So you’ve made the team and you start practicing, but your head coach doesn’t like something you do with either your pitching or hitting. If you already go to a trained specialty coach then you may have a conflict of interest and some disagreements. Confusing the player is counterproductive and you will hinder progress and actually make things worse. As a player or parent you can handle it a few ways.
Tell your coach
Most coaches will ask at the start of the season who goes to pitching or hitting lessons and they may want to know who it is. That’s a great start, but some coaches will leave you alone and others will try to tweak. Make sure they know you get extra coaching on the side.
You should be able to explain to your coach why are doing things a certain way. If your coach doesn’t like way you are stepping or using your hips, you should be able to explain it. For example: I tell my players to exaggerate movements on the tee and front toss drills so that these subtle movements become second nature when it’s time to go live.
Yes sir, Yes ma’am, but ignore (but not always). Some coaches are jack of all trades but master of none. They may have passed down knowledge that they heard over the years “squish the bug”, “hello elbow”, “nice level swing”, or some other phrase that is repeated that can’t be explained properly. If a coach does point something out that you hear from your specialty coach then of course make that adjustment.
Have the coaches talk
This doesn’t have to be a cold war summit, so egos should be set aside. You both want the players to get better and confusing them with different drills that undo progress is detrimental to player development. It’s important to pick and trust a process. There are many different coaching styles and methods, but there should be common ground when it comes to doing what is best for the player.
If you are warming the bench more than blazing the bases, there are several things you can try to get more playing time.
Find a hitting/pitching coach that will refine your craft. There are usually clinics where you can get extra reps for fielding. If for some reason you don’t have deep pocketbooks, there plenty of instructional videos on the YouTubes that will show you the proper mechanics and drills. The point is, you can’t just sit around and wish for more playing time, you have to put in the work and earn it.
It never hurts to ask, even if you don’t get the answer you are looking for. Ask questions like: How can I help the team, is there s position that you think I’m better suited for and I can work towards. A good coach will notice improvement over time and put you in the game to compare/contrast with other players on who earns that spot.
Find a team that needs you
If you have put in the work and perform well when you get in the game but still don’t get the playing time you desire then it’s time to move on. Everyone needs pitchers, catchers, and those who can hit well. The more game time you get (rather than just practice reps) is beneficial to you as a player. You want to feel valued, this beats sitting the bench and winning a ring that you didn’t contribute.
Finally, some things are predetermined and nothing will alter your destiny on a team. You probably knew this when you joined. The point is to play and have fun, you don’t always have to win.
What better way to relive your days as a player by coaching your kids. This could be a good or bad thing.
Treat them the same
Encouragement, instruction, punishment, all of it. There’s a pressure and temptation to be harder on your kid and you have to resist it. Treat them like any other player. Are you going to scream at someone else’s kid for missing a grounder? Nah, because that parent might come over and punch you in the grill. If you do scream at the other kids you may want to consider another path. Mistakes happen, they are counting on you for support. They know they made a mistake, you don’t need to remind them with your anxious anger. You are only making it worse and could lead to more errors.
You are playing a sport to escape the everyday life of school and work. Yes there will be some problem kids that will try to ruin the game but you also have ones that counterbalance and bring the team up. Be a coach that brings everyone up and stop tearing down. I like to use drills that inspire competition. It doesn’t feel like work when it’s fun.
It’s not going to last forever. What will they remember? A parent that helped them love the game or one that made them not want to coach, play, or even watch the sport on television. Don’t fall into the comparison game, every kid is different and some are way better than yours. Stay humble if that kid is yours.
There’s nothing worse than being up 3-0 in the count, letting a meatball pitch go by, fouling the next one-off, and then striking out looking because the strike zone now overlaps with the white of the batter’s box. Usually your best pitches to hit are 0-0 and 3-0. Why? Because the pitcher wants to get ahead in the count and doesn’t want to walk you.
