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Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners: 5 Little Known Ways To Improve Hitters

 

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners: 11yo Jackson Handler

This is one of my online lessons out in Pennsylvania (I’m in Cali), 11yo Jackson. 2.5 months between BEFORE/AFTER’s.

A great softball hitting tips for beginners question came in recently, from a reader (relates well to baseball too)…

“What percentage of hitters that you have coached got no improvement or no benefit from your program? How many swings per day would you recommend for a 10yr old hitter (what’s too much and not enough?”

Here’s what we’ll cover in this softball hitting tips for beginners post:

  • Improvement depends on these 5 things…, AND
  • How many swings are too much & not enough?

 

Improvement Depends on these 5 Things…

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners: Mia Buffano 15yo

This is one of my online fastpitch hitters 15yo Mia out in Florida.

I’d be lying to you if I said that ALL my online and local hitters are continually improving or benefiting from my system.

Sadly, this holds true for anyone’s system…effective or ineffective.

Unless…

The instructor is HIGHLY selective on who they accept as a client.

Although, it must be said those hitters being taught ineffective mechanics will get cut much sooner than ones learning how to hit employing human movement principles that are validated by science.

We coaches and instructors can control only so much.

We’re like a flashlight guiding the way in the dark.  We can illuminate where we want the hitter to go and how to get there, but ultimately it’s up to the hitter to do their homework.

Here are FIVE critical factors for seeing constant improvement with hitters…

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners #1: Motivation/Inspiration

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners: Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins photo courtesy: attitudes4innovation.com

Like Tony Robbins says, “Motivation is like a warm bath”.  Motivation wears off in the short term.  But inspiration can last up to months, if not years, from its inception.

There’s a time and place for each.

Think of motivation as PUSHING the player, whereas inspiration allows them to be PULLED by their own self-motivation.

The latter is obviously ideal, but the challenge is that every player is inspired and motivated by different things.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a hitting coach or the parents, than an unmotivated and/or uninspired player…

Which we may have to face the conclusion that this player is probably not in the right sport or activity.

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners #2: Effective mechanics

Is the hitter applying human movement principles – that are validated by science – to hitting a ball?

You see, effectiveness is doing the right things, while efficiency is doing those things right.

In other words, I can get real good at ‘squashing the bug’, ‘chopping down on the ball’, and ‘sitting back’ but my playing career will be dwarfed in comparison to executing more effective body movements.

One of the biggest competitive advantages I would recommend to any coach, would be to invest and read Thomas Myers’s book Anatomy Trains.  Here’s a short video from Thomas Myers explaining “What is Tensegrity”:

ftball Hitting Tips for Beginners #3: Effective coaching cues

As most of you coaches know, player learning styles are different.  Do you know how many learning styles there are?

Here’s a clue…

Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, says there are 3 main ones (acronym – VAK):

  1. Visual (sight/pictures),
  2. Auditory (sound), and
  3. Kinesthetic (feel).

Furthermore, vague coaching cues like ‘get on top of the ball’ or ‘be short to the ball’, which can be used effectively as adjustment cues, are too general and broad in scope to teach as a default swing strategy.

Without extended explanation, these cues aren’t very intuitive, and are ultimately ineffective on a broad scale.

On the other hand, ‘show your numbers to the pitcher’ or ‘land shorter’, will require minimal explanation to get the hitter executing exactly what you want them to do.

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners #4: Feedback systems

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners: Zepp Sensor

This is the Zepp sensor connecting to phone app

I think it was Peter Drucker that said what gets measured, gets managed.

If you’re a hitting coach that DOES NOT use slow motion analysis, then you’re not being effective.

With free slow motion video phone apps like CoachesEye and HudlTech, and inexpensive PC/MAC software like Powerchalk, there’s ZERO excuse to not do slow motion analysis with your hitters.

Also, swing apps like Zepp, SwingTracker, and the more expensive HitTrax cage system are great for getting more in depth in measuring a hitter’s outcomes.

You can also use Pocket Radar or a Bushnell radar gun to measure Ball Exit Speeds.

There are also intuitive hitting aids out there that help to cut down the learning curve when teaching a hitter specific swing movements.  One inexpensive one giving audible feedback of when the barrel is accelerating is the Swing Blaster.

The point is, there are great forms of technology and a few hitting aids out there to aid in your feedback systems.  These modalities give hitters INSTANT feedback on where to improve.

Softball Hitting Tips for Beginners #5: Doing the work

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.  Even if you’ve checked the previous FOUR factors off your list, if the hitter isn’t putting the work in, then they’ll get better…but can take years to see consistent improvement.

The overarching theme of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography, in his tell all book Total Recall, was:

  • Goals,
  • Steps, and then
  • Reps.

You see, if the hitter is inspired/motivated, employing effective mechanics and coaching cues, using feedback systems to manage what’s measureable, then it’s all about putting the work in.

Do the right things, then get outstanding at doing those things right.

 

How Many Swings are too Much & not Enough?

Positive Coaching Alliance

Positive Coaching Alliance website is PositiveCoach.org

Fine Line Between Motivation & Inspiration

Remember motivation is like a warm bath, good in the moment, but will soon cool.  Inspiration is the PULL of self-motivation we want to cultivate in our athletes.

Most young athletes ARE NOT inspired to go to practice.  Most go because they want to have fun and connect with friends and teammates.  It’s the 1/3 Rule:

  • 1/3 of your team wants to be there AND get better,
  • 1/3 of your team wants to be there, and the last
  • 1/3 of the team DOES NOT want to be there & could care less about getting better.

And unfortunately, coaches have to spend most of their time on strengthening the weakest links.  This at least holds true for school ball, whereas the parents to have to pay to play.

I find leaning on an organization like the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) to help equip coaches, players, umpires, and parents on how to build, motivate, and inspire better athletes, resulting in better people later in life.

Over-Practicing

The International Youth Conditioning Association, whom I’m certified with, talks about how long is too long to have young athletes train or practice.

If we’re coaching 12u, practices SHOULD NOT be more than 45-60 mins, 3 times per week.  More than that is too much.  30-mins or less for 8u.  Middle School should be around 1 hour 30-mins, High School 2 hours 30 mins, college 3-5 hours (depending on weight training days).

And if you feel that’s not enough time to get things done, then you’re not being effective and/or efficient with your practices.

CLICK HERE for an insightful interview with NCAA college Hall of Fame baseball Coach Bob Bennett (my coach for 3 years at Fresno State).  He outlines what MUST be the highest priority for practices.

Do you know how to tell if an athlete is overtraining?

CLICK HERE to read this BreakingMuscle.com article to see how to by just monitoring an athlete’s resting heart rate.

At-Home Sweet Spot

I recommend to all my hitters, to start with 5-15 minutes/day of purposeful quality swing reps at home.  4-5 days per week.  This range will depend on self-motivation of course.  Players can put in more time, but only if they’re feeling it on that day.  The point is to get them REVISITING the material everyday.

By the way, this is outside of normal team practice time.  This is time on their own without coach around.

And they need to know, less frequency will translate to a larger learning curve.  In other words, it’ll take LONGER to improve.

And lastly,

Look for the Signs

When practicing or training, look for signs of frustration/anger, boredom, or shutdown.

You’ve seen these before, for example…

When a player is getting frustrated, you may see tears welling up in their eyes…OR anger may be taking unfocused swings as hard as they can.

When a player is bored, you may see them yawn, or being distracted.  The latter could be ADD/ADHD.  The point is they’re not into what you’re teaching them, so you have to make an adjustment.  Make practice a game, and more fun.  That will grab their attention…and keep it.

When a player looks shutdown, it’s time to shut down their session.  Go back to the drawing board and start anew tomorrow.

An outstanding coach is an observant one.  Don’t try to fit a round peg in a square hole.

Above all, PLEASE use common sense.

