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Hitting - Youngest

Q10 Year Old Slump

My 10 year old had always been a terrific ball player and we have had few problems to confront until this year's allstar series. All of a sudden, his hitting just went in the dumps. He either watched nice fat strikes go by or swung at junk. This lasted throughout the series. A week later he was asked to sub on an AAU team for 3 games. Same problem. In the cages and in BP he was still making good contact and the swing looked good. His only comment was that the pitchers were good. But they were the same pitchers he'd seen all year. I have to assume it was in his head. Any ideas?

AYes it could be mental, or even visual. Has he had an eye check lately? But it could also be growth - has he had a recent growth spurt? That might throw off his judgement of contact points. The reality is that over the next 3-4 years there will be a see-saw going on between pitchers and batters as the balance of talent/skills/ability tilts one way then the other. It may be that as he gets a bit older (smarter) he is thinking rather than reacting and he is outwitting himself. What you should do most during the off-season is work on the fundamentals - mechanics, timing, etc. - and not try to force the issue. Look for ways to improve his reaction time and hand quickness - to give him more time to read pitches yet still time to react and make contact.

QAge for Hitting Skills

At what age should you start working on the hitting principles including stance, rhythm, swing, etc. I'm coaching a 7 and 8 year old team and am not sure what to expect at this age? Please give me some tips on improving their hitting skills.

ATo my mind, earlier is better. You may not get perfection at this age, but you are in an important position to keep bad habits from starting. I wish I could undo all the 'elbow up' advice that threw so many young batters off their game at 7, 8 or 9.

Often the best teaching technique with youngsters is to work backwards from the result we want. You might start with the final swing position (hip open, knee bent then build backwards to increase the power). Ultimately you are aiming for all the steps covered in 'how to hit' in the Grass Roots section of WebBall.

This is one of the questions that lead to our May/June 99 Nose2Nose survey.

QAge Levels vs Skill Levels

MY son is 9 years old and he is really ahead in defensive skills. However, he is having the hardest time hitting. He was a hitter until this year. I know that he is playing in the major division, which means he is 3 to 4 years younger then the other kids. He did play major division for little league last yr because of his defensive skills. I'm starting to feel the frustrations for him. He gives it his all. One thing that he is consistant is in is bunting. For the longest time, he would atleast put the ball in play and use his speed. But lately for the past 4 months, he has done nothing. I can't pull him because he has such a great mitt in the field. Please give me advice on how I can help him with his hitting. We do work on it. Should I just be patient and wait and see. We are coming up on a 3 month lay off. I want him to succeed as a hitter. Please help me out.

APatient, yes. Hitting is hard, much harder for some than others. But there are reasons some struggle and the clues might be in his fielding.

Does he catch most hit balls straight on or to the side? Does he attack the ball or wait on it. Is his fly ball handling as good or better than his grounders? Or vice-versa?

What I'm looking for is any sign of fear or intimidation or hesitation in the field. If it does not show in his fielding, then it is likely the problem with his hitting is not a problem with seeing the ball. What that leaves is being intimidated by the older kids pitching - the pressure of the plate. As long as you have him facing older kids, this will not go away.

To be honest, by moving him up you are rushing him through baseball. I'd rather see him play his own age as the SS (star fielder) so he has a chance in time, with less pressure, to develop his hitting. He is certainly not ready to face breaking pitches and won't be for another couple of years - facing curves is beyond just seeing the pitch - it requires brain skills for modelling and tracking the trajectory, etc - he is just not going to be there at 9. Give him a break, let him enjoy the game - including hitting.

QBack Foot Lift

I coach a 9-10 year old team. Most of the kids hit very well in practice whether it be a teammate or coach pitching. But during the games they same to forget or ignore the fundamentals. The biggest problem is having them keep their back foot planted when batting. I have a two players who were very good hitters at the beginning of the season but recently started lifting the back foot while at bat. We are trying to correct this but have been unsuccessful.

