Common Hitting Flaws: Steep Path to the Ball

A common flaw we see with a lot of hitters is a very steep approach to contact where the hands go directly to the ball. Since we know the average pitch comes in at a roughly negative 6-10 degree angle, hitters need to match this plane for optimal contact with a slightly uphill swing. This maximizes the window for hitters to make hard contact and drive balls in the air. This is also not news – Ted Williams figured this out a long time ago in his book The Science of Hitting. Taking a steep approach to the ball minimizes this window and makes it very difficult to drive balls in the air. Most batted balls with this type of swing are hard ground balls or pop ups with excessive back spin. 


From the Science of Hitting by Ted Williams


We believe this type of swing has become common due to a couple of things. For one, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is very high at younger levels of baseball. A lot of kids don’t catch and throw at a high enough level causing a lot of ground balls to become base hits or errors where players reach base. This positively reinforces movement patterns that help kids just put the ball in play as opposed to driving the ball in the air (kids feel good when they reach first base – they don’t care how). These patterns may work early on but they will not scale as the field becomes bigger and their ground balls no longer find holes. At the MLB level, the batting average on ground balls in 2016 was .239. Just putting the ball in play might work when you’re younger, but it’s not going to create movements that scale when the playing field gets much better. 


Another reason why kids can develop a steep approach to the ball is the misinterpretation of what it means to be quick to contact. Conventional wisdom suggests the quickest route between two points is a straight line. However, this is not true for an object traveling through space between the same two points. In the famous Brachistochrone Curve, the ball that travels on the most direct route actually finishes last compared to the other two balls. The ball that gets to the end point first has a distinct curve which takes a steeper negative route but finishes on a slightly uphill path (sound familiar?). As a result, a straight line may be the shortest distance between two points – but it is not the path of least time


The Brachistochrone Curve showing the path of least resistance, from @InertialObservr


In terms of the swing, hitters must be able to create early acceleration by turning the barrel back – not by taking the hands directly to the ball. This move helps maximize bat speed by keeping the stretch shortening cycle engaged. Turning the barrel helps pulls slack out of the system just the way you would pull slack out of a rope if you wanted to drag a sled. This keeps tension in the posterior shoulder and trunk in order to create elastic energy (think of the way you’d create energy when you pull a rubber band back). This elastic energy is then used to produce force required for the swing. If the hands run forward and take a direct route to the ball, hitters are not able to keep tension necessary for removal of slack for optimal energy production and transfer.

Stanton and Bonds turning the barrel back as opposed to pushing their hands forward, from Heefner 2018 ABCA Presentation 


Here are a couple of really good visuals for this turn.


Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Nolan Arenado turning the barrel back, from Dustin Lind’s Google Drive and @HyattCraig respectively 


After this, the athlete must continue to accelerate the barrel and get it going on a slightly uphill plane. To optimize for ball flight, athletes should strive to catch the ball on the upswing. This would create what is known as a positive attack angle – where the bat reaches its lowest point before contact is made. A negative attack angle would be a situation where the barrel is traveling on a downhill (steep) plane at contact (i.e. taking your hands directly to the ball). To hit the ball hard and in the air, athletes should strive to create a positive attack angle. Maximum ball flight is going to occur when the bat is able to match the plane of the pitch with minimal spin off the bat. This is very hard to do when you take a downhill path to a ball traveling on a downward plane. 


Altuve matching the plane of the pitch with a slightly uphill swing, from @HyattCraig 


Teaching Points


A lot of attack angle issues can be cleaned up by eliminating some bad cueing. As we’ve discussed before, our thought patterns have a direct correlation to our physical mechanics. Most kids have been taught to swing down on the ball their entire life. Finding the cues that helped establish these patterns (ex: swing down, hands to the ball, knob to the ball) can help create a mutual understanding for where they are and how they got there. From here, giving athletes the freedom to drive the ball in the air (external cueing) is a really easy way to unlock some athleticism where the athlete can discover more optimal patterns. 


Based on how the athlete receives this, you can add in some other cues such as taking your hands to the sky, turning the barrel back, or slotting the elbow into the rib cage. Find which one resonates and incorporate it into your vocabulary with the athlete. A lot of our athletes tend to describe their best swings when making this adjustment as “smooth.” It’s worth using this cue with athletes who are trying to create a better swing plane. Steep bat paths can create a “choppy” feeling as the bat is moving through space. 


Batted ball flight is going to be your best source of feedback when making this swing change. The athlete’s goal should be to hit balls hard and in the air with the least amount of spin possible. A lot of spin after contact is going to be indicative of a swing plane that has a tough time matching the plane of the incoming pitch. Early on, try to get athletes to feel the difference between a pushy swing plane (hands directly to the ball) and a more ideal swing plane (turning the barrel back). Hitters will only be able to make long term changes if they can feel the difference between certain movements. Create some routines that the athlete can use to create a feel for the movement you’re trying to create. Utilize film to understand how the “feel” relates to the “real.” At the same time, understand the feel might not always match up to the real. Every athlete is going to process things differently – adapt accordingly. 


Jaden creating feel for an uphill swing plane between pitches


Posey and Carpenter feel moves vs. what their actual swing looks like, from @HyattCraig 


Below are a few different drills Dan Heefner from Dallas Baptist University uses to create feel for a more optimal initial move to the ball (from 2018 ABCA Presentation). 


Using a foam roller to hold angles as the bat moves into the hitting zone

Feeding the mistake from the front and trying to get the hands to slide forward prematurely

Creating feel for keeping the hands back while turning the barrel


Hitting plyos are a great place to start when working on this change in tee work and flips. The goal when using them is to square them up and hit them hard in the air with minimal spin. Hitters with a really steep path to the ball will struggle to square these up and drive them in the air. The ball itself will create an external focus to help the hitter organize into more efficient patterns using feedback from ball flight. Skills are best learned and retained implicitly rather than explicitly. Give the athlete parameters to work within but don’t overcoach the athleticism out of them. 


Hitting plyoballs can help hitters get a better feel for their bat path


A drill you can use with hitting plyos is slow pitch softball styled underhand flips. By increasing the arc of the incoming pitch, hitters are forced to create a bat path that is going to match the exaggerated negative plane of the ball. This goal is obviously not to build a slow pitch softball hitter, but rather to create a feel for how the body should work to create a better attack angle. The goal is to drive the ball with minimum spin in the air. Below is an example of a hitter who we used this drill with to create a better path to the ball. The after video (top) was taken at the end of just one session with the athlete. 


Notice Dallas creates better angles by tilting his shoulders and working into the ground (watch back knee) to help him square balls up and drive them as opposed to slicing underneath them (see bottom). 


Another tool you can use with athletes is putting a longer bat (ex: fungo) in their hands and working the middle-in portion of the plate. The constraint of the longer bat and the pitch location forces the athlete to create a tighter turn that cannot be accomplished using a handsy/steep move to the ball. Heavier bats are also going to help create a more efficient path to the ball by keeping the barrel connected to the torso without excessive hand manipulation. Heavy bats act as constraints the same way weighted baseballs can constrain pitchers into more optimal arm actions (see our article on variable practice for more information about this. 


For some athletes, teaching a better path to the ball starts from the ground up. Teaching better moves with the lower half can help clean up poor swing paths by creating a more efficient sequence. Below is an example of a college hitter who came in with bat path issues. Instead of jumping to the path path, I got him into a narrower stance and gave him the freedom to create more movement with his lower half. Using only the cue “hit a homer to center field,” you’ll notice a completely different sequence with both the lower half and upper half. 


Notice how he does not lose a lot of space behind the white line in the bottom shot as opposed to the top shot. Negative sway gives athletes a tendency to get stuck on their backside and can have a subsequent impact on swing plane (ex: pulling off, slicing underneath balls). Athletes with wider bases tend to create this sway as they feel the need to go back to go forward. We like to cue this move using “down and out.” 

Notice Colin is able to turn the barrel in the bottom frame giving him more space for his hands to work on an uphill plane to the ball (see his front elbow work up in the bottom frame as opposed to down in the top frame). He’s able to catch the ball on the upswing and stay through the zone longer as a result. 


Jaden is another example of an athlete who worked hard to improve his swing plane. Notice the position of his hands after his initial move in both frames (see the white line). In the top frame, his hands slide forward and push. In the bottom frame, Jaden is able to turn the barrel back and hold angles like the Bonds and Stanton still shots from above (hands, rear hip/knee should align). For him, the things that clicked were trying to create feel for getting the barrel on an uphill plane (see feel move from above) and driving the ball in the air. 



Hannah was someone who we started from the ground up to help create space for her hands to work on an uphill plane. Notice in the gif below how she creates very little movement in the top frame. This gave her a tendency to get stuck on her backside (i.e. squish the bug) and lose a lot of power. We used medicine ball work to help fix this and create a bigger base for her to fire from (see the difference in how far she travels beyond the white line in the bottom frame). 

From here, we used some plyoball work and some external cueing to help create the desired ball flight which would indicate a much better approach to the ball. Notice the difference in hand positions after the initial move (white line) and contact positions. She’s able to catch the ball on the upswing in the bottom shot as opposed to the downswing in the top shot. This helped her drive the ball in the air with minimal spin for optimal ball flight.   


Final Thoughts


Creating a better path to the ball is an adjustment that athletes tend to pick up on pretty quickly with the right cueing and drill implementation. With this, don’t rush to progressions before seeing some early mastery. If you challenge the pattern too soon, it will break down. When adding progressions, make sure to film and reassess so you can be sure the pattern is sticking. Don’t guess if you don’t have to – confirm what your eyes are seeing as much as possible. Most kids today are visual learners. If they can see what they’re feeling and bridge that gap, they will be more likely to retain that pattern in the future. 


Feel free to reach out with any questions, thoughts, or cases of your own. Keep learning, growing, and please don’t tell kids to swing down on the ball. 



Summer Camp Recap – Teaching the Warm Up

This past summer, I had the pleasure of working our annual summer camp as lead instructor for our younger camp. I was also able to get on the field with our older group towards the end of camp and during our extended summer camp. Being on the field every day for the past seven weeks helped me learn a lot about my craft and the kids I was teaching. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about some of the things we did at camp and why we used them. Today’s focus is going to be on our movement prep in the warm up period. 


Designing the Warm Up


The first thing I prioritized at our younger camp was the warm up period. I think the warm up is misused and undervalued at a lot of baseball and softball practices. I personally think that in past camps, we haven’t used the warm up period to really maximize general physical development. While there is a time and place for static stretching, I don’t think it should be a priority for kids. 


Instead, I developed a daily routine where we taught kids how to hip hinge, squat, lunge, bridge, and breathe. Below are some thoughts about why I chose these patterns, how to teach them, and what to look for in kids:


Hip Hinge


The hip hinge is the foundational movement for rotary athletes. It helps reinforce a glute dominant pattern which keeps athletes connected to the ground for a long period of time. It also teaches athletes how to brace their spine without excessive lumbar flexion (rounding of the lower back). Since lower back injuries are the most common injuries in baseball, we want athletes to learn how to protect their spine by teaching certain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, spinal stabilizers) when and how to fire for most efficient transfer of force.


What to look for:

  • Feet a little wider than shoulder width, slight bend in knees
  • Athletes initiates movement by pushing glutes out (posterior weight shift) without knee flexion
  • Torso gets to roughly 45 degree relationship with the ground (this is just a general starting point, athletes can get higher/lower to ground based on feedback from execution of movement)
  • Braced midsection, lower back remains locked/fixed 
  • Knees remain vertical in relation to heels (vertical shin)
  • Chin is tucked/packed, no excessive cervical extension (looking up)


I used a PVC pipe with our kids to help learn how to maintain congruence of the head, upper back, and lower back throughout execution of the movement. If the athlete loses one of these points throughout the hinge, let them know and try to create awareness for when they lose contact with that point.  


Two common faults I saw when teaching this move were excessive lumbar flexion (rounding) and a lack of a posterior weight shift. I tried to attack these by first teaching the athlete how to push their hips back (posterior weight shift). To do this, I would place a vertical object 4-6 inches behind their glutes and try to get them to touch the object when they hinged back. This usually helped clean up some of the lumbar flexion by creating more space for the torso. It won’t look perfect at first, but kids will start to figure it out with time. 


Bodyweight Squat


The squat is an important movement to teach off the hip hinge as it promotes a similar posterior weight shift through a braced midsection. The main difference between the squat and the hinge is athletes flex from the knees to get their hips roughly parallel to the ground. This move helps teach athletes how to work their hip line into the ground while keeping the posterior chain engaged – an important skill when learning how to optimize ground reaction forces. 


What to look for:

  • Braced midsection 
  • Hips sit down and back, glutes push out
  • Knees drive down and out (watch for knees that cave in, out over toes)
    • *note* The squat will demand more of a positive shin angle (knees slightly beyond heels), but never to the point where it compromises posterior weight shift
  • Chest stays in a more vertical relationship to the ground (as opposed to hinge where chest works more horizontally to the ground)
  • Chin tucked/packed, no excessive cervical extension 


I had athletes extend their arms out to create a counter balance which allowed for a posterior weight shift in the squat. For those that struggled sitting their hips back without falling backward, I would have them grab a pole and practice the squat while keeping their hands around the pole. As their hips worked into the ground, their hands would slide down the pole. 


It’s very common for kids to drive their knees down and in when executing a squat (lack of a posterior weight shift). To help teach a better pattern that creates space for the hips and relieves stress on the knees, I would hold a PVC pipe over their toes. The athlete would then be instructed to execute the movement without letting their knees touch the pipe.  


Reverse Lunge


Baseball and softball require movements that demand strength, stability, and dynamic balance on one leg. Teaching kids how to control their bodyweight on one leg is absolutely critical for developing high-level rotary patterns. Lunge variations are an awesome way to get kids started. 


Out of all the lunge variations, I like the reverse lunge because emphasizes posterior force production – something baseball players commonly rely on while rotating and sprinting. When compared to the forward lunge, the reverse lunge is a little more knee friendly and can be a little easier in terms of controlling the torso/midsection. 


No matter what variation you use, you’ll find out pretty quickly that kids are horrible at moving on one leg. They have a tough time bracing their midsection, controlling excessive movement of the lead leg in the sagittal plane (wobbling), and navigating the eccentric portion of the movement (slamming their knee into the ground). This one was the toughest to execute by far – but it was also the biggest area of growth in most of our athletes.


What to look for:

  • Taking one leg back and gently touching the ground with their knee (some like the knee to hover above the ground – I’m indifferent)
  • Chest up, chin up, midsection braced
  • Shoulders over hips, back knee roughly lines up underneath shoulders (bigger lunge requires more hip extension, find happy medium where they can control it all the way through)
  • Eyes focused on an external focal point for dynamic balance
  • Gripping the ground with the back toe (as opposed to taking your laces into the ground)
  • Hands at side, on hips, or behind head
  • Knee stays behind toes (slight positive shin angle is fine) 


Most kids are going to dump their chest forward when lunging back because they don’t have the strength, stability, or belief that they’ll come back up. Many will also slam their knee into the ground because they don’t have the strength to control the movement all the way to the ground. In these cases, it’s a good idea to start from the bottom position and have kids work up from there. 


You can also use a PVC pipe or pole to create awareness for how their knees are working in relationship to their heels. An easy fix to excessive forward knee movement is to get the athlete to lunge a little farther back. This creates more space for the knees and hips to work in a friendlier position. 


There aren’t a lot of magic tricks when it comes to working on a lunge movement. The best thing you can do is get kids to practice this one early and often. If kids aren’t able to control their body weight on one leg, there’s a good chance they’ll start to leak out energy when executive more complex and sport-specific tasks (hitting, pitching, sprinting). Aside from the hinge, a single leg variation is the most important movement you can incorporate into your daily warm up. Don’t be afraid if it looks ugly at first – it will improve with time and technique.


Glute Bridge


The glute bridge builds off of the hip hinge by building strength and awareness in the posterior chain and midsection. It forces athletes to learn how to use the big muscles (glutes, hamstrings) for movement instead of the lower back. The isometric hold at the top also creates a stability component that helps strengthen the spinal stabilizers. 


What to look for:

  • Athlete starts on the ground in the supine position with knees bent, feet in ground
  • Squeeze glutes to initiate movement
  • Hips roughly line up with shoulders/knees at top of movement
  • Two second hold at the top
  • Hips gently lower back down to the ground (controlling the eccentric portion)
  • Entire foot, shoulders, head, and arms stay connected to ground
  • Knees drive up and out (as opposed to in)


This movement is a pretty simple way to get the posterior chain engaged prior to practice. Make sure the movement is being created through the glutes and hamstrings, not the lower back (you’d see excessive arching in the spine). Holding the movement at the top helps create for greater awareness in the glutes/hamstrings. These mind muscle connections are important to create so they can translate to efficient lower body movements.  


Belly Breath


While the breath isn’t a physical movement, it is one of the most important skills we teach and reinforce on a daily basis at camp. Like we’ve talked about before, the breath is going to be the bridge between the physical and mental game for players. The combination of physical benefits (lowered heart rate, increased oxygen to brain) and mental benefits (moving on from the last pitch, being present) from the breath makes it a crucial starting point when teaching the mental game to kids


What to look for:

  • Athlete starts in supine position on ground
  • Eyes open or closed
  • One hand on chest, other hand on belly
  • Make the hand on your belly rise
  • The hand on your chest should stay relatively still
  • Breathe in through nose, out through mouth


I like to give athletes the freedom to practice their breath and utilize it until they feel relaxed. Your role as a coach during this time is minimal. All you’re trying to do is create an environment where kids are able to focus on their breath and get their mind off the clutter in their life. Being present pitch to pitch is a crucial skill in sports. If our mind is on anything but getting the task in front of us done, we won’t be able to executive it efficiently or effectively. 


Dynamic Warm Up


After the hinge, squat, lunge, bridge, and breath have been completed, we then move to the more dynamic portion of our warm up. This portion is centered on getting kids to move their feet and sync up their upper half while completing a variety of different movements. While I won’t go into great detail about execution, below are the movements we would incorporate to help get a sweat going before catch play:


Side Shuffle with Overhead Reach

  • A frontal plane movement that teaches athletes how to gain ground laterally

Power Skip

  • Emphasis on getting off the ground, jumping/landing on one leg 


  • Getting the hips working in a more transverse plane (rotation)

Backwards Run

  • Great for general athleticism, posture, single leg strength/stability 

Build Ups

  • Bridging into sprint work 


Coaches have a lot of freedom to add or subtract movements to this portion of the warm up. The overall theme is to make sure athletes are learning how to get comfortable moving their feet while expressing body control in various positions. It’s also important to utilize this as a way to elevate heart rate get blood flowing to the extremities. The warm up is designed to prepare athletes to throw – we do NOT throw to warm up. 


Final Thoughts – Warm Up


As a coach, the warm up period is an excellent time to teach good habits which will directly impact how kids move on the field. The earlier you can teach kids these movements the better. There’s nothing exciting about executing good quality movement – but there’s nothing out there that can replace it. Using a well-executed warm up is an awesome way to keep kids healthy by building an early foundation in strength, motor control, and body awareness. Don’t let the monotony of a warm up period ruin the potential impact it can have on kids.


Feel free to experiment with different moves, cues, and ideas. Keep things simple early on so kids can catch on. Constantly drill them on how to execute the movement so it starts to become ingrained. Add things (jump/land mechanics, push/pull, etc.) as they start to get a better feel for how to move. Individualize based on the needs of each player. 


Feel free to reach out with any questions or thoughts. 


Keep learning and growing. 

Common Hitting Flaws: Creating a Better Move to the Ball

A common mistake we see with a lot of our hitters is how they attempt to load after their move out of balance. This move is crucial to the rotary sequence and the movements that occur later up the chain. An inefficient linear move is going to put athletes in a poor position to really optimize their sequence. Since rotation swings the bat, we want to make sure athletes are in good positions in foot plant that enable them to do so with great power and efficiency.


To describe the move, we’ll use the terms negative and positive move. A negative move is when the hitter is going to create a substantial amount of “sway” in the direction of the catcher (golf has done similar work with this). You can identify this sway by looking at the hitter’s head in his set up position and when he gets to the peak of his move out of balance. If you draw a line on the hitter’s head in his set up, you can identify negative sway if there is a lot of space between the line and his head when he takes his move out of balance.


This move is going to give kids the tendency to get stuck on their backside, lose angles with their upper half, pull off balls, and get beat when facing velocity. Kids with a lot of negative sway tend to have narrower bases, lose power, struggle to stay through the ball, and have difficulties timing pitches in games. It’s a move that’s easier to get away with while utilizing tee work or flips because of the lack of a time constraint. It also gives kids the illusion they’re loading because a load in the traditional sense is thought of as a move back. 


Instead, we like to teach the “load” as a positive move (think of the move a pitcher makes down the mound). Instead of swaying back to create power, we encourage kids to gain ground and work into the ground to generate a more forceful linear move. When the front foot comes up, the rear hip should begin to move forward – just like a pitcher. The head of the batter should move down and out – as opposed to up (working out of the ground) and back (negative sway). Below are a few examples for what this move should look like:


(Visual from hyperlink below)

Mookie Betts

Yordan Alvarez

Christian Yelich

(Visual from hyperlink below)

Barry Bonds

Cody Bellinger


Notice how the athletes immediately begin to move forward as their foot comes out of balance (some quicker, some slower). Their heads work down into the ground and out towards the pitcher. Once their front foot lands, their head stabilizes and does not continue to move forward. Their head stays over the center of their body helping them maintain a dynamic balance. They hold an attacking posture with their shoulders (front shoulder down, back shoulder up). As their foot moves forward, their hands move back to create their ideal stretch/hip shoulder separation. 


It’s important to know that this is not a rushed move – we are not advocating kids to quickly pick up and put their foot down. We encourage kids to ride into their front side, maintain a vertical shin on the rear leg (we’re not pushing out of it), and keep tension in the rear hip/glute region while moving forward. We want to create a move that is driven by the posterior chain


We also want to make sure kids are utilizing the lead leg for its main function – a timing mechanism. If we take a quick, uncontrolled move to the ball with our lead leg, we lose adjustability to various speeds/locations throughout the zone. A common cue we like to give kids is “earlier and slower.” Each kid is going to have his own style, but make sure they’re not rushing to put their foot down. 


If you have a player that is struggling with a lot of negative sway, you can attack the issue from a few different angles. I like starting the movement progression with a medicine ball to eliminate the worry about squaring up the ball. From here, you can get athletes in a more narrow set up to eliminate the need to move back. The wider athletes get, the more of a need they feel to move back to load. 


A popular drill we like to use is the “Belly Drill” – in reference to Cody Bellinger’s positive move to the ball (see link above). With a narrow stance (feet under shoulders, have the athletes take one positive move to the ball without any sway back. As for cues we like to use, getting the athlete to think “down and out.” When an athlete can get a feel for this movement with the medicine ball, we like to progress to a bat and can utilize it in our tee work, front toss, and even BP/machine variations. It all depends on the hitter, what you see, and how it’s transferring to more game-like conditions. 


Below is an example of one of our athletes Cole utilizing the Belly drill. By simplifying his move to the ball, Cole was able to get much more out of his lower half (see the before/after still shots of him at footstrike). He’s since adopted a narrower stance to help him feel this move – something you can try with your athletes. 


Below was Cole’s original swing

Below are still shots of him at his move out of balance and at foot strike. You’ll notice how the Belly move helped clean up a lot of negative sway and put him in a better position at foot strike.

Another one of our athletes Nathan has utilized the Belly drill to simplify his move to the ball. A lot of the balls Nathan mishit were pull side ground balls. In the before/after videos, you’ll notice Nathan has simplified his leg kick (we still encouraged him to use a leg kick if he felt comfortable with it) and takes a much quicker route to the ball. This has helped him utilize the middle of the field more and prevents him from spinning off on balls the way he used to.



A different example of teaching this move is what we did with Sid. Sid showed a big negative move in which he lost his rear shoulder prematurely and inhibited his ability to work into the ground. This move also caused him to feel unbalanced. As a result, we tried to get him to think about keeping his front shoulder down while staying balanced. This helped create a more direct move to the ball in which he felt much more balanced (not balance in the traditional sense, but a dynamic balance in which the athlete feels under control while executing the movement). Keeping his front shoulder down helped Sid hold an attacking posture with his shoulders and ultimately helped him work into the ground better.  



To see these changes at the MLB level, check out these swing transformations from Betts, George Springer, and Justin Turner. 


It’s important to film and refilm when you’re making adjustments with athletes so they can connect a feel with what is real. Get film when the athlete feels really good and when the ball is popping off the bat. Use this feedback for when the athlete can start to go astray. Bad swing habits are just like bad habits in real life – they never go away. Because of this, it’s important to mix in refresher days so the new pattern can continue to stick. 


Feel free to reach out with any thoughts, questions, or examples of your own. Keep learning and growing.

Thoughts from Fielding Discussion

Our fielding roundtable discussion was built around the theme of mastering catch and throw. If you cannot execute the basics of catch and throw from your position, you will not play this game at a high level. Carmen talked about how one of the first things college coaches ask him when talking about prospective student athletes is if they can field their position. It’s very easy to get caught up in the swing and trying to launch balls into outer space, but nothing can replace catching and throwing exceptionally well. More games are lost rather than won. Teams who play great defense don’t beat themselves. 


Mastering the Basics


Before grabbing the fungos, coaches must learn how to police catch play. We go into great detail about this in our blog article “Summer Camp Recap – Teaching Catch Play.” Carmen cannot emphasize enough that the time you play catch for is the most important part of your practice. If kids can’t make throws from 120 feet in catch play, don’t expect them to throw the ball across the diamond with precision. If you police it, it will improve with time.


A visual of the sweet spot of the glove, from Frawley/Correa ABCA Presentation


An important concept to emphasize early on with catch play is creating feel for the sweet spot in the glove. Just the way your bat has a sweet spot, your glove also has a sweet spot located between your thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. You know if you’ve got one in the sweet spot if you hear a nice crisp pop on the catch. If you don’t hear this pop, you’ve missed the sweet spot. To create the proper sound, players should try to “stick” the ball out in front of their eyes. The ball shouldn’t take you back on the catch. If the ball takes you to your left or right, move your feet and catch it out front. Catch with your feet, throw with your feet. 


All infielders should get into this position as the ball enters the hitting zone


When you start your ground ball work, it is important you put a premium on the set up/ready position. This should mirror the athletic position – knees bent, feet slightly wider than shoulder width, head over center of mass, arms slightly bent outside of hips. A lot of kids will start with their hands inside their hips almost pre-set in a catch position. This puts the athlete in a disadvantageous position and can inhibit range. Players must be able to get into this position every single pitch. Just like hitting, a poor set up position can throw off the events that follow. 


Along with this, infielders must understand how to create pre-pitch movement. Through years in professional baseball, Carmen has learned that the most range is lost from this position. Kids with stagnant feet as the ball enters the hitting circle struggle to get good reads off the bat. Just as a football defensive end depends on his first two steps, infielders need their first two steps to be crisp. Your ability to do this largely depends on your pre pitch move. 


Teaching a tennis style “hop” is a great move for infielders learning pre-pitch movement


We like to teach a tennis styled “hop” for infielders just learning the pre-pitch move. This helps get athletes on the balls of their feet as opposed to being flat on their heels. The timing of the move should happen right around where the ball meets the dirt/grass cutout. Athletes can hop from a narrow or wider base depending on what feels most comfortable. The right/left footwork prior to the hop should depend on which side of the field the athlete is covering. For example, third basemen should go right/left because they have the line covered to their right. First basemen should go left/right because they have the line covered to their left.


Jaden utilizing a split hop pre-pitch move


With this, the hop is not the only move you can make. You can step into it, sway into it, or even step back based on the position and type of athlete. The timing for the move remains the same. If you’re working with kids just getting a feel for the infield, a simple right/left step “into the circle” is a great place to start.  


We have put a premium on this move in our team practices. Below are a few before and after examples of pre pitch moved with a few of our high school kids. 




From here, we turn the emphasis to good catch positions. Some of the things we look for are a triangular position where the athlete gets a wide base and their head is over their center of mass. The right foot should be in the ground and the left toe should be up. The head, ball, and glove should be in line with the glove creating a ramp. The glove should be presented out in front of the athlete’s eyes as opposed to closer to their belly button. The glutes should be pushed out in a hinge position where the athlete’s back is tabletopped. The feet should be slightly staggered with the left foot slightly in front of the right (from right/left footwork). 


Jeter showing a quality catch position


A good question we received was whether you should teach kids to funnel with two hands or play through with one. We think both are great options and the style is up to the individual. For kids just starting out, we find a lot of value in teaching kids how to catch one handed. Most coaches are going to teach kids to use two hands and get in front of everything, so reinforcing a position where the athlete is forced to use one hand can free up a lot of athleticism. Kids who funnel can also have a tendency to lose the fingers and funnel the ball too quickly towards the belly button. On the flip side, make sure kids keep a relaxed arm when playing with one hand. A straightened arm creates tension that limits freedom, quickness, and adjustability.  


Progressions to a Moving Ball


After creating a feel for good catch positions, we like to incorporate the footwork by introducing right-lefting the ball. When the ball comes off the bat, infielders must be able to get to the right of the ball to read the incoming hop. To understand this, see the visual below. You don’t see the shape of the object until you’re able to tilt it slightly to the right. In the infield, you won’t be able to get an accurate read on the hops until you can get an angle on the batted ball. As a result, right-lefting the ball has a huge impact on hop selection. 


You can’t see the shape of the object until you create a slight angle (get to the right of it)


You can teach this move to athletes using some basic constraint work. Place an object in front of the athlete and roll/hit fungos directly at the object. The constraint of the object forces the athlete to work to the right of the ball without taking a large “banana” route to the ball. Below is a video of one of our athletes practicing this move using a bucket as his constraint. 

Utilizing a bucket constraint can help kids get a feel for right-lefting the ball


Right-lefting the catch is also an important move to create good catch positions and direction towards the target. As Carmen says best, the ball always wants to gain ground. Being able to right/left the catch helps the athlete redirect energy as opposed to catching, stopping, and then starting back up again. It also helps athletes learn how to time up their glove presentation as their right foot plants. Just the way you walk, your left arm wants to work in tangent with your right leg. As the right leg plants, the glove should start to present and create a ramp for the ball. As the left leg lands, the heel drops first and the toe drops left. We call this a heel-toe move (see Lindor). It gives the infielder adjustability and helps them stay grounded in their right foot as opposed to leaking out.  


Two drills that help teach the right/left footwork are toe up and leg up. The toe up drill helps create a feel for the heel-toe move with the left leg at catch. The athlete should plant the heel as they catch the ball and replace feet using a 2 step approach. Coaches can roll huggers and short hops to the athlete. See the video below from Tucker Frawley and Kainoa Correa’s 2019 ABCA Presentation for what this should look like.



The leg up drill is a progression off the toe up drill which reinforces the same right-left principles from a more dynamic position. The left leg should be back with the glove hand forward and the right leg planted in the ground. As the ball is rolled, the athlete begins to take his glove and left foot to the ground using the heel-toe technique. See video below from the Frawley and Correa presentation for what this should look like.  



Teaching athletes how to cut down distance and play on an “x” are important concepts when infielders start to react to a moving ball. A drill you can use to teach cutting down distance is the line and circle drill. Draw a straight line from the athlete’s starting position and extend it anywhere from 5-8’ depending on the distance from the fungo hitter. At the end of the line, trace out a circle big enough that the athlete can get into a good catch position inside of it. Hit ground balls on the line at the athlete and try to get them to catch the ball inside the circle using good right/left footwork. If the athlete can’t catch the ball in the circle, they haven’t cut down enough distance. You can also use the line as a visual for athletes to get to the right of the ball. 


When moving left and right, infielders should strive to play the ball and cut down angles on a “x” as opposed to a “t”. Playing on an x (see Bregman interview with A-Rod) forces athletes to take more direct routes to the ball as opposed to working predominantly east and west. This helps cut down distance and gives infielders more time to make throws. Certain types of batted balls will require different angles. Carmen says best: “The ball will dictate the play.” Get your kids to learn how to play balls on as many different angles as possible. No one has ever gotten the same exact ground ball in a game twice. Your practices should mirror that unpredictability (see our previous blog post for more on variable practice). 


As Bregman alluded to in the interview, certain positions are going to have different concentrations of batted balls. Below is a heat map from Frawley and Correa’s ABCA Presentation showing the ground ball distribution between Andrelton Simmons and Nolan Arenado. 



As a coach, the fungos you hit in practice should reflect the heat map above. Middle infielders should learn how to be comfortable catching and throwing when moving far to their left and right. Corner infielders should be able to catch and throw moving in and moving back. Some balls are going to require infielders to retreat so they can catch the big hop. See Anthony Rizzo for an example of this. 


Catching and throwing on the run is an important skill for both types of infielders. To help athletes get a feel for this, start by rolling kids huggers/tossing short hops from 8-10’ away. Get kids to learn how to get to the right of the ball, catch off their glove foot, and throw off their post (right) foot. The post foot should be angled so the middle of the shoe is facing their target – also known as a toe in move. The shoulders should be angled so the athlete can transfer and deliver the ball from a lower slot. This move is similar to the action a hitter takes when they try to match the plane for a pitch down in the zone. Fielders cannot throw from just one angle – they need to be able to utilize a variety of angles to be most effective. 


Infielders must be able to use a wide range of arm slots


When you can get kids to understand a variety of plays, teach them when to utilize each one using the four second pace. In 2019 at the MLB level, more than half the league got from home to first between 3.93 and 4.40 seconds. As an infielder, you need to be able to make plays within this time constraint. Building this internal clock is going to determine whether you take a four step pattern, two step, get rid of it right away, or play it on the run. The best way to get a feel for this is to us a stopwatch or live baserunners. If guys can’t consistently make plays within this time constraint, it’s worth examining their routes to the ball, footwork after the catch, or repositioning them to adjust for their arm/range. 


Double Plays


Double plays are a great progression off basic infield work to teach various moves, feeds, and footwork. We work on these consistently at our team practices. Just like ground balls, different double play feeds are going to depend on the feed. At second base, you’re going to have three basic moves: step back, step across, and step behind. On all three feeds, the second baseman is going to take their left foot to the bag and their right foot to the ball (on the catch). Carmen also brought up second basemen should also try to finish their feed with their knees facing towards first base to help protect against awkward side collisions. 


The step back is going to be your basic move on a good feed without any significant time constraints. The second baseman is simply going to step back to clear the base path and make the feed. The step behind is going to be for the feed that misses the second baseman arm side. On the throw, the second baseman should adjust and step behind the bag to make the feed. Infielders are protected behind the bag just the way they are protected outside the sliding lane. The step across feed is for the ball that takes the shortstop or third baseman away from the bag. By stepping across, second basemen are able to cut down distance and shorten the time for their feed given the time constraint of the batted ball. See our instagram post from the past to get a feel for what these should look like. Also see Jose Altuve for the step back/across moves in a game situation.  


On plays where turning two isn’t likely, second baseman should turn into a first baseman and sell out to get the lead runner. In doing this, defenses are able to keep a runner out of scoring position and keep the double play in tact. If the infielder taking the ground ball bobbles a potential double play feed, the play should automatically go to one. Outs are a premium as a defense. Don’t give one away because you tried to rush a double play feed when you had a chance to get the guy at first. 


At shortstop, it’s important to play behind the bag when receiving double play feeds. You don’t want to cheat towards the glove side part of the bag and get beat arm side on an errant throw. We always want to secure the out at second base (see Gleyber Torres secure the catch before making a feed to first). When turning double plays as a shortstop, the footwork is flipped. The left foot goes to the ball and the right foot swipes across the back of the bag. Footwork should be aligned as close to first base without impeding in the baseline. If the throw takes the shortstop far to their glove side, you can utilize a spin to get momentum back towards first base. If the ball misses arm side, have the athlete take their left foot to the back and right to the ball – just like a second baseman. See our previous instagram video for what these should look like. 


Both middle infielders should learn how to deflect when receiving good feeds on double plays. Deflecting happens when the person catching transfers from glove to hand without closing their glove (see Altuve). This makes for a quicker transition that is necessary to make plays within a four second pace. Athletes should deflect on feeds that are within the framework of their body – chin to belt, shoulder width. If feeds take athletes outside of this framework, the athlete should catch one handed and transfer in the middle of their body. Taking two hands on a bad feed can limit range and create poor throw positions by taking the athlete away from their target. 


Make the Exceptional Play


On a final note, too much of infield instruction is monotonous. Ground balls are hit right at kids and two hands need to be used for everything. This is simply not how the game is played. While mastering the basics is crucial, athletes need to learn how to make the exceptional play. They need to be able to dive and snag a ball heading down the left field line. They need to be able to make the spin six up the middle as a shortstop. They need to be able to make that Jeter play deep in the hole and cut down the lead runner at second. 



If you don’t give kids the freedom to play with athleticism and make a variety of plays, you’ll never be able to do them in games. Your practices will either free your kids to be themselves or constrain them into a mold driven by fear. Keep things fun and make the extraordinary play.  





Thoughts from Hitting Discussion

Hitting a baseball is arguably the hardest feat to do in all of sports – and teaching it is even tougher. At our most recent baseball roundtable discussion, we tackled the subject of hitting and dissected it from several different angles. With everything we have to offer, there is still quite a lot we don’t know and having conversations with players and coaches from the area is a great way to create a collaborative learning environment. These discussions really push our organization forward and it is a great joy to be able to share our experiences with others while also learning from theirs. 


Being in the private sector has given us the opportunity to see different swings, work with different kinds of players, absorb different ideas, and experiment with various tools, cues, and drills. Through this, we have ultimately learned that there is no “cookie cutter” model when teaching hitting. As a coach, it is crucial that you learn how to work with different athletes by building a large toolbox. Certain athletes are going to respond to different cues, drills, or implements you use with them. Your effectiveness as a coach is going to be minimal if you don’t have the ability to find something that works for several different athletes. Speak multiple languages with your hitters. Know how they think, what they feel, and what they need to be successful in the box. 


From a player’s perspective, it is imperative you understand one language – your own. Know what helps you feel good in the box and what you need to do to create those feelings. Understand your strengths and use them to compensate for what you don’t do so well. Know your routines, mindset, and approach down to a tee. Know the bad habits we tend to fall into and how we can make adjustments from game to game. You’re going to experience different coaches, training environments, and situations throughout your playing career. If you want to be able to navigate these with consistent success, start to take ownership of your training. With all the information out today, there is no excuse for you to become a victim of your circumstances. Do your homework, know thyself. 


A quote Carmen always comes back to is: “You either like it, love it, or live it.” You as a player are the only one that can answer that question for yourself. To play this game at a high level requires discipline, sacrifice, and an uncommon commitment to greatness. For you to get to the levels you want to go, you need to be honest with yourself. You need to know exactly where you are as a player, where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there. This is why it is crucial you have the right coaches around you. Don’t seek a coach that tells you how good you are – find someone who can be honest with you and tell you things you don’t want to hear. If we lie to kids because we want them to feel good, we are doing them a disservice. Be honest with your kids and be willing to have difficult conversations. It’s only going to help them in the long run. 


As talked about before, one thing we always come back to when training hitters is putting a premium on your practice. An idea Carmen brought up from Bobby Valentine to reinforce this was Bobby’s 6 P’s: “Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” The success – or lack of – that you have on the field is going to reflect the quality and consistency of your training. If you aren’t having the success you think you should be in games, it’s worth revisiting how you’re preparing for competition. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharping the ax.” 


With the conclusion of the World Series happening this week, we decided to tie in the Nationals impressive series victory by bringing up a recent article talking about Juan Soto’s unique approach in the box. The thing that really stuck out to us was how his father Juan Sr. trained him to become a big league caliber player. Check out this excerpt from Juan Sr. in the article below: 


It’s like I always told him — when you get into the batter’s box to hit, you own that space. Nobody can intimidate you. On the contrary, those guys [the pitchers] are the ones who should be afraid of you. And you have to show them why.  



We love this approach because it emphasizes the importance of competing with confidence. If you don’t have a strong belief in yourself and your abilities as a hitter, you will crumble when faced with adversity. Confidence is something Soto never lacked growing up – and it’s a big reason why he’s been able to have success at the MLB level in some of the game’s biggest stages.  


Another theme that drove our conversation was the idea of “mechanics cure all.” If players aren’t having success on the field, most coaches jump right to the mechanics part and try to make tricky mechanical adjustments in the middle of the competitive season. While most of these coaches are well intentioned, we don’t agree with this approach at all. We believe there is a checklist of boxes you need to go through before you try to change a player’s movement patterns. We do this because:


  1. It is very hard to make meaningful mechanical changes.
  2. Our thoughts are going to have a direct correlation to our physical movement patterns. Think about how your swing is going to look like when swinging for the fences vs. trying to hit a ground ball. 
  3. Everyone is different. How do you know the changes you’re trying to create are optimal for that athlete?
  4. Research consistently shows players with an external focus of attention (over an internal focus of attention) perform better in game situations. Making mechanical changes creates a tendency to focus internally as opposed to externally.


There is a time and place to focus on movement patterns, but this cannot be your only tool as a coach. Kids need to learn and practice tools that help them compete in the batter’s box. If a player is struggling in the batter’s box, we suggest you go through this checklist before even thinking about touching their mechanics:


  1. How is the player seeing the ball? Visual misreads can account for a large array of physical mistakes which include timing, pitch recognition, premature weight shift, wrist roll, poor direction, and knowledge of the strike zone. If you have kids struggling with vision, make sure they’re getting two eyes on the pitcher in their stance. Kids who really close off their front shoulder will have a difficult time doing this. There are seven muscles in each eye – use them to your advantage. Sandy Koufax illustrated this idea best when he said the best hitters he ever saw all picked him up with two eyes. 
  2. Do they have a plan/approach at the plate? How are they managing the strike zone? In the article from above, Juan Soto talked about hunting one pitch in one location. If hitters are looking for everything, they’re not ready for anything. A lot of the “funks” we get ourselves into are because we’re lost our ability to manage the strike zone. The strike zone is to baseball is what the line of scrimmage is to football – teams that win both win games. See our previous blog post for more information about how to build an approach in the box. 
  3. How are they breathing? The belly breath does a multitude of things to help get us in a state of mind where we can relax and trust in our training. If you have an athlete who can’t control their nerves, teaching them how to breathe is a great place to start. 
  4. What are their thought patterns when playing? The best athletes in the world think very little in competition. Considering the reactionary nature of sports, players simply don’t have time to think. Confident players play with their eyes. Players who lack confidence become victim of their negative thought patterns. If you have an athlete struggling with this, it’s worth developing some positive self-talk
  5. What do they see/feel when they’re having success? Some simple awareness can provide players with a strong foundation for how to get back on track. If you can reconnect with times where the player was at their best through visuals (pictures/film), helpful cues, or drills, you can get them back on their feet much quicker without any mechanical interventions. 
  6. Are they feeling any external pressure from coaches, parents, teammates, or scouts? The last thing you want to do is turn games into a three-hour timeout. Games should be exciting for kids – it’s their opportunity to show the hard work they’ve put in to refine their skills. Give them the freedom to compete, make mistakes, ultimately be themselves on the field. Players will never be able to let their abilities shine if they’re constantly worried about screwing up.  


Movement Patterns


When looking at movement patterns in athletes, it’s important to understand principles vs. styles. Principles are key movements that all high level hitters share while styles are slight variations in swings that help different hitters be successful. For example, a principle for hitters would be the front leg firming and bracing after landing while a style would be a leg kick vs. toe tap timing mechanism. As a coach, you want to be able to teach the principles of the swing while allowing for room for individualization. You don’t want to try to teach styles as if they’re principles – you’re more likely to coach athletes out of beneficial patterns. We all have a unique fingerprint as to how we move – don’t coach kids out of these movements.   


Two positions we try to put a premium on with hitters are the stance and foot plant. In a hitter’s stance, the athlete should be in a position of balance where their head is over their belly button and they have a slight bend in their knees. They should have two eyes on the pitcher and be in a position where they can get a clear visual of the ball coming in. Athletes should also have some sort of movement/rhythm in their stance whether it be their barrel or feet. We don’t want to stand still like a statue in the box – we want to match the movement the pitcher is creating. 



Stances allow for quite a bit of variation between athletes. Some examples include the width of your base, standing taller/lower, starting open or closed, the position of your hands/bat, and the angle of your back foot. Give kids the freedom to experiment with different things, but always make sure the big rocks are in play when trying new moves. As for common faults, we see a lot of athletes who are very still in the box, start with their weight heavily on their backside, and close off their front shoulder quite a bit. A helpful cue we like to use to help create good head/eye positions is “try to watch your favorite TV show in centerfield.”  


At foot plant, athletes should again land in balance with their head over their center of mass (belly button). They should be in a hinge position where their glutes are behind their heels and their chest is over the plate. Both heels hold the ground and knees stay between the athlete’s feet. Visual field for the athlete is in front of the ball. Hands are inside elbows with the top hand angled slightly in front of the bottom hand. The hands remain down the line of the pitch and do not get lost far behind the athlete’s torso. The barrel is angled over the athlete’s center of mass and roughly shares a vertical relationship to the ground. 



The shoulders are going to be in an attacking position where the back shoulder is slightly higher than the front shoulder and the back elbow is up (some guys slot a little sooner than others). The shoulders are also going to remain closed while the hips slightly open – creating hip/shoulder separation. This gives the athlete the ability to store energy just the way you would when pulling a rubber band back. The anchor point to pull back from would be the lower half and the rubber band pulling back would be the upper half. 


While these are some general rules of thumb, there are plenty of athletes that do things differently (see below). While we wouldn’t necessarily teach some of these positions, we definitely wouldn’t coach them out of kids if they had a lot of success with them. Some moves are going to be easier to get away with when the velocity isn’t as demanding, so keep an eye on how patterns fair against better competition. Adjust accordingly, but don’t jump to make changes if they don’t look aesthetically pleasing. Mechanics don’t win baseball games – competitors do. 


Kyle Tucker “keeping his knob to the catcher”


As for some common flaws, we see kids over rotate their shoulders, lose balance and get stuck on their backside, dive into the plate and lose their hinge, land with their torso vertical to the ground, and lose angles with their upper half. As for teaching points, we like to start with the lower half and see how everything organizes itself from there. Teach kids how to hinge, create a positive move forward, get a bigger base, and work the hip line into the ground while keeping weight distribution in the middle of both feet. Kids will seek to create tension in bad places (ex: counter-rotating the shoulders) if they can’t create it with the lower half. 


As for the upper half, give kids a general rule of thumb and let them experiment by picking up different bats and getting a feel for how the hands and barrel want to work. For example, long bats can help guys who lose angles over the plate and short bats can help kids who lose their hands behind their torso. Take note of what works and be as creative as you’d like. The less verbal cueing the better. 


Below are some other thoughts about the swing that were brought up throughout our discussion:

  • Get kids to work on creating a slightly uphill swing plane. A lot of kids that we see come in with really steep attack angle (hands directly to ball) that makes it very difficult to square up pitches in the air. A lot of this can be cleaned up in kids with good cueing (ex: hit it high and hard).


