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Monday, March 23, 2009

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 through the garage for your baseball equipment and begin stretching out those rusty arm and leg muscles. For many communities, children begin their baseball or softball careers playing the lead-up skill called Tee Ball, which is baseball, minus the pitcher. In Tee Ball which is also spelled T-Ball, children learn the fundamentals of batting, fielding and base-running. For the purposes of this article we'll be concentrating on batting. In Tee Ball, batting takes place utilizing a Tee which sits approximately waste high to the hitter. The Tee is a great tool for perfecting a child's swing. When used correctly, a coach can analyze all of the components used in a swing and make subtle or not so subtle adjustments to a child's swing, batting stance, hip rotation and foot work.

It is my opinion after coaching all these seasons that proper footwork is the most important aspect of hitting. If you have the proper footwork, the arms, hips, and head will fall into place with the required timing.

In order to achieve proper footwork, I will place the tee on top of home plate. I will draw a perpendicular line in the dirt with the handle of the player's tee ball bat from the middle 45 degree corner of the tee's base. The line length is approximately 12 inches. Adjust this length accordingly to a comfortable extension of each player's arms with the bat swing. I then will draw a perpendicular line from the first line and parallel to the edge of the tee base going back toward the backstop. Therefore, this line is in the shape of an inverted "L". I will squat down and point with my index finger as to where I want each foot to be placed along the parallel line. Drawing the 12-inch line allows the hitter to extend his or her arms when swinging to comfortably hit the tee-ball with the "sweet" spot of the bat.

I want each child to have a stiff front leg with feet square to the parallel line. The player should be placing their weight on the balls of both of their feet. The square front foot will prevent the front knee from buckling or bending. Imagine a bug underneath the back foot. I want the child to squash that imaginary bug with a pivot of their back foot. Approximately 60% of the player's weight should be on the back foot. This is called the "load" position. This pivot will open the hips toward the pitcher when "squashing the bug". The front foot should remain square and the front knee locked when "squashing the bug" also. The back leg can bend but do not take a large dip with the back leg. (This drill is presented in a short video on our www.tballu.com website, within 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 large step. I do not want the player to take a step with their front foot when "squashing the bug" since a step will cause the player's head to slightly dip when swinging the bat and therefore, the player's eyes will dip when swinging the bat also. The no-step will prevent an eye dip when attempting to hit a breaking ball (e.g., curve, slider, etc) later in the player's career when he or she advances to high school baseball or softball. Use a series of batting helmets as impediments to prevent the player's front foot from taking a step if they had been previously taught to do so.

Practice "squashing the bug" with a bat situated between the arms and the back's shoulder blades. Have the entire team practice this drill at the same time making sure they are a good distance away from each other. Keep an eye on a stiff front leg and the back foot should pivot on the ball of their back foot. Some players will pivot and raise the heel of the back foot such 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 should stay down while looking in the hitting zone. If the back shoulder does not remain in the hitting zone upon pivot, the head will lift up from the hitting zone and the front foot will automatically lift up as well where the hitter is pivoting on the heel of the front foot. This is called "rolling" the front foot. Repeat this drill 50 times each practice and before each game. The player can also do this drill 50 times daily in front of a full length mirror at home. This will provide the player great muscle memory to ensure a proper swing every time.

After more than ten years coaching youth baseball, it has been my experience that, despite the best efforts of parent-coaches, too many children do not learn the basics of hitting and fielding and develop bad habits from the start. As these children progress to coach-pitch and kid-pitch leagues, this results in coaches spending many hours trying to correct problems, which could have been easily avoided at the Tee Ball or Beginner Baseball level. Coaching children, whether your own or children in your community, is one of the most rewarding experiences you'll have. Watching children learn and successfully apply the skills that you've taught them is tremendously fulfilling. I wish you all the best of luck in your t-ball, baseball or softball seasons.

David Comora
T-Ball University

David Comora has coached Tee Ball and Youth Baseball for over 10 years. He and his partners Steve Polansky, Brian Leuthner and David Kalb have developed the T-Ball University system of coaching to help new parent coaches learn to quickly master the skills of coaching. Their program includes video drills, coaching forms, practice plans, lesson notes and more. Free coaching videos are also available at http://www.teeballuniversity.com

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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick