Anyone working with 6-10 year old players can tell you that there is nothing beloved more by these youngsters than the excitement of hitting a baseball. Batting is a love that begins during these early years, and often times remains the part of the game that players fall in love with the most.
So what lessons can we teach our youngest hitters about this adored craft? Many valuable things. While the complex nature of hitting mechanics and mental approach is most likely above a player of this age, there are so many fundamental elements that can be digested and instilled in these young players. In fact, there is no better time to master oft-overlooked basics than when players are just learning the game, playing strictly for the fun and enjoyment they derive from their experiences.
This all being said, little guys who experience success when hitting will surely learn to love it even more. Where should we begin when helping these youngsters succeed swinging the bat?
Let’s start with a basic lesson that will stay with a player the rest of his life: Learning to grip the bat.
First, some overall talking points to remember whenever speaking to any specific element of the grip.
1) The grip should always be loose and tension-free. This will be something that a 6-10 year old will have a tough time mastering, especially if they are still developing the strength just to hold a bat (much less swing one). This must always be taken into account when working with players of this age, and we will refer to this later when troubleshooting common problems 6-10 year olds have when learning to hit for the first time.
General rule – no matter what, make sure that the 6-10 year old you are working with can hold and swing the bat being used with relative ease and without excessive labor. You will know if your player is unable to handle the size/weight of the bat they are practicing with if they cannot practice holding/swinging the bat with a tension-free grip. This tension indicates they are in need of extra support just to raise/move the bat they are holding. This tension will prevent them from properly learning the next fundamental steps needed to find success in hitting at this early age.
Test/Resolution: You can test your player’s ability to handle the bat with ease and without excessive tension. To do this, have the player hold the bat in their dominant hand (right or left) near the knob of the bat (allow up to 1/2 inch choking up). Then, have the player hold the bat out parallel to the ground at shoulder level, extending the bat and their arm straight out in front of them. If they can perform this action for 20 seconds continuously without the bat wobbling overtly or experiencing great body/arm tension, then you know that the player will be able to master gripping their bat with the necessary amount of ease and relaxation. If they cannot perform this test, have the player find a smaller bat that they can successfully pass with (you can even use a wiffleball bat for players of the smallest variety).
2) The bat should always remain in the control of the fingers, not in the palms of the hands. This, of course, is another element that plagues developing youngsters at this age. Depending on how small the player’s hands are, there might not be a way to avoid some palm contact on the bat. This is acceptable, but always make sure that no matter how small the player’s hands are, they should be utilizing their digits to hold/control the bat as much as possible, and avoid bat to palm-of-hand contact as much as possible.
Now that we have established these two general rules, we can move on to specific instructions on the proper grip at this age.
Players at this level should be assuming a traditional (or neutral) grip every time when they go to swing the bat. This involves lining up the “knocking-knuckles” on their hands when they assume their bat grip. What are “knocking knuckles”? These are the knuckles that most people knock on a door with (hint: it’s your middle set of knuckles).
Once a player has picked up the bat and lined up their knocking knuckles, they should be close to the correct grip. All that is left after this point is to review the two points above to make sure that the grip is loose and that the bat is being controlled by the fingers (and away fro the palm) as much as possible.
To check to make sure that this loose grip with knocking-knuckles in line is being employed, try the following tests with your player.
Grip Check A) Have the player lay the bat against their thigh with the knob by their thigh and the barrel on the ground in front of them. While facing the bat, have the player lay their hands under the band in preparation to pick it up, but have them keep their hands open still. Next, have them close their hands around the bat and lift the bat to their back shoulder (left-handed hitter, left shoulder — right-handed hitter, right shoulder). Once the bat is on their shoulder, have them look at their knuckles to check the alignment. If they are in a straight line, they are good to go.
Grip Check B) Another check can involve many/all of the steps in Grip Check A, but along with these, you can this alternative. Have the player point his index fingers after they have picked up the bat. If the fingers are pointing straight out away from the player (parallel to each other), than the player knows that the grip is correct. Grip should be corrected until these fingers are pointing straight out away from the player.
Congratulations! Once your player has mastered this element, he will be farther along than the majority of young hitters as far as fundamentals go. Also, the player will assuredly grow to have a looser, quicker swing that goes in the direction the player intends much more frequently than a youngster who does not master this simple skill.
Do not overestimate the importance of this skill. This drill should be repeated on a daily basis with hitters age 6-10, and performing Grip Check A and Grip Check B) are vital for reinforcement whenever possible.
Dry Swing Drills
1. Point, wiggle & swing – This drill is a combination of common grip checks along with the feel of adding a swing to this skill. To perform, have the hitter get the bat to the gripped position while resting the bat on his back shoulder. Once there, have the hitter point the two index fingers, and check that they are pointed in exactly the same direction (away from the player). After this, have the hitter wiggle ALL of the fingers on the bat while simultaneously lifting the bat of of his shoulder. This will ensure that the player is capable of being both loose with the grip and in control of the bat.
After the finger wiggles, have the hitter assume a ready position and stance (we will go over this in another lesson) and swing whenever ready. A successful attempt includes every element of this drill.
Recommended: 5-10 ‘Point, wiggle & swing’ reps per day.
Point, wiggle & hit – This drill is a combination of common grip checks along with adding the feel of hitting the baseball. To perform, have the hitter get the bat to the gripped position while resting the bat on his back shoulder. Place a tee in front of the player at the front of the center of home plate. Once there, have the hitter assume his comfortable position in the batter’s box and point his two index fingers to heck that they are pointed in exactly the same direction (away from the player, towards home plate). After this, have the hitter wiggle ALL of the fingers on the bat while simultaneously lifting the bat of of his shoulder. This will ensure that the player is capable of being both loose with the grip and in control of the bat.
After the finger wiggles, have the hitter assume a ready position and stance (we will go over this in another lesson) and hit the baseball with authority straight out towards CF (center of cage/net). A successful attempt includes every element of this drill, including a line-drive with solid contact.
Common Faults & Troubleshooting
1) Too strong of grip – the majority of young players will grip the bat too tightly or too strongly. This means they are putting too much palm/fingers on the bat during the grip, and consequently cause their “knocking knuckles” to cross. Consequently, a hitter who does this will have a slower swing with the tendency to upper-cut without attempting to.
Solution: If you see this (and you will), have the player “un-twist” their hands, or if necessary, go through the grip checks A and B.
2) Ignorance/ Too Little Emphasis – The majority of players and coaches (including myself) will go over this important skill once or twice, and then forget about teaching it until the beginning of next season. Challenge your player (and yourself) to spend the first 10 minutes of hitting practice focused on these important grip basics. If this is done, the chances that the player will master a correct grip will greatly increase. A good grip will promote the finger/hand strength a player needs to exhibit easy, loose control of the bat needed for fluid, quick swing. A poor grip will prohibit these important nervous/muscular systems to develop correctly and delay proper hand/grip strength development needed.