08
24
2017

Implementing Driveline Hitting into Team Practice

If you’ve read Coaching Hitting Mechanics, you have a good idea of our methods for coaching hitters. Some of the staples are overload and underload training, environmental and physical constraints, variability, and overspeed. Coaching hitters is a field that is typically guided by conventional wisdom and tradition. We, however, have aimed to develop this training system by applying principles of skill development and motor learning. It has generated a lot of intrigue, but a response I get often from coaches is “I like it, but how can I implement this into my team practice?”

So, considering the Fall is starting up, I’m going to write this blog as if I were personally advising a first year coach at a low-budget college in designing their hitting program. 

At Driveline, we have a large budget, with a HitTrax and all the tech and toys we want. But I also began my coaching career at a small NAIA (Menlo College) with virtually no budget, so I know how tough it can be and how creative coaches have to become when designing practice. While having all the tech and the toys is extremely helpful, it is definitely not a necessity. 

Hopefully this blog can serve as a guide or at the very least, give you an idea or two that you can implement into your own practice planning. Thanks for reading!

Culture

First and foremost, I’d aim to build a culture obsessed with development and competition. Click To Tweet

Development

We have bi-weekly exit-velocity testing, and it is pretty easy to implement it into a practice setting. Here is the ideal situation: you have access to a HitTrax, Trackman, Rapsodo or FlightScope system that you can use twice a month. If not, there are options. At Menlo, we used a radar gun, but this method has its limitations.

Using a Radar Gun to track Exit Velocity:

In order for the data to be reliable and precise, it must be structured in the following way:

  1. Only balls hit within this area on the screen were kept, because the radar gun was pointed down this line.
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This is the only way to ensure that the data is relatively accurate

*Because of cosine error, balls hit at various trajectories will not read accurately on the radar gun. See Video:

-A ball hit at a 12 degree launch angle reads 84.3 MPH on the radar gun and 84.3 MPH on the HitTrax.

-A ball hit at a 26 degree launch angle to right field reads at 56.1 MPH on the radar gun, but it is actually 86.5, as measured by HitTrax.

2.  Give each hitter two rounds of 12 and take their best EV.

3. Re-Test in two weeks. And be sure they are using the same type of bat (wood or BBCOR).

This will accomplish a few things:

Help motivation: Objective feedback is a very powerful tool. The feedback most hitters are used to receiving is the coach’s saying “yeah that looks better!” They’ve been hearing that from every coach in every lesson since they were five. However, when its objective and public, it is very powerful. Furthermore, getting “wins” in training is extremely motivating. When an athlete after two weeks sees that he has gained 3 mph of exit velocity, it validates his hard work, and he will know that the training works. We love talking about how failure and #haters drive us, but what’s often forgotten is that success and progress are very motivating.

Create Accountability: Players will be more hesitant to slack in the weight room or in training if they know they are retesting every two weeks and that the numbers are important to the coach. Whether coaching high school or college athletes, hitters should not be getting worse over time. They are growing and getting stronger at a rapid rate. Long term, you should be seeing improvements. This holds the trainer (you) and the trainees accountable. If someone isn’t getting better, or is getting worse, you’ll know and can start to look into why: ineffective training? Injury? Lack of sleep/recovery? Diet? etc.

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A coach can track this data easily with Google Sheets

I would also encourage that you share the data with the team, and showcase your leaders.

I’d post the top 10, and I would have public all-time record boards. We have a “105 MPH club,” and it gives players, especially younger guys, something to look up to. It was elite company, players are proud to be in it, and it is a big deal when someone gets in.

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For High School I’d suggest a 95 MPH Club, and for college, a 100 MPH Club.

You can also have records for other cage games you have. For example: most consecutive line drives between a launch angle of 10-30. (This rewards consistency, and also gives athletes with a lower EV something attainable.) You can use launch angle strings in your cage to help with this.

You can use basic trigonometry to figure out where to put the strings depending on the dimensions of your cage. Consult with your team math whiz. 

Another powerful leaderboard would be “Most Improved,” because it rewards development.

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Ours is named the “Unlock Leaderboard,” this board displays improvements made in exit velocity with various implements. As you can see, this board has been dominated by Steve “Dirty Dog” Papps.

Having various leaderboards will give everyone something attainable to strive for. Some hitters will never hit the ball 105 mph, and it’s not their fault. We run faster when we are chasing something, but we run slower once we know we’ll will never catch it. Give everyone something to work towards. Having external goals that are objective and measurable will be great in building a competitive environment.

