Below is a link to the Sitka Little League coaches clinic presentation.
Here is the link to download the file:
Below is a link to the Sitka Little League coaches clinic presentation.
Here is the link to download the file:
We are having our fall parent kick-off meeting Thursday, Oct 26th at the SCH upstairs conference room at 6:30pm for registration, paperwork, and Q&A.
This past weekend, Jamar Hill, of Gamers Baseball, in Anchorage, visited Sitka and worked with us for a day in the cage. Jamar really emphasized swing plane. To teach the proper swing plane, Jamar placed a batting screen directly behind the kids, so that if they swung rotationally, their follow through would strike the screen, which doesn’t feel good and would teach the kids, like Pavlov, how to adjust their swing to finish high missing the screen. He started with small wood training bats and then had the kids use their regular bats. It was a difficult drill to say the least.
Many of us coaches tried it out just to see what the kids were grappling with and struggled. It’s like hitting in a phone booth. I call it the reverse net drill. I asked Jamar to send us a video demonstrating the drill with his own swing; so that we can continue to work on these skills before the season.
After spending a few nights thinking about this new drill, and keeping Jamar up late with some tequila and beer, I think I finally understand its genius. Having the screen behind you, forces the hands to whip the barrel through the hitting zone on plane with the pitched ball for a longer period of time, in an upward trajectory, finishing high. Much like what Matt Antonelli describes in this video. If you don’t, you get a loud “CLANG” and the bat hits the hitting screen. When the kids swing like they are used to swinging (more rotationally or downward… read: in and out of the zone more quickly) they finish low, and CLANG. The drill also emphasizes keeping your barrel a lot lower than your hands during the swing, at least on all pitches below the belly button. This puts your barrel in better alignment on sinkers, breaking balls and change ups. Finally, this drill basically eliminates any chance for a “roll over” at or near contact. If you roll over, you hit the screen.
To do the drill well, kids have to understand what happens earlier in their swing, e.g., how to turn the barrel, as opposed to “throwing the knob”. The kids quickly learn they cannot swing down on the ball. If they do, they will destroy their bats. On high pitches they still must have a slightly upward hand path with a golf finish to avoid the net. The high pitch was really tough for me to figure out with this new hand path. The kids that get it will relax and are able to swing hard and finish high without striking the net. Those that don’t get it right away, remain tense, and worry about striking the screen. After attempting the drill for a while, the kids should all spend time at the batting Tee, without the screen; because if the kids are tense and timid, the drill doesn’t help them much. It might even bring back bad habits because kids tend to forget about their lower half and their other fundamentals tend to fall apart.
At the batting Tee, they should imagine there is still a screen behind them. They will then have the freedom to swing hard without such a harsh penalty, while still learning the proper hand path. They should be checking all of their cues along the way. This means: making sure they’re getting a good load and stride, stretching the rubber band, getting in a good launch position (top hand ready to knock some body out). They need to make sure they are balanced throughout the swing with a bat path extending through the ball slightly upward and finishing high, with their backs to the plate, if they can. In order to achieve that high finish with their backs to the plate, they have to relax and get a good load and stride, with forward momentum, using the ground to power their swing in an upward trajectory. To finish properly, they have to have done everything else correctly (load, stride, turn of the barrel, stiff front side and balance at contact, with proper extension up and through the ball, finishing high).
Check out my favorite college player’s swing, which is a great example of what I think Jamar is trying to teach with the reverse net drill. Check out Nick Madrigal (OSU second baseman) and preseason All American.
As some of you know, the cage screen we had previously was in tatters and was a serious safety hazard. So we made it a priority to replace the old screen with this front toss screen. If you watch Root Sports much, you will see Edgar Martinez, use one just like this with the Mariners’ hitters. We have also purchased two buckets of 6 dozen leather baseballs; a bucket of tennis balls, and a bucket of wiffle balls.
Now that we have gotten started with our winter workout, I thought it might be helpful to address some common hitting flaws and myths or misconceptions about swing mechanics I have noticed over the years and have tried to address in my own coaching. These are not my ideas, but the teachings of pros I have learned from online and in books.
So this is a common refrain we all remember our coaches telling us growing up. But when you slow down the best swings in baseball, we see this simply is not what happens with the back foot. Plus, the teaching is far enough removed from what actually happens on a good swing, it may hamper the swing more than improve it in the long run. When we say “squish the bug” players take this literally and tend to believe they have to keep that foot on the ground throughout the entire swing. This may restrict their power and reign them in from fully releasing their hips and allowing the hips to explode or shift into the ball. Watch Joe Mauer and Mike Trout. Their back foot rotates and ends up on its toe during weight shift, to allow the hips to function properly in the swing. But it doesn’t “squish the bug”. Their back foot may come off the ground when the weight shifts forward, only to come back down to maintain balance throughout the swing. The back foot may even gain some ground and move forward. Here is another video of what the back foot actually does in an MLB player’s swing. That said, I agree with those coaches who say trying to teach our youth players the advanced power swing of a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper may over complicate things, and we should really focus on keeping things simple for our younger players.
