When I was growing up playing ball in the ‘80s and ‘90s there were a number of common “nuggets” that the youth coaches bestowed upon us.
“Get your elbow up! Rock and Fire! Keep your eye on the ball!”
These cliches can still be heard at little league parks throughout the country, and although the intentions of these respective coaches may have been golden, some of the advice may have been misleading.
This is by no means a knock on the thousands of coaches who donate their free time every spring and summer, not it all. It’s more indicative of a number of misconceptions that have been around for too long and may have expired. Throughout this series we will try and decipher which of these classic nuggets are boom - and which are bust.
Today’s article covers a misconception that has been prevalent in youth and prep athletics for many years - That it's impossible to see the bat hit the ball. Is it physically possible for an athlete to do this? Can a player watch the ball until the point of contact? Absolutely! Are you trying to tell me Ted Williams and his "20/10" vision couldn't see the baseballs he was barreling? They didn't call him the Splendid Splinter for nothing.
When it comes to vision, some of us are blessed with the ability to see more clearly than others. For those athletes who have poor vision it is very important to consult a physician and get suited with the appropriate eye wear. However, even for athletes blessed with "20/20" vision, the ability to track a moving object is not a skill that can be perfected in a couple of sessions. It takes special training (and lots of it) to achieve the kind of vision required to see the bat hit the ball.
The idea behind vision training is to be able to see a pitched ball as clearly, early and for as long as possible. If a player can do that, they put themselves in a situation to succeed, as long as the athlete has invested the time necessary to develop their physical abilities and the fundamentals of their swing.
For those athletes who have invested in vision training and feature mechanics that have evolved into muscle memory, they will be able to produce a repetitive swing without thinking about it. This muscle memory includes the ability to adjust swing trajectory in that final split second, when a player realizes their hitting an off-speed pitch. At this stage an athlete can step into the batter's box with a clear mind, allow their instincts to take over and watch the bat hit the ball.
With that being said, trying to watch a moving object until the point of contact isn’t always conducive with proper biomechanics. After all, the momentum of your body is moving in one direction, while your head is trying to remain still. By over exaggerating the "see the bat hit the ball" process an athlete could jeopardize the fluidity of the swing and risk a neck or back strain.
This concept represents the importance of developing the aforementioned muscle memory. With enough proper training, an athlete will feature a swing that is free and easy, not mechanical, while still seeing the ball to the point of contact.