Written by Chase Glaum
I remember when I was coaching high school freshman football. There was a kid that grew so much that he went through three pairs of cleats in one season.
By the end of the school year, he had grown 18 inches and might have been the most uncoordinated kid I had ever seen.
I remember a conversation I had with him where he said, “I don’t understand how I can’t throw or catch a football, shoot a basketball or throw a baseball like I used to. I promise I was never this bad at sports.”
This same kid would also come to practice with bruises on his shins and shoulder; he was constantly running into things. Every time he went through a growth spurt, his body needed time to figure out how to move through space.
He was constantly growing, so his body never had time to calibrate where it was in space.
His senior year, he finally stopped growing. He was 6’5” and made all-conference in basketball and football, and continued his athletic career in collegiate basketball.
Drastic Movement Solutions for Youth Hitters
Parents often ask questions and express concerns about what they think are problems in their child’s swing. Oftentimes these “problems” are drastic movement solutions—ways of getting to the ball that aren’t by the book but work for the child’s body at the time.
Kids are constantly growing, getting bigger, faster, stronger, and developing levels of proprioception (perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body), which tends to be the reason for these movement solutions.
Have you ever seen a kid hit a growth spurt and look like a baby giraffe?
If you haven’t, go watch a high school freshman sports event; you are bound to see at least one.
I want to compare this high school freshman to my brother, who has always been on the shorter side (5’6”, but claims to be 5’7”).
Growth spurts were like an eclipse—they hardly ever happened. But he was strong, fast and extremely agile.
Because his growth spurts were infrequent, his body didn’t have to recalibrate constantly. His body essentially started to master athleticism earlier because he wasn’t growing as much or as often.
In youth baseball, it is common to see an entirely different swing for an athlete on every single pitch. One of the first things we tend to do as coaches is make corrections from an instinct to help.
We see a kid whose swing has what we think are problems and want (or need) to fix them. However, we could stop and think and ask ourselves some questions:
- Is this kid strong?
- Does he move fast?
- Why does his swing look like this?
And then… don’t say anything.
If the kid is strong, then he most likely needs to move faster. If the kid is moving fast but the bat seems to take him everywhere, then the kid obviously needs to get stronger.
Now that we’ve answered the first two questions, let’s dive into the third — the answer to which is most likely related to the first two.
We can also look at the environment, constraints, or athlete experience—how many times has the player swung a bat in his lifetime? The answer is much less than any professional athlete and probably less than you did at his age.
When this kid hits a growth spurt, we might have to start all over again with training certain movements. Why? Because of proprioception: if the player’s limbs are suddenly in different places, the old tweaks won’t be so effective.
When a young player is asked to perform certain tasks (swinging hard, hitting the ball on the ground, hitting the ball in the air or just making contact), their movements will be determined by the current configuration of their body plus their ability to coordinate it as they attempt to accomplish said task.
Common examples of these types of drastic swing flaws are: drastic head tilt, stepping in the bucket, and being too early. I am going to tackle these individually in a three part series.
Drastic Head Tilt
I see the drastic head tilt quite often. I have seen it in all ages, up to 19 years old. This movement solution is mainly common with younger hitters, as they need to find a way to get their eyes on plane with the pitch.
I was sent a video of a kid swinging, with the concern that his head was tilting too much.
“My 14U son takes his right ear to his right shoulder during the swing – it is pretty visible in the swing below as, near contact, you can see his head gets almost parallel to the ground. He is a LH thrower who bats RH and is also back eye dominant. He has recently moved to a more open stance because of his back eye dominance to see if it helps pick up the ball better. Is this something to be concerned with? Any drills / cues that can be worked on?”
I really like this kid’s swing, and after looking at the video a couple of things came to mind to continue to improve it. However, I don’t think the head tilt is as drastic as it might appear.
Here Are Some Observations
1) Like most 14U players, he is starting to develop natural strength. It’s also the case that proprioception is constantly changing at this age. This alone can put him in unusual positions at times, so I wouldn’t be too concerned with it as long as the focus to accomplish the goal at hand (hitting the ball) is centered around moving fast and swinging hard.
2) Here is a side to side shot at contact with him and Buster Posey. A couple things to notice: their postures at contact have similarities when we stop the video. But when Posey hits the ball, he pulls it literally down the line.
Things to Look At
The youth hitter’s body direction is going to the left side of the infield, while Posey’s is going directly to centerfield. For this hitter’s age I like this position, as it is usually a result of swinging hard without the strength needed to hold positions within the swing or to naturally decelerate the swing on time.
But because his body is trying to move fast on a pitch that seems to be set up down the middle but deep in the zone (look at tee in relation to his body), his body knows that the eyes need to get behind the ball to make contact. Slightly dropping the head allows him to position his eyes in the right spot as his body continues to rotate away from the ball (his direction going to the left side of the field).
I could anticipate his head dropping even more on a moving pitch, as there is less time to react.
Fixes for Drastic Head Tilt
- High tee, low tee – This will help set this hitter’s posture better when approaching the ball. Earlier on, the high tee could benefit the hitter more immediately; however, switching between high and low gives the hitter more stimuli, which will improve the swing long term. Make sure the tee placement isn’t too deep in the zone (like on the plate or behind it).
- I typically put the tee 4-8 inches in front of the plate. Sometimes it doesn’t always get placed there because of where the hitter is standing relative to the tee. If the player stands pretty even in the box, 4-8 inches should be fine.
- Offset closed stance – This will help hitters decelerate correctly without having to compromise how hard they are trying to swing.
- Offset open stance – This will help with the direction (for this hitter, I would make sure they are trying to hit everything between centerfield and left center).
- Hook ‘em drill – This can help teach hitters a proper hinge, forward movement, the appropriate stride for each individual hitter, and rhythm within the correct direction.
There are a lot of variables when working with youth players and their many movement solutions. Like everything, “quick fixes” usually don’t help players long term.
These drills will help develop the skills the player already has and is trying to implement during the swing.
We have to be careful we don’t coach these skills out of the player by trying to put them in less optimal positions just because of what the swing currently looks like.
Changing the environment or constraint to get the correct output will further develop the player in the short-term and the long-term.
In Part 2 of the series, we’ll look at the notorious “stepping in the bucket.”