Using Data to develop and train hitters

If you had told me 12 years ago when I started coaching that this would be where I am today in my coaching journey, I wouldn’t have believed you.  Just like you, I subscribed to the traditional coaching models.  Give the player explicit instruction on how to execute “mechanics” then hold him/her highly accountable to those “mechanics.”  I would be lying if I told you this model wasn’t somewhat successful, but just like everything, there had to be more.  This curiosity is how I arrived at the constraints-led approach, principles of self-organization to problem-solving reinforced with data-driven feedback.  This method gives the player more opportunities to find their most optimal way to swing a bat, not just the internal mechanics I thought were relevant.

Constraints Aren’t the Be All, End All

Hitting is a multi-layered, multiple piece puzzle into which there are many solutions to solve the outcome.  While constraints aren’t the be all end all, they do present many problems that give rise to the athlete to find their most optimal solution.  Under the guiding principles of self-organization under constraint, coaching must be a more hands-off process than it would be under the traditional approach. Providing learners with opportunities to discover solutions rather than ‘prescribing’ answers is a foundational principle of constraints led coaching. This approach creates a learning environment that facilitates exploratory behavior thus leading self-discovery via natural subconscious learning of movements rather than using explicit instructions that would encourage players to analyze their internal movement.  This over-analysis is the very point in which all hitters hit the “wall.”  As the hitter becomes more self-conscious about their internal patterns the more likely, they are to override their natural sequencing thus never becoming what it is they could or can become at the plate.  This concept is most commonly known as “paralysis by analysis.”

The key point then is that if we let it, the body will solve problems such as hitting a ball using internal control mechanisms. This means that the most critical aspect in a coaches role should be about providing opportunities for hitters to find their most optimal movement solution with the flight of the ball.  By setting broad outcome-based goals, ie, “hit the ball hard” or “hit the ball in the air” the player will begin to organize naturally.

Because the important things are hard to develop, it is tempting to take overvalue the small, irrelevant things because they are easy

There is No Perfect Technique

The most common misunderstanding in all of coaching is the understanding and importance of technique. “Technique” is not a real thing, it’s not an object that can be owned. It is only a means to an outcome. The goal of a hitter is not to perfect technique but instead to hit the ball as squarely and as consistently as possible.  A technique can and does allow a hitter to do that better, to achieve that goal more often.  But for that reason, the perfect technique is the technique that disappears, the internal monitoring of the movement no longer gets in the way. The hitter is not conscious of technique at all.  You track the ball, swing the bat in rhythm, and everything else organizes itself intuitively around the external outcome.

What is the Role of The Coach and Parent

Coaches can help you to understand the process, perhaps even help you get there more quickly. But, at best, the coach can only support and enable a journey that the player must undertake on his own.

Because the most important pieces are hard to develop, it is tempting to overvalue in the small, irrelevant things because they are easy to identify.  All the common internal coaching cues apply here, we don’t need to reiterate those.  In truth, the solution to the outcome problem is probably much simpler and yet much harder to find.  Ultimately the bat isn’t working as part of your body but in opposition to it.  Forcing the bat to do things you aren’t naturally optimized to do will never help you become the hitter you could be.

Just because somebody swings one way and I swing another way doesn’t mean he’s better than me or I’m better than him … Does my swing get hits? Yes.

Dustin Pedroia

Content Sources:

The wisdom of Ed Smith and the place of technique in cricket batting



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