Saturday, November 16, 2019

Softball Coaches | We DON'T Take our Hands to the Ball!

I hear some of my athletes tell me they hear this phrase on occasion.  I have also heard it a few times over the years and I feel it is a pretty misleading phrase.  A disclaimer first.

We, as instructors, coaches and teachers will use phrases that are not literally accurate all the time to describe what we want our athletes to do.  An example would be, "Keep our eyes on the ball".  Literally, we do not want our hitters to actually do this but to young inexperienced hitters, they hear something very impossible to accomplish.

Keep your hands inside the ball.  This is another phrase that is very difficult for young inexperienced hitters to understand and to grasp but, like the "eyes on the
ball" phrase, hitters will eventually understand what they mean.

So, Taking our hands to the ball could be another "figure of speech" but, to me, it is a phrase that is misleading in a lot of ways.  This seems to be giving instruction for taking our hands toward the ball as we begin our swing.  We don't want to do this of course.  We do want to lead with our hands and go forward but not toward the ball.  We actually want to take our barrel toward the ball.

Over the years I have tried to become more and more literal in what I want my athletes to do.  In these examples above.  I now say "See the ball" or "Watch the ball" instead of "Keeping your eyes on the ball".  To those that are experienced, they all mean the same thing but to those that we teach, they may be confused and confusing our athletes is, of course, not our goal.

I do sometimes use the phrase, "Keep your hands inside the ball" but I make sure I explain it multiple times but mostly, I use the phrase associated with this skill of "Lead with the hands".  This is literally more accurate and is less confusing.

Performing at a high level in this sport is hard enough without us, as coaches, confusing them with phrases that are a bit confusing.  However, if you actually do want your hitters to take her hands to the ball, then, well, you might want to reconsider this approach.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

What is Exit Velocity in Hitting?

Exit velocity is the velocity, in miles per hour, the ball travels off the bat.  It is a great metric to determine power.  The higher the velocity then the faster the ball is moving. It is usually tested on a batting tee with a radar gun in order to be consistent with all testing for comparison reasons.

Using exit velocity to test hitter's ability has been around a little longer than some of the other metrics and is a pretty good indication of potential power.  Actually, if you define power as to how hard the ball comes off the bat, it is the best indicator of the potential power of all metrics.  I say potential since it is an evaluation based on hitting on a batting tee and hitting for power in a game, includes factors such as timing and accuracy.

This is just an estimate and I am sure, with some math, someone could figure it out but I estimate it takes a minimum of 70 miles per hour to hit a softball 220 feet (the distance to the CF Fence at Oklahoma City where the College World Series is played).  So, to have college-level power where the hitter would be a home run threat I would say at least 80 and more like 82 Miles per hour off of a batting tee would be the benchmark.  If you want to see some of the exit velocity metrics we have tested already for comparison, click here.  The top velocity at the writing of this blog is 80 for a 17-year-old.

It is important to note that we can increase exit velocity by swinging hard and a little long when tested on the tee but this is usually a problem in game conditions.  This is one of the main reasons I refer to this metric as an indication of POTENTIAL power.

What is the difference between Exit Velocity and Bat Velocity?  Well, Bat Velocity is a new metric that determines how fast the BAT is moving before contact.  Exit Velocity is how fast the BALL is moving after contact.  Both are related and both are important.

Want to know your exit velocity or how to improve your exit velocity?  Well, I test Exit Velocity every 4-6 weeks for my lesson clients and we work on this every lesson.  More about Lessons With Holly.

More about Exit Velocity
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Friday, November 8, 2019

Training Your Hands As An Elite Hitter

A concept that I try very hard to get through to my hitters is the concept of training their hands.  Training our hands requires three mentalities.  

IF WE FAIL TO HAVE A PLAN WE PLAN TO FAIL

One of my favorite quotes.  When we practice we must have a plan.  It can be to work on a weakness or weaknesses, improve upon a strength we have or maintain our swing.  "Just" hitting is not a plan.  

