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A drill program for winning baseball.

At Tennessee we have no compunction about using anything that works. We use quite a bit of gadgetry in helping our hitters get the most out of their quickness, strength and natural aptitudes.

Since we believe in developing the hitter's swing in the cage area, we spend much of our time working on tee stations, short toss, flat bats, etc. Once the basics are honed, we will take the field for live BP.

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Too many coaches will go right into live BP at the start of practice. We advise against it. We believe it is imperative to keep hitters in the cage in the off season, pre season, and regular season, even when they are practicing every day or playing three to five games a week.

The cage is where we develop the swing and fine-tune the timing. The moment the hitter moves out of the cage and starts doing all his hitting in live BP, he will start developing bad habits or lose a little bit of his timing, possibly taking something off his grooved swing.

The following drill program will give you an idea of the devices we use to enhance our batting swings over a period of time.

SWIFT STIK DRILL (PHOTO 1):

To improve your swing, you have to practice. Regulation bats are too heavy to swing enough times a day and will cause muscle fatigue. The lightweight Swift Stik will allow hitters to work on fundamentals through underloading (lighter than normal training), enabling the hitter to get many more swings a day.

Its lightweight shaft is approximately 13 ounces and is made of durable reinforced fiberglass. In addition to extra swings, it helps build muscle memory and provides a great workout for the fast twitch muscle fibers in the forearms and wrists, helping to increase bat speed.

The shaft is 7/8" diameter with a 1 1/4" diameter foam "sweet spot." This makes Swift Stik ideal for working on hand-eye coordination.

The use of golf-ball sized wiffle balls will enable the hitter to get the most out of this drill, while the concave foam "sweet spot" will provide the instant feedback on whether the ball was hit with the right part of the bat. The ball will sound and react differently when it hits the shaft vs the "sweet spot." This foam head will also adjust to match any bat size.

ADVANTAGES OF SWIFT STIK DRILL:

1. Great for extra batting practice before a game--eliminates muscle fatigue.

2. Great for indoor training during the off-season or inclement weather.

3. Great for dry swing repetitions.

4. Can be used with wiffle, tennis, and/or soft foam balls.

I like using this aid because it helps develop hand-eye coordination. When it gets right down to it, seeing the ball is the most important part of hitting and anything you can do to improve your ability to track the baseball is invaluable.

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FLAT BAT (PHOTO 2):

We want the hitter to feel that he is hitting three baseballs while keeping his bat on the plane of the ball as long as possible.

Many hitters get to the first ball and pull up, causing a pop-up, or they will roll over the ball and induce a grounder. The hitter can get the feel of hitting three baseballs by hitting the first ball and then the other two right behind the first on the same plane. This will allow him to hit those hard ground-ball line drives that coaches love.

The flat bat will give the hitter an instant feedback while grooving his swing during practice.

You can start this drill by taking an ordinary bat and shaving an 1/8 of an inch off each side, creating a flat surface, as shown in the photo. I like to use this bat with a tee, flip, or front toss.

The flat bat allows the hitter to get immediate feedback from his swing after contact. If he rolls wrists, he will hit the ball off the top corner of the bat. If he swings up, he will hit the ball off the bottom of the bat.

I like to use the flat bat because it lets the hitter immediately know if he has had a good swing. This provides a great feedback after swinging.

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THE TOWEL BAT (PHOTOS 3-4):

The two common muscles that are used and developed in the swing are the slow-twitch muscle fibers (the strong muscles) and the fast-twitch muscle fibers (the quick muscles).

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The hitter should train these muscles in the same motion he uses in a game. Playing football or basketball will not make you a better baseball player and in a lot of cases will do more harm then good. To gain speed and strength with the same coordination, the player has to develop his fast-twitch muscles more (60-70%) than he does the slow twitch (about 30%).

To develop muscles you have to use an overload/underload principle training.

