The days of playing stickball in an alley may be gone, but baseball is still just a game. Metrics, statistics, and efficiency charts have swept the major leagues where there used to be intra-inning hot dogs and beer. Despite the ongoing evolution of baseball, the mechanics of a great swing have not changed. This is an important concept to understand when parents and coaches of young players teach the art of hitting a baseball.
This begs the question - how strict should we be when teaching young players how to bat?
Fundamentals of Hitting in Youth Baseball
It is often cited that hitting a baseball is the most difficult act in all of major league sports. Yet, it comes very naturally to some young players who simply “see ball, hit ball”. While creativity and comfort is encouraged, there are certainly fundamentals which should be taught early and reinforced through the years.
Footwork - the power of the swing comes from the ground, and therefore the feet. Footwork is also paramount in maintaining balance and a level head to keep one’s eye on the ball. For youth players, coaches should preach a comfortable, athletic stance pre-pitch. When swinging, power should shift from the back foot to the front foot, all while maintaining balance.
Hand placement and movement - of course the other primary mover is the hands. The bat will follow the path of the hands, which is a difficult concept for many youth players to grasp. Therefore, for young hitters, coaches may want to focus on keeping hands back before the pitch and simply striving to cut the baseball in half.
Head - the less movement of a batter’s head, the better his ball vision will be. Many youth players struggle with this concept. This may also be the most “teachable” of any hitting fundamentals. Quieting down the stride and maintaining balanced feet position go hand-in-hand with keeping the head still.
Youth Baseball Swing Mechanics and Efficiency
This is where we get into a grey area in terms of youth baseball coaching. We want our youth athletes to develop good habits as soon as possible. However, we don’t want them doing mathematical equations in their head while they are in the batter’s box. A great coach is able to understand the mechanics of the swing and make slight adjustments during practice, never in game. That being said, there are several high-level concepts to understand as a coach and player in the youth game:
Maintain an athletic approach at the plate. All great hitters are able to see pitches and adjust because their bodies are ready to adjust to pitches of all speeds and locations.
Turn the hands over (barrel turn). Understanding how and when to turn the hands over is paramount in using the natural centrifugal force of the swing.
Shifting weight forward without losing balance. This can also be thought of as “loading up” on the back leg before bringing the swing forward with power.
Cut the ball in half. Swinging through the ball and “cutting the ball in half” is a great mental image to give a young player. It emphasizes a lot of good habits including swinging for line drives and matching the ball plane with the barrel of the bat.
How Should I Coach a Baseball Player with an Unorthodox Swing?
Most baseball fans will tell you that major league hitters have wildly varied swings. Hitting coaches will tell you that they are more similar than you might think. When it comes to training youth baseball players, coaches may want to focus more on the basic fundamentals (and results) rather than making sure all players have a perfect Mike Trout swing.
In other words, unorthodox swings are just fine as long as they work. The main purpose of hitting coaches is to fine-tune a swing to maximize effectiveness, not to completely change the natural swing pattern of a hitter. Successful youth coaches will making small adjustments instead of telling a young baseball player that they are “doing it wrong”.
Of course, there are exceptions. If a kid is swinging with his eyes closed and the bat is coming down at a 45 degree angle through the zone, it may be time to tear that down and start from scratch. It is up to the coach, the player, and sometimes the parents whether or not this kind of action is appropriate. If the kid can hit, try not to sweat the small stuff. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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