Nothing is more frustrating for young baseball players and their parents than strikeouts, especially if it is a recurring event. Strikes can lead to very depressed players and annoy coaches and parents. Obviously, continual strikeouts cause athletes to lose confidence, self-esteem, and generally their desire to play the game fully. What to do?
First, explain to baseball players that hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports and that it takes good fundamentals, practice, and patience. Explain further that there are very few children who have natural swings and the hand-eye coordination necessary to be able to automatically hit a ball. This explanation is important so that the players do not get too frustrated and depressed and to give them the message that they have control over the situation if they are willing to put in the effort.
Next, the results of the batter’s at-bats should be analyzed. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the hitter getting a little more aggressive when hitting so he doesn’t always fall behind on the count. Non-aggressive hitters find themselves hitting two strikes far too often. If that’s not the issue, check the results of player changes and glitches. Are they under the ball (most common), over the ball, early or late? This will lead to what needs to be done.
Here are possible solutions for each of these situations:
1. When batters continually swing late on the pitch, challenge them with a higher velocity that approaches the speed of the game. Many hitters will make the necessary adjustments on their own when they start to see faster speeds and get used to seeing faster pitches.
2. Similar advice: When batters are continually early, they must face much slower pitches so they learn to wait on the ball.
3. When batters are under the ball, they need to shorten their swing. This means keeping your swing path more direct by keeping the barrel of the bat above the ball on approach to the ball. This can be done in a number of ways, including the following exercises.
Hitting Drill: Using two batting tees, place the tees one foot apart and aligned with each other. Place a ball on both tees with the ball closer to the receiver about a ball width lower than the ball in front. Batters must strive to hit the ball closest to the pitcher while missing the back ball.
Hitting Drill: Along the same lines as the previous drill, set the height of the batting tee a little above the back hip and place the tee under the batter’s hands in their stance. Throw balls at the batter and swing them off the tee on the way to contact. This will help hitters develop a more direct swing trajectory and should lead to more consistent contact.
4. When batters are above the ball, they should work on pitches at the knees until they can begin throwing lines at this pitching location. This will help them get used to bringing their hands to the back of the ball while using their hips and legs in the right way.
It is important to note that habits are difficult to change and that there are times when I use “opposite drills” to change player habits. These drills are extremely different from what the player is doing and are often not the fundamentally solid swing either, but they are the only way the hitter can break his initial bad habit. The hitting exercises under point 3 above could be considered opposite exercises compared to what happens in reality with a big swing. The goal is to eventually find yourself in the middle with the correct swing and this is one way to do it.
Finally, a great way to prevent strikeouts and promote more consistent contact is with front arm work. The batter’s lead arm (hand) is the one that carries the bat to the ball, so swinging the bat with just the lead arm will help contact. This drill will force the batter to use the lead arm and gain strength from the front side, which is often the batter’s weakest arm.