Hitting a moving round ball with a round bat is not easy. But getting better at the youth level does not have to be hard or expensive. It is not uncommon for parents to view development of youth hitting (and pitching for that matter) in extremes: 1) do basically nothing or next to nothing or 2) over coach, over talk, frustrate the child, etc. Neither extreme is ideal and 2) is most likely the worst option over the long-term. But the training/development focus at the youth level should only come down to 2 basic components and both are highly teachable/trainable:
- Swing Fast
- Hit line drives over the infield
I did not say “swing level”. I’m not sure what swing level means. I know what most people think it means but practically speaking how do you “swing level” at a low strike? Swing level to what? The ground? In baseball, you will never see a pitched ball that travels level to the ground – more on that later.
It is not an accident that I put swing fast as #1. At the youth level, developing/training bat speed is the most important element in hitting. Nothing adds more fun to playing the game than driving a ball into the outfield and there is no feeling quite like hitting the hard and on the sweet spot. The facts are clear, the faster a ball comes off the bat, the better chance it has of being a hit.
Of course “how fast” is relevant to the age of the player. Naturally, the average bat speed of a 7-year-old is less than the average bat speed of a 15-year-old. But increasing the body’s ability to generate more bat speed is always relevant.
There are two basic ways to increase bat speed: 1) increase the players physical ability to generate bat speed and 2) move better (basic swing mechanics) to make better use of a players current ability to generate more bat speed. Even though 2) sounds easier or faster to produce on the surface, in reality 1) is simpler to train and normally produces faster results. Here is the best part, a player can do both at the same time. Stay with me.
First, let’s go ahead and address some of the normal negative comments some will say about youth training/developing to swing fast. All push backs to training this way tends to sound like one of these: strike outs from over swinging, players hit better when you swing at 80% (or some such percentage).
In both of these cases the person saying these things is viewing training/development through the same lens as playing in a game. That is known as moving the goal post – changing the environment and the context of the point being made. On game day, it is time to play the game, compete, if its close to a strike, hit it. In short, the player has to react. Training and development happens before game day, in most cases weeks if not months before game day. The end goal is when a player plays the game (is reacting) his/her previous development/training (swing fast, hit line drives) is more likely to be the natural reaction. Playing in a game is about winning THAT game, development/training is about getting better at THE game – there is a big difference.
Also, a player may hit better in a game or team practice by feeling like they are swinging 80%, 50%, or whatever. If a youth player has developed the ability to swing faster, then regardless of the feel or percentage they will be swinging faster. Example, 80% of a 65 mph max swing is faster than 80% of a 55 mph max swing. All things being equal for an individual youth player, the faster the bat is moving at contact, the harder the ball will be hit. Hitting the ball harder over the course of a season is always better than not hitting it harder over the course of a season.
In the short-term, a player may swing and miss more often when they begin developing/training to increase bat speed. That’s ok – you gotta break some eggs to make an omelet. That’s why you don’t start developing/training for the first time an hour before a game. It helps if the youth player and parent think in terms of several weeks or a few months. If the desire is to truly get better at hitting a single hour of training is not going to help over the course of a season. But spending an hour (at home or batting cage or both), maybe 2 – 3 times a week, over a period of two or three months can and often does make a big difference when game day occurs.
Hit Line Drives Over The Infield
What is a line drive? Did you know Major League Baseball (MLB) actually characterizes EVERY ball that is hit in the field of play? And yes, they track and measure it. Per MLB – “Each ball that is hit into the field of play is characterized as a line drive, a fly ball, a ground ball or a pop-up.” The main thing most youth players and parents need to understand is a line drive is not just a ball hit relatively hard 5 feet off the ground. A line drive has a wider range (trajectory) than most people think. Visually, the range of line drives over the infield looks something like this:
A common negative push back on this is “youth players are not major leaguers”. Well, no kidding. But if you are implying that a 50 pound 7-year-old can’t hit a line drive in a youth game – you are simply wrong. If you are implying that any kid can’t train/develop to get better at hitting line drives – you are simply wrong. Another common argument is youth games can be won by hitting a ground ball or a bunt or “situational hitting”. Well, thanks for the news flash but once again that is moving the goal post.
Of course, taking advantage of poor fielding and throwing errors at the youth level wins most games. But why it is often used as an excuse to not get better at things that matter most over the long-term? Answer: it is easy, lazy thinking that is often sold to parents. There is no debate that being able to swing faster and hit more line drives during a season makes the game more fun to play and more enjoyable for parents to watch. There is no debate that increasing bat speed and the ability to hit more line drives helps win games.
I hope this gives you some understanding “why” developing a faster swing and hitting more line drives matters. The next post (Part 2) will be recommendations, pics, and videos of how to help a player get better at hitting. I’ll leave you with this vid of a line drive, wait for the slow motion of the hit/swing. Until next time, get better!