“I Have Several Young Hitters That Are Great In Baseball Batting Cages But Have Trouble Transitioning Those Techniques Into Game Situations.  How Do I Teach That?”

 

CINCINNATI, OH – JULY 9: Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs hits a solo home run in the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on July 9, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

In this baseball batting cages strategy video, we answer the reader question above.

(By the way, this information is applicable to softball as well.)

We’ll go over:

  • Over-coaching OR giving instruction during games,
  • Promoting focused quality OR unfocused quantity swings at practices, and
  • Training timing, plate discipline, and pitch recognition.

PLEASE NOTE: this is a complex issue, and to do the subject any justice, a 30-minute video and 4,000+ word post would suffice.

However, I don’t have that time after adding a newly minted baby girl to our family.

So, I urge coaches to PLEASE contribute your comments at the end of this post, in the “Comments” section, of any other factors and/or fixes that I may have missed you think contribute to a successful transition from baseball batting cages (including softball coaches) to game at-bats.  Many THANKS in advance!

Without further adieu, I’m going to hit the BIG three I think are the primary causes to the above coach’s challenge…

 

Over-Coaching OR Giving Instruction During Games

CLICK HERE to read this HPL post on what every coach needs to know about giving feedback to hitters.

From the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) website…

Mike Brey, the head Notre Dame men’s basketball coach, says ‘don’t coach every dribble’ in the following video:

3 things Coach Brey brings up about how to give feedback:

  1. Talk about something they did good,
  2. Then bring up some of the mistakes they made, and end with…
  3. Highlighting something they did good, again.

I call this tactic the constructive feedback sandwich.

Coach Tony LaRussa mentions, in his book One Last Strike, the ‘Pat & Pop’ Method of giving feedback to his players. The ‘Pat’ is the pat on the back (what they’re doing right), and the ‘Pop’ is the pop in the mouth (calling attention to the mistakes they made).

Men’s Notre Dame basketball Coach Mike Brey also mentions the WORST thing you can do is have a player looking at the “bench” after every play…or the dugout…or down the third base line.

Legendary baseball coach at Fresno State, Bob Bennett, who was my coach for three years, would sit in his chair at the clubhouse end of the dugout during games, with one leg crossed over the other, taking notes the whole game.  He would rarely offer mechanical changes to players.

He just let us compete.  During games, Coach Bennett focused his time on making situational game decisions.

It was at practice the notes he took during games – of the mistakes we made – would come to life.  CLICK HERE for an audio interview I did with Coach Bennett over lunch.

So ask yourself the following question,

If you feel your players (or hitters) aren’t transitioning their swing from the baseball batting cages to game at-bats…

Are you over-coaching (‘coaching EVERY dribble), and/or giving instruction during games?

YES/NO?

Promoting Focused Quality OR Unfocused Quantity Swings at Practice

Baseball Batting Cages: Principle of Specificity (Milo of Croton)

Milo of Croton’s body had to adapt (get stronger) to the demands put on it by the growing bull. Photo courtesy: miloandthecalf.com

Training MUST fit the sport’s objective.

In weight training, this is called the Principle of Specificity.  Specificity according to FitStar.com:

“Specificity is the principle of training that states what you do in the gym should be relevant and appropriate to your desired outcome.”

During a baseball or softball game, a pitch is thrown once every 10-20 seconds.

A hitter may see THREE strikes in an at-bat, and may accumulate FOUR at-bats per game, so they may see TWELVE good pitches to swing at per game.

True, not all strikes are in the strike zone at the lower levels, but my point is, swing opportunities are lower in games.

So, am I saying to ration out swings to hitters at practice?

No, not at all.

I’m suggesting a change in coaching paradigm.

What I’m saying is, swings in baseball batting cages MUST be trained with focused quality, not with unfocused quantity.

Baseball batting cages training MUST prioritize the following:

  • Plate discipline FIRST (are we swinging at strikes, YES/NO?),
  • Timing SECOND (are we on time, YES/NO?), and
  • Mechanics THIRD (are we swinging effectively, YES/NO?)

