The most common problem that I see in youth hitters is that they get stuck on their back leg and are unable to start their rotation quickly. This problem is fed by how frequently coaches use the cue to stay back. In my opinion, stay back is the worst cue in hitting, it’s too vague and is only applied correctly a small percentage of the time.
The logic behind this cue is that young hitters often lunge forward in their swing, so in order to try and get hitters to keep their head still coaches tell hitters to “stay back.”
On the surface this sounds like a logical, well thought out cue, but when we dig deeper we find out that the if interpreted literally it can actually make the mistake of lunging worse and slow the time that it takes the hitter to get to half turn and ultimately lengthening their get in the way time (the time it takes from when the hitter tries to begin their swing and when the bat to intersects the path of the pitch).
Minimizing a hitter’s get in the way time is very important, it allows hitters to begin their swing/rotation late and still crush the ball. A hitter that can turn their barrel into the path of the pitch suddenly will swing at better pitches and will hit the pitches that they do swing at harder. So any cue that hinders a hitter’s ability to get their barrel in the way of the ball as quick as possible isn’t a good cue. As you can see in the above video the cue stay back has a dramatic effect on get in the way time.
Generally speaking, instructions in baseball/softball are just not specific enough, and athletes are frequently left confused. Instructions need to be precise, accomplishing exactly what the coach is looking for. Often adults will give athletes a vague instruction and when the kid isn’t able to execute it, somehow it’s the athlete’s fault.
In the American education system, there is a very clear progression of how to learn math, you learn it piece by piece first counting, addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. When you take a test you’re asked to show your work. Why? Because when a mistake is made the teacher wants to be able to see exactly where the student went wrong so they can offer very specific recommendations about how to fix their mistake in the future.
Most of the time in baseball and softball that’s not done. One reason for that is that most coaches aren’t professionals at the craft of hitting, and that’s ok. What’s not ok, is hitters being bombarded by vague hitting cues that could be interpreted multiple ways. The example that I’m using, (Stay Back) is just one of the many vague cues littered all over baseball and softball. A few more that I can think of are “Be short to the ball,” and “Throw your hands at the ball” I could go on for days.
The biggest problem with these vague and sometimes misguided cues is that other coaches accept them as fact, and build the way that they train around them.
For example, let’s say that I’m a young assistant coach who’s head coach is an old school guy who tells me, “hey, we really need to get these guys short to the ball, all of these swings are way too long,” I take that advice from a guy who has hired me, a guy respect, and I say ok, how do I get these guys to swing shorter. I design practice plans around guys being short to the ball, but I don’t actually check to see if swinging “short” is actually a good idea.
Next thing I know, it’s 3 years later and I’ve built my entire coaching career around this idea that hitters should be short to the ball. Now I start to find new information that makes sense, but I’m hesitant to change because that’s not the way that I learned it, and to this point, my whole reputation is built on this idea. So instead of adjusting the way I teach, I tell everyone, “there are a bunch of different ways to swing the bat successfully.”
Obviously, since you’re reading this article you likely already know that not my story. The way that I do things, the only thing you can always guarantee is that I’m always evolving and embracing what I think is the best information at that moment. In my opinion, that’s the only way to stay relevant and to continuously bring value to your athletes over the long haul. When new/better techniques come out surgeons must adjust the way they do procedures. I’m not a surgeon, (obviously) but the point is we can all always improve so I’ve chosen to accept it and make the change part of my program.
So what are facts about the swing? Well, instead of starting there, let’s start with what physics governs the swing and pitcher vs hitter battle. If we remember what physics governs hitting, we can essentially forget about most the anecdotal information that was passed down to us.
If we start with the physics and always keep that as the north star there’s nothing that you can do in training that is fully wrong. But when we disregard the science that’s when things can get really messed up.
Inventing different ways to say things is always good. Get creative about the way you teach because everyone interprets information differently. But when you’re inventing ask yourself “does what I’m doing or teaching improve the physics of the of the swing?” If the answer is no you better have a really good reason for doing it.
Thanks for reading,
Kurt Hewes – Director of hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball
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