Teaching a perfect swing is difficult, because the batter can’t see what her body is doing. Long-time coach, Tim Griffith uses lots of different approaches to explain, teach, and give quick feedback for a solid swing.
“Teaching hitting is very difficult,” Griffith said. “You can teach the four fundamentals (of a swing), but they can’t see themselves or feel themselves. They are judging themselves by what the ball does.”
Batting practice is a part of every practice at Griffith’s El Cerrito High in the San Francisco Bay area. Griffith first teaches the four specific parts of a good swing by using pictures as examples. His players then run through a rotation of three drills to reinforce the motions.
The four parts of a good swing — which are the same for baseball and softball — are:
Load: The core muscles of the body are engaged and ready to go forward. This usually happens during the pitcher’s windup.
Lag: The body starts to turn and accelerate. It has a very short time to turn 90 degrees and reach full acceleration. As the body rotates, the hands lag behind.
Contact: The hands catch up to the body as the bat makes contact with the ball. The two arms should make a square as the bat reaches over the plate to hit the ball. This “contact box” is a key component of powerful hitting, Griffith said.
Finish: The ball is gone and the bat is starting to decelerate. The hands begin to rotate.
For younger or inexperienced players, Griffith said the idea of short-short-long can also be used.
The first short covers load to lag. The second short is contact. The long is the finish. The two short phases keep a compact rotation of body, arms, and bat. The long phase extends the bat into the swing’s follow-through.
In addition to showing his players pictures or videos of batters going through these phases, Griffith also uses a tracking device from Zepp. The device, which attaches to the bottom of a bat, tracks a number of elements during a swing — including speed of hands and angle of attack— and builds a virtual model in an app.
Players can study the data from the app or video from practices to see how their swing compares to the four phases Griffith is looking for.
El Cerrito High’s practices rotate through three hitting stations to help reinforce the idea of load, lag, contact, and finish.
Fence Drill: Each batter stands parallel to a chain-link fence. They extend their arms so their fingertips touch the fence. This is the space they have to complete their swing.
“It’s a small space for them to get their arms and their bat through,” Griffith said. “It keeps them very, very compact. It drives home the short-short-long (phases).”
Tee Drill: Batters hit whiffle balls off a tee into a fence. Griffith uses ribbon to make a target on where the ball should hit the fence on a balanced and compact swing. Batters get instant feedback if the ball hits other parts of the fence.
“You can see if your swing is working properly by where the ball is hitting in front of you,” Griffith said.
In the Cage: Batters hit in the batting cage off a pitching machine. Batters will see three different speeds during their batting practice.
Griffith starts with a speed slower than what they would normally see in a game.
“I start at a speed where they can work on their swing and perfection in mechanics,” Griffith said.
Griffith then turns the speed up well past what they will normally see.
“If they see 55 miles per hour (in games), I’ll take it up to 67-68-70,” he said. “That ball is screaming. The batter learns reactionary timing and builds neural pathways and reflexes that address extreme speeds.”
Griffith finishes the cage work by going back to normal speed.
“The conditioning helps so that what they are going to (normally) see no longer appears to be traveling very fast,” Griffith said. “It seems fairly slow. Now they can get around on it and they’re actually dominating the speed rather than just fighting it off.”
Griffith warned this approach doesn’t work for all batters. Some players might get sloppy trying to chase the faster speeds.
Through all the speeds, the goal is to get quality hits by going through the four phases on each swing.
Hitting fungo: Griffith also encourages his players to hit infield.
“Let your players learn how to hit fungo — throw the ball up and hit it themselves,” Griffith said. “It’s mind-blowing how many players can’t do it.”
The batter throws the ball into the air, gets back in a good position and quickly gets their hands to the ball. Players can practice the proper mechanics of a swing but also learn direction hitting. Griffith wants players to experiment with hand placement and swing to learn how to hit to different positions in the infield or outfield.
“They can start hitting it to (specific bases) and see how they need to adjust their swing,” Griffith said. “They’re doing it.
“They will become much better hitters.”
Griffith knows there’s a lot more to being a good hitter than just the mechanics of a good swing. Throughout the season, Griffith also touches on the mental side of the game.
Griffith said coaches must teach situational hitting so batters understand the game and have a strategy when they approach the plate.
Griffith also teaches his players to visualize success so they approach the plate with no stress and a positive attitude rather than fear.
“You cannot teach just mechanics and expect the player to go out there and produce,” he said.
“Knowing these things helps you go in, set up properly, and have control of yourself. Walking in without a plan, not knowing what you are doing and hoping the ball goes somewhere is not good coaching.”