Kids need freedom to develop as hitters

ASK CAL

Youth sports

June 17, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- After years of coaching my son to "swing if it looks good," he is playing for a travel team that teaches to never swing at the first pitch. Is this poor coaching, or am I being old-fashioned?

L.D. Rhodes, Rotterdam, Netherlands

DEAR L.D. -- Many would say that the old-fashioned way is to work the pitcher and take pitches deep into the count. That's a specific strategy of hitting. My personal belief is that we are training kids to hit good pitches and go up to the plate with a plan.

As a hitter, you should be able to train yourself well enough to learn which pitches you like to hit the best. So, it is an individual thing.

I believe that when teaching hitting we should turn kids loose and give them a freer environment in which to hit. By teaching taking, we are not actually teaching them to hit. We have to let them have the freedom to swing and learn themselves.

As the players go higher up the ladder they will start to learn what pitches they can hit with an 0-1 count and whether they need to see additional pitches to have a better idea of what a pitcher is throwing. The bottom line is that they have to be able to learn for themselves.

In the big leagues, many hitters are aggressive and patient at the same time. They look for their pitch and swing when they get it regardless of the count. I am an advocate of not controlling the kids so much, especially in the developmental stages. I like a free-swinging philosophy.

As the players get older they will naturally learn which pitches they like in which counts. I understand the strategy of taking pitches, and as the players move up the ladder those strategies will take a little more hold.

But it is my belief that it is important to give kids the freedom to develop as hitters and to learn the strike zone for themselves so that they can find out which strategy works best for them.

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

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