Hello Stix Family,
I’m very excited to get started with our second Stix season. We had a good turn out yesterday and I believe we got off to a solid start. Much of yesterday’s practice was devoted to getting the kids acclimated to how we do things and getting our administrative details out of the way. The administrative part of running this organization requires a large commitment so having a day to get that out of the way and taken care of helps a ton.
I wanted to begin our year working on hitting and introducing hitting to our players. The importance of hitting CANNOT be understated. You might be the best defensive player or best athlete at you age group, but if you cannot hit the ball consistently, you are going to struggle to get in the lineup. Pitching, catching, defense, base running and short game are all important phases of the game, but if we can’t hit the ball we can’t score runs and we can’t win games if we don’t score.
This can be confusing and frustrating for kids and parents alike if they don’t understand the importance of hitting. I will use my 11 year-old son Carson as an example. My son has played baseball the last 4 years. At 7 years old he actually made a U9 baseball team and solidified himself as a major contributor to the team. He made the U9 team as an 8 year old and has progressed through the program since then. Carson has a lot of raw talent, he’s a great athlete, he’s plays the game with a lot of natural instincts, he’s fast, he has a great arm, he has one of the best gloves on the team and he has a really quick bat. He should be a great baseball player right? Well the problem is, Carson doesn’t love the game of baseball. His passion is basketball and football and he just doesn’t care for baseball. However, everything should still be great because he’s a great athlete that has all these natural skill sets right? The problem with Carson is he doesn’t put the time into hitting that he should. He doesn’t work in the cages and swing his bat outside of practice and games. Thus, when he gets into games, he struggles to hit. Because he struggles to hit, he hasn’t progressed past the point of being an average baseball player. He contributes to the team and he plays, but he’s a liability at the plate and can’t establish himself as a really strong player. He gets frustrated with that and ends up with a negative view of the game and his place in it. He has all the tools needed to be a great player, but he doesn’t put the effort into hitting to allow him to get on the field and showcase his abilities.
The same thing applies to softball. If you can hit the ball well and get on base and move runners around, as a coach, I have to find a spot on the field for you, even at the cost of weakening a defensive position. As a coach, I’m willing to throw a weaker defensive player on the field if they can hit the ball well. As these girls begin matriculating into high school and start their high school careers, they will find that you will garner far more attention from coaches because of you potential as a hitter than as a defensive specialist. Hitting is your key to getting on the field early in you high school career and making an impact for the long term. You still need to work on defense and be the best defensive player you can be, because that, in combination with your hitting is what will win you a conference title or perhaps a state title, but hitting will get you noticed and on the field earlier in your career.
During the practice I introduced the foundation of our hitting principles. I introduced our “seven truths of hitting” which will remain the foundation of our hitting philosophy. Basically these “seven truths” are techniques that must remain in the core foundation of any hitting philosophy whether it’s baseball or softball, linear or rotational hitting or a combination of both. These concepts must be part of any foundation! The “seven truths” are as follows:
1) Eye discipline – eyes on the ball, head down and keep the head and eyes still.
2) Separation – the bottom hand (strong hand) must separate from the front foot during the load
3) Path to the ball – hands must get on the path of the ball as early as possible
4) Keep hands inside the ball – hands must stay inside the path of the ball
5) Snap – must get to contact with the palm of the bottom hand facing down and the palm of the top hand facing up
6) Hands & Hips must stay connected – hands and hips cannot separate (hands can’t get to ball before hips or hips can’t get ahead of the hands, they must stay connected)
7) Balance – must stay balanced through the swing, feet engaged with the ground and swinging controlled
These “truths” are a good place to lay our foundation because a player can drastically improve their hitting by focusing on these seven “truths”. Once they master these things they can progress and start mastering the other skills associated with hitting that makes great hitters special. Players just beginning to play this game can become really strong hitters by mastering these things first and moving on and stacking more skills on this foundation. The less experienced they are the more impact these “seven truths” have on them in the short term.
