Producing Hitters at All Ages
By: David Langlois – Raymond High School (NH)
This article is about training batters to become relaxed, confident hitters. Hitters that are prepared and trust themselves, their teammates and their coaches. Trust is key. Players that trust in the team and staff will be more relaxed in the system. A relaxed hitter will be more focused. Focus will lead to success. Success will lead to confidence.
First, develop a Hitting Philosophy (HP). This is not batting mechanics. The HP is based on how you want your hitters to approach their at-bats. This is the mental approach to hitting. Develop it, explain it and get your players to believe in it.
For example, we use a "Patiently Aggressive" approach. This emphasizes On-Base percentage over Batting Average:
- Teach players to put more focus on their Hitting Zone (HZ) and less worry on the umpire's strike zone.
- Attack every pitch that enters their HZ
- Defend against the ump's strike zone only when there are two strikes against them
This starts on Day 1. Explain your HP every practice, drill it into their heads. Design your drills to focus on their personal HZ. On a side note, while this is not about mechanics, drills should be limited to their specific design. If you set up a drill to work on pivoting then focus only on pivoting. Don't correct their hands, head or follow through. Use another drill for each of those purposes. Too many instructions will cause them to lose focus and result in an ineffective drill.
How do you find their Hitting Zone? I find that four simple drills are effective; Batting Tee, Front Toss, Pitching Machine and adding a Mental Approach station.
- Batting Tee: place the tee in each of the nine hitting zones (inside low, outside high, etc.). Show each player the Point-of-Contact for each zone. As players begin to hit they can begin to see which zone is their strength and their weakness. Discuss these aspects with your players. Explain which zones to attack and which to defend. Emphasis on attack.
- Front Toss: allows you to put the ball into their HZ and begin to focus on it. Instruct them to swing only at the pitch in that zone. We want them to recognize the zone so every pitch that enters it they are attacking.
- Pitching Machine: In my opinion, this is the one training aide that is misunderstood and at times misused. Too many players, coaches and parents put too much stock in batting practice off the machine. We have all had the batting cage stud that can't hit a lick in the game. In contrast, some of my best hitters can't time off the machine. This is where a coach earns that psychology degree we all deserve. The machine should be used to allow players a chance to work on their approach into the batter's box, focus on their HZ and get a lot of repetitions seeing a moving ball. Take time in the cage discussing these things with your players. Get your player's input. Open dialogue will put everyone on the same page. This will give your players a sense of importance. After all, they are the ones playing. This will also build trust between player and coach.
- Mental Approach Station: this is where you discuss entering the batter's box. This should be a routine.
a. Get sign from the coach.
b. Take a breath.
c. Self-coach; think one positive thought or mechanics attribute (i.e. "See the pitch", "Stay in my zone", "Point-of-Contact", etc.)d.Enter the box methodically
d. Stay relaxed until the pitcher begins windup
e. Attack anything that enters the HZ
f. Adjust zone as needed. I recommend bringing the bottom of the zone up for drop ball pitchers and top of zone down for rise ball pitchers.
Once you are in the game I recommend only positive, simple coaching instructions to the batter. For example, "Stay in the zone", "Focus", "Read the defense", etc. Try to refrain from negative outcome instructions such as, "Stay off the high ones". The time to discuss simple corrections is in the dugout. Even then keep it to one or two things as too much information can produce a clouded mind while up at the plate.
Finally, listen to your players. Keep them involved in decisions that involve them. Let them know the difference between good at-bat and bad at-bats. Let them know it is okay to give credit to the pitcher when it's deserved. Even a good at-bat can result in a strikeout.
Success is about confidence. Confidence instills trust. Trust in the system will lead to positive outcomes for the player and team. These outcomes are a product of the Hitting Philosophy that you, the coach, instill in your players.
Raymond (NH) HS
Varsity Softball Coach