Creating a Baseball Hitting Practice that Doesn't Suck!

Baseball Hitting Practice Zen

This post on how to develop an extraordinary baseball hitting practice will upset a lot of old school coaches. Even my former legendary Fresno State Coach Bob Bennett, who, might I add, was just inducted into the NCAA College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame this year (Summer of 2010), may also get upset at what I'm about to addendum when it comes to training acute variables.

(This post is 3,177 words, and has an average reading time of 12.5 minutes)

I come from both a vintage fundamentalist background (Bennett & my legendary high school Coach Mike Noakes), while also being exposed to new-age training techniques (Thiessen & Batesole). Not to mention all the R&D my brain swallowed from the mainstream media 6th grade to my Sophomore year in High School.

What helps an instructor sharpen his/her wit for creating a baseball hitting practice of cast iron is as simple as...

...teaching over and over, year after year. I learned more after I finished playing, then when I was active on the diamond. How's that? Even with these knowledgeable coaches I spoke of earlier?

I'll be the first to admit, especially when I was playing, I didn't know everything...SURPRISE...I still don't...for example my brain left hurting after helping this past Fall of 2009 with a local baseball hitting practice camp which included ex-Giant Jack Clark and Coach Bennett...I'm still learning and refining this "stuff!"

But what I found was teaching this Swing Smarter "stuff" to young kids forced me to dumb down concepts I took for granted, and refine what I had to say so the kiddos could understand...and here's the critical piece of the puzzle, develop what I have to say and go out on the field and succeed.

How do I do it?

I'm regularly giving private and group baseball hitting practice lessons over the course of a year...on the contrary, this is different from coaching a full on team (I've done that too), because with an official team, your focus is taken in EVERY direction.

Also, the pay for private lessons is waaaaay better, and I don't find myself wanting to drown myself in Jack Daniels at the end of the day :P

This is also a good point for players in High School right now wanting to make some extra money and sharpen their swing in the process...no, NOT going to the bottle...actually, giving hitting instruction to younger kids.

I continually use my kids as guinea piglets whenever I come across info that may prove contrary to popular believe...if it works, then it gets absorbed into the Swing Smarter System, if it doesn't, then we toss it.

The key is keeping it simple.

I only work on ONE thing with my kids, at a time, per week. How's that for keeping it simple?!

Today, we're going over my secret recipe for building Rome in a day...no, strike that...how to create a baseball hitting practice that doesn't suck! You'll learn how to have a "Themed" practice, so players can retain instruction coming out of your pie hole, complete with the necessary batting drills and the Top Hitting Aids from The Starting Lineup Store to use in setting up key stations.

We'll also go over Acute Variables such as:

  • How many stations to use,
  • The amount of cuts vital to getting enough work in,
  • The lost art of baseball hitting practice tempo (with technique as well),
  • The quantity of practices to have during the week, and
  • Number of rounds a hitter must take to develop a sound swing.

Let's get this party started...

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"The theme of the Grail is the bringing of life into what is known as 'the wasteland.' The wasteland is the preliminary theme to which the Grail is the answer. It's the world of people living inauthentic lives - doing what they are supposed to do."
--Joseph Campbell

Themes are by far the best pieces of advice I can give about organizing an extraordinary baseball hitting practice. As opposed to doing what we're 'suppose to do' and placing another hog-pogg recipe for failure on the field.

I like to have a specific focus during hitting, here are few of the main themes to stick to:

  1. Plate discipline,
  2. Bottom half technique (usually for younger players),
  3. Being short to the ball,
  4. Extending through the pitched baseball,
  5. Hitting to the Opposite Field
  6. Approach to curve-ball/breaking pitch,
  7. Strategy for Off speed pitches or developing more patience, and
  8. Taking back Control at the plate, or designing releases to channel negative energy.

So each point above would correlate to one practice, OR if your players really need to spend more time on something like plate discipline, then by all means, hold the line for multiple shakedowns.

Molto Importante (Very Important): Whatever you do, DO NOT practice more than one point per session though!

I don't want this post to be the end-all-be-all of a baseball hitting practice...I want you all to be creative because you know your players better. Definitely use my suggestions as guidelines...that being said, let me briefly go over some ideas for the above themes.

Plate Discipline
If you haven't subscribed to The Swing Architect Newsletter, then do it NOW! There's a key password protected article you get for signing up which teaches a Swing Smarter System, so don't waste anymore time and subscribe below:

Bottom Half Technique
Legs, hips, and core are where a hitter's power & control comes from, and this should be up there on your action-item-list as a coach putting together a baseball hitting practice.

Most of the time, this is for younger kids, but if you have older ballplayers who aren't using their bottom half correctly, then it's good to have the whole team revisit these key principals of power...

Fixing a Broken Bottom Half 101

And yes, you can run a baseball hitting practice on just 2 drills (included in the just posted link), just so you know, start slow with the kiddos, and get to regular speed when they get the hang of it. Their little leggies should be sore with this one the next day.