From The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams

  • Be careful when teaching kids to “keep their weight back.” Our intention is to move forward. The load is not going to be a move where the athlete shifts their weight towards the catcher. Get kids to gain ground and create a positive move towards the pitcher. See our past blog post for more information about this.


  • Where your head goes, your body will follow. If the head cannot stabilize after foot plant, the athlete’s body will continue to drift forward and out of contact. After foot plant, you want athletes to rotate around an imaginary steel rod that runs from their midsection out through the top of their head. If the torso rotates above this line, athletes will have the tendency to “pull off” the ball. 


  • Contact should come out in front off of the lead leg. When working on the tee, make sure it is set up in front of the athlete so they can catch the ball out in front. If you have an athlete that can’t get the ball off the ground, give them a visual in front of the plate where contact should happen. 


  • The back knee should create an inside move after foot plant where it works down and in as the rear hip starts to rotate forward and the front hip firms/braces. The ground is your best friend as a hitter – use it to your advantage.  


  • Beware of “one plane swings.” Athletes are going to have to make adjustments to a multitude of pitches in games. Don’t just let them tee off on a pitch middle-middle belt down – get them to learn how to drive a variety of pitches. 

Posture varies based on the location of the pitch

If you want the itinerary or full sheet of visuals from the event, reach out and we can send those to you!


Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning, growing, and doing damage in the box.

Thoughts from Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar

I was able to recently attend the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar September 21-22. It was the first time I was able to make it up to their location in Massachusetts. Being someone who has followed their work for quite a while, it was a great opportunity to meet and collaborate with the staff, network with others, and learn a great deal throughout the weekend.

The topics of the sessions were quite diverse and covered everything from business, psychology, sports performance, general population, ACL rehab, pitching, and more. Below are some of my thoughts about what I learned and why I believe they’ve built an awesome culture at CSP.  

The first thing you could notice with the entire staff was the synergy that connected them. While everyone shared foundational knowledge about training, each staff member brought to the table a unique skill set and expertise. They were encouraged to be themselves and to train people as they saw fit while maintaining certain core principles (incorporating a push/pull, squat/hinge, etc.). The CSP staff didn’t utilize a step-by-step instruction manual – they had an adaptable toolbox which was suited towards their strengths

Considering the complexity of coaching human beings, being adaptable is one of the most important skills you can have as a coach. Some kids will respond to certain exercises, cues, or drills better than others. Your job as a coach is not to shove a style down someone’s throat, but to use feedback from the athlete to build their own. Several of the presenters mentioned the idea of autonomy – giving athletes some say in their training process. Nobody wants a dictator for a coach. By including athletes in their development plan, you’re able to get better buy in, more engagement, increased enthusiasm, and better results. 

This autonomy is delivered through relationship driven coaching. As a professional, you must put a premium on the personal relationships you have people. If you’re going to get the best out of someone, they need to know that you care about them as a human being. You need to know who the athlete is, what excites them, their interests outside of training, why they train, and what makes their personality unique. Whoever you are working with must be able to trust you – the single most important factor when building buy-in. If you go about this process transactionally, athletes are going to see right through you. If you take the time to slow cook your relationship and really get to know them as individuals, you are going to have far more success.

This coach-athlete relationship is more important than ever with the rise of anxiety and depression related issues. It’s estimated that 70 percent of teens state their peers show symptoms of anxiety and depression. People who suffer from anxiety have trouble concentrating, feel the need to be a perfectionist, and lack trust. This is a crucial component as the coach-athlete relationship depends heavily on trust. If your athletes do not perceive you as someone that cares about them and can help them, you will not be able to build sufficient buy-in. 

When dealing with athletes that show symptoms of anxiety, it’s important to be an active listener. Let the athlete share their thoughts and concerns. Aim to learn the true source of their anxiety and ultimately try to alter their perception of their limitations. If you can change an athlete’s thought process, you can help them develop the courage to overcome it through acknowledgement, positive feedback, and consistent support. As a result, your interactions on the playing field or training floor can have a profound impact on the life of that individual beyond sport – our ultimate goal. Athletic performance cannot be your main focus when dealing with young men and women. Above all else, coaches must strive to build optimal well-being within the individuals that they come into contact with. 

At the Saturday bonus session, John O’Neil and Kyle Driscoll talked about their summer collegiate pitcher development program that they ran for 10 weeks with just over 40 arms. The program had great success and helped numerous pitchers get stronger, more efficient, and gain more velocity. Aside from the technical components of the program, what I found really interesting was how they used competition to fuel greater returns this year. One of the things they did right out of the gate was pick everyone’s throwing partners. Since the athletes would spend a lot of time with their throwing partner, John and Kyle specifically chose partners that would get the most out of each other. Some of the factors they took into account were motivation levels, previous training experience, abilities, movement patterns, and personalities. When blended just right, they developed a tandem that worked every single day to get the most out of themselves and each other. 

This is something John and Kyle believed really helped the program this year as opposed to last year. By utilizing the dynamic systems theory and really placing a priority on creating a competitive environment, throwers in their program thrived seeing average velocity gains of 3-4 mph. I thought this was a great teaching point for coaches and athletes: If you want to really challenge yourself in catch play, pair yourself up with someone who will get the best out of you. Bounce ideas off of each other, try new things out, and compete your ass off to shove it down their throat every single day. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with

This leads to another point that was driven throughout the clinic – master the basics before getting caught up in the details. The programs CSP writes for athletes and general population clients are largely the same. A lot of the exercises they describe are not exciting at all – they’re basic, fundamental movements. There’s nothing sexy about executing a quality hip hinge or snapdown into the athletic position, but it’s a prerequisite to establishing robust movement patterns that can eventually be loaded. Executing a prone trap raise is not as fun as doing 69 sets of biceps and triceps, but it’s a fundamental pattern that teaches people how to posterior tilt and move the scapula flush along the rib cage while keeping the humeral head in the glenoid socket. 

Athletes executing a hip hinge in our warm up before summer camp

If you want to throw a baseball hard and stay healthy while doing it, you must master the basics on the field before getting to the fun stuff. Catch play is a very basic and monotonous part of baseball, but it’s a foundational skill that must be taken seriously every single day. If you don’t strive to get the most out of your catch play every single time you touch a ball, you are wasting hours of precious development. Your window in this game is very limited. If you aren’t taking care of the basics on a consistent basis, your window will start to close sooner than you thought. 

This is a big reason why Eric’s initial assessment with athletes simply begins by looking at resting posture. While it seems basic on the outside, it gives a lot of information in terms of whether the athlete sits in flexion or extension, the alignment of their pelvis and shoulders, upper trap tone, the angle of their clavicle, and forward head posture – to name a few. Without getting deeper into the assessment (passive/active range of motion, basic joint movements, lunge, push up, overhead squat, etc.), a really simple position will give you a lot of information that can dictate the rest of the assessment. If you were to overlook this, you could put the athlete in a situation where exercise selection would feed the exact patterns you’re trying to avoid (ex: dumbbell loaded exercises for those with overactive lats that sit in downward rotation). 

When a baseline has been established through assessment, it’s important to start building a program with exercises that match up to your client. John and Kyle did a great job explaining this by laying out the following guidelines:

  1. Is an exercise, technically:
    1. Necessary? 
    2. Sufficient?
    3. Appropriate?
    4. Effective?
    5. Challenging? (or interesting, enjoyable?)
    6. Safe?
  2. Environmentally:
    1. Person (assessment/training history)
    2. Practitioner (coach?)
    3. Periodically/phase appropriate/time sensitive?
    4. Place appropriate? 
    5. Position appropriate?

While the first list is more of a general guideline, the second list is a little more individualized in terms of the client, the coach, the training location, and how it fits into their short and long term goals. Based on the client and their aspirations, there is great value in taking a conservative approach early on in order to build positive associations with training (think twice before making athletes do sprints/push ups for punishment). This list is also not static – some things may change in time. Being adaptable and being able to make adjustments is a critical piece in delivering an effective training program.  

Having the knowledge to eliminate certain exercises is also an important piece when designing programs. Depending on the sport the athlete plays, the calendar, their starting date, individual assessment, or position, certain exercises are not going to make sense. Giving an individual who lacks sufficient hip flexion a heavy dose of front squats is a disaster waiting to happen. If an athlete can’t move their scaps while executing a push up, placing them on a bench and doing horizontal press variations (bench press, dumbbell bench) is not a great way to get them moving correctly. 

This rule is also applicable in a baseball setting. Being able to choose and eliminate different inputs is a skill that requires a big toolbox – just the way program building is. Heavy bats can be great for loose movers to help create more efficient angles, but is a poor idea for someone who can’t control their barrel in the first place. Short bats can help some learn how to stay on the ball for a longer period of time, but don’t make sense when athletes start to cheat and lose angles over the plate. While it’s necessary to learn how to add certain drills/movements, it’s just as important to learn addition by subtraction

Using the short can be a great tool for athletes who pull off the ball prematurely 

Another concept John and Kyle talked about was utilizing a High/Low Central Nervous System (CNS) model – as made famous by Charlie Francis. This model balances structural and functional exercises as they relate to the increasing demands on the CNS. Developing an efficient CNS is integral in optimizing neuromuscular coordination – a big reason why multi-joint exercises should be the backbone of any training program.  The movements we make throughout the course of the day largely do not happen in isolation. They are the result of coordination between various joints and segments throughout the body. 

With this, certain exercises and tempos are going to create different demands on the CNS. Structural exercises (hypertrophy, low load/speed) are going to demand less on the CNS as opposed to functional exercises (endurance, strength, power – heavy and fast). 

High CNS movements:

  • Sprints
  • Heavy compound movements (deadlifts, front squats)
  • Medicine ball throws for speed
  • Watching the Buffalo Bills every Sunday for 22 years (I’m kidding)

Low CNS movements:

  • Low aerobic capacity work (elliptical, light jog)
  • Isolation strength training (biceps curls, leg extensions)
  • Low intensity dynamic warm up exercises (side shuffles, marches, carioca)
  • Angrily mowing the lawn after the Bills lose a heartbreaker (this happens too often)

Because of the strength and coordination required, high CNS exercises are going to typically be the best bang for your buck when training – as well as the most taxing. As a result, they should be executed when the athlete is the least fatigued. This can be accomplished by placing high CNS moves at the beginning of workouts and spacing your high CNS days between low CNS days (hence, the high/low model). A low CNS day can be any workout that does not place a heavy emphasis on endurance, strength, or power. While younger athletes can typically get away back-to-back higher CNS days because their CNS isn’t highly developed, older and more experienced lifters are going to need more time to recover.  

To create an example week utilizing the high/low model, Monday and Thursday could be high CNS lower body days. Tuesday and Friday could be moderate upper body days, Wednesday a lower CNS day, and Saturday a higher CNS day with a very low CNS day on Sunday. This can be modified or utilized in a variety of different ways – as long as you are allowing for recovery time between high CNS days. This same pattern should be utilized when developing a velocity program for pitchers. High CNS days would be velocity days and low CNS days would either be low intensity throwing/mapping or complete off days. By allowing for optimal recovery time between high CNS days, you can maximize your training without compromising the long term health of your athletes.

Early trainees are going to progress rather rapidly (linear progressive overload), while more experienced lifters are going to take more work to continue to progress and see performance gains. In either case, it’s important to always have a strong foundation with the basics (general physical preparation). Activities like baseball are going to generally pull athletes into beneficial asymmetrical patterns (ex: loss of internal rotation in back hip, gain of internal rotation in lead hip). John made a point to note throwing a baseball is going to require you to be asymmetrical – whether you had those qualities to begin with or developed them over time. Because of this, it’s important your training finds a way to neutralize some of these positions without going too far in one direction or the other (ex: anti-rotary exercises, non-dominant med ball throws to offset asymmetrical rotational demands). Less experience in the weight room is going to require less specificity on the training floor. More experience will require greater variety, but not without regards to basic movements. 