AYou may need to make your practice more game-like - i.e. pitch speed, etc. - or take the edge of the importance of the games - to help them remember the fundamentals. The other important thing is to not overwork them in practice, stop a drill before they get tired so the muscle memory retained is of a good swing. Early weight shift is often a sign that they are getting better - reading the pitches well and starting the swing before they need to. In practice get them to count quickly 1-2-3-4-5... as they swing, and adjust timing. Also they can adjust timing against the pitcher's hippocket - you show your pocket when he shows his - or adjust earlier or later than that as needed.

QBacking away?

My son is 9 years old and this is his first year of little league baseball. He does OK with running the bases, fielding and throwing. He has a tremendous fear of batting. He is afraid he will get hit by the ball. I have told him to watch the ball and if it is close, to back away from it. I have tried to work with him by using tennis balls and then work up to baseballs for BP but this isn't working.

AYou do NOT - REPEAT NOT - back away, you turn into the plate and scrunch your shoulders so the ball hits you on the back or helmet. (There is a demonstration of this in the IN-Motion animation section for registered WebBall Team Players. Not only does this make the possibility of being hit less painful, it servers to keep him in there and not have him 'stepping in the bucket' - i.e. pulling his lead leg away and loosing all swing power. Turning in also protects the face and chest area. See other tips in an answer above to a player's version of this question.

QBad soft toss?

What is your opinion on using soft-toss for batting practice? I personally have mixed feelings on this type of drill, and have seen where some batters have trouble with it, but can hit balls thrown at them. Recently, we had our game, 7 - 9 yrs, where the batters were prepared with soft-toss, and we usually don't do this type of pre-game drill. Typically, our offense is hard hitting with direct connects. That day we had quite a few pop-ups and foul-backs. The kids were hitting under the ball. Was soft-toss the problem, or was it something different that threw them off, or are they too young for such a batting drill?

AI do like soft toss. However, I think they had perhaps adjusted to soft-toss done incorrectly, which might have messed up their mechanics. To review - the feeder should be out in front as if on the baseline. The ball should be held in an open palm (for that age, no drops) and shoveled straight towards the best hitting zone - aim just ahead of the front knee. Don't aim for the batter's body and don't lob the ball up in the air. Also don't insist batters go after every toss - I've seen this in live BP at that age too - impatient to have the kid swing, the coach will get them to swing at everything. Even in soft-toss a young batter must learn where the zone is. Of course it could also be that in the particular game the pitcher was throwing high and your team is too used to hitting a lot so was simple going after what was served up - even if high (which goes back to my comment about learning the zone.)

QBailing Out

We have an eight year old player on our fall baseball team of 9-11 year olds. In a game recently he was beaned in the head by a pitch and it knocked his helmet off and sent him flying backwards. Now he is so afraid to bat that he keeps bailing out before the pitch even gets there - even on outside pitches. The umps are telling him "if you keep backing out we will have to call strikes". His parents bought him a new helmet... one of the new kind that fits nice and snug and even let him wear hockey padding to practice. But as soon as he gets in the box his legs shake so hard. What do you suggest we can try to help this young man get back in the hitting game? I have never seen fear like this before.

AThis kind of fear happens. There are some things to try but ultimately it is up to the youngster himself. Some will get over it, but there are no guarantees. I would try a technique we use with catchers called the no-blink drill - have him put on a catcher's mask then lightly toss balls to the mask, telling him you want him to let the ball hit the mask without him blinking. Once he can do this, then ask him to tell you how the ball is rotating when it comes to the mask. Next, teach him the proper turn and duck technique as shown on WebBall for protecting your body from an errant pitch. Get him to practice the move without pitches - then progress to tennis balls. For the visual and more info: http://www.webball.com/skill/fearfactor.html

QDangerous Bats

Do most youth leagues have restricted bats for safety issues? My son plays in a league without restrictions. Any aluminum bat is allowed. These are 6-8 year old boys.

AMany if not most leagues are like that - they don't believe the risk is real. The only player truly in danger is the pitcher. The easiest thing you can do therefore is not let your son pitch this young.

On the other hand, the risk is not as great against 6-8 year olds as it will become against 11-12 year olds who still get to use super-light bats.

QDominant Eye

My son is nine years old. First year of baseball. How can we tell if he bats
right or left? He throws right handed but says it feels good batting left

ATwo words - dominant eye. Get him to hold his hands up in front of his face
with thumbs and forefingers touching - forming a square. Then have the hands
held up and sight with both eyes open at a target - a post or sign maybe 30'
away. Now he closes one eye then the other. The image will jump - maybe even out
of the frame - when one eye closes - that closed eye is your dominant eye. When
the dominant eye closes it affects the image less - no jump. You want the
dominant eye to be the one closest to the pitcher.

QElbow Up

I have always been taught to keep the back arm up with the elbow pointing straight back, so the back bicep & elbow would be in line with the shoulders. The Baseball Commissioner in our town is telling all the Coaches to teach the kids to keep both elbows in, and he is insisting that we teach this to our kids (7 & 8 year old Intramurals) and if we don't we will not be allowed to Coach.

Please send me any information or links on 'The Batting Stance' as the Commissioner did say that if I could bring him any kind of documentation on this he would reconsider.

ASorry, but your commissioner is right. 'Back elbow up' is an old myth that is taking years to disappear.

In order to generate torque through the arms, and create as level as possible an arc for the bathead through the plane of the pitch, the back elbow must be down not up. Regardless of ready position, the first thing any batter does in starting his swing is bring the arm down - so it's best to start it there in the first place.

Don't feel bad, I probably was a victim of that same shouted instruction from a head coach or two back then - and it's tough to ignore. If you read the on-line instruction in OnDeck carefully you'll see that covered.

And it that's not clear enough, WebBall has a feature (for registered WebBall Team Players) which SHOWS not just tells the proper technique.

Other factors now known to be important - stay back, don't transfer weight forward, shorten stride, etc.

QEverybody Bats

I coach girls 9-10 softball (rec. league, everyone must play). That said, I have 13 girls... 5 of whom are power fielders/hitters (and are my infield). No matter what I - drills, repetitions, etc. - I can not get the other girls to "get" the game, understand the game, or want to be part of the game. My question is my batting order. In an ideal world, I could arrange my 1st 5 as they say to, but basically, my other 8 girls are inconsistent, and not "hitters" at all. How do you arrange that batting order?

AFirst off, this is a common problem, not just in 9-10 y.o. girls softball, or in rec. leagues. One inning in 3 is not usually good enough to win a game - given that even your best 5 will not always hit. Look for other attributes in the others - like speed - to mix in with the 'sure' hitters. For instance. traditionally in the game your best hitter is 3 slot, most power in 4, next best in 5. What we often do is move our second best hitter to 7 and second best slugger to 8, then mix in contact and speed. The idea is to not have 3 more certain outs in a row, and to sometimes have runners on base ahead of the better hitters. It doesn't always work. The best long term solution is to continue to improve the weaker girls. Maybe the drills you are doing are not helping. How much tee work do you do? How much soft toss? How much with two-balls of different colors to improve eye tracking? If that doesn't work, then you should work more on defense - if you can't score runs then you need to keep the other team off the board - there are lots of fun, effective fielding drills to improve ball sense and ball handling. At the end of the day, even after the effort, if this is going to be one of those teams that just doesn't do well, then make sure you have some good snacks and good cheers and some fun out there. There is always next year

QFirst Pitch Take?

My son is 8 years old, playing in rookie ball where they use a pitching machine. He's a fairly good hitter, but seems to be developing one bad habit - he likes to swing at the first pitch, which often gets him in a hole. He knows (at least in his head) where the strike zone is, but gets a bit too eager when he bats. As a temporary measure, I've told him to take the first pitch no matter how good it looks, and see whether the umpire calls it a strike or a ball, but I was wondering if there's anything else I can do to get him to be more selective when he bats.

ASorry, but I'm not automatically a fan of taking the first pitch even at his age. Yes,the machine is fairly consistent so a second pitch is likely as hittable as the first one. And yes, early in a game it's good to see what the zone is (and what a 'pitcher' has).
But take it a year or two into the future - against live pitching. What if that first one is the best a pitcher throws in a sequence? Then your son may have missed his best hitting opportunity in that at bat.

It's always best to be ready to hit on every pitch - that's what my hit/hit/hit/hold mantra is all about.
Make him wait one out now, and he learning to step into the box and always let one go by. That will be a hard habit to break. I've had too many kids - even at 16 and 17 - who step into the box before being mentally prepared.
Teach him to go in ready to hit. If he wants to get ready to launch then hold that's okay. But it should be based on him learning where a strike is not what the count is. Hope you understand.

QHead Pulls on Swing

I am coaching 7 year olds in coach pitch baseball. We have several kids who pull their heads out when swinging the bat. They either keep looking at the pitcher and just take a wild swing at the ball or look somewhere in the field while they are swinging. Other than repetition, do you have any suggestions for drills that will break this?

AFirst, it is typical at that age and it has to do with body structure - young kids are simply stiff when they swing - the hips, shoulders, arm, neck and head all turn as a unit - they haven't yet learned to disconnect and sequence so that hips pivot under a fixed upper body, then hands move separate from shoulders, then shoulders turn while head stays steady. You can help them by doing isolation drills - get them to stand with bat cradled behind the back between the elbows - tell them you want them to turn their belt buckle to the pitcher but keep their head and shoulders from turning. Then have them work on a drill in which they load back on hands and move bat into contact zone - but their shoulders don't move. Then get them working on chin-to-shoulder drill in which the chin is touching the front shoulder, then the shoulders turn so the chin is touching the other shoulder - do this one first without the bat. In fact all these moves can be worked on first without the bat. Work on repetition series with each of these moves. It won't fix them all, but it will help them understand the steps.

QHitting at the End of the Bat

My 9 year old son hits every thing off the end of the bat (inside or outside pitch). Apparently he rotates his hands too early. I can't seem to find a drill to keep him from breaking his wrist too early.

AHe shouldn't break or roll the wrist at all. By that I mean you don't want him to think that that's ever part of the swing - if it happens in follow-through fine. Here's a drill - use a Frisbee held upside down between the palms. Have him do his swing motion so that the Frisbee flies off like a line drive. This palm-up palm-down position is what he then needs to apply when swinging with a bat. Work with the Frisbee until he has full power swings that produce line drives.

QHitting Slow Stuff

I need help or advice with a hitting problem my son is having. He has been hitting since he was 2 years old and he is now 9. Over the past month, we joined an indoor hitting cage facility and he has hit over 2000 balls (at least). However, he struggles to hit the slower pitches now. He far exceeds most players on his team when hitting a fast ball. When we slow the machine down so other players can hit it better, he can't hit it at all. He swings almost as soon as the ball is thrown from the machine. I stayed late with him to hand throw a few to him and he didn't hit those well either. How do I get him to adjust to a slower pitch? It's not like we had the machine going fast and then suddenly turned it down low like a change up? All of the pitches were the same and he just couldn't adjust.

AFirst suggestion... leg lift. You don't want to change his stride length, but you want to keep his back side from launching too soon, so the best technique is to have him lift his front leg higher on slow pitches so that he comes down later and can get the hips, hands and bat head swinging later and quicker. On the idea of 2000 swings at age 9.... The danger other than overuse injury might be fatigue, push him when he is already tired and you lock in the last of his swings - meaning the worst. Quantity is not quality.

QHow to Sit Back

My son is 9yrs old playing as a 10yr old, in the competitive select leagues. Is there a drill I can work on with him to help get him to turn his back knee in, to help keep his weight back.? He has a tendacy to lunge forward too much at contact. He is giving up power by not staying back, isn't he? Any other drills for bat speed and power?

AThis is why websites have to evolve. The instruction provided below (at the time) was considered valid. Not sure I would ever emphasize "sitting back" today for any struggling hitter. We offer it still, in case you might have a need with an extreme lunging batter.

He's obviously doing well - has potential to do better. Couple of ideas...

1) Some instructors have used tubing tied around mid section. The tubing is held by coach or fastened to fence on the back foot side - to get him to sit back. It can work but he may revert without the tubing unless his own muscle memory kicks in, so...

2) Have him do some dry swings, no bat, hands down in front of him swinging in sync on a line from catcher to pitcher - like two pendulums on same path. Get him to time it so he turns his back knee in as his arms extend towards the pitcher - he'll sit back.

3) Once that works (several minutes to lock in the memory) then move on to a tip on BatSpeed. Have the bat head move back towards the catcher when starting the arc. This does two things - gives the bat more of a sweeping arc on the plane of the ball's flight path (good arm extension) and by flinging the weight out and back first, the body will stay back.

By the way, any time you're trying to change mechanics, make sure he's well warmed up, switch to a lighter bat, and never ever try to do it during a game. You need calm and repetition.

QNot Hitting Solid

My 9 year old son is not hitting the ball solid. Ccould you start from the grip to the end of the swing and explain how his swing should start and finish.

AIf by "not hitting solid" you mean not getting good speed that clears the infield fast, or not getting good distance, it may have nothing to do with specifics of his swing mechanics, but might have more to do with his not having the bathead arrive at on-time contact with the ball when the batspeed is at its highest. In other words, it may be about timing. On the mechanical side, you want him to stride just enough to create a firm front side and leg - not stiff or absolutely straight but good support for what follows. You want a load-up with the hands moving back to the shoulder and the bathead kept up. You want him to keep the bathead back as he starts his back hip driving around. The hands drive forward with the hip turn but the bathead stays back as long as possible. You want to see it whip forward just as the ball arrives in line with the front knee - that is the best contact point. [We are going to be working on a new mechanical approach that discusses this key timing in context of a backshaping approach similar to pitching. Too involved to get into in an email but should be fully in place by the start of the next Spring season.]

QPassive Batter

I have a son who is 8 years old. He hits fine in the batting cage and while the coach is throwing to him but in the game he freezes - like he is looking for a walk. What can I do to help him get through this period. He has a good swing and can hit the ball but he seems to be not to sure when he does get up there. I do not want to put to much pressure on him but need some advice.

ATough question, without knowing him. It could be he feels pressure of game - not approaching it as fun but as "opportunity" to fail. (Is he getting too much advice from the coach or stands while he's at bat?)
Perhaps he is, rightly, fearful of erratic 9 year old pitchers. (Teach him proper safety techniques to protect himself against wild pitch - see Grass Roots).
How is he as a fielder - does he charge the ball aggressively or wait passively for it to bounce up at him. Sometimes if you can improve his defense, he'll relax at the plate.

QShort Stroke Drills

My son is 9 years old, been playing for 3 years. I try to pick up drills and skills from clinics and videos. One area that I get confused about is proper hitting. I started early on trying to teach my son to keep a 'short' swing, hands through the ball, keep front wrist cocked so the bat head follows behind the hands. A drill often used is the fence drill. it seemed like an impossible drill, but my son does it quite well. I thought this was good. I now see several schools of thought where letting the bat head start around before the hands come down to the ball is not so bad a thing. I'm somewhat confused. Is there a wrong way to swing? Also, my son recently went to a clinic and tested some things like bat speed. He was clocked at 58 mph, which was slightly faster than the figures for national average for 9 years old, but I'm still not sure what things are good to work on at this age. Does it matter what style he has? Does bat speed determine which style you use?

ALots to address.

1. First, the short stroke. I see nothing wrong with a short stroke - if done corrrectly. But I'm puzzled by what you describe as a cocked wrist. There should be no bend in the front wrist at all. To create a short contact swing, you want to simply take the hands to the ball with bat held loosely. It sounds like you may have his front elbow forced forward too much.

2. The fence drill. The best fence drill I've seen has the batter facing the fence with the bat held horizontally between tummy and fence (just touching). That is your foot position and the object is to swing through without grazing the fence. (To do it you will instinctively get the hands out in front.) I have a feeling that the drill you describe would give the batter a desire to put too much weight on the front foot - just to stay away from the fence. I don't want to see a big loop (though, yes, some do advocate a flick of the bat head backwards to start the arc), but I do want to see him load up on the back leg.

3. Bat speed. Like all measurements, this is only part of the story. It depends on when during the swing the bat speed is highest, whether at that point the barrel is on the plane of the pitch and the hands are flat (palm up, palm down). It depends whether the contact is with bottom half or top half of bat, if the ball leaves on an angle of 30 degrees, etc. My favourite old school drill to determine good bat speed is the hat drill. A coach stands facing the batter in the opposite box - just clear of the bat when extended through the swing. The coach holds a cap in one hand (holding the peak - cap down) while his other hand holds a ball hidden behind the cap. The ball is dropped, the batter swings. You are not only judging speed and reaction time this way, but the contact point, the angle of contact, etc.

QStaying in the Box

How do you coach a kid (9-10 yrs) to stay in the box, and swing at good pitches? We have 2 kids on our team, who have been HBP and now are bailing out of the box before the ball even leaves the pitcher's hand. They do fine in practice, but not in games.

AA multiple step answer...

Teach them the proper way to take a hit - turn in and scrunch down to protect ribs and neck.
Try starting them with an open stance and have them stride in (not forward). This way they are going into the box and also better able to turn and scrunch.
Practice bunting.
Practice hitting inside pitches off the tee so they have the technique and also so they learn that the best way to protect against being hit by the ball is to hit the ball first - out front.
Have them put on the catcher's gear and practice blocking pitches with their body - to overcome the fear factor.
Practice sliding drills - have fun with it and remind them that to get to use that in the game, you have to get on base.
Make the practice situation more game like - again to simulate the situation and overcome the fear factor.

These suggestions are one-at-a-time tries and will depend on the players - some will respond better to some ideas than others.

QSwitch Hitting

My son throws left handed and bats naturally right, however he also bats left. I say naturally left because as a younger boy (3-5 years of age) his tendency when he picked a bat up was to stand in the right-handed position. My husband would throw him balls to hit right-handed and then have him practice left-handed. As he entered T-ball, my husband continually had him switching which way he batted whether it was practice or a game. Currently in his first year of Ponies (7-9 year olds), during batting practice he continues to bat both ways and does any equal job - he does not struggle or feel awkward either way. In his first game, every time he went to bat, he batted right-handed. Our son told us his coach had told him to do that. The coach replied he would not promote switch hitting at our son's age because it is 'too confusing for him'.

ASwitch hitting is an almost impossible talent to learn later after several years of doing something only one way.

If he can do it now, he should do it now.

Why? The important factor is muscle memory - the more ingrained, the more instinctive, the more practiced, the better the results.

However, you are wrong in one important point - switching hitting has nothing to do with where the runners are. It's about what kind of pitcher you are facing.

  • Right hand pitcher - bat either left or right with a slight nod to batting left mostly.
  • Left hand pitcher - almost always bat right. (For some reason, batting left against a leftie is harder than batting right against a rightie - probably due to exposure/experience.)

The reason is all about arm angles, pitch breaks, seeing the ball better (both eyes to pitcher's window.) Overall, I'd rather have one more left hand batter in the line-up than not.

PS: Don't blame the coach - he may not have had much experience with switching hitting before.

QYoung Walkers

What do you recommend to say and do to help 7 and 8 year old players swing the bat instead of looking for the walk - become more agressive? And what drills might you suggest?

AYou might not like my answer. I watched a 7-8 practice about two weeks ago [as this wwas written], and a game of that age group about a week later.

The game was unfolding as it should - big strike zone, mix of walks and swinging strike outs and hits.
But the practice made me think of your question. It was being run as the old-style, one batter, every other kid stands around, B.P. In order to create activity, the coach started encouraging his batters to swing at anything. I absolutely hate to see this. Hitting is the hardest thing to do and this coach gets kids to ignore mechanics, ignore their sense of the zone and just flail away. Not only does it not create many more fielding opportunities, it completely confuses a little kid when he's starting out.

Work with the tee, and soft toss [see others answers] to get your kids to feel what it's like to make contact - make them want to hear the smack of metal on leather. But at the same time teach them that the best ball to hit is the one they can smack the best - the one in their zone. If the game ends up with lots of walks, it may be boring for parents, but the kids don't care. And when someone does get a hit, there's guys on the base running like mad! What fun this sport can be.

And if you feel the urge to run a traditional BP, check out WebBall's suggested batting practice.

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