Under the post Hitting Part 1, I explained why swinging faster is what I consider to be the most important when training/developing youth hitting so lets big deeper.
Swing Fast – Build a Better Engine
The first thing to understand is knowing what intent basically means in terms of training/developing. Intent is short for intention – what are you trying to do? From a psychological and physical stand point, intent is a very powerful tool. It may be the most fundamental aspect in development – it should never be taken for granted. Yet sadly, in youth sports it is often either knowingly or unknowingly ignored, demeaned or used incorrectly; all of which is to the detriment to the player.
Swinging fast does not mean the player should try to lose their balance or fall down although this may very well happen early in training/development of the very young. “Swing fast while keeping your balance” or “swing as hard as you can and hit the ball” often work as a cue. The point of telling a youth player to swing fast is not just trying to create the physical external feeling of bat speed. It is not just the classic, funny saying “swing fast in case you hit it” – I like that saying by the way. But when a player is told to “swing fast” the brain subconsciously kicks in and activates the central nervous system to recruit the big muscles to become more involved in producing the desired intent – to move the bat faster. Getting the bigger muscles to fire faster is development. Speed can and should be developed in youth. Not only is there anecdotal evidence of intent being very powerful development tool but also piles of scientific evidence going back decades.
The next important concept in developing a faster swing is swinging more. There are no quick “fixes” in development. Want to get better at reading? Guess what? Reading more gets you better at reading. In the context of building a better engine, better hitters tend to become better hitters because they spend more time hitting/swinging than their average piers. And for the record, swinging at a wiffle ball on a T into a net or fence can work at the youth level. I’m not saying that hitting a wiffle ball off a T is the only way to get better. A player has to start where they are at and with the tools available. And no, that does not mean a 10-year-old needs to take 10,000 hacks over a period of 3 months. Think of it this way, take two youth players (Burt and Ernie) that are identical in all aspects physically, in playing experience, and currently have the same average bat speed. Bert spends the next 6 weeks, not swinging a bat. Ernie spends the next 6 weeks doing this homemade bat speed program: trains at least 2 – 3 times a week taking 50 fast swings at a ball sitting on a T for 3 weeks. The next 3 weeks Ernie increases the number of fast swings to 75 each session. Over those 6 weeks this would total approximately 700 – 800 swings. Guess what happens to Ernie’s bat speed as compared to Burt? Now, what if Ernie did this 6 week bat speed training twice a calendar year? Now keep in mind, the numbers I’m using above are scalable, up or down, to the player’s age or physical ability.
Related to swinging more is the concept of swinging at balls in different locations of the strike zone. If hitting off a T, move it either up, down, left or right every 5 – 10 swings. Getting better at hitting is about bat control – “know” where the barrel is – creating a feel for barrel control. Grooving a swing to hit a ball in the same spot will look good on video but that does mean it will pay in a game. Hitting better in-game is the only standard that matters. Hitting a ball that was tossed under hand (soft toss), overhand (pitched) or from a machine is better batting practice than off a T. The benefits of hitting a moving ball, even if moving relatively slow, should not be underestimated. Of course practicing/training should include hitting a ball at game speed but there is physical developmental benefit to “getting your swings in”. The best hitters on the planet warm up using a batting T. They also train hitting a moving ball. Hitting in games is a very dynamic environment. No two pitchers are the same, no two pitch types are the same, and locations vary from one pitch to the next – train dynamically according to the players capability/level. So what happens if we take Ernie from the previous paragraph and during his 6 weeks of bat speed training we moved the T every 10 swings or so. So that after 10 swings with the ball and T sitting in the same position, we moved it to a different spot in the strike zone (up, down, left or right). After the next 10 swings we moved it again and continued this process while still having the focus to “swing fast and hit the ball” on every swing. Do you think this may help Ernie get better at hitting? Stay with me – we’ll put things together at the end.
The final concept to discuss in developing swing speed is swing more than just one bat. In fact, swing more than just a bat. This is not as complicated and nor as expensive as most think. There are weighted bat training programs available and products available commercially. If you have the means, I suggest you check into them. If not, here is some fundamental training tools you can use to build your own you hitting system:
- Your child’s “old” bat that’s too small or beat up – keep it.
- Look for cheap bats at your local big box store that’s doesn’t have any pop or is a bit too heavy or a bit too light or is at a discount during the off-season or find a used/second-hand one.
- Youth wooden bats are excellent for training.
- Buying tip: Every year from October – November is the best time of year to buy baseball equipment. Manufacturers are clearing inventory for next years products and warranties for new products begin at purchase date, not the date made.
- A roll of athletic tape. The athletic tape can be used as bat grip or used to add weight to a bat.
- If you don’t have access to one for free, go at a local hardware, home improvement store purchase (or find) 8 foot of 3/4 inch or 1 inch PVC pipe.
If you purchase everything above brand new, you should be able keep it under $75. For less than the cost of a couple of lessons you now have 2 – 3 bats (includes your game bat), and a piece of PVC pipe that you can cut to fit your player. I go into greater detail on this concept including videos/demonstrations on a previous post: CLICK HERE
The next piece in improving youth swing speed is the basic, broad concept of swing mechanics. Improving a players individual swing mechanics has two big impacts: 1) it unleashes more bat speed a player already has inside of them (swing efficiency), 2) it produces a better chance of making solid contact (more line drives). These two concepts of an individuals best swing mechanics and hitting more line drives is so interrelated they will be covered in greater detail in my post Youth Hitting Part 3.
To summarize increasing youth bat speed:
- Intent to swing fast
- Swing/hit more often, this includes more than just “in season”
- Swing/hit at balls in different locations
- Swing/hit with different items/bats
In my next youth hitting post we will put it all together and show an example of a youth hitting program using the concepts above while combining it with mechanics that you can scale up as needed.