Certain qualities are going to be easier to develop and maintain than others. For example, research has shown aerobic capacity and low max strength work are pretty easy to develop and hold on to. On the other hand, power is going to be one of the first qualities to go if it is not maintained on a fairly regular basis. Considering the window of time needed to produce force in baseball, developing plane specific power should be a priority throughout programming. However, it should not come at the cost at developing general strength. General strength should be developed first before adding more explosive, power centered exercises into programs. As for some markers for general strength, CSP likes to see athletes trap bar deadlifting 405, lunging their bodyweight, and front squatting 1.5X their bodyweight. While these markers don’t necessarily dictate the health/performance of an athlete, they give some really basic information as to where their strengths, weaknesses, and greatest windows for opportunity are. 

This brings up another point discussed throughout the clinic – there is such a thing as “strong enough” when it comes to developing athletes in the weight room. Eric did a great job of explaining this in his presentation of the spine. The rotary athlete is going to require a thinner, more mobile spine in order to adapt to the constant rotation and extension you see throughout baseball. This spine is not going to fare well in the long term when constantly loaded axially (front/back squat) and bilaterally. Those with thicker spines (powerlifters, offensive linemen) are going to fair much better with these patterns as they’ve created more specific adaptations to their functional tasks. 

Using medicine balls is a great way to build rotational power

As a general rule of thumb, CSP feels pretty comfortable when an athlete can get into the upper 400 to lower 500 pound range. Since everyone’s training economy/timetable is limited, it’s important athletes are prioritizing sport specific training adaptations. Chasing a 600 pound deadlift as a baseball pitcher should not come at the expense of using medicine balls to develop rotary power. A 400 pound squat is no good if an athlete can’t reverse lunge 135. Research has shown power is largelyplane specific (e.g. why powerlifters typically don’t throw baseballs at a high level). If you aren’t getting strong in the positions and planes that your sport demands, you are wasting a good portion of your training economy. There is a time and place for loading up the bar on a deadlift, but there is also a limit as to how far you should really push to load the pattern. 

To help these gains in the weight room transfer to the playing field, John and Kyle emphasized the importance of working proximal to distal when addressing movement patterns. Much of what you see at the distal extremities (hands, feet) is going to mirror what is happening at the trunk, glutes, and pelvis. As a result, one of the first things they prioritize is creating some proximal stability. Stable positions are repeatable, unstable positions are tough to repeat. 

When athletes take their move out of balance, John and Kyle like to see some sort of rear hip stiffness. This is created by keeping the back foot in the ground and the rear glute behind the athlete’s heel (the hinge position). Instead of coaching athletes to push off the rubber, CSP likes to teach athletes how to hold angles and keep tension in their backside as they move down the mound. This gives the upper half the ability to mobilize and create separation. If the lower half is not able to create stability, the upper half won’t be able to separate and will work as one unit with the lower half. This throws off the rotary sequence and will result in a lack of velocity, health, and performance. 

Keeping the glove thumb down after hand break

Another key point John and Kyle discussed was direction to the plate. Through their observations, athletes tend to get very stiff (“muscling up”) and rotational (trying to create more separation) when trying to throw harder. This gives athletes the tendency to fly off their target through towards their glove side through early trunk rotation. Controlling the trunk throughout the delivery is a big piece in teaching athletes how to create adequate stiffness at key points. They like to teach athletes how to delay the trunk (in terms of its relationship to the pelvis) by keeping the glove thumb down (shoulder internal rotation). This helps the throwing arm retract (scap retraction) and eventually get into a slot at foot strike where the forearm/humerus and humerus/torso share about a 90 degree relationship. The throwing arm is then able to lay back and eventually deliver the ball through internal rotation and pronation. If the glove side is not able to hold angles and keep the torso stacked over the rear hip, athletes will go into early trunk rotation, lose the ability to retract the throwing scap, and spin off the ball (lack of direction) with diminished velocity. 

Getting to the 90/90 position at foot strike (general rule of thumb) with torso stacked over rear hip

Before telling pitchers to get their arm up or to keep from flying open with their lead leg, make sure you address what is going on proximally. See if they know how to hinge, turn their glutes on, and create/hold stiffness in their back hip. Make sure they’re able to create stability with their lower half before chasing separation with their upper half. Keep their direction going down the hill. You’ll never solve the issue distally if you fail to address it proximally. As John and Kyle say, “Proximal stability dictates distal performance.” 

On a final note, I think the most important fundamental takeaway was using a collaboration of several skill sets to build a sturdy, holistic business model. Everyone has their own strengths in terms of social skills, background knowledge, physical skill sets, or sport specific expertise. It’s important as a coach and athlete to know your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. Perform using your strengths and grow your weaknesses into tools and skills you can use down the road. Outsource when you can’t find information and network with people who can complement your skills. Nothing beats having a quality conversation with an expert in the area that you desire to learn about.

I really appreciate the time Eric, Pete Dupuis, and the rest of his staff put into making this clinic a possibility. I would highly recommend them to anyone who is interested in learning more about the information presented in this article.

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.  

Blocked vs. Variable Practice Style – Which is Best?

Blocked and variable practice are two main practice styles coaches can use to design the layout of their practices. Both styles have a distinct mold which ultimately influences how athletes learn skills, retain them, and refine them with practice. While research tends to favor variable practice for long term skill acquisition, both styles of practice can help accelerate the learning curve. As a coach, knowing how to use both is a fundamental component when it comes to designing engaging practices and maximizing the time you have with your athletes. 


Blocked practice is the most common and traditional method of practice. It involves predictable, consecutive repetitions of a specific skill. There is little to no variance between repetitions. Motivation behind blocked practice usually involves a desire to perfect a certain technique. Variance in patterns is minimal, but less skilled athletes can show more unintended fluctuations in technique. 


It is very common to see examples of blocked practice when athletes are first learning a skill. In a baseball setting, an example of this would be fielding 10 ground balls in a row hit right at you or taking 10 consecutive swings off the tee in the same place. Because of the lack of variation, blocked practice tends to be the easiest to set up and execute – part of the reason why it is very common.


Variable practice is a type of practice in which consecutive repetitions differ through slight fluctuations. In true variable practice, repetitions of the skill are unpredictable (performing predictable fluctuations of a skill falls under a hybrid variation of blocked practice). The variability of repetitions is designed to try and create a more game-like environment in which the athlete is challenged to find various movement solutions as opposed to just one in blocked practice. 


This type of practice is more difficult because athletes are not able to rely on their most recent solution to execute the next rep. Each rep presents a new challenge which forces the athlete to build a large database of movement solutions. Variable practice is most effective when done at the edge of an athlete’s current abilities. Too big of a challenge creates helplessness while too small of a challenge lacks necessary stimulation for learning.  


The Shea and Morgan experiment of 1979 was one of the first studies that dove into the effectiveness of blocked and variable practice style. Participants for the study were grouped into a blocked practice group and a variable practice group. Both groups learned a skill and were tested for skill retention using a 10 minute post test and a 10 day post test. Researchers found that participants in the blocked group outperformed the variable group in the initial acquisition trials but were significantly outperformed by the variable group in the 10 minute and 10 day post test. In other words, the participants in the blocked group could not retain the skill they had just learned only 10 minutes after doing it. Ever feel like you’re starting all over with an athlete every time you see them? It might be worth going over the practice environment before you blame it on their lack of dedication.  



Frans Bosch, Dutch neurophysiologist and leading expert in motor learning principles, explains this phenomenon using the terms “adaptable” and “adapted” athletes. Athletes in blocked practice settings haven’t really learned anything – they’ve simply adapted to the task at hand. It may look good or feel good in the short term, but the monotony of it does not engage the physical and motor learning systems in a meaningful way that promotes long term retention of skills. On the contrary, athletes in the variable practice setting have become adaptable by grappling with problems and implicitly discovering new solutions within the context of various internal and external constraints (ex: physical limitations).  It may look ugly early on but the athlete is actually learning at a much faster rate than his counterparts in blocked practice. 


Chad Longworth, hitting instructor and creator of LPD+, further dives into the effectiveness of variable practice by explaining the role of the Central Nervous System (CNS) in human movement. When solving movement problems, the CNS uses sensory information from the environment to construct a “roadmap” of neural pathways that guide the body to perform a specific skill (i.e. hitting a baseball). As the pathways strengthen with time and experience, the skills become much easier to execute and the roadway created becomes an ingrained manual the athlete can consistently recall. This process effectively puts skills on “autopilot” meaning minimal conscious thought is required to repeat the skill in the future. This process is a natural human phenomenon to conserve mental energy and save it for more demanding tasks in life. We all have a limited amount of energy that we can use throughout the course of the day so it would be a great disadvantage to us if we spent a large portion of it doing things like breathing, walking, or driving.   


While throwing a baseball is not as second nature as breathing, it is a skill that becomes more automated with practice – and it must be to perform in competitive environments. The double-edged sword to the automation of skills is no new learning occurs when the skill is on autopilot. The CNS is not forced to adapt to any new information because of its familiarity with the skill. The learning systems once heavily involved in the skill acquisition process are no longer necessary. If practice fails to engage the learning systems, athletes are merely going through the motions. This is why more practice is not always better. The quality of your practice will always outweigh the quantity of it (see “Deliberate Practice” for more information on this).


When athletes are faced with new challenges through variable practice, autopilot is turned off and the brain is forced to adapt by creating newer and better skill pathways. This process helps create positive adaptations that supercede their previous skill level. These adaptations help athletes solve complex motor tasks by challenging its physical capabilities and neuromuscular efficiency. If challenges do not push athletes beyond their current skill level, their body will sit in its ideal state of homeostasis – the body’s natural mechanism to provide stability and resist change. When acquiring and refining skills, we are fighting against homeostasis. 


Plenty of research (see more) since the Shea and Morgan experiment has been published and collectively suggests athletes are better able to learn and retain skills through variable practice over blocked practice. With this, variable practice is not the end-all be-all way to train your athletes. Being able to use both styles of practice is critical to maximizing the effectiveness of your coaching to all athletes – but the scale definitely should not be tipped in favor of blocked practice. 


Blocked practice is going to be your most basic tool for teaching new skills. It is effective with novice athletes that lack experience, body control, and awareness. It is also effective with athletes that have built an ingrained CNS map of how to do a specific skill the wrong way. The CNS maps for bad patterns do not just go away when you do the skill correctly. As a result, it is important to give athletes time to practice the skill so they can construct and strengthen the new CNS maps. With enough practice, these maps can become strong enough to automate the skill and make it usable in game environments. This process does not happen overnight, but using blocked practice can be an effective way to build an early foundation for the skill that you can build on top of.


Keep things simple early on when utilizing blocked practice. Get athletes to build competency in one area before trying to move to three different areas. If you’re looking at a couple of different things, start with what will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Give the athlete some basic parameters to work within, but don’t get caught up in the aesthetics. Three different athletes might accomplish a certain task three different ways. Understand your non-negotiables and give the athlete space to individualize. You’re not trying to create clones. 


When a certain level of competency has been reached, it is crucial you challenge the pattern using variable practice. This is a continuous process that must happen in order to facilitate future learning and refinement of skills. It’s also something that should be done sooner rather than later. Since we know athletes don’t retain information very well in blocked practice, it would be a disservice to the athlete to spend most of your training time in blocked environments. Learning is messy. If you want kids to look good, tell them to join a beauty pageant. 


As you add difficulty to the task, monitor to see where the pattern breaks down. Variable practice is tougher to introduce because it’s much more difficult for kids. This can be discouraging at first and if you’re not careful can create negative associations with helpful training processes. You don’t necessarily have to explain the science behind it, but kids need to know what variable practice looks like and why it is important. No one feels good when they try something challenging and fail. As a coach, you need to be a strong mentor and give kids the psychological safety to try new things, fail, and use feedback so they can learn from their mistakes. The challenges you introduce should be enough to stimulate them but not enough to crush them. This process is difficult and requires a lot of trial and error, but don’t be afraid to regress if you’re not getting what you want from the athlete. It will be better for them in the long run.  

