We need to hit better, guys!"That phrase has many cousins: "we didn't get enough hits", "we need to get more hits", "we didn't hit the ball well" or some such derivative. For the purpose of this post, all such phrases will be collectively referred to as "get more hits". This phrase is most commonly said to the team after a loss, although it could also be uttered after a low-scoring win. Or instead of coaches telling the players, sometimes coaches want the players to admit the need to "get more hits". For example, coaches might ask the team, "Why did we lose today?" with the expected player response being "We didn't hit well."
What's so bad about saying "get more hits"?Unlike its pitching equivalent of "throw strikes", "get more hits" is not commonly considered an odd thing to say. So let's take a closer look. Like "throw strikes", "get more hits" is a coaching request for something that the players are already trying to do. Pitchers are of course trying to throw strikes; what, you think they're trying to walk people? Similarly, batters are of course trying to get hits; what, you think they're trying to make outs? Yet coaches will commonly lament in any game where the offense was stagnant that "We need to get more hits, guys!" I can see the kids now: "Oh! So that's what we were supposed to do!" Now, if you are a coach who says "get more hits" to your team, I know you mean well. You're not trying to be Captain Obvious. You're just trying to let them know that they need to hit better. Oh wait...that's obvious to the players too.
The fine line between a hit and an outHave you ever wondered what the margin for error is between a hit and an out? Check out these photos. The pictured bat, by the way, is a big barrel BBCOR bat. The above image is what a bat and ball look like when the ball is hit square—a line drive. The above image is what a bat and ball look like when the ball is driven deep, such as a home run. The above image is what a bat and ball look like when the ball is popped up. The above image is what a bat and ball look like when the ball is a grounder. The difference between Exhibit 2 and Exhibit 3 (in other words, the difference between a home run and a pop up) is 0.75 inch. Less than an inch! And that's with a big barrel bat. The difference is even smaller on a regular 2¼" diameter bat—just ½". Half an inch! The biggest difference between a hit and an out, literally, is between Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 3 (a line drive and a pop up). That difference is 1¼". Just over an inch! And again, that's with a big barrel bat. On a regular bat, the difference is smaller—just 1". In other words, there's a small window where a hit is most likely to happen. On a big barrel bat with a 2 5/8" diameter, that window is just 1¼"—or less than half the diameter of the bat. On a regular 2¼" bat, the window to get a hit is just 1". And that doesn't take into account that line drives could be hit right at a defender for an out. So even if the player hits the ball hard in that small window, he could still not get a hit. The point is that getting a hit is not as easy as just telling your kids "we need to hit better". The kids might put the bat on the ball and miss getting a hit by 0.5 inch.
What's the harm?Like the saying "throw strikes", saying "get more hits" is also not only an odd statement to make but also a dangerous one. The two biggest problems with saying "get more hits" are:
- You promote pessimism. By spotlighting the lack of offense, you put more pressure on the kids to hit better. Typically, kids do not respond better to higher levels of pressure and stress. Negative thoughts enter the team's collective thinking, which further impacts their ability to hit.
- There's no light at the end of the tunnel. Okay, it's established that the team needs to "get more hits". What are you as the coach going to do about it? As mentioned, simply saying "we need to hit better" won't help the kids, y'know, actually hit better.
The better approachInstead of saying "get more hits", I suggest we do this instead:
- Convey confidence. The players are a reflection of the coach. When a coach looks and sounds frustrated, the players will likewise feel frustrated. Strong leaders do not show weakness. Even if you are frustrated, do not show it to the kids. Players do better when they are confident and few things kill a player's confidence faster than telling them they can't hit.
- Highlight the good. If there were some hard-hit outs, point that out. If there were deep drives that were right at outfielders, point that out. If there were baserunners due to walks but you couldn't bring them home, instead of pointing out that you couldn't get that key hit, point out that kids had good patience at the plate and next time could very well be different in terms of scoring. Maybe you had at-bats where the batter had an 8-pitch at-bat before eventually making an out..point out that great battle and say next time could see good things. Baseball is funny that way: sometimes you can do everything well and not get positive results. Keep things positive, even in a low-scoring affair or after a loss.
- Assure the team you have an idea to fix the problem. It's okay to say something like "We didn't hit well today because our timing was off. We'll work on timing at our next practice so we'll be ready for the next game." By suggesting a fix, this takes a negative and turns it into a positive. You're providing encouragement and optimism. Maybe the problem isn't timing but mechanical flaws or whatever else. Let your team know that you will work with them to address those flaws. Don't just curse the darkness; turn on the light.
The bottom lineLet's put this oft-used saying of "get more hits" out to pasture along with other harmful sayings like "throw strikes". Understand how difficult it is to get a hit. And provide hope, leadership and vision for your team's next game—and beyond.
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