1. Acceleration training develops fast-twitch muscles (speed, little strength).

2. Deceleration training develops strong muscles (strength, little speed).

3. Ballistic training develops both muscles at the same speed and motion as in competition.

The towel bat is used on deck to get loose before you get ready to hit in batting practice or in a game. It allows you to use your fast-twitch muscle fibers. As you can see in Photo 3, you take a regular bat and cut it off at the trademark, put a corkscrew at the end, wrap a towel through it, and then put a tie around the bottom of the towel so that it allows you to pop the towel when you swing the bat.

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As you can see in Photo 4, the hitter takes his normal stance trigger and swings, keeping his hands inside, popping the towel and generating bat speed.

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It is better to swing something light, such as a towel bat or fungo in the on-deck circle to ignite those fast-twitch muscle fibers, as opposed to swinging a heavy weighted-bat that will allow you to activate your slow-twitch muscle fibers. At Tennessee, we use it on the on-deck circle as we prepare to hit.

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REVERSE GRIP DRILL (PHOTOS 5-8):

The reverse grip drill is used to teach the hitter to keep his hands inside the baseball to avoid casting or barring out his front arm--allowing for a slow, long swing through the zone. The hitter reverses his top hand, putting the palm on the bat with the back of his hand facing him (Photo 5). He must remember to push the bat through the zone, not pull it through with his front arm.

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We want the hitter to keep his top hand dominant in this drill so that as he swings the bat and pulls with his bottom hand and pushes with his top hand, he will drive through the ball.

As the hitter starts his swing, his hands are inside the ball, he is pushing the bat through with his top hand, and is going to finish with his palm pointing right at second base or back up the middle.

This is an excellent drill with which to keep the hitter from casting or barring out his front arm. It will also enhance the hand speed needed to increase the bat speed through the zone.

These are just a few of the drills that we use to develop more bat speed and to continue developing a grooved swing that will allow the hitter to be more consistent at the plate. It is one of Alex Rodriguez's favorite drills.

WEIGHTED BALLS (PHOTO 9):

Our drill program includes the use of weighted balls or heavy balls. You can buy the weighted ball or soak your old baseballs in water overnight.

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One of our flip stations has a feeder off to a side who will flip the ball in front of the plate where the hitter can bang it. The feeder flips five weighted balls and five regular balls.

The weighted balls provide some resistance and the batter must drive through it. You can use a tee or flip in this drill, but we prefer the flip with the weighted balls.

We work on hitting the ball back up the middle, inside, and away. The swinging builds up the wrists and develops the hands and forearms. After hitting the weighted balls and regular baseballs, the hitter will begin feeling that the regular balls are like tennis balls.

This is resistive training though the point of contact. Hitters learn to hit through the ball, not at it. This creates the high energy, explosive swing that coaches and hitters refer to as "hitting through the ball."

The ProCut system adds different overloads/underloads to all of the muscles throughout the entire hitter's motion. It will make the hitter quicker and stronger than would be possible with traditional deceleration training.

Proper fundamentals are crucial in hitting a baseball. A hitter has to vary his practice hitting, using different amounts of swings and weights every day to maximize his performance. A player who trains excellently will play excellently.

We like to use the wooden bats in all of our indoor cages because they teach the players where the sweet spot is. When we go out on the field, we allow the players to switch to the aluminum bats for BP.

GOLF BALL PITCHING MACHINE (PHOTO 10):

Grand Slam is the most effective pitching machine for working on hand-eye coordination and muscle memory. It automatically pitches golf-ball sized wiffle balls every 6-8 seconds. Each pitch is guaranteed to hit the strike zone. A hitter can experience a 90+ mph pitch when standing 16-20 feet away. We use solid golf-sized wiffle balls and balls with holes in them to give the hitter change of speeds and different breaks.

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Grand Slam has a variable speed control and is powered by a durable blower motor that will last for years. Using Swift Stik and Grand Slam together will enable hitters to get the most from their practice.

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This is a great pitching machine for indoor training during the off-season or inclement weather. It can be used both inside and out and doesn't require a batting cage. It is also an excellent tool for sharpening hand-eye coordination.

By Rod Delmonico, Head Coach, University of Tennessee
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Title Annotation:BASEBALL
Author:Delmonico, Rod
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1U6TN
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:1739
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