes, goes, goes, goes, goes.  No heavy bones, muscle, organs, and fascia required to move before a thought can fire off!

The secret to unlocking the real v. feel mystery can be revealed through a psychology term called paradoxical intention…

Pros to Old School Feel Mechanics

We have to understand what Mike Trout is REALLY saying.  Bring context to the numbers.  Remember Chapter-1?  Trout will say, “I'll take 10 swings off the tee or during batting practice to feel like I'm getting on top of the ball”. You see, his natural tendency is to uppercut. An extreme uppercut because he uses a significant shoulder tilt to effectively feast on balls down in the zone.  And this works well with pitchers targeting down in the zone, and away.

Although, this is different than the slight uppercut Ted Williams talked about in his book The Science Of Hitting.  Williams talked about barrel meeting the plane of the pitch.  Trout's natural tendency runs counter to this.  And what he tells himself, remember the body is one or two steps behind the brain, is to do the exact opposite of what his natural tendency is.  He tells himself to get on top of the ball. And what's the result?  The barrel ends up somewhere in the middle of extreme uppercut and negative attack angle downswing.  That's what he's trying to get for his real… to get to the middle.

The true old school hitting tragedy…

Some say hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Pujols, and Trout are – or were – fantastic at doing, but not very good at translating what they did into teaching. Take Barry Bonds. Who was the Florida Marlins hitting coach in 2016.  Then they let him go.  Former Marlins President David Samson said this,

“Bonds was worst hitting coach of my career.”  

So why wasn't Barry Bonds able to translate the way he hit to his prized pupils like Giancarlo Stanton?  Bonds is the career Major League home run leader after all. Some say he can do, but he doesn't know how he does what he did.  I disagree these hitters aren't good at teaching.  Again it's a translation issue.

Dr. Victor Frankl, Psychologist and survivor of four Nazi death camps, in his book Man's Search For Meaning, calls this “paradoxical intention”.  Hitters like Trout and Bonds use extreme physical cues to establish a consistent slight upward swing plane.  This strategy is a “trick” played on the body, which is a step or two behind.   Paradoxical intention.  Take any hitter with an extreme uppercut, tell them to chop down (negative Attack Angle “feel” cue), and their barrel path ends up in a slight uppercut.  Just like Ted Williams said – like magic!  Feel cues are fantastic for making simple swing adjustments.

If you're coaching youth hitters, let's get into that world for a moment…

A lot, and I mean A LOT of youth players ages 7 to 12 years old uppercut.  Extreme uppercuts. Casting.  Loooong swings.  They don't need to be taught this!  This is typical, before they've built enough strength in their bodies.  In their core.  In the dynamic nature of the spinal engine.  They tend to cast the barrel out.  Meaning, the barrel casts away from the body, leaving the back shoulder too early. This causes a long swing.  Thanks to gravitational forces, centripetal and centrifugal forces*.  As they swing, they end up underneath the ball.  On inside pitches, they end up getting jammed a lot.  And swing under a lot of pitches up in the zone.  A LOT.

(*Centripetal Force is a center “seeking” force. Like twirling a rock on a string. The rock exerts force back to the two fingers holding the string. Centrifugal Force is a center “fleeing” force. Letting go of the twirling rock on a swing, causes the rock to shoot off in a tangent direction away from the original circle.)

There are other factors causing an extreme uppercut, like hands drop or constant deep barrel dumping.  But with youth hitters, the rules of Physics are bigger offenders. Here's the good news … swing an overloaded bat.  Overloaded bats help young hitters build strength to do that.  Regardless of mechanics.  More on that protocol later in the book.

Those are the pros of an old school feel mechanics. Now, let's look at the cons…

Cons to Old School Feel Mechanics

These are what the “metrics people” will typically bring up. You're so out of touch.  No numbers to support your gut feelings?  What does that mean?  How can I trust your “gut”?  Because you played or coached 20 years in the Big Leagues?  That's not good enough!!  What's measurable is manageable.  If you can't use numbers to support your gut, then I'm not listening.  This is a common conversation you've probably seen, heard, or participated in.

