One of the most powerful tools a youth baseball coach can have is already in your pocket.
The irony is that coaches use the smartphone everywhere except on the baseball field. They'll use it whiling driving, on the commute to/from work, waiting for the elevator, during workouts...even while already watching TV or using another computer. But the only time they'll use it on the baseball field is to check the time or maybe to use GameChanger.
Author Joe Hallinan, whom I interviewed in session 2 of the YBE podcast, recommended using your smartphone for baseball purposes—and he wasn't referring to using it for scorekeeping. In this post, I'd like to dive deeper into the idea of using your smartphone on the baseball field.
As Hallinan mentioned, one way a coach can use a smartphone is to show kids whether they are adopting the fielding fundamentals you are trying to teach at practices. You can also use your smartphone to record pitching deliveries and batter swings. For the purposes of this post, I'd like to focus on using your phone for swing analysis.
Why swing analysis?
The batting swing is the single most mis-taught concept in all of youth sports.
Some coaches say "swing level" while others say "swing down" and still others say "swing slightly up".
Some say "squish the bug"; others say "don't squish the bug".
Some say "bring the knob to the ball"; others say "no, it's a circular hand path".
How do you know which is right? And nearly as important, even if you are teaching the right thing, how do you know that your player is executing what you are teaching?
The irony is that hitting is the most important part of baseball—you can't win if you can't score—and yet, hitting is often incorrectly taught.
This is why swing analysis is so important.
Why is hitting instruction often so incorrect?
In the past, youth coaches taught their hitters how to hit by using what was available at the time—which was still photographs by SLR film cameras. It was difficult to capture the swing with those cameras so it was common to see photos of the beginning or end of the swing. Don't believe me? Just google the images of a well-known hitter from the 70s or 80s (such as "reggie jackson swing, "mike schmidt swing", etc.)
Coaches who wanted to teach the pro swing taught—to both players and other coaches—what they often saw in these photos—things like swinging with arms extended and "squish the bug." So nearly every youth coach was teaching the wrong mechanics.
It wasn't the youth coaches' fault. Fact is, a hitter's swings are too fast for the naked eye to see exactly what is happening. Youth baseball coaches back then were doing the best they could with whatever was available at the time.
Thankfully, as camera technology got more sophisticated over the past decade, a few people realized that video could be used to observe the pro swing in slow motion. And when they did, they realized that how pro hitters actually swung was not what youth baseball coaches had been teaching. This 'aha moment' was a revolutionary step in the right direction for youth baseball coaching. Chris O'Leary was one such person and gave the YBE fraternity & sorority a few tips on how to do such video analysis in Session 10 of the Youth Baseball Edge podcast. However, not many coaches were aware of this 'aha moment'. Even today, many coaches and parents are not aware of what the high-level swing is.
Even for those who are aware of how the pros actually swing, there is still yet another significant problem: how is the child's swing, compared to the high-level swing? Even a child's swing is too fast for the naked eye to see exactly what was happening. It's one thing to know what the high-level swing is; it's another to know how the youth player's swing compares to the high-level swing. Youth baseball coaches could not detect mechanical flaws in their players' swings unless they were egregious.
Furthermore, each child's swing is different, so each player usually had different flaws.
Yet many coaches simply taught the entire team the same hitting fundamentals.
A few people realized they could shoot their own video of their players' swings to observe the swing in slow motion and look for swing flaws. In the past, doing that swing analysis might mean requiring access to a high-speed video camera, shooting video of a kid's swing, importing the video to a desktop computer that had appropriate (and perhaps pricey) software for analysis, and then actually analyzing the kid's swing. It was a laborious and time-intensive task for a coach to do for one player, much less all the players on a coach's team. I should know because I used to do that! Yikes!
Furthermore, the swing analysis software at that time was pricey. One of the top software options available ws Right View Pro and it was priced at $200 and up. So if an earnest coach wanted to do this right, it would literally cost him a lot of time and money.
How your smartphone makes things easier
Lucky you. Today, you can skip all that rigmarole and just whip out your trusty smartphone. Today's (and even yesterday's) smartphones have excellent video capabilities and you can go through the video in slow motion right on your phone as well, without the need to transfer video to your desktop computer and other clunky steps. This allows you to save time as well as keep a library of all your players' swings—right in your pocket. Bonus: I have several free recommendations later in this post.Did you know you can analyze your players' swings right on your phone? Click To Tweet
How to use your smartphone to video the swing
Some general tips:
- Take video of player swings as early in the season as possible. You probably can't do this in your very first practice of the season unless you're in a warm climate because kids swinging with puffy coats isn't going to be very representative of their real swing. But once your players are able to shed the jackets and practice in long-sleeves, start taking video.
- Take the video yourself. Do not delegate this task to an assistant coach. You want the video on your smartphone so you can recall it whenever needed.
- Take video of each player's swing. Yes, even your team's better hitters. Don't assume anything about anyone's swing. One year, my team's best player had severe bat drag. I never would have known if I didn't take video of his swing.
- Take the video at your team practices, not your games. In theory, game swings are best because practice swings may not be the same as the kids' game swings. But practically speaking, if you're the head coach, you will almost certainly be too busy coaching the team during the game to worry about taking video of swings. (If you're a non-coaching parent, you could do it at games.)
Best practices for taking the video
- Take the shot from the side.
When the batter in his batting stance, you're facing his chest. This is the best angle to capture the swing because you can see all the significant stages of the swing.
- Use a tee. Have the player take a swing against a ball on a tee. How well the batter hits the ball is irrelevant; you're just taking video of the swing and the ball on the tee is just to give the batter something to focus on during the swing. You could try to video swings off coach pitch but you may end up with video of lunging swings or other non-ideal swings. You want to analyze each player's strongest, best swing.
OK, I've got the players' swings...now what?
To help give you more of an EDGE, I've got an exclusive resource for you. I've created a six-page Quick Edge Guide to show you how to do quick video analysis of your players' batting swings. It has recommendations for free video analysis software and mobile apps, a ninja trick for locating video of high-level swings, and gives you a quick-and-dirty tutorial of how to do video analysis. Once you learn this technique, you'll be able to put it to use in your very next practice. And did I mention this resource is free?
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