The best hitters in the game use a variety of hitting drills to improve hand-eye coordination, bat speed, and power. These drills will have you or your players hitting the ball more consistently and with more power, with the ability to place shots more effectively. The result will be higher average and better run production in just a week or two of practice.
1. Ball on a Cone or Tee: Hand-eye coordination is the key to all good hitting, in any game and at every level. Improving your ability to match what your eyes are seeing with the trajectory of your swing creates the kind of contact that produces more line drives, and with time, more power. Hitting legend Ted Williams used to practice by using a cue stick to hit bottle caps. That's not a bad idea, but these drills will serve the purpose, too.
- Ball on a cone: Put a traffic cone on the floor 3 feet out from a mat. Kneel, or have your players kneel, on the mat. Put balls on the cone and have the players focus on hitting a line drive. Hit 15 to 25 balls in each session, more if time allows – the more the better. The drill emphasizes contact using just the arms and upper body, which is essential to hitting the ball consistently.
- T-Ball: Kids start in t-ball for a reason – they learn to make contact, plain and simple. Since solid contact is the key to all good things in hitting, contact drills never go out of style. Pro, college, and top amateur teams continue to use hitting tees to warm up and find the hitting touch, especially after layoffs. Start hitting practice with a round of tee drills to emphasize keeping an eye on the ball, with a bonus feature being an increase in confidence. When pitch speed is added, the improvement will be noticeable. When the game starts, sharper hitting will lead to more base runners and more RBI's. VARIATIONS: place the tee on the inside, middle, and outside parts of the plate to encourage hitters to go with the pitch, so they learn to drive balls to all fields. Most hitters try to pull everything, and this will help break that habit.
2. Wiffle Ball: This drill emphasizes bat speed and a compact, powerful swing. Using either a pitching machine or a live pitcher, stand 20 feet in front of the plate and use waffle balls for safety. Set the machine to about 40 mph, or gauge your pitch speed accordingly. Batters have to get the bat around in a hurry. The drill will expose swings that are too long – the kind of swings that keep pro players in the minors. On the positive side, it encourages increased bat speed to be able to get around on the pitches, and a shorter, more compact swing that is the foundation of power.
3. Wait and Explode: Many hitters develop the bad habit of starting their swing far too early. The results are all bad. For instance, the hitter will often stride into the pitch too early and then have to hold back the upper body waiting for the ball. Timing and hand-eye coordination is thrown off, plus if contact is made, it's only the upper body involved. The powerful motion of the legs is eliminated. Misses, weak grounders, and lazy fly balls are the result. Here's how this drill works. Have the batter stand in the box and coach them not to move at all until the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. Keep it up until the hitter learns to be patient, reserving their energy until they can complete the swing in one powerful motion. Hitters with good contact skills but poor power will start driving the ball much harder with this drill.
Another way to encourage a “wait and explode” approach is to use tennis balls and bounce balls up to the plate. The hitter must not move a muscle until the ball bounces, 6-8 feet in front of the plate. Patience is learned, and hand-eye coordination is also improved. A short, compact, energetic swing will result.
4. The Barrier Drill: This drill will teach good mechanics. Have the players stand one back length back from a barrier, such as a net or string, and take their cut. If they hit the barrier with the bat, they are taking too long a swing, unlocking their elbows before the shoulders are fully engaged. Point out what's happening and see if they can make the correction, which will produce a compact, powerful cut.
5. Reward or Run: There's nothing like the possibility of a little physical exercise to get players to concentrate. Using a pitching machine, or reliable batting practice pitcher, feed each batter 15 pitches. On strikes only (make swinging at a bad pitch an out, no matter if they hit it or not), count well-struck balls versus misses or weak hits. If the batter has 8 or more good cuts reward them in some way. If 8 or more bad swings happen, it's time to run! As the season continues, and the players improve, bump your better hitters up to 10 or 11 quality hits to avoid running. Tailor the drill to stretch each player to achieve their best.
Each of these drills is used by many professional, college, and top amateurs teams every year. Employ them on your team and start noticing immediate results in terms of contact and power. You'll enjoy better run production from the first time through the order!