The old school coaching cues we just discussed in the pros to old school swing section can also be included in that gut conversation.  It's bad if the old school cues are used as a default. In a one size fits all way. For example, Johnny's coach sees Pujols demonstrate a chopping down swing on MLB Network's Diamond Demos. That coach goes to Johnny's 10 year old team practice on Monday evening, and tells every one of his hitters to swing like Pujols does. Chop, chop, chop. And he tells them with the conviction, vigor, and energy of a Sunday Pastor, that they can hit like Pujols.  How can you argue with Senor Alberto?  From his lips to coach's ears out of coaches mouth to kids' ears.  If Albert Pujols said it and it worked for him, then we MUST take the message literally!  He is Prince Albert for jimminies sake!

Here's the problem with that. Remember when I mentioned the translation issue?  By feeding the ‘swing down' or ‘chop down' mantras as a default hitting strategy to every 10 year old on your team, I'm sorry to say it, but you will lose. Let me illustrate with a thought experiment…

Apply the “one-third rule” to your team. In this example, assume a third of your hitters pop the ball up a majority of the time. Another third of hitters hit line drives a majority of the time.  And the remaining third are majority ground-ball hitters.  So, what if you tell the whole team to swing down or get on top of the ball?  A blanket statement to all.  Default old school hitting cue.  What do you think is going to happen?

Based on what was discussed with Dr. Victor Frankl's paradoxical intention – remember extreme uppercut, tell them to ‘get on top', and they end up in the middle?  Slight uppercut.  Inline with incoming pitch.  Here's what will happen to our team if we tell all to chop down … a third of the team that used to pop the ball up a majority of the time, will hit more line drives. Those middle third hitting line drives a majority of the time, are going to hit more ground-balls. And the ground-ball a majority of the time group, are going to hit even more worm burner ground-balls.  So how did the thought experiment turn out with a blanket statement old school hitting cue?

The only group on the team that benefits are the beginning fly ball hitters. The ones hitting fly-balls a majority of the time.  Those are the only ones you'll see a significant difference, for the better.  Look ground-balls are great.  Especially hard ones when the defense can't play catch.  But what happens when they can play catch?  When would your team come across a team that can play catch?  That's right!  In all-stars.  In playoff and championship games.  Not good if you just converted line drive hitters into ground-ball hitters.  And ground-ballers into hitting more worm burners.  Read our infamous Ground-ball Rant post.

Now, let's cook up a different scenario.  A more simple yet elegant solution.  Instead of giving a blanket statement, a blanket swing down, chop down to the whole team. But instead, I let the line drive hitters do their thing. Just keep doing what you're doing. I took the fly ball hitter and told them to swing down, chop down.  And I instructed the ground-ballers to hit the ball in the air.  Like pop the ball up instruction.  How do you think that thought experiment would go?

If I did that…now my pop-fliers AND ground-ballers are both hitting more line drives.  Remember Victor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning paradoxical intention?  Overall, my whole team is hitting more line drives. Now my line drivers aren't lonely.  They have more competition to deal with.  Competition makes everyone better.  Hungrier.  Especially when they're experiencing success.  Does that make sense?

The cons of an old school swing are when we apply a blanket statement shared by one of the best hitters on the planet.  Don't do that.  Bad coach.  You DO NOT pass go, and you DO NOT collect $200.

One swing fits all cues are a bad. And you wouldn't know this without data to measure and optimize. Gut feelings and hunches are like throwing darts in the dark.  It's like shooting an arrow and calling whatever you hit – after the fact.  It's guessing.  If you aren't collecting numbers using a PocketRadar, Rhapsodo, HitTrax, BlastMotion, or SwingTracker, then you're flying blind. You aren't going to know. And those hunches will just be hunches.

Same goes for blindly following what a Hall of Famer or future Hall of Famer says or said about hitting.  Become a scientist.  Test, test, test.  Blindly following a leader without question, will make you nothing more than a sheep.  Question, question, question.  Even question me and EVERYTHING in this book.

