One of the most frustrating and often puzzling things to witness in youth baseball coaching is “game time” failure that was totally unexpected.. We have all seen it happen at one time or another. You have a player that absolutely rips the ball in batting practice but looks horrible at the plate whenever he bats.
Before the games started the player was expected to be one of the best hitters on the team. But, when season starts and the games begin he is absolutely terrible at the plate. He looks so bad that it seems like he couldn’t hit a beach ball with a tennis racket. In fact, most of the time, he does not make any contact with the baseball at all and strikes outs, again and again. Many times the swing looks good, but it almost seems like his bat has got a hole in it. It is obvious that the batter is in a slump and his confidence level is sinking faster than lead balloon.
What causes this problem? What can a coach or a parent do to help the player get out of his slump? This is a tough hitting problem to solve because there are many things that could be causing the batter to fail. It is crucial that coaches and parents realize what is happening and attempt to identify the cause of the problem as soon as the batter begins to struggle in games. Sometimes these slumps are caused by a minor flaw that can be easily corrected.
I am assuming that the batter has a swing that is mechanically sound. I am also assuming that the player is able to hit the ball well in practice but only struggles when batting in games. Here are what I consider to be the main 4 causes of this problem and suggestions for correcting each:
1. Batting Practice Pitches Fail to Closely Simulate Pitches He sees in the Games – The coach is doing a poor job of replicating the conditions that the batter faces in games. The batting practice pitches are too easy to hit. The practice pitches are thrown slow and right across the middle of the plate. When the batter gets into the game he finds it difficult to hit the faster pitch speeds. He also has difficulty hitting the pitch locations that are on the outer or inner edges of the plate. The best way to eliminate this problem is to throw batting practice with more speed and to make the batter practice hitting all possible pitch locations during practice. For players to improve and reach their maximum potential, they must be challenged during practice. It is recommended that practice drills and the practice atmosphere be made as game-like as possible. If batting practice should be thrown at or above the maximum speed that the player will face in a game.
2. Batter Gets Nervous and Steps Out; Batter is Pulling His Head Out -The batter tenses up and loses his concentration. He is stepping out of the box on every swing without realizing it. This is a difficult flaw to break. The coach or parent has to break him of this bad habit as soon as it is identified. The “step in and hit” drill is a good remedy to this problem. This drill has the player move back one step farther of the plate than normal. The players will step in first with the back foot. The step is taken straight toward the plate. Then the front foot step is taken at a 45 degree angle toward the plate. The step is almost toward the second baseman. (For a right handed batter). When the front foot lands, the batter will attack the ball. This teaches the batter to step into the ball and prevents him from stepping back. This drill is best done with a hitting stick type training aid.
3. Batter Gets Too Pumped; Too Aggressive: Swings Too Early – This flaw occurs when the batter gets overly aggressive. The batter has trouble waiting on the ball to reach the plate. The batter swings early before the pitch even gets in the contact zone. The best way to correct is this flaw is to constantly tell your player to be more patience. The player should allow the ball to get over the plate or inside the front foot before attacking it.
4. Batter is too far off the plate. – It sounds so simple, but it happens. The player moves farther off the plate during games than during batting practice. During batting practice he crowds the plate, but in the games he sets up so far back off the plate that he can not hit anything on the outer third of the plate. In the players mind he feels that he can get closer to the plate because the coach throws safe pitches and the coach is not going to hit him.
He does not have that same feeling of safety or comfort with he faces a pitcher from another team. This fear or feeling of uneasiness makes him move off the plate. It is often a subconscious action that the player is not aware of.
The opposing team sees how far the batter is off the plate and pitches him accordingly. The opposing pitcher can hit his spots on the outer edge of the plate and there is no way the batter can hit that pitch because he is too far off the plate. The best way to correct this is to continually speak to the batter and make sure his elbows are over the inside line of the batter box.
One of the best ways to eliminate this problem is to have batters face pitchers from their own team during practice. They can overcome the fear of facing a kid pitcher if they face them often in practice.
I hope that you found this article to be informative and helpful. Thanks for taking the time to read it. Nick