Hitting and confidence
This may be one of those chicken/egg things, but there’s no doubt in my mind that hitting and confidence go hand in hand. Tough to say whether confidence drives good hits or good hits drive confidence, but it does seem to work both ways. Often it the two come from making adjustments that may seem small but deliver a quick payout.
Here’s a case in point. One of the girls on the team I coach has struggled with her hitting for a couple of years. She’s a big, strong kid (also one of the hardest workers and most enthusiastic players you could ever hope to coach) so she ought to hit the ball hard. This is my first year coaching her, but I’ve worked with her in the past.
Thing is, she wasn’t. Her dad would tell me every now and then she’d get one, but mostly she was hitting weak grounders and pop-ups. Mechanically she actually had a good swing, although it had a couple of issues. But she couldn’t quite seem to get the timing down. When we played indoors in January, she went 0-4 with four strikeouts, all swinging, and barely touched the ball. She was frustrated, and reportedly ready to quit the game she’d loved for so long.
So, it was time to really to get to work on her and figure out how we could turn it around. She’d gotten all sorts of advice over the past couple of years (including from me), so I was aware that there may be some resistance coming out of frustration and confusion.
I had videoed her in the batting cage (along with the rest of the team), so it was time to do some deep analysis. One thing I noticed was a sort of “reaching” with her front foot. There was a little weight shift from the lower body, but the upper body stayed in place. Not good. Generally you see hitters moving to toe touch with the front shoulder over the front hip, more or less. Also, her early timing moves were quick and staccato instead of fluid, the way you’ll see good hitters doing it. (I will accept blame for that since I tended to teach a quicker load and positive move a couple of years ago than I do now.) It was no wonder she was struggling!
I pointed it out to her on video, and showed videos of a couple of top-level hitters (softball and ML, and it seemed to make sense to her. I sent her off to the tee and she worked on taking her whole body forward.
The following week, my friend and former coaching partner Coach Rich started Jonesing to teach hitting so he came out to practice and worked with her on it too. Rich and I have a sort of ESP when it comes to hitting, so the girls were all amused when either he would tell them something I just said or vice versa. As she continued to work on it, it just seemed to click. But the real test would be her next game action.
That was last weekend. She didn’t strike out once, and the only weak contact she had was when she tried to pull an outside pitch instead of letting it get deep. Given her previous results, that was a trifle! She had a couple of solid hits, plus a couple of solid outs across three one-hour games. The best ball she hit all night was her last one — a hard liner to center that unfortunately went straight to the CF. Probably 10 feet either way, or 10 feet deeper, and it’s a double.
The kicker came this past Monday. She was taking batting practice at her high school’s open gym, and the varsity coach called everyone at all levels over to watch her hit, saying “This is how you should do it.” She is a freshman, by the way, so that’s pretty high praise.
Needless to say, there’s no talk of quitting anymore. In fact, her confidence at this point is sky high, and she’s now looking forward to stepping into the batter’s box.
So was it the first good hit that drove her confidence? Or was it the change in mechanics (which no doubt felt better and more powerful) that drove her confidence? Probably some combination — the change made it easier to hit, which enabled the confidence building. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. What matters is a good kid is in a happy place. Can’t wait to see what she does this spring and summer.