When people talk about great hitters, usually they mention their instincts, hands, or mechanics. Rarely do you hear about the hours in the batting cage or on the tee that hitters spend to sharpen those tools. Hitting just like everything else on the diamond takes talent and determination. These 10 great batting drills will take your team’s at-bats to the next level.
1. Off the Tee
We know: it seems too simple to be effective, but it’s not. Hitting off the tee helps your team get better by simplifying the game. When the ball isn’t moving, it allows your players to focus on the basics- perfecting the mechanics, consistency, and rhythm of their swings.
As a coach, your job is to focus on the mechanics of every single swing that the player at the tee is taking. You know your team, so instruct them on what to work on- it will be a little different for everyone. If you have a pull-happy hitter, make sure to set the tee up away and closer to his back foot, forcing him to go the other way.
Here former Red Sox player Xander Bogaerts explains the benefits of hitting off the tee.
Source: Red Sox Player Instructional’s
2. Off the Tee…With One Hand
See, now we’re getting interesting. If you coach a team that hasn’t yet hit puberty, this probably isn’t the drill for you. The first time I did this drill, I was skeptical. After all, I’m never going to dig in the box with only one hand on my bat. But this drill promotes quick, short swings in the best way possible – by forcing quick, short swings.
When you try to swing for the fences with one hand, you lose your balance and any chance at hitting the ball. For best results, take the hitter’s top hand off of his bat, and encourage line drives up the middle.
3. Break Down the Swing
We’re still on the tee, and that’s the perfect place to encourage fundamentals. In this drill, you’re going to have your team move step-by-step through their swing. Start with the load, then a step, then let those hips turn, make contact, extend through the ball, and then, finally, follow through.
Each of these steps should have a stop and a start, really forcing the kids to be conscious of how each step feels. In this drill, be sure to pay attention to:
- The hips – they shouldn’t fly open too fast.
- The front foot – that it gets all the way down and provides a solid foundation
- The head – that it stays down on the ball all the way through
- The extension – when your arms fire, so should your hips. This is one of the most difficult things for youth players to learn.
4. Soft Toss Trio
Everyone knows how to soft toss. You’re working to quicken the hands and keep the ball up the middle. But every pitch isn’t made to go right back up the middle. That’s where the soft toss trio comes in.
Start with a regular soft toss. Encourage quick hands, line drives, and balances. Then, move closer to the hitter’s back foot, have him take a couple of steps back, and encourage him to take balls deep in the zone the other way. Finally, move towards his front foot and let him take rips trying to pull the ball.
Here the creators of dominate the diamond coach Duke & coach Steve show the soft toss.
Source: Coaching Youth Baseball & Softball – Minors Course
5. Behind the Batter Soft Toss
By now, I’m sure you’ve noticed the trend: we’re working on quickness and hitting the ball up the middle. This drill also forces you to “stay on the baseball,” helping kids keep their head down all the way through their swing. A note of warning: some of your less talented kids might have trouble with this drill, and the first couple of times might not be fun for anyone. If this drill isn’t helping, move on to the next one.
6. Hit and Run
This is where the real fun starts – in the cage. The hit and run drill is exactly what it sounds like: you force the hitter to hit any (and every) pitch on the ground. This drill can single-handedly make your players better two-strike hitters by forcing them to swing at balls they wouldn’t usually swing at in the cage. It also promotes hitting the ball on the ground, and lets them practice a skill that will come in handy during tight games.
7. We’re Going Oppo
The difference between a good hitter and a great hitter is one’s ability to use the whole field. This drill is simple, pound the outside corner, and make your kids carry it that way. Even if kids in your league can’t locate well enough to do this, it will help your players tremendously as they continue to grow and advance. For an extra challenge, “accidentally” bust someone inside- just to simulate a game. If he pulls a rocket- great; if he inside-outs a liner- even better.
8. Time to Work on the Hands
For me, this drill was the most effective in helping me become a great hitter. In this baseball drill, you’re going to have your team hit with their feet planted. It promotes great fundamentals for the top half of the hitter’s body, and really forces focus. Inside pitches will teach the player to really use their hips, as they can’t really get around the ball any other way. Outside pitches will help a player learn to hit through the ball to the opposite field, and the two-strike oppo singles will start showing up in games.
9. Back to Basics – Up the Middle
In the cage, tell your players that each ball hit into the L screen or directly behind your head is a point. The player with the most points at the end of the day gets a prize (or gets to skip conditioning).
Why do we promote hitting the ball up the middle so much? It promotes balance, and forces a hitter to really concentrate. If you’re balanced and concentrated at the plate, you’re probably going to have a good result – even if the ball isn’t hit right back up the middle.
10. Live Pitching
Drills are important, but when the hard work is done, live pitching is a must. Even if it’s just you throwing from the mound, these kids need to hit on the field. Throw a mix of balls and strikes, just like a pitcher would in the game. Let kids run out their hits, and let your defense play every ball live for extra practice.
There you have it! 10 drills that WILL get results if they’re done properly. Remember, in every single one of these drills, you and the rest of your coaches need to be present. If a player practices poorly, they’ll develop bad habits that will be difficult to break.
Draw up a game plan utilizing these drills as part of your productive baseball practice and watch your team’s hitting start to improve.