I am often asked by friends what they should be working on with their baseball and/or softball player(s). As a result, I have put this piece together to give people a sense of what to work on with hitters of different ages.
First, Do No Harm
Regardless of whether you are a coach, instructor, or parent -- and irrespective of the age of the hitter -- the first thing you need to do is to make sure that you understand what a good swing (actually) looks like.
I have put together a number of pieces that discuss What a Good Swing (Actually) Looks Like. These pieces include the pieces in my presentation on The Truth About The Swing that explain the various Myths about Hitting and Misconceptions about Hitting that persist and the Phony Flaws that people spend considerable time trying to fix. They will help you understand what a good swing actually looks like. Once you have read those pieces, then you need to familiarize yourself with the various Bad or Problematic Hitting Cues and Bad or Problematic Hitting Drills that I have identified.
These cues and drills generally encourage the wrong movements and do more harm than good.
Should You Even Consider Hitting Lessons?
The fact that there are so many bad cues and drills out there, and instructors who use them, means that the odds are that if you take your child to an instructor, then that instructor is much more likely to hurt your child's swing than they are to help it. As a result, it may make more sense for you to become your hitter's instructor. If you do decide to take your child to an instructor, then you can use my information to help you decide whether that instructor knows what they are talking about or not.
Younger Players (Up to 5th Grade)
I address the topic of what to teach younger ballplayers, which I'd define as kids younger than 3rd grade if not 5th grade, in Basic Hitting Mechanics.
Middle School Players (5th Through 8th Grade)
By the time kids reach middle school age, they can handle a bit more complexity and are usually ready to take things a bit more seriously. They are also starting to develop the size, strength, coordination, and coachability that are required to handle more advanced concepts.
Once kids reach middle school age, the first thing I look for and work on is Bat Drag.
I used to be of the opinion that Bat Drag wasn't that big of a problem and was something that can be fixed at a later time. I believed that, in the meantime, you could just sit back and watch the balls fly. However, after working with my older son to fix his problem with Bat Drag, and seeing how hard Bat Drag can be to fix in an older player due to issues like muscle memory, I have come to believe that the sooner you deal with Bat Drag, the better.
In general, that means starting to work to eliminate Bat Drag as soon as the student can grasp what you are talking about, which is usually around 5th grade. My piece on Fixing Bat Drag explains what I do, and in what order, when working with hitters with Bat Drag. I also explain my son's struggles with Bat Drag, and how we have dealt with his Bat Drag, in two of my hitting diaries...
A problem with Bat Drag can result from the hitter not knowing where to start their swing and/or where to generate force. One way to deal with that is by focusing on good Rotation. When working with middle school hitters, and working on getting them rotating well, I typically use a few of my signature drills...
...and some common drills...
...with pretty much every hitter.
Other ways to encourage good Rotation is with Front Arm Swings because they force you to swing with the muscles of the core and not just the arms. Cues like, "Finish with your belly button pointing at the pitcher," can also be helpful.
Problems with Bat Drag and a lack of power are often intertwined with Posture problems. It's extremely common to see hitters standing lock-kneed at the plate, which can take the lower body and The Core out of the swing and force the batter to swing, and to adjust, with just their arms. Getting the hitter to assume a good, balanced athletic position, with the feet apart and the knees bent, can get them on the right path, and the Pete Rose Drill is a good place to start dealing with Posture problems.
Posture problems can often lead to arm-y swings and problems like Dropping the Hands. After making sure that they aren't being taught things like the level swing or level shoulders that encourage hitters to drop their hands, one concept to teach middle school hitters is the concept of Tilt. One way that I teach hitters to Tilt is to teach them about Alignment, the Vertical V, and how Tilt can help you maintain Alignment. The idea is that hitters need to hit pitches down in the strike zone by Tilting and getting their shoulders in line with the ball and not just dropping their hands. The cue to, "Hit the ball with your back shoulder," can also increase the odds the hitters will adjust by Tilting.
The Target Tee Drill is a good drill to use with kids this age to give them a sense of the trajectory that they are going for and to make sure that they get beyond any lingering Gigantic Uppercut that they may have developed during coach pitch and the first few years of kid pitch.
Copying the swings of professional hitters can be a good way to learn how to hit. However, you have to copy the right people and then copy their actual swing. I say this because I have seen many kids try to copy the swings of Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams -- all of whom had great but subtle and complex swings -- and, more often than not, not get them right.
With kids who are working to develop a good, basic swing, I always first have them study the swing of...
...and then point them to the swings of certain other older hitters...
In terms of active hitters, my favorite swing in terms of its simplicity and teachability is the swing of...
However, there are other active major leaguers who have simpler, very teachable swings...
All of those hitters had swings that were both simple and effective and that would serve as a great starting-off point for a younger hitter.