Tony Gwynn said being balanced and swinging the knob not the barrel are the two things you have to do to be a good hitter. This became condensed in Tony Gwynn’s footsteps to take the “knob to the ball”. Most instructors today believe that taking the knob directly to the ball fails to get your swing properly on plane and can lead to a chopping down type swing plane. So while the thought of taking the “knob of the bat” to the ball might work for elite level hitters who already have a good spine angle and tilt to end up in the proper swing plane, this teach may have some adverse consequences for our young kids. “Swinging the knob” and “not the barrel” is perhaps the most short hand way to teach a hitter how to stay inside the ball, in 6 words or less. Taken literally, however, it can lead to problems like a lagging barrel at contact which simply filet’s balls into right field with no pop. So there is no simple refrain that will solve the riddle for everybody. According to Justin Stone, and other great hitting instructors, we should try and emphasize the entire kinetic chain, and complete hitting sequence leading up to contact. Rather than telling kids to take the “knob to the ball” when casting the barrel, or focussing on “extension” or what the hands are doing, when trying to correct swing flaws. Instead, we should focus on the process of the hitting sequence that is causing that outcome. I am so impressed with Justin Stone’s ability to articulate swing mechanics, while at the same time keeping hitting mechanics in perspective, by realizing how important other aspects of hitting, mental approach, pitch recognition, and timing are paramount.
We often hear youth coaches today telling their players to swing down on the ball. This is perhaps the most difficult one for me to swallow, because when you swing down on a ball, you can only accomplish 2 things. You either hit a ground ball, or miss hit the bottom of the ball which results in a pop-up; both of which, more often than not, end up as outs. Because we want line drives, which more often than not result in base hits, we should not teach our kids to “swing down on the ball”. Obviously, there are exceptions to any rule, and if a kid has a drastic uppercut, this might work as a strategy for that kid, out of everyone else’s ear shot. But generally the proper swing plane requires us to swing in an arc that is trending slight upward at contact. Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting at page 47, has a great diagram and explanation of this. That said, some great MLB hitters told themselves to “swing down” on the ball, and that helped them hit line drives. So the distinction between what subjective cues might work for a given hitter, and what objective cues work often times might be very different things. Everybody will respond to different subjective cues; but generally, if we want our kids to hit line drives, we need to be getting our bats in the proper swing plane not by “swinging down on the ball”. Whatever accomplishes that objective result is spot on!
We first need to have a slight tilt forward in our stance, so our chest leans slightly out over the plate. This creates an axis around which we can swing slightly up on the ball, finishing high, with our backs to the plate. After we get our tilt, get our load, and take our stride, stretching our hands back (scap load using the top hand arm), keeping our front shoulder square to the pitcher, we then take the “Shaft to shoulder” as shown in this picture below:
This brings the barrel level with the ground, with the knob pointing toward the pitcher and the back elbow slots against the ribs. Our lower half, at this point, should have the back leg in a power “L” position with the front leg stiff and pretty straight with a slightly open front foot. This is the power position we need to get into to get the bat properly on plane so we can teach our kids how to “attack the inside of the ball”. Notice the back shoulder is slightly lower than the front shoulder in this power position. The back shoulder turns around the tilted axis we created in our stance.
In order to swing properly, your back shoulder has to be lower than the front shoulder at contact. And the swing plane is not “level”. We certainly don’t want to be dipping the back shoulder and hands like Domingo Ayala, in this video. This is the bad form of “dipping the shoulder”. But if you tilt your body forward at the waste, with your chest leaning over the plate a bit, your shoulder will naturally swing around your tilted spine angle, and will dip in a good way. Check out Manny Ramirez in this video addressing the issue. The swing plane should be in an arc that is slightly trending up and through the ball at contact. If you stand straight up in your stance you may end up dipping the shoulders in a bad way or leaving your shoulders entirely level throughout the swing. That will result in a completely rotational swing that takes your barrel in and out of the zone too quickly. It can cause a lot of other problems too: roll overs, ground balls, casting the barrel, and swinging around the ball, making it very difficult to hit the outside pitch well. John Madden, of youGoPro.com, explains the issue well here. According to Josh Donaldson and his former teammate at Auburn, John Madden, a good swing plane results from starting with the back shoulder up and finishing with the back shoulder down. Josh Donaldson doesn’t like to think about what his hands are doing, and prefers to think of his back shoulder as delivering the swing. The swing plane actually levels out on pitches higher in the zone, but should be in an arc moving slightly uphill at contact on pitches lower in the zone.
