In the last post, I described the qualities of a great batting stance or “rest position”. So, what’s next? Well, the next step is referred to by many different names, such as, “load”, “slot”, “point of no return”, or “launch”. “Launch” is my favorite. It connotes explosion and power. Very positive. No matter what you call it, the point is; hitters need to get a negative movement prior to during every pitch in order to be prepared to swing.
Here’s what it looks like:
The hands of the hitter take a negative move, back towards the back shoulder. The hands should be held high at the top of the zone.
The hitter should keep the stride shorter rather than longer. This has nothing to do with how high the foot comes off the ground. Stride is relative to the distance the front foot travels from its beginning in the rest position to the end of the launch. In this case, typically, less is more when dealing with the core strength and body control of young hitters.
During launch the hands and front foot move in opposite directions, or walk away from one another. The foot is somewhat optional. Some very successful hitters are stride-less. The hands however are not an option.
Compare this to shooting a rubber band. In order to get it to fly farther and faster, you must pull the ends away from each other. The further apart, the better, right?
Most importantly!!! The weight distribution of the hitter should be 80/20 at launch. That means 80% on the back foot and 20% on the front foot. In the stance, the hitter should have started at 60/40. Getting to 80/20 is difficult for many young hitters. I attribute this to poor instruction at an early age. All to often, I hear parents and coaches tell young hitters to take a big step towards the pitcher. Yes, we want the front foot to go in the general direction of the pitcher, but a step will put the hitters weight distribution at 20/80. That is the total opposite of what it should be at launch position. Years later you’ll hear the same parents and coaches telling the same hitters not to lunge at off-speed pitches. Good luck fixing that one.
This negative movement must happen on every pitch!!!
This negative movement should be practiced in the on-deck circle.
This negative movement needs to be drilled as part of a batting practice routine.
Think of cue words or phrases to remind hitters of this negative movement, such as, “stretch the rubber band” or “load up”.
This post and the following three will all deal with hitting. I feel comfortable discussing both baseball and softball hitting together. There was a point where I wasn’t so comfortable. When I first spent time around fast-pitch softball players, I heard some coaches say that the softball swing was totally different from a baseball swing. So, I sat back and watched. I saw girls having the same problems as boys. I saw myself giving the same advice to female hitters as I would with a male hitter. The major difference that I had observed was that some of the girls had holes in the backs of their helmet for ponytails. Ultimately, hitting is hitting.
We can get into the baseball and softball difference of pitching angles and hitting approach on off-speed pitches at another juncture. I am going to present, what I consider to be, universal fundamentals of both baseball and softball hitting.
Let’s begin with what is most commonly referred to as the STANCE. I’ve always preferred the term “rest position”. I like that term better due a difference in connotation. For example, “stance” connotes readiness but with stiffness and rigidity. Try this, walk up to players and say, “Show me your stance.” More often than not you will see a mechanically sound product, but take a closer look at the player’s forearms, neck, jaw, and legs. You will see muscle tension. “Rest position” connotes comfort and relaxation which is much more conducive for focus and overall success. Promoting a proper mental framework at the plate starts with the stance…. Oh sorry, I meant rest position.
So what does it look like:
Weight distribution at 40/60. 4o% of the hitter’s weight is on the front foot and 60% on the back foot. Weight should be on the balls of the feet.
Knees comfortably flexed and positioned inside the feet.
Feet parallel to slightly pigeon toed. This will ensure that later on in the swing the big muscle groups in the legs will be allowed to do their job. One of the easiest corrections, seldom made for many youth through high school hitters fixing “duck toes” or both toes pointing outward with the back foot be the most blatant. These hitters are typically all arms and have very little pop. The sad part is many of those same hitters have tremendous hand-eye coordination, but due to bad foot position from the start, singles and doubles are turned into easy outs.
Feet should also be one and a quarter to one and a half of shoulder width.
Hands should be shoulder to ear hole of the helmet high and 4 to 6 inches from the body. This will vary greatly. It is really most important where the hands go after this point. I will further address the hand in the next post.
Forearms should be in the shape of an upside-down letter “V”. DO NOT resort to the old-school advice, “Get that back elbow up.” I cringe when I hear that from someone in the crowd. It usually works against the next step in this sequence…. the grip.
