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Irvine, Ca

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Irvine Little League Baseball Coach offering private baseball lessons, baseball camps, and coaches clinics.

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Coach Ballgame tackles the big issues facing youth sports today.

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The Top Two Keys to Hitting Fast Pitching

James Lowe

Culture shock sets in for a hitter when they begin to face faster pitching. The thought of not being able to catch up to the heat causes them to press, which leads to bad habits such as lunging, squeezing the bat tight, and moving their head around like a dolphin out of water. It's not an easy transition for a hitter, but with lots of reps, it is very doable. The key here has to do with the timing of their load, and their bat path.

THE LOAD: When facing slow to medium paced pitching, a hitter can get away with loading their hands and hips while the pitch is flying in their direction.  Against faster pitching, the hitter needs to get his hands and hips prepared prior to the release of the ball from the pitcher's hand. This will give them some much needed 'extra time' to recognize the pitch, before going at it. 

THE BAT PATH: Secondly, from the loaded position, the hitter must take their hands forward. This seems to be foreign for most, as hitters are born with this innate urge to make a long swing.  

A “Big Swing" is not a good swing. 

Once the pitch is released, the barrel of the bat can't go backwards or down. I call those areas "burger land," and we don't have time to go get a burger. The barrel has to quickly get out in front of the hitters’ body if they wish to hit the ball hard.

The most consistent hitters usually have the simplest swings. They sacrifice the big stride for a simple coil and uncoil of the hips. Take Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant for instance. Their swing is very "A to B", quiet yet quick.  They use their core muscles, instead of their flimsy arms and feet.  They were the best two hitters in the National League last year, AND they had power. 

I know from experience, turning a long swing into a quick swing is no walk in the park.  It takes lots of work in the cage.  But as a wise man once said, "Champions are made in the batting cage."

For more information on how to teach the skills of baseball to kids, check out my online coaching course here.

LET’S FIX THIS TRAVEL BALL THING

James Lowe

Do you want to be the 8 year old with the best curve ball and the most trophies, or the 18-year-old with the healthiest arm and a genuine passion for baseball?

Travel and Club Ball can be great, especially for the elite player who needs the challenge. But there are some issues seeping into this culture that scare the cinnamon toast crunch out of me...

1)  KIDS CAN’T PLAY OTHER SPORTS BECAUSE “IF YOU DON’T PLAY YEAR ROUND, YOU CAN’T PLAY ON OUR TEAM”:  I had a very talented 7 year old tell me he experienced this, and it REALLY bothered him.  Why?  Because he loves soccer, and basketball, and just BEING A KID. 

Mike Trout was an extremely coachable outfielder in minor-league baseball because he was such a good basketball player in high school.  Jackie Robinson stole so many bases because he was on the track team at UCLA.

The TCU Baseball Coach Jim Schlossnagle was recently quoted, “The youth baseball player today has never been more talented, and never been less skilled.”  Why is that?  Because multiple sport athletes are more skilled.  Since today’s baseball players weren’t able to learn the drop-back step during football or basketball practice, their motor skills are immature.  They can’t bust out that tool from their tool pouch when a college coach asks them to take a good angle on a fly ball or a grounder. 

2) TOO MANY MEANINGLESS GAMES:  A 9 year old pitches 6 innings Saturday morning.  They catch Game 2 that afternoon.  They play shortstop for all 3 games Sunday.  They have Tommy John surgery Monday. 

It was never important for him to dominate a Fourth of July tournament when he was 13 or 14 years old. If it didn’t fit into the year-round throwing program, then he skipped it.  It was all about the big picture and making him the best he could be at age 18.”  Zac Doan, Gerritt Cole’s Youth Coach.

There is so much emphasis put on high leverage games.  Mentally and physically.  Imagine a culture where the practice took precedent over the game. 

3) THAT BURNOUT THING IS REAL:  Some of the best players I’ve ever seen in little league baseball had no desire to play past high school.  They were forced into college when they were 6 years old.  When they got to college, they wanted to be a kid.

Let’s face it:  We live in an elite culture of NEEDING to be on the best team, NEEDING the best equipment, and NEEDING that college scholarship.  But who is doing the needing?  The player or the parent? 

So… what do we do? 

WE FIX IT.  We play in less tournaments, and focus more on skill development and the big picture.  We let our kids play multiple sports because that’s what College Coaches, Professional Managers, and Professional Players are telling us to do.  We listen to Christian Yelich when he questions the idea of a 9 year old being pressured to win a meaningless game. 

We Pay More Attention to the BIG PICTURE.

That’s how we make this TRAVEL BALL thing better.

 

Why Little League Players are Afraid of the Ball

James Lowe

Numerous Little League players come to me each year with a new found fear of getting hit by a pitch. The first thing I do is congratulate them for being honest with themselves. Half the battle is just being able to communicate this fear in a healthy way to a parent or coach. Secondly, I inform them that they are not alone in this fear. At one point or another every college and/or professional player (including me) has dealt with this shaky feeling when stepping into the batters box. It usually happens the first or second year of kid pitch, and most pros can tell you the exact pitcher that struck fear into them at that ripe age of 7 or 8.  Why is this age so prominent?  The pitchers are fairly new to being on a mound, thus they are wild.  Combine that with the fact that these hitters simply aren't used to facing another human their age, and it's a perfect concoction of "I'm scared and I wanna quit." This is where I hit them with a few facts:

1) Baseball players are mighty warriors. If they weren't, then everybody in the world would be playing baseball.
2) The pitcher is holding a tiny rubber ball wrapped in plastic and thread, while you are holding a mean, lean, fighting machine we call a bat. I'd rather be holding the mean thing as opposed to the puny thing if I'm headed to battle.
3) There is a huge difference between pain and injury. Pain hurts for a few seconds, but you don't have to go to the hospital. An injury means we need to get the ambulance ready. I've been hit hundreds of times, including 55 times in my four years of college, (Brown University School Record btw) and I never suffered an injury.  I've also witnessed thousands of HBP's in my lifetime, all of them causing pain, but not injury.
4) This one tends to get the best response... When you do get hit and you feel that pain, yes it stings, and it hurts, and it is no fun. BUT, as you jog down to first base, guess what's happening? Every player on the opposing team is whispering to their buddy, "Hey, that guy that just got hit, he's tough and I want to be like him." Every player on your own team is saying the exact same thing. The coaches, umpires, and all the fans in the stands all echo in unison, "That kid is tough. I wanna be as brave as that kid. He's a Mighty Warrior!" By the time you've gotten to first base and all those people have said those glorifying words, the pain is pretty much gone, yet you've earned the respect of many.

In closing, The approach of the parent and/or coach makes all the difference. I've seen this happen many times where an aggressive tone towards this issue just fuels the fire of fear.  Make these words challenging, yet relatable and uplifting. This will give the Little League player a good head start. The only true remedy though is experience. The process of simply stepping into the batters box over and over again, looking out at that pitcher, and attempting to be a mighty warrior is paramount. Then a day will come where that fear just simply disappears, and they will noticeably be on the offensive. 

To hear more information on how to keep baseball exciting, check out my podcast here.