The start of a new season is upon us. At this point, hitters must prioritize performance over perfecting the swing. Learn a simple adjustment in tracking that can drastically increase performance for hitters of all experience levels. See it in and drive it out!
The spring season is finally here! As hitters in preparation for spring play, the focus must shift from off-season detail work to in-season performance prep. The beginning of a new season is not the time to introduce radically new approaches to hitting. The best players will implement major changes in the off-season. Now is the time to make broadly focused tweaks that will improve performance.
To perform well, hitters must see the ball. Sometimes hitters work so hard to master mechanics that they forget to actually watch the ball from the pitcher’s release to contact. No matter the age or skill level, a hitter will only generate consistent positive results when she is tracking the ball effectively.
When it comes to tracking (watching the ball), two main obstacles exist: (1) physical breakdowns and (2) focus breakdowns.
In this article, we will focus on the key physical components to effective tracking. Physical breakdowns are seemingly minor fundamental mistakes that when corrected drastically increase the likelihood of success. In order to track the ball, a hitter must send the brain the best information possible. Utilizing the most accurate information requires hitters to effectively use both eyes.
Many hitters while in their stances are looking at the pitcher out of the corners of their eyes. The back eye (right for righties and left for lefties) is often straining to look past the bridge of the nose. This mistake is subtle and relatively easy to fix. The improved results are absolutely worth the slight discomfort necessary to make the adjustment.
While in the stance, be sure the head is turned completely toward the pitcher, so the pitcher is clearly seen out of both eyes. The head must stay level, as well. If the neck is not flexible enough to turn both eyes directly toward the pitcher, stretching daily will increase the neck’s range of motion.
Once the ball is released and begins traveling toward the plate, follow the ball with the nose. If the nose is pointing toward the ball, both eyes will have a clear line of sight and will be providing the brain the best available information.
At the point of contact, the hitter should take a mental picture. The ball is in focus and everything else fades away. In the words of an eight year old hitting student, “When you are hitting, the only world is you and the ball.”
How profound! Everything surrounding a hitter becomes faint, except the bright yellow ball.
The head should stay down and “locked in” at the point of contact. The hitter will follow the ball in with her nose and eyes and then keep the nose and eyes down all the way through contact. If performed correctly, she will see the ball leave the point of contact in her peripheral vision.
Following the ball with the head after contact causes two major problems: Decreased consistency and decreased power.
Concerning consistency, most hitters anticipate where the ball is going to be after contact and dart the eyes toward the field before even connecting with the ball. As a result, the eyes do not follow the ball all the way to contact and the likelihood of consistent connection decreases.
When it comes to power, keeping the head down at the point of contact creates a stronger body position. Try this test: With a bat in hand, go to the point of contact with head down and freeze. Then, lift the chin and look out toward center field (while the bat stays at contact). Which posture feels strongest? Keeping the head down and creating a strong, balanced posture will help increase the ability to drive the ball with authority.
When executed correctly, the head will follow the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the point of contact and then stay at contact during the follow through. Developing muscle memory for this motion requires focused repetition. Begin by practicing on a tee.
Even when hitting in the cage or at a small net station, the hitter assumes her typical game-like stance position, with head and eyes fully facing the pitcher. She then visualizes release and in her mind’s eye sees the ball traveling toward home plate. She begins her negative movement (load) and proceeds smoothly through the swing.
Once her eyes reach the ball and tee, however, she “locks in”. She becomes determined to keep her head in this position throughout the remainder of the swing. The hitter should explode through the ball while her head, nose and eyes stay fixed on the tee. As she connects, the ball should leave her site.
Incorporating this minor change in every practice swing will build game-like routines that will increase performance. Players will consistently practice the head movement required to track the pitch from the pitcher’s release. They will also create a habit of head stability, which is needed at contact to increase power and consistency.
To take tracking to the next level, watch the short Ubersense video “Avoid Pulling Out” by clicking the image provided. Most hitters, when left unchecked, tend to pull away from home plate, which causes the head to pull out and the body to pull up and away from the ball. The simple drill provided helps players feel their direction and builds muscle memory that will increase both power and consistency.
See the ball in, and drive the ball out!