Friday, December 4, 2015

Five Ways an Incorrect Load Leads to an Incorrect Swing

A good coach I know and respect told me after one of our clinics last year that when he works with a group of kids learning to hit, the first thing he does is spread them around the room and have them practice setting up and loading correctly. It makes sense. You start from the beginning - the stance and load - and learn a correct starting point for the swing.

It seems the more I work with young hitters, the more I see a problem in this department. It is rare that I have a kid naturally load correctly and return to the proper hitting position. So I've started doing the same thing. My hitting clinics and initial lessons usually begin with working on how to correctly set up in an athletic stance, load the hips, and then return to a hitting position with the front foot down before any shoulder rotation or forward movement of the hands takes place. Boring stuff. But vitally important to the swing. And I'm always amazed at how difficult this seemingly simple act can be for young hitters.

Here is AL Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros, doing it well:

Athletic stance, load the hips and return to a hitting (launch) position.

The batter loads to create energy. You go back to go forward. You have to do it if you want to hit the ball with any force. But so much can go wrong with young players' mechanics while loading. The head, wrists, elbows, shoulders, feet - anything - can move incorrectly during this time. It is very common with younger, physically weaker players. And it's a chain reaction. If one body part moves the wrong way during the load or return, it will likely be positioned incorrectly at contact.

As a youth instructor working with players ranging from about 7-15-years-old, I try to keep things pretty simple. Simple, meaning less moving parts, so less can go wrong and more can go right. It's very mechanical and scientific. To me, hitting is not an art. It's a science. It's physics. Force against force. I want to teach my players to have the best chance to put some direct force into the ball.

After a young hitter gets a simple, correct swing down, we dial back the mechanics talk a bit and try to loosen up and let the athleticism and energy flow. This energy is created in the load. But if the hitter has flaws in his load and doesn't return to the correct body positioning when the front heel plants, that energy won't be directed into the ball correctly. What follows will likely be a flawed swing.

Here are a few of the most common flaws I see in the load and return that will cause an incorrect swing. This assumes the player starts from an athletic stance, feet somewhat wide, hands near the back shoulder, knob pointing down at or in front of the catcher's feet...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Another Call for Pitcher Safety in Youth Baseball

I wrote this article a year and a half ago regarding player safety. It includes a video of my son nearly getting killed by a line drive.

Today, I am proud of our league, Myers Park Trinity Little League, for mandating protective head gear and chest protection for its Major League division pitchers. Each team's pitchers are using the IsoBlox Skull Cap. And many players are using the Evoshield Heart Guard. We just had our first Saturday of games using this equipment, and things went very smoothly. I've heard nothing but support. The players are adjusting quickly and the parents are happy. The only negative sentiment has been that composite bats are still allowed.

It's time for Little League International and other youth baseball organizations to step up and do the same thing that our league has done in mandating head gear and chest protection for pitchers. I believe they should also back up the mound for all player pitch divisions, ban all composite bats and mandate the use of BBCOR youth bats to limit how hard a baseball can be struck.

The game is different than it was years ago. Some of the players are huge. The composite bats they are swinging, with more mechanical training than ever before - the ones that are tested and approved by Little League (yes, the bright orange and green ones) - shoot rockets through the infield. I see it every game.

Little League, in particular, prides itself on being a leader in safety. It's time to lead. Do something.

For more on this issue, please read my previous article:
It's Time for Some Safety Upgrades in Youth Baseball