All great hitters say that balance is extremely important in their success. They talk about balance in the stance, stride, and swing. Balance is especially important to singles hitters and contact hitters who must trust their hands, avoid being anxious, and let the ball come into the zone. If the batter is off balance during any part of the swing, she will not have the bat control needed to hit the ball where she wants to hit it. A well-balanced batting stance gives the batter a solid attack foundation. Balance allows the batter to be relaxed and feel confident in her ability to hit any pitch. Proper balance keeps the head still and allows the batter to see the ball more clearly.
Balance is also important in bunting, and any player who strives for a high batting average must be a very good bunter. She must be proficient at bunting for a hit as well as a sacrifice bunt. When bunting, the batter needs to be balanced on the balls of the feet and must not lean forward or backward.
Purpose Consistent work on the balance beam reinforces muscle memory and helps the player through all phases of the hitting cycle. This drill is a must-have station for every hitting circuit workout.
Execution This drill requires a balance beam (see figure 4.5). The beam is a piece of 2-by-10-inch wood that is cut 4 feet long. The beam needs three support pieces made of 1-foot-long pieces of a 4-by-4-inch post. A support should be placed at each end of the beam, and one should be placed in the middle. Cover the top of the beam with Astroturf or a similar nonslip surface. The batter takes her normal batting position on the beam and takes full swings off of front tosses. The batter completes three sets of 10 repetitions.
Coaching Points The best setup is to have two balance beams in a cage, one for right-handed batters and one for left-handed batters. This way you do not have to move the beam back and forth.
Variation A second use for the balance beam is to help batters learn to avoid overstriding. To reinforce a short compact stride, have the batters set up 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.0 cm) from the end of the board. From this position, if the batter overstrides, she will get feedback really quickly. One college coach we know takes his hitters to the pool, sets them up 1 to 2 inches from the end of the high-dive board, and has them execute dry swings. He swears they are balanced and do not overstride. Although it may work, we do not recommend this approach.
Bouncing Tennis Balls
Purpose In this drill, the batter works on loading and then striding to attack position. The drill enables the batter to work on the timing of these parts of the swing in relation to the ball.
Execution To begin the drill, the coach takes a position in front and 45 degrees to the right of a right-handed batter (opposite for left-handed batters). Standing at an angle from the batter enables the coach to clearly observe the batter’s entire lower body during the hitting process. The coach bounces tennis balls into the correct hitting zone. Bouncing tennis balls are more realistic than tosses because they require the batter to load on the bounce and time her stride to hit the ball as it reaches the optimum contact zone. The batter performs three sets of 10 repetitions.
Coaching Points Balance is important to the loading, striding, and hitting that the batter does in this drill. If the batter is not balanced throughout, this will show immediately, and positive changes can be made. Coaches will quickly see problems such as overstriding, striding open, rolling the front foot, or landing on the front heel. All of these problems seriously affect the batter’s balance and ability to hit for average. The drill also allows the coach to observe the load (or negative) move and to help the batter improve this portion of the swing. Another great benefit of this drill is the immediate feedback. The drill allows the coach to bounce the ball on any plane desired. For instance, if a batter is struggling with pitches that are low and in, the coach can bounce it there. If the batter’s problems are up and away, the coach can bounce it there.
Variation A variation of this drill is the standing toss. From the same position, the coach can toss to the batter at belt level and also observe every action within the hitting cycle. A good strategy is to begin with 20 bouncing tennis balls, which allows the coach to focus on the lower body and provide constructive feedback after each swing. Then switch to the upper-body toss with the same tennis balls from the same 45-degree angle. This enables the coach to observe the entire swing and help the batter make any necessary changes to the upper body.