Be Brilliant at the Basics: A Baseball Spin-Off

June 15, 2011

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

Recently, renown Strength Coach Mike Boyle re-wrote a previous article from Performance Enhancement Specialist Dewey Nielson called “Be Brilliant at the Basics.”  The piece is only 5 short paragraphs but dishes some very valuable information.  It discusses how he receives so many questions about what type of training he uses with elite athletes comparing things like kettlebells vs dumbbells, lifting from the floor or from a hang position, etc.  His argument is that “it doesn’t matter” saying that if the athlete you’re training cannot perform the fundamental basic exercises that make up the foundation of a strength & conditioning program, then the rest doesn’t matter.  My favorite quote from the article is “The thing that separates a novice from an expert is the ability for the expert to perform the basics extremely well.” 

That quote and the article as a whole has such a degree of truth to it in the baseball skills training world as well.  As a group we train thousands of kids each year in various ratios including one-on-one, small group (3-6:1), and team (8-12:1) so we have an opportunity to design programs that cater to either that one player or the general skill level of the group and/or team.  If there is one complaint from youth players/parents we ever get on a consistent basis, it’s that the drills are too easy or that they already know how to do a certain skill or drill.  In our opinion, many of the times parents and players overestimate the ability of the player but regardless whether they are right or wrong, the biggest thing to understand is that “it doesn’t matter!”

No matter what the age of the player, the basic fundamental drills done in baseball need to be done extremely well before we begin introducing too much variation and even at that point, you still include the basic fundamental drills to compliment the new variations.  We understand that kids’ attention spans sometimes don’t allow for the same exact drills all the time, but the truth is that is what they NEED at that age.  They need to not only learn HOW to do something, they need to learn how to be BRILLIANT at it.

A perfect example of this is hitting off of a tee.  The tee is part of every baseball players first playing experience in their town tee-ball league or even in the back yard.  As soon as kids “graduate” from tee-ball to coach pitch leagues, they feel as though they never want to see a tee again because “it’s for beginners.”  This couldn’t be more untrue.  The tee still stands as one of the best training tools in any sport because it allows the player to work on the basic fundamentals of their swing without having to worry about timing…and best of all it can be done by yourself!  If the player does not display proper technique when hitting off of a tee, then what in the world makes you think that it will be better when you have someone pitching trying to get you out? 

No matter what age or skill level you are, remember that the basic fundamentals of the game don’t change.  It is those who are “brilliant at the basics” that tend to become the best players on the field at every level of ALL SPORTS.

Advertisements

Why Players with Good Arms Pitch Slow

June 7, 2011

My co-worker Chris Welch recently wrote a great post on how too many youth baseball players swing for contact rather than swinging to “hit the ball as hard as you can.”  I thought it was definitely something that needed to be shared with our readers as many of you out there are also coaches in the town leagues too.  After reading Chris’ post it made me think of how many youth pitchers, to a degree, do the same exact thing when on the mound. 

Many pitchers spend all winter working on improving their pitching mechanics and trying to make them muscle memory.  The reason we do this is so that when the player goes out on the field for the spring and summer, his mechanics are sharp and he can think more about things like “what pitch to throw”, “what the hitter did last time he was up”, and “what to do if the ball is hit to me” to name a few.  A big thing I see with pitchers, mainly 14 years old and younger is that they pitch in games at practice speed because they either don’t trust their mechanics, haven’t practiced enough at game speed, or are wild with their control (which is typically a mechanical issue anyways).  Regardless of the reason, the pitcher will try and “guide” the ball TO the catcher’s mitt rather than “driving” the ball THROUGH the catcher’s mitt.  This type of pitching mentality can lead to lots of dirt balls (from shortarming), high pitches (from arm dragging), and low pitch speed (from slow arm speed). 

Moral of the story:

1.  Improve mechanics/muscle memory

2.  Practice both at sub-maximum speeds and maximum speed

3. When you’re in the game TRUST YOUR MECHANICS!

With that said, coaches also have to deal with pitchers who when they do try to explode through their motion can’t throw a strike.  Coaches usually tell the player to “slow down” which then leads to the guiding of the pitch which may temporarily work, but coaches have to realize that the reason the kid can’t throw a ball near the strike zone at full or game-speed is more likely a mechanical issue that the player has not fixed yet and not “because he’s overthrowing.”

Have a question you’d like me to answer related to this post?  Email me at jbreen@rbiacademy.com!


Stop Swinging For Just “CONTACT”

June 4, 2011

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

This morning I was at the Booth Complex in Foxboro to see Paul’s team play (the mighty Red Sox).  Many of the players on the field (9 and 10 year olds) were players that I see at RBI all the time hitting and some were players I’ve worked with myself.  One thing that stuck out to me this morning is how SO many hitters at younger ages (and many at older) swing to simply make contact.  Players weren’t at the plate with the goal of hitting the ball HARD, they were at the plate with the goal of hitting the ball.

            Now I’m certainly not suggesting that contact isn’t crucial, but contact without any form of power is almost always a recipe for a walk back to the bench at the end of your at bat.  As I’ve mentioned before, how hard you hit the ball (force) is a combination of three things:

 

1.)    Mass

2.)    Bat Speed

3.)    Contact

 

            By only focusing on contact you are forgetting about two very critical parts of the force driving the ball.   Mass is something that you can control when you’re in the box.   Obviously it’s tough to gain weight between the on deck circle and the batter’s box, but by controlling your balance you can help maximize how much of your mass goes into the ball.  Bat speed is something that can certainly be maximized on every single swing by taking a proper (direct) bat path to the ball, being flexible, being balanced, and having a proper grip (amongst many other things).   Proper contact is also something that can help maximize your force behind the ball, but without any form of the other two what does it get you?  I’ve been playing baseball for a long time and I don’t remember a time where the bench exploded in excitement when their hitter grounded out to the pitcher.  But he sure made contact!

            In our lessons, clinics, and programs we will dive into many ways of becoming a better hitter.  We’ll talk about countless ways of improving your stance, your grip, your balance, your flexibility, your timing, etc.  But let’s not forget that when you get into the batter’s box SWING HARD!!!

            Swinging HARD can get you on base even when you don’t make great contact.  Especially at younger ages when defensive players aren’t as sure handed as when you get older.  At 12 years old and younger, when you hit a ball hard your odds of getting on base are extremely high.  Even if it’s a groundball.
            Players should also never confuse swinging hard and aggressively with swinging “wildly and out of control”.  Creating a great swing takes a lot of practice.  Training the muscles to do the right thing is difficult as a hitter, but once you have trained yourself with proper muscle memory it’s time to concentrate on mentally having an aggressive approach to the ball.

            As a coach/parent trying to help a player out of a hitting slump try to get a general sense of their swings while they’re at the plate.  Are they swinging to “make contact” or are they swinging to drive the ball?  If you feel as though they’re swinging to simply make contact explain to them that they should have a goal in mind of hitting the ball hard.  Make their at-bats easier by telling them to not think about anything but hitting the ball hard.  I am willing to bet that simple mental adjustment will pay off for them. 

            If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!