The ability to maintain one’s equilibrium is quite possibly the most important attribute in all of sports. Without the aptitude to stay balanced, an athlete is lost, the proverbial “fish out of water.” Considering the fact that many experts believe the act of hitting a baseball to be the most challenging task in the wide world of sports - that’s what we’re going to pinpoint in today’s blog.
This is by no means a new concept. As a kid, I remember hearing stories about the great Lynn Swann, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who claimed that the ballet classes he took in his youth contributed to his elite footwork, athleticism and balance. To promote this forward thinking, Swann even appeared on an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” in 1981, hoping to inspire other athletes to have an open mind and heart.
I can relate to this line of thought from my own personal experience. When my brother Cameron and I were young, my parents signed us up for gymnastics. Although we didn’t embrace the idea initially, over time we saw the value in the sport, and eventually it brought us great joy. During that period of time we couldn’t get enough. No matter where we were headed, we got there in style - running, jumping, somersaulting and flipping our way with great enthusiasm. During recess? Handsprings. At daycare? Back flips on Jill Edwards’ trampoline.
Our instructor back then was a gentleman named Kurt Champe - and he ran one hell of a gym. You know all those mind blowing events that you see during the Summer Olympics every four years. He had them all! And we practiced each one of them! In a warehouse on Airport Road in Redding, California.
Like many things of this nature, this experience was too good to be true. Kurt Champe’s gym closed its doors, and those of us who were fortunate enough to experience that level of training were forced to say good-bye, suffering a monumental loss in the process.
I never had the natural balance and athleticism of my brother Cameron. I remember being mesmerized by the way he contorted and manipulated his body, all the while maintaining a stable equilibrium - making it look easy in the process. To this day, at the age of 42, Cameron can reel of a dozen consecutive back flips on a trampoline. This is the truth, I saw it with my own eyes this summer. And yes, it still blows my mind. It’s no wonder he is on the cusp of completing a 20-year special forces career in the United States Navy. Thank you for your service, Cam.
Although I never resembled a human version of “Sonic the Hedgehog” like my brother, I still managed to reap some considerable benefits during our gymnastics phase. Whether it be footwork in basketball, running routes in football or swinging the old TPX bat - Kurt Champe’s gym made a lasting impact on my athletic career. It showed me that athletic activities like yoga, dance and gymnastics - although commonly misconceived - are invaluable to athletic development.
A great way a ballplayer can develop their equilibrium in a hitting regimen is the “Sticking Your Balance” drill. In this exercise, a hitter will approach the drill like they are walking a tightrope. Never swinging or swaying, and always maintaining their balance. The idea here is that during every phase of the hitting process- stance, stride, swing and follow through - the player should be 100% on point.
In this drill a hitter should locate their respective “comfort zone” in the batter’s box. As the MaxBP machine (or training partner) delivers the pitch, the hitter will remain balanced throughout the entire swing, while swinging at everything. Whether the pitch is “on the black” or completely outside of the strike zone, don't stress about the swing results, balance is always the focal point. Like an Olympic gymnast, a tightrope artist, Lynn Swann or Cameron Belcastro - stay balanced. The goal of this drill is to make sure the power position is attained and maintained throughout the entire process of the swing.
Balance or lack thereof is a common denominator in so many athletic activities, including the act of hitting a moving object. Essentially a hitter who has a solid, balanced foundation, has a safety valve built into their swing. No matter how out of sorts they may be, they’re always even keel. It’s a simple concept, but sometimes those are the most imperative.
This is a great practice for players 9 years of age and older. In order to exercise this drill an athlete requires a MaxBP machine (or live pitcher), a flat plate, balls and a game bat (or BetterBat Skinny Barrel Training Bat).
Although we are specifically focused on balance in his drill, this concept lives in almost every hitting drill out there, because balance is essential. This is not to say a hitter won’t ever lose their equilibrium again; however, they will notice when that balance is lost in the future. If a player happens to reel off an ugly swing, not to worry, that’s why the great game of baseball allows a player three strikes. Make an adjustment, find that balance and go get ‘em the next time.
Another developmental advantage to this drill is that it helps a player realize that a solid foundation benefits their feel for the strike zone. It also takes some of the focus away from the fear of swinging and missing, allows an athlete a better jumps out of the batter’s box, and is conducive for solid contact and greater power.