Tag Archives: Baseball coaching

Two-Way Street

The coaching life is funny. It’s a two-way street. A coach has much to offer the players and, if the coach pays attention and nurtures relationships, so much more to gain from the players.

I know the bottom line is wins and losses but that’s really a rather narrow definition. There is much more to it than just that. Granted, if you do the deeper aspects of the profession well, that is, the planning, the implementation, the performance, you usually end up with more tally marks in the W column than in the L column.

There is a simple beauty to the coaching life that often gets neglected by the parent and fan base and increasingly seen neglected in the coaching profession itself. The simple beauty of a two-way street. A simple thing that gets overlooked in the emotion of competition.

Coaching is teaching.

Every good coach I know is a good teacher. All the information and details and strategies and plans are nothing without the ability to successfully pass the information to the players.

Coaching is relationships.

Relationships are the foundation of the two-way streets. If a coach expects the players to follow, the kids need to know the coach has their best interest in mind and they’re not just pawns in the coach’s game. There is also an added bonus to developing open and honest relationships with kids—it gives back a lifetime of joy.

Coaching is passing down knowledge.

Just because I know something does not mean the kids know it too. I may be the Einstein of high school football but that knowledge is nothing if it stays locked inside my head.

Coaching is passing down a love of a game.

Why coach if you are not passionate about the game? Why accept this huge responsibility without having the drive to do the work to make kids better people and players at little or no extrinsic value?

Coaching is bringing together individuals to make one team.

One of the absolute joys of coaching is taking individuals from different backgrounds, with different personalities, and displaying different skill levels and provide the environment in which they can unite under one common goal. That’s when the magic happens.

Coaching is a verb, not just a noun.

A lot of people have the title of coach. A lot of people wear this title proudly. Sometimes with too much pride. Coaching is action, not a title. Do the work.

Coaching, like life, is about give and take. Take the time to give to each player who walks through the door.

Build a solid two-way coaching street.

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The Best Years?

There’s a nugget of life advice often given to high school kids, particularly high school athletes. A nugget that is so off-the-rails I cannot believe it has survived

“These are the best years of your life.”

Best years? Lord, I hope not! The best years of your life in high school? That seems kind of depressing forecast on the power and potential of each young athlete and student.

The BEST years?

No, but they are special years. They are years in which the high school students are afforded unique life opportunities. They are special because the future is a blank and open canvas.

Teenagers, listen up! You may feel a giant load of pressure right now to define your future. The system will tell you that you should have the specifics of life cemented firmly in place by graduation day. WTeenagers, when that day arrives and this pressure mounts, fling off this weighted jacket of the system’s expectations.

The canvas of your future should be painted with your passions and desires and likes and dislikes. 

It’s okay not to know exactly what you want to do with your life when you are 18. It’s okay to say no to the dreams others have for you that aren’t fit for you. It’s okay to try something and fail and then get better for another try.

So why do we so often call these high school years the best? They aren’t. Or they shouldn’t be if you pursue your dreams.

Why do we, as adults, anchor kids down with low expectations? Teenagers grow up. Teenagers have great value even though they often bury or masks their potential. And sometimes, kids just need to get away and find another environment in which to blossom.

There’s an old coach’s saying. “The best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore.”

I believe in that saying and an expanded version which reads,

“The best thing about teenagers is that they become adults.”

As a coach, as a teacher, or even as a parent, remember those teenagers who are driving you absolutely bat-poop crazy today, have the potential to be awesome and productive citizens in the near or far future. They need dreams, resources, and some adults to believe in them.

Believe in your kids.

See the good in them.

Recognize their potential.

Help them down the path to fulfill their passions.

Make them work to achieve their dreams.

Be there to help them rebound when they fail.  Give them the space to back up, reassess, grow, and attack time after time until the dream is a reality.

Develop in them a strong gluteus maximus rubberi, so they know how to bounce up when life knocks them on their ass.

And please people, stop it with the “best years of your life” advice to teenagers. Teach them to believe in the potential of tomorrow. Teach them to work and to fail and to bounce back.

The high school years are special years. Enjoy every minute and every experience. But graduating high school is not the endgame. Life is the endgame. And, if my math is correct, most of us hope to have much more life to experience after high school.

To each and every teenager I ever had the opportunity to coach, I am proud of the adults you have become or are becoming. Your best years were definitely beyond any of those years you spent on a sports field with me.

