Tag Archives: Baseball coaching

R.I.P. Weighted Bat

Well, the weighted bat thing goes way back. Way back to the ankle weights and wrist weights days. The shorty shorts, the knee-high white tube socks and wide terry cloth head and wristbands days of old. Just as these signs of poor fashion judgment have gone by the wayside, it’s time for the weighted bat as a way of supercharging your bat speed to go away also.

To be more specific, it’s the weighted bat swing training in the cage or in batting practice that needs to go away and not necessarily the heavy bats themselves. A baseball or softball swing is not an equivalent movement to say a squat or a deadlift. The baseball swing is a much more complicated movement, an intricate sequential firing of small and large muscle groups from the trunk to the torso that generates force across a linear and rotational plane. This force culminates at the point where the barrel of the bat makes contact with the baseball and, if all goes right, the ball flies off the bat.

Swinging a heavy bat in bp or in the cage only throws off the balance of muscle coordination a hitter works so hard to develop. Somewhat of a surprise is training with a lighter bat also does significantly increase bat speed. This is a surprise since research supports this methodology in speed training and other similar specific sports skill development. Swinging a bat is a just too much of an intricate physical process.

It takes thousands of correct reps and drills to develop a nice swing. Timing and speed are much more important factors to develop in your swing rather than pure strength. Strength training for a baseball athlete starts with the lower body where explosive strength and flexibility are the keys and moves to the core muscles of the torso. A strong core is essential for any athlete because it acts as a chain to transfer the force generated in the lower body to the upper body. Without a strong core, the energy generated in the load and step portion of the swing is left in the lower body and doesn’t transfer to the bat.

(On a side note, a throwing athlete like a quarterback, a pitcher, or any other baseball position player, should avoid straight military presses or any shoulder weight training which promotes an unbalanced muscle support of the joint. The shoulder joint necessary for overhead throwing motion is susceptible to injury if there is not a balanced training of the muscles surrounding this complex anatomical joint. This subject is a pet peeve of mine in the high school weight rooms where the specific needs of the throwing athlete are often ignored. But THAT is another rant for another day.)

All that negative stuff said, I still like the weighted bat in the on-deck circle for a couple of reasons.

  1. Use the weighted bat or “donut” ring it to get loose with a routine of several windmills front and back using both left and right hands, followed by a side to side rotational stretch.
  2. Mental edge. In the research that showed the use of weighted bats to gain bat speed was false, it was also shown the batter perceived his swing was faster. After swinging a heavy bat, the hitter “felt” his swing was faster. Handling a weighted bat in the on-deck circle can trick your brain into thinking your actual bat is as light as a feather and your swing is lightning fast. I don’t know about you, but give me a shot of confidence in the on-deck circle any day.

Hopefully, as with the Bug Squish, we can put the myth of using the weighted or heavy bat to develop bat speed out to pasture. But unlike the Bug Squish, I think there is value to using a weighted bat or a “donut” weight in the on-deck circle.

And to repeat…

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I can offer is this: Do not simply teach sports skills or coach simply because that is the way you were coached. Times change. Do the work. Research and field testing are constantly making improvements to the what we understand about sports science. Technology gives us access to this information like never before.  Ask questions, search the web, watch coaching video, or attend clinics. Do whatever it takes to give your kids the tools they need to succeed. When the players find success, they enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport, you can get more out of them.

Everybody wins!

Next R.I.P topic? Swing repetitions! How many swings at a time is effective? How many is too many? The answers may surprise you.

By Ernest Lawrence Thayer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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R.I.P. Bug Squish

Squishing the bug.

Man, we used to teach this back in the day. Why? Lord knows!

Let’s squash the bug squish, once and for all. In 2017 terms and technology, it’s embarrassing to admit I fell under the spell of the bug squish back in the early 2000’s. The Load/Step/Swing philosophy of hitting I teach today used to be Load/Squish/Swing of yesterday. It’s crazy the way these things spread.

I don’t know how it happened, but the bug squish got out there in the world and people kept passing it along as the secret to good hitting. Looking back through the lens of speculation, it was probably a remnant of early video analysis or maybe just observation.

When you watch a good swing in real time, it looks like the back foot “squishes the bug”. It can be misinterpreted as this back foot, combined with the old school maxim of “pushing” off the back foot, made the outward twist of the batter’s heel look like the initiator of a good swing. It doesn’t though. The back foot twists after the swing starts and the movement of the force from the front foot strike to the hip rotation result in the back foot movement.

  • The Bug Squish screws up a proper and smooth weight transfer from the load to the step. It leaves too much weight on the back foot and results in a loss of force. And lost force = lost bat speed = not driving the ball on a line = not getting on base = making a lot of outs = not getting on base = not scoring runs = not winning games = NO FUN.
  • The Bug Squish screws up your balance. A good swing is built on the foundation of balance. Bad balance and you cannot build an effective or consistent swing.
  • The Bug Squish screws with a hitter’s mind. The hitter becomes so focused on what that back foot is doing, they don’t put all their focus on the ball.

No matter what the stance or the style, the best swings in the game all share the common factor of a good and consistent hitting position. Hitting position is the key. A simple lower body movement to get to hitting position only becomes a complex movement with the introduction of gimmick BS like the bug squish.

It’s 2017. It’s time to bury the bug squish for good. It’s time to look past these old sports coaching myths. It’s time to simplify hitting a baseball.

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I can offer is this: Do not simply teach sports skills or coach simply because that is the way you were coached. Times change. Do the work. Research and field testing and forward-thinking coaches are constantly making improvements to the what we understand about sports science. Technology gives us access to this information like never before.  

Ask questions, search the web, watch coaching video, or attend clinics. Do whatever it takes to give your kids the tools they need to succeed.

When the players find success, they enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport, you can get more out of them.

Everybody wins! Right, Crime Dog?

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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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