Understanding Swing Design
The main thing I wanted to touch base on for this week at Driveline Baseball is the process of understanding swing design. Swing design is a chance for a trainer to get one-on-one hitting time with each athlete, and it happens once every three to four weeks. I like to think of it as swing education for the athlete.
In the beginning weeks of my internship, I was expected to observe how Driveline hitting trainers run these swing designs. Currently, I have observed professional hitters, college hitters, and high school hitters all run through their swing design sessions. Our hitters take swings with speed trainers, long bats, and short bats and are put through different drills to try and help a hitter “feel” something within their swing. The R&D cage is a field of education, comprehension, communication, and execution, where tech is used to help bring to light the hitter’s feel in their swing and to show the hitters and the trainers what is and isn’t working.
As a college coach (and a coach that used to do lessons on the side), watching swing designs unfold is fascinating. I have been able to observe two trainers (Tanner Stokey and Collin Hetzler) and another intern Zack Jones (now with the Phillies) develop at least one swing design. Although each of these guys has a different personality and own way of coaching hitters, they all use the same terminology and process—and get the same results.
I noticed how extraordinary it is that everyone speaks the same language in their respective departments. To me, this is crucial, since Driveline employees are constantly getting picked up by MLB organizations. When one Driveline employee leaves, another has to fill in and continue right where they left off, which is why it is essential to observe swing designs.
Conversations such as, “What are you working on with ‘X’ before they leave?” probably happen more often than Driveline would prefer. However, I find this pretty incredible because the athlete usually follows up with something of this nature: “We were working on my forward move, and since I was having a hard time maintaining spine angle, these are the drills he had me do…” These types of informative conversations happen throughout the swing design process and even in between swings.
Now, let’s think about that for a second. It sounds like a bad joke at first: “A high school hitter, a college hitter, and a pro hitter all walk into Driveline Baseball for swing design…” The punchline is pretty good, however.
They are all able to tell the trainer what they feel, what they did right or wrong, and speak the exact language as the trainer and the other employees here. If a hitter doesn’t understand a feel or movement, then the conversation is geared around that certain movement and broken down with the tech located right next to the cage.
Sidenote: When trainers get a hitter from a previous trainer, they look over the reports, which essentially are detailed notes of each swing design. Based on these reports, they know how to ask the right questions to the hitter, even if it’s their first swing design with each other. The preparation the trainers put in before and after each swing design is awesome.
This onboarding process helps me understand both the Driveline philosophy and the practice; in other words, “why” processes are structured the way they are, and, “how” to execute them.
Meet “Daniel Lafferty”
Daniel Lafferty was my swing design assignment for this week. Similar to the assessment process, I take Daniel Lafferty through a swing design while Stokey observes and takes notes on how I do.
Although I am being assessed, the environment is different from the assessment because I am getting graded on 1) my communication of what I see in a swing; 2) my critical thinking skills as a hitting coach, and 3) what I decide to tackle first. There isn’t an exact science to this process, so I am evaluated on my process and breakdown of the swing.
It is also a way for Stokey to see how much of the Driveline Hitting philosophy I have retained up to this point. Terminology is important, and using the right words when describing a swing is crucial for me as well as the hitter. Using the appropriate terminology allows for clear communication between hitters and trainers who aren’t assigned to each other.
The hitter had K-Vest on, a Blast sensor on their bat, HitTrax on, and an Edgertronic camera ready to record swings. I felt the swing design went well for the most part, as we set a goal to hit 102 mph EV and 400 ft on distance. Daniel achieved both of those by the end of the swing design, as he peaked at 104.4 mph EV and hit a ball 407 ft.
I find it incredible how agile trainers can be during the hour-long swing designs. The ability to stop between rounds or pitches and get instant feedback from Edgertronic and K-Vest is essential during this time. It is important to have computers that are set up to TVs right outside the cage so a trainer can help a hitter evaluate the effects of a different stance, stride, or swinging a different bat.
It is a lot of information as a coach to digest, and I am extremely excited to continue to learn the different tech implements and how to maximize them when working with hitters.
Special thanks to Mitch Viydo, Director of Gym Ops, who acted as Daniel Lafferty during my swing design!
Hitting Lessons Before Driveline
Before coming to Driveline Baseball, I did hitting lessons for different age groups—it was how I continued to learn and get better using a Blast Motion sensor. It also helped me make extra money and fill in the gaps in a coach’s salary. I would do one-on-ones like most coaches do, with the occasional group session with 2-4 athletes per group.
Other than videoing swings, I didn’t have an adequate system for giving the hitter proper education on their swing. When it came to one-on-one with my college hitters, they always wanted more time with me individually. However, when you have anywhere from 1 to 12+ college hitters asking, “Coach, can you hit with me?” it usually means, “Can you watch me hit for an hour and throw some balls?” My answer was often “no.”
Somewhere along the line, we have taught hitters that they can only get better by receiving one-on-one time with a coach, and if they get that individual time, they feel way better after. That type of system hardly ever works out.
I made the hitters put video footage into their folder on our team drive (Google Drive) and then asked them to explain to me what they thought they were doing without using any of their past cueing. They could only describe their issues using the terminology that we used in our program. If they couldn’t do that, then I probably wasn’t going to give them one-on-one time.
It’s the harsh reality of getting forced to learn your swing and take ownership.
After Experiencing Swing Designs
I want to stress the importance of philosophy, terminology, and process. These three tools all intertwine during swing design.
As a coach, I always want to give my assistants full autonomy; however, there needs to be a clear philosophy, the same terminology, and a process that is understood by all the coaches. If one of these tools is not the same among a coaching staff, it is not only frustrating for the coaches, but it can also be extremely confusing for the players.
Philosophy is the foundation of a swing. Example of philosophy issues: A head coach wants to play small ball, and the hitting coach wants to hit missiles. Philosophy will dictate terminology, which hinders the process of getting hitters better.
Example of terminology issues: If a hitting coach talks about a forward move in a swing and an assistant coach talks about jumping towards the ball, this could confuse the hitter on what is right and wrong within their swing.
Example of process issues: A coach likes to use a lot of internal cues or wants to do a lot of tee work, while another coach uses external cues and wants to do a lot of live ABs during practice.
There is a surprising number of these types of conflicts. If you insert ego and rank into the mix, you’re likely to get an environment that seems unsettling and confusing for the players. This ultimately leads to little knowledge of what they need to accomplish to get better individually and as a team.
Implementing Swing Design
This whole week I was trying to find a way to implement swing design within a college program.
The first thing we have to do is break the hitters into three groups. The first group would be the top hitters or returners, and the second group would consist of the rest of the hitters that are on the roster, as well as the new players. The third group would be redshirts.
I am currently leaning towards swing design in the fall for all returners. Swing design takes an hour here at Driveline, so trying to find a way to implement it within a program is difficult, especially if we are talking about a team with more than 16 hitters (which most programs have).
One way to make a swing design feasible and valuable in a program would be to have at least three coaches that understand your program’s system and terminology. Assign a coach to each group of hitters.
For this to be successful, every coach will need to be able to write notes on the swing design or give a summary. This is important because, in the coaching world, turnover happens among coaches constantly. When an assistant leaves, we want to make sure that the plans and swing designs of their hitters can continue, because hitters’ development doesn’t stop when coaches leave.
Incorporating some type of swing design system into the college setting could really help individual player development.
In swing design, a coach takes detailed notes about the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, what they worked on, and the goals they should aim for before the next swing design. These notes are shared among all the hitting trainers and interns here so that if someone is gone or leaves, the new trainer isn’t starting from scratch with a hitter that has been here for a while.
This is a necessity for success at Driveline since people from all departments at Driveline are getting hired by MLB organizations. As a trainer here, it is essential to have the mentality of “next man up”.