Swing, Batter, Swing

I recently came across a forum debating the “right hitting instruction for softball players” and was overwhelmed by the conflicting ideas presented from coaches, parents, and athletes across the nation.  As I read the confident responses including, “a baseball swing is a softball swing”, “there’s no such thing as a softball swing”, and my favorite, “there’s a good swing and a bad swing”, I realized how difficult it really is for parents to pick the best instructors for their daughters.

 The age-old debate of softball mechanics versus baseball mechanics is as easily solved as the question of the chicken and the egg.  People will forever have differing opinions on what they think is correct and deny the opposite.  As a coach, we may form opinions of mechanics based on playing experience, past instruction, or even online videos/self-help products. 

 The reality of the situation is that coaches tend to teach what they know, regardless if it works.  Putting aside the difference in mechanical beliefs, the focus should go to the individual athlete.  What works best for one athlete, might not work for the next one.  If there is a 6’0, 200lb athlete on your team, she may be able to stick her bat out and hit it over, whereas a 5’2”, 115lb athlete simply won’t have that success.  With the difference, who’s to say that the same swing mechanics will prove successful in both athletes? 

 Regardless of coaching beliefs, the same swing rarely works for every single athlete on the team.  As coaches, recognizing the difference and adapting to the athletes’ individual strengths will aid in their success more sufficiently than preaching the same swing for the team as a whole.  Timeless experience coaching against teams where each athlete mimicked the same swing has made pitch-calling a breeze; it’s easy to find holes based on a coaching staff’s mechanical preference, whether it be generically defined as rotational, linear, or a combination of both.  The most difficult athletes to work the strike zone against are those who have zoned in their strongest swing and compensated for their weaknesses.  The best teams I have ever faced, both as a player and a coach, consisted of athletes that swung to their body type and their strength.

Needless to say, preaching the same idea is key.  Hands to the ball, drive the back side is a common interest for contact and power.  The difference is the thought process to get to this core idea comes in many different forms.  Some coaches will say, “knob to the ball”, others say “hands to the ball”; the language may be different, but the idea of getting the hands through the zone to contact is the basic, “Guide To Hitting For Dummies”.  Again with different thought processes:  some coaches feel the backside needs to hitch before contact, others believe driving the backside after contact is stronger.  Whether you agree with one technique or another, the idea that a 200lb athlete will hit with exact same mechanics as a 115lb is fairly farfetched.    

My best advice, as supported by many collegiate coaches, is NOT to define a specific swing, but rather build on your athlete’s foundation.  For example, if you have an athlete who naturally swings rotationally, work with her to gain power and cover the flaws within that style, i.e. hitting the outside pitch.  If your athlete prefers a linear swing, maintain her leg drive after contact and work to continuous generate bat speed.  Every swing has a flaw; no swing is the absolute, almighty solution to hitting.  A good coach will recognize that one swing may not work for an entire team and will develop the individual athlete’s swing to its fullest potential. 

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