I heard this great quote the other day:
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication
At Driveline Baseball we’re obviously known to be data-driven, and while that is true (and won’t change), we don’t want our training environments for young players to be needlessly complicated – by data, or anything else that doesn’t serve our ultimate goal of skill development. To that end, one of the easiest ways to apply this idea of “sophisticated simplicity” is to use Hitting Plyos – specifically the Mini Hitting Plyos – when training young hitters.
While we’ve discussed the benefits of Hitting Plyos before, it’s worth discussing in more detail the simplicity that they bring to training, and the specific benefit of that simplicity for younger players to have their hitting mechanics shaped by the quality of the batted balls they produce.
The Problem With Putting Hitting Mechanics First for Youth Hitters
We can (and do) argue about the mechanics of hitting all day long. We’ve been doing it online since the dawn of the internet, and for decades prior to that in countless books on baseball training. Whether it’s advocating for players to have a rear-legged swing, a front-legged swing (Charlie Lau anyone?), no-legged (yes I’ve seen this too), linear movements, or rotational movements…our industry has been barking into an echo chamber about these ideas seemingly forever.
As parents and coaches – and parents who coach – this allure of “correct mechanics” for youth players is incredibly powerful due to our level of love, care, and investment in our athletes. When working with young athletes there is also often the sense that because we’re working with kids – who can be a proverbial blank slate – we can “install” these mechanics the same way we might install a part on our car.
The first problem that arises with this approach is whether the physical mechanics we’re attempting to install are a correct fit for the physical capability of a youth athlete at their current state of biological development and whether they are physically capable of getting into the positions we think correspond to our so-called “correct” mechanics. Given that most of the time we’re looking to professional athletes for inspiration on our ideal swing mechanics, and because those professional athletes are physically mature adults, a mechanics-first approach for children inspired by the movements of adults is very likely to be ill suited for children because of substantial physical discrepancies between the two groups.
Beyond that issue, most of the time that the way this mechanics first approach is “installed” has youth players focusing more on the way that their bodies are moving and much less on the batted ball results that they are creating. This is incredibly problematic because of how it can negatively affect the perceptual task of hitting – deciding when and where to swing – and how it places the batted ball result of the swing secondary to the mechanics of the swing.
The simple reality is that good hitting is:
- Being on time
- Moving the bat fast
- Creating flush bat-to-ball contact
with the ideal result being a hard-hit ball. If we want to build a pyramid of ideal swing production, the base of that pyramid is being on time. And if we know that every on-time swing starts with an on-time swing decision, we need to equip players with the type of cognitive clarity that allows for that swing decision to happen on time and be immediately translated into action. Having players focus on the intention of their swings, not their mechanics, and deploying that intention on time helps players by putting the first thing first:
Be on time.
As the old saying goes there are “many roads to Rome”. The point of that expression here is that getting to your destination – in our case being on time with the bat relative to each individual pitch, and creating flush contact between bat and ball – matters more than how you actually get there. If the internal cueing typically used when swing mechanics are put above swing results comes with some significant net negatives for perception and motor output with older athletes, it’s not unreasonable to expect that youth athletes would suffer these flaws more significantly due to their already biologically limited motor control and proprioceptive development.
Additionally, when it comes to players subconsciously limiting motor output in order to move “correctly”, getting good at moving slow is not a Skill That Scales, so we should be very sensitive to any cues or coaching that pushes players toward this point.
A more ideal training environment for young players has them focusing on a specific intention as the result of their swings, and then using batted ball feedback to confirm whether they generated what they intended. If so – great! If not, then it’s time to re-assert the same intention and try again. We can train with this kind of specific intention and get immediate feedback on our swing results by using Mini Hitting Plyos.
Mini Hitting Plyos = Simple Intention & Immediate Feedback
The most significant benefit of using Mini Hitting Plyos is the fidelity of feedback between the swing intention and swing result. The player has a clear objective of what each swing should produce, and using the Mini Hitting Plyos makes that feedback on whether they achieved the objective or not immediately apparent.
The ideal outcome for each swing with Mini Hitting Plyos is incredibly simple:
- Hit the ball flush
- Hit the ball far
When a player’s bat makes contact with the Mini Hitting Plyo one of two things will happen.
- If the player’s bat made flush contact with the ball, then the Mini Hitting Plyo is going to initially compress against the barrel, then rebound off of it and retain its circular shape.
