Hitting a baseball is a challenging task. As Ted Williams said, “The hardest thing to do in baseball is hit a round ball with a round bat squarely.” Now go and teach that skill to a 4-7 year old kid. Sound easy, right??
It can be if you have the right approach and the patience to avoid the common coaching pitfalls.
If you’ve been to a youth baseball game recently you’ve likely heard the litany of traditional coaching cues that fail our young players. Things like “stay back”, “get your elbow up”, “squish the bug”, “don’t step in the bucket”, etc.
The problem with these bits of “coaching” is most kids don’t really understand what they mean and, even if they do, they don’t help the kids understand how to get the result they’re after.
If we want our kids to enjoy learning and playing the game, we have to simplify things. We have to provide them with simple tasks that their young minds are able to understand and execute.
For me this has meant that I take hitting instruction down to 2 simple goals:
- Start in an athletic, “ready to hit” position, and
- Hitting the ball as hard as you can
ATHLETIC, “READY TO HIT” POSITION
These 2 simple goals have greatly simplified what I have to teach my players and have also dramatically increased the performance of my players. Here’s a glimpse into why it works.
The first thing I cover at the start of every season is what is an athletic position. Fortunately, in baseball an athletic position crosses hitting, fielding and throwing. The only difference is arm positioning. If kids start in an athletic position then they are balanced and ready to perform complex movement.
Personally, I don’t care exactly how their hands or arms are initially positioned. I want them to be comfortable. The most important part is that it is a pre-pitch goal that they are able to understand and execute.
HITTING THE BALL AS HARD AS YOU CAN
This part of my teaching will get some looks from other coaches/parents from time to time. It has also been the source of greatest improvement in almost every kid I’ve taught this way. A full explanation will require a dedicated post in the future, but I’ll sum it up here.
Why do coaches give kids the ridiculous instructions of “squish the bug”, “get your hands up”, “step towards the pitcher”, “keep your elbow up”?
Isn’t it all aimed at helping them hit the ball hard?
The problem is if you tell a kid to keep their elbow up, you have now made that the goal. That is their focus. Not hitting the ball hard.
Focus on Intent
There’s only one way to teach kids to hit the ball hard. It’s to have them practice hitting the ball hard. And that all starts with their intent. You must give them the goal that is actually the end result you want them to achieve.
What makes the instruction beautifully simple is the ability to break down the instructional phrase to address a lot of common issues.
So if you have a kid pulling their head out at contact all you have to do is go back to the original instructions.
“Johnny, if you’re going to hit the ball as hard as you can what is the first thing you have to be able to do?” See what they have to say.
“Johnny, you have to be able to see the ball to hit it.”
I’ll have future posts delving further into this philosophy and why it is a better approach given how young players learn motor skills. But the beauty as a coach is that it allows you to provide your players simple, understandable goals AND provides you a simple framework for you to focus your instruction.