Being Short to the Ball OR The DOWN in Down and Through
Whether a coach disagrees with taking the knob down to the incoming pitch as proper hitting technique, they can't argue with the fact a batter absolutely has to, without a doubt, be short to the baseball.

Here's a couple Swing Smarter articles on just that, complete with drills:

  1. Short to it technique (only pay attention to the 'DOWN' part for now),
  2. Philosophy to Being Short to the Baseball,
  3. Sweet Jack Clark Gold Nugget to staying short, AND
  4. Icing on the Cake, Contact 'Out in Front'

Tip about baseball hitting practice helpful link number 3, you can also have your players do the Fence Drill...have the player get into their stance from a bat's distance away from a chain link fence (knob on belly button to other end on fence), and have them start their swing by bringing the knob down to an imaginary incoming pitch while facing the fence...you can say anything you want about this drill, but it keeps a hitter short to the ball.

Extending LONG Through the Ball
Being short to "it" is only half the battle, then we have to push the barrel 4-8 inches through the point of contact. Here are a couple articles guiding this concept:

Using a Bat Chute ($20) or the SwingAway ($199) will help with this.

Hitting to the Opposite Field
I wasn't taught this in a baseball hitting practice until my Junior year in High School. That year I hit .400, as opposed to .215 the year before. 'Nuff said ;) Whether a hitter's big or small, learning how to hit oppo is one of the most valuable assets a batter can develop. Here's one Swing Smarter gold coin post on the mechanics of teaching this:

Discover Baseball Hitting Techniques: 3 Simple Steps to Increasing Opposite Field Strength

Curve-ball/Breaking Pitch Hitting 101
Including this as a theme in a baseball hitting practice should obviously be reserved for the more advanced player, Junior High on up. There's a secret to hitting the curve-ball and it ain't what you're thinking. Check out the following post I recently did on SwingSmarter.com:

Deuce AKA Curve-ball Smashing 101: How to Hit Tape Measure Shots & Return Your Trays to Their Upright and Locked Positions

Developing a Solid Off Speed Pitch Strategy
What's a pitcher's main goal? To get the batter off balance right? And what's the best way to do that? Off speed pitches. How does Johan Santana fair so well when he doesn't even top out at more than 90mph? He's got a great OS pitch. So, how do we as hitters/coaches defend this deceptive pitch?

Here's a great post we did on developing patience on off speed pitches at the plate, included are two awesome drills:

2 Peace of Mind Baseball Hitting Tips to Improve Patience

There is a hitting aid from The Starting Lineup Store that will be sure to better a young hitter's approach to off speed pitches:

Taking Back CONTROL at the Plate
The hardest part of hitting is 50% from the neck up. All players at all levels deal with this on a daily basis, whether they're crying back to the dugout or breaking a bat over their knee. It's a fact, hitters will get frustrated at many points along their careers with a task which is the hardest thing to do in any sport...hit a baseball consistently well over time.

To be consistent means we have to control the controllable, as Ken Ravizza says. His Control, Plan, Trust strategy is a Swing Smarter must, and you can check it out below:

The Mental Side of Hitting & Finding YOUR Special Purpose

All these elements can build into our baseball hitting practice...you have a lot of reading to do if you're new to SwingSmarter.com, don't worry if you are, you just stumbled out of the boiling pot of water into the red hot frying pan :P

Moving onto key acute baseball hitting practice variables...

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Having a theme for developing an extraordinary baseball hitting practice is a big step in the right direction, and only working on one thing, maybe two, depending on level here, will help players focus their energies wholeheartedly into a big win, rather than 3-5 small wins.

We play the percentages in baseball, and always play for BIG wins! The small ones take care of themselves most of the time.

Now, about the Acute Variables.

Quality Trumps Quantity

Everyone is so stuck on how many cuts to take, rounds to break off, stations to setup, etc. The following will upset my old school baseball coaching sages because I DON'T believe in over working kids. Quality of work (meaning swings) should be built up over time and competitive levels.

What I mean here is younger kids should be concentrating on quality hacks versus quantity. There I said it! Quality over quantity. And once they get into college and pro ball our quality of muscle memory should be able to "hold up" over longer practices and swing repetitions.

Yes I know it's a challenge for teams with not enough coaches to watch every single swing, but finding a quality hitting instructor who can do lessons is crucial here.

If you haven't read this powerful PDF on "How to Grow a Super Athlete," then, as Arnold says in the movie The Predator, Do it! Do it now! It talks about developing muscle memory and why young Russian female tennis athletes become so good so early in life...by the time they're 16-17 years old, they're competing at Wimbledon. And did you know they're starting with slow motion technique by age 4 or 5.

Which brings me to another vital Acute Variable for putting together an extraordinary baseball hitting practice:

Swing Smarter Team Tempo

Practice should move like water, seamlessly. Have a practice schedule for the day typed up on a piece of paper outlining what will be discussed, and tape it up in the dugout for all to see.

