Nothing is quite like hitting a bomb over the center field fence and trotting around the bases. As soon as a young baseball player feels that rush, they probably will be chasing it until their playing days are through. In today’s game where players like Javier Baezcan swing out of his shoes every pitch and keep a starting job on a World Series contender, many kids will be swinging for the fences with impunity. There’s just one problem: most kids are not Javier Baez.
So how can we teach power to young hitters without ruining their swing and their approach at the plate?
Hitting Home Runs in Little League Does Not Mean Much
First, let’s explain this sentiment. Hitting homers in little league and other youth baseball leagues is awesome. It still takes solid contact and a certain amount of power to drive the ball. However, it does not mean that a young player will eventually develop into a power hitter at higher levels. This is not a bad thing. The reason this distinction is important to understand comes down to how coaches and parents treat young athletes with pop in the bat.
As we will discuss in greater detail below, a focus on power hitting can lead to shoddy fundamentals, bad habits, and a breakdown of the natural swing. The vast majority of youth baseball hitters should focus on hitting solid line drives. Some kids will naturally lift the ball over the fence. Some kids will develop into spray hitters. As long as your youngster is hitting the ball hard, overcoaching for one specific type of contact (i.e. hitting for power) isn’t always a great idea.
This isn’t to say there isn’t room for power hitting drills. Developing power is absolutely a great idea. We just shy away from emphasizing hitting the long ball in a young player’s mind.
Plate Approach for Youth Athletes
To that end, what should young hitters be focusing on when they step into the batter’s box? The answer depends on the player, the game situation, and a litany of other factors. A power hitter may have a different approach than a contact hitter, but odds are the approach is more similar than you might think. Here are some high level tips to keep youth athletes focused at the plate.
Look for your pitch early - this is a hallmark of great power hitters. They understand that early in the count or when they are ahead in the count, it’s time to pick their pitch. Whether that is a middle-in fastball or a hanging curve, hitters have the luxury of waiting on that pitch and giving it a good cut
Never try to hit home runs - at least not when you are in the box. Training for home run power and actually attempting to hit a home run in game are very, very different. This also isn’t to discourage hard swingers. There is nothing wrong with a good rip as long as the fundamentals are there.
Adjust to the count and the situation - If power hitters have the opportunity to look for their pitch in 0-0 or 3-0 counts, they should also understand how to approach an 0-2 count. For example, many hitters choose to choke up an inch or two on the bat with two strikes for greater bat control. However you choose to teach this concept, it is important that even home run hitters be cognizant of the game situation at the plate.
Baseball Training Drills for Power Hitting
Hitting a soccer ball/volley ball (strong contact) - This drill requires a tee, a bat, and either a soccer ball, basketball, volleyball, or similarly sized ball. Deflate the ball somewhat so that the bat does not bounce back as violently, then place it on the tee. Players should focus on swinging through contact as they hit the ball. This drill emphasizes strong contact and power through the zone. Many young players shy away from contact - this addresses that issue directly.
No-step hitting drill (teaching torque) - Youth baseball hitters tend to overswing by taking a big step and letting their mechanics fall apart in order to hit the ball harder. This takes those variables out of the equation. Have players take their step, hold that pose for a few moments, then swing and hit the ball. This can be done in batting practice, off a tee, or through soft toss.
Whip drill (bat speed and control) - Players should take a hearty cut, then “whip” the bat back to the starting position as fast as possible (be sure to keep kids far away from one another for this drill for safety reasons). This emphasizes bat speed as well as using hips and rotation to generate power. Hitters can begin this drill with the bat only, then incorporate tee drills or underhand toss drills.
Learn More About Hitting for Power with Hustle
Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.