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April 8, 2016

Chapter 1: Batting; Teaching Little Leaguers to Swing for Success in 4 Steps

April 8, 2016

Getting hits and scoring runs are exciting events that Little Leaguers look forward to during the baseball season. The key to helping young baseball players have success and fun on the diamond is to ensure that they are using an appropriate stance and have mastered the mechanics of their swing.

Teaching Little Leaguers to Swing for Success Image 1

1) Create a Consistent Stance

One of the most important things to teach young hitters is that they need to be consistent with their stance and their batting routine. Whether it is during a game or at practice, your player's stance and swing should be nearly identical each time they step into the batter's box. While not every baseball player will use the exact same stance, there are some key points that should be addressed to create a reliable and effective swing.

  • a) Proper balance
  • b) Location of hands and elbow
  • c) Comfort

a) Proper Balance

A balanced stance is a major key to success before a pitch is even thrown. The distance between a batter's feet is key in generating power from the lower body and keeping their stride level and even. You should instruct your Little Leaguer to keep their knees slightly bent and space their front and back foot far enough apart to put 60 percent of their weight on their back foot.

If a player's feet are too far apart, they have severely restricted the movement of their legs and reduced the amount of power their lower body can generate. If a player cannot stride into the pitch, they are relying solely on arm strength for power. If you notice that your player is consistently hitting weak ground balls or shallow pop-ups with little power behind them, you should teach the player to shorten his stance when he steps into the batter's box.

Problems also develop if a player's feet are too close together. If a batter's feet are too close, they will have a hard time distributing their weight and they will often over stride into a pitch. This will cause a disconnect between the upper and lower halves of a player's swing. If a player's stride is too long, they will have trouble with their timing, causing problems adjusting to the speed of a pitch. If you notice that you have a player who has trouble reacting to off-speed pitches or is still in the midst of their stride as the bat travels through the strike zone, you should consider widening their stance.

b) Locations of the Hands and Elbow

Another vital component of a player's stance is the location of their hands and elbow. A proper swing should begin with the bat head raised and proceed with downward arc towards the strike zone. In order to achieve this, a player's hands should be level with their shoulder and extended away from their body. Their back elbow should be relaxed but extended behind them rather than pointing at the ground.

If a player's hands are held too low or too close to their body, you will notice a short or choppy swing that will not display much power and will have very limited plate coverage.

c) Find a Comfortable Stance

It is important to understand that not every one of your players will be comfortable using the exact same stance. A taller or stronger player may be able to raise their bat head higher and use a wider stance in order to generate more power while a shorter or stouter player may need to keep their lower body compact. Keeping in mind the principles of proper balance and hand location, it will be necessary to help each individual player find a stance that they find comfortable and achieves the intended results.
There are two important things to note when developing a comfortable stance for your player. Their back shoulder should never dip lower than their front shoulder, and they should have a relaxed grip on the handle of the bat.

Teaching Little Leaguers to Swing for Success Image 2

2) The Swing

Perfecting a player's stance goes hand in hand with perfecting a baseball player's swing. There have been numerous theories as to what makes a great baseball swing and many different methods of how to teach a Little League ball player to swing the bat. In order to get consistent results, it is important to understand the three main elements of a perfect swing.

  • a) The stride
  • b) Hip rotation
  • c) Contact

a) The Stride

Beginning your swing with a comfortable stride is essential to creating a smooth an effective swing. The stride begins the momentum of your swing and you should time your stride to be nearly complete by the time the pitch is halfway to the plate. In order for a smooth transition from the stride to hip rotation of a swing, a player should always be taught to land his stride on the ball of his foot or his toes. Landing flat footed or on the heel may cause a player to open up his hips during the swing.
One aspect of the stride that many young players struggle with is learning that they must begin their stride on every pitch. The point to decide whether a pitch is a ball or a strike should come after the stride has begun. Only striding into pitches you intend to swing at will lead to a high number of swing-through strikes and foul balls.

b) Hip Rotation

Once a player's stride is complete and they have decided to swing at the pitch, they should rotate their hips directly up the middle and begin swinging the bat through the strike zone. If you have taught your player to maintain his stance well, this process should happen naturally and his hands and back elbow will be in a good position to coordinate with the lower body to generate power.

c) Contact

The final, and most exciting, part of the swing is contact with the ball. In order to make good contact with the ball, a player should keep his head level and his eyes on the ball at all times. If all the other elements of the swing come together, contact should be flush on the bat head without swinging under of over the ball.
One common theory is to teach a Little League ball player to swing down at the ball since ground balls tend to produce more hits at the Little League level, but if you pay attention to the best hitters in the Major Leagues today, you will see that they have more of an arc, or uppercut, to their swing. While the natural beginning of the swing is a downward motion, ideal contact should happen at the bottom of an inverted arc. Hitting ground balls in Little League games may produce more hits at a young age, but can lead to more outs at higher levels of play.

3) Bunting

Bunting is a skill that is often overlooked. When teaching your players to bunt, instruct them to slide their top hand three-quarters of the way down the bat in a loose grip with all fingers behind the bat. Rather than direct or hit the ball, Little Leaguers should be taught to catch the ball with the bat. This will allow the ball to die quickly, preventing short pop-ups, and will usually result in good, fair-ball bunts.

4) Training

In a Little League game, a player may see as few as 10 pitches and have only two or three at bats. The infrequent chances for in-game success make practice repetitions vital. Begin by having two coaches work with batters. One should pitch, throwing only strikes, and the other coach should watch the player's stance and swing. Pitch 5 to ten times, and then take time to adjust a player's swing. Making corrections after every single pitch will only confuse your player and sometimes runs the risk of hurting his confidence. Once a player is feeling comfortable, begin to mix up the speed and location of pitches. This will give a player a sense of what he will see in a game.

Batting practice often gets monotonous and younger baseball players tend to get bored doing the same thing for extended periods of time. It can also be hard on a player's knees, back and hips. Simulated games bring an intensity to practice that comes close to game time excitement, and can be a good way to keep a player focused on his goal rather than swinging at countless pitches over and over again. Whatever techniques you use, remember to keep it fun and make sure that your players are engaged and enjoying the great game of baseball.

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