These days you’ll get little debate regarding the importance of starting the swing with the hips (or core muscles) rather than the upper body. It’s at least one thing that is fairly universal among hitting instructors and those who are students of hitting.
Yet getting a player to swing hips-first – especially if she’s spent a few years swinging hands-first – can be more difficult than saying “Here, do this” or “Watch this video of how you should be swinging.”
It’s not that the student doesn’t get it. But after several years of working through one sequence it can be darned difficult to implement a new one.
I have that issue with a student right now. A high school girl, she came to me because she was hitting a lot of weak ground balls and pop-ups despite being a pretty good athlete and being fairly strong. It didn’t take long (even with the naked eye) to see she was working her swing in reverse, starting with the hands, then the shoulders, and finally moving the hips more as a follow-through.
We’ve been working on changing it, but she struggled at first. We have worked through a couple of drills, however, that seem to be helping her. If you have a hitter in a similar situation, especially an older one, here are some things to try.
- Hip turn, no swing off the tee. You might also call it half a swing. Start from the normal stance, and go through the usual load/pre-motion. The hitter lands on her toe, then drops the heel and starts turning the hips. But instead of swinging she just freezes in position.
- Hip turn, then swing. The hitter starts by doing everything she did above. After she’s frozen in position and the coach checks to see the hips have started turning, he/she calls swing and the hitter completes the swing. You’re not looking to correct any other flaws at this point; you’re just making sure that the hips are turning first. Once she can do this on command, have her check herself for hip turn, and when it’s confirmed she swings on her own. Gradually have her shorten up the time between turn and swing until it’s all one correctly sequenced motion.
- Hip turn, no swing front toss. Getting the hips to turn first on the tee isn’t too difficult. But it can all break down again once you have a moving ball. To address this, front toss or pitch to the hitter and have her go through load, positive move to toe touch, heel drop and hip turn. But again, she doesn’t swing. (That is particularly important if you’re close to the hitter and there’s no safety screen.) Focus on making sure the hips are starting on time – not that she waits until the ball crosses the plate to start it.
- Hip turn, chop swing front toss. Similar to the above, only she adds the beginning of a swing to it. Why the chop swing? Because with a full swing she can easily revert to what she was doing because it’s familiar from before. The chop or half swing is different, so it helps overcome that muscle memory built on thousands of full swings.
None of this is a panacea, but it can help. Remember that the key thing you’re doing is trying to replace one locked-in pattern with another. Because it’s not that she doesn’t know to swing hips-first. It’s that she’s having trouble actually doing it.
Also, don’t be surprised if she gets it, then reverts back. It happens. But keep emphasizing the right sequence of movements, and if she’s willing to change she will – especially when she feels the power a properly-sequenced swing can deliver.