So far in Chapter-2, we talked about:

  • How can someone tell Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez what they say about hitting is wrong?
  • Pros to old school feel mechanics, and
  • Cons to old school feel mechanics…

We talked about how what's real and what's feel are two totally different things. The scenery can be very confusing. The waters choppy.  How does a coach cut through the clutter and calm the waters?  The simple truth to make hitting easier – it's not easy, but we can make it easier – is called paradoxical intention.  Doing the exact opposite of what just happened to get the middle.  Extreme swing up?  Tell them to swing down – hit a chopper.  Extreme swing down?  Tell them to swing up – hit a pop-fly.  There's more to it of course, and we'll get into it more later.  Let's move on to…

How do we Interweave Brainless Data and Confusing Hitting Cues?

This DOES NOT cause that, and that DOES NOT cause this.  Question: Coincidentally, if I wear a green shirt and it rains, then is it reasonable to think I can make it rain by wearing a green shirt?   This is the exact dilemma many instructors find themselves in with what they teach.

Some teach ONLY using data.  Some teach ONLY using old school hitting cues.  Some claim to base their teachings on millions of hours watching ONLY the best hitters.  Some validate Science with their hitting theories (proudly saying their system can't be found in Science!!).  And others validate their hitting philosophy with Science, which is what we do.  Who's right?  Who's wrong?  Can we use a mix?  And if so, how do we know if we're on the right track?

Are you throwing dynamite in the air and expecting rain?

I want to share a true story from the book Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. The story will illuminate how to filter the hitting information available today. Interestingly…

Right before the Great Depression hit the Oklahoma panhandle, rain was plentiful.  This caused Doctors and Lawyers to quit their practices and join the ranks of farmers to buy land and plant crops that were being subsidized by the US government.  In other words, the gold-in-them-hills was harvesting and selling wheat and other bumper crops of the era.

Millions of acres of 6-foot high beautiful Buffalo blue grass were plowed under to make room for crops.  Fast forward to the beginning of the Great Depression, the rain dried up, and so did the crops.  Unbeknownst to the “new” farmers who moved to the area, typically rain was sparse in the location, and by coincidence, they had just experienced a rare wet 5-10 year period.

Now there’s NO rain.  And you know the 6-foot high beautiful Buffalo blue grass they cut down?  Well, it used to hold the soil down despite seasonal 60 to 70 mile-per-hour wind gusts.  So NO rain coming.  NO crops growing.  Super high winds are eroding dry barren soil and tossing it up in the air.  Grazing cattle have nothing to eat but tumbleweeds brought over by Russians (people often sprinkled salt to eat them as well).  The livestock soon get sick and die.  The drought is fatal for the majority who stay, others move west.  This is where we get John Steinbeck's book “Dust Bowl”.

Stick with me, because here comes the lesson…

The farmers who stayed behind were so desperate for rain, they hired self proclaimed rain experts to “create” rain, literally out of thin air.  The belief at the time was that an explosion in the air could bring clouds, and with clouds, rain would fall from the sky.  In plenty.  So what did these self proclaimed rain experts do?  What any self proclaimed rain expert would do!!  They sold the idea that if they lit a stick of dynamite, timed the throw just right, they could get a perfectly timed explosion that would bring rain-a-plenty.

…And as luck would find it, the “racket” seemed to work a couple times.  This only fed the foolishness we all see now – hindsight is 20/20.  Yes, this wasn't a proud time in American history.  You have to understand, people back then were DESPERATE.  Their hope blinded them to the MANY times throwing dynamite in the air didn’t work.  People lost limbs, fingers, etc. from timing the throw wrong.  Head scratcher  I know.

When it comes to hitting, we have to be careful of the causation-correlation relationship.  Is studying video and teaching only what the “best” hitters are doing enough?  I would argue it is not.  How do you know what you're looking at, if you don't know what you're looking for?  We see Pujols demonstrating a negative attack angle swing on MLB Network.  But then we see him NOT do that in real-time.  We bring that same Pujols gold nugget to Johnny's team, blanket teach it, and the end result looks nothing like what we see Pujols do during competition.  This DOES NOT cause that, and that DOES NOT cause this.