Here is a video of arguably the best swing in Baseball: Joe Mauer.
I first heard of the ABCA from my college coach who would attend the ABCA conference every year (Coach Steve Hertz, Gonzaga U.). 20 years later, I finally read an ABCA book called Baseball Strategies and smiled when I saw Coach Hertz had authored one of the chapters. So, even though I am only a volunteer coach and dad, I decided to join the ABCA which has turned me on to so many free resources with more substantive content for a coach or parent in youth baseball than I ever imagined. The ABCA now hosts one day Barnstormer Coaches Clinics throughout the west coast and they are super cheap and run by some of the best coaches in Division 1 Baseball. San Diego State University hosted a clinic last week. And U. of Portland and U. of Washington both hosted clinics a month ago. The main event, the ABCA (4 day) conference is set for Anaheim California the first week of January. By all accounts, this conference is truly a mecca for all things related to coaching baseball and I may just have to fly down and check it out. For those who can’t make these clinics the ABCA has videos of a bunch of previous conference clinics for sale on its website. After getting immersed in the ABCA website, I found the USA baseball education link, an organization that coordinates the national teams for amateur baseball 12U 14U, 15U and up.
The USA Mobile Coach App is fantastic; it is free, and provides practice plan ideas that you can customize on your app to suit your own team’s needs. It has a built in timer so you can stay on time and transition into your next drill segment. It also has a pitch counter, and short videos and written instructions demonstrating over a hundred different skills and drills.
One of the greatest youth baseball podcasts is produced by Pete Caliendo, who has coached with USA baseball for decades, working with youth teams all over the world at various levels. His 35 min. podcasts are loaded with information and coaching insights, substantive skills training, and in “depth how to’s” on topics as varied as: hitting mechanics, pitching mechanics, mental side of hitting, pitching, pros and cons of travel ball, the demise of “sandlot” baseball, how to coach the whole player, and how to modify our language and approach to coaching youth players in a way that Pete and his guests have found to work. The podcast is free as long as you keep giving him 5 star reviews. The Jim Lefebvre episode convinced me to try and coax the former MLB manager to Sitka for a coaches clinic sometime soon. We’ll keep you posted if that pans out.
Another amazing podcast out there, loaded with tons of free, substantive, quality coaching information and insights is Youth Baseball Edge with Rob Tong. YBE focuses on coaching, drills and strategy to keep our kids engaged and enjoying the amazing game of baseball. I binge watched about 10 of these the first time I happened upon it. My wife did not appreciate the constant ear phones; but this podcast has some of Major League Baseball’s best hitting instructors, pitching and throwing conditioning instructors, MLB mental coaches, interviews of the a couple of MLB’s finest baseball player’s dad’s, Mr. Zobrist, and Mr. McCutchen. Mr. Tong also interviews Rob Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch, the same guy Ed Conway took our local players down to see a few years back. Ask Matt Way about it, he’s been down on the Ranch and has incorporated some of Wolforth’s techniques into our youth baseball camps and clinics.
Alan Jaeger has the reputation of being the go to guru of arm training and conditioning to ensure our pitchers and players arms remain healthy, strong and resilient against injury. Check out his free tutorial on arm conditioning at his website. Two other notable gurus in this area of biomechanical savvy are Rob Wolforth, and of course, the well known coach of Million Dollar Arm fame, Tom House. Jaeger has a bunch of free, accessible information on his website that we can use to help our kids get better. Ed Conway, who coached Sitka High to all of its Alaska State Championships, tells stories of meeting up with Tom House for a private clinic at some no name diamond in Southern California 15 years ago or so, before he was so well known. Next time you’re in the Post Office, ask him about it.
There is so much information in these podcasts, it is the perfect background for any lunch time workout or walk. I can remember growing up in the era when a $40 VHS video was the only way to learn to pitch at home. They were low budget and for whatever reason looked like they got some random guy off the street to demonstrate the drills. Now we have Youtube and can literally watch the best coaches in the world show us how to do things the way they do it at the highest levels of baseball. The more coaches and parents get inspired to listen and delve into these resources, the better off our kids will be when it comes time to play ball ;-). I have had countless examples of learning how I was just plain doing it wrong, and many times have figured out ways to do it better. I can tell you that the basic take home from the podcasts and resources above is: the best coaches, meaning the most effective at developing players’ skills and confidence, regardless of the talent level, are those who keep an open mind, know what they don’t know, and strive to keep learning.
Watch Jim Lefebvre demonstrate a rhythm and timing drill to teach our kids how to hit velocity (90 mph fastball) on time.
The Sitka Baseball Club is just getting started, but we hope to grow the program and provide our kids with a great foundation of skills and conditioning to help them improve their performance while encouraging teamwork and having fun!
Check back regularly as this site will be a central part of communicating news to our members.
Any feedback, questions or comments are always welcome!