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T-Ball University – Batting Drills For Tee Ball Coaches and Parents
Baseball season is just around the corner, so parents and parent coaches, start digging in the garage for your baseball gear and start stretching those rusty arm and leg muscles. For many communities, kids start their baseball or softball careers playing the basic skill called Tee Ball, which is the baseball, minus the pitcher. In Tee Ball also spelled T-Ball, kids learn the fundamentals of batting, fielding and base-running. For the purposes of this article we will focus on batting. In Tee Ball, hitting takes place using a tee that sits roughly high on the hitter. The t-shirt is a great tool for perfecting the baby crib. When used correctly, a coach can analyze all the components used in a swing and make subtle or not-so-subtle adjustments to a child’s swing, batting stance, hip rotation, and footwork.
It is my opinion after coaching all these seasons that proper footwork is the most important aspect of hitting. If you have the right foot, the arms, hips and head will fall into place with the required timing.
In order to achieve proper footwork, I will place the tee over home plate. I will draw a vertical line in the dirt with the player’s tee club grip from the 45 degree center angle of the base of the tee. Line length is approximately 12 inches. Adjust this length accordingly to a comfortable extension of each player’s arms with the swing of the bat. Next, I will draw a vertical line from the first line and parallel to the edge of the tee base going back to the back stop. Therefore, this line is shaped like an inverted “L”. I will squat down and point with my index finger where I want each foot to be placed along the parallel line. The 12-inch line drive allows the player to extend their arms when swinging to comfortably hit the tee with the “sweet” spot of the club.
I want every child to have a stiff front leg with feet square on the parallel line. The player must put his weight on the balls of both feet. The square front leg will prevent the front knee from bending or buckling. Imagine a bug under the back leg. I want the child to squish this imaginary bug with the shaft of his hind leg. About 60% of the player’s weight should be on the back foot. This is called the “load” position. This shaft will open the hips toward the pitcher when you “squeeze the bug.” The front leg should stay square and the front knee locked when you “squeeze the bug” as well. The back leg can bend but don’t make a big dive with the back leg. (This exercise is shown in a short video on the website http://www.tballu.com, in the “Free Sample Video” section).
Most coaches and parents who played the game when they were young were taught to take a step toward the pitcher with their front foot when swinging the bat. Most coaches and parents remember taking a small step or a big step. I don’t want the player to take a step with their front foot when “swinging the club” as a step will cause the player’s head to dip slightly when swinging the club and therefore, the player’s eyes will dip when swinging the club as well . The no-step will prevent the eye from dipping when attempting to hit a breaking ball (eg curve, slider, etc.) later in the player’s career when they progress to high school baseball or softball . Use a series of batting helmets as barriers to prevent the player’s front foot from taking a step if it has previously been taught to do so.
Practice the “bug squeeze” with a bat placed between the arms and back shoulder blades. Have the whole group practice this drill at the same time, making sure they are well spaced. Watch for a stiff front foot and the back foot should rotate on the ball of their back foot. Some players will pivot and lift the heel of the back foot so that the back weight is placed on the toe of the back foot instead of the ball of the back foot. The player’s head must remain down while looking into the strike zone. If the back shoulder does not stay in the strike zone during the spin, the head will lift out of the strike zone and the front leg will automatically lift as well where the hitter rotates on the heel of the front foot. This is called “rolling” the front leg. Repeat this drill 50 times at every practice and before every game. The player can also do this drill 50 times a day in front of a full-length mirror at home. This will provide the player with a lot of muscle memory to ensure a correct swing every time.
After more than ten years of coaching youth baseball, it has been my experience that despite the best efforts of parent-coaches, too many kids do not learn the fundamentals of hitting and fielding and develop bad habits early on. As these kids progress to coaching and pitching leagues, this results in coaches spending many hours trying to fix problems that could easily have been avoided at the Tee Ball or Beginner Baseball level. Mentoring children, whether your own or children in your community, is one of the most rewarding experiences you will have. Watching children learn and successfully apply the skills you have taught them is extremely rewarding. I wish you the best of luck in your t-ball, baseball or softball seasons.
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