I'm going to reveal a secret about why coaches are terrible at the causation-correlation relationship.  Like shooting a random arrow and calling whatever is hit.  Here's a quote summing it up from Scott Adams, in his book Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America:

“There are three important things to know about human beings in order to understand why we do the things we do. [1] Humans use pattern recognition to understand their world. [2] Humans are very bad at pattern recognition. [3] And they don’t know it.”

So how do we escape this seemingly inescapable prison of misdiagnosis?  After reading thus far, you know it.  Be less subjective and more objective.  KeyDifferences.com says this about subjective versus objective:

“Subjective means something which does not show the clear picture or it is just a person's outlook or expression of opinion. A subjective statement relies on assumptions, beliefs, opinions and influenced by emotions and personal feelings.  An objective statement is based on facts and observations.”

Use the Scientific Method.  Develop a hitting Question…make a predictive Hypothesis…do the Research…collect the Data…form a Conclusion.  Swing experimentation.  We apply human movement principles validated by REAL Science to hitting a ball.  Scientific principles pulled from:

  • Physics,
  • Engineering,
  • Biomechanics, and
  • Body work.

How do we figure out if this DOES cause that?  Or if that DOES cause this?  Not by wearing a green shirt!   To know what you're looking at, you have to know what you're looking for.  DO NOT validate Science through your hitting philosophy.  DO validate your hitting philosophy through Science.  Set a higher standard for your hitters.  It's okay – watch your millions of hours of video…employ those expensive measuring gadgets…and flaunt those old school hitting cues.

But above ALL of that … understand what the rules to human movements are FIRST.  Once you know that, all other domino's fall where they're supposed to.  In conclusion of Chapter-2, we looked at what an old school swing feels like and the pros and cons.  We discussed:

  • How can someone tell Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez what they say about hitting is wrong?
  • Pros to old school feel mechanics,
  • Cons to old school feel mechanics, and
  • So, how do we interweave brainless data and confusing real v. feel hitting cues?

In Chapter-3, we'll answer the question of what leads to hitting more predictable line drives and less strikeouts.  Where we'll dive into:

  • What does “predictable” mean and why does probability matter?  And,
  • Difference between ‘Launch Angle’ and ‘Attack Angle’…

Onward…

———-

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

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…

“It's not about how many swing you get in a day, it's quality deep practice swings that matter.”

I had the honor of being interviewed by Coach Daryl Weber who's the founder of the website:

Attack Style Wrestling

AttackStyleWrestling.com

Coaching principles transcend ALL sports. Yes, a wrestling coach and a hitting coach CAN speak the same language. Photo courtesy: AttackStyleWrestling.com

Yes I know, he's running a coaching blog about wrestling and this is a hitting blog,

BUT…

The principles of coaching transcend ALL sports.  

As always, I've tried to make this 46-minute audio easier to digest, so I've included time stamps you can fast forward or rewind to.  In this interview, we went over the following:

