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Barrels Aren’t Just For Surfers

Posted on 10-01-2017

I ran the “on the field” portion of tryouts on Saturday at RHLL which means that over the course of roughly 6 hours, I threw close to 1000 batting practice pitches to players age 7-12.

There were giant 12 year olds preparing for their final season of Little League, 7 year olds who were participating in their very first tryouts, and every kind of player in between.

Out of 1000 pitches I threw, some of them were hit very hard.  Most were not.

In this blog, rather than focus on all the reasons why players did not hit the ball hard – there were many, and luckily they are all correctable – I want to focus on the 1 commonality among all the balls that were hit hard.

Every ball that was hit hard was hit with the BARREL (Sweet Spot) on the bat.

In fact, I’ll venture to say that there has never been a baseball hit really hard in the history of the game, at any level, that wasn’t hit with the sweet spot.

If we know that it’s impossible to hit a ball hard with the skinny part or the end of the bat, then we can work backwards from there and try to build swings where the most important event during the swing – hitting the baseball with the barrel of the bat – happens as often as possible.

(For full disclosure, one additional thing has to happen for the ball to be hit hard; the bat must be going fast at the moment of impact. This is known as Bat Speed.  In Little League, bat speed is relative to the size and strength of each player, but more on that in a future blog.)

The 2 most common reasons young players do not make consistent contact with the barrel are:

  1. Their hand path to the ball is incorrect
  2. They lack balance/control during the swing

It would be extremely difficult to correct hand path issues in a blog so I won’t even try, but I can definitely address the balance/control issue.

If a player, regardless of age or ability, is losing his balance and thus losing control of his body during the swing, getting the barrel to the ball, even if his hand path is generally correct, becomes much more difficult.

Hitting a round baseball with a round bat moving in the opposite direction of the ball is already difficult enough.  Add unnecessary body movement to the swing and what do you have?  A recipe for a lot of swings and misses and balls hit off the skinny part/end of the bat.

Here’s a very easy way to start focusing on balance and swing control: Get in the backyard and have your son take 10 dry hacks (no ball) where he swings really hard.  If you see him lose his balance, or see his feet shuffle, or see his head fly, or see his knees buckle, then you know, without even watching him try to hit a baseball, that he’s making everything much more difficult than it should be.

All the bat speed in the world doesn’t matter if a hitter doesn’t make contact with the correct part of the bat, so focus on balance and body control during the first several weeks of practice until your son can take a swing that is both aggressive and balanced.  At this point, we can start to make adjustments that will improve his hand path to the ball.

Once again looking back at tryouts on Saturday, the players I threw to made contact with far more pitches than they missed.  But only a fraction of the balls that were hit, were hit hard.  The truly difficult part of hitting in Little League isn’t necessarily making consistent contact.  It’s making consistent contact with the barrel.

To hit a baseball hard, we must hit the ball with the barrel of the bat, period.

Lots more blogs to come this year, so stay tuned, and let’s have a great 2017!

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