I throw curve balls to young hitters, even players younger than little league age, to help them understand timing and ball movement at a young age. Of course, when I do this curve ball batting practice drill with young players it is with softer baseballs, rag balls or tennis balls, so the injury factor is eliminated, mostly. Helmets are necessary for this batting practice drill, as with all batting practice, no matter what type balls used.
As noticed in the annual little league World Series, curve balls are prominent, and kids understandably struggle with hitting them, as that is their first taste of seeing curve balls. The key word in the previous sentence is "seeing" for that is the key to hitting curve balls.
I often tell young hitters, "I know you can hit curve balls, but I want to know that you can see them first." The point being is that I want to give them some initial confidence with hitting curve balls and that hitting a curve ball is mostly about the recognition of the pitch. Once recognized, hitting it is possible and likely, when it is a hittable pitch, as often batters chase curve balls that are not strikes.
Following is a good batting practice drill I use to help batters "see" the curve ball. Many times, I use this batting practice drill for the first week or two of preseason practices, until I notice players are proficient at seeing the breaking pitch. That recognition comes at different times for each hitter, of course. Generally, players with the best fundamental swings, learn to recognize curves easier, as they wait longer before deciding to swing.
The drill is simple, as every time a curve ball comes, batting practice hitters must take the pitch. This may seem easy but it is not that easy for many youth players, who haven't seen that pitch before and for many batting practice hitters, who think they should swing at all pitches in batting practice. Varying the speeds of the curve makes it more difficult, of course, and is necessary for high school aged hitters.
Once players get to the point where they recognize a majority of the curve balls, coaches have batters begin to hit them. Players should only swing at those that are strikes. This is not only a good way for players to begin to hit curve balls; it is a good lesson in learning to wait for the ball. When it is obvious in games that players are not recognizing off speed pitches, coaches can go to this drill, and can apply it to change-up pitches, too.
Finally, another advantage of using softer balls for this curve ball batting practice drill is that those type balls curve easier than a real baseball, especially for coaches, who have trouble throwing curves with the real baseball or for those fearful of controlling it.
After playing major league baseball, Jack Perconte has taught baseball and softball since 1988 and offered valuable coaching training too. He has helped numerous youth players reach their potential, as well as having helped parents and coaches navigate their way through the challenging world of youth sports. Jack is one of the leading authorities in the areas of youth baseball training and coaching training advice.All Jack Perconte articles are used with copyright permission.
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