  • About 1:20 min. mark, where it all began for me when I started teaching hitters to “swing down”. Dark time for my hitters then, and they weren't getting consistent results.  My knowledge stagnated at the time. Where everything turned around for my hitters and my system.  Book resources included.
  • About 5:00 min. mark, how to debunk conventional teaching cues using today's technology to test and compare swing mechanics such as Zepp, SwingTracker, and Blast.
  • About 8:00 min. mark, what is a “sticky coach?” Taking a hiatus from hitting industry teachings, the challenge is translating information from coaches that are very technical to the end user. Can the information be taken from the expert to the coach to the player?  The more effective teaches are the ones who can do this.  If we can effect the coaches, we can exponentially effect more players.  Coach Daryl talks about how doing coaching clinics can be REALLY powerful when it comes to effecting more players.  The book we were talking about was: The Science Of Sticky Coaching: How To Turn Ordinary Athletes Into Extraordinary.
  • About 14:00 min. mark, this interview started when Coach Daryl asked me to answer the following question, which he included in the following blog post: Do you have ONE TIP to help coaches and parents motivate athletes to commit to training consistently and with intensity…WITHOUT “burning them out”?  Read that post because he polled other effective coaches and they gave their responses as well.
  • About 15:00 min. mark, how to apply the Minimum Effective Dosage model (MED) to young athletes. 4-5 days per week, and 5-mins per day of hitting homework practice.  This is outside of organized practice time.  Be happy with 5-mins per day.  It's not about how many swing you get in a day, it's quality deep practice swings that matter.  And when you're dealing with a demotivated hitter, set them up for success with the MED model.
  • About 19:00 min. mark, Coach Daryl likes to remind his athletes that it's okay to fall off the wagon, if you don't get the MED practice time in.  Life happens.  Set yourself up for success, by starting small and don't overwhelm yourself early on.
  •  About 21:15 min mark, I talk about Karen Pryor's book Don't Shoot The Dog, using positive reinforcers to inspire athletes to put the work in.  I shared the story of the Professor lecturing students 10-mins every day, who didn't turn their homework in…changed to positive reinforcement, and went from only 1/3 of students turning in homework, to three weeks later, 3/4 of students turning homework in.  Praising hitters for the days they DO get in, motivates better than lecturing on the days they didn't get in.
  • About 24:00 min. mark, Coach Daryl shares about his weigh-in struggles with his wrestlers.  Coach would tally up weigh-in numbers before practice, get frustrated, and proceed to negatively lecture his wrestlers at the start of practice.  This wasn't good, so Coach had his coaches report weigh-ins to him AFTER practice, which freed him up to give a positive motivating speech at the start of practice.
  • About 26:30 min. mark, how to keep youth athletes from leaving the sport after only a couple years. Coaches “bullying” players. Encouraging athletes to open up communication lines with coach about playing time at the High School level on up. 12u on down is in the parent's court. Dealing with coaches who teach hitting based on conventional wisdom. Using the “bobble-head” strategy.  Ask your players at the end of a session: are there any questions on what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why you're doing it?  If players understand what they're doing, then contrasting information at practice won't confuse them.  They'll be more prepared!
  • About 36:00 min. mark, talked about the approach a D1 softball player was going to use with her hitting coach, who has a professional baseball background and teaches conventional hitting wisdom.  She interned for me this past summer, sitting in and helping out on my hitting lessons, and we worked one-on-one about a half dozen times.
  • About 43:00 min. mark, coaches have to start asking more questions.  Question what they've always been taught.  Question what they're learning now. Question ME because I don't mind.  The quality of your coaching is directly connected to the quality of questions you ask.  Gain knowledge and test.

 

What is the Science of Sticky Coaching?

Where A Higher Batting Average Can Be Cultivated AND How To Get It (An Over-The-Shoulder Look)…

Here's Part-3 – a continuation of – a three part series showcasing a local lesson of mine…Over Shoulder Look: Hank Aaron Wrist Snap

I get questions every week on how I'd run a practice or one-on-one session.  This is an over-the-shoulder look.  The main objective of this video series is to demonstrate how I use some of the “sticky” coaching principles covered in this post, and in my new book The Science Of Sticky Coaching: How To Turn Ordinary Athletes Into Extraordinary.

In case you missed the background information of Part-1,

Zack is a 14-year-old hitter from Visalia, California, which is approximately an hour drive from me, one way.  And this is the first time I worked with him since about a year ago.  We've had about half a dozen session together in total.  And what I like about Zack is he asks a lot of really good questions during our sessions.

And before we started this session, Zack was having a challenge with hitting line drives.  He was either hitting the ball on the ground or non-productive balls in the air.

DISCLAIMER about the video:

  • Fortunately the video quality is great because Dad used his GoPro, but unfortunately I wasn't mic'd up, so the audio isn't like some of my other videos.
  • We're at a public High School on a Saturday afternoon, so there are other team noises, bird sounds, emergency vehicles, etc. going on in the background that can be distracting.

