Batting In T-Ball
How much instruction is too much when teaching a 4, 5, or 6 year old t-ball players to hit a baseball off a batting tee? Should coaches and parents have the player just keep swinging until he or she hits the ball or should we give them some basic instruction first? I am of the opinion to follow the progression method in almost all instruction to kids. I remember one year when I was coaching 11 and 12-year olds, my friend (we’ll call him Jim) who was my assistant coach was kind of our batting instructor also. Now Jim was incredibly knowledgable and knew about hitting inside and out. In fact he consulted some major league teams. The problem I had with Jim was that he gave the players so much to think about, they seemed confused and unsure of themselves when they were in the batter’s box. It was a tough thing to do but I had a talk with Jim and this is what I told him. I expressed to him that the season was 12-14 weeks long. If we are developing baseball players we have to give them a minimal amount of tips at one time. Once they master each of these tips, we can suggest others but not all at once. In essence what I told Jim to do was if a batter has ten flaws that he recognizes, pick out the three most important or glaring and make your suggestions. He understood what I was trying to say and he took my suggestion. More than half the team improved as the year went on with Jim toning down the instruction building the player’s confidence one suggestion at a time. You will hear me use the phrase “over coach and under teach” often and many of us do just this. We coach and teach too much to win the league championship rather than develop baseball and softball players.
Back to T-Ball. I have spoken about putting players in a position to succeed at all levels. On t-ball hitting I have mentioned the technique using a bathroom plunger turned upside down and place a kick ball on it when first year t-ballers hit in practice. A few quick tips about hitting.
1) New t-ball players will have to be shown exactly what you mean. If you say move closer to the batting tee, you really have to show them exactly where you want them to stand. Teach them the concept of standing close enough so the bat can reach the ball.
2) Keeping the head steady is important at all levels of hitting. Placing a colored spot or even an animal sticker on the ball will help the player to keep their eye on the ball while swinging at it.
3) Most first year t-ball players won’t be able to understand the concept of lifting or stepping with their front foot. A good way to teach the batter is to tell them and show them to twist their knees behind them then go forward with them. This is a great introduction to the twisting of the hips.
4) A bigger bat? Absolutely. At practice give the new t-baller one of those big red plastic bats to hit the ball off the batting tee. You can also combine this with using a bigger ball to hit off the batting tee.
T-Ball coaches must use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle when teaching anything. Especially hitting. When you organize your practices, you can divide the team by hitting ability, not necessarily age and instruct your assistant coaches how to run their particular hitting station. Remember the best coaches in all sports will coach to the age level and ability of their players.