Keeping your head in

Sometimes in athletics there is a tendency to look at the symptom and assume it’s the disease. This is especially true with ballistic movements such as hitting.

A common statement coaches will make to hitters is “you’re pulling your head out.” This statement is usually made after the hitter swings and misses. What the coach sees is that head did not stay pointed in the direction of the hitting zone, but rather wound up looking out toward the pitcher, or perhaps even at the shortstop (for a right handed batter). The conclusion that’s drawn is because the eyes moved away the hitter didn’t see the ball well enough, which causes the miss.

It seems logicial. I know I used to say that to hitters as well. But if you talk to or read the research of the vision experts, they’ll all tell you that early recognition is the key to success in endeavors such as hitting. Most will also say that hitters don’t see the ball in the last 10 feet of travel either — certainly not unless they have followed a vision training program specifically designed to improve the ability to track the ball. So if the typical good hitter isn’t able to see the ball in the last 10 feet of its travel to the plate, what difference does keeping your head in on it make?

The answer is, it doesn’t make any difference at all as far as seeing the pitch. But that doesn’t mean the head coming out isn’t a valuable cue. It’s just not the one we tend to think. Instead, it’s a symptom of something else going on — the front shoulder pulling off the ball early instead of being “knocked” out of the way by the back shoulder driving through.

Try it. Getting in a batting stance and start going through a slow-motion swing. Let your front shoulder pull out on its own as soon as you start to swing. Now look where your head is. It followed right along. The symptom is the head pulling out, but the cause is the front shoulder, probably driven by an arm swing when it occurs in real time.

Now try that same slow motion swing, but keep the front side in until the back shoulder forces it out of the way. Your head will stay “in” longer, and you’ll more than likely wind up looking at the ground in front of or close to you. Odds are you wouldn’t see the ball any better. But you’re now in a better position to attack the ball. And when you’re in a better position to attack the ball you’re much more likely to hit it.

The next time you see a hitter pulling her head out, forget about the eyes. Look instead at what the upper body is doing to see whether the arms, shoulders, and head are working together as a unit, and if that unit is working with the lower body to create great swing mechanics. You’ll be much more likely to be treating the disease rather than the symptom.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on November 5, 2007, in Hitting. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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