Seeing all the information about underweight and overweight bats have brought me to a conclusion that I believe we as coaches need to train. Variability. Too many swings are taken with the same bat, in the same controlled setting. We don't change things enough. Listening to the ABCA podcast and collegiate coaches speak over changing stances, and hitting routines constantly made me reflect on our hitting routines. We change up our drills in the cage, and have a couple of different routines based on the day and what we need to work, (Situational Hitting, DYJ, and Speed Round), but most of the time these routines and drills are not varied enough hitter to hitter or swing to swing to promote athleticism. Hitting is an athletic move, and we have not been treating it like one. Regardless of your philosophies Hitting is a reactionary event, and if we don’t train moldable athletes different ways to succeed we are going to see pitchers dominate, and our offenses continue to fall by the wayside .
In order to train athleticism in the batter's box we need to put kids in uncomfortable situations. Underweight and overweight bats are a great start in order to change “feel”, but for those of you without access to those tools changing anything you hit with will change feel, and can make your hitters more athletic, and learn the motor skills to manipulate swings. Changing the tools we hit with, as well as the tools we hit (tennis balls, plyo balls, whiffle balls, baeballs) will help hitters make adjustments, and gain the feel of their swings. Hitters will also gain leverage advantages by being able to find the most efficient path and swing to gain power through the baseball. Hard to be out on the front foot and hit a tennis ball off a tee with a broomstick. Which is exactly what we did.
Using a broomstick, a thunderstick, a metal fungo and a baseball bat we hit tennis balls off a tee. The goal of the drill was to hit the tennis balls at the back of the cage. Once you achieved success we switched bats. Players were frustrated, and as much as I wanted to coach every swing I instead let them figure it out. Let the hitters diagnose themselves. Hitters are free to make whatever adjustments necessary to hit the back net. Results took a little longer than if they were coached, but the hitters gained experience to see what their changes resulted in. We can’t coach every swing when they’re in the box. The players worked through the changes every time they had a new tool. The results were shown when players cycled through the bats. The order we went was Baseball bat, broomstick, thunderstick, fungo, and finished off with the baseball bat. Players were told they had to have a ball hit the back net with every bat, and once they succeeded, the bat was switched. The success was limited by the changes, and a new bat meant new adjustments, and adapting to different weights, as well as distribution of weight. Players counted swings it took with the baseball bat the first time, the results varied from 3-5 swings, and it took a second to adjust with it being a tennis ball, and also their first couple of swings. Players then cycled through the bats and had again varied success. Changing bats takes time, but to me the most interesting part was when we switched back to the regular baseball bat. Of the group I worked with every single hitter took 1 swing to achieve success the 2nd time with the baseball bat. Kids swings look more refined, and they learned to control the barrel of the bat.
This wasn’t just a drill to do to kill time. Kids learned to work through their swings, and by changing the tool we were able to get kids to have firmer bases to their swing. To learn barrel control, and most importantly to make adjustments based off of results. Rather than yelling adjustments every pitch, and constantly trying to make changes the kids learned to make adjustments. They learned a true feel for their swing. After varying their bats they learned to be able to feel their swing without taking cuts. Promoting variability in the box was a great way for kids to learn their body, and learn their swing. People talk about “proprioception”, and this is the way to teach it. Setting a goal and having kids break through battles and challenges to achieve that goal will make your team learn the same principle through all battles. Athleticism in the box is coachable, it just takes variability in our drills to teach it.