Bat should be held in the fingers, not in the palms of the hands. The “door knocking knuckles” should be aligned. There are many tricks for getting the correct grip. One of my favorites is to have the player point both index fingers while holding the bat. If they go in the same direction, the grip is correct.
The hitter should maintain a tall backside and keep his/her head equidistant between both feet.
Both eyes should be level and facing the pitcher.
In the next post, I will discuss the next step after the rest position. My favorite name for this position is “launch”. It is also referred to as the slot, trigger, load, and etc. No matter what you call it, it is the negative movement needed on every pitch in order to initiate a great swing.
I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, please feel free to comment.
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“I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come.”
I get sick and tired of seeing teams that aren’t ready to play. When I first teach my players to “creep-step” or get a “walk-in”, other coaches look at me and wonder why I’m so concerned about what happens in between pitches. Well, it usually takes about 3 innings into the first game of the season for them to figure it out. The first hot shot hit to a mediocre fielder that makes a great play will typically settle the argument.
Getting your players in a effective pre-pitch position not only ensures that your players will be in the proper physical position to make a play, but also the correct mental frame of mind. Here’s what we teach from beginning to end:
Stand relatively upright with weight on the balls of feet; glove side foot slightly in front of the other; knees slightly flexed.
Shoulders squared to home plate.
Glove should be open to home plate; The rule for the glove hand is “Thumb out, elbow in”.
With the pitcher’s motion, take two “soft, but aggressive” steps towards home plate. Younger players will hop and/or kick up dirt. Don’t punish them for this movement. If you get them moving forward, just try to get them to get to “soft, but aggressive” footwork.
During the steps towards home plate, the player shoulder work their posture lower to the ground. Basically, get their butts and gloves down. Their gloves should still be open and their weight should still be on the balls of their feet.
Outfielders should still creep-step, but they do not need to be as low as infielders. They need to remain a bit more upright in order to be ready to sprint in many directions.
Benefits of making this mandatory for your players:
Obviously, they are in a great position to make a defensive play.
Mentally, they have a job to do on every pitch. It keeps the body moving, keeps the blood flowing, and keeps the brain focused.
It’s intimidating as hell to your opponents. Your players may be all thumbs, but when all 7 defensive positions are performing “creep-steps”, it says that your team is ready to play.
Players still have to make plays, but you increase the probability of any ball hit to any position on the field will be caught.
As players become more advanced, you can teach them to focus on other clues, such as position of the catcher, that may lead them to predict where balls are likely to be hit.
Ultimately, this concept has to be drilled. Simulate, the real thing at practice, both individually and as a team. Then continuously reinforce the skill throughout the season. Give many verbal reminders a day, both during practices and games. Do not allow your team to forget to perform an effective pre-pitch position. If you do, don’t whine at your left fielder when he/she barely misses catching that game winning single by inches. That one will be on you!
Check out this You Tube video. Not all of the examples are perfect. Some are works in progress. They include players age 4-18.
Please feel free to comment 🙂
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Check out this article from Rick Reilly of ESPN. It’s related to a bush league rules infraction in a college fastpitch softball game. After you check it out please feel free to comment, especially if you have a similar story. Enjoy 🙂
It is very frustrating to see a young player that is trying extremely hard at practice or in a game, but is struggling because he/she is using a glove that has been poorly broken in or not at all. The player hustles all over the yard, attempts to use good technique, but when the ball comes to him/her, it either bounces out or off of their glove.
A properly broken in piece of leather, not only increases a player’s opportunities to succeed defensively, but it’s also a safety issue. When the player catches more balls, confidence goes through the roof. We’ve all seen skilled players that fail due to issues related to self-esteem and confidence. Safety for the youngest players is key. Many parents go out and buy the cheapest, biggest, hardest glove possible. Then they sit in the stands and shout, “Catch the Ball!” when their son or daughter misses every ball that comes at them. Or even worse young players begin to get out of the way of oncoming pop-ups and grounders because they lack confidence in their ability to catch anything with the ginormous monstrosity of hard leather hanging from their arm. Avoidance and fear will increase the chance of injury.
Here are some recommendations for buying a glove:
Size matters. Players 8 and under should have a pattern no bigger than 10.5″. Players 9-12 no bigger than 12″. And with older players, it depends on the position. Outfielders may have a 13″ pattern, pitchers an middle infielders 11-11.5″, and 3rd basemen 12″- 12.5″.
