Over the weekend I got a text from one of my players that I want to share as a starting point . Remember, this is a high school player.
I think a lot of people see these guys with a lot of movement in their swing and they believe they need to create the same movement patterns as the pro guys. Then what happens? They screw up their natural rhythm, and they give up on the proper patterns. I think you should post a gif about of a guy who hits yacks with little movement such as Brantley, Cruz, and so on.
The first point is this. My overall fundamental coaching philosophy is this. Teach players to fish, don't give them fish. Does that sound like a player who understands what he is trying to do as a hitter? The answer is yes. This player is convicted in what he knows and executes it.
Something we talk about a lot in my facilities is "fake" movement. I see it daily online. Guys leg kicking just for leg kicking. It has no functional purpose. If you look at a guy like Josh Donaldson, everything he does pre-foot strike is for functional purpose. I tell my guys and girls, you don't have to do it the way Donaldson does it, but you need to be trying to create what he is creating. Which gets me to today's point, the functional purpose of the stride. The stride serves three key functional purposes.
- Creating rhythm and linear momentum (moving out)
- dynamic loading/stretching of the body (creating and storing or potential energy)
- creating a position of adjustability to pitch location and speed
Creating rhythm and linear momentum (moving out)
I don't know when and where the negative move originated. If you watch Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, or any of the older hitters. None of them made a negative loading move, and neither should you. Unless like Prince Fielder, you do it so early that it isn't anything more than a comfort thing. I tell hitters all the time; I cannot tell you how you should load. That's completely on you, do what's comfortable, then we try to understand what we need to build inside of their natural rhythm. One thing we are not is soft to the ground. Let your body naturally move into foot strike creating linear momentum and creating ground force that will let your loaded hips start to unwind. We will discuss another day about foot strike alignment as that is another topic. For the people who will question head movement. Watch major league hitters that make a linear movement (Trout), at foot strike their head is perfectly still as they rotate around their center of mass.
Provide dynamic loading/stretching of the body
The stride is to hitting as the backswing is to golf. Like the golf backswing, the stride sequences and loads/stretches the body to allow for the potential energy stored in the muscles to turn into kinetic energy at foot strike. Obviously, the big difference of the two is the position of the chest and where the arms are at their most stretched position. A properly executed stride primes the hitter for an explosive, total body movement. This doesn't necessarily have to be a leg kick (Donaldson), toe tap (Bonds), heel turn (Pujols), or simple step (Griffey). As a general rule, though, the less movement you have, the more you will need to preload/stretch because of timing issues.
Creating a position of adjustability to pitch height and speed
The majority of swing adjustments for pitch heights and speed are done during the stride before the player ever starts to swing the bat swing. Hitters need to position their body and the bat correctly before sequencing into the turn according to the visual information they are collecting from load to foot strike. Once in proper alignment, the hitter can concentrate on accelerating/turning the barrel on plane. Swing adjustments made during the actual swing will decrease the overall bat speed and severely inhibit the chances the player will be able to get his/her barrel on plane with the pitch.
Keys to a functional stride
Gaining control of the body in the rear Hip
- Creating forward momentum in the body out of the rear hip
- Adjusting hip hinge, and/or shoulder plane for pitch heights
- Creating stretch in the upper body for explosive rotation
- Positioning the foot strike for hip acceleration
As you see that's a lot of things to build in such as short amount of time. If you watch any elite hitter in the world, you will see many different load/stride actions, and while they may be aesthetically different, they are all functionally the same. Understanding this idea gives hitters the freedom to explore their stride, but hitters must incorporate the essential elements to set up for a powerful swing. If any of the stride sequencing is off the acceleration and plane of the swing will suffer. And for God's sake, please stop telling players to get their foot down early.