Teaching Young Hitters to Avoid Swinging at Bad Pitches
by Arnald Swift
For the first few seasons of kid pitch a common problem that even good hitters have is being overanxious and swinging at bad pitches.
As a result, this scenario may sound familiar to you:
“My son is a good batter but doesn’t face pitchers with good control so he tends to swing at whatever he can hit. How do I teach him to avoid swinging at bad pitches?”
The solution is you need to teach a combination of pitch recognition and patience.
First off, understand that these are learned skills and they can be difficult skills to learn.
Essentially, a batter must exercise patience at the plate and be willing to accept a walk, which is not usually a fun (or exciting) thing to do for a hitter that is good enough to regularly make contact.
So based on their desire to hit the ball, rather than simply getting on base, swinging at a bad pitch can take precedence. But by doing that, either a miss or poorly hit ball in play can be the outcome.
To help prevent that, don’t worry about the count but simply focus on swinging at good pitches.
And to do that a hitter needs to take a look at a lot of pitches, know where they are located in the zone and, most importantly, then only swing at pitches that he recognizes as hittable.
This can be accomplished by doing the following drill:
Take the bat away from the hitter, have him stand at the plate and watch 10 to 15 pitches before he starts batting practice. What he has to do with those pitches is tell you exactly where they are located — in or out, up or down, or whatever he notices. This is a simple variation of the drill that the U.S. Olympic softball team made famous by putting numbers on balls and having the hitter call out the number as a pitch was coming to the plate.
In both the simple and complicated version of the drill the mind and eyes are being trained to recognize pitches. Swinging at good pitches is a byproduct of pitch recognition.
You also really want to drill into the hitter’s mind that walking is OK but swinging at bad pitches is not.
That mindset is the key. Getting a good pitch to hit, as the legendary Ted Williams so often advocated, makes hitting successfully a lot easier to do.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that at younger ages teaching them to “work the count” can often be counterproductive. When good pitches are hard to come by, which is commonplace with many an 8- or 9-year old kid pitcher throwing, taking a strike and getting behind in the count early gives the pitcher an unnecessary advantage. Furthermore, it can zap the confidence you’re trying to instill in a hitter if he must lay off a not frequently seen (during games) hittable pitch.