Sadly, a few coaches on the socials will be overly critical of this hitter, and I'm asking you to suspend judgement.  The purpose of this video IS NOT about being overly critical of the hitter's swing, it's about the demonstration and use of sticky coaching principles.

Swing and coaching suggestions are welcome, but be nice coaches.

Now, for those coaches looking to learn and help their hitters get better…ONWARD…again!

A typically lesson I do, is organized like the following, from start to finish:

  1. Dynamic warm-up,
  2. Beginning Ball Exit Speed readings,
  3. Record and analyze current swing,
  4. Lesson, and
  5. Ending Ball Exit Speeds readings.

Part-3 lands you towards the end of #4 above.

What you can look out for in above video

  • Training something new should feel goofy, that's normal…if they feel no change in movement at the beginning stages of motor skill development, then they're repeating the same old thing (about 0:45 mark)
  • The arch and hollow (hunched) positions in Gymnastics.  “Hunch” can have a negative connotation, but reality says it's a VERY SAFE position for a twisting spine to start in. CLICK HERE for a Zepp swing experiment that looked at the benefits of a “Hunched” spine. (about 1:55 mark)
  • Playing around with wrist snap variance using the target ankle resistance bands.  It's NOT a roll over, it's like a “waggle” that golfers use pre-swing.  Great defender against off speed and breaking pitches, AND increase BA by controlling the barrel.  Keep main objective in mind: hit ball as hard and far as you can.  (about 3:45 mark)
  • Working the Wrist Snap Variance Drill on the open field hitting targets. Hank Aaron was really good at this.  Watch Hank Aaron video below and watch his wrist action at impact… (about 6:15 mark)
  • The Frog Tape bat…barrel awareness.  Focusing on hitting a certain part of the barrel AND hitting it in a specific direction or target. (about 11:20 mark)
  • Discussing how switching bats between rounds forces a hitter to focus on adjusting their timing. Heavier/top heavy bats have to start sooner…lighter/balanced bats can start later.  (about 15:30 mark)
  • Zack made the observation that Finger Pressure makes the Wrist Snap Variance Drill easier to feel.  (about 17:30 mark)

 

Also, when it comes to sticky coaching principles, notice how I:

  • Move the tee positioning around after every swing (both high/low and inside/outside),
  • Vary soft toss heights and depths,
  • Vary mechanics on certain swings in a 5-swing round (I call these Varied Rounds), or practice one thing the whole round (I call these Block Rounds),
  • Ask quite a few feel, visual, and/or audio feedback questions AFTER round is over (think of it like a hitting quiz),
  • Keep my mouth shut during the 5-swing round (little to no feedback from me),
  • Don't make Zack take a lot of swings during our time together,
  • Chunking certain movement together, so they don't seem like separate pieces,
  • Have him change his bat size during rounds, and
  • Work with him on simplifying the juggling of a couple different mechanical cues.

8 Critical Principles to Coaching Youth Baseball Revealed

Imagine Coaching Youth Baseball, & Loving Every Minute Of It

Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown

And these principles don't JUST work for coaching youth baseball.

These “rules” work for coaching youth fastpitch softball as well.

And the word “youth” doesn't discriminate between a 7-year-old OR a 24-year-old.  They work at ANY level.  And ANY sport for that matter!  We're talking principles here people 😛

This subject came up recently in an email I received from Brian Petrick, a High School Varsity baseball coach…

“Just wondering how you would organize hitting for a team practice. I'm in the northeast so I'm stuck in the gym with one batting cage. How would you organize hitting stations for 15-17 guys including variance instead of mass practice. I'm hoping to have 2 tee stations, 2 flat bat stations with whiffle balls. and the cage. cage will some days split in half for two groups of front toss and other days have regular BP. (At the same time 1 or 2 pitchers are throwing their bullpens) It can be difficult to keep the guys focused for an hour of hitting when we're stuck in the gym for 4 weeks. I coach high school varsity so I do have jr's and sr's.”

Now, I'm not in the trenches, coaching youth baseball teams, like some of you are.  This is why I'm also asking for your help below.

