The dreaded panic swing
How many times have you seen this? A hitter comes to the plate. You know she has a good swing and a good eye for the ball. You’ve seen her rip the ball numerous times in practice and in games. But when the pitcher throws the pitch, she flails weakly at the ball like she just dropped in from the Andromeda galaxy and someone handed her a bat and said go hit.
What you’ve just experienced is what I call the panic swing. It generally happens when the hitter is unprepared physically and/or mentally to hit, but steps up to the plate anyway. There’s no intention to hit the ball hard, or use those mechaniccs you’ve been working on with her during the offseason. The posture is more one of defending herself than attacking the ball.
There can be any number of reasons for a panic swing. Some are physical, some are mental. She may lack confidence in herself or her ability to hit, and thus waits until the last possible moment, when she’s sure it’s a strike, to start her swing. Unfortunately by then the ball is on top of her and all she can do is flail. Or, her timing may be way off. Hitting is all about timing, making sure everything not only happens in the proper sequence but at the proper time. If the timing gets off, the sequence may get off, she may skip a couple of steps, or she may just be completely confused.
How does that happen? One way is by overpowering hitters during practice to the point where their timing is destroyed. For example, suppose you have a group of fairly new 10U players and you crank the pitching machine all the way up? You’re thinking you’re preparing them for fast pitching, but what you’re really doing is destroying any sense they have of how to time the pitch. All they can do is try to get the bat there somehow. In the meantime, mechanics break down while their brains learn a new and unrealistic pattern. When they get to a game they’re not sure what to do, so they just freeze until it’s too late.
I saw something similar with some high school players I know last week. They all have good swing mechanics and can hit the ball well. But when I saw them in a game, they were taking panic swings. I found out later that they had spent two weeks practicing hitting without being allowed to load or make a positive move to the ball. They were just expected to swing from their heels in an effort to increase their bat speed. Needless to say, it backfired. They lost their timing and thus weren’t sure when to load, when to stride, and when to swing. So they took panic swings and hoped for the best.
Again, hitting is about confidence and timing. Hitters with high confidence and good timing can often become decent hitters even with poor mechanics — much better than those with great mechanics who can’t time the swing. Of course, the ideal is confidence, timing and great mechanics. A big part of timing is getting through the load/unload phase in time, so the hitter is poised to bring the bat through.
If you see your hitters in panic swing mode, first determine if the issue is confidence or timing. If it’s confidence, get them some drills and self-talk to help them build confidence and reinforce them yourself with encouragement. If it’s timing, have them work on making the negative move and stride sooner, and in a calm, easy fashion. (If you go no-stride, go from load to whatever you use in place of a stride that way.) The core of the swing starts at heel drop. Make sure all the preliminaries are out of the way in time and your hitters will deliver the bat to the ball better.