Developing a Practice Plan Centered Around Player Development
Recently someone asked me “What if you were a high school, juco, small college, or large college coach and you how an hour to an hour and a half a day to hit? What would you do?” First off let me start by saying that I am a practice organization junkie. I love it. I enjoy greatly working with the coaches that are within the Velo Lab Online Community. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different from cage space, field space, equipment, and several other obstacles. Like everything I do you have to start with a question, so here goes.
What do you value in hitters?
So I believe that the hierarchy of hitting needs looks like this:
- Speed – Without it nothing else matters
- Bat Path – Once you have speed, getting the barrel in the pitch plane consistently is critical
- Rhythm & Timing – Once you figure out the previous 2 you need to be able to find your flow and time the launch of your swing
- Adaptability – Once you figure out the previous 3 what training environments are you creating to challenge hitters to adapt.
So answering this question leads us to the next question of developing hitters in a team environment
How do we measure and test?
Hitting needs 1 and 2 are very objective skills. They are black and white. Getting a Blast or Diamond Kinetics (I prefer the DK), can allow you to have a better idea of the individual needs of the players and how you are going to outline a plan to improve their ability to hit. Set aside time at the beginning of your season to get a 15-20 minute assessment with each player. You can do this in groups of 2-3 with a layout of 15 flips and 15 overhand BP and if you have a machine to crank some velo do that also. Chart your results for each player on just a handwritten chart. What you need to know is Avg. Bat Speed, Barrel Acceleration (DK Only), Avg. Swing Plane, then calculate the percentage of swings the player took that were between 5 and 15 degrees up (if you didn’t pay attention in middle school math and don’t know how to do this there is an amazing website you can use called google.com).
Designing a practice plan
How much tee? How much flips? How much overhand BP? How much Velo?
Each one of the above items has a place for developing hitters, but the one thing you will need is an assortment of weighted bats. Buy them, build them, whatever you have to do, you have to do, because they are critical do distancing yourself from over critiquing player’s movements and guiding them to find your optimum movement solution.
Here’s how I use the above items
Tee – Developing feel and patterning the big framework items using overloaded bats such as 50, 60, 70, 80-ounce bats depending on the strength of the player. We use constraint drills to hit on these big framework items. It is the only time players are allowed to be somewhat internal about their swing process.
Flips – We can do several things within this. Overload, end load, knob load, under load, angles, multi-plates. Once the ball gets moving its time to challenge hitters timing and adaptability while still being mindful of the development of speed and bat path through external intent.
Overhand BP – The process here is the same as above.
High Velocity – The game shouldn’t be the first time you see a game speed fastball, getting daily work against game speeds is important. You can apply weighted bats here but within 20% of the game weights only. The velo itself presents a great challenge for most hitters.
Given 15-20 players on each team and 4 groups of 4/5 players on an hour time slot here’s how a day would go. 15-minute rotations. And for god’s sake have enough baseballs or softballs so you don’t have to pick them every 2 minutes.
Field – Split Plate flips – Split home plate with a square screen – 1 side doing 2 plate front toss with end load and under load bat and other side is doing opposite side angle toss with over load. If you have extra screens you should use them from the great walls of groundball prevention.
Cage – Overhand BP or High-Velocity Velo – If you have 1 cage pick 1 if you have 2 cages do both. If doing overhand use 3 plate randomized take 3 swings at any plate distance 2-3 feet apart. On the back plate use an end load, on the middle plate use a knob load, and in the front plate use the underload.
Back of a dugout wall or any wall – Buy some hitting plyoballs and get your constraint tee work done here. This is a space that isn’t utililized much but can easily by covering with rubber matt and getting it going. Pick drills and drill progressions with individual focus points on player needs. Say Jimmy needs scap stabilization focus or Johnny needs rear leg load and acceleration. Develop an individual plan from video and your data feedback and go at it.
Everyone’s field and facility are different, I understand that. What matters is you have an overall plan and idea about what you are doing and you get creative with the work. Challenge hitters to fail. Its the only way true progress can be made. I’m certain I’ll get emails saying I left out this or that. I know you can base run, and I know you will want to bunt. Figure that out on your own. What I’m giving you is an idea on how to develop horsepower and hit more balls over the infield.
Every 4 to 6 weeks get players and do you assessments again. Track their progress and if they aren’t progressing then you need to try to figure out why and adjust accordingly.
Developing hitters any environment is all about 3 things. What you value. How you measure it and how you train it. Pride and ego have no place because adjustment will need to be made. There isn’t a perfect one size fits all answer. As coaches, it is our duty to serve the need of the player, with ego in the way that’s extremely difficult to accomplish.