How to Turn Good Practice Hitters Into Game Hitters
One of the most repeated comments from parents of my students was, “They kill the ball in practice, but not in games.” There are a lot of “5 o’clock” (batting practice) hitters, as opposed to “7:30 ” (game) hitters. This is one of the most perplexing situations of baseball for parents, players and coaches. Hitters, who absolutely pound the ball in batting practice and then fail to hit during games, create much frustration and even drive some to give up playing baseball. There are a number of reasons why hitters hit in batting practice but not in games including the lack of fear or nervousness that may exist in games. Players often tense up in a game, which throws their focus off.
Usually however, there are two main reasons why hitters hit in practice but not in games.
1. Their swing fundamentals are not as good as they appear. Often, it appears to the untrained eye that hitters have great swings but in reality their swings have some fundamental flaws.
2. The hitters are not being challenged enough in practice. Coaches have good intentions in batting practice of building their hitters’ confidence by laying the ball in the strike zone at hittable speeds. However, if the batting practice is not game like with different speeds and different pitches, it does not necessarily benefit hitters and they only gain false confidence.
What can be done to help hitters become good game hitters?
1. Coaches should continue to give players hitting drills that address their fundamental, problem areas. Once the season starts, hitters often stop the fundamental drill work that they did in preseason. Tee work and soft toss work keep players focused on contact points and mechanics and should be continues throughout the season. They are essential for hitters to stay sharp.
2. Coaches should have a trained hitting coach observe the struggling hitters and make suggestions how to help their fundamentals. Often, just one little fundamental tip can lead to much more success.
3. Putting hitters in game like situations as often as possible in practice is good. Hitters will begin to develop game confidence and the feeling like they “have been there before” when in actual games.
4. Coaches should challenge hitters in batting practice with game like speeds and with changing speeds (age appropriate, of course). Hitters often adjust on their own, without fundamental help, when they are challenged enough. Coaches should not allow total frustration to appear in hitters by over-challenging them, though.
5. Of course, patience and encouragement with struggling game hitters is always necessary. Coaching statements like “you can do it” and “I believe in you” are great confidence builders and confidence is very important for hitters.
Finally, coaches should not give up on struggling players because “any hitter willing to listen, learn and practice is not beyond hope.” I have known many hitters who became very good game hitters after years of struggle because players stayed committed to practice and coaches remained positive and encouraging towards them.