Type of leather. Make sure the glove is leather. If the glove costs less that $15. It probably isn’t. It’s probably vinyl and stiff as a board. Although, some more recent models have portions of neoprene or nylon on them in order to make them more flexible. In turn, I believe it was the Cooper company that came out with gloves that had a softer “pre-broken in” feel to it about 12-15 years ago. Now, almost every company has something similar. I’ve have had a good amount of success with Rawlings. Rawlings has a wide variety of quality gloves for all ages. I’m especially impressed with their “Players” series and “Triple Play” series for kids 10 and under. These series are usually under $35. They have huge pockets and a very flexible leather. The “Gold Glove” series is mainstay for teens and beyond. Most gloves in this series are between $65-110. They have a thicker, stiffer leather, but are built to last. I found a great deal on one on eBay for $50. It has lasted 7 years and is still going.
The Fit. Take the player using the glove with you when buying the glove. Even if you don’t buy it there, get one on the hands that are going to be using it and then buy it on the Internet if you want. Don’t buy the pink one for your daughter, because it’s prettier than the others. After a week, the coolness of the pink glove will wear off and it will come down to how it feels. There are a few factors that come into the actual fit of a glove:
Index finger hole
Straps for tightness
Palm pad on the inside
Thumb and pinky placement
Now that you’ve purchased a glove, let’s break it in. First and foremost, DO NOT BUY THE GLOVE A WEEK BEFORE THE SEASON STARTS!!! It is very difficult to break it in properly in time for it to be used correctly. For older players, I recommend buying it a year before it will actually be used. Then it can be used during pre-game warm-ups to get it broken in. There are many different methods. I’m going to share what has worked for me.
Here are the steps:
Buy either a typical glove oil ($2.99 at any store that carries gloves), or I really like Hot Glove ($4.99). Hot Glove is a foam that looks like shaving cream, you actually rub it on the glove and bake it (low temperature) for about 4 minutes.
Spend 10-15 minutes bending the glove in many directions.
Place a ball in the pocket (not the web). For high school and beyond baseball & softball gloves, I recommend using a 12″ softball. It will create a larger pocket.
Tightly tie some twine around the glove so the ball in stationary in the pocket. I typically use an 18″ bungee strap. It’s cheap, reusable, and easier to get on and off.
Let it sit for one month.
Untie the glove and play catch or sit and firmly toss a ball into the pocket 200-300 times.
Repeat if necessary steps 1-6, if necessary.
For annual maintenance, I use Edge shaving gel (purple or orange lid). The ingredients that protect the skin on your face will also protect the leather. Rub it into the entire outside of the glove. I like to do this before and after the season. Make sure to get all of the laces. The laces will break as the glove gets older if not cared for properly. If you don’t want to use the shaving gel, a regular glove oil will do.
This is designed to be a fun fielding drill. Divide the players into 2 teams. Place one team at SS and the other at 2B. Have 2 coaches alternate hitting to each team. Each coach will need a bucket of balls.
Objective: Field a ground ball cleanly while moving forward and hit one of the two buckets placed on home plate.
Scoring: One bucket should be placed on top of the other. The top bucket is worth 3 points. The bottom bucket is worth 1 point. The top bucket is worth more in order to encourage better throws that a catcher could handle in a game situation. It’s up to you, but I allow younger kids to bounce it in, and it still counts. Depending on age and the skill level of your group adjust the scoring accordingly.
I like to draw a line in the dirt as starting point for 2 reasons:
If you don’t, the players will start creeping closer to the bucket in order to make the throw shorter as the drill continues.
You want to keep the players in the habit of moving forward on ground balls. They must actually field the ball in front of the line, but they can’t cross the line until the ball is hit by the coach.
It also allow me to adjust the depth. One day your team may do it at the edge of the infield grass, and sometimes deeper. Depth could also be varied throughout the game.
I recommend hitting through each team 5-7 times. The team with the most points wins. I also suggest making it worth something for the winning team. The winning team could have their end of practice conditioning cut in half, or maybe they could watch the other team put all of the gear away. Be creative. I like the competitive nature of the drill, and it simulates an aggressive throw to the plate. Players of all ages (t-ball to college) will really get into it. Enjoy 🙂
If you have any variations on this drill or ideas on how to make this drill better please leave a comment.
This is a very touchy subject for many families. I know that we are tackling this very issue in my home. If you’d like, please leave comments after you vote. I’m very interested in your thoughts on this topic.