Why Trying To Win Hinders Swing Development

Since we created The Swing Center to spread the truth about hitting we felt like our first blog entry should be about information...specifically the information used by the vast majority of coaches to each hitting mechanics.

From the Major Leagues (believe it or not) down to youth baseball, hitting instruction is full of information that contains very little proof of it's validity. By that I mean most coaches build belief systems about what is "right" or "best" or "preferred" in a swing, and what is not, using information they have not validated with objective measurement.

How do they form these beliefs then? One way is through indoctrination. They were taught their basic beliefs by someone they respected. But as human beings, they still desire validation of the information they were taught. And that comes, in large part, by winning baseball games. They equate their team "success" with doing things "the right way" and they incorrectly assume that winning validates their beliefs. It is intuitive, but being a successful coach, in terms of wins and losses, does not always equate to being good at developing players, especially hitters.

There is so much emphasis placed on "team" that individual development is often sacrificed. Normally we would view that as a positive - giving up personal glory for team success - but we can not view it that way when we want to develop players to the maximum potential.

In his book "The Talent Code", author Daniel Coyle studied numerous international talent hotbeds to determine why they are so proficient at developing world-class talent. One such hotbed, Spartak, a run-down tennis club with one indoor court, located in a freezing climate outside Moscow, Russia, has in recent years produced more top-20 women players than the entire US.  Coyle says, "The rule at Spartak is that players can only compete after three years of practice - a rule that would never fly in the states, but which, if you think of it in terms of skill circuits (development), makes perfect sense. Competition introduces a gigantic new variable, where skill circuits matter less than the score. As a Spartak coach told me, "Technique is everything. If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!"

In amateur baseball especially, the emphasis is typically placed on TEAM offense versus individual offense. And on doing whatever it takes to help the team win. As such, players are asked to manipulate their swings in ways that create less efficient and forceful swings. The reasons and situations are many. Some include:

  • to "put the ball in play"
  • to "move the runner"
  • to strike out less
  • to "do a job", etc.

But the end result is the same - an inefficient swing. And an inefficient swing is one that does not allow the hitter to impact the baseball with as much force as possible. And why do we care about hitting the ball hard? Because it means hitting success. Check out the chart below:

It's obvious to see that as ball exit speed increases, so do the positive results. And the only way to increase ball exit speed significantly is with efficient mechanics. But here's the catch - developing efficient mechanics requires the player to ignore results, especially as skill circuits (neural pathways in the brain) are being built. And that simply can not happen in the midst of competition when the player is trying to create a desired result instead of a desired movement. 

That's why the Spartak philosophy of developing skill (circuits) before the interference of competition is so much better than the typical American philosophy that includes early competition. The American philosophy also typically emphasizes (incorrectly) that MORE competition is even better! How many times have you heard that the only way to get better at baseball is to play more games?

The truth is - and science has now proven it - that in order to gain skill quickly, there needs to be deliberate practice, not competition. In addition, the neural science community has also demonstrated that TALENT is actually determined far more by the accumulation of deliberate practice than it is by genetics. What that means is that anyone...literally anyone...through the right type and amount of practice can become an expert at anything. 

I highly recommend reading two books for more information about the creation of skill circuits and the extent to which our genes play a role:

"The Sports Gene", David Epstein, author, August, 2013, and

"The Talent Code", Daniel Coyle, author, April 16, 2009.