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Updated: Dec 4, 2020

“Teach me so I can teach you. I need to know what you know so we can help each other” – Coach Parnell

Such simple words, but such a profound concept! The quote was a tweet that popped up on my twitter feed the other day and normally I don’t respond to many tweets, but this one is the exception as my response was:

“Rule #1 of a hitting coach = Figure out what your hitter does, why they do it, and if it works; then figure out how to help make them better. There are many different styles and a hitting coaches responsibility is to understand the premise behind them”.

Coach Parnell referenced that her hitter was taken off guard by the statement because it’s not one that a hitting coach typically asks, but it got me thinking……..shouldn’t that conversation literally be the 1st conversation coaches have with their hitters at the beginning of each season? Shouldn’t we as hitting coaches 1st acquaint ourselves with the movement patterns our hitters are using and evaluate those movement patterns before recommending changes? And before recommending changes, shouldn’t we have a dialogue with the hitter about why they are currently swinging in the fashion that they are?

Our job as hitting coaches is literally to be PERFORMANCE ENCHANCERS, not performance dictators and humility is a great assistant to performance enhancement.

Humility is often a hitting coaches best friend because regardless of how knowledgeable we may be, there are other hitting coaches out there that may be equally, or perhaps more knowledgeable in a particular facet of hitting. Players communicate and bond in different ways so your hitters may have a better relationship with another coach then they have with you thus making the impact this coach has on your player pretty significant! THIS IS ALL OKAY and it is not a threat to your job!

Some coaches view outside coaching as interference, and I WOULD agree, if the outside coach is completely inept, but this season, before outrightly dismissing another coaches’ instructions to your player, inquire as to what the outside coach is teaching your hitter and see if there are nuggets of wisdom that can be found to start a productive hitter dialogue.

Throughout my career I have done this informally as I have always told my hitters: “We Really have no ego, but please don’t tell us you won’t try something due to some incorrect technique that has been passed on to you. Usually, our hitting staff can tell you why your swing coach says what he/she says and why that way may be optimal or may potentially be improved upon, but we need to know what you and your hitting coach have been working on….”

Starting in 2020, I have decided to formalize this process so I created the questionnaire below to begin the dialogue with my hitters so we can establish a strong foundation of trust.

Chances are, if your hitter REALLY trusts their “other” hitting coach, speaking poorly of the coach’s instruction will negatively impact your relationship with your hitter and it will undermine the entire base of your relationship, thus negating the potential impact of any SWING ENHANCEMENTS you recommend to your hitter.

NO HITTER IS A BLANK SLATE and we should not treat them that way. It is tough to “unlearn” a movement pattern and it is important that we understand why the hitter is choosing to move in the way they do and whether or not the movement was taught to them. Through experience, I often find that if you ask a hitter “why do you do this particular movement”, they frequently don’t have an answer. This is the point where “enhancements” can occur. If a coach is able to recommend an “enhancement” to a hitter’s swing and explain the science behind WHY the enhancement has been proven to work, the hitter is more likely to buy in to the enhancement.

I always challenge myself to continually improve my knowledge base so that when my hitter explains a technique to me, I can digest it, understand it as best I can and figure out how to incorporate the hitters technique into the principles of hitting that our staff believes to be important to our team. I also want to attempt to understand the science behind any techniques that my hitter explains were taught to them and internally, I need to evaluate if an enhancement would benefit the hitter or not. In evaluating whether an enhancement recommendation will benefit a hitter, the following is always considered.

Factors affecting implementation timeline for enhancement are:

· Trust and relationship with hitter

o All coaches need to formulate relationships with all players, but sometimes, if a player is not receptive of a change from one coach, they may accept an enhancement recommendation from a coach they have a better relationship with. Relationship quality is key to success of enhancements!

· Players willingness to try an enhancement

o No one will succeed at something they do not want to do. After discussing why an enhancement needs to be made and explaining the science behind the enhancement, if the hitter still is not willing to try, the enhancement probably won’t work. GROWTH MINDSET needs to be built into the CULTURE of your team’s hitting philosophy understanding that everyone needs to be open to enhancements. GROWTH MINDSET is essential for hitting enhancements / adjustments and without this, a team can never reach optimal potential.

· Players understanding of swing mechanics

o It is essential that hitters have a basic understanding of swing mechanics and kinetics so that they can better digest why an enhancement is being recommended and the desired effect of the enhancement. Without any understanding of mechanics, hitters can become “lost” , unable to execute an adjustment and unable to repeat their former swing that they were taking prior to an adjustment being recommended.

· Timing of the season

o MID SEASON IS JUST NOT THE RIGHT TIME TO MAKE A MAJOR ENHANCEMENT / ADJUSTMENT. We begin our season by filming hitters in the fall and the coaching staff evaluates the film to determine enhancements a hitter can potentially benefit from. If a MAJOR overhaul is needed, we may begin immediate work if the hitter is up to it, but typically, we let our process of trust building and familiarization commence as we ease into enhancements that can be learned within our team hitting plan.

In closing, I can say definitively that “cookie cutter hitters” = a team that will NEVER reach its potential! NOT ALL HITTERS ARE THE SAME and THERE IS NOT ONE RIGHT WAY TO HIT. Just because a hitter does something I may not agree with does not mean it is wrong, and it is my responsibility to bridge the gap between their outside knowledge and my staff’s philosophy and hitting knowledge!

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