3 Factors That Make Up A Good Baseball Hitting Drill
When I first became interested in becoming a hitting instructor for baseball and softball players, I spent a considerable amount of time watching baseball and softball hitting instructors work with hitters. Being a novice instructor at the time I felt that I needed to watch other instructors to get a better understanding of how to work with hitters. Of course in doing this, I saw many baseball hitting drill type swing exercises that were used by the hitting instructors I was watching.
Along with watching how hitting instructors were trying to apply instruction, I was also spending a considerable amount of time watching elite level hitter’s swing and of this time was spent looking at these swings in slow motion.
So, here’s a simple question: How do you measure the effectiveness of a baseball hitting drill?
Pretty early on in my pursuit, I began to see and understand elite level swings by applying the kinds of concepts that I was familiar with and used as a trainer working with non-baseball athletes in developing effective baseball and softball hitting drills.
I had a bit of an epiphany about what I was seeing when I was looking at someone like Barry Bonds swing a baseball bat.
What struck me was a thought along the lines of: “Wow!! What Barry Bonds is doing when he swings a bat is not all that different than what Warren Sapp, A Hall of Famer and former NFL defensive lineman, did when he fired off the line!” Both are moving very quickly and forcefully, and both are able to function like this due to the fact that they are generating large force and momentum by loading and unloading the large muscles in the hip area.
Once I came to this understanding, I then realized that many of the same kinds of thoughts and concepts that I knew as a trainer could be utilized when training someone to swing a bat more effectively. When I realized that many of these concepts and principles better explain how a guy like Barry Bonds is able to swing a bat like he does, this forever changed how I thought as a baseball hitting instructor as I went about designing and developing effective baseball and softball hitting drills. And it’s also substantially how I thought about and analyzed the kinds of cues and baseball hitting drills that I saw and heard when looking at and listening to other hitting instructors teach.
Early on I looked at many things I saw and heard and felt that things didn’t seem quite right. Over time, I went from “this doesn’t seem quite right” to “this baseball hitting drill or cue is completely wrong” and will not help a baseball or softball hitters learn what they really need to learn.
Since my epiphany as I have labeled it, I have seen many baseball hitting drills where my basic question is something along the lines of: “What in the hell is this hitting drill for?”, “what aspect of a baseball or softball swing is it really trying to address?” I say this based on my own thoughts about how to try to design an effective baseball or softball hitting drill or swing exercise.
The Hitting Drill Has to Reflect the Ability of the Hitter
In my hitting instructional video entitled “Understanding the Elite Level Baseball and Softball Swing – Instruction and Analysis”, I go into some detail about the kinds of movements, muscle actions, and movement patterns of elite level hitters.
In other words I am describing and defining how they actually function when they swing a baseball bat.
For example, elite level hitters know how to move the body so that they can rotate the hips into foot plant. Or, they know how to load the body and initiate the swing in a manner so that they are able to lag the bat in a very effective manner.
In contrast to this level of functioning, or movement speed and coordination you could say, non-elite hitters typically do not know how to create this kind of hip rotation; nor do they typically know how to effectively lag the bat — many non-elite level hitters drag the bat — defined as BAD LAG — and there is a distinct difference between good lag and bad lag/bat drag. This being the case, an effective baseball or softball hitting drill would be one that actually helps to create better hip rotation. In order to do this the hitting instructor should have some basic understanding about the kinds of movements and muscle actions that are involved in creating the ability to consistently and effectively rotate into foot plant.
Having some understanding of biomechanical, physiological and motor learning factors involved in the creation of movement and/or movement patterns is helpful. Motor learning factors is essentially the movement strategies that baseball or softball hitters will implicitly learn and try to apply.
For example, the concept of “bat drag” is a type of movement or mechanical flaw that many young hitters typically display when swinging a bat. From my vantage point, what is actually causing this movement is a flawed movement strategy. Some of this can be a bit abstract for people to really understand. But I have talked about this in any number of instructional videos.
To design an effective baseball hitting drill, the instructor has to develop a good working understanding as to how good and not so good movements are actually created. And the instructor has to be able to accurately analyze how a baseball or softball hitter is actually functioning.
If you do not have a good understanding of the actual flaws that a hitter has then you will be less likely to provide a baseball hitting drill that effectively addresses typical hitting flaws like hip slide, bat drag or insufficient pelvic tilt or trunk/spine angle. Based on long experience in looking both at baseball and softball hitting drills, many hitting drills do not reflect at all this kind of understanding.
The Hitter Should Understand the Purpose and Intent of the Baseball Hitting Drill
The movement goals of the hitting drill have to be understood by the player. This does not mean that the player will necessarily execute the drill perfectly. Movement flaws are typically pretty ingrained and typically won’t be overcome in one or two attempts or one or two lessons.
What it does mean is that the hitter needs to understand exactly what the movement goals of the drill entails. For example, I use no-stride hitting drills when necessary. One main reason why I do is that baseball and softball hitters can typically learn how to rotate the trunk (hips, mid torso, upper torso) more effectively compared to stride swings.
A baseball or softball hitter that has relatively poor hip/trunk rotation will not become a perfect rotational machine overnight! But the player should know that a central feature of no-stride practice is that it does tend to help better learn how to rotate the trunk.
The Hitting Instructor Has to Provide Accurate Feedback
In order for a baseball hitting drill to be effective, the instructor has to provide accurate feedback about how the movement goals of the drill are actually being executed.
Take a simple example: If I have a softball or baseball hitting drill that in part has the goal of keeping the lead leg/foot relatively closed through the swing, I need to quickly give feedback to the hitter as to whether or not this goal is being met. In part — and this is very important from a teaching or learning standpoint — my job is to get the baseball or softball hitter to be aware of and really focus on how the player is actually moving when practicing.
I have talked about numerous aspects of baseball hitting drill design and hitting drill effectiveness. Hitting drills should reflect the functionality of the hitter you are working with, the baseball or softball hitter has to have a very clear understanding of the purpose and intent of the baseball hitting drill and the instructor has to provide accurate feedback about how the movement goals of the drill are actually being executed. These are some of the basic aspects of either creating or trying to judge the effectiveness of a hitting drill. Having this understanding about baseball hitting drill design and effectiveness will increasingly help dads, players, and coaches who are truly interested in how to swing a baseball bat or teach softball and baseball hitters in a truly effective manner.
Are you a player, coach or dad? What do you look for in a baseball hitting drill? How do you measure the effectiveness of a softball or baseball hitting drill? Let us know in the comments section below.