Tag Archives: Baseball coaching

Getting Better: Extended Arms Baseball Swing

I’m not actively coaching a team but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning as a coach. An athlete and a coach should never stop striving to be better. Getting better every day has been a foundation of my sports philosophy from the time I first learned what a philosophy was. In other words, a long time.

One of the positive side effects of a “Get Better Every Day” philosophy is it often bleeds over into other aspects of life. Family, work, hobbies, etc. all fall under this way of approaching life.

If you’re not getting better, what are you getting?

If you’re not moving forward, you are sliding backward.

Even though I’m not actively coaching, I still try to learn as much as I can about the two things in sports I truly love. Hitting a baseball and blocking in football.

I subscribe to more email coaching newsletters that I’m willing to publicly admit. One of those, though, is a newsletter from Baseball Rebellion. I like their website. I like their approach. I like the scientific slant they use to teach baseball. It’s not overly technical. They use it to explain not overwhelm. Honestly, it’s kind of a baseball nerd’s dream.

This week’s newsletter featured their Ball in Back Arm Drill. The video is below.

We taught, and continue to teach, the importance of a short, powerful swing. Arm extension prior to the bat head driving into the contact zone results in loss of swing power. I have a trusted toolbox of drills to teach a tight front arm angle, fence swings, knee tee, front hand swings, bat throw, a consistent focus on pulling the bat through the zone instead of pushing the bat through the zone, etc. What I don’t have are solid developmental drills to help cure another common technical error in young hitters, the straight extension of the back arm.

Signs of swinging with an extended back arm are:

  1. Slow, wide swing arc.
  2. Swinging “over” the ball.
  3. Majority of contact results in weak ground balls to the opposite field.
  4. Rolling over (where the top hand moves over the bottom hand prior to contact).

These symptoms of extended arms on a swing are probably things you see a lot if you’re coaching or parenting the transition from coach/machine pitch to kid pitch. If so, do the work, find solutions, and put your kids through the drills to break this habit before it affects their ability to hit a baseball as they grow and mature. (And remember that one of the top reasons kids quit playing baseball is the game becomes no longer fun because they can’t hit a baseball.)

I’m going to do some work on the Ball in Back Arm Drill. I’ll do some more reading. I’ll get the trusty old George Brett Lousiville Slugger out of the closet, grab a ball, and see how it works. If it looks promising, I’ll work it into some hitting sessions with several of our older kids who struggle with the extended back arm and then to some youth hitters. I’ll report back my findings at some point.

If you try this drill or have tried this drill, share your experience in the comments or send me a message. And please go check our Baseball Rebellion and Baseball Excellence. Two exceptional resources.

Life (and sport) is an experiment. Get out there and discover!

 

 

 

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MLB Unofficial Commissioner 2018

I’ve been lax in my role as MLB Unofficial Commissioner so far in the 2018 season. My Royals are a dumpster fire so I’ve spent too much brain power figuring out their problems. Royals 2018 = Historically bad. The Royals and the Baltimore Orioles did something that’s never been done in the entire history of Major League Baseball. It’s the first time two teams have been below .300 at the Fourth of July point of the season. 

But I still listen to almost every game. They’re my team…for better or worse. 

There are a couple of issues which have been causing a lot of fuss over the past two seasons. The time it takes to play an MLB game and the defensive shift.  There’s been so much fuss, I’ve decided it’s time to step into my Unofficial Comish role and suggest a few changes. 

First, I have to rant against the anti-shifting crowd. Hitters have to adjust. Pitchers have to adjust. Managers, GMs, owners, scouts, and umpires have to adjust. It’s part of the game. Always has been, always will be. Hitters and coaches quit whining and start adjusting.  Common sports sense states if the defense is giving you an open third of the field, take advantage of it. Burn their strategy. Do what it takes to succeed. Be a competitor instead of a whiner. 

Okay, I feel better. Now on to my solution to those two current problems. 

  1. Put in a pitch clock similar to the shot clock in basketball. 30 seconds might be a good place to start and adjustments made until a comfortable length of time is determined.
  2. Each defender must start with both feet in their traditional defensive zone. The defenders can then shift when the windup starts. 

There you go. Simple solutions to complex problems. 

On a side note, with the limits on mound visits this year, why do managers still burn a mound visit to make run-of-the-mill pitching changes? Just stand up at the top of the dugout steps, call time, and point to the bullpen. Save the mound visits for strategy and technical visits. 

Enjoy the rest of the 2018 season! It’s shaping up to be a wild run to a World Series title.

Feel free to discuss or propose your own solution(s). My unofficial office door is always open to ideas.

Take care and “PLAY BALL!”

Unofficial MLB Commissioner is signing off.

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A Beautiful Day of Baseball

May 15, 2018.

Clay Center Community High School hosted a 4A baseball regional in Clay Center for the first time since 2002. That was a long time to wait.

But when I was sitting out there watching the four teams, it was like a slice of baseball heaven.  The crowds were great and supportive. The teams played their hearts out. Watching the three games on the renovated Campbell Field put a smile on this old coach’s face.

Thank you, Clay County for the donations of time, skill, funds, materials, prayers, and the new scoreboard to help make this renovation project possible. It truly is a field of dreams to us old baseball people and something we hope the young baseball people will be able to enjoy for years.