Keep the faith in yourself!

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With Intent to Harm

I need to come clean about something. As an ex-hitter and now as a hitting coach, it is a pet peeve of mine to watch high school hitters float the baseball bat into the contact zone. I hate the slow, looping swing!!!

There, I got it off my chest.

I wish I felt better.

But I don’t.

We talk a lot about violence in sport. Football concussions from helmet to helmet contact, well-aimed elbows on basketball rebounds, take-out baseball slides and using your hockey stick as a weapon are examples of unnecessary violence in sports. I’m baseball, though, there is a situation where I fully condone and even appreciate a healthy touch of violence.

In a baseball swing.

My belief is to hit the baseball as hard as you possibly can every time you swing. My philosophy is to teach short quick swings that generate bat speed and power upon contact.

Is short, hit the baseball hard and good things will happen. A well-struck baseball is much more difficult for the opponent to field than a seven-bouncer in the infield or a lazy pop fly to the outfield. Hard hit baseballs result in more base runners. More base runners translates into more runs, more runs translates into more wins.

As a hitter or a youth coach, develop a short, compact, and powerful swing from the very first time a bat is picked up. The long, looping swing you often see on the coach/machine pitch circuit will not work as the hitter matures.

Do you know what the number one reason kids cite for quitting the game when they reach high school?
It’s not being able to hit a baseball.

Why can’t they hit a baseball?
I am 99% sure that player who quits has a long, looping, slow swing. They have no violence in their swing. They not only have trouble making contact but there’s no zip on the batted ball.

Hitters of America, I plead with you to work on developing a quick bat. I implore you to take the steps necessary to rid this country of the slow bat epidemic.

Hitting position.
Relaxed body.
Head down.
Load and pull back the rubber band.
Step and swing with intent to harm the baseball. Hitting a baseball is a violent act.

Believe me, there are few things in life more fun and satisfying than launching laser line drives into the gap.
To me, that is what baseball is all about… CRUSHING the baseball. 

 

 

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Get a Grip

Have you signed up for the FREE Baseball Excellence Tip of the Week? No? What’s keeping you? If you are a baseball coach, a baseball parent, or a baseball player, regardless of age (the younger your player, the better actually), get over to their website now and sign up HERE. It’s awesome and you will thank old Coach Hays later. They are my go-to source for teaching the game of baseball.

I have become a lover of Monday mornings. Hate me if you please, but want to guess why? Monday morning is when the email Tip of the Week arrives from Baseball Excellence. See, what have I been telling you? Baseball makes life better.

This past Monday’s tip was a topic near and dear to my heart…gripping a baseball bat. It taught me a thing or two and gave me the idea for a series of blog posts on hitting.

Over the past year, I have watched thousands and thousands of swings from T-ball aged kids up through high school. Over the next few months, I am going to attempt to address some of the issues I consistently saw in these swings. We’ll start at the start and focus on gripping the bat.

Grip

First things first. Take your bat and lay the barrel on the ground in front of you and lean the knob against your body. Reach down, grip the bat and lift the barrel up and out to eye-level. Next, bring the barrel of the bat to your back shoulder and look down at your knuckles. The middle knuckles should be pretty close to being aligned with the middle knuckle of top hand being aligned just below the middle knuckle of the bottom hand. This is a proper grip.

The handle of the bat should be gripped where the fingers join the hand and not in the palm. It doesn’t matter if your young player is 8 or 18, teach this and teach this and demand this from day one. A palm-gripped bat is a slow, weak bat. It may work fine in T-ball, it may work fine in coach/machine pitch, and it may get the hitter through their early years of kid-pitch baseball, but it will not work well as they mature. They will struggle to hit the ball as an early teen player and begin to lose interest in the game. I know I’ve said this before, but the numero uno reason kids quit playing baseball as they enter their teenage years is struggling to hit a baseball as pitching gets better. Hitting a baseball is one of the true joys of this great game.

Waggle

Once the proper grip is addressed and practiced over and over with the above grip test drill, the hitter needs to learn to keep this proper grip loose and relaxed. You hit a baseball hard through bat speed, not strength. Bat speed is generated through good mechanics and a short, loose swing. Gripping the bat to tight is a MAJOR problem I see in hitters of all ages. If your hitter has a slow swing that floats through the zone, there is probably a pretty good chance, the hitter has a white-knuckle grip on the bat.