As far as individual data tracking, I would use Google Sheets as well. You can access it from your phone and create charts very easily.

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Using Google Drive, you can create an individual folder for each one of your athletes, and it is very organized and easy to use.

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Within Drive, you can create a folder for each athlete. If you aren’t familiar with Drive, here’s a walk through:

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Now that each hitter has a folder, you can share it with them and do a number of things. 

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Use the sheet for prescription of daily personal drills, notes, and data tracking

Competition

I would aim to create a training environment that encouraged the athletes to push themselves to the limit. Growth rarely occurs within a comfort zone, and that is surely the case when refining skill.

The first song I ever learned on piano was “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I tried learning “Fur Elise” next. I kept failing, so I just played some more “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Well, I never got any better at piano, and eventually quit. What’s the point? Most hitter’s practice is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

I’d be sure they knew that in your program, failure in practice is not only inevitable, it is required. Get used to it. I believe it is the best method to achieve mastery in your skill.

This helps develop mental resiliency as well. Baseball players need to learn to fail constructively and publicly because this is part of baseball. They will have great moments in their careers, but the game will also humiliate and humble them over and over. That is the nature of this great game. And it’s much harder to fail in-season when you’ve never failed in practice.  

We are ego-driven, and nobody likes to fail in front of friends and teammates. It requires a bit of vulnerability, and a challenging practice can reveal and develop the maturity of each athlete.

It takes time to establish this aspect of your culture, but as a coach, it is important to embrace failure. Get fired up by hitters’ pushing the boundaries and getting dominated. Be bored and unamused by hitters’ playing it safe. “So you can rake my 40 mph BP, cool.” Soon enough, your hitters will catch on and realize how much fun it is to be challenged. We should get excited when athletes push the boundaries of their performance, and bored when they hover in their comfort zones. One of my prouder moments was when an athlete said “coach this BP is too easy, I’m hitting too well. Can you make it harder?”

A basic model to follow in designing training would be:

Examples:

High Growth/Low Performance: The athletes do not perform well. There is failure, and skills are chiseled and refined. The motor system is challenged, and high growth occurs. Add psychological pressure as well, especially as you get closer to season.

  • High Velocity (machine, bp, front toss)
  • High variability in pitch type
    • Coach-pitched simulated game
    • Varied speed front toss
  • High variability in implement
    • Overload/underload bats
    • Bats of varying lengths
    • Hitting Plyos

High Performance/High Pressure: Task is relatively easy, but there is pressure to succeed. Pressure can come from coaches, teammates and self. Put something on the line. Losing team does field work, conditioning, or whatever. Be creative. I call these “don’t panic” drills. It’s a task that the athlete knows he can complete, but the stakes are high. If you have an athlete who crumbles under pressure, let’s not wait until season to find out.

  • Consecutive line drives v front toss or low velocity
  • Execution rounds v standard BP
  • Competition: Split into teams, 2-0 count, each player gets 1 swing to hit it hard.
  • Endless possibilities here; be creative

Low Pressure/High Performance: Taking it easy and feeling good. Goal: build confidence, get loose, flow.

  • Standard pre-game BP
  • Basic front toss w game bat
  • “Feel good” tee work

Structure

I would be sure to be very structured in practice planning. Without a doubt, the biggest complaint I hear from players is that their team’s hitting practice is unstructured. They don’t really know what to do or when. And this usually leads to guys doing nothing. I’d have the plan up, visible, and very clear as to what is going on.

Athletes love routines but also want things to be new and individualized. We solve this issue by having a station that is for “personal drills.”

What would a practice look like?

  1. Daily Hitting Warmup:

After a dynamic warmup, take a few minutes to rollout, and use some med balls

  1. Create Stations:

Here are some drill ideas for hitting stations during practice:

Tee:

Front Toss:

*You can add the Overload/Underload bats and Hitting Plyos to any of these drills to add variability and keep the motor system from getting bored*

Full Cage w BP Thrower or Machine:

  • Traditional feel good BP
  • FB/CB alternating
  • Random mixed pitches
  • At Bats(3 outs and switch)
  • Overload Bats
  • Situations:
    • 2-0 count
    • 0-2 count
    • Runner on 3rd IF in
  • High Velo BP
    • To calculate perceived velocity: (55 feet/[your distance]) x (your velocity)= perceived velocity.
      • for example, if I’m throwing 60 mph from 38 feet: (55 feet/38 feet) x 60 mph= 86.8 mph

Out of cage:

  • Golf Whiffle Balls or Curveball trainers
    • Use PVC pipes of various lengths, steel rod, broomstick, fungo, whatever to add variability/difficulty
  • Visualization/dry swings to all zones
  • Boxing Bag
  • Video Station
    • Youtube compilations of HRs, or clutch hits
    • Yale has a hitting twitter BP station!
  1. Recovery

Hitting is a violent motion, and most athletes hit 5-6 days a week. Recovery is extremely important. Here is our recovery routine:

So a practice would consist of:

  1. Warmup
  2. Hitting Circuit (put athletes in groups and rotate through)
    1. Tee
    2. Front Toss
    3. Long Cage(and/or on field BP)
    4. Out of Cage
  3. Recovery

Use this shell of a practice plan and plug in drills from above.

Why?

We’ve talked about the what, so let’s talk about the why. Being able to explain this to your hitters will help generate buy-in.

Why so much variety in drills and implements?

Allowing the human body to accomplish a task within a variety of constraints helps develop the skill. Practicing in a reasonably chaotic environment with a variety of implements encourages an external focus of attention, allowing the athlete to develop feel for how he moves objects through space. If you can swing a 33/30 well off a front toss, but can’t swing a 33/24 without rolling over, are you an elite mover? Can you find the barrel with a 38-inch bat? Can you hit a 88-mph fastball with a 36-ounce bat? Can you hit a golf wiffle ball with a PVC pipe? Can you barrel the ball without a stride? Can you hit an 80-mph fastball from 47 feet? If I throw you fastballs and curveballs in BP, will your swing break down or can you hit balls hard?

As you begin to challenge the motor system to accomplish the task within a variety of constraints and environments, the movement begins to stabilize. The athletes learn to rely on their touch and feel. They can get out of their own way and trust that the bat will go where their eyes go. Their swing will become anitfragile, and will not break down at the slightest change. Simply put, they become great movers. Unfortunately, most training does the exact opposite.

A classic example of the opposite of this happening is when a position player becomes a pitcher. As a position player, the athlete learned to throw from multiple arm slots, under a variety of time constraints, and with various amounts and direction of momentum. He never thought twice about his mechanics; he just focused on the target and let his body self-organize. So when he first got on the mound, he just threw strikes. It’s easy, and he thinks nothing of it. But then he became a pitcher. And now he thinks about his body, his mechanics, starts watching slow-motion video and drawing lines on the screen. He is no longer making crop-hop throws from the outfield, throwing to first base from a backhand scoop, or throwing to first from a bad double-play feed, etc. The motor system is now only throwing as a pitcher, and often he loses the touch and feel that was developed by chaotic execution of the skill of throwing.

As a hitter or hitting coach, I feel its very important to avoid what I call “getting the barrel yips.” Pitchers with the yips have a mechanic fix after every bad pitch. Hitters with the barrel yips do the same. Don’t let it happen. Train the skill by challenging it, and for the most part, let the athlete’s body learn how to move, and get out of its way.

Conclusion

Have a structured daily plan for the team with an individual touch. Allow the athletes to compete with one another in their training by using bi-weekly testing. Encourage challenging practice since it is key for development. When you have a team full of athletes who love to challenge themselves, and are hungry for growth, special things can happen.

The coach should work as the cultivator of skill, creating and structuring an environment and unleashing the athletes within it. The key is in building a skill-development system for your athletes to grow in. Trust me, the athletes will be happy to be in an environment where their coach doesn’t chime in after a bad swing. Intervene and get hands-on when necessary, but for the most part, sit back, watch, and trust your system.

This type of training environment may be different than what you’re used to. It is hard for us coaches to be more hands-off, because we want to help. But often times, doing less is what will help your hitters. In my opinion, hitters are over-coached far more frequently than they are under-coached. And what most hitters need is to be un-coached and allowed to move freely and become athletic again. This constraints led approach is relatively hands-off, and has worked well for us. I encourage you to give it a shot.

I appreciate you reading this, and I hope you’ve gained something to help your guys this year. Good luck !

Jason Ochart

Comment
6
Adam Martin

Great article Jason!!!! Extremely valuable!

Adam Martin

Are you measuring exit velo off of a tee or front soft toss?

jonesdg

Any video of this being implemented in a team setting?

Driveline Baseball

No, not yet. That is something we’ll be looking into now. Thank you!

Mark Mohr

wow, awesome article. thanks.

Greg

How would you implement the low/high pressure and low/high performance drills for pitchers?

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