Monday, May 12, 2014

The Tools of a Hitting Coach

Remember the first Batman movie with Michael Keeton and Jack Nicholson? During one scene, Nicholson’s character “the Joker” quips, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

Well I suppose if you want to be a super-hero hitting coach you have to have some toys, right? Here are some of ours:

The Personal Pitcher Machine. Cost: $150

Pitches golf wiffleballs. We purchased multi-colored balls and white balls and use this toy for vision training more than hitting. The strike-throwing consistency outdoors is average with the elements making some pitches dive and slide out of the zone very late. However, if there is little wind, this machine is effective for hitting FBs, and it also throws a pretty good left or right-handed slider.

Eli’s Springback Hitting Tees. Cost: $110.

Tees are an imperative part of individual training. The ball is stationary, competition is low, and hitters can work on mechanics with immediate feedback. The Eli tees have a metal coil or spring between the base and the tee head that allows a transfer of energy that keeps your tees from getting quickly destroyed by improper swings or reckless use. Best tee we’ve ever had. Period.

CamWood Trainer. Cost $80.

This is a modified wooden bat, a training tool, that has a large wooden knot between the handle and the barrel, slightly closer to the handle. You can choose which size bat you want: we purchased the 33”, 45 oz. bat. Yes, 45 oz. However, the weight distribution makes it feel like a 30 oz. bat when swung properly. The physics of the bat encourage a shorter (not necessarily more linear or ‘handsy’!) swing path. When the swing path is tight, and the hitter slots the back elbow tight to the body, the feeling is that the bat is lighter than it actually weighs. When the knot of the bat takes a longer route to contact, the weight lags outward, pulling against the force of the swing, creating a feeling that the bat is very heavy.

To simplify, when hitters create EARLY bat speed by slotting their back elbow and getting the bat head flat, the bat feels normal. When length is added to the swing, the bat feels extremely heavy.

Coach’s Eye App. Cost: $4.99 (iPad Air was $600).

I’ve always been a huge fan of the swing mechanics and analytics system Right View Pro. We installed the system while I coached at Ole Miss, and the feedback that program gives to players is infinite and indispensable. Right View Pro costs upwards of $15,000. On a wonderful but perceptively smaller D2 budget, I decided to purchase an iPad (for personal and professional use). A close coaching friend told me of an App he uses called Coach’s Eye. More or less, it is Right View Pro except it's cheaper and just as accessible with it’s portability! Coach’s Eye allows you to easily scroll forwards and backwards through swings with high quality resolution at over 150 frames per second.  There are tools for drawing and quickly erasing on the screen, like a coach analyzing football film, and you can e-mail the videos to your players from the App. Also, I found that many hitters would rather see their swing in an informal setting, not sitting in my office looking at a computer. Now, I can give them visual feedback AT the cage, or in the locker room, or on the road, with little effort.

Casio Exilim EXFH100 Camera. Cost: $400

Last year, I purchased the Casio Exilim camera to record swings in HD quality at over 250 frames per second. The shutter speed is incredible, and the ease of use is terrific. You have to figure out how to use it on your own, because it is a Japanese product sold only in Japan, and all of the instructions are in characters that might as well be wing-dings to this uncultured eye.

Despite purchasing the Coach’s Eye App and iPad, we will most definitely still use the Exilim on the road because the zoom feature and clarity are superior, and it is easily mounted on a tripod, all of which are necessary for consistent in-game use. Again, we don’t have $15,000 to buy Right View Pro and the six cameras the get mounted in your stadium when you purchase that program. Still, we have made purchases that have empowered us to give our players daily feedback on what they are doing well and can still improve upon.

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