The hardest thing for a player is coming to a practice they don't know what will be expected of them. I absolutely loved how Coach Bob Bennett did this...we could always count on the practice schedule being up before noon every day. After class, before I'd go home for lunch, I'd drop by the park and look at it, so I knew what we were doing for practice that day.

On tempo as it pertains to swing technique. If a certain practice theme is new or difficult, then start slow. Have the players slow down their swings to super slow motion, so they can train their brain and body to catch up to each other. There's NO rule saying we can't swing in slow motion. Studies (also the PDF above) show it helps the brain/body connection tremendously in acquiring a new skill.

Less is More

Adopt a less is more philosophy. Your baseball hitting practice is only as good as your weakest link. Sure, you'll have players that'll pick up single tasking practices quickly, but what about your guys that'll be hitting 7,8, and 9 in the lineup, or worse, will be coming off the bench? Make sure they get it...let your stars be stars, spend more time on the bottom links in the chain.

If we can't get through to the bottom links in the chain, then as a coach, we should take offense to that. If we're having a hard time with a kid, then find an instructor who can.

Next,

Baseball Hitting Practice: The Nuts & Bolts

As some of you know, I believe in less is more, especially when it comes to the lower levels of competition, quality over quantity if you will. I don't believe in 11 and 12 year olds playing in 162 game non-stop seasons, heck 40 games at their age is too much.

Let kids be kids for crying out loud! Let them play other sports, they're still in a competitive atmosphere. Above all, please let them have fun.

Trust me when I say I see it time and time again. It's better to see Johnny out their on his own, passion burning red hot, swinging until the sun goes down...but NOT when a gun is being held to his head by an over-eager parent. Not all players are created equal, some blossom later in life.

And THAT is okay.

Okay, enough of my soap box ranting...lets dig deep!

Most of the following has its roots in the "Bob Bennett Way" of running a practice, but the same style definitely trickled down from Noakes in High School, along with Thiessen, Rothford, and Cervelli who were major influences in my hitting life...they were all Bulldog born and bred by legendary Coach Bennett. With a little sprinkling of my own flavoring :P

I like a baseball hitting practice to have 3-5 hitting stations, this will be hard with limited coaching, but if you can drag some present-at-practice parents into adding more stations, then so be it. You just have to explain your Theme well enough, so they can understand.

For each station, you can use a specific drill or setup a stellar hitting aid, as discussed in the above articles/links.

Depending on competitive level, the amount of cuts per round should be shorter, between 5-12. Remember quality over quantity. With younger kids focus on slowing the tempo of technique down. Just increase the number of rounds, so a little league baseball hitting practice may be 6-8 rounds of 5 cuts each, that's 30-40 quality hacks.

Decreasing the repetition and increasing the rounds also keeps the kids moving and not losing them to plucking bees from flowers and putting them in Gatorade bottles (true story).

For older kids, rounds of 4-6 with 8-12 quality repetitions should suffice. This is where my flavoring kicks on...remember in a game, hitters might have four At-Bats, and how many of those are swings? Eight? Or less? Games hacks I consider quality cuts because for most their pride is on the line...then they sit down for another 15-20 minutes until the next AB.

Wonder why players have a hard time taking their baseball hitting practice swing from the cages to game AB's? Because they get used to taking too many swings in the cages, then once they get up to the plate, they're nervous as all heck because they know (this is where it gets mental) they only have one shot, then have to wait 15-20 mins for the next one.

We have to train accordingly. Short bursts and more rest time between rounds keeps the player's muscles primed, fresh, and recharged like they would be in a game. I don't want my players' muscles to get desensitized because they're taking too many hacks. This is danger to success at the plate.

Instead, teach these players to take more cuts between their ears, they save energy that way. Most, if not all Hall of Famers, took a tremendous amount of cuts in their own minds before, during, and after games.

Save your body, work your mind.

How many times a week should we do a baseball hitting practice?

Every other day maybe. Depends on the age of kids we're talking about. It also depends how quickly they get the concepts. Some themes may take weeks to get the players comfortable with them.

To give an example of how my practice times and frequencies progressed throughout my career:

  • Little League: 2-3 practices/week for 1.5 hours/day
  • Middle School: 4-5 practices/week for 2.5 hours/day
  • High School: 5 practices/week for 3 hours/day
  • College: 6-7 practices/week for 4-6 hours/day

Might I add, I put even more time in before and after the above official practice times to get ahead of the game.

You see, they'll have time to get more cuts in (exponentially), later in their careers. This is why the focus must be on quality over quantity early, so when they're taking more hacks later it's just a refining process. And emphasize, mental swings BIG time.

Here's a great link to a blog I love on Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner's Guide.

Remember, less is more...quality over quantity...keep it simple...build a themed baseball hitting practice that makes sense, and by all means, use your better judgment based on the caliber of kids you coach.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Coaching a winning baseball hitting practice below...

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