Although, I DO want to give you the coaching youth baseball principles that I've learned to use with my paid one-on-one hitters, small groups, and team consulting.

In this coaching youth baseball post, we'll talk about:

  • Coaching youth baseball: 8 scientific principles of successful learning, and
  • We need your help coaches…

Two books that changed my life, when it comes to teaching:

  1. Make It Stick, by Peter C. Brown
  2. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born.  It's Grown.  Here's How., by Daniel Coyle

This post will highlight book #1 above.  Book #2 echos and adds to the same “rules”.  Let's explore advice that's grounded in research…

 

Coaching Youth Baseball: 8 Scientific Principles of Successful Learning

The following coaching youth baseball “rules” will optimize the learning process, guaranteed.  As Peter C. Brown puts learning, in his book Make It Stick:

“Learning is deeper and more durable when it's effortful.  Learning that's easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow…The need to understand that when learning is hard, you're doing important work…when learning is harder, it's stronger, and lasts longer.

I'll relate the following Make It Stick learning principles to coaching youth baseball hitters…the following is highlighted material from my book:

  • Principle #1: Test Often – spaced repetition of key ideas.  Think constant quizzing or testing.  Spread out the learning of a topic, and return to it periodically.  This form of periodic practice arrests forgetting, strengthens retrieval routes, and is essential for hanging onto the knowledge you want to gain.  I test my hitters on the information they're learning in that session a TON!  They leave our sessions mentally drained.
  • Principle #2: Mix it Up!  – interleaving of different but related topics – if they interleave the study of different topics, they learn each better than if they had studied them one at a time in sequence.  For example, one of my hitters may learn how to land on a bent front knee, downhill shoulder angle, and keep a 90-degree bend in the back knee during the turn.  They're all related but aren't exactly in proper swing sequence.
  • Principle #3: Variance – CLICK HERE to read about this and the 3-foot bucket and bean bag study.  I love this one!!  I use it all the time from swings off the tee, to plate distances from the person throwing batting practice, to random pitching (think Cal Poly study in previous post link).
  • Principle #4: Solve a Problem BEFORE Instruction is Given – Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt.  Before I teach something new, I may ask my hitter to tell me what the purpose of a given mechanical layer would be before I tell them the answer.
  • Principle #5: Elaborate! – elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.  This is another way to quiz them.  But I reserve this for the hitters that have worked with me for awhile, so they're drawing from and connecting the “right” information.
  • Principle #6: Failure is a Badge of Effort – and is a source of useful information.  The need to dig deeper or to try a different strategy.  Making mistakes and correcting them builds the bridges to advanced learning.  Failure in learning the swing has to be encouraged.  I tell my hitters it's okay to not have the right answer when I ask them.  It's okay to not hit the ball hard (if we're working on a specific mechanical layer during a session).
  • Principle #7: Quality v. Quantity – the amount of study time is no measure of mastery.  Just because you take 1,000 swings a day, doesn't mean you're being effective with your practice.  Tim Ferriss, in his NY bestselling book The Four Hour Chef, said: “If effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right.  Even with the best material, if your time-to-fluency is 20 years, the return on investment (ROI) is terrible.” 
  • Principle #8: Delay Feedback – in motor learning, trial and error with delayed feedback is a more awkward but effective way of acquiring a skill than trial and correction through immediate feedback; immediate feedback is like the training wheels on a bicycle: the learner quickly comes to depend on the continued presence of the correction.  I used to give feedback after every swing.  But now I wait till the end of a 5-swing round…and even then, they get quizzed before I tell them how those swings actually were.

Fore-WARNING from Peter C. Brown, in his book…

“Practice that's spaced out, interleaved with other learning, and varied produces better mastery, longer retention, and more versatility.  But these benefits come at a price: when practice is spaced, interleaved, and varied, it requires more effort.  You feel the increased effort, but not the benefits the effort produces.  Learning feels slower from this kind of practice, and you don't get the rapid improvements and affirmation you're accustomed to seeing from massed practice.”

