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  Key Cues for Hitting Success
Dave Hudgens Hitting Article


 
By Dave Hudgens

Product Code: ART4
 

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Key Cues for Hitting Success

by Dave Hudgens

 

The fireworks blasted from centerfield.  No, it was not the fourth of July – the leadoff hitter had just hit a rocket first pitch of the game for a homerun.  Second batter, first pitch, another homerun, another brilliant fireworks display.  Third batter, two pitches later, homerun, off go the fireworks.  The pitching coach takes a long, slow walk to the mound, looking like he has some words of wisdom to give his shell-shocked pitcher.  The pitcher, irate and cursing at his coach, lets him know that he isn’t going to tell him something he doesn’t already know.  The coach replies, “I don’t intend to tell you anything, I just wanted to give the guy shooting off the fireworks more time so he can reload.”  The pitcher smiles, relaxes, and retires the side.  Cues - they can be life or death to the success of an athlete. 

Practice

I am constantly asked the following questions concerning keys or cues for hitters: what should an instructor look for in a hitter?  What cues should an instructor convey to a hitter?  In order to give justice to the answer to those questions, you must first think backwards – the instructor must not only be prepared himself but he must also have his hitter prepared for each at bat before the game even begins.  The purpose of practice is to perfect the swing so that at game time the hitter shouldn’t “think” about his mechanics.  Once the game begins, the hitter should be so prepared to play the game that his reactions take over and he has a solid, repeatable swing.  If he is thinking mechanics, his attention will be divided.  His total attention during the game has to be on seeing the ball. 

What to look for in hitters

What should an instructor look for in a hitter?  As a hitting instructor, I always start from the ground up when evaluating a hitter’s mechanics.  What is the position of his feet?  Does he have good balance?  Where is his stride direction?  What is his head position?  Once you have established where he is in these areas, you can work on cues: key words or key instructions to help him.  You want to keep the keys simple, remembering that during the game the main goal is for the hitter to get a good pitch to hit.  There are four main areas to look for in a hitter to help him make adjustments: 

1.       Seeing the ball

2.       Staying balanced

3.       Having an easy effort level

4.       Maintaining a good head position

Seeing the ball

You can’t hit the ball if you can’t see it and it is difficult to see the ball if your head is in the wrong position.  I remind my hitters to have their heads down throughout their swing.  This is extremely critical especially since head position and head discipline isn’t taught at the youth level.  Not only is head position important for seeing the ball, it is also important for swing path.  If the head lifts too soon, the hitter will have more of a tendency to pull off the ball, inhibiting the proper swing path.  Therefore, a cue I tell hitters is very simple, “Keep your head down.”  But again this goes back to practice and it is in practice that you have to make sure your hitters understand what that means.  You can’t tell them in a game situation to keep their head down if they don’t understand what it means and how to do it.  Once the knowledge of head position is established, they will see that if their head is down, their swing path will stay on-line, they will see the ball better and they will stay on the ball better.

Stay balanced on takes

A hitter having a proper take is another tool for the hitting instructor to evaluate. When my hitters take a pitch, I like to see them stay balanced with their weight - not going too far forward.  I like to see 50/50 or 60/40 with a little bit of movement back to the ball.  My cue to hitters for staying balanced is very simple, “Stay balanced.”  Once again this goes back to their practice.  Hitters have to understand what it means to be balanced and what the term “stay balanced” means.

Effort level

A fourth essential key to helping hitters is to recognize their effort level.  I tell my hitters to “stay within themselves” which means don’t over-swing, and try not to hit the ball out of the ballpark.  Effort level is a topic that is often overlooked.  Young kids start forming high effort level bad habits at a young age for various reasons: lack of strength, wanting to hit a homerun, wanting to hit the ball as far as some of the bigger kids, pressure from coaches or parents or just game situations.  High effort levels cause hitters to have a tendency to over-swing or swing harder then what they are capable of.  The key I use with hitters is “slow down.”  They should feel like they have something left in their bodies - it should not be a max effort swing.  If hitters are using a max effort swing, what it tells me is that they are not trusting their hands.  High effort levels can cause the other keys to look bad.  If a kid swings too hard, it may cause his head to lift and his balance to be off.  If I see them staying balanced with their head down, they usually have good effort levels.

Proper communication: what, how and when

All that being said, great preparation and outstanding knowledge is useless without the proper communication techniques to the hitter.  Equally important as to what is said is how and when it is said. 

 

You can give the perfect instruction and adjustment keys to a player, but if it is not said at the right time and in the right way, they won’t hear it and sometimes even worse, they will tune you out.  We have covered the what for each of the keys mentions.  The how is easy, never shout or belittle your hitters.  You are there to instruct, not get angry and yell.  Likewise you want to tell your hitter what you want him to do, not what you don’t want him to do.  For example, you want to say, “Get a good pitch to hit” rather than “don’t swing at the curveball in the dirt.”  If you say don’t swing at the curveball in the dirt, guess what, your hitter is thinking curveball in the dirt.  Be positive and instruct in a positive manner.  Repeating this in practice and drills is essential to being able to communicate in the game. 

 

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t talk to a player right after his at bat because he is upset and too emotional to be able to comprehend let alone adjust to what you are saying.  I would speak to him before his next at bat usually in the next inning.  I would ask him three questions:

  1. What were you trying to do?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. What kind of adjustment are you going to make?

 

Likewise I always try to find something positive in that at bat.  For example, maybe he swung at a bad pitch, but he kept his head down.  I might say something like, “You kept your head down good at that at bat, now make sure you get a pitch you can drive.”

 

Good luck with your cues and I hope all your hitters make the opposing pitching coaches take the long, slow walks to the mound. Let the fireworks begin. 

 

- Dave Hudgens has been involved with the best of baseball for over 30 years. He is currently the Minor League Hitting Coordinator for the Cleveland Indians. Prior to that he was a longtime hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics' organization.

Be sure to check out Coach Hudgens'
Hitting for Excellence DVD Series
:


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