Most youth baseball players have long swings. A long swing is either one where the bat barrel starts too far from correct hitting position or one that takes a detour from the direct path to the contact area, or both. Long swings lead to most hitting mistakes.
I believe all baseball-hitting coaches agree that a compact baseball swing is desired. A compact swing is one that is direct to the ball, while still allowing hitters time to wait for pitches and provide the power to drive the ball to all fields. While teaching the art of hitting for over 23 years, one thing I have learned is that unlike teaching pitching and fielding, it is necessary to correct hitters’ upper body (bat position and 1st move) before addressing the lower body issues of over striding, stepping out (in the bucket), and lunging. Time after time, I have observed coaches attempt to fix hitters’ incorrect strides and lower body actions to no avail. Hitters incorrect actions do not go away because long swings create lower body issues that remain until their swings are more compact.
Over time, hitters’ subconscious minds have told them that when they cannot get the bat out front on time, they must compensate. Hitters with long swings learn to compensate incorrectly with the mentioned problems of over striding, lunging, and stepping in the bucket. They in order to get the bat to the pitched ball on time. Coaches can tell hitters with incorrect strides a million times not to step out, over stride or lunge without results for the stated reason – their swing is long and that is the only way to avoid being continually late on the ball. The only solution lies in creating a much shorter (compact) swing. This is not meant to say that the lower half of the body is not crucial to good hitting fundamentals but the swing needs to be addressed first. As proof, good hitters can hit consistent line shots from their knees with a good swing, without the power of course, but cannot hit the ball solidly with great lower half mechanics with an incorrect swing.
I have also repeatedly noticed that once compact swings are developed with the correct hitting starting positions and the correct first moves, hitters’ lower half problems disappear. Without compact swings, hitters automatically return to their bad lower body habits because they cannot wait long enough on the ball
Therefore, it is necessary that coaches teach the correct hitting position at stride foot landing. A compact swing begins with the correct bat barrel positioning when the hitter’s front foot lands. The bat barrel should be on a line directly above the rear shoulder with the hands remaining at shoulder height and about two inches back of the rear shoulder. From this position, the bat starts on a direct path to the ball with the hitters’ rear elbow coming into the body as the hands are heading to a palm-up, palm down position through the contact, hitting zone. The bat naturally levels off sooner on lower pitches than on higher pitches.
Following are hitting drills that can turn long swings into compact ones and drills that will help eliminate the hitting mistakes of lunging, over striding and stepping in the bucket:
Drills with no batting tee available:
1. Dropped Ball Drill – Coaches stand slightly in front and to the side of the hitter, out of harm’s way. After hitters stride foot lands coaches drop the ball into the hitting zone. Hitters with long swings will be continually late on this drill, until they shorten and quicken their swings.
2. Net behind the hitter drill – Have hitters stand within a half foot of a net that is directly behind them (towards catcher) and swing without hitting the net on the way to the ball. To ensure that hitters do not lunge away from the net, they should hit the same net on their follow through without pulling their head or front shoulder off the ball.
3. Top hand drill – With a small bat or by choking way up on their regular bat, hitters can work on hitting with just their top hand, which will help them control the barrel on a more direct path to contact.
With the use of one batting tee:
1. High tee drill – By setting the ball on a tee that is at chest level, hitters should work on hitting line drives. Long swings will generally lead to popped up balls, chopped balls or totally missed balls.
2. Dropped ball drill with tee – Setting a batting tee at hitters’ waists and even with their rear hips, hitters should miss the tee on their way to the dropped balls.
With 2 batting tees available
1. Low/high tee drill – Set a ball on one tee even with the hitters front leg and a ball on the other tee a foot in front with the ball nearest to the catcher a ball and a half width lower. Hitters work on hitting line drives on the front ball after missing the rear ball.
Of course, some of these hitting drills can also be performed with live batting practice, too. Finally, it must be emphasized that without the correct and described bat barrel position upon stride foot landing, none of these drills work to fix and shorten the swing, leaving hitters with their long swing and lower body problems.