Batting Practice

Baseball is a precision sport. What I mean by this is that it takes an extreme amount of skill development in order to produce consistent results offensively. Consider that a professional hitter who succeeds in getting a base hit 30% of the time for the duration of his career is most likely Hall of Fame bound. No other sport (besides maybe soccer) holds this low of a success rate in such high esteem. Shooting 50% from the field is not too uncommon in the NBA. NFL Quarterbacks are expected to complete above 60% of their passes.

Because of the difficulty of baseball swing, it is absolutely essential to learn the correct mechanics and mental approach to hitting at a young age IF the goal is to play high level baseball. Playing baseball simply for recreational fun doesn’t require the kind of work I discuss in this article. This piece is not being written for that crowd. This article is a blueprint for the serious athlete who is willing to devote the time it takes to become great. I focus here on one often abused aspect of a baseball workout, batting practice.

Don’t take offense to the statement I’m going to make about you. Take it as a challenge to really look at how you facilitate batting practice. There is very high probability that you are doing damage to your swing (or your kid’s swing) in your batting practice sessions. Let me explain the basis for my bold statement.

Each time I work with an athlete in a cage, next to me is some dude going through nothing short of an aerobic exercise and swinging at full capacity until he’s worked up a serious sweat. You’ve all seen it. Batting practice is a 100% physical activity for most. The goal is then to get the most amount of swings possible in a short time period. Sure, the drills may change from tee, to side toss, to front toss, to full length batting practice. But, the goal of the BP session stays the same; get the most swings in as you can. Three to five buckets later, the exhausted athlete leaves the cage feeling he made progress because of the sheer number of swings taken. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s just cemented bad habits in place without knowing it. Dad pats him on the back as they both walk out of the cage and tells him good job.

I’m not criticizing the quantity of time spent, I’m criticizing the approach to batting practice that the vast majority of athletes, parents, and coaches use. Here then is the absolutely necessary approach to batting practice that must be in place if you’re going to reach your true potential. There is no way around it, no shortcuts, no secret tricks, no magic potion. If you follow my blueprint, I assure you that over time you’ll become a more accomplished hitter. One that will make you stand out offensively. Let’s dig in.

Step 1: The Goal

The simple goal of batting practice to become more in tune with your swing each time you step into the cage. If you have a good round of batting practice and your swing feels good, as a hitting instructor, I want to know exactly why you feel good. Conversely, if your round is horrible and nothing feels right, I want to know if you know why it feels so badly. Without this self awareness as well as mechanical competency, you’re dead in the water.

I want you to listen to the conversation between Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire here in the batting cage. It’s 3:39 in length and you’ll notice that no swings are taken. Instead, they are working on small mechanics cues and changes. Listen closely to the conversation. Listen to the details discussed between coach and player. Pujols spends so much time and energy understanding and becoming aware of his swing that he’s able to detect subtle changes in his mechanics throughout the season.

So the first part of your new batting practice philosophy centers on self awareness. If you lack the ability to differentiate between a mechanically correct swing and incorrect swing, your focus should be on building that knowledge. Once you’ve got an understanding of key components in the swing, then spend your cage time becoming more in tune with the pieces of your mechanics. It’s the only way to build consistency swing to swing.

Step 2: The Time Spent

If you’re in season and you’re not hitting at minimum 5 times per week, you are not getting better. At best you’re maintaining your swing, but most likely your skills are slipping if you’re not in the cages 5 days per week.

Because of the technicality of the baseball swing, it is impossible to stay in tune with the feel of the parts of the swing without practicing regularly. A couple summers ago I was golfing with a few parents of some athletes I was working with at the time. The course was fast and tricky and I golf infrequently at most. As the round dragged on, it was apparent that I was spending more time hunting in the weeds for the ball than I was playing on the fairway.

Frustration was mounting and the guys I was playing with noticed. One of them asked how much I played golf. I said a few times per summer. He then offered the advice that his golf instructor told him in college. He said that practicing 5 times per week would improve the swing. Otherwise, consistency could not be expected.

Unfortunately, most of the hitters I work with don’t reach this expectation. It takes self-discipline, and a willingness to put aside some of the distractions in life to work on developing a skill.

I need you to understand how significant it is to learn proper hitting mechanics and you won’t just “figure it out” on your own. We’ve got a bunch of good articles on our site for you to begin with. Secondly, you must increase your weekly hitting practice.

But, I caution you, increased work habit without proper understanding of hitting mechanics will be disastrous for your swing.

Step 3: The Feeling

Finally, I’ve got to discuss the importance of becoming in tune with your swing. I got a text from a sophomore in HS recently that read, “How can I get more power to the opposite field gap?”

I gave him a reminder of things with his lower half need to work better for this to happen. (I’ve worked with him for years so he understands this instruction in a text.)

The point here is that he took that information and went to work tonight on a piece of his swing that was needing modification. Good athletes feel when they have their mechanics right. Poor athletes never get past the question as to whether or not their mechanics are correct in the first place.

So, when you step into the cage, the sign that you truly understand the feeling of correct mechanics comes when you are working on small drills that isolate parts of your swing that either need fixing or that need to simply be maintained.

I like to use the example of an auto mechanic. Most of us wouldn’t send our car to a shop where the mechanics knew all of the parts to the car, but didn’t know how to tell which of the parts needed fixing. On the same note, good hitters don’t simply stop with knowledge on what pieces of the swing are supposed to occur. They, know what it feels like when something is wrong and how to isolate and fix it.

When I work with hitters, most of the time I’m trying to facilitate a sense of how the movements feel to the athlete. Once I can solidify in an athlete’s mind the difference between what a proper and improper swing feels like, then I know we’ve made some progress.

How’s all this relate to the batting cage again?

It’s a three step process:

  1. Have a plan to accomplish something you need to fix first and foremost. NEVER, just hop in the cage and take some swings unless you plan on getting something out of it. Bad habits will set in before you know it.
  2. Learn mechanics well. Think of yourself as a swing mechanic. Know the pieces of the swing and how they are supposed to work.
  3. Develop an understanding of how each part of your swing is supposed to feel. This way, you can isolate through drill work parts of your mechanics that need fine tuning.

There you have it. The recipe for a good quality BP philosophy is within your grasp. The only thing separating you from great athletes is a willingness to learn and understand. Read, ask questions, and watch what the guys are doing in the Bigs. Take what you learn and apply it to your game and watch yourself do great things on the field.

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