The power of a “for the community by the community” project.

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THANK YOU!

Wow, people! You did it, again! Thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses, we were able to wire the down payment and start the manufacturing of this:

OUR NEW SCOREBOARD!

It should take about three weeks to manufacture and another week to be shipped. The Clay Center Public Utilities has offered to help with the installation.

After looking at many scoreboards of all shapes and sizes, we decided to stick with the basic 12′ x 8′ footprint of the current scoreboard. We went in this direction because it allows us to save money by using the existing support beams and posts and because this scoreboard was the best value of all the options we quoted.

I’m sure we will run into a few hurdles installing the scoreboard and learning to use the remote control systems but thanks to this incredible community, we have climbed the highest mountain. We’ve bought a brand new scoreboard.

When we started this project in September of 2013, we wanted to establish a spirit of for the community and by the community’ with Campbell Field and other facilities. Thanks to you, I think this is truly coming to fruition.

We invite you to visit Campbell Field to watch a game this spring or summer. Come out, watch some baseball, eat a hot dog, spit some sunflower seeds, and visit with other fans in a facility we hope is getting closer to being a baseball facility we can all be proud of.

THANK YOU!

I’d also like to give a special thanks to the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation. As someone who has researched non-profit tools for baseball field fundraising since 2000 and always ended up overwhelmed at the legalities and paperwork, I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have this organization working on behalf of our community. The CCCIF allows a bunch of rockhead baseball guys to do rockhead baseball stuff while providing the infrastructure and the mechanics on the financial side of things. More importantly, they allow an organization like ours to raise money in a transparent and trustworthy manner.

Thank you, CCCIF Board of Directors!

Chairperson – Morree Floersch
Vice-Chairperson – Brad Dieckmann
Secretary – Karen Bryan
Treasurer – Robin Thurlow
Board Member – Jayson Hood
Board Member – Jill Mugler

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A Scoreboard

Our community is incredible, people! Thanks to the generous people and businesses who’ve donated their time, skill, materials, and dollars over the past four years, we’ve been able to complete some pretty awesome renovations at Campbell Field. It’s slowly transforming into a respectable high school baseball field.

Some of the upgrades have been documented in previous blog posts, The Beginning and Campbell Field Renovation Phase I, and over the next month or so, I hope to share the updates for Phase II, III, and IV. We are almost at the end of the trail for the renovations. It has been a long road since we started in 2013.

There have been highs and lows, successes and struggles, but even at the worst of times, it’s been fun for us. The thing we are most proud of is that the renovation costs involved minimum tax dollars, which we hope will allow more of the city recreation budget to be spent on actual recreation programs.

One final project we’d like to take a run at before we shift our focus from renovating Campbell Field to maintaining Campbell Field is to raise funds for a new scoreboard. If you’ve been out to watch a game at Campbell Field in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed one glaring dysfunctional part of the baseball landscape is our scoreboard.

Last April, an area high school coach complimented the upgrades to the field but asked if we are ever going to get a new scoreboard. I told him our scoreboard is special. It’s a home field advantage because we send coded messages through the system so only Clay Center baseball fans are able to decode the random symbols which are supposed to be real and actual numbers.

All joking aside. Our scoreboard is old. It’s been fixed over the years, but it’s at the end of the line. Many of the sockets do not work anymore. We’ve tried every year the past four years to repair it. We can’t find replacement sockets or light bulbs anymore. Even the second-hand parts we were fortunate to reclaim from an area town’s retired scoreboard did not solve the problem.

We are in the market to purchase a replacement. Nothing fancy, just a scoreboard similar to the one we’ve had the past 25 years that we hope will last at least 30 years or more. We’ve been shopping around and requesting quotes for a year or so. With freight and wireless controls, an updated LED model of what we have now will cost around $6000.00.

I know money is tight all over, but we would like to turn once again to the community and ask for your financial support. The Clay Center American Legion has joined us in this effort to raise money. The Legion would like to use the new scoreboard as a memorial to three men who had a tremendous impact on the sport of baseball in Clay Center, Oran Erickson, Walt Knitter, and Charles Ellis.

We have set up a fundraising account with the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation. Your tax-deductible donations are greatly appreciated and, as always, we promise to spend every penny in the most efficient way possible with the continued goal to make and keep Campbell Field a source of community pride.

Below is the CC Community Improvement Foundation information if you are interested in making a donation to the scoreboard fund. Just designate your donation to go to the “Campbell Field Scoreboard Fund” and the nice folks at the Foundation will take care of the rest. We appreciate any help to purchase the scoreboard in memorial to these three great Clay Center individuals.

If you are unable to help financially at this time, don’t worry. Come out, instead, and watch a baseball game sometime or contact me to arrange a tour to see the improvements. Campbell Field and the Tommy Watt Batting Cages are something we are extremely proud of and we hope you will be too.

Thank you, Clay County!

(Note: If an organization or business is interested in becoming a Campbell Field sponsor, we have a Banner Donor level available. A 5-year donation commitment of $1000 ($200/year) will not only help the long-term support of Campbell Field but will get the logo & name of the donor organization or business displayed on a custom fence banner. If interested in becoming a Banner Donor, contact Larry Wallace, Jr. at 632-3345 or Rex Carlson at 632-2223 or email me at coachhays@gmail.com.)

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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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