NO COMPETE CLAUSE

We are competitive people and athletes are some of the most competitive people so we automatically get in our competitive mode when we are performing our skills, such as hitting.  Especially when there are others around that may see us.  I know I am still this way years after I have retired as an athlete.  I still will hit on a batting tee and if I know others may be watching I have a tendency to switch in competitive mode and attempt to perform at my highest level.  This is who we are and is understandable.


However, when we are working on our plan we often need to shut down our competitive instinct because when we are working on our weaknesses, which we need to do most of the time, we will often not have our best swings and feel like we are failing.  We need to attempt to do this work in a mental vacuum where no one is watching us and we are okay to struggle with some things as we work on our weaknesses.  

LET'S GET UNCOMFORTABLE

There are drills that can make us uncomfortable such as the high tee drill or the double tee drill.  I use two related drills that I call "inch drills" where I will inch the tee closer to me or farther forward.  The closer inch drill will make a hitter very uncomfortable but are great for working on staying inside the ball.  

So, if you can operate your hitting sessions in these three mentalities you will be able to Train Your Hands as an Elite Hitter.

Here is an example.  Many hitters struggle with a long swing and will roll over too often.  To fix rolling over we have to stay inside the ball a little longer to help us hit through the ball.  We can do this three ways.  Just make a physical adjustment, work some drills or attempt to hit the ball to the opposite gap.  In other words, a right-handed hitter would work on hitting the ball to the right-center field gap.  

Hitting to RCF can be a strategy, an approach or a mistake but I love it for training your hands.  When we hit the ball well to the opposite gap (with backspin) we MUST stay inside the ball and we MUST lead with our hands.  Let me clarify, THIS is a drill.  It is an approach for improving your swing and not necessarily the approach for the game.  It can be and is sometimes a great game approach, but is usually not.

Using this approach a lot, and I do use it a lot, will help train the hands to do exactly what we want them to do.  Short and first.  The more we hit the ball to the opposite gap the more we train our hands.  This will actually help us pull the ball on inside pitches without even practicing a lot on pulling the ball on inside pitches.  How can this be you ask?  Well, that is for another blog or a Lesson.  :)  

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Thursday, November 7, 2019

What is Bat Speed for Softball Hitters

Many people refer to the velocity metrics that are measured by Miles Per Hour of the bat swing as Bat Speed but, to be consistent I call this Bat Velocity.  Blast Technology refers to the metrics that are measured by split seconds as Time to Contact.  I refer to this metric as Bat Speed. Again, for consistency purposes.

This is a relatively new technology where we have the ability to determine how fast the bat is moving in miles per hour and in split seconds.  I use Blast Technology for my testing.  It is a small device that connects to the knob of the bat and will determine many metrics of which one of them is Bat Speed.

One of the amazing things you will notice immediately is how quick the bat actually moves in the swing.  Even young hitters are recording swings that are less than .20 of a second.  Think about this.  A 10-year-old hitter can swing a bat in 2 tenths of a second. I have had some hitters at .14 seconds.  This is really amazing to me.

I am not great in determining how quickly the ball is getting from the pitcher to the plate but I understand it is about .40 of a second for youth pitchers around 14 years old.  So, the hitter that has a bat speed of .20 seconds will need to determine if the pitch is a strike or not by halfway to the plate before she swings.

I don't want to bore you with all the math.  However, the bottom line is that we are dealing with micro-seconds.  The difference between good bat speed and great bat speed can be as little as .04 seconds.

Why is this important?

The most important aspect of Bat Speed is where the quicker we are the later we can wait before we make a decision if we are going to swing or not.  Bat speed is the main factor in our ability to swing at quality pitches and not swing at bat pitches.

You may have heard of phrases as, "staying inside the ball", "quick bat", "leading with the hands".  If you have these are all aspects of improving bat speed or creating a short swing.  We have been teaching this concept for many years and now we can measure it pretty accurately.  It is a great tool.

How do we improve Bat Speed?

Obviously, improving our swing mechanics is really very important to improve Bat Speed.  This is the first area I will attack as an instructor.  A great swing with great hand path and barrel path is critical in improving bat speed.  I will do this by just watching the hitter swing, blast technology, and video analytics.  I will tell you also, you do not improve bat speed by swinging harder.  This typically will actually slow down the swing as it will make it a longer swing.

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