Stay Back Drills to Swing With Head Centered
Baseball and Fast Pitch Softball
This Stay Back Drills article is excerpted directly from our new book The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details).
Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill VI – Head Centered Drill
Head centered denotes the hitter stabilizes their head as they move out to toe touch. It is critical (Universal) to maintain head centered between feet as the torso moves linearly toward the pitcher. The hitter must control their upper body (stay back) by not allowing their shoulders and head to travel toward or over the front foot (lunging).
Purpose – Improve vision and power.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Foundation XXXI: Head Centered During Approach.
Attention Focus – Internal focus on maintaining the rear eye centered between feet.
First, use dry swings, then a batting tee, and lastly, front toss. Beginning in stance, the hitter moves into hitting position and stops. The hitter freezes and looks straight down with their rear eye (right eye for righties, left for lefties); the back eye should be centered over a spot halfway between their feet. Now the hitter completes their swing and again freezes, checking that their rear eye remained centered. If the back eye moves toward the front foot more than a couple of inches past the middle, they are lunging. Block practice head centered for fifty swings and at multiple practices.
Allowing time to recover from a workload, both physically and mentally, is crucial for positive adaptation to the training stimulus.
Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill IV – Axis of Rotation (Stay Back) Drill
Scientifically, define rotation as a circular movement around an axis. Universally, High-Level hitters establish an axis of rotation to:
- Maximize the torque of core rotation.
- Create a slight upward gradient in the swing path.
Purpose – Establish a rearward leaning axis of rotation in the hitter’s baseline.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar IX: Axis of Rotation.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar XI: Shoulder Tilt.
- Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill VI – Head Centered Drill.
- Tool XVII: Experimental Core Drills, Drill I – Axis of Rotation Experimentation Drill.
In this drill, the hitter uses three different methods to train rotational axis.
Method 1 (Block with Noodle)
Attention Focus – External Process focus (click link for how to use mental focus to improve practice and performance) on staying behind the noodle – let movements “self-organize” (click link for details of a useful training method).
Use a batting tee. The hitter assumes their balanced, athletic stance. The coach holds a long swimming pool noodle in front of the hitter’s helmet, blocking their head from moving too far forward. After the hitter gathers weight rearward, the noodle is held the same distance in front of the hitter’s head as the distance of the hitter’s stride. For example, if the hitter strides out three inches, hold the noodle three inches in front of the hitter’s helmet. Ask the hitter to hit the ball off the tee without their head coming in contact with the noodle. The hitter establishes a firm front leg at front heel drive and controls their upper body to avoid lunging into the noodle. Ask the hitter for 25 hard hits without touching the noodle.
Method 2 (Rear Eye Test)
A valuable check for the hitter to use ongoing is the “rear eye test.” The hitter controls their upper body as they approach, with the head centered between feet, so as not to “drift” over the front foot.
Attention Focus – External Process focus on a centered head – let movements “self-organize.”
Use a batting tee. Ask the hitter to hit the ball off the tee and then freeze. They now look straight down with their front eye closed and rear eye open. Have them point at the spot on the ground directly below their back eye. If the hitter points to a spot more than two inches past the middle of their feet, they are lunging and fail the rear eye test. Ask the hitter for 25 hard swings where they pass the back eye test.
Method 3 (Torso Extension Test)
Establishing the torso as a direct extension of the front leg creates a dominant torque position. Universally, the torso and front leg are on the same linear axis. The hitter feels rotation occurring around this axis, while most weight resides on the front foot.
Attention Focus – External Process focus on upper body in-line with front leg – let movements “self-organize.”
With this third method, again, use a batting tee. Ask the hitter to hit the ball off the tee and then freeze. Ask the hitter to observe whether their torso, front leg, and front foot are all in a straight line. If not, the hitter is lunging forward with the upper body and head. Ask the hitter for 25 hard swings where they pass the torso extension test.
Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Axis of Rotation Experimentation Drill
Purpose – Experiment with different degrees of rearward axis to learn how trajectory (launch angle) is affected.
- Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill VI – Head Centered Drill.
- Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill IV – Axis of Rotation (Stay Back) Drill.
Attention Focus – External Process focus on the position of the rear eye between the feet at contact.
Here are guidelines for fitting the degree of rearward tilt at contact to the type of hitter:
- Zero-Degree Axis (Contact Hitter) – Rear eye two inches forward of center.
- Five-Degree Axis (Contact Hitter) – Rear eye centered.
- Ten-Degree Axis (Gap Hitter) – Rear eye two inches behind center.
- Fifteen-Degree Axis (Gap-Power Hitter) – Rear eye four inches behind center.
- Twenty-Degree Axis (Power Hitter) – Rear eye six inches behind center.
- Twenty-five Degree Axis (Homerun Hitter) – Rear eye eight inches behind center.
Step 1 (Measure Baseline Launch Angles)
See Measure and Track Launch Angles for how to set up launch angle markers in your cage.
Use a batting tee or front toss aimed waist-high. Ask the hitter to hit 25 balls using maximum effort swings. Only count hard-hit balls. Add up (or subtract for ground balls) the launch angles for each hard-hit ball as follows:
- Hard-hit ground balls (-5 launch angle).
- Hard-hit flat line drives (0 launch angle).
- Hard-hip gap drives (0 – 20 launch angle measured by cage markers).
- Hard-hit flies (20+ launch angle measured by cage markers).
Average Launch Angle = Total of Launch Angles on Hard-Hit Balls / Number of Hard-Hit Balls.
Step 2 (Degree of Rearward Axis Experimentation)
In this step, the hitter picks one or two different degrees of rearward tilt to try out. With each new position, the hitter first takes 25 swings using a static heavy bag before beginning to measure average launch angle. The hitter hits the bag and freezes. Then, have the hitter close their front eye and look straight down with their rear eye (rear eye test). Ask the hitter how far from the center of their feet their head is at contact. For example, for a moderate 10-degree tilt, the rear eye is hovering over a point two inches rearward of the center. The coach can help the hitter evaluate the degree of rearward tilt at contact by comparing the hitter to the images (previous page).
Directions – Use the same measurement process as in Step 1.
Step 3 (Evaluate Productivity)
Potentially, the hitter might make adjustments to their baseline. Caution, though, when bat speed is still developing, moderate to large tilts can result in a high percentage of fly outs (see Tool XXVII: Universal Quality At-Bat Drills, Drill VI – Optimize Launch Angle Drill).
Step 4 (Build and Confirm Baseline/Automaticity)
Use a batting tee, front toss, machine, and live BP, for at least 400 swings to build automaticity for the adjusted axis. Then, use game-like pitching, with slow-motion video, to confirm the swing change has “truly” become a part of the hitter’s baseline.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
See Building the High-Level Swing for a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!