After each five swing round, I ask my hitters these three questions…and it’s rare that I get a hitter regressing after 3-5 rounds of focused quality hacks.  Training MUST be more challenging (and frustrating), than game at-bats.

In games, hitters MUST NOT worry about mechanics, just make sure they’re swinging at strikes and getting on-time.  Competing.  Mechanics are for working on at practice or outside of game AB’s.

Free swinging batting practice, although fun as heck, does NOTHING for producing quality game at-bats.

What mechanics are considered effective versus ineffective?

CLICK HERE for a post I did answering that, in addition to how to get hitters buying into this system.

What’s an example of a baseball batting cages drill that is ineffective training for game at-bats?

Rapid fire soft toss.

WHY?

Because a hitter NEVER has to swing like this in a game!

Please go revisit the definition of the Principle of Specificity above.

The coaching rebuttal to the Rapid Fire Soft Toss Drill is, “But we’re working on quick hands”.

Okay, so if the objective of a pitcher was to throw three balls one after the other in quick succession, then rapid fire soft toss would work.

However, this isn’t how pitches are thrown in games work…

Pitchers throw one pitch every 10-20 seconds.  Not three pitches every 10-20 seconds.

Game swings are NOT about quick hands.  They’re about timing.  One of the pitcher’s objective is to disrupt this.  If a hitter is behind…they’re late…and THEIR TIMING IS OFF!!

In other words, it may not be a mechanical issue.

Please stay far away from this drill…

Sure, their hands or bat speed may be slow because of something like bat drag, but I’m here to tell you that the Rapid Fire Soft Toss Drill WILL NEVER help bat drag.  This coach would be throwing gasoline on a fire, mechanically.

This is why fixing ineffective hitting mechanics add more reaction time to a hitter, because when a hitter moves better, they perform better.

Effectiveness is doing the right things, and efficiency is doing those things right.

Look, coaches have to understand the principles before coming up with the methods for fixing.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said this about principles:

“The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

Remember, our hitting objective priorities are:

  1. Plate discipline,
  2. Timing, and then
  3. Mechanics.

A hitter’s mechanics may be clean, but NOT swinging at strikes and NOT being on time WILL cause a mechanical breakdown…no matter how clean the mechanics.

So ask yourself the following question,

If you feel your players (or hitters) aren’t transitioning their swing from the baseball batting cages to game at-bats…

In baseball batting cages are you promoting focused quality OR unfocused quantity swings?

YES/NO?

Which leads me to the topics of…

 

Training Timing, Plate Discipline, and Pitch Recognition

Baseball Batting Cages: Joey Votto

Joey Votto is one of the best with plate discipline. Photo courtesy of Red-Hot-Mama.com

In this section, I have a lot of HPL resources for you, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel here…

TIMING

PLATE DISCIPLINE

The post above is more advanced and is what I learned from Fresno State head baseball coach Mike Batesole my senior year in 2003.  Btw, he was the head coach at Fresno State when the Bulldogs won the College World Series in 2008.

However, I recommend the strategy mentioned in the Matt Holliday link to the college level on up.  High School coaches can experiment with it, typically when facing higher functioning pitchers.  The challenge with it is that most pitchers at the lower levels aren’t as skilled at consistently placing pitches where they want them.

So, my recommendation for the lower levels is to focus on whether they swinging at strikes or not.  Make it simple.  Talk about the strike zone.  What’s a good pitch to hit and what is not.

PITCH RECOGNITION

So ask yourself the following question,

If you feel your players (or hitters) aren’t transitioning their swing from the baseball batting cages to game at-bats…

In baseball batting cages are you training timing, plate discipline, and pitch recognition?

YES/NO?

Coaches, PLEASE contribute anything I may have missed in regard to factors and/or fixes you feel contribute to a successful transition from baseball batting cages (including softball) to game at-bats.

Again, MANY thanks in advance!