Swing With a Steady Head Drills
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
The Swing With a Steady Head Drills article is excerpted directly from our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details)
For recommendations on how and when to use various training methods (dry, heavy bag, pylos, tee, toss, live, machine, etc.) and to shop for practical and durable training equipment, click on the link Hitting Training Methods and Aids.
Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill V – Head Steady Drill
Unlike MLB Mike Trout (above), for simplicity and confidence building, developing hitters and many experienced players should maintain their head as steady as possible, given the hitter’s aggressiveness of stride and approach. The hitter’s head must move forward as they stride out. But the hitter strives to stabilize all head movement except for this linear movement – no lowering of shoulders as they transition into hitting position.
Purpose – Maximize vision as the approach executes and the hitter swings.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Foundation XXXIII: Spine Angle.
Attention Focus – Internal focus (click for how to use mental focus to improve practice and performance) on maintaining a twenty-degree spine angle from stance through swing completion.
Use dry swings. Ask the hitter to take their stance with a twenty-degree inward lean (spine angle) as in the above image. The coach places a long foam noodle, level with the ground, and pointing at the pitcher against the front of the hitter’s helmet. Now the hitter executes their stride and approach, stopping in hitting position. The hitter’s helmet should slide lightly along the noodle as they move forward. If the hitter’s head drops or pulls away from the noodle, they are changing spine angle; eyes are carrying too much. Repeat until the hitter acquires the feeling of maintaining a twenty-degree spine angle beginning in stance and through stride and approach.
Here are the potential problems:
- If the hitter’s head moves away from the noodle, they are straightening up (decreasing their spine angle).
- If the hitter’s head moves into the noodle, they are diving head (increasing their spine angle).
- If the hitter’s head raises higher than the noodle, they are likely straightening one or both legs as stride lands; as the hitter arrives in hitting position, they should be athletic, with both legs flexed and bent.
- If the hitter’s head drops below the noodle, they are likely striding out aggressively and flattening the V made by their legs. Proper lower body mechanics (rear knee drive, hinging, and dragging rear toe) fix the aggressive strider’s dropping head (see Tool XIV: Universal Leg Drills).
Now use 25 dry swings but with no noodle. Ask the hitter to take their stance with a twenty-degree spine angle, move into hitting position, and freeze. The coach watches from a front view as the hitter moves. The hitter’s head should remain in precisely the same spot (pin head to a backdrop), as seen from the front. The hitter observes themselves, are they slightly bent at the waist with weight mostly over toes, and head nearly over the interior batter’s box line (athletic). Repeat until the hitter acquires the feeling, with no noodle for help, for maintaining a steady head as they move out of their stance to toe touch.
Finally, use a tee or front toss. Beginning in their stance, with a twenty-degree spine angle, the hitter moves slowly, at first, into hitting position and then swings. From the front view, the coach again pins the hitter’s head against a backdrop. As the hitter gathers, strides forward, and swings, only forward head movement—no movement in, out, up, or down. Block practice maintaining a steady head for 50 swings. Measure and track the number of successes. Try to beat this number at the next practice.
For preparation to accumulate, it must be performed routinely over some time.
Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill III – Stable Spine Angle Drill
A stable 20 to 30-degree spine angle during core rotation results in a steady head; to maximize torque, shoulder rotation and swing path are 90 degrees to the spine’s inward angle.
To simplify, developing hitters should assume a 20-degree spine angle in their stance. Often experienced hitters, to gain rhythm and momentum into the swing, transition to this more athletic posture as they move to launch. Universally, spine angle in hitting position is 20 to 30-degrees (upright is 0-degrees). Then, as the hitter rotates, spine angle remains stable. A stable spine angle during rotation is critical for vision, balance, and a reliable swing plane.
Purpose – Form habit for a stable 20 to 30-degree spine angle during rotation of hips and shoulders.
- Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill V – Head Steady Drill.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar VIII: Stable Spine Angle.
Attention Focus – Internal focus on remaining athletic as the hitter swings (click the link to adjust mental focus to improve practice and performance).
Step 1 (Get the Feeling)
Use dry swings for this step. Ask the hitter to assume their stance with a 20-degree spine angle. Now place a long swimming pool noodle lengthwise against their helmet. Ask the hitter to move into hitting position and then stop, keeping their helmet sliding along the noodle as they stride forward to toe touch. Execute 25 proper repetitions.
Now the challenging part. Ask the hitter to hit the ball off a tee with an “A” hip rotation (see Drill I) while maintaining their head against the noodle through swing completion. To maintain a stable spine angle during the swing, the hitter replaces the forward bend (posture) with torso side bend (sideways lean) as they rotate hips and shoulders. Ask the hitter to slowly execute a static spine angle and then 50 times at game speed.
Step 2 (Begin Habit Building)
After the hitter has achieved a degree of feeling (aided by the noodle), now use a static heavy bag placed even with the hitter’s front heel after stride completion. The hitter takes a full swing and hits the bag, then freezes and observes whether they have a 20-degree side bend. Ask the hitter for five correct executions in a row.
Now move to a batting tee. As the coach watches the hitter’s head from a front view, the hitter very slowly executes a full swing – prolonged execution takes at least five seconds. The coach watches to see if the hitter’s head moves up and out, indicating the spine angle decreases as they rotate. If so, go back to Step 1 and do further repetitions. If the hitter is maintaining spine angle, gradually speed up the swing. While the hitter’s head moves toward the pitcher during the hitter’s approach, the head remains in the same position as viewed from the front. Pin the hitter’s head to something in the background. Ask the hitter to complete 25 stable spine angle executions for at least four practices.
Tool XVIII: Universal Shoulder and Head Drills, Drill III – Rotate Around a Steady Head Drill.
Many young hitters (and golfers!) straighten up, “pulling their head,” where the hitter moves into a more upright posture (decreasing spine angle) during the swing. A pulling head negatively affects the swing path, balance, and vision.
Here are two issues that cause head movement during rotation:
- Spine angle changes as the hitter swings (see Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill III – Stable Spine Angle Drill).
- Rear knee fails to hinge. Straightening the back leg results in the hitter’s upper body rising and lunging forward (see Tool XIV: Universal Leg Drills, Drill IV – Rear Knee Hinge Drill).
Purpose – Ensure the hitter’s baseline swing exhibits a perfectly steady head during rotation.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar VI: Rotate Around a Centered and Steady Head.
- Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill III – Stable Spine Angle Drill.
Attention Focus – Internal focus on spine angle and rear knee hinge.
Use a static heavy bag or batting tee to begin. Ask the hitter to move into hitting position with a twenty-degree spine angle, plant front heel and block front leg, and freeze. The coach pins the hitter’s head to a backdrop from a side view and then a front view. Ask the hitter to start their rotation, leading with hips, and finish their swing. Check that the hitter’s head remains perfectly still. Now remove the pause at heel plant, swinging slowly, then game speed.
Once the hitter’s head remains static for at least 25 swings at four practices, move on to front toss, pitching machine, or live BP. Ask the hitter for 100 purposeful swings with a steady head during rotation. Routinely perform this exercise until a steady head during rotation is a habitual part of the hitter’s baseline.
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