In the day and age of internet gurus, over coaching, and information overload, you may be surprised to hear that a few simple questions may do more for the development of a hitter than any statement ever could.
Over the years I’ve worked with literally thousands of different hitters. The vast majority of those were in what I would consider a crucial development stage (ages 9-13). I’ve learned a lot through my experiences, but probably the most important lesson is that when teaching youth baseball hitting, LISTENING works better than TELLING.
Let’s get the conversation started! Here are the 5 most important questions you should be asking when teaching youth baseball hitting:
1. What do you FEEL?
If you’ve ever coached or tried to help a hitter, then I’m sure you’ve experienced this…
You’re trying to get them to make a simple adjustment. You end up saying the same thing over and over again. They never make the adjustment.
It’s not that they are not listening. In fact, they’re probably trying as hard as they can to do it, even if it’s just to shut you up! 🙂
The problem is they are your words, not theirs. Often our statements or cues we give to hitters can be lost in translation. Only the hitter can tell you what they are feeling. Often what they feel does not match up what is really happening, but that’s the point. If we see something is happening in their swing, but they do not feel it happen, they will never make that adjustment no matter how many times we tell them to. They have to feel it first!
2. Where are you trying to make contact with the ball?
One of the most common problems with young hitters is they are often consistently late on the ball. You’ll see this frequently when kids begin their first couple years of “kid pitch.” A lot of this can be attributed to a lack of confidence and commitment in their swing (see #4), but the rest is usually just a simple adjustment to where they trying to make contact with the ball.
One of my first questions when beginning to work with a new student is, “Where do you want to make contact with the ball?” I’ll have them show me with their bat. Most of the time, especially with a hitter who is consistently late, they will show me a spot that is inside of their stride foot (front foot).
I then ask them to try thinking about making contact with the ball farther out in front of their body, out in front of their stride foot. For most of these hitters, there is an instant improvement in their timing.
Everybody likes to rate and rank things! My final three suggestions all require the player give their own rating on a scale of 1 to 10.
3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well did you see that last pitch?
(1 = you might as well have closed your eyes, 10 = the baseball looked like a beach ball)
You can have the greatest swing in the world, but if you don’t see the ball well, you will not hit. Before I started using this question regularly, I was in the same boat as every other youth coach. I caught myself constantly saying phrases like, “Keep your head on it!”…and…”Don’t take your eyes off the ball!” Like many other verbal coaching cues, the phrases seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Instead of making it a mechanical issue, encourage them focus on what they should be focusing on…THE BALL! When the hitter gives a low rating, ask them to try to improve how well they see the ball on the next pitch. Tell them they should be shooting for 7-10s on every pitch. Then watch as their head gets more still, their eyes become steady, and their contact becomes more consistent.
4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you trying to hit the ball?
(1 = swinging bunt, 10 = as hard as humanly possible)
I personally use this question for everyone, but there are four types of hitters for whom this question can make a big difference:
A. Hitters who don’t use their hips and lower half well.
B. Hitters who are hesitant or constantly late on the ball.
C. Hitters who muscle up and use their arms to dominate their swing.
D. Hitters who don’t control their body in their swing.
Many times, hitter types A & B will give you an answer very low on the scale. It’s not a fix all, but will likely benefit to encourage them to hit the ball as hard as the possibly can. Tell them to commit to every swing 100%. Before the pitch is delivered they need to reaffirm (audibly or in their head) that they are going to hit the ball as hard as they can.
On the contrary, hitter types C & D will often give you an answer that is very high on the scale. Many times simply asking them to attempt dropping down a couple numbers on the 1 to 10 scale will get them to take a more controlled, smooth and sequenced swing. Again, this is not a fix all, but it can make big, immediate improvements for some hitters.
5. When you’re in the batter’s box, how calm or excited are you on a scale of 1 to 10?
(1 = practically in a meditative state, 10 = exploding with excitement)
Believe it or not, hitters should be as close to a 1 as possible when at the plate. Hitters obviously need to be ready to hit, but they also need to be relaxed. Bringing a heightened sense of excitement, anxiousness and/or anxiety to the plate can make a hitter hesitant or jumpy, and take them out of their natural rhythm.
Ask any hitter what they were thinking at the plate during their most dominate offensive games, and the answer you’re likely to get is something along the lines of, “Not much of anything.” If that was the case, they were obviously relaxed. This relaxed state allowed the player’s brain to operate subconsciously while at the plate. They weren’t thinking of much of anything…THEY JUST DID IT!
A mind clearing deep breath before stepping in the batter’s box may do the trick. If they still continue to struggle to relax, have them sing a song in their head while they hit (NOT KIDDING…picked that up from a former pro teammate).
Keep in mind, these are just a few of the most important questions I ask on a regular basis. Hitting instruction should be a dialogue between player and coach, not simply commands from a coach.