Why Focusing on Energy Transfer Is Critical
Whether the goal is hitting farther, throwing harder, pitching faster or executing some other movement at a higher level, the first place many of us go is energy generation. Let’s take pitching, for example.
Pitchers will be encouraged to spend a lot of time on improving their drive mechanics. They’ll be told to do endless box jumps, lunges, dead lifts and other exercises to build more explosiveness into their legs. They’ll be put on devices such as the Queen of the Hill to help them learn to drive out even harder.
Yet improving the amount of drive is only half the battle. What often gets ignored in all this heavy lifting is the importance of being able to transfer the energy they’re generating into the ball efficiently, i.e., with as little energy loss as possible.
Here’s why that’s important. Imagine you need to move 20 gallons of water from point A to point B, but all you have available is a one gallon bucket. It’s going to take a lot of little trips to move all that water.
Not very efficient.
Now imagine you have a 10 gallon bucket instead. You’ll be able to take a lot more water in each trip while minimizing the number of trips you need to make to accomplish the same task.
The same is true for fastpitch softball skills. No matter how much energy you generate on the front end, that energy is only as useful as your ability to transfer/apply it to the skill you’re performing.
Of course in softball it’s not just about how much energy you can transfer but how quickly you can do it. A sudden transfer will delivery more of the energy into the ball versus a slow one. That’s just physics.
In hitting that means a quick swing that rapidly accelerates the bat to meet the ball at the optimum contact point. In throwing and pitching, that means a rapid series of accelerations and decelerations into the release point.
This, by the way, is one of several reasons why “hello elbow” pitching prevents pitchers from reaching their maximum levels of velocity.
Hello elbow finishes, where you try to muscle the ball through release by straightening out the arm as it goes around the circle, deliberately snap the wrist and then yank up on the arm (mostly after the ball is already gone), are slow, forced movements.
There is no sudden acceleration and deceleration sequence that enables the upper and lower arms, as well as the wrist, to move at different speeds at different times. It’s all one big forced movement, which prevents energy from being transferred – as opposed to internal rotation which accelerates and decelerates the upper and lower arm in sequence and allows the wrist to react to what the arm is doing, amplifying the energy instead of limiting it.
The point is spending all your time on learning how to generate maximum energy isn’t enough. You need to spend an equal amount of time, or maybe even more, on learning how to transfer that energy you’re generating efficiently. Otherwise it’s a lot of wasted effort.
Build yourself a bigger energy “bucket” and you’ll maximize your results with whatever your bring to the table today – and tomorrow.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
How A Can of Marking Paint Can Help Hitters Hit Better
There is no shortage of companies out there that manufacture a variety of devices to help hitters hit better. Some are worth the money, others may be well-meaning but detrimental, and still others may be just another ploy to separate you from your money.
One thing I have found to be both helpful and affordable, however, is a $5-$7 can of plain old white marking paint. (You may even be able to find it for less.)
Here’s how I came about this amazing discovery.
I was working with a couple of college players last summer on a large field with no fences. They were hitting bombs off front toss, but both felt like they were just popping it up because their hits weren’t getting all that far from the infield. Or at least that’s what they thought.
The problem was it as a HUGE open field with a lot of grass in the outfield. Enough to put a full-size soccer field behind it.
So when they hit the ball, it was a lot closer to them than it was to the other side of the field. Hence their thought that it didn’t go far.
It was at that point I decide to go to the local hardware store and pick up a can of line marking paint. With the can in hand, I paced off 200 feet from home plate and marked a line. I chose 200 feet because that is the typical fence distance in high schools and colleges, so a fly ball past the line would be a home run just about everywhere.
I did this once to left, once to center, and once to right. I then marked lines in-between just to make them easier to spot depending on where you stood.
(I followed this up by measuring with a 100 foot measuring tape. Proud to say I was within one foot of the tape measure thanks to skills I learned in marching band.)
The next time we did a hitting session I was able to show those hitters that those little can-of-corn fly balls they thought they were hitting were actually traveling 210, 230, sometimes 270 feet. That certainly helped them gain a whole different feeling about what they were doing!
I now try to mark those lines on any field I use. Even if a hitter doesn’t hit anything “over,” just getting close can be quite the confidence-booster. Line drives that fall short but roll past are now seen as getting to the fence, which is a whole different feeling as well.
The only downside, of course, is when whoever owns the field cuts the grass. You then have to re-mark the lines or you will lose them. Worst case you simply have to measure again. (PRO Trick: Try to find landmarks out to the sides, like a shed or a permanent sign, to help you find your markers when they fade.)
I have done this with multiple girls and it has produced tremendous results for me. Knowing the lines are out there gives them a goal, keeping them accountable and encouraging them to give their all on every repetition – kind of like using a radar gun on a pitcher.
As great as it is physically, however, I think the best effect is psychological. When a girl sees she is CAPABLE of hitting the ball to or over a fence it changes her entire approach at the plate.
Rather than just hoping to make weak contact she will then intentionally start trying to hit the ball hard. When that happens, the results tend to improve.
