When Coaching Hitting Less Can be More

by Matthew de Marte – August 24th, 2018

Coaching hitting can be an incredibly fun thing to do. Being able to aid a hitter in their development, and potentially contribute in the slightest way can be very fulfilling and enjoyable to witness. Every coach who works with a hitter is eager to impasse knowledge on to their hitters and help with every little problem. When I began working with hitters, I too shared these qualities. I had a strong desire to share all my knowledge with every hitter who wanted to hit with me. Communicating with a hitter is great, but over-communicating can be detrimental.

Think about it this way, if you are a hitter and you take a swing and you are given a cue to hit the ball off the top cage. The next swing you hit a ball of the top of the net, but your coach tells you to stay inside the ball. After the next swing you are told you have to concentrate on staying through the ball. After taking another swing you are told to focus your hands being short and quick to the ball. This is a hypothetical situation, but is often reality for a lot of hitters when they receive guidance from a parents or coach. That is four different cues and things to focus on in a very short time frame. This is information overload for a hitter. No one can focus on that many tasks while hitting, even Barry Bonds would struggle interpreting these instructions.

I used to coach hitters like this. Every swing I felt like I needed to say something whether it was good or bad. I have come to realize this is a bad idea. Hitters you work with are going to teach you way more about their swing and what will help them be the best they can be than vice-versa. This is why I have adapted a more passive approach. I would rather give a hitter one thing to focus on, and give them the space and necessary constraints to let them figure things out on their own. One thing our throwing specialist at SOTG Pete Bayer talks about a lot when we discuss development is, “You are your own best coach.” It does not matter how good of a coach you are and how many hitters you have developed, the hitter will always be his own best coach and will need to come to their own realizations. There are two main examples I use to credit this point. For a coach working with a high level hitter, the hope and goal for them is to eventually move on to play in college or professionally if they already are not there. These players do not have the luxury to go their local facility and hit with their favorite swing coach at will when they are away at school or in a long professional season. Some of the top guys in the MLB may have the luxury and bank account to fly their favorite coach in if necessary to help them but most of the population does not have that ability. This means hitters are on their own for a long time to figure things out. Knowing this, a coach must prepare hitters for when they are seperated and give them the confidence and ability for players to be their best hitting coach.

I have learned, and seen some of the best hitting coaches in the world talking about their job, and share the importance of knowing when to speak, and when to keep your mouth shut. If a hitter is learning something new for the first time, it is beneficial to explain what they should be feeling and how to build a new swing move. When in settings where hitters are implementing new things, or facing challenges, the occasional cue can help, but it is probably best to shut up, and let them figure it out. You often hear pitchers, and hitters both, when they talk about their favorite coaches they have growing up compliment them for their ability to blend positive instruction, and how they gave them space to figure things out. Young hitters who are not overcoached have the ability to do the same. Give them constraints, give them feedback to know they are succeeding, find a cue that makes it click, and let them do the work.

Hitting does not have to be over-complicated. Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is a difficult task. Throw in other variables such as pitch speed, type, movement profile, timing, release point, etc. and hitting is the most difficult task in sports in my opinion. Trying to teach the hardest thing in sports means being able to simplify the hardest concepts to help hitters understand them. This means speaking less, not more. Once a hitter has been given a task or a cue, your work is not always done, but the grunt of it should be. After every swing, the hitter should not need to be reminded of this cue, or that cue, rather if the coach best explained the concept they can be left alone to figure things out for themselves, in turn making them their own best hitting coach.

When coaching hitting, say less and observe more. Hitting is hard, and information overload makes it even harder. Instead, understand the context of when to say things and impart wisdom, and when to take a backseat, and let a hitter figure things out for themselves. At the end of the day, all a hitting coach’s job is, is to make the hitter their own best hitting coach. If all you do is talk to your hitters constantly, how are they ever going to learn to think for themselves? As always, reach out to studentsofbaseball@gmail.com  to continue the conversation!

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