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Simple Ideas for Teaching Plate Discipline

Swing the bat.

Coaches tell their kids to do it often in their formidable years of playing baseball. Lower levels often encourage players to swing with an enlarged strike zone partly because an 8-year-old can’t pitch to a major league strike zone and partly to encourage batters to lift the bat up off their shoulder.

But there comes a point where that logic is no longer valid. As players advance to higher levels, they no longer have to swing at everything, and continuing to do so would hurt the team’s overall success.

When players know how to swing a bat and the strike zone shrinks, it can be up to the coaching staff to teach players about plate discipline, and it might not be easy for the players to grasp at first.

“I’ve had some kids get upset with me when I told them it wasn’t their best judgment to swing at a certain pitch,” said Dorchester (Massachusetts) Little League coach Ken Johnson. “I’m not trying to be critical of them, I just want them to know they’d be better off letting certain ones go by.”

Before the season, Johnson said he likes to have at least one “classroom” session with his team where he goes over a few fundamentals with his team using charts and videos. Plate discipline is among the most critical topics discussed.

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“I just want these kids to know what their strike zone is going to look like,” he said. “I’ll draw diagrams up on the board that show them what the strike zone in our league is going to look like.

“I also show them clips of pitchers and have them call balls and strikes. They all tend to do a pretty good job with that, and I do that to prove they know the zone. The ones I really like, though, are the pictures of big league guys’ batting averages based off pitch location. When these kids see David Ortiz didn’t hit pitches out of the zone well, then they know.”

When his team faces a pitcher with poor command, Johnson said he often imposes the “take pitch” rule where he tells his batters not to swing until they finally receive a strike.

During batting practice, Johnson throws his team colored baseballs — red and blue — to help improve their judgment. He said he mixes the two types of colored balls together in batting practice and encourages the hitter to only swing at the blue ones and stay away from red pitches.

“You’ve just got to keep them on their toes, like any good pitcher would do,” he said. “During a game, a hitter doesn’t know if the pitch is going to be a ball or a strike until they see it.

“Throwing them a different colored ball, I’m also getting them to decide whether or not they’re going to swing in a limited window. It’s not quite the same as live pitching, but it’s a start at plate discipline for these younger guys.”

From GameChanger and Tom Joyce.

Baseball, Baseball Player Development, Baseball Tips & Drills