If you have a hitter who needs a little perspective like this, try stopping by your local hardware store or home center and picking up a can of line marking paint. It could pay huge dividends for you.
To Hit Rockets, Be Like A Rocket
Players, coaches, parents and fans all love them – those hits that take off like rockets. There’s nothing like seeing a well-struck, majestic line drive rising into the distance, especially if it clears a fence.
Learning to hit those awesome rockets, however, can be counter-intuitive. As I have pointed out before, because you want to hit the ball with the bat there is a natural tendency to focus on yanking the bat into the hitting zone with the shoulders and arms.
Players seem to believe (understandably) that the faster they pull the bat through with their arms, the farther the ball will go. This belief is often reinforced, incidentally, by the improper use of ball exit speed measurements that focus only on the numbers rather than looking at the technique as well. You can get better numbers off the tee, but that won’t necessarily translate into rockets off of live pitching for a variety of reasons.
During a lesson this week I was trying to explain how each of the body sections contributes to the swing when a thought occurred to me. To hit a rocket, a player should be like a rocket.
Think about it. Where does the power in a rocket come from? The bottom section. That has to fire first, with a lot of effort, to get the rocket going.
If you put all that power into the middle section, the rocket wouldn’t go anywhere because it needs to thrust against the ground to break free. Instead, it would just blow up on the launch pad.
Once you have things going, the secondary stage kicks in. It builds on the momentum created by the first stage to really start driving the rocket toward its destination.
Finally, there’s the payload section. That’s the part that carries the astronauts, or the satellite, or the exploratory vehicle, or the communications array that will alert our eventual alien overlords that we are here, we are too primitive to get to them, and thus we are ripe for exploitation and eventual elimination.
In hitting, the lower body is the first stage of the rocket. It initiates the swing and supplies the bulk of the power that will be applied.
The shoulders and upper torso are the middle stage, adding on to the power of the first stage and providing guidance on where the rocket should go.
The bat is the payload stage – the point of the whole process. It takes advantage of everything that has gone before to deliver the final result, which is the hit.
Stick to that sequence and you will hit well. Do them out of order and the result will likely be a huge, fiery crash and burn.
So as you’re working with hitters, trying to explain how to properly sequence the swing, give this analogy a try. Maybe even show them this video:
Then send them out on the field for their own rocket launch.
The “Dummkopf” Drill for Fastpitch Hitters
Ok, before anyone gets their undies in a grundy, I’m not calling players name or saying this fastpitch hitting drill is only for stupid people. It’s merely a device I’m using to make what could otherwise be boring a little more fun.
The purpose of the drill is to teach hitters to lead with their hips, then release the hands. All too often hitters will either start the swing with their hands, or will start with their hips but then let the hands take over too early.
Ideally, you’ll want a sequence of hips-shoulders-bat/hands, where the hips start a powerful rotation, then you add on the shoulders, then you finally get the hands involved. When you go in that order you use the big muscles to develop more power and batspeed so when you do make contact you hit the ball harder/farther.
Going hips-first also gives the hitter more time to see the ball before she commits, enables a shorter swing to the ball, and puts the bat into the green zone at contact. Lots of great reasons to go hips-first.
While that may be easy to say it can be tougher to execute. You want to hit the ball with the bat, and the bat is held in the hands, so for many hitters (especially young ones) it makes more sense to lead with the bat. They may try to hold it back, but it’s just so tempting.
So I came up with the “dummkopf drill.” Here’s how it works:
The reason for the name of the drill is it’s based on WWII movies where one of the German soldiers is asked a question, answers it, and then is slapped in the head and called “dummkopf” by his superior. (SIDE NOTE: All the German I know comes from WWII movies, so it’s a pretty limited vocabulary. And not very useful in everyday conversation unless I were to find myself in a WWII prison camp.)
In this case, there were two purposes. One was to get the sequence right. The other was to help Abbey, who is pictured here, get the feeling of transferring her weight into the front leg instead of spinning on the back leg. As you can see, it accomplished both missions.
We could have done the drill without adding the callout “dummkopf” at the end. But it wouldn’t be as much fun. Using the word also helped her focus more on the point of contact, since she was trying to slap the rubber part of the tee upside its virtual head.
So if you have a hitter who is having trouble leading with her hips instead of her bat, give this one a try. And be sure to leave a comment below letting me know how it goes.
Another way to measure bat speed
Developing good bat speed is important to hitting. Because of its significance there are all kinds of ways of measuring it.
You can use a radar gun. You can use an electronic swing analyzer. There are probably a couple of others that involve advanced technology.
And then there’s what’s depicted here. At the start of this session, this was a fully intact plastic chair. The way it looks now is the result of a line drive off the bat of Emma Bartz.
The chair was about 30 feet away. One second it was fine, the next split second it looked like this.
She hit it so hard that the chair didn’t even move. The ball just went straight on through.
Oh, and by the way, this was off a tee. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if you added the pitch velocity to it.
It was pretty cool to see. On the other hand, I also made sure to tell her the time-honored phrase: No chip-ins.