There’s a problem with the way that most youth baseball and softball is coached. We have a tendency to be so focused on just making contact that it hinders the development of the part of the swing that generates hard contact. In baseball and softball, when you hit the ball hard good things happen. This has been shown over and over again (see below MLB Data).
There’s a pretty clear correlation between positive offensive outcomes, and how hard you hit the ball. That said, in little league, athletes aren’t developed yet and struggle to make plays on defense, so the odds that play is made on any hit ball goes way down. So from a coach’s perspective, it matters less how hard the ball is hit, and more that the ball is hit at all, since any contact has a good chance of resulting in a baserunner.
I’ll put it bluntly, this is bad for the sport. Colleges and high schools, now evaluate hitters on their exit velocity. If you’re local to Northern Virginia area, both Marshall High School and Mclean High School utilize Rapsodo Hitting, and I’m sure other schools are using radar guns and launch angle strings. Baseball/Softball is changing, unfortunately, youth coaches that only care about what’s best for the team (just making contact) are doing a disservice to their players, since making contact isn’t enough when the fields get bigger and the defense get better.
On a little league field, It’s 90 feet from home plate to second base, so in order to hit the ball over the infield, a hitter must hit the ball a minimum of 120ft. On a High School/Pro field (127ft home to second) a 120 ft hit is a ball that doesn’t reach the 2nd base. On the big field hits that clear the infield must fly about 150 feet. So a singles hitter, in little league who consistently hits the ball through or over the infield, but rarely hits the ball over further than 150 feet will struggle to be successful on a regulation high school field.
Exit velocity drives distance, just like when you played angry birds, the faster you shoot the bird the further it goes, as long as the initial angle (or launch angle) is the same.
If you want kids to hit the ball further they need to hit it harder and higher. Let’s table hitting it higher for now and just talk about how to hit it hard.
The most basic but accurate science answer I can give you is by moving the most weight possible, as fast as possible into the ball. Since Force = Mass X Acceleration it’s important to know that mass is just as important as acceleration so anything that adds mass and speed to your swing will 100% help you hit it further, anything that decreases the mass or speed of your swing won’t.
This is why contact-centric little league play can be so toxic to player development. Kids begin to associate missing the ball with failure because everytime they miss, everyone shouts “Come on Timmy! Keep your eye on it!”
Usually, the response by the athlete is to try and please, so they focus really hard on the ball slow down and ensure contact. When they hit it everyone goes crazy cheering, it goes through the second baseman’s legs, and Timmy gets on base. The problem is, that reinforces to the hitter that a slow swing that ensures contact is the way to go. That that works great until the hitter reaches 13U baseball, where all the balls they make contact with don’t get out of the infield, and they go from a .400 hitter in little league to a .200 hitter in 13U.
At which point, the athlete realizes that he’s behind the curve as far as how hard he hits the ball and begins to swing more aggressively, but at this point the hitter can be as much as 10-15 MPH of Exit Velocity behind the better players on their team, and he’s running out of time before he has to face the music of high school tryouts.
I’m not advocating for changing the way that youth baseball is played I’m advocating for changing the way that we train youth athletes. We need to reward things in games, and in training that actually help turn players into successful higher level players.
In Baseball/Softball success and failure can be a fraction of an inch or a few milliseconds apart, we need to make sure kids know that. The game looks black and white, if you hit the ball that’s good, and if you miss the ball that’s bad. But in reality it’s not that simple, there are so many shades of grey. An aggressive cut where you just miss or pop the ball straight up is good when kids are young. Why? Because kids don’t develop great hand-eye coordination until they are older, which is why third-grade basketball games look like this.
The hand-eye coordination will come if athletes continue to play and practice their sport often but the speed of the rotation needed to hit the ball hard and play in high-level baseball or softball is best developed when kids are young and growing a lot. On a podcast I was listening to recently, (shown below).
Here’s the full podcast linked below if you’re interested.
Dr. Greg Rose, the co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute and the On Base Academy, talked about developing athletic skills before we develop baseball skills. He said, (I’m paraphrasing) it’s easier to develop speed and power at young ages when kids are growing because muscles are tighter during this time in an athlete’s life. During growth, bones typically grow faster than muscles which stretches them out and creates a lot of tension that can be used to develop rotational power. The baseball skill, of hitting the ball hard consistently is governed by the athletic skills rotational power, and hand/eye coordination. We need to make sure that we are working to develop those two things throughout an athlete’s entire baseball/softball career especially when they are young since power development shows the greatest results when learned early. Yet it’s rare that little league coaches spend time working with kids on their rotational force production rather they spend all their time on hand-eye coordination, we need to change that. Here’s a video that Greg Rose put out in 2017 that I loved.
These same trends that he’s describing in golf are there in baseball and softball as well, people just hit the ball harder now and if you want to play at a high level you need to do that same.
The fear of coaches yelling and letting down teammates, drives kids to swing softly and hinders the development of speed/power in youth hitters. In games, this is a difficult thing to break kids of, but we can get started by changing the thing that they are swinging at, or don’t give them a target to swing at all.
Here are a few drills you can add to your practice plan to help develop rotational power while taking away the fear of failure.
Have them swing at something other than a baseball or a softball.
Have them work on the rotating fast and don’t worry about a target or even a bat.
As Dr. Greg Rose said in his video, he can make people hit the ball straight that’s not a problem. I feel similarity, I find that hitters who come to me trying to smash every ball I throw them progress faster and tend to be more projectable athletes. Mechanics only matter if they are paired with speed. People don’t realize that the whole purpose of having “good mechanics” is to maximize the force produced by your swing, how quick you can get your bat in the way of the ball and how long you can keep it in the way. It’s not possible to be quick and generate a ton of force without swinging aggressively, especially for younger athletes. Train them to swing/turn fast and they will have a better shot of playing at higher levels.
Thanks for reading!
Kurt Hewes – Director of hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball
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