Obviously we have players in our program who are really proficient with these concepts. If you have played a lot of softball over the last few years, you probably have a good grasp of these things. Despite your grasp of them you still struggle and can’t seem to progress to the next level of success. For kids that are operating at that level I started to introduce the concept of the four types of errors that plague most hitters. These are not the only errors that happen, but rather they are the most common. Why do we need to know these things? By understanding the 4 common errors of hitting, you begin to understand the things that go beyond the 7 “truths” that make you a better hitter. Understanding the 4 common errors allows you to analyze your swing, correct errors, think more deeply about the science of hitting and help you put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The four common errors are as follows:
1) Timing Errors – just off time, usually late or early on a change-up result is a swing and miss
2) Mechanical Errors – I refer to these as footwork errors – usually issues in footwork or head & eyes that causes you to get off balance and swing and miss
3) Swing Path Errors – Fail to get on the right path of the ball result is usually a foul ball, or severally mishit ball
4) Contact Errors – Basically everything prior to contact is good and you hit the ball hard, but just don’t flush it up and hit a line drive
Throughout my coaching career I have had many great and reputable coaches ask me for help analyzing their hitters. Often they tell me, “I know hitting, but you seem to see things that I don’t see.” I will share a secret with all of you, I don’t see anything differently than they see things. In fact, my eye sight sucks and I don’t see half of what they see. The reason they believe this to be true is because I can provide in depth analysis of a players swing by watching how the ball reacts as it comes off the bat. I was taught to hit a softball using this approach to the 4 common errors and it was reintroduced to me in 2008 when I met Jessica Mendoza for the first time. I was shocked when I heard her begin her hitting clinic by introducing and explaining the exact 4 common errors I was taught some 30 or 35 years earlier. About a year after that, I heard the same concepts being discussed by Kelly Kretschman at a similar hitting clinic. After hearing 2 of the greatest hitters to ever play the game of softball discuss these concepts, I realized that maybe what I was taught 35 years ago is still relevant today. I started using these concepts in my practices and lessons and found them to be really effective tools.
The key to this is teaching the kids and engraining the concepts into their brain and forcing them to think about hitting more deeply. It also allows a coach the ability to provide instant and pretty accurate feedback that helps their hitters make adjustments and correct errors. Over the years I have established these concepts as a major part of my hitting regiment. I introduce the concepts to my team, teach them the intricacies of each error and teach them how to read the ball and make adjustments. For example, if my daughter pops a ball straight back behind the plate, I will ask her what happened. Early in her career she would tell me that she popped up. Ok…why did you pop up…I don’t know. I would explain why she popped up and teach her what happened. Over time I would consistently force her to self-evaluate. She’s progressed to the point where now she pops up and the exchange goes like this. You popped up (Coach). Yeah that was a swing path error (Tess). I got on the path of the ball late (Tess). How do you know that (Coach)? The ball fouled straight behind me and the ball got too deep and I hit it off the throat of the bat and it glanced off and went straight back (Tess)? How do you fix it (Coach)? I have to either shorten my swing and get on the path of the ball earlier or attack front heel plant earlier and make contact out in front of the plate (Tess).
When I hit at home with Tess these are actually the conversations we have. She’s gotten so good at self-analysis and understanding hitting that I can have just about as deep a conversation with her about hitting a softball as I could with Jessica Mendoza, obviously that’s an exaggeration, but you get the gist. Tess has developed into a really strong and consistent hitter, because she has such an in depth understanding of hitting and what can go wrong with her swing. She is by no means the next Jessica Mendoza, but she has developed into a very strong and very consistent hitter because she has the ability to correct and adjust in the batter’s box during a live at-bat without getting feedback from a coach, hitting instructor, video tape or what have you. Last season, Tess had a down year hitting at least for her own personal standards. She just couldn’t put the huge weekends of hitting together that pushed up her average. She got frustrated with herself because she wasn’t putting together those strings of swinging a really hot bat like she did the prior year. Once the season was completed and we compiled the stats we realized that she still hit over .400 (.403) and knocked in a fair amount of runs. I believe she was able to do that, because she had the ability to adjust, self-correct and work her way through the year and still put up decent numbers.
If you want to become a great hitter, you must be able to do a couple of things really well. Either you have to put a ton of work into hitting and learn about hitting and become almost obsessed with it to maintain relevance on your team’s lineup, or you have to have incredible hand eye coordination along with an extraordinary ability to hit the ball hard every time you make contact. My son has incredible hand eye coordination, but it’s by no means extraordinary and he has a pretty quick bat, but he’s not an extraordinarily big and strong kid that has the ability to hit the ball hard every time. He also puts no time into hitting and doesn’t understand it and therefore can’t rely on his physical skills to carry him. On the other extreme, my daughter Tess lacks the explosiveness and hand eye coordination needed to rely on those skill sets, but she has extraordinary knowledge of hitting and a desire to be as good a hitter as she can be and can rely on that to carry her and has thus established herself as a quality hitter and relevant in her team’s lineup.
We will continue to work and develop the hitting throughout our organization, but remember that it takes a long term commitment to become a great hitter, there’s no magic potion. You have to constantly work on your swing, experience at-bats and have a strong desire to be great. If you aren’t committed to those things, you will need to rely on some extraordinary physical skill sets, unfortunately not many of us, including me, have those types of skill sets…
Have a great week everyone,