 

We Need Your Help Coaches…

Let's get back to Coach Brian's email from earlier, in this coaching youth baseball post.  How can you help coach out?  What are you currently doing that uses some or most of the above principles with your hitters at practice.  For those with “weather disabilities”, and time constraints, what are you doing in small spaces to keep practices efficient and effective?

Please share your coaching youth baseball (or fastpitch) experiments below (THANKS in advance for sharing!).  Please leave a Reply below…

Jose Bautista Balanced Body in Motion

Did you know…Jose Bautista does Yoga in the off-season? He's a great example of a balanced body in motion. Photo courtesy: www3.Pictures.Zimbio.com

This is the third part in three part Why Your Balance Fails (Not What You Think) series about balance.

I’ll be discussing a not so well known way to improve balance, posture, and technique.  I'll be talking about:

  • Tim's story,
  • Tim's problem,
  • How-to fix Tim's problem, and
  • How does this relate to hitting…

 

Tim's Story

Tim was the strongest kid on his small college football team. He was 22 years old, 6′ 2 and 200 pounds of solid muscle.  He wanted to improve his power clean, so he came to the gym to see what he could learn.

At the time I was 48 years old and weighed 165 pounds. I watched as he power cleaned and advised him that he could keep his back tighter.  As we lifted and as the weights got heavier, I noticed his confidence grew.

When we were at 90kg (198 pounds) and he was ready to lift, he gave me a look that said, I am going to beat you!  When we got to 105 kg, he missed the lift, as the weight was too far in front to rack. I went up to 107.5 kg and told him that was all for me today.

The harder he tried, the worse the more in front the bar ended up. He started growling before the lift, and that didn't work. He finally gave up.

 

Tim's Problem

Tim's problem was that he didn't maintain his fine balance and  let his weight drift back on the heels during the lift. Even though this is a stronger position, (as in a dead lift), it is not an athletic position.

Keep in mind that as long as Tim's weight is somewhere over the foot (gross balance) he will not fall over. Fine balance is the ability to position the weight at an an exact point over the foot.

 

How to Fix Tim's Problem

A lot of coaching cues used for Jim's problem are:

  • “Finish the pull”,
  • “Pull the bar closer to the ankle”, and
  • “Make sure the elbows move straight up”.

The best coaching cues have a greater positive impact and don't result in other issues.  In this case, the best way to fix Tim's problem was to have him feel for the weight on his feet.

In the power clean it is best to feel that the weight is just behind the ball of the foot.  When this is felt, the weight can only go straight up.

 

How does this relate to hitting?

In hitting, the best way to stride forward is to be balanced and to push off the entire foot. If you are on the ball of the foot, the Achilles tendon will absorb some of the force of the stride.

However if the weight is too far back onto the heel,  you will stride angled away from the plate and the heel will not come off the ground to allow rotation.

The most athletic way to start the stride is with the heel lightly touching the ground. Body weight will be just behind the ball of the foot. In this starting position, it allows for the best push, but also enables you to get on the ball of the foot.

My beautiful picture

 

(Joey Myers comment: when we look at efficient v. inefficient movement mechanics, I don't like striding and landing on the toe, pausing, then swinging because we don't take advantage of Gravitational Forces to turn the pelvis for us naturally.  And like Dr. Stanley says, landing toe first (without the pause), the Achilles Tendon will absorb – instead of exploit – some of those forces as well.  Practice the following experiment Dr. Stanley prescribes below and ingrain it to second nature.)  

 

Experiment

Practice your stride feeling for the weight on your foot. Try it at various places and see where you feel the most efficient and straightest stride:

  • Weight on your toes, so the heel is off the ground
  • Ball of the foot
  • Just behind the ball of the foot
  • Middle of the arch
  • At the Heel

After you find the best way for you to push off repeat this frequently to ingrain this pattern. Keep in mind that with any technique change, with enough proper repetitions, the change will become habit and you will not have to think about it.

CLICK HERE for a BONUS Part-4 post to this series titled: What Do Pyramids, Dancers, and Mike Trout Teach Us About Hitting For Power.

In case you missed Parts 1 & 2, here they are: