Before passing on well-intended advice to your child or team, understand that just because you were taught something in your heyday doesn't necessarily make it right! Read what some of baseball's best teachers recommend to the next generation of players as they challenge the most popular misadvice!
1. Bend Your Knees and Crouch Down in Your Hitting Stance:
Young hitters who bend their knees excessively and "sit" in their stance distribute their weight on their heels. This causes their front foot (and eventually their head) to turn out. Starting too low in a crouch also forces hitters to raise up to their natural height during the swing which explains why most young hitters are under the baseball in their missed swings. Hitters should be slightly bent (or flexed) in their knees and lean over from the waist rather than sitting down in their stance. A slight lean-in will distribute body weight to the middle of the foot making it easier for the front foot to "stay closed" during the swing.
2. Keep Your Back Elbows Up:
Hitters are repeatedly told to keep their back elbow up in an attempt to avoid uppercutting. Unfortunately, the elevated elbow causes shoulder tension which inhibits bat speed. More importantly, hitters quickly unlock the back shoulder and collapse the elbow into the body causing a more pronounced uppercut. The back elbow up also restricts a hitter's ability to properly "load" or move the hands slightly back before going forward in the swing. Comfortable and relaxed are two important - yet overlooked - components of a proper batting stance. Position the back elbow at a 45 degree angle (midway between the shoulder level and the hitter's ribcage) to create a soft shoulder and room to move slightly back as the swing begins.
3. Step To The Hit:
Hitters mistakenly believe that the bigger the step they take, the more power they will have in their swing. The average stride length of most major league hitters is approximately four inches. Compare this to the typical youth level player with an average stride length of approximately 8 inches. The big step inhibits seeing the ball "smoothly" and forces premature weight shift. Hitters need to understand that rotational force of the body creates bat speed. The big hitting muscles (back, thighs, stomach, butt) can't turn if they are moving forward with a big step. Hitters should use the stride as a small and slow timing mechanism to begin their swing. Most hitters will reduce their stride length and increase lower body torque by positioning their feet wider than shoulder distance apart similar to the stance taken by a blitzing linebacker or a basketball player defending the opposition. Remind hitters that the step starts the swing so that the turning of the body can finish the swing.
4. Keep Two Hands on the Bat at All Times:
Players are constantly chastised for removing their hand from the bat during the swing. If the hitter takes the top hand off prior to or at contact, significant power will certainly be lost. However, many hitters find it easier to hit through the ball and can avoid turning their wrists over on contact by releasing their top hand once the bat has cleared the hitting zone. Many older players (high school and older) generate better bat speed and cleaner contact points with this approach. Hitters that constantly ground out or top the ball should be encouraged to swing through the ball and release. Name the five best hitters in baseball. One common trait they all possess is a swing with a high finish followed by top hand release.
5. Keep Your Head Down and Near Your Shoulder When Hitting:
The eyes, not the head should stay down and focused on the ball. Hitters that overemphasis chin on the shoulder lose valuable tracking and vision skills by positioning their head and eyes on a slant as the ball approaches. Valuable upper body torque is also lost as the head on the back shoulder prevents full shoulder torque through the swing. Driving the head down or near the back shoulder also misaligns the shoulder causing the back shoulder to drop. Most importantly, the hitter's ability to swing down to the level is reduced if the head is finishing on or near the back shoulder. Hitters should keep their head square and straight as they track the ball and begin the swing. Good hitters always keep the chin away from the shoulders throughout the swing.
6. Push off the Rubber When Pitching:
Telling pitchers to push off the rubber typically creates a rushed delivery and reduces the pitchers ability to use the "big muscles" to throw the ball. Pitching similar to hitting, requires more rotational force than linear movement. Effective pitching requires a separation from the rubber to allow for a turning to the pitchers trunk, butt, quadriceps to propel the baseball. Rotating the body once the stride leg lands is the most important component of a pitchers delivery. Advising a pitcher to push off the rubber is akin to telling your hitters that the bigger step they take in their swing the harder they will hit the ball.
7. Always Catch the Ball with Two Hands:
Fielding gloves have become a long way from the pancake- type models of the 30's. Young players that struggle to catch the ball should first be encouraged to catch the ball with their glove hand only. It will be easier to coordinate and control one hand than two. Many players restrict their catching range by moving with two hands to the upcoming ball. Rest assured, the gloves made today are well equipped to catch the ball without the bare hand. Using two hands when the ball is directly to the player is fine, and two handed catching becomes important when ball transfer and a quick release is necessary (as in quick infield plays). Reminding players to keep their glove in front of their field of vision, not behind their head will immediately improve catching skills.
8. Throw Overhand:
Throwing overhand comes in a variety of ways. As long as the throwing elbow stays above the shoulder to create leverage, proper throwing is realized. Advising a player to throw "over the top" tightens the throwing shoulder and reduces the flexibility and looseness needed to throw hard. The arm-style pitching machines should throw overhand, not players. Remind players to keep their elbow above their throwing shoulder to encourage proper throwing.
9. Get Low in the Infield Ready Position:
Starting low and spreading out early puts you in a great position to catch one ball; the ball hit directly at you! Many infielders position themselves in a fielding position prior to the ball being hit. Getting low and spread out with your glove on the ground too early reduces range and quickness once the ball is hit. Infielders should stand up and as the ball is hit, position themselves in a balanced athletic position, similar to a tennis player awaiting a serve. Infielders should wait to see where the ball is hit.
10. Playing Games Develops Talent:
Good players balance proper training with game experience. Players don't eliminate throwing or hitting deficiencies by playing 60 games in the summer. Exposure to colleges and scouts is important, but remember, you have one chance to make a first impression. Perfect practice makes improved game performance. Find the time during off-season and in-season to work on weakness.