One way to help a hitter keep a loose, relaxed grip on the bat handle is to teach them to waggle, or move, the bat around in their stance. Bat waggles come in all shapes and sizes. It is the one thing every hitter can personalize and develop their own style. Some hitters shake the bat back and forth. Other hitters make small circles. Hall-of-Fame player Cal Ripken, Jr. had the famous clarinet fingers as his waggle. Whatever works to keep the grip on the bat loose and ready to explode.

More on grip and swings in the next post, but for now…some baseball homework!

Homework: Practice grabbing the bat with the proper grip. Get in your batting stance and find a comfortable waggle that allows you to move the bat around while keeping your grip relaxed and loose.

Here are some pictures of my natural bat grip alignments.

Bottom Hand Grip Align

Bottom Hand Grip Alignment

 

Top Hand Grip Align

Top Hand Grip Align

 

Bottom Hand Grip

Bottom Hand Grip (when my top hand is on the bat my bottom thumb rests on the handle.)

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The Youth Sports Conundrum

Sometimes I speak my sports mind.

Sometimes I tell people the “truth” on sports as I see it.

Sometimes this gets me in trouble.

Recently, I was asked at our youth baseball association meeting if I was excited as a former high school level coach to see all these local kids playing youth club baseball. I thought for a moment, looked at the floor trying to think of a politically correct way to answer this question.

I couldn’t—so I spoke the sports truth, “Yes…and NO!”

“Yes” because it’s great to see kids playing baseball, but “NO!” because I don’t think you should ever approach youth baseball for the purpose of someday having your dozen or so kids all becoming high school stars.

Eyes widened. Jaws fell open. I quickly tried to elaborate that, as I high school level coach, I’d prefer to see kids enter the high school program armed primarily with a love for the sport and the ability to throw and catch. There will be attrition. Even in the best case scenario, only about half of those dozen kids who play on a youth team will probably still be playing in their later high school days.

Kids will change, their bodies will grow and shift by the time they reach high school. If a kid has that love and passion for the game, I can teach them (or re-teach them) as they enter the high school program and mold them into the players best suited for their skill set. These kids will put the hours of hard work needed to be a solid player. They will use their love of the game to push through tough times and tough situations to get better every day.

That is what I want to see out of a youth sports program. Help kids love the sport, teach them the basic fundamentals of the sport, and give them the basic skills tool set to be successful. All the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place with hard work and repetition.

Youth sports are not a minor league for high schools. The two bottom things on the list of priorities for a youth sports program are the emphasis on winning above development and a philosophy of making future high school stars. Most of the problems that grow out of youth sports are rooted in these two negative prioritizations. The “burnout” problem so often discussed as a major problem with youth sports most often grows out of these two philosophical approaches.

Youth sports exist to teach kids the fundamentals of a sport. Youth sports programs should teach the kids how to play the game, teach kids about the value of teamwork and the value of competition.

Above all else, youth sports need to teach kids to enjoy the sport and the opportunity to play.

Play hard and have fun!

Campbell Infield

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Load. Step. Swing

The title is absolutely correct;. “Load (Period) Step (Period) Swing (Period)”

It’s not “Load, step, swing” or what I see way too much from young players, “loadstepswing”.

A good and consistent baseball swing consists of three distinct and separate parts.

  1. The load.
  2. The stride.
  3. The swing.

bat_tee3

Why is “Load. Step. Swing.” so important? Because it’s vital to develop solid fundamentals in young hitters so they will be fundamentally solid older hitters. Fundamentally solid older hitters are able to enjoy success against better quality pitching as they mature and enjoy playing the game longer.

Do you know why most kids quit playing the game of baseball? They say the game is not fun for them. The game is no longer fun for them because they usually struggle to hit the baseball at the advanced level. Hitting a baseball is fun. Period. Ask any kid, they’ll back me up at an almost 100% clip.

Here is the simple method I used to instruct hitters. I use this same basic philosophy to help hitters from preschool kids up to the collegiate level. It works, It’s basic. It makes hitters able to hit laser shots from the left field line to the right field line. And when one hits the ball hard, good things happen.

Get Bouncy

Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels. Relax the body and get bouncy to be a better athlete.

