Switch-hitting is tough enough for adults, so go easy on kids

ASK CAL

May 14, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

What's the best way for my son to learn how to switch-hit?

Meg Voeller, Baltimore

DEAR MEG / / Switch-hitting is a very difficult skill. In my opinion, hitting a baseball is the toughest skill to master in all of sports, so imagine trying to develop that skill from both sides of the plate. Big-league players who have played in thousands of games and taken thousands of rounds of batting practice in their lives spend a great deal of time every day working on fundamentals to correct any flaws in their swings. Players who switch-hit have to work twice as hard.

Just as with any fine motor skill, the longer you wait to introduce switch-hitting to your son, the more difficult it will be for him to do it successfully. If your son picks up the bat and tries to hit both ways and is successful, let him keep practicing from both sides. If your son doesn't really have an interest in switch-hitting, don't force it on him. Baseball is a game and should be fun. Kids can stop having fun when they are forced to practice.

Hitting is difficult enough as it is. Even the best hitters fail seven times out of 10. Everything that is frustrating for a hitter of any level can be doubly frustrating and demoralizing to a switch-hitter. Imagine what it feels like to be slumping from both sides of the plate. If it's your son's idea to try switch-hitting and he seems to have some success with it, let him keep trying. At some point if it truly appears as though he can be a successful switch-hitter, you can have your son start working on perfecting the skill or take him to a hitting instructor for lessons. In the meantime, just make sure that he is having fun on the field.

My daughter is three years away from attending high school. The school she will be attending has a new softball coach that has all players hitting the same way with identical stances. Each player has her front arm nearly straight and the bat is flat. Each hitter's hands are placed directly behind the back shoulder. I coached high school and college baseball for 20 years. I respect all coaching philosophies, but I work with my daughter nearly 150 times a year. We have developed a stance that she's comfortable with and that matches her height, weight and speed. She hits the ball well to all fields. Any suggestions on how to discuss the matter with the first-year coach?

Sam Skelton, McLeansboro, Ill.

DEAR SAM / / The first step is for you to pull aside the coach and ask if you can discuss his or her philosophy about hitting. Ask the coach to explain the reasoning behind the philosophy and try your best to understand.

At that point, you may want to enter into a debate and explain that if you look at high-level softball (or big-league baseball, for that matter) players, no two players have the same exact stance. Explain that the reason for your daughter's success to this point is that she has learned to hit in a manner that makes her feel comfortable and that if she alters that approach it could lead to frustration if she is not as successful.

From this conversation you should be able to determine the strength of the coach's belief and how unwilling he or she is to yield.

This coach's philosophy might not be a match for your daughter, and it's definitely better to find that out now rather than later. It's a red flag to me any time a coach is unyielding about a particular way to hit. If after your discussion you realize that the coach will not give in and let your daughter hit the way she is most comfortable and successful, I would recommend that you consider other options.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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