What Is The Current State Of Hitting Instruction?

by | May 26, 2016 | baseball swing, elite level swing, elite swing mechanics, hitting instruction, hitting videos, softball swing | 1 comment

My thoughts and observations on the current state of hitting instruction in baseball and softball are very much related to a number of YouTube video clips that I have viewed recently. These YouTube clips serve as a platform by which I will be talking about and demonstrating many of the “traditional cues” as I call them. And I will be showing and explaining as to why these cues have very little “explanatory power” in blog posts to come.

My critique of hitting instruction is not a function of my wanting to make instructors look bad. My essential purpose is to try to better educate parents and players about those things which I think they really need to better understand when it comes to good vs not so good baseball or softball hitting instruction.

Ok, let’s start here: I think that the reason elite level hitter’s swing the bat really well has little to nothing to do with the kinds of cues that are commonly heard from Little League fields all the way to Major League Baseball. Something else underlies their ability to development a really good swing.

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The Reality of Baseball and Softball Hitting Instruction at All Levels

Not too long ago I saw something on a hitting website that I think is as common as it is incorrect. A young dad with a young son made the following comment that went something like this:

“I assume that most all hitting instructors are pretty much on the same page as regards having a good understanding of the ‘basics’ of hitting instruction. The only real differences really just amount to differences in style or emphasis of these basics.”

Admittedly, this seems to be a pretty logical assumption. But, it is wrong. Very wrong, in my experience.

From my vantage point as someone who has spent many years thinking about and observing hitting instructors I would say that the bulk of hitting instruction is ineffectual; it does not typically address or help correct many of the basic movement flaws that underlie many non-elite hitters. At best most hitting instruction is not harmful. Most hitting instruction is ineffective. It’s ineffective because it does not help a hitter really overcome his or her basic movement flaws and it does not help the hitter develop a truly changed and improved swing. And I would argue that there is evidence that some instruction is actually harming a hitter’s ability to really improve their swing.

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Hitting Instruction Largely Ranges From Ineffectual to Harmful

Why is this the case? Why do I think that the bulk of hitting instruction largely ranges from ineffectual to actually harmful? The reality is this: Very few hitting instructors understand “how the body works” well enough to either accurately analyze swings, or develop really effective hitting drills that force the hitter to really understand how to go about effectively addressing their swing flaws. Typically there is very little actual improvement in the hitter’s movement flaws that underlie their inability to consistently hit line drives.

The main goal of hitting instruction should be helping a hitter better understand their actual movement flaws. And it should be about helping the hitter to effectively address and ultimately help the hitter to overcome the kinds of typical movement flaws that most non-elite level hitters have.

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Photo by Keith Allison

Players at the MLB Level Already Know How To Swing The Bat Really Well

Most baseball and softball hitting instructors do not understand movement well enough to be effective hitting instructors. Based on my 15 years of experience with hitting instruction, all of what I just said above is reality. I am neither exaggerating nor being unduly harsh as regards the relatively poor quality of hitting instruction that exists at all levels. Now, at the highest levels (MLB) this lack of a good understanding as to how the body works, does not matter all that much. I say this because guys at the MLB level already know how to swing the bat really well! They got to that level precisely because they swing the bat better than about 99.9% of all other hitters on the planet!! It is those at the lower levels of baseball and softball that really are in dire need of effective hitting instructors.

What’s my evidence as regards my criticisms of most hitting instruction?

Well, I can start with the fact that most instructors do not have any kind of training or even interest in sports science concepts that really can and should be utilized to be a truly effective instructor. Most instructors are typically guys who may have been able to “do it”, e.g. they had the physical capability to swing a bat well. However, as I have said many times, “doing it” is typically very weakly related to understanding what they were actually doing with their body when they swung a bat. This is a very common among elite athletes.

In motor learning literature, this is known as the action-perception gap. That is to say there can be and there many times is a big difference between being able to do a ballistic type activity like swinging a baseball bat well, compared to really understanding what your body is actually doing to create a good swing.

The essential point here is that many of those claiming to teach hitting are guys who knew how to swing the bat pretty well, but they cannot really effectively, accurately, and technically explain how they actually moved body and bat when they swung.

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Most Hitting Instructors Rely on Traditional Cues

As I mentioned earlier, I have looked at dozens if not hundreds of clips of instruction at YouTube over the last several years. I have yet to see an instructor that knows how both good and not so good swings are created. I do see evidence that many instructors have some knowledge, but most do not understand cause and effect issues well enough to really be an effective instructor.

Most hitting instructors rely on what I refer to as traditional cues like “take the knob to the ball”, or cues having to do with the hands. Cues like: “You need quick hands to swing the bat better”, or “good hitters know how to use their hands.”

Other common cues are:
“You need to load back.”
“You need a bat path that is short to the ball and long through the ball.”
“You need a level swing.”

The fundamental problem with these kinds of cues is that they lack “explanatory power.” Which means, they do not really explain and accurately convey the actual movements and movement patterns that really underlie both good and not so good swings. Most traditional cues do not explain the underlying causes of the kinds of typical movement flaws that are very common to most hitters.

Nothing To Do With The Actual Movements of Elite Hitters

Given this, a very basic question about this kind of cue based instruction should become obvious: If these cues do not really explain how a swing actually happens, and if the hitting instructor does not understand the actual underlying causes of a swing, how can these kinds of cues really be effective teaching tools? And how can an instructor who is using these cues as their main source of information and instruction really be an effective hitting teacher? The reality is that they really can’t be effective and in most case aren’t very effective.

Because these cues have essentially nothing to do with the actual movements of hitters, it is then left completely up to the hitter to somehow interpret and translate these cues into some kind of physical reality that the hitter applies and therein improves upon some aspect of their swing. Very few young and developing hitters can do this in an effective manner.

In future posts and YouTube demos on the Englishbey Hitting YouTube channel, I will explain how and why these traditional cues are not very effective at helping most hitters develop a really good swing and what is effective at helping develop elite swing mechanics.

 

What makes a good hitting instructor? Are traditional baseball hitting cues effective? Share your thoughts with me in the comments – I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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Hi, I'm Steve Englishbey. One of my biggest passions in life is teaching elite level swing mechanics to players, parents and coaches. I'm a former first round pick of the Houston Astros. I swing better now as a 50 something than I did when I was 20. I wanted to create a site where I could help baseball and softball players reach their hitting potential. I believe each player has control over his or her destiny and can choose to develop elite swing mechanics by putting in smart effort and training to move their bodies and perform like elite baseball and softball players.

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1 Comment

  1. “…this is known as the action-perception gap.”
    Steve,
    Never was this issue more apparent than when I was watching an interview with Nelson Cruz. He was explaining to the interviewer that he swung down on the ball to create ‘backspin’ and that was how he was able to hit so many home runs. (paraphrasing). In the game that had just ended he had hit two. I was astonished by his comments, so I rewound the game and analyzed his two home run swings. Both were typical rotational swings where the bat path was actually moving upward to the ball not down towards it.
    It is truly amazing that a player at the MLB level has this kind of misconception of what his swing is actually doing. But, it proves your point dramatically.

    Reply

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