Hitter’s Rhythm

Stand up. Go ahead, get off your rump and stand with feet comfortably about shoulder width apart. Now get bouncy off the balls of your feet. Feels good, right? Next, rock side to side. When one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. Do you know what this is? It’s your body’s natural, relaxed motion of hitting a baseball. It is hitter’s rhythm.

Hitters should naturally rock with this rhythm almost unconsciously, even when just standing around. (It’s how we find each other in the crowd…look for the guys rocking back and forth in hitter’s rhythm).

Load

When weight rocks to back foot, the hands load to the back shoulder and lock into place.  It’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. Be honest, do you take that big, thick, Sunday morning paper rubber band and only pull it back an inch before firing it in the direction of their beloved sister? Heck no! You pull that rubber band back as far as you can so you can fire it at that beloved sibling with explosive speed and power. Same for loading up in your swing. When a hitter loads, the rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to release that locked and loaded power onto the ball.

Step

The step, or stride, will vary between hitters depending on where the hitter is comfortable in their stance. If the hitter likes a narrow stance and longer stride is usually more natural. If the hitter likes a wide stance, then the stride is usually short. If I see a kid having problems controlling the stride or being consistent with their stride, the I’ll put them in a wide stance and have them just pick up their front foot and post it down right where it was. The whole purpose of the step is to shift the energy from the load into the barrel during the swing.

I like to teach hitters to “stick” the ball of the front foot into the ground with the outside of the foot pointed toward the pitcher. The hitter needs to post the front leg to stop the forward body momentum shift so the hitter doesn’t slide through the front hip and waste all that loaded up power. A solid step movement should be relaxed, quiet and stick the perfect hitting position. (see Hitting Position for an explanation on the importance of starting a swing from a consistent hitting position.)

Swing

You’ve loaded, you’ve stepped, and now you are in perfect hitting position. What’s next?

Simple, it’s a swing.

Take your front hand (the bottom hand) and pull the knob toward the ball in a quick, compact, powerful swing. By developing a consistent hitting position, a hitting only needs to learn the one swing which is directed toward the pitched ball. The swing needs to start from the back shoulder and go directly to the ball, no matter where it is pitched. Inside, outside, high, low, or right down the middle. A hitter with a good fundamental swing can hit any of these pitches with power to all fields and makes for a dangerous hitter who is very difficult to pitch to and defend.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Sounds like something we all want, right?

So, repeat after me.

“Load.”

“Step.”

“Swing.”

Say these three words hundreds and hundreds of times in your head and out loud. It is the rhythm of a hitter. It is the rhythm of baseball.

Three separate words, not one.

Three separate parts, not one.

Load. Step. Swing

Hitting a baseball is one of the great things in life.

Enjoy life!

Happy Hitting!

bat_tee1

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Swinging For A Better Investment

It’s almost baseball season.

Doesn’t that phrase have a nice ring to it? It is music to my ears. I can almost picture the excitement of kids all across this great country as they look forward to stepping on the diamond.

As you parents and coaches get ready to outfit the young players in your life, I want you to consider a purchase that will pay off 100x greater than just about anything else you are looking to buy for baseball.

Buy a tee.

I am a firm believer every kid should have a tee AND every kid/parent/coach should have a basic idea of how to use one.

Here is a quality tee you can get for $20.

BattingTee

Thinking about spending $200-$500 on a bat? STOP!

First, and foremost, be willing to spend the $20 on a tee to teach the player to hit screaming line drives regardless of the bat they hold in their hands.

It is not the equipment that catches or hits a baseball; it is the skill of the hand that holds the equipment which accomplishes great things.

Buy a tee.

Learn how to use it.

Learn how to teach with it. See my earlier blog post, Hitting Position: The Hosmer Breakdown, for more information and keep an eye open to a upcoming post about tee drill progression. (And free open hitting sessions will start soon, also.)

Buy a tee. Hang a net to hit into or drill a hole in a ball and tether it to a 15-20′ piece of clothesline rope. Hit baseballs, plastic golf balls, tennis balls, or any kind of ball you can scrounge up.

Save yourself some money. Don’t be fooled into thinking a $400 baseball bat will miraculously make you or your kids a better hitter. At the end of the day, there is only one thing that makes a better hitter—WORK and REPETITION.

Have a great preparation to Baseball 2015!

Now, go buy a tee.

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