Don’t wait for a strike
The phrase “A walk is just as good as a hit” is a false statement. What feels better, laying your bat down and taking a leisurely stroll to first or hitting a frozen rope to the left center gap. You feel cheated when you walk. One of my students likes to see what the pitcher has and how the umpire calls the first few pitches. I don’t recommend this unless you are super disciplined and a incredible contact hitter.
There is no perfect pitch
You have to learn to hit balls off the plate or a bit high or low out of the zone. Down the middle shouldn’t exist for a good pitcher and you shouldn’t be looking for it belt high. However this changes on a 3-0 count. Unless the pitcher is missing on purpose they will generally take a bit off and serve it over the plate. They do this because many coaches will give a take sign.
Use all of your strikes
Another thing I hear is “you’ve got 2 strikes, protect”. Again, another false statement that coaches repeat through the generations. You’ve been training to knock the snot out of the ball all week and now you are going to take something off? All three of your strikes should be hard swings. So what if you strike out swinging. It’s better than hitting a weak grounder to an infielder for an easy out.
When the pitcher is warming up before the game on the mound/circle you should be watching their movements. Every pitcher is like a metronome. You can time the clicks 1, 2, 3 (release) in your head.
In the hole
Before you leave the dugout, take another look at their movements or if they have any off speed “tells”. Note how they take the ball out of their glove, and where if any pitches look different with grip or spin.
Start your practice swings and timing with getting your stride foot down into launch position. It’s a dance with the pitcher, when they start to move, you start to load/gather/coil. Your foot should land just a few feet (15-20) before the ball crosses the plate (see video). If you’re lucky you will see an off speed pitch and you can get your timing for that as well.
In the box
Turn off your brain and become a robot in a swimming pool. If you don’t have a sense of the pitchers movements by now it’s too late. You will be at the mercy of the pitcher and umpire and your at bat will be reactionary.
You should find a spot you like and stay there. Pitchers plates don’t move and neither does the home plate. Only the speeds and movements change, and that what you should do. The slower the pitcher, the slower you start. The faster the pitcher, the quicker you start your process. Think dominoes falling over, slow push or quick flick. Your swing remains aggressive.
Front – for bunting only. Most batters think they are sending a message to the pitcher by saying they aren’t fast by cramming the front of the box. This is silly because a good pitcher may be hiding a aspirin they are about to throw past you. Don’t give the pitcher the advantage. Your weakness is a high sinker/drop ball that breaks into the strike zone. If you have any sort of stride with your swing you will most likely step out of the box for an out when you swing.
Back – If you are having trouble with your timing and the pitcher is throwing gas. This will give you the longest look at the ball but you will have to watch for drops, sinkers and of course, change ups.
Split the Plate (My preference) – Put the plate in the middle of your stance. You can also line your stride foot with the front of the plate. This give you the most plate coverage and allows you enough time to see the ball and hit any breaking pitches for a strike or on the edges. Learn to hit here and stay here!
Once you learn how to time a pitcher correctly, you make your movements consistent with slow or fast pitchers. More on that next week.
Once you step into the batter’s box there should be no emotion or thinking. The best way to get yourself ready is imagine you are sinking beneath the surface of water. Feel your body relaxed and flowing with the water and drowning out all the noise from your coach, players, and most importantly the parents yelling instructions from the bleachers. This is your time.
There should be no thinking at this point just robotic muscle memory movements. Trust your training, you don’t have to swing out of your shoes and murder the ball. This kind of swing causes a miss hit for a popup or grounder. Yes you may get lucky and rope one, but play the odds. Think 80% of your swing speed which will give you relaxed controlled movements and better ball striking. You will actually hit the ball consistently farther.
Once the pitch is on the way get to your launch position and exhale and explode. If you swing and miss, that is fine. Do not get frustrated because this will only lead to an over aggressive swing and increase the likelihood of finishing the at bat poorly. There should be no emotion in your at bat. You are a robot in a swimming pool, do not short circuit.