|Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn't Work Hard
By Kory DeHaan, Worldwide Baseball Prospects Mentor
Pittsburgh Pirates Hitting Coach,
There are many reasons why kids play high school athletics. Here are a few: they love the sport; they are competitive; their friends are doing it; their parents want them to play; the school needs more numbers to fill the team; and/or they want to get a scholarship to play in college.
Kids that enjoy competing at a sport, are having some success playing it, and are passionate about getting better, need to understand that by your Junior year in high school, you need to be dedicated full time to that sport or your chances for playing above high school diminish rapidly. If there is still a desire to play multiple sports through high school, expectations for competing for starting positions in college need to be lowered. Having success at the sport you love is not all about talent. In the end, it all boils down to the time and commitment you put into your practice, and your desire to be the best at the sport. Unfortunately many athletes are common and will do the minimum amount of work required to play the sport and have some success at it. They will allow other distractions to interfere with their practice and workout time because they want to have fun and want to enjoy the immediate gratification over the future gratification. More often than not, kids who show the uncommon desire and focus for achieving success and getting to the next level, often times do. Kids who want to get noticed at tryout camps or travel ball tournaments need to stick out somehow. They need to separate themselves from the heard by doing the extra stuff that normal kids do not. In doing that, their parents, high school coaches, future coaches and scouts see that desire and will often times want to help them achieve their goals.
Personally, as a parent of female athletes, my wife and I do our best to spur on and help support them so they are able to maximize their talents and abilities to their full potential. We know that this does not happen overnight. Together, we set short term and long term goals to help guide them down their path of learning and striving to be a little bit better every single day. When young athletes do this, it is preparing them for the next level, whether it is junior high to high school, high school to college, or even high school to professional ball.
Four Hitting Skills that are Essentials to Work Hard On!
Balance – Balance has become a lost art. Hitters tend to think they need to be in a stance that is just like their favorite major league star to have success. What young hitters do not understand is that the person who hits like that has evolved into that swing. He has probably taken thousands of swings, making small adjustments along the way, to get to where he needs to be to have the most success per their own unique development.
A great starting block for getting balanced is to talk about being athletic. When you get into your hitting stance, a person of equal size should not be able to push you over with a gentle nudge to your upper body. An athletic position is having your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Your knees should be bent and inside your feet. Your head should be over your feet which forces your weight to be towards your toes, not your heels. When a hitter first gets set in the box, they need to start at this athletic position. Balance should be maintained through the finish of the swing by sinking into your legs as you rotate through the ball. If you feel yourself coming out of your legs, or having your waist raise up during your finish, there will be balance issues.
Rhythm – Rhythm is an important part of hitting because it allows you to move and react quicker as you look to square up the baseball. Usually the more athletic players are able to dance and keep a beat going. If this does not come easy to you, practice doing some dance steps or even playing a musical instrument. This will help develop your rhythm and overall athleticism.
Rhythm can be a small movement in the hands and fingers as the ball is being pitched, or it can be a small controlled sway between the front and back leg. Whatever you choose to do to keep loose going into your swing, aim towards keeping it simple. The more movement you have pre-pitch, the tougher it is to be consistently ready to swing.
Vision – Being able to see the ball is the most important part of hitting. Pitchers are constantly trying to hide the ball and be deceptive in their pitch delivery so it makes it harder for the hitter to see what is coming. Many of the pitchers have a way of hiding the ball until the last moment which, to the hitter, turns a 90 mph fastball into a 96 mph fastball. This is a huge difference.
Controlling what you can control, the hitter needs to find the area that the pitcher is releasing the ball in and use their hard focus as he is delivering the pitch. Before pitchers are in their motion, hitters can be in soft focus mode around that release point area, which tends to be the pitchers head, throwing shoulder, or cap. We tell the hitter to keep their eyes on the ball, but when it is moving 90 mph plus, it is physically impossible to see the ball hit the bat. The main reason coaches tell kids to keep their eyes on the ball is to keep their head still at contact as long as possible. When hitters keep their head at contact, it develops a great habit that will keep them from pulling off the ball.
For the past 10 years, vision drills have become increasingly popular. Teams are using eye charts, brock strings, high velocity tennis ball machines, and random highlighted dots on electronic boards to help strengthen the player’s eye muscles. These are valuable tools to integrate into your practice routine to help maximize your opportunity for success.
Timing – Timing is the key to putting together a great swing. You can have the best mechanics and prettiest swing on the team, but it does you no good if you are not on time with the pitch. Pitchers normally throw their fastball in a three to five mile per hour range (82-85 or 89-94). The curve ball and change-up will normally be eight to ten miles per hour slower than the fastball. As a hitter, our mindset needs to focus on being ready for the fastball every pitch. If we are ready for the fastball, we can do our best to adjust when an off-speed pitch is on its way. If we are ready for the off-speed pitch, very rarely can we adjust and be ready to hit the fastball. We will be late almost every time.
Most times, pitchers want to throw strike one with a fastball on the outer half of the plate. If that is the case, hitters should be looking to hit a fastball on the outer half of the plate. If you think that is not a good pitch to hit because you cannot hit it very good, you need to practice hitting that pitch off the Tee, during soft toss, and batting practice. Good hitters know how to hit the ball to the opposite side of the field and are able to do it consistently. If a hitter gets into pull mode, he is susceptible to the off-speed pitches and will normally strike out frequently.
About the Author
Coach DeHaan was signed during the '97 amateur draft as a 7th Round Draft Pick by Pittsburgh Pirates. He then went on to play as a Professional Player from 1997 - 2003 with both the Pirates & Padres organizations making his official Major League debut in 2000 with San Diego Padres. After playing professionally he then went on to Coach Professionally in 2009 with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. In 2010 and 2011 he was a Minor League Hitting Instructor for San Diego Padres. He currently is a Minor League Hitting Instructor with the Pittsburgh Pirates, operates DeHaan Baseball out of Bradenton, Florida (www.dehaanbaseball.com) and is a dedicated Baseball Mentor for high school players in the Worldwide Baseball Prospects High School to College Baseball Recruiting Program found here at Worldwide Baseball Prospects .