Below are some examples of variable practice that you can implement with your athletes:


  • Overload/Underload Bats


Overload and underload training goes back to Soviet experimentation in the early 1970s and is one of the most researched forms of variable practice. Overload bats are going to be any bat weighted heavier than the athlete’s game sized bat, while underload bats are any bat that is lighter. Overload bats are great for mechanical patterning by constraining the body to move more efficiently. Underload bats are a great tool to build bat speed by allowing the athlete to move faster than they normally do. Utilizing a combination of the two is a pretty effective way to improve your exit velocity off the bat – something we know correlates very highly to success


Research has studied bats with weight variations that range from +/- 20 percent, so this is a pretty good place to start with most athletes. If you’re struggling to find an underload bat, a fungo is a great option (you also get a couple of different training effects that I’ll discuss underneath). Whiffel ball bats are also great underload options for young kids. Popular progressions include heavier overload bats (up to 100 percent in some studies) and varying the overload portion of the bat (ex: end loaded, handle loaded, etc.). If you have some old bats that you don’t use anymore, turn them into weighted bats using some duct/bat tape, pennies, and a scale. The more variation the better.  


  • Different sized bats/barrels 


Really good hitters have a great feel for the barrel of the bat. Building barrel awareness is an important skill to help hitters make consistent hard contact. This can be trained using bats that are longer, shorter, and barrels that are smaller. Each bat presents a movement problem in which the hitter must reorganize to find a new movement solution. While long and short bats are great for general barrel awareness, they can also be utilized to help influence a certain movement pattern. For example, short bats can help athletes who pull off the ball prematurely and long bats can help athletes who have a steep (hands directly to the ball) attack angle to the ball. This is why the fungo bat can present a variety of training effects – the length, size of barrel, and weight all create a unique combination for the motor learning systems to navigate. 


  • Weighted baseballs


Weighted baseballs follow the same training principles as the overload/underload bats. Overload balls – such as plyo balls – constrain the system to influence more efficient movement patterns. Underload balls help train arm speed by allowing the arm to accelerate faster. Utilizing both training effects is a great way to develop velocity the same way overload/underload bats improve exit velocity. Oh, and we also know throwing velocity correlates highly to success.  


Another huge benefit to weighted baseballs is the proprioceptive (“feel”) adaptations it creates for throwers. Each weighted ball presents a new challenge in which the athlete implicitly learns an optimal solution for each throw. This can help the body reorganize into more advantageous positions by using feedback from each rep to make adjustments for the next. This can have positive impacts on velocity, command, secondary stuff, and arm health. 


American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) research has shown heavier weighted implements (in comparison to the 5 ounce regulation ball) are actually going to be less stressful on the arm as opposed to lighter implements (the study looked at implements thrown off the mound that were 4-7 ounces). As a result, the majority of your weighted ball work should be done using overload implements. If you are planning on starting a weighted baseball program, make sure you consult with a knowledgeable coach or professional for an individualized plan to ensure maximal results.  


  • Different sized baseballs


Similar to weighted baseballs, different sized balls can have create proprioceptive adaptations for throwers. Different sizes and weights are going to create tendencies to miss in similar areas (ex: athletes are more prone to miss arm side with heavier, bigger baseballs). This forces athletes to implicitly learn how to make adjustments by using feedback from ball flight of their previous repetition. This helps build a larger database of movement solutions for the athlete that can positively impact command, for example. 


  • Variable sloped mounds


Every mound is going to have slight fluctuations that creates some external variability for pitchers. Some will be higher, lower, slope off steeper, or have more clay/dirt. Your job as an athlete is not to demand perfect playing conditions – it’s to adapt to the cards you’re dealt with. Having athletes pitch off a variety of dirt mounds is a great way to teach pitchers how to make adjustments and cope with less than ideal conditions. Coaches can also manipulate portable mounds by tilting them to the left, right, or having athletes throw up the slope to create certain movement adaptations.  


For hitters, the use of slopes can help make batting practice or machine work more realistic by increasing the downhill angle the ball travels on. Throwing BP off mounds or placing pitching machines on mounds can help create a ball flight that mirrors a pitcher throwing off a mound. 


  • Different distances


Manipulating the distance from the rubber to home plate can help pitchers who have trouble making adjustments vertically in the strike zone. Coaches can narrow the distance for guys who miss up and lengthen the distance for guys who miss high. Coaches can also narrow the distance to help guys tighten up their breaking stuff. 


Moving hitters closer to and farther away from the thrower is a great tool to simulate variances in timing. Moving them closer to the pitcher can simulate higher velocities while moving them further away can create the feel of adjusting to a breaking pitch. A popular drill for this is the three plate drill where hitters take a swing at three different plates which vary in distance from the thrower. Progressions include further distances, less pitches to move between plates, and different bats for different plates (ex: using a heavier bat when closer to the thrower, lighter bat when further away).  


  • Fatigue induced learning


Inducing fatigue in your training sessions can be a great way to create awareness for specific parts of a movement pattern. It can also simulate moments late in games when athletes are competing with higher levels of fatigue. If your bullpens are only executed when you feel freshest, don’t be surprised if your stuff starts to fall apart later in the game. Be careful with this one – patterns will break down under fatigue. Your brain is more concerned about task completion over task efficiency. Use this with athletes that have a more refined skill set and higher training maturity. 


  • Hitting plyo balls

Using heavy/plyo balls for hitting can help athletes get a better feel for positions at contact and overall swing plane. Different sizes and weights can also add another element of variable practice to the mix.

  • Random Pitching Machine Sequences 

The variance in pitch location from basic machine work can create an element of variable practice, but the overall structure of it represents more of a blocked practice style. To make it variable, eliminate predictability in pitch sequences. Some more advanced machines can program variable pitch sequences. If you don’t have one, you can create variable machine practice by using multiple machines or by varying the tempo in which you feed baseballs. 

In a multiple machine set up, you would have one person feeding both machines. The two machines would be set up from slightly different positions and can simulate either the same pitch or different pitches. The person feeding would pretend to feed both machines simultaneously but would ultimately drop the baseball into one machine. The batter is forced to adapt to the incoming pitch with no knowledge of what is coming. The variance in pitches, angles, and the unpredictability of the task creates a chaotic environment that better simulates a game. 


If working with one machine, the person feeding can vary the tempo of how the baseballs are fed through the machine. Use a normal tempo for a fastball and use a slight hesitation for an offspeed pitch. Have the hitter gear up for a fastball and adjust if faced with the simulated breaking ball. Vary the sequence in which you feed fastballs and offspeed pitches.  


  • Competition 


Competition is the ultimate form of variable practice. The arousal levels athletes experience when competing against others are unparalleled. Being able to confront an opponent, take punches, and return punches is unpredictable, difficult, and demands a high level of focus and concentration. This is exactly what variable practice demands. 


For more information on how to maximize competition in your practices, see our previous blog post “Compete!” 

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.  

The War of the Strike Zone

In the game of football, the line of scrimmage is the ultimate battleground throughout the course of a game. The goal of the offense is to prevent the defense from penetrating the line of scrimmage in order to open up running lanes and protect the quarterback so he can have more time to throw. The goal of the defense is the exact opposite: blow up the line of scrimmage to clog running lanes, put pressure on the quarterback, and force him to make bad decisions under duress. The team who can consistently control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball wins, while teams who struggle to do either have trouble competing for 60 minutes. This constant battle between the offense and defense is a great way to illustrate a similar battleground on the baseball field: the war of the strike zone.


Just like football, the pitcher and hitter are constantly competing for control of the strike zone. Pitchers are trying to pound the zone early and often so they can get hitters into counts where there are more strikes than balls. Hitters are trying to hit good pitches in good counts where there are more balls than strikes. Pitchers who get ahead are able to put pressure on the batter by making them expand the zone and swing at pitches that initially look like strikes. Hitters are trying to get into counts where pitchers are going to throw their most predictable (and straightest) stuff.


To explain why controlling the count is so important, let’s look at some numbers by count from the 2017 MLB season. When hitters were working with two strikes, they batted .177 (0-2: 0.152, 1-2: 0.159, 2-2: .181, 3-2: .216). When hitters were ahead in the count (more balls than strikes), they batted .366 (1-0: .341, 2-0: .360, 3-0: .414, 2-1: .349, 3-1: 364). In three ball counts, the OBP was .702 (3-0: .946, 3-1: 698, 3-2: 462). In two strike counts, the OBP stood at .244 (0-2: 0.160, 1-2: .166, 2-2: .187, 3-2: .462). If you subtract the 3-2 count (a neutral count), OBP falls to .171 with two strikes.


Based on this data, we can assume a few things:

  1. Pitchers thrive when they get to two strikes quickly (0-2 BA: 0.125, OBP: .160, 1-2 BA: .159, OBP: .166).
  2. Hitters do their most damage when ahead in the count (no BA in hitting plus counts was below .341).
  3. Three ball counts are a hitter’s dream and a pitcher’s nightmare (hitters get on base more than 70% of the time in three ball counts).
  4. The only time when batting averages sunk below 0.300 was when the count went to two strikes. The worst BA in any non-two strike count was .330 in 0-1 counts. The best BA in a two strike count was the 3-2 count (.216).


Let’s dive a little further. Two counts I want to emphasize are the 0-0 count and the 1-1 count.


0-0 Counts


The first pitch is crucial to the direction the at-bat will take. Pitchers are going to throw their best pitches in their highest strike percentage locations in 0-0 counts. They want to get to two strikes as quickly as possible. They’re not going to nibble around the strike zone – they’re going to go right at you with their best stuff.


To avoid falling into two strike counts, most hitters are going to be very aggressive in 0-0 counts. They know the pitcher is going to throw the ball over the plate early in their at-bat. By hopping on pitches early in the count, they reduce the likelihood they’ll see an offspeed of breaking ball later in the count. In 2018, the MLB BA on cutters/sliders and curveballs was .267 and the BA on changeups was .279. On 4 seam and 2 seam fastballs, MLB hitters batted .348.  


In 2017, MLB hitters batted .348 on 0-0 counts and slugged .585. 2017 batting champion and AL MVP Jose Altuve (.346 BA) hit a staggering .449 in 0-0 counts. 2017 AL MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge was just as exceptional batting .400 in 0-0 counts. Mike Trout, another pretty popular name in baseball, batted .447 in 0-0 counts. When we look at all three players in two strike counts, they barely combine to scratch .200 (Trout didn’t even touch .200 in 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts).


As a pitcher, this does not mean 0-0 counts are time to nibble. According to research done by Jerry Weinstein, 92.7% of first pitch strikes lead to an out or strike one. 69% of strikeouts begin with a first pitch strike, while 70% of walks start with first pitch balls. If you throw a first pitch strike, there is an 80% chance two of your first three pitches will be strikes. Considering what we know when the best hitters in the world get to two strikes, this is a huge advantage for pitchers.     


1-1 Counts


Aside from 0-0 counts, 1-1 counts are arguably the most important count in baseball. To illustrate this, let’s look at some numbers for what happens after 1-1 counts. If the pitcher throws a strike and gets the count to 1-2, hitters struggled batting .159 with a .166 OBP. If the pitcher throws a ball and lets the hitter work back into a plus count, BA and OBP jumps to .349 and .351 respectively. In the matter of one pitch, we’re looking at a difference of .190 in BA and .185 in OBP.


As a pitcher, 1-2 counts are where we thrive. We can throw our best swing and miss pitches without worrying about whether we’ll walk the batter or not. Hitters can’t be as selective and must battle off a variety of pitches to work themselves back into a favorable count. In 2017 in 1-2 counts, Altuve batted .235, Judge batted .172, and Trout batted .188.  


In 2-1 counts, the options for pitchers are limited in their arsenal based on what pitches they are most confident in throwing for strikes. We know that hitters get on base nearly 70% of the time when the count gets to three balls. We also know that in 2-2 counts, hitters batted .181 at the MLB level in 2017. As a hitter, we don’t have the pressure of fighting off a wicked curveball when the thought of going back to the dugout on strikes isn’t in our mind. Plus counts are where we do our damage. In 2-1 counts in 2017, Altuve batted .444, Judge batted .621, and Trout batted .486. If we’re doing the math from the averages above, that’s a .209 difference for Altuve, .449 for Judge, and .298 for Trout.


