One thing I learned in my 21 years coaching youth baseball is that there is no perfect way to coach hitters.
I never considered myself an expert at teaching young 7-12 year old ballplayers the most refined hitting
techniques. The most success I’ve had with improving hitters’ techniques is when I didn’t over coach them.
I’ve attended my share of baseball conventions and hitting clinics. Sometimes I come away more confused
than when I went in. The hitting coaches I enjoy the most are the ones that simplify not just the hitting technique
itself, but the explanation so young players will understand it. Most of the speakers at these clinics have
incredible knowledge about hitting but I believe many should work on targeting their lessons to younger
players. With that said, I would like to share the five biggest mistakes I see young players make year in and year out
and what I do to correct them.
Mistake #1 is a batter stepping towards third base with his front foot. For lefty hitters it would be stepping
towards first. For young players, this might be the most common hitting mistake I see. Instead of stepping toward
the pitcher or even just lifting the front foot and putting it down, many players step toward third.
This can also throw off the whole rhythm of the player’s swing and also reduce the amount of power the player
can put into the swing. If the batter does make contact and hits the ball fair, the ball usually is a grounder to the
right side of the infield. This hitting flaw is easy to recognize. To correct it can take time. What I do is take
two pieces of 2X4 wood each about 36” long. Putting them on each side of the player’s feet during batting practice
will force his front foot from stepping to the side. Very rarely do players actually step into the wood while batting.
Coaches should have the batter practice stepping first without even swinging for a few pitches. One session alone
will usually not solve the problem but over a period of time this can work more times than not with most young
players. You can also use two bats but I prefer wood because the bats can roll.
Mistake #2 is when the batter takes too big a step forward toward the pitcher. Many hitting coaches teach
that batters need to limit excessive movement of the head. When a player takes an extra big step,
his head can drop a good 4-6” or more. Plus, stepping too far forward can limit the batter’s hip
rotation and power. To help curb this, I will take a flat piece of wood like a piece of ¼” plywood 4”X36” long.
This would have to be cut to size. I put it about 6-8” in front of the player’s front foot. He has to avoid
stepping on it. Again, the coach or parent must give the player numerous repetitions to reinforce the muscle memory
of the act.
Mistake #3 is when players lift their head too soon. Everyone who ever hit a baseball or a softball
wants to see the result of their effort. At the youth level, batters will sometimes move their heads prematurely,
losing site of the pitched ball. This is almost equivalent to a batter closing his eyes and trying to hit the ball.
Young players tend to do the same thing when hitting off a batting tee. First, I have the player hit off the
batting tee and he must yell “hit” upon contact. In giving them the extra challenge, this is forcing them to
focus more and they will tend to keep their head and eye on the ball. The second technique is to color code a
few balls. I usually use blue painter’s tape on some and yellow duct tape on others and keep some unmarked.
So we have blue, yellow and white. Coaches and parents, if you do this do not over mark the balls with the tape.
One small slice about two inches on each side is sufficient. Then a coach will throw the balls and the batter must
track or follow the baseball into the catcher’s glove. He will then call out the color once he recognizes it.
The next step in this drill is to have the batter bat and yell out the color after swinging and making contact.
I’ve had pretty good results with these two drills.
Mistake #4 is when a player stops his swing. I can’t tell you how many young players I’ve seen who have
a tendency to not swing through the baseball. This happens when a player makes contact with the
ball. His swing all of a sudden slows down. We all know the importance of the follow through.
Again, the batting tee has given me the best results. I stand next to the hitter and just tell him to swing
through the ball. This is a process that can take a while. Also having him take numerous practice swings
is a good idea.
Mistake #5 is the upper cut. To help solve this, I use the “Chair Drill.” I set up a batting tee with a
chair just behind it with the set up such that the bat must go past the highest part of the chair first.
When swinging and trying to hit the ball off the tee, the batter must avoid hitting the back of the chair.
I like to use the term swinging “high to low.” The player understands this and knows what he has to do in this drill.
I will also take a young batter and pitch batting practice and he has to try and hit only grounders without chopping
down on the baseball. This also helps solve the upper cut issue.
For these remedies to work, repetition is the key. With young people, keep it simple. My own “Hitting 101”
lesson is the soft toss drill 6-10 feet from a fence or a wall with rag ball (which are rags wrapped in masking
tape). I then tell the hitter he must try and hit the ball so it lands at eye level or lower. I have no scientific proof but
when the hitter does hit the ball at eye level or lower, it seems the batter is doing more things correct than not.
Hitting instructors are incredibly knowledgeable. They must convey their theories so both the hitter and
the layman coach like myself can understand the common nuances of this great skill. And we all have to keep it
simple and supplement all instruction with relevant hitting drills.
Marty Schupak has coached youth baseball for 21 years and is the video creator of
"The 59 Minute Baseball Practice", "Backyard Baseball Drills", "Winning Baseball Strategies",
"Hitting Drills & Techniques", “Pitching Drills & Techniques”, "Baserunning & Bunting Drills"
and author of the popular book, "Youth Baseball Drills". He is President of the Youth Sports Club,
a group dedicated to making sports practices and games more enjoyable for kids.