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The How of Becoming a Good Hitter

By October 1, 2018Ignite Articles

Hitting a baseball or a softball is very hard. Not only do you need an efficient rotational pattern, but you also need to hit off pitchers that are trying as hard as they can to get you out. Sometimes that means the ball will only be in the air for less than .4 seconds before it’s in the catchers glove. What parents and athletes typically don’t understand is how hard it actually is to become a good hitter. All the time people want a quick fix or a tune up that will easily solve whatever problem that a hitter might have. We are programed to think that little adjustments are the way to go, because parents will be watching a baseball or softball game on TV and the commentator will talk about some adjustments that a player made in their load that really helped them out.

The reality is that high level hitters are typically 95% of the way there already, so a small adjustment can be the thing that pushes them to the next level in their career. Most young athletes have way further to go than 5%. College and Pro Athletes are like Race Cars, meaning they already have a big engine, so if you do something small, like change the tire pressure it could have a huge impact on whether or not the race is won. Young athletes are like Go Karts in comparison, if you went Go Karting and one Kart could go 50 MPH and the rest only went 40 MPH, whoever is driving the 50 MPH Kart is probably going to win regardless of the tire pressure. The challenge for young athletes is to become a Race Car, which takes a lot of work.

Most kids haven’t even figured out how to turn their body yet, which forces them to swing the bat with excessive arm use because of their inability to turn. Learning to turn in your swing is difficult, and no little adjustment that I could give would help at all. Unfortunately, that’s just a reality that we all need to come to terms with.

Every movement that a person has ever made contributes to their current ability to hit the baseball or softball. So the amount of work needed to break a hitter’s old swing and re-pattern it to something better is quite considerable. The athlete needs to both be working hard on the things that are in front of them right now, but also know or be led to what the next step in their development is. 

I haven’t watched it in years, but I used to sometimes watch Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls, he would always do some crazy stuff like eat bugs and build shelters out of things you would never think of.

This guy is nuts… I really don’t want to know what he’s eating.

If you were lost in the wilderness, like Bear Grylls, and were great at surviving but had no idea where to go to get back to civilization then eventually you would run out of luck. Either that, or just be stranded there forever. Similarly when training, you can be the hardest and most consistent worker, but if you don’t understand the plan of where you should go next, development is going to be tough for you.

The need for the athlete to understand the plan is why the first 9 or 10 lessons are critical (for any training you do, not just with Ignite). Equally important is the time between each lesson. The instructor (myself), the parent, and the athlete all want the same thing, which is measurable progress ie… hitting the ball harder, further, or solid more often (hopefully all 3).

To me as an instructor, the path to improvement is pretty clear, but to the hitters and parents, that is usually not the case. So when kids schedule lessons sporadically it’s really hard to make progress because athletes tend to get off track easily in the early stages of their training. Once they get off track, the longer they wait to come back in for training the more reteaching is needed.

In the graphs below, imagine the blue line as the path that the hitter needs to travel in order to consistently improve. The red line is the path that most hitters actually travel. In the first graph, note that the red line crosses the blue line 10 times to the right of the y-axis. In the first graph, we are assuming that a hitter comes into train once a week for 10 straight weeks.  Each time the red line crosses the blue line it represents a lesson/training sessions where the I adjust the hitter to put them back on track. Notice how as the weeks go on, the variance away from the the desired path decreases. This means the hitter and their support system, (family) is beginning to understand what it takes for him or her to stay on track and be successful. The quicker that a hitter can fully understand the plan and learn to execute the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the below graph, we see a hitter that comes in for a training session once every 2 weeks. Just as seen above, each time the hitter comes in, he or she is pulled back on the path for consistent improvement. But the increase in time in between lessons allows for more time to stray away from the path. Just as above, as time goes on, the variance becomes less and less but since the hitter is only coming once every two weeks, the amount of correction I’m typically forced to make during a session is increased, and the amount of new ground we can cover is decreased. This results in a lot of reteaching and is less than ideal for the hitter’s development. As you can see in the below graph, after 10 weeks you can see that that there is still quite a bit of stray away from the path between lessons but in the above graph the stray has been reduced quite a bit this is how the best results are reached.  

The goal in all of this is for the hitter to be self-sufficient. They need to know their path to success and their swing so well, that not only can they hit well without my input, but they are also immune to poor input that could potentially derail them. Once a hitter and their family clearly understand the path/what it takes to be successful then the frequency of lessons can decreased a little since the variance away the path will be so much lower.

The reality is, if you want to get going down the right path and stay there you’ve got to come into lessons pretty frequently, especially early on. If you don’t, you’re likely to get lost along the way.

That said, going to lessons is only part of the equation. Without the commitment to work on your hitting/movement at home there is no sense in paying for lessons because you won’t see results. I wrote earlier in this piece about how every movement you’ve ever made up to this point influences the way that you currently swing the bat. So how do you actually change your pattern for the better? Move as often as you can, in a better way.

Some athletes learn their new pattern and are able to put it in their swing pretty quickly. This is a blessing and a curse; a blessing because these athletes are often gifted and typically have the highest ceiling on their performance, a curse because these athletes are tricked into believing that they have it all figured out before they actually do. Just because you can easily accomplish a movement doesn’t mean you can do it with aggression when the lights are on, and a pitcher is throwing hard. On the other side, athletes that struggle establish an efficient movement pattern rarely lose it once they figure it out, since they had to work so hard to obtain it. So regardless of how kinesthetically aware a hitter is, a relentless pursuit is required to execute instinctive/efficient movements in every swing they take.

Make sure your actions map to your stated goals, if your goal is playing college baseball or softball then make sure training for the sport takes up a solid amount of your free time, there are countless other kids that have the same goals that you do and you need to be better than them.

The thing that is more true about hitting than any other action in sports is that the movement is the same thing over and over again. You need to have obsessive control of your swing and movement pattern. If repetition isn’t something you’re willing to do, sports probably isn’t something you’ll ever excel at. Take a look at the Instagram post of Giannis Antetokounmpo talking about what he learned from Kobe Bryant about training.

 Giannis Antetokounmpo Interview

Here are a few important quotes from the video.

“You gotta be simple. You gotta work on your craft again and again and again. You gotta think outside the box. And you always got to be a kid.”

“What I mean (What Kobe meant) by being a kid is you always want to learn, you’ve got to ask questions”

“He made me make 350-400 shots. THEY WERE ALL THE SAME SHOTS!”

Basketball is very different than softball/baseball, in that the movements you make throughout the game are far less uniform than baseball and softball. That said, Kobe still made Giannis make the same shot 350-400 times. How often do you practice the movements that make up your swing? Kobe and Giannis are pro athletes and your son or daughter probably isn’t. But working on your turn 50-100 reps a day is not out of the question. If you have college or pro aspirations more than that is required. So if I have you make the same movement over and over again, please don’t look at me funny, that’s what it takes to be good.   

Thanks for reading,

Kurt Hewes – Director of hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball

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