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.