So I posed the question to a group of hitters, “When do you decide to swing? Or at what point in the process of the pitcher's delivery or flight of the pitch do you say yes?”
Of course I got various responses, but as coaches, we know that the ball is on you so quickly -especially at the more competitive levels of play. Therefore, the decision need to be determined pre-pitch. Yes, in order to be on time, we have to say “YES” right after we step in the box. Mainly, because it's easier to stop your swing, than it is to start it.
The hitters that are consistently late, doubtful, hesitant, etc., are usually not getting it started mentally earlier enough. Hitter's who fall into the habit of deciding to swing in-flight, will find themselves jumping at pitches or speeding the ball up.
I believe that if we can bring an element of decision-making into the drills we are already using, then we can better help hitters transition from practice to the game. I'm going to share some adjustments I've made to my drills in order to incorporate this specific instinct into a hitter's psyche.
During soft toss, watch your hitters. Are the hitters starting their swings and then the Tosser tossing? Or are the the hitters waiting for the Tosser and timing the first move? This is a great question to ask yourself. I am noticing that most soft toss drills are lead by the hitters movement.
It is almost unconscious. But fundamentally, it is wrong. It doesn't match the cognitive process of decision making that occurs in the game. In soft toss, I like to give hitters different visual cues in order to test different triggers. An example is to have the tossers, start with their ball high, then drop the hand, then toss. Tossers can vary how big or small the drop is in order to help hitters understand they should be ready to be quicker and anticipate more than they react. We are encouraging anticipation, and not reaction.
During front toss , try bringing the screen closer to the hitter. I like to do this with a wiffle ball or a safer ball due to the greater probability of a screen deflection causing injury. But have your hitters closer to the the screen (7 or 8 feet). They will have no choice but to get the process going sooner. This is how we train the brain to be able to process visual information sooner, earlier, and faster. When I look at how other sports train, I often wonder why we don't do the same thing in softball training. For example, if we speed up the practice, the game becomes much slower and therefore easier.
So many hitters make outs because they either take too many good pitches or swing at too many bad ones. Therefore, it's important to incorporate some drills help develop this skill of anticipation and decision making. A good anticipation and decision making drill would be to hold 2 different colored wiffle balls in the same hand (as the Tosser) . Before you toss, tell the hitter which ball you want them to hit and which one they should take. When you toss vary which color ball you release. This increases decision making ability and forces them to learn to take certain pitches. This drill is or to be confused with the drill where the Tosser tosses 2 balls a to a time. That's a different drill.
I opened this essay with the question of when should hitters decide to swing? But the real question is what are you looking for as a hitter. Hitters should always know these four things before they get in the box on each pitch:
What am I looking for? Curve, Rise, Screw, Drop, Change.
Where am I looking for it to be ? In, Out, Up, or Down.
What shall I do with it if I get it? Middle, Oppo, or Pull.
What shall I do if I don't get it? Take it or what?
And of course this scenario is only when your hitters have less than 2 strikes on them. I am finding that most hitters don't know they need a game plan and don't know how to establish one to begin with. It's never too early to teach hitters to begin to anticipate where a pitch might be going?
In fact, another good exercise to utilize in front toss or live pitching. Coach can call out either “In” or “Out” and mix up the location of the tosses or pitches. Hitters have to take the pitch if it's not what the coach called. This is a great way to instill discipline in your young hitters. They should understand that it is easier to hit when you make your strike zone smaller. So many hitters are expanding the strike zone and trying to cover too much area, especially when ahead in the count. That can make hitting more difficult as the competition gets better. I will leave you with these 2 premises: the less talented a hitter is, the smarter they have to be. The more talented hitters have to be smart as well -especially against great pitching. This is why good pitching usually stops good hitting. Because good hitting isn't always smart.
| Rob Crews is based in Southern New York, and is one of the most sought after hitting coaches in the country. He is the Author of the book, Complete Game: The Emotional Dynamics of In-Game Focus.Rob provides consultant services for hitting coaches and develops hitting models for professional, olympic, and amateur softball and baseball programs. He served as the hitting coach for USSSA Pride (NPF) in their 2010 championship season, along with Tim Walton (UF), and Beth Torina (LSU).
As a consultant to companies like SKLZ, AXIS Bats, Bratt Sports, and MicroGate USA, Rob is continually developing comprehensive accelerated training systems that involve modern sports psych, neuromechanics, and visual strategies for efficiency in recognition and tracking.
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