To summarize what we’ve talked about:

  • The line of scrimmage to football is what the strike zone is to baseball. Teams who win their respective line of demarcation win games.
  • Pitchers dominate when the count gets to two strikes.
  • Hitters do damage when there are more balls than strikes and when they aren’t in two strike counts.
  • 0-0 counts dictate at-bats. Pitchers who throw strike one succeed. Hitters who hop on a good pitch early have success.
  • There is a huge difference between a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count. Winning the majority of 1-1 counts is crucial.


Coaches: Put a premium on controlling the strike zone in your practices. If you don’t emphasize the importance of hitting in plus counts or getting to two strikes quickly, don’t be surprised when your team can’t do either in games. Below are some ideas on how to do so:


  1. Practice hitting in a variety of counts (0-0, 1-1, 2-0, 0-2).
  2. Talk about approaches in each count (what pitches/locations they’re hunting).
  3. Keep it simple in the box – if you’re looking for everything, you’re not going to be ready for anything. One speed, one location.  
  4. Have pitchers practice throwing with counts to RHH/LHH.
  5. Figure out what pitches/locations they are most confident when they need a strike, strike out, or ground ball.  
  6. Manipulate the count, baserunners (RISP) to create certain situations.  
  7. Develop multiple pitches that can be thrown with confidence in 0-0 counts.
  8. Pitch backwards in hitter plus counts.
  9. Create incentives (not having to do field work, team captain for scrimmage, etc.) for those who rise to the challenge and execute in certain counts.
  10. Keep track of how your team performs in certain counts throughout the season. Especially keep track of 0-0 counts and 1-1 counts.
  11. Record your team and the other team’s walks/strikeouts.
    1. Winning teams: Your walks/how many you strike out – their walks/how many times they struck you out = positive number. Losing teams: Same equation yields negative number.


Information used in this article from the 2017 MLB season can be found below.


Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.


Pitching with Two Strikes – Why “Waste Pitches are Working Against You

Pitching with two strikes is something I feel is misunderstood. Given what we know about two strike hitting (see blog post on two strike hitting), pitching with two strikes is a pitcher’s dream. The odds hitters go back to the dugout with two strikes are upwards of 80%. They’re more susceptible to swinging and chasing pitches outside of the zone out of fear of the strikeout. With this, it would make sense for pitchers to be most aggressive in two strike counts.


Instead, we teach pitchers the opposite. We tell them to shrink the strike zone. We teach them to make perfect pitches on the corners of the strike zone because we’re afraid of giving up a base hit. We teach them to throw uncompetitive fastballs six inches off the plate or 55’ breaking balls that the hitter never even thought about swinging at. Instead of being aggressive in the strike zone and utilizing all of it to our advantage (hitters tend to expand the zone with two strikes), we make it smaller and give ourselves little room for error. If we know the very best hitters in the world struggle when they’re down in the count, why wouldn’t we go right at them? Why do we let hitters back into counts instead of finishing them off while they’re down? Why do we pitch out of fear with two strikes instead of pitching with confidence and aggression?


I know it’s not the greatest feeling in the world when you hang a 0-2 curve and it goes 380’ to left, but statistics will show you that balls put in play in 0-2 and 1-2 counts do minimal damage. The issue becomes when we let hitters back into the count. In 2018, Mike Trout hit 10 of his 39 homers with two strikes – but just two in 0-2 and 1-2 counts. JD Martinez hit 14 of his 43 homers with two strikes, but only hit four of them in 0-2 and 1-2 counts. Jose Ramirez hit 18 of his 39 bombs with two strikes – but only hit one in 0-2 and 1-2 counts (see a pattern?). Out of all the two strike home runs hit between these three, 35/42 (83%) were hit in 2-2 and 3-2 counts. Maybe we should rethink those “waste pitches” after all.  


I love Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux’s thoughts about pitching with two strikes. See his thoughts below (image from @PitchingNinja).

Feel free to check out Maddux’s stats to see how this worked out for him.


Below are some ideas on how to pitch with two strikes:


  1. Make competitive pitches, force hitters to make decisions. Noncompetitive pitches (i.e. fastballs 6” off the black) don’t get swings or calls.  
  2. Utilize the entire strike zone. Hitters expand the strike zone with two strikes, meaning they’re more vulnerable to swing (like Maddux said above). Hitters also like to hunt specific speeds in specific locations. Nothing is more uncomfortable than not knowing what’s coming.
  3. Throw the FB in and up for strikes and not for strikes. Create uncomfortable at-bats (see Donaldson vs. Bauer, Kluber vs. JD Martinez, Snell vs. Encarnacion). Moving the feet of hitters and changing eye levels will create uncomfortable swings and help set up future pitches.
  4. Pitch to your strengths. Don’t waste two curveballs in the dirt if you have no confidence in the pitch. Go after guys with your best stuff – not your worst.  
  5. Know your swing and miss pitches/locations. These are especially useful in situations where you need a strikeout (ex: RISP <2 outs). Practice these pitches in your bullpens.
    1. Know what these pitches look like, how they feel coming out of the hand, and what visual you need to execute it. If you’re trying to bounce the pitch in the dirt, aim a foot or so behind home plate.
    2. Examples: Snell (see third pitch for 0-2 chase pitch), Syndergaard, Hicks, Scherzer  
  6. Understand how your pitches play off of each other. Try to get your pitches to look as similar as possible coming out of the hand (hitters make their decision whether to swing or not around 20-24’). Your big loopy curveball isn’t going to play well off a low and out FB – but a high FB can.
    1. High FB/CB: Glasnow, Hendricks, Snell  
    2. FB/SL: Bauer, Stroman, Kluber
    3. FB/CH: Syndergaard, DeGrom, Greinke
  7. Mess with timing. Hitting is all about timing. Pitching is about upsetting timing. Using the slidestep, different tempos can help give pitchers more room for error by throwing off the internal clock in hitters (See Stroman, Greinke, Cueto).    
  8. Put everything over the plate for pitchers who struggle with command.  
  9. Create some sort of separation between your FB and BB/CH. Can be speed (6+ mph) or movement profile (see Lance McCullers power change, Greinke changeup from above). The more similar your pitches are, the easier it will be for hitters to make adjustments.  
  10. Get feedback from your catchers/hitters on what pitched worked well/didn’t work well. Try to figure out what guys see well, don’t see well, had a tough time laying off, etc. The more you know about yourself and your arsenal, the better you can gameplan.
  11. Be aggressive. Pitch with confidence. The odds are in your favor when you get batters into two strike counts – pitch like it. If you’re constantly worried about giving up two strike hits, you’ll become paralyzed by your fear.
    1. If I tell you not to think about a pink elephant, a pink elephant will sure enough pop into your mind. Tell yourself positive, controllable actions (commit to this pitch, through the glove) instead of negative, outcome-based actions (don’t give up a hit, don’t waste this pitch).


Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing – and get rid of your “waste pitches.”

Hitting with Two Strikes

Hitting is hard. Hitting with two strikes is really hard. Based on data from the 2017 MLB season, MLB hitters batted .177 in two strike counts (0-2: 0.152, 1-2: 0.159, 2-2: .181, 3-2: .216). If we remove the 3-2 neutral count, hitters batted .164 with two strikes.


To put this into perspective, let’s look at batting averages from the top five offensive WAR leaders from the 2017 MLB season and their splits with two strikes.   


  1. Jose Altuve: 0-2: .255, 1-2: .235, 2-2: .151
  2. Mike Trout: 0-2: .172, 1-2: .188, 2-2: .183
  3. Aaron Judge: 0-2: .184, 1-2: 172, 2-2: .165
  4. Giancarlo Stanton: 0-2: .100, 1-2: .132, 2-2: .147
  5. Charlie Blackmon: 0-2: .259, 1-2: 218, 2-2: .248


While Blackmon’s splits were the best by far, it is worth noting that both the AL and NL MVP (Altuve and Stanton) combined for a .170 batting average with two strikes (Altuve: .214, Stanton: .126). Even Mike Trout, baseball’s current $400 million man, couldn’t muster a batting average over .200 in 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts.


There are several reasons why it’s hard to hit with two strikes. For one, hitters don’t have the ability to be as selective because of the strikeout. Hitters can take tough pitches early in the count for called strikes, but can’t afford to strike out looking on borderline pitches deep in the count. Strikeouts are the most unproductive out in baseball. Good teams strike out less. In 2017, the World Series champion Houston Astros finished with the least amount of strikeouts in the MLB with 1,087.  


Since hitters can’t be as selective with two strikes, they are more susceptible to pitches that look like strikes and end up finishing outside the strike zone. Instead of seeing fastballs, hitters now have to defend against cutters/sliders, curveballs, and changeups. In 2018, the MLB batting average on cutters/sliders was .267, changeups was .279, and curveballs was .267. Against four seam and two seam fastballs, hitters batted .348.


Given what we know about hitting with two strikes, we are faced with a few options. One of the most effective ways to get good at hitting with two strikes is to never get to two strikes. A large majority of the best hitters in baseball attack good pitches early in the count – and have a lot of success. Since we know pitchers want to throw 2 of their first 3 pitches for strikes (0-2 BA: 0.125, OBP: .160, 1-2 BA: .159, OBP: .166), hitters have a great opportunity early in the count to hunt pitches over the plate. Below are the batting averages of the five hitters from above on 0-0 counts:


  • Altuve: .449
  • Trout: .447
  • Judge: .400
  • Stanton: .475
  • Blackmon: .441


While avoiding two strikes seems like a pretty good plan, 48% of your at-bats are going to ultimately get to two strikes. We also know that batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with two strikes in 2017 was .295. The worst BABIP in any count in 2017 was .294. That shows us a large part of our battle with two strikes is simply putting the ball in play. Considering this, it is worth coming up with a different approach for two strikes that will help you put the ball in play and avoid striking out. Below are some tips on how you can improve how you hit with two strikes:


  1. Hitting with two strikes is tough, but it’s not a death sentence. Remain confident when battling with two strikes. If you’re having confidence issues at the plate, revisit your pre-pitch process (see previous blog posts on this).
  2. Pay attention to what pitchers are throwing in two strike counts. Pitchers are creatures of habit. Anticipating certain pitches/pitch sequences can help you avoid the unpredictability of hitting with two strikes.
  3. If anticipating the breaking ball/changeup, see the pitch up. If the pitch starts off looking like a fastball, it’s going to finish outside of the strike zone.
  4. Expand in a specific part of the strike zone, not the entire strike zone. Hitting is hard enough with the zone you have. Expand where you think the pitcher will be coming (a few baseballs outside, inside, etc.).
  5. Widen your stance, choke up on the bat, move closer to the plate, use a different timing mechanism. If pitchers have to learn a windup and the stretch, it’s not a bad idea for hitters to learn two different swings.
  6. Take bad pitches, work yourself back into the count (3-2 BA: .216, OBP: 462). Most pitchers are going to shrink the zone with two strikes because they don’t want to give up a base hit. Use this to your advantage.
  7. Practice with two strikes. Learn what borderline pitches look like. Understand which ones you need to fight off/take. Drive mistakes.
  8. Practice adjustability. Sometimes you’re going to have to barrel speeds you weren’t looking for originally.
  9. Keep things simple. Don’t get caught over analyzing every possible pitch/situation in the box. You’re at your best when you’re thinking the least.
  10. Be the best competitor on the field. Compete one pitch at a time. You can’t worry about the two that just went by you. Be great at being where your feet are.
  11. Remember times when you succeeded with two strikes, forget times where the pitcher got the best of you. We tend to hang on to negative experiences the longest. If you’re constantly thinking about how bad you are with two strikes, there’s a really good chance you’ll see more two strike counts in the future – and you’ll see similar results.


Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns.


Keep learning and growing.