- If the player’s bat is not making flush contact – either due to not being on time with the incoming pitch, not being on plane with the incoming pitch, or some combination of both – the Mini Hitting Plyo is going to “pancake” out – basically spin off-axis and have its shape deform.
The benefit of this feedback simplicity is that it distills the goal and result of each swing down to the most simple and easy to understand level for the athlete. If flush contact is our first objective, then we’re going to have to have our bat both on time and on-plane with the incoming pitch to generate it.
Our second objective is to hit the Mini Hitting Plyo hard because doing this not only necessitates flush bat-to-ball contact but also necessitates bat speed. When it comes to Skills That Scale in hitting for youth players, there is nothing more important than developing bat speed. While bat speed makes the balls we hit with flush contact productive, it also increases the possibility that the balls we don’t make flush contact with are more productive than they otherwise would be.
To briefly unpack this idea, as much as we’d like it not to be true, players will often make non-ideal contact in competition. The difference between an easy to field ground ball and a ball that squeaks through the infield, or an infield pop-up versus a flare that gets over the infielders’ heads is in the amount of retained bat speed that gets imparted to the ball.
The benefit of training bat speed and raising its peak value is that by doing so we’re also raising the bat speed applied during non-ideal contact situations or when players are fooled and have to get off something other than their “A swing”.
Hitting the ball hard is good, bat speed and flush contact are necessary ingredients to achieve that outcome, and don’t let anyone tell you different.
Robbie “Byrd” Tenerowicz showing that good things happen when you move the bat fast and hit the ball flush
Simplicity in Action
Because young players are still learning how to link movement solutions (their swings) to perceptual tasks (their swing decisions) and we do not want to pattern a contact first swing that lacks output, it’s best to start using the Mini Hitting Plyos in relatively easy training environments like tee work or side soft toss so that players can pattern a swing where flush contact AND bat speed are rewarded. Then, as their success rate goes up, we can progressively scale up the difficulty of the environment to firm front flips or even live arm as needed.
Playing simple games with clear objectives is the best way to get players started using Mini Hitting Plyos, and having players achieve these ideal objectives and be rewarded with points is the best way to engage and encourage them.
An example of this for a young player starting with Mini Hitting Plyos would be to take 8 swings and have a simple goal of hitting 4 of the 8 balls flush. Depending on the age, skill, and experience of the player you may want to have them start with the ball on a Tee, but I would generally recommend starting with the least challenging training environment where the ball is still moving because we can then engage players in the development of their swing AND deploying that swing based on their perception of where and when the ball is going to be.
You can then scale the difficulty of your training games up either a modification to the training environment, the difficulty of the training environment, or some combination of both, depending on the capability and performance of the player.
|MODIFICATION||Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3||Tier 4|
|Result||4 of 8 flush||6 of 8 flush||4 of 8 flush at distance goal||6 of 8 at distance goal|
|Difficulty||Side Soft Toss||Firm Front Flips||Live Arm||Live Arm w/ random velocity changes|
|Constraint||Hook ‘Em||Step Backs||Offset Rotation||Shuffle Swings|
|Implement||Game Bat||Speed Trainers||Short / Long Bat||Gauntlet (3-4 different length & weight bats)|
|Game||Kill The King||Around The World||Kill The King||Around The World|
No matter the configuration in order to keep player engagement level high it’s important to maintain our commitment to the clear objective of the task (hit the Mini Hitting Plyo flush and far) in whatever training environment we construct. And as tantalizing as it is to correct whatever swing flaws you may detect along the way, when it comes to young kids who are constantly growing you’re helping them – not hurting them – by putting their swing result first, so long as the swing results are oriented around our ideal batted ball outcome goals.
If we’re training hitters, specifically young ones who are constantly learning & relearning how to use their bodies, we should generally pay more attention to their batted ball production than their mechanics. Young players who are constantly navigating around their own rapidly changing bodies can very easily get wrapped up on their own in this search for “correct” mechanics, even without the suggestion of what those “correct” mechanics are by well-intended coaches or parents. It’s a problem that can end up as a directionless Journey to Nowhere when that search does not address the fundamental outcome we want for each swing, regardless of the:
We should train youth players to always hit the ball flush, hard, and ideally far. This is the ultimate objective for every swing, because it’s the most productive outcome we can generate in the game itself. And training productive batted ball outcomes plays, whether you’re